Book Review: Radioactive! by Winifred Conkling

Hello everyone!

Today’s review is on Radioactive! by Winifred Conkling.

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Radioactive! tells the story of Irene Joliot-Curie and Lise Meitner, two women who’s scientific discoveries contributed to the study of radioactivity, and in the case of Lise Meitner, the discovery of nuclear fission, both of which would change the world in numerous ways. Unfortunately, for a long time neither of them received the credit they were due and they were almost forgotten by the world, in Meitner’s case it was due to a former colleague who tried to claim that she had no part in the discovery of nuclear fission and for Joliot-Curie, she was the daughter of the Curies and her parents accomplishments often overshadow those that she made with her husbands. Thankfully, scholars like Winifred Conkling are now telling their story and the contributions they made, as well as the story of their lives and the history of atomic energy that led up to their discoveries, as well as their reactions to what was done with their discoveries.

Radioactive! was a fascinating and informative book dealing with the discoveries made in physics, namely radioactivity and nuclear fission, and the two women who were at the forefront of these discoveries. Winifred Conkling does a great job of giving the pertinent scientific details without bogging down the text and conveys it in such a way that it isn’t hard to understand. Readers will also learn a lot about Irene Curie and Lise Meitner, two women, who I personally have never really heard of before, I’m sure like many other people.

One thing that become apparent especially with Lise Meitner and her discovery of nuclear fission is that there was a lot of drama in the scientific community (I can’t speak on whether this is still the case today.) Even though she was the first to come up with the theory based on notes of experiments her old lab partner – Otto Hahn – would send her after she had to flee from Nazi Germany, he never gave her the credit she deserved. In fact, after he initially vaguely mentioned that she had helped him, he turned on her and said that she had hindered him from making the discovery and that it was only once she had left that he was able to figure out nuclear fission. Again, this is false because he would often write to her when he was confused about the outcome of his experiments, and she finally figured and hypothesized what was going on, and she and her nephew conducted experiments to confirm her theory.

While what Otto Hahn did was reprehensible, in some ways it seems at first he was only doing it to save his own skin, and ally himself to the Nazis, especially since he had worked with Meitner for so long and she was considered a Jew by the Nazis. I think because she had been deemed inhuman due to her heritage he felt that it was okay to do this, even though they had worked together for 30 years. Unfortunately, this also meant that for many years, Lise Meitner did not get the credit she deserved because Hahn had done what he could to discredit all of her previous work with him. After the end of World War II he was given an opportunity to give her credit, instead he once again betrayed his old colleague and friend and accused her of being a bitter women who had stood in his way of discovering nuclear fission.

Even though this is a non-fiction book, the main theme of this book is probably how women have made discoveries that changed the world, but yet very few of them are known to us today due to various reasons. In Irene Curie’s case it was due to who her parents are, but yet here and her husband discovered ho to make artificial radioactivity, as well as find ways to harness nuclear fission so that it could be used as a “cleaner” source of electricity. Something else that stands out is how both Curie and Meitner were opposed to their discoveries being used to create the atomic bomb and being used as a weapon of mass destruction. It’s just fascinating, and one can imagine, horrifying to see something you discovered to be used in such a destructive way. However, their discoveries changed the world in other ways, for example, a lot of people rely on nuclear energy to power their homes, and it has been used as a safer way of powering submarines. The world has indeed changed a lot due to these discoveries.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, especially since it is on a subject matter that I really enjoy reading and learning more about! I highly recommend this if you are interested in learning more about some the history behind radioactivity, but also just about these two women! 5/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

Book Review: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious #3)

Hello everyone,

Today’s review is on The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson.

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The Hand on the Wall picks up several days after the end of The Vanishing Stair, and we find Stevie reeling after discovering that her advisor, Dr. Fenton, was killed in a house fire. However, she has also solved the Ellingham case, but has yet to tell anyone. She also has a feeling that Dr. Fenton’s death was not an accident, just like Hayes’ and Elements deaths weren’t just accidents as they appear to be. But with an impending snow storm, all the students are evacuated from Ellingham, however Stevie decides to stay in order to catch a killer.

