The girls of Atomic City : the untold story of the women who helped win World War II

From Eileen Effrat
Author:  Denise Kiernan
Title:  The girls of Atomic City : the untold story of the women who helped win World War II 
Recruited for jobs in a town that did not exist,thousands of women from 1943-1945 worked as factory workers, secretaries,custodians, nurses, chemists,and more in Oak Ridge.   Their employer,Clinton Engineer Works, only told these women their jobs  would serve to bring the war to a speedy end. Shrouded in secrecy, 75,000 workers toiled. Although many suspected something BIG was happening, few pieced together the true nature of their work until August 6,1945 when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. For three years uranium was enriched at Oak Ridge and sent to Los Alamos for use in the “GADGET”.  For this book, the author interviewed hundreds of women. Most were high school graduates from farm families in rural towns, while some had college degrees in chemistry or statistics.   Kiernan focuses on the lives of nine women in particular. I found this book enlightening. This is a part of our history that few know.

Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen

From Margaret Mezzacapo
Author: Charlotte Druckman
Title: Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen
This book details some of the travails and triumphs of professional women chefs, told from the viewpoints of 72 female chefs. Being a chef can be a strenuous career – now ratchet up the level of difficulty for a female in the field, both due to the physicality of the job and the attitudes encountered along the brigade de cuisine. It also poses the question of how many women leave the professional kitchen when they have children. It starts out a little dry, but stick with it.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

From Elaine Pasquali
Title:  The Gift of an Ordinary Day
Author:  Katrina Kenison
Kenison uproots her family from an upper middle class suburb to relocate to rural New Hampshire. The purpose: live a simpler life.  Kenison steam-roles over her husband and two sons with her relocation plans.  The family is uprooted; her youngest son is so unhappy he cries himself to sleep for a year.  The three month stay with her parents turns into three years.  Family finances are severely strained as is her marriage. For a while, Kenison’s perfectionism  becomes obsessive.  Eventually, she evolves, letting go of some of her need for control.  She begins to  treasure the ordinary moments of everyday life.  Her family moves forward and change becomes a fabric of their family life.  Was it worth the angst along the way?  You’ll have to judge that for yourself.

Gift from the Sea

From Margaret Mezzacapo
Author:  Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Gift from the Sea 
This classic collection of essays touches on women’s place in society and poses the question of how to balance self-preservation and the myriad needs that everyday life brings. What’s especially interesting is how Morrow touches on marriage and relationships, both marital and extramarital, during the time when her husband, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, had a secret hidden family in addition to the family and children he had with her. The book also discusses how advancements in mechanization have impacted women – and not always for the better. This is especially interesting when you consider that the book was written more than fifty years ago.

This is not a book of fluff, but one to be read carefully, and perhaps more than once.

Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book

From Gina Scaglione
author: Love, Susan
Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book
 This book is a lifesaver for any woman. However, for women facing health problems, specifically those related to the breast, this book may actually be the difference between life and death. I can not say how helpf this book has been. Thank you Dr. Susan Love!

The road of lost innocence

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Mam, Somaly
The road of lost innocence
 This is the true story of a Cambodian woman who was sold into prostitution at the age of sixteen.  Somaly was abandoned by her birth parents when she was about five years old. A neighbor in her northeastern Cambodian village of Bou Sra took her in. She is Phnong., which is a tribe of mountain people. The poverty and primitivity she describes in her youth is almost beyond belief. She doesn’t know when she was born; she thinks it’s 1970 or 1971.  The Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979 was responsible for the deaths of about 20% of the population of Cambodia.  The Khmer seem to have also robbed the Cambodians of their culture and their spirit. Somaly describes with sickening detail her daily beatings and rapes.  The specifics are so shocking, I cannot describe them here. She doesn’t mention the word “torture”, but I believe she was tortured as well.  Her narrative doesn’t beg for us to pity her. She tells her story as an example of all the other girls sold into sexu  al slavery. She says that her experience was almost nothing (!) compared to the experience of those today. Virgins are especially prized ; girls of 5 or 6 years old are sold and raped repeatedly. The beatings today are even worse. She says that judges can’t be bribed in Cambodia; they’ve already been bought. The men who should be maintaining the law: the military, the police and the judges, are also customers of the brothels.  Even “humanitarian aid workers” use prostitutes! These sex traffickers make the mafia look like boy scouts.  She argues that the only way to stop it is for the international community to take notice and to bring the ringleaders to justice.   Today she runs an organization called AFESIP that rescues children from sexual slavery and provides housing, schooling and vocational training.  One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by her account.

