Book Chat

This month’s book reviews:

"109 East Palace" OppenheimerAbout 18 months ago, we visited Los Alamos, New Mexico, as part of our “out West” trip. It’s the city located high on a mesa in the middle of the desert, formed solely to work on creating the bomb that ended WWII in the 1940s. I was totally fascinated by the place, and this is the 2nd or 3rd book on the topic I’ve read since.

109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos is so named because that’s the address of the office in Santa Fe where all the folks hired to work at Los Alamos went when they first arrived. Inside the unassuming office (it’s just off Santa Fe’s famous plaza, if you’ve ever visited), a friendly woman named Dorothy McKibbin greeted them and helped them feel at home — well, as “at home” as one could feel when learning one would be living in a secret community. Residents weren’t allowed to tell relatives where they actually lived (Box 1663 Santa Fe was the address for the thousands who lived there), or what they were working on, etc. Even many of the wives didn’t know what the husbands were doing. The community was surrounded by barbed wire and no one could get in without a security pass. This kind of freaked out many of the German physicists who worked there, since they had recently come over from Nazi Germany.

It’s also the story of Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the project. He was a quirky, odd, yet brilliant guy who inspired affection and loyalty in most all the residents. I was so interested in reading all the details of the various relationships that developed in the community — the excitement of the Trinity Test (when the bomb was tested prior to its being used in Japan – just afterwards, Oppenheimer quoted from Hindu scriptures: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”) — the shock and disbelief of the physicists when they realized that all their frantic work had actually produced such a powerful weapon (“They’re going to take this thing and fry hundreds of Japanese” one worker said in despair) — sadness over Oppenheimer’s wife, who was a former Communist and seemed pretty nuts (I kept wishing he and Dorothy McKibbon, who was widowed, could have gotten together) — sadness over Oppenheimer’s actually losing his security clearance 10 years later in the McCarthy hearings.

Yes, I’m rambling, but there is so much to learn in this book. Very interesting, and I think you’ll enjoy this glimpse into part of our country’s past if you read it.

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Chasing Lincoln's KillerI picked up Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson from the library, because I’d seen it in a book order form the kids brought home and it looked interesting. None of the kids was apparently interested, but I read it. I love history, and this is a YA book (probably geared to about grades 4-6?) dealing with Lincoln’s assassination and — well — the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

I enjoyed this book. At just under 200 pages, it was just enough detail about the 12 days that Booth was on the run. Swanson has also written an adult book on the same topic, called “Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.” I’m not sure I’m that interested, but this amount was just fine. Somehow I’d not realized that Booth hid out for 12 days — in my mind, it was just a couple. But it was interesting to read how he could elude authorities for so long. In those days, of course, no one had cell phones or 24-hour news stations broadcasting headlines all the time.

There were a few things to quibble with: Swanson has US Secretary of War Stanton exclaim, “Now he belongs to the angels” upon Lincoln’s death, and I’d always heard it said that he belonged to the ages. There’s also an emphasis on gore: someone pulling clots of blood out of the bullet wound to relieve pressure on Lincoln’s brain as he was carried away, etc. But, I can understand that this would probably appeal to the YA audience.

Enjoyable read.

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Entwined "Heather Dixon"Entwined is a retelling of the tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” I read it upon the recommendation of my youngest daughter, who’d read it and loved it. It’s the tale of 12 sisters, each named after a flower, and the way they discover how to keep dancing throughout the year of mourning after their mother dies, even though dancing while mourning is strictly forbidden.

The book read oddly like a screenplay to me. I can’t give you a specific example, but time after time I found myself thinking, “That’s odd; sounds like a stage direction or something someone in a movie would say.” Maybe that’s by design.

I found the book mildly interesting, emphasis on mildly. My 10-year-old, however, was enraptured by it. The book is almost 500 pages long, and I feel it could have been much better if about 30% had been cut. Will the older princesses find love? Will they ever get along better with their prickly father? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Recommended for fans of fairy tales, who don’t mind enduring page after page of slow action to get to a climax.

4 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I found your review of 109 East Palace intriguing and think I might like to read the book.
    Thanks,
    Mama Bear

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