This last book in the story arc was pretty good, I was intrigued throughout the whole book, especially when Stevie starts putting the clues together. I do wish we could have gotten the culprit’s testimony, but everything we know about their actions is based on Stevie’s deductive reasoning, however I do wish more of the gaps had been filled in, but I also understand why the author chose not to go in that direction.

I’m not going to divulge who the culprit is because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might be interested in reading this series, I got spoiled for who it was and I regret it because think it was a great pay off for those who do not know who it is.

We also start to see Stevie lose her grip already and it is understandable with what she has experienced over the last few months. I felt that he panic attacks made sense. I also loved how she revels the culprit in the same way that Hercule Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes, in that she explains the details that pertinent to the reveal. I also love how the author uses detective fiction plot devices, such as the red herring throughout the series.

Also, am I the only one that thinks David is a jerk? Sure, I get has daddy issues, but he treats Stevie like garbage for most of the book, and the reason for it is stupid…and then they get together at the end of the book.

I also liked the segments we get from a diary kept by one of the students back in 1936, I also liked how we get interludes from different times when the Ellinghams were still alive, and we find out what happened to Alice.

Overall, a solid conclusion to a great series. However, I do know that is going to be another book in which we follow Stevie try to solve another cold case. It sounds fascinating and I am looking forward to reading it. 4/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

Book Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson (Truly Devious #2)

Hello everyone,

Today’s review is on The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson.

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The Vanishing Stair picks up shortly after the end of Truly Devious. Stevie is back home in Pittsburgh. She longs to go back to Ellingham Academy, but her parents won’t let her, that is until Senator Edward King – whom they worship and adore – comes and makes Stevie and offer to go back. Stevie jumps at the change to back to Ellingham, even though it involves making a deal with a moan she cannot stand. She arrives back one campus even more determined to find out who Truly Devious is, as well as finding out what actually happened to Element. She also gets paired with one of the top scholars on the Ellingham case and becomes her assistant. Stevie follows some new leads on the case and hopes to be able to solve it before tragedy strikes again.

Even though this book suffered from the common second book slump, it was still a captivating installment in the series. I enjoyed watching Stevie try to solve the case, even though it forced her to get her hands dirty. I also liked how we see more of the anxiety she constantly deals with and how she copes with it.

David Eastman is an interesting character because while there is chemistry between him and Stevie, he is also a jerk to her. And I think he also overreacted with the stuff involving his dad, but then again, I have never been the child of a politician.

I also enjoyed getting to know the new characters we were introduced to: Mudge, the Disney World fanatic (as a huge Disney fan I approve!); Dr. Fenton, the scholar of the case; and Hunter, Dr. Fenton’s nephew. I hope we get to see more of them in the next book. I also found it interesting that Stevie finds out who Truly Devious is, but yet there is still more about the Ellingham case that needs to be uncovered.

Overall, I liked this installment and I dove into the next book as soon as I was finished with this one. 3.5/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

Book Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Hello everyone,

Today’s review is on Truly Devious Maureen Johnson.

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Ellingham Academy was started by an eccentric millionaire who wanted to create an academy where students could come and learn at their own pace and learn subjects that they are passionate about. He was also a lover of puzzles, and he made sure that the academy was full of puzzles and secret passageways that people could solve. However, disaster soon struck when his wife and daughter are kidnapped and the case was never solved.

Fast forward to the present day and we are introduced to Stevie Bell who is obsessed with true-crime podcasts and mystery novels. Her dream is to become a detective like her fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes. When she hears about Ellingham Academy and the cold case that is in its history, she sees this as a chance to finally solve a crime. However, she’ll discover that solving ninety year old murder is not as easy as it seems, and things get even more sinister when one of the students is found dead, and a letter shows up signed by the kidnapper from ninety years ago, Truly Devious.

