Mardi’s Must Read

must read book radium girls

I just read the best book ever and I can’t stop talking about it!  As I’ve admitted before, I looove to read historical romance (two things I love history + romance, it’s a win-win!).  On occasion, I enjoy reading something a little more cerebral.  Before Christmas, Megan and I were shopping at Barnes & Noble (correction:  we ate lunch there, then perused the books) and we saw the book The Radium Girls:  The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women.  We looked it over and decided we should read it.  But it was Christmastime, and you shouldn’t buy things for yourself… I purchased it the day after Christmas.

The Radium Girls:  The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is the true story of young women who worked in radium watch dial factories during World War I.  Radium was a new, miracle substance which turned up in medicines, cure-alls, and was thought to cure cancer.  The girls painted watch dials with luminous paint (containing radium) so soldiers overseas could see their watches in the dark.  It was a much-coveted job by most girls at the time because it paid well and was considered glamorous.  Not only did the girls work side by side, talking and laughing, they also got to work with “liquid sunshine.”  Sometimes for kicks they would put the luminous paint on their teeth or face, then go into a dark room and giggle at each other.  The dust from the luminous paint settled everywhere on the girls, on their hair, their clothes, on the food they ate at their desks.  Some girls wore their best dresses to work so that the dust would cover them and then when they went dancing with a beau, they positively glowed.

As it was hard to paint tiny numbers on watch faces with a brush, the girls were instructed to wet the brush in their mouths before dipping it into the luminous paint.  That way, the tip of the brush was nice and pointy.  It became a mantra:  lip, dip, paint.  Some girls lipped the brush after every number, some girls after every two or three.  The luminous paint didn’t have a taste, but it was a bit gritty.  A few girls quit because they didn’t like the taste, but most girls loved their jobs.  The girls were told by management that the radium in the luminous paint was not dangerous, it was actually good for them.  It would strengthen their bones and help all of their ills.

The American Radium Company was in New Jersey, then one in Ottawa, Illinois.  When girls started falling ill, no one knew what it was from.  After all, no one even dreamed it was from radium, the miracle substance.  Most girls first had problems with their teeth.  They had tooth after tooth pulled, but their mouths didn’t heal.  Mollie Maggia, the first of three sisters to get radium poisoning, had her jaw break after her dentist gently touched it.  She died a horrible death after the radium ate through her jugular vein.  She was only 23 years old.  Other girls first had hip pain and developed a limp.  They limped everyday to work and home, wondering what on earth was wrong with them.  A dial worker named Edna found out what was wrong with her when she reached for her pill bottle on her nightstand and caught her reflection in a mirror.  She literally glowed in the dark.  She screamed, then fainted.  Yes, the radium settled into the marrow of their bones.

The Radium Companies denied any responsibility, still claiming that radium was totally safe.  They paid doctors and dentists very well to say the same thing to patients of radium poisoning.  Over the course the book, there were a few good doctors and lawyers that were brave enough to take on the fight.  Two groups of workers are highlighted in the book, first from New Jersey, the second from Illinois.  Each group had seemingly insurmountable legal battles, like David taking on Goliath.  Because of these legal battles, important changes were made to workplace safety regulations and labor laws.

These brave young women leapt off the pages of the book.  I felt privileged to read their stories and learn of their sacrifice.  Even 80 years after their deaths, their graves are still radioactive.  Since radium has a half-life of 1,600 years, the girls’ remains will be glowing for a very long time.

Have you read any good books lately?  Let us know in the comments below!  And don’t forget to check out previous posts, Books You Need to Read, and “The Right Stuff” to Read, and for some more great suggestions.



“The Right Stuff” to Read

This summer, I was obsessed with reading.  I read at least 6 books and I’m not a fast reader.  To be perfectly honest, three were Mary Balogh romances, but to my credit, they were each almost 400 pages.  but the two most interesting books I read The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.

the right stuff by tom wolfe

I’ve never been interested in science or space, but I love history.  These books painted vivid pictures of the history of test flight and space exploration.  This year I saw the movie “The Right Stuff” on Netflix and loved it.  I liked learning about the pilots, astronauts, their families, and the time periods.  As I was shopping on Amazon looking for something to read, I came across The Astronaut Wives Club.  The cover of the book had a picture of the wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts.  They looked like fashion plates from the 1960’s.  Their hair, their smiles, their red lipstick….I was sold!  I know in elementary school we were taught to not judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what I did.  I wasn’t disappointed wither, I could hardly put the book down!  Each astronaut had a wife and family behind him, keeping the home fires burning.  They stretched their husbands’ meager salary (before they were famous, anyway), raised their children mostly by themselves, and dealt with the constant fear of their husbands dying in an accident.  They went to the funerals of their husbands’ friends and coworkers, always wondering when they would be the woman wearing black.  They dealt with the wondering and worrying about the “cape cookies,” as the pilots called them – the women who hung around the Cape and “entertained” the pilots.  The astronauts worked and trained at the Cape and it was an understood rule among the pilots that no wives were allowed there.  Even before the launch of Mercury 7, the astronauts started receiving amazing perks, including $500,000 to split between the seven.  This was from Life Magazine, in return for exclusive access to the families and their stories, etc.  The astronauts received sportscars for only $1 a year…..custom Corvettes, etc. which they drove around the Cape.  Unfortunately, many marriages ended due to the separation, strain, and extramarital affairs.  swas made into a television series and just came out on DVD.  I can’t wait to see it.

