The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay #BookReview #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!

Book: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
Genre: History
Publisher: Plume
Publication date: 2010 (first American printing, 2012)
Pages: 338

Source: Library

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay

The stories behind the story of breaking the Enigma and other codes at Bletchley Park during WWII

Summary: Are you good at mathematics or languages or puzzles? Are you loyal and discreet? Are you patient? Are you willing to spend a few years creating your own fun with other smart people in the English countryside? Congratulations, you have the making of a World War II codebreaker. But you can’t tell anyone. Not now. Maybe not ever. Not even when your parents or spouse or children want to know what you did during the war. Not even on job applications to let future employers know that you’re qualified to do more than take dictation and type letters.

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers contains the stories behind the story of breaking codes in World War II. This book tells how the codebreakers were selected and recruited, where and how they lived during their time at Bletchley, and what they did for fun while they were there.

Thoughts: The history of Bletchley Park was just coming out when I was a baby programmer, studying computer science a year or two before the advent of the PC. I have always been fascinated by this story, particularly by the roles that the women played in operating the complex machinery, forerunners of our modern computers, that broke the enemies’ codes in World War II. The work at Bletchley Park is estimated to have shortened the war by at least two years and credited with breakthroughs that made victory for the Allies possible.

I felt like this should have been the second book I read on this topic, not the first. Or, maybe, it would have worked better if I had already been to the museum at Bletchley Park, one of the sites in England that I’m most looking forward to visiting. The Secret Lives of Codebreakers glossed over the more well-known parts of the story to get to the aspects that we could only know from first-person interviews and research with primary documents. But I needed a better review of the important work done at Bletchley Park to fully understand the significance of these stories. It looks like I’ll be able to pick up a book at the Bletchley Park gift shop to help me with that aspect, including a newer book by Sinclair McKay.

And, now, for a squee moment, brought to you by the Bletchley Park site. Benedict Cumberbatch, well-known as the modern-day Sherlock, plays Alan Turing in an upcoming film about Bletchley Park. That strikes me as perfect casting. The Imitation Game also stars Keira Knightley, another actor I love to watch. Check out the trailer:

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a movie.

Appeal: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay is a great book for World War II buffs, computer geeks, and those of us interested in women’s history. You might want to read Sinclair McKay’s new book, The Lost World of Bletchley Park, first. Or, this book that he refers to frequently in the end notes: Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park by F.H.Hinsley and Alan Stripp.

2014 Nonfiction Reading ChallengeChallenges: This is my 8th book for the 2014 British History Reading Challenge and my 16th book for the 2014 Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I met my goal of 3 British History books long ago. My goal for nonfiction was 16 or more books, so I’ve met that by reading this book!

Reviews: As I mentioned in my final Nonfiction November post last year, I’m giving credit to Karen of Candid Diversions for putting this book on my radar. 

What do you know about Bletchley Park? Have you been there? Are you looking forward to The Imitation Game as much as I am?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll



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Readers’ Workouts — September 16

logo for Readers' WorkoutsWelcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I’m still stepping and stretching through September. How are you doing with your exercise half-way through the month?

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman #BookReview #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party.


Book: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 1996, Perennial edition: 2003
Pages: 370

Source: Library

Summary: Richard Mayhew lived the office drone life in London, with only his more sophisticated and ambitious girlfriend to push him out of his comfort zones. But as she pushed in one direction, a different one falls on the sidewalk in front of him, in the form of an injured woman who requested help and safety but resisted the offer to call for an ambulance. Richard defied his girlfriend to help the woman, setting himself on a path far away from his ordinary life into a world under London that he only knew from hints in his dreams.

Thoughts: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a great companion book to London Under by Peter Ackroyd. The first creates a fictional world under London and the second illuminates what’s really there (and where one could easily imagine the creatures from Gaiman’s imagination).

I’m looking forward to seeing the London that fits this description:

It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names–Crouch End, Chalk Farm, Earl’s Court, Marble Arch–and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years, following five hundred years of fitful road-widening and unskillful compromises between the needs of traffic, whether horse-drawn, or, more recently, motorized, and the needs of pedestrians; a city inhabited by and teeming with people of every color and manner and kind. p. 8

Appeal: Anyone who loves London is likely to enjoy this book, even if you don’t read fantasy. And, anyone who loves fantasy set in the modern world, will enjoy this whether or not the London setting is of particular attraction.

Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll



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Readers’ Workouts — September 9

logo for Readers' WorkoutsWelcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

So far, I’ve managed completed consistency in getting 8000 or more steps a day. I’m not quite as good at getting to my stretching, but most days I managed 10 or 15 minutes.

How is your September going so far?

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



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Book Club Selection Meeting #SundaySalon #WeNeedDiverseBooks #FergusonReads

The annual book selection and potluck meeting of the Community for Understanding and Hope Book Group is this month. I’m sad that I’ll be missing it — we always have so much fun talking about the books we’ve brought to consider while sharing food.

March by John LewisIf I were going to the meeting, these are the books I would bring:

Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness ed. by Rebecca Walker, as recommended by Feminist Texican Reads

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, a title I added to the list the day Maya Angelou died

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

March: Book 1 by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, a graphic novel autobiography

I would also check the book list that Left Bank Books made in the last month using the hashtag #FergusonReads. Our book club has read many of those books, but some are new to us.

I also like to check the “long lists” — the books we considered in previous years, but didn’t make the final cut. Here they are from the last three years:

Our group has been meeting since the summer of 2008. That’s long enough that we’ve started to forget what books we already read! So, I’m going to end this post with the list of 54(!) books that we read and discussed in the order we read them.

cover of Life on the Color Line by Gregory WilliamsA Bound Man: Why We are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win by Shelby Steele

Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Williams

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son By Tim Wise

Dreams of my Father by Barack Obama

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit and Herbert Kohl

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Black Wealth, White Wealth by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro

When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories by Bernestine Singley

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy DeGruy Leary

Race Matters by Cornel West

The Color of Water by James McBride

White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception by Martha Sandweiss

Modello: A Story of Hope for the Inner City and Beyond by Jack Pransky

cover of The Help by Kathryn StockettThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus

The Hemmingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed

Best African-American Fiction 2009, ed. E. Lynn Harris and Gerald Early

140 Years of Soul: A History of African-Americans in Manhattan Kansas, 1865-2005by Geraldine Baker Walton

The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges–And Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir by Jennifer Lynn Baszile

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris

Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam by Sonsyrea Tate

Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Harper Barnes

cover of Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-PerryNative Stranger: A Black American’s Journey Into the Heart of Africa by Eddy L. Harris

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Muta Maathai

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire

Color Me English: Thoughts about Migrations and Belonging Before and After 9/11 by Caryl Phillips

Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America by Rich Benjamin

killing rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

Wake of the Wind by J. California Cooper

cover of The New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderAmerican Tapestry: The Story of Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama by Rachel L. Swarns

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities by Will Allen

Telling Memories Among Southern Women by Susan Tucker

Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett, Jr

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities by Craig Steven Wilder

Malindy’s Freedom: the Story of a Slave Family by Mildred Johnson and Theresa Delsoin

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

TransAtlantic: A Novel by Colum McCann

Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart

Substitute Me: A Novel by Lori L Tharps

Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America by Tanner Colby

Ain’t But a Place: An Anthology of African American Writings about St. Louis edited by Gerald Early

 

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Naughts & Crosses #BookReview #BriFri #TraveltheWorldinBooksRAT

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!

Last week’s British Isles Friday included visits to the London Eye and the home of the Brontës, a book review, and this list of King Arthur books compiled by Suey, with more suggestions in the comments.

This week, I’m reviewing Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman as part of the Travel the World in Books Readathon. What British-themed content do you have to share?


Book: Naughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Genre: YA fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2001 (1st US edition, 2005)
Pages: 386

Source: Library

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie BlackmanSummary: Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Naught. Their story as star-crossed lovers began when they were very young, too young for Sephy’s parents to be worried that their daughter might come to love a boy on the wrong side of society’s divide. The relationship develops with naive understandings of the world, secret meetings, and an unusual opportunity for Callum to attend Sephy’s school. The complications get ever-more serious as they get older and more enmeshed in the cultural expectations of Crosses and Naughts.

A note about the title. The word Nought has an ‘o’ in the UK editions, an ‘a’ in the US ones. There was also a US edition with a completely different title, Black and White.

