Shelf Control #159: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: The Atomic City Girls
Author: Janet Beard
Published: 2018
Length: 353 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

I feel like there have been several fiction and non-fiction books recently which have centered on women doing war work during WWII, not just with the Manhattan Project but with other wartime industry support functions as well. I’m always interested to learn about the roles women played behind the scenes and how their lives were affected, for better and for worse, by the new opportunities that came their way when the country was at war. I’ve heard this book mentioned by other bloggers a few times, and it piqued my interest enough to grab it when I saw it at the book sale.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: War of the Wives

War of the WivesSelena and her husband have been happily married for close to thirty years and have three children. Lottie and her husband have been married for seventeen years and have one teen-aged daughter. Both women wish their husband could be home more often, but understand that his demanding job is important to him. Both look forward to the moment when he walks back in the door after his latest business trip to Dubai.

And both show up as the newly bereaved widow when Simon Busfield is laid to rest after a fatal drowning.

Yes, Simon was a busy guy. He lived in London with Selena in a beautiful, posh home, keeping Selena in fashionable clothing and expensive getaways to their house in Tuscany. Simon also lived with Lottie in a smaller flat, after living with her in Dubai for most of their marriage. Wife #1 knew nothing of wife #2, and vice versa. But an untimely death lets out all the secrets, and to say that chaos ensues is an understatement.

I’ll be honest: My first thought upon reading the synopsis was “Hmm. Sounds like a Lifetime movie.” I’m pleased to say that War of the Wives is a lot more than that.

In War of the Wives, author Tamar Cohen skillfully gives each wife a voice that’s distinct and true. We often get both women’s viewpoints on the same situation, and it’s enlightening to see how two people can interpret a statement or gesture so very differently. In what must be a very difficult feat, the author creates two sympathetic characters, almost daring us to take sides. And the truth is, it’s really impossible. Neither woman is culpable. Lottie didn’t know she was sleeping with a married man. Neither intentionally set out to steal the other’s husband. The guilty party here is Simon, but he’s no longer around to blame, so of course it’s the women who have to pick up the pieces.

There’s plenty of pain and remorse, doubts and anger. Both women remember Simon as a loving husband and father. Was one life a lie? Can Simon be faulted for loving both of his families so much that he couldn’t give either up? (Of course he can! Selfish beast.)

Selena and Lottie are wrecked not just emotionally, but financially too. The homes, the lifestyles, the luxuries all have to go. The legalities and taxes and mortgages are so intertwined that neither woman can walk away from the other, and so they have to navigate their post-Simon lives together, hating it every step of the way.

I do feel that the title of the book is a bit misleading. When I first saw the title War of the Wives, I expected cat fights, public scenes of bitchiness, scheming and nastiness. But that’s not what happens. The book ultimately is less about two women battling each other and more about them figuring out how their lives took such wrong turns and how to rebuild.

There’s a mystery here too: Simon died under suspicious circumstances — did he really just fall into the river, or did he commit suicide? Or was he pushed? Just what sort of shady business dealings was he involved in? Who keeps sending Selena all these random spam texts and emails? Who broke into Lottie’s flat? It all comes together by the end, and it definitely was not what I expected… which is a very good thing.

I love a book that keeps me guessing, that gives me plenty of clues but none that make an outcome obvious. The inner lives of Selena and Lottie are fascinating to read about, and I was invested in both women, their struggles to rebuild, to be good mothers, and to stand on their own two feet. Because they really were the victims of their husband’s deceptions, it’s easy to relate to both women and want both to find happiness and get a fresh start.

War of the Wives is a compulsively readable novel with a dark streak amidst the scenes of domesticity. I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the unexpected plot twists. Author Tamar Cohen does a great job of taking a melodramatic, seemingly made-for-TV set-up and giving it an original spin that keeps the reader guessing.

Final note: Tamar Cohen is a new-to-me author, but I’ve now heard from other bloggers that she has some other can’t-miss books as well — and I’m looking forward to checking them out!

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The details:

Title: War of the Wives
Author: Tamar Cohen
Publisher: Mira
Publication date: January 27, 2015 (originally published in UK in 2012)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Mira via NetGalley