Living a Charmed Life

From Cindy Schwartz
author: Moran, Victoria
Living a Charmed Life
“Living a Charmed Life” is a wonderfully written inspirational book that women of all ages would enjoy reading.  It is the type of book that one could sit and read for an hour or two, or occasionally for a quick “pick me up”.  I was fortunate enough to actually meet and spend time with the author and Victoria is just as amazing and delightful as her book.  The short 50 chapters give one motivation to tackle life  “head on”.  I highly recommend this read- for an overall feeling of well being.

The merry recluse: a life in essays

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Knapp, Caroline
The merry recluse: a life in essays 
This was published posthumously in 2004. The compiler is Sandra Shea, her former editor. The author died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  Ms. Knapp was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, an alternative newspaper, and her essays also appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Siren magazine, and New Woman magazine. She wrote honestly about her struggles and her innermost thoughts and feelings.  She admits to feelings of jealousy, anxiety, grief, loneliness and rage that many of us deny. Her essays about her obsessions and addictions are truly brave. In “A letter to my father”, she states “I’ve come to see drinking as a relationship, as full and rich and sensual and complex as the kind you have with the key people in your life, as the kind I had with you.  I loved drinking, for a long time. I loved it so much I could have died for it, literally.  But you died first and in many ways, I guess that spared me.  On some key level, you see, I couldn’t give up drinking until I’d given up you.”
      “Life without anesthesia” is about how exposed one feels after giving up an addiction.  In her case, she hid behind anorexia and alcoholism.  In conquering a food disorder and alcoholism, she was sometimes flooded with too many emotions, but also experienced an authentic life.  Ms. Knapp was also a fine social critic.  The piece entitled “Teddy Bear II” is about a case where a woman abandoned her father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  She argues that we as a nation do a very poor job of caring for our elderly.  She could be funny, too.  How many of us can relate to spending inordinate sums of money to furnish our homes in “Notes on Nesting” I saw myself in “I hate money”: “I hate money.  I hate dealing with it, thinking about it, managing it, planning for it, and accounting for it. On the other hand, I don’t have too many problems spending it, which complicates matters considerably.” ” Bills? What bills? I don’t see any bills. Who’s Bill? Let’s talk about something else.” Some essays might appeal more to women.  In “Barbie does death”, Ms. Knapp states that “The big walk down the aisle  is allegedly something a girl starts dreaming about as soon as she’s old enough to dream”.  She did an informal poll of 15 of her friends, and only two had the wedding fantasy.  The majority fantasized about being rock stars or superheroes.  The title essay “The merry recluse” is about the joys of living alone, and how this flies in the face of societal expectations.  It would have been amazing to see what other issues she would have tackled, if she had lived.

Seaworthy : a swordboat captain returns to the sea

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Greenlaw, Linda
Seaworthy : a swordboat captain returns to the sea
Linda Greenlaw wrote The hungry ocean, The lobster chronicles, and more. She was played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the film “The perfect storm.” The book opens with Linda in jail in Newfoundland, so you know something goes wrong.  Linda decides to return to the Grand Banks off the coast of Canada to fish for swordfish after a ten year hiatus.  She has assembled a fantastic crew consisting of her friends Archie, Timmy, Dave, and an acquaintance, Mike.  She captains the Seahawk, a 63-foot boat in need of repairs.  Linda doesn’t know if she still has what it takes to be a swordfish captain at the age of forty-seven.  She wonders about her physical and mental abilities.  Will her body hold up? Will the crew respect her? Will she find fish?
     The crew nicknames the ship the Sh-thawk, because of all of the equipment failures.  I laughed out loud when she quoted Mike complaining to Archie about his cooking, “How about a salad? Did you order any lettuce? How about cabbage? I like coleslaw. We don’t have a single veggie on board, do we? I’ll have the first confirmed case of scurvy in the last century.” And this is Linda’s take on Mike:  “Mike snacked while lying in his bunk.  He got up one morning and found an entire Kit Kat bar in one of the folds of fat under his chin.  When he ate the melted mess, I was torn between disgust and admiration.”
      The book is suspenseful and it is fascinating to learn about life aboard a fishing vessel. Squeamish readers may want to skip sections that describe harpooning fish and killing sharks. The climax is when the Canadian Coast Guard arrests her for illegally fishing in Canada’s waters.  My problem with the book is that Ms. Greenlaw was not forthright about having a film crew with her the whole time. I read about it on the internet, and it is confirmed in her acknowledgements: “Thanks to Tom Beers and the crew at Original Productions and the Discovery Channel for making this trip possible.”  Some have accused Ms. Greenlaw of intentionally fishing in Canadian waters as a publicity stunt, or to get a book deal.  The question is whether she knew she drifted into Canada or not.  She claims she did not know, and that the tides shifted. You decide.