I had to read The Right Stuff next, of course.  Though I’d seen the movie, the book was better.  The danger of flight test, as the pilots called it, was unbelievable.  The pilots, many former decorated war heroes, flew because they loved flying and the adrenal rush of “pushing the envelope.”  They certainly didn’t fly because of the pay.

My favorite pilot highlighted in the book was Chuck Yeager.  Yeager was an unassuming, gifted pilot from West Virginia.  In World War II, he was shot down over German-occupied French territory, picked up by the French underground , which smuggled him into Spain disguised as a peasant.  While in Spain, he was jailed briefly, then released.  He somehow made it back to England and returned to combat during the Allied invasion of France.  Whew!  All that by the ripe old age of 21!  On October 14 1947, Chuck Yeager flew the X-1 and reached the speed of Mach 1.05, breaking the sound barrier.  Amazingly, he accomplished this feat with two broken ribs.  Two days before the historic flight, Yeager and his wife chased each other on horseback through the desert at night.  He fell off the horse, went to a doctor off base, and kept this little tidbit from the Air Force.  he only told his flight engineer Jack Ridley, who fashioned a handle out of a saw-off broom handle.  With the broom handle, he could shut the door of the X-1 (kind of necessary, right?).

Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, making his regular Army captain’s pay of $283 a month!  No extra, no bonuses, just doing the job that he loved.  Since the flight was top secret, he received no fame or notoriety until a year later.  So many test pilots died or risked their lives to fly experimental and new planes.  We never knew their names, their deaths never made the news.  But they were American heroes.  Without their bravery, we wouldn’t have aeronautical advancements.  That book really made me think about how so many Americans look up to professional athletes and celebrities.  Pro athletes and celebrities make enormous wages and are practically worshipped.  But what did they sacrifice?  They certainly haven’t risked their lives while making meager incomes like the test pilots.  Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox!  Now that I’ve told you all about the books, you may not have to read them anymore….but you’ll want to!


What’s one of your favorite books?  I’d love to know!

Books You Need to Read!

I love to read.  In fact, sometimes that’s all I want to do.  Fiction, nonfiction, historical romance (my particular favorite), inspirational, etc., etc.  I have an obsession with books.  It’s really about entertainment for me, not learning.  When I was in college, I had to read the classics.  Would I have read them by choice?  Nope.  Did I enjoy Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Yes, but I haven’t read anything like that since.  As much as I love the movie “Pride and Prejudice,” (and oh how I love it) I don’t read books by Jane Austen.  I guess I don’t want to have to think that much when I read!

My favorite fiction author of all time is LaVyrle Spencer.  Her books transported me to another place (not a difficult thing for me….I tend to live in fantasyland anyway).  Years is my particular favorite, then November of the Heart, and Twice Loved.  In fact, after reading Twice Loved, Megan and I had to visit Nantucket and immerse ourselves in the history of whaling.  We even looked up streets, like Crooked Record Lane, that appeared in the book.  Very strange I know, considering only fictional characters lived there!

The best nonfiction books I’ve read are Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, and In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton.  These books kept me riveted and I didn’t want them to end!  Megan and I are military history nerds and can’t get enough of that sort of thing.  After seeing the miniseries “The Pacific” we had to read to books about John Basilone and Eugene Sledge.   I think that we as Americans should honor our past.

As far as historical romance goes, I’m reading Mary Balogh right now.  Her books are engaging.  Megan and I are big Outlander fans as well.  When my daughter was in eighth grade, at conferences she proceeded to tell her (male) English teacher that “my Mom likes to read books with shirtless guys on the front.’  I sputtered a denial of course (and it wasn’t true, I prefer my romance novels to NOT have pictures of people on them).  This particular teacher had been my English teacher in junior high too.  Niiice.

I suppose I deserved that embarrassment because when I was in first grade, I also threw my Mom under the bus.  When asked to write something about my Mom, I wrote “she likes to read Harlequin romance novels.”  I’m sure I had help spelling “Harlequin” but the worst part was these papers were hung on the wall for parents to read during conferences.  She still reads Harlequin romance novels, but only those by Betty Neels.  Betty passed away several years ago and is no longer writing, but she lives on in my Mom’s library.  Her plots are almost always the same:  an Englishwoman falls in love with a handsome but aloof Dutch doctor.  The books end with a chaste kiss.  I’ve read and enjoyed some Betty Neels books, but I like a little more romance in my books!

Now that I’ve covered my love of romance novels, let me try to redeem myself and talk about spiritual books.  Right now I’m reading Women Living Well:  Finding Your Joy in God, Your Man, Your Kids, and Your Home by Courtney Joseph and it’s wonderful.  I have a few other Christian books waiting in the wings:  9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage by Sheila Wray Gregoire and Flourish by Katherine Hart Weber.  Unfortunately, I tend to pick up the light and fluffy books before I pick up the ‘I need to work on myself’ books.  But when I do read them I’m encouraged and uplifted.  Okay, lesson learned.

The old adage, “so many books, so little time,” rings true.  I just wish that I was a speed reader so I could get to more books.  I’m sure this type of post will be a regular one, so it’s not “The End” but only “To Be Continued…….”