Naughts & Crosses is the game that, here in the US, we call Tic-Tac-Toe. According to Wikipedia, quoting an article from the magazine Blast, Malorie Blackman described it as “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…” In the book, the Naughts are the formerly enslaved people with pale skin that form a permanent underclass in this society while the Crosses are darker-complected and privileged. The alternate history is never explained, giving the impression that our reality and the reality in the book are both a product of chance. 

Thoughts: This book is described as dystopian in some summaries, but alternate history suits it better. People live the reality in this book every day, not in some unforeseen future, only the colors of the faces have changed. Naughts & Crosses turns the situation on its head, giving the power to those who don’t have it on our world, revealing the randomness of the way things are. A lesson from early in the book, brought home by the plot better than anything I’ve read (fiction or non), is about how difficult communication and trust are between unequal groups — even with the best of intentions by individuals on both sides.

Naughts & Crosses is a thriller that lives up to its billing. I recognized moments that seemed inspired by the desegregation of schools in the US and by bombings committed by Irish terrorists in England. This is an alternate England that I’m still interested in, even after finishing the book. Goodreads tells me that Naughts & Crosses is the first of a series, but the local libraries here in the US don’t have the sequels. I’ll look for them in bookstores in the UK.

Appeal: The chapters of Naughts & Crosses alternate the points of view between Sephy, a Cross girl, and Callum, a Naught boy. Aside from being an effective way to tell the story, the technique makes this book equally appealing to boys and girls.

Naughts & Crosses deals with very serious issues: racism, suicide, and terrorism. This isn’t a book for younger or more sensitive teens. This is one for teens who like their thrills very dark and want books that help them think about and understand the important issues of our day. Hand it to your socially conscious readers, the future politicians and activists.

Travel the World in BooksChallenges: I read Naughts & Crosses as my book for the  Travel the World in Books Readathon. The Readathon, taking place for the first two weeks of September, invites us to read books from other countries. This event that includes chats, mini-challenges, and giveaways is hosted by Mom’s Small VictoriesLost in Books (aka Becca, a frequent participant in British Isles Friday), and Savvy Working Gal.

Are you traveling the world in books? Where have you been recently?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll



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London by Edward Rutherfurd #BookReview

Book: London by Edward Rutherfurd
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: 1997
Pages: 1124

Source: Purchased paperback

Summary: London, like Edward Rutherfurd’s other books (I’ve read ParisSarum, and Ireland Awakening), covers the city over a time sweep of centuries. Some characters are recognizable as descendants of previous characters, but others are introduced as time goes along. A few characters are historical, but they tend to play a minor role in the events of the book which is much more about the ordinary people of London.

Battersea Shield

Battersea Shield, image from The British Museum

The novel begins with the dramatic ceremony that involved hurling the Battersea Shield into the Thames (where it would, one day, be recovered and recognized as one of the finest pieces of extant Celtic art work). We see the Roman organization of the city of Londinium followed by the Saxon take-over with their Norse gods who gave their names to the days of the week. We spent quite a long time building the Tower of London and met some of the most intriguing characters in the book, including little much-abused Osric who found clever ways to get back at the conquerors.

Much later, we witness the rise of Puritanism and the desire to emigrate to the purity of a New World, while attempting to eliminate impurities in the old world — like those distressing plays by William Shakespeare and his ilk. We experience the Great Plague and the Great Fire (events I was already familiar with after reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson) and the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral under the direction of Christopher Wren.

London by Edward Rutherfurd

Historical fiction that goes from pre-history to modern times with lots of interesting stops in between.

Thoughts: I plastered this book with post-it notes — that’s unusual for me for fiction, but I wanted these stories to lend a richness to some of the sites that I’ll see when we visit London.

I was moved by some of the passages describing the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral. My interest in bell-ringing in England stemmed from this passage, about witnessing a celebration from the top of the dome of St. Paul’s:

But more and more bells were joining in — single bells, peals of bells, tolling and clanging with that manly clamour that only the bells of England make. For the glory of English bell-ringing is not as in other countries its tunefulness, but, on the contrary, the stern order of the permutations, as the bells are led through their changes, as strict as the mathematics of the heavens. p. 851

I’ve done some research so that I know where to go hear bells ring each Sunday morning of our trip and, even, one Tuesday evening when I hope to hear a rehearsal.