Maureen Johnson does a good job of creating the characters in this novel, especially Stevie. There are a lot of great quotes describing her, one in particular that stands out was, “Stevie Bell had a simple desire: she wanted to be standing over a dead body” (38). It sounds ominous, but yet it describes Stevie’s love for mysteries and her desire to solve a crime. We also get to spend a lot of time in her head and watch her as she arrives at Ellingham Academy, and even how she suffers from Imposter Syndrome because she thinks that her classmates are very smart and talented and she is just very into true crime and solving murders. Stevie is also described as being more antisocial and, in some ways obsessed with murders, “Stevie had no fears of the dead. The living, however, sometimes gave her the creeps” (154).

One of the major themes of Truly Devious is that of games and games taking a twisted turn, especially when the dead body shows up and Stevie feels like she is being watched, “Games are not fun when you don’t know you’re playing” (194). This could be the theme of the novel, especially when we go back in time to when Albert Ellingham is being contacted by Truly Devious and he is trying to find his wife and daughter before time runs out. The theme of games is further explored throughout the novel in that all the characters are described as playing the game whether they like it or not. Stevie only realizes that a game is afoot right before the murder takes place. Ellingham Academy was also founded on the premise of fames, a lot of the guests that would visit would partake in the games that Ellingham created just for them.

There are also a lot of references to detective fiction, because they have had a huge influence on Stevie’s character. The two detectives characters that are mentioned throughout the book are Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot and how Stevie tries to emulate their crime solving tactics. It is also fascinating that A Study of Scarlet is a piece of evidence from one of the Ellingham murders.

Overall, Truly Devious is a great novel, especially as an introduction to the mystery novel for those that are new to it. And I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series very soon! 4/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

Book Review: Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Hello everyone,

Today’s review is on Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos.

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Planet Earth is Blue is stunning, heart-breaking read following twelve-year-old Nova as she looks forward to the 1986 launch of Challenger. One thing t know about Nova is that she is severely autistics and is mostly non-verbal. However, she has a love for everything to do with space and her older sister Bridget. But at the start of the novel, Nova finds herself in a new foster home without Bridget, but she looks forward to the Challenger launch because Bridget promised to find her and be with her when it happened. It will also be symbolic to them that anyone can follow their dreams, with Christa MacAuliffe being the first teacher to go to space. The question is will Bridget show up?

I don’t even know where to start with this review because I loved it so much! Firstly, I loved how the story is told in both regular prose but also in letters that Nova writes to Bridget – although to everyone else they appear as mostly scribbles.

While I loved this book, it was also heart-breaking because of Nova having been in the foster care system for seven years, and how some of her classmates show prejudice towards her because she is different, and even her social worker doesn’t treat her well, and refers to her as “retarded” (a word which has become since the time period this book is set in , as well as that we now know a lot more about autism and Asperger’s than was known in the ’80s). There was also a sense of foreboding throughout the novel, especially since most older readers will know about the disaster that occurred during the Challenger launch and that maybe something tragic happened to Bridget.

I loved getting to know Nova through the letters that she writes to Bridget, and how there is a lot more to her than most people around her perceive. I’ll admit that I am not sure how accurate the depiction of autism is, but the author does state that she based some of Nova’s quirks on those that she had/has as someone who has Asperger’s. I also know that autism is different with each individual too.

I also loved Francine and Billy, Nova’s foster parents, and how they love her unconditionally and see her as someone who is a lot smarter than most other people realize! It was also interesting to see how Nova adjusts to her new foster parents, especially since she had previously been in eleven other foster homes.

The backdrop of the story, like I’ve mentioned already, is interesting especially since the Challenger disaster is infamous. Most people who were around then remember it vividly. It occurred eight years before I was born, but my parents have told me stories of what they remember about it because they were attending college in Florida at the time and remember seeing it take place.

