What I’ve Been Reading: Feb. 2018

32740062Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. No body—only a hiking boot—has ever been found. Billie’s husband and teenage daughter cope with her death the best they can: Jonathan drinks, Olive grows remote.

But then Olive starts having waking dreams—or are they hallucinations?—that her mother is still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he knew about his wife. Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, their family, and the stories we tell ourselves about the people we love.

This was not my favorite.  The story itself was pretty good — it was a little slow to get into, but I was interested in the outcome of the mystery.  The mystery intrigued me more than the characters did, though, and characters are what do it for me.  But, every little detail was explained.  This meant I was nice and satisfied, but because of that, the writing didn’t wow me.  You won’t hook your audience if you don’t leave them wondering a little bit, and Brown definitely didn’t leave anything to wonder about.  Still, it was a solid story.

Spoiler rant — my main gripe with this book was Billie.  Billie.  Freaking.  Sucked.  She was a horrible, unlikeable characters.  I’m pretty sure she a textbook narcissist, or sociopath, or something.  Best case, she was just selfish to the absolute utmost.  Who would leave her husband and kid to think she’s dead?  If she was being abused, that would be a great strategy (besides the whole leaving the kid behind thing).  But in reality, she was upset that her teen was not her best friend anymore and that her husband worked what she thought was too much on a career he spent his entire life building.  Before she left, she fought with her daughter and encouraged her husband to quit instead of asking him to maybe cut back a bit.  Everything she did was melodramatic and selfish, and I didn’t like her.  She wasn’t brilliant; she was a shitty person.  Honestly I think her family is better off without her.

32895291The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

Now this was a pretty good thriller.  It didn’t have me furiously turning pages, but it was a well-crafted story, with great characters, good twists, and an amazing setting.

Honestly, the setting was the best thing about this book for me.  Salten was so vibrant and real.  Ware did a fantastic job of making it feel like you’re there at the falling down house, crossing the bog to get to the castle-like school.  The house itself had so much to do with the girls’ history that it was almost a character in itself.  The symbolism in the house and the bog was incredible — both held clues of long-kept secrets and had a sinister air of mystery about them.

Another thing I liked was that the girls were pretty diverse.  Fatima embraces her Muslim heritage as an adult, and her friends had to get used to that, since it was very different from her school days.  It was nice to see that talked about in a normal way.  Also, the girls all came from different socio-economic backgrounds, and two of them (I think) had divorced parents, which I guess isn’t really that diverse, but they both handled their stress differently and thus they felt very real.


The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

This book was insane.  This story was insane.  The gross, complete negligence of the radium companies in the 20th century was absolutely disgusting.

Let me remind you, in case you didn’t realize: this is a true story.  Dozens of women worked in factories, painting dials with glowing paint made with radium, by using a technique called “lip-pointing,” where they twirled their brushes in their mouths to make a finer point.  Then they would dip into the radium paint, outline a number on the dial, and repeat the process.

Knowing what we know about radium today, you can imagine the devastating effects.  Though it took years to manifest, once it did, these girls basically rotted alive.  And once they realized what had caused it, the companies responsible, even though they knew the effects of radium on the body during production, did absolutely nothing.  In fact, once the women began fighting back, they went as far out of their way as possible to not have to give these women any type of compensation.

Of course, there was a silver lining — because of their tenacity, laws were passed and work with radium became much, much safer.  But before this book, the women’s story had never been told from their perspective.  Moore does them absolute justice, and reminds us that we can’t always trust the big guy.  It’s a stunning, awful story told beautifully, and 100% worth a read.

Book covers and descriptions from Goodreads.

One comment

  1. Ooh The Radium Girls just gave me an idea for a blog post, tangentially, of course, as I can’t shoot in a straight line! I’ve just finished Perfect Remains by Helen Fields – I wasn’t that impressed. I felt it was a little far-fetched at times. I’ve added The Lying Game to my Audible Wishlist 🙂

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