We will enter London from Birmingham at Euston Station, just as the industrialists of the Midlands did to attend the Great Exhibition of 1851:

If the stagecoaches could carry ten passengers along the turnpikes at, perhaps, eight miles an hour, the carriages rattling along the iron tracks behind a steam locomotive could take a hundred people at forty miles an hour. It was the steam trains that had brought people from far and wide to the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace. Without the new trains, most of those from the provinces could not possibly have come. p. 989

Of course, we won’t take a steam-powered train into London. We will take a ride on one, however, as a day trip from Birmingham — at the Severn Valley Railway.

A couple of scenes in London explained the significance of the Cutty Sark clipper ship, the last hurrah of the sailing ships before the mechanized ones took over the waves. We’ll visit the Cutty Sark during our day in Greenwich.

I loved that the last chapter, in modern times, was about an archaeologist working for the Museum of London. The Museum of London will be the featured stop of our itinerary on our first full day in the City.

Appeal: London is a massive book for people who love history, England, and settling in for a long time with a good book.

logo for the 2014 Chunkster Reading ChallengeChallenges: London is my second book for the 2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge. At 1127 pages, it could count as two chunksters and still have pages left over! I challenged myself to read four chunksters this year. I’m bringing two with me on my trip to England (that way I don’t have to worry about running out of things to read), so I’m confident that I’ll complete this challenge.

London also counts as my seventh book for the British History Reading Challenge, over twice as many as I committed to — and I’m not done yet!

I’ll link this review tomorrow with this week’s British Isles Friday.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll

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Book Characters at my Lunch Table #Top10Tuesday

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic at The Broke and The Bookish is a back to school theme:  Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table.

1 and 2. Harriet the Spy and Jo from Little Women so we can dream about being writers together.

3. Alice in Wonderland because she has the best stories to tell. Plus, this: “And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain4, 5, 6, and 7. Tom and Huck and Jim and Becky from  Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because they know what it’s like to grow up in a small Missouri town along the Mississippi River like I did.

8 and 9. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson from A Study in Scarlet because every lunch table needs a couple of smart guys who can help every one else with home work.

10. Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey because she likes to read as much as I do.

Who are your top picks for book characters at your lunch table?

I haven’t read Beautiful Oblivion by Jamie McGuire, but Cami and Trenton sound like two characters I’d happily invite to my lunch table. If you think so, too, be sure to enter the giveaway of a great prize pack that includes Beautiful Oblivion.

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Stepping and Stretching #ReadersWorkouts

logo for Readers' WorkoutsWelcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I didn’t make my August goal of exercising for 1400 minutes, but I got to 1300 minutes so I’m pretty happy with that.

For September, I’m formatting my goal a bit differently since travel will be a feature of the month. Instead of minutes, I’ll use my FitBit and count steps. My goal is to get to 8000 steps a day. I’d also like to stretch for 15 minutes most days because I think that will help me function well this month. So, I’m setting my goal as 8000 steps and/or 15 minutes of stretching a day — with the hope that I actually manage both most days.

How did your August go? What are you looking forward to in September with your exercise?

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



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Fall in Love Author Tour #SundaySalon #Giveaway

Fall in Love TourDon’t you love it when something like an author bus tour comes to your town? And, don’t you hate it when circumstances conspire so that you can’t attend? Sigh. That’s where I am with the Fall in Love Tour.

The Fall in Love Tour features three New York Times bestselling authors with their latest books Abbi Glines (One More Chance), Colleen Hoover (Ugly Love), and Jamie McGuire (Beautiful Oblivion). Left Bank Books will host the St. Louis region’s stop on the tour, September 8, at the St. Charles County Library, Spencer Road Branch in St. Peters.

Check out the Fall in Love tour schedule to see if it will stop in your town. They are stopping in 10 cities, in 8 states, plus a stop in Toronto!

Fortunately, the folks at Atria Publishing Group have graciously allowed me to host a giveaway, even though I can’t attend the event. Woohoo! Here’s the giveaway package: One Paperback copy of BEAUTIFUL OBLIVION by Jamie McGuire, a signed postcard, a “My Book Boyfriend is ____” button, and several Fall in Love Tour temporary tattoos.

I’m going to try my first ever Rafflecopter for this giveaway, so bear with me. And good luck on your entry!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Events, Giveaways, Sunday Salon | 14 Comments