Overall, I really loved this book, it has definitely made my favorites list this year and I feel like it is a book that is severely underrated and more people need to read it! 5/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

January TBR

Hello everyone,

Happy New Year! Welcome to my first TBR post of 2022! Today I am going to share the top 3 books that I would love to read this month. I’m sure there will be several others that I get to this month, but these are the three that I am definitely planning on picking up this month.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy

This might be cheating, but I started Code Girls in the last few days of last year. However, I do want to finish it, and I plan on it being the first book I finish this year. Code Girls is a non-fiction book that explores the lives and work of the women who worked as code breakers during World War II. So far, I’m enjoying it, it is a little dry, but at the same time I love learning about these women who did not get the credit they deserved for the part they played in bringing the war to an end.

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

I’ll be honest, I don’t really know a whole lot about this book, except that it is popular, and that it was recommended as a read-a-like for The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber. I also know that it is a beloved series set in a small town called Mitford and following Father Tim and the other citizens at the town. I think I will love it because recently I read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg and I loved learning about the various people in Whistle Stop, AL.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

I have been meaning to pick Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore for a while, I remember one of my former co-workers recommended it to me. And then I read Robin Sloan’s other work, Sourdough, and I loved it. I have some high expectations. It is about a 24-hour bookstore and the unique experiences that take place within the bookstore and the various customers that frequent the store.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.

Book Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

Hello everyone,

Today’s review is on Blankets by Craig Thompson.

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Blankets is a graphic novel memoir in which Craig Thompson depicts his growing up years in rural Wisconsin with his younger brother. It covers the sibling rivalry he has with his younger brother, as well as the protectiveness he feels over him. It is also exploration of religion and his doubts about everything he has been taught regarding faith, as well as his artistic talent. It is a coming-of-age story that explores identity, but also the romance between two teens who are trying to figure out their lives, and how the author’s first love served as a catalyst to help him come to terms with his doubts, as well as pursuing his passion for art. With a simple yet vivid art style, Craig Thompson brings readers along on the journey of his formative years and the effect they would have on his life to make him the person that he is today.

Blankets is a bildungsroman of the author, where he brings readers on a journey of his childhood, but more specifically his teen years. As a graphic novel it covers a variety of topics, including prejudice, which very early on we see Craig being bullied by his classmates because his dad looks like he is Latino. They also use this as an excuse to beat him up. He is also chastised by his teachers because of his upbringing and because he doesn’t “apply himself to his studies.”

Another topic that it deals with that will later have an impact on him is that it depicts both he and his brother, Phil, being molested by their teenaged babysitter and the guilt that Craig carried for not protecting his brother from those instances. However, these events make Craig realize that the world can be horrible place, but he uses his talent for drawing as a way to escape, even if it is for a brief period of time.

Escape is definitely another theme throughout Blankets, because not only do we see Craig use drawing as an escape, but her also tries to find escape through Christianity. However, he uses the idea of eternity in heaven as a crutch to not do his best in school and he becomes somewhat legalistic in how he lives out his faith. It also shows how there are certain sect of Christianity that look down upon participation in the arts, instead of viewing it as gift from God. Craig struggles with whether or not art is a selfish pursuit. It is only when he gets a letter from his first love, Raina, that he picks it ups again because she is his muse.

Another theme that is explored is that of first love and the highs and lows that come with it. It also deals a lot with wrestling with faith and skepticism, especially with the reasons why someone might end up abandoning their faith. Craig struggles with his desire to be an artist and being convinced by others that it is an ungodly and selfish pursuit. The final straw for him is when he is studying the book of Ecclesiastes and he comes across what he believes to be some major discrepancies.

While I might not agree with the conclusions that the author comes to in his battle with faith and what he truly believes, and whether his faith will only force him to give up part of his identity – that of an artist – there are also some very relatable moments to his struggle. It also made me think a lot why I believe what I believe as Christian, and even how to give a strong defense of that. Another thing I didn’t like about this graphic novel was the sexual content, just because that is something I just generally don’t like in the books I read, however, I can also understand how it plays into the overarching story that Craig Thompson is trying to share with the reader. 4/5 Stars.

Happy Reading,

Janelle L. C.