One Giant Leap…

Fifty years ago, today, man walked on the moon.

buzz aldrin vintage GIF by US National Archives

So put down the mini computer that you hold in your hand and just think how mind-blowing it is that FIFTY years ago two men walked on the moon.

People designed and built a machine to keep men alive in space. People figured out all the crazy variables involved in space flight. People did this at their 9-5 job in a time before:

  • soft contact lenses
  • airbags
  • 9-1-1

They put man on the moon and brought them home…alive! That one step is proof scientists, mathematicians, engineers, pilots, and explorers can accomplish anything. Apollo 11 .

I had planned to share reviews on four stories to celebrate the anniversary of the lunar landing. I managed to get Hidden Figures and The Martian up on the site. I am still reading the other two! And these reviews will be up soon. (A Man on the Moon is 600 pages long. This will take time.)

Keep reading. Keep learning. And keep striving to branch out and explore all the world, and space beyond, has to offer. Happy reading!

Lindsay

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The Martian

The Martian
by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

NOTE: The second book review of the week is a re-share and covers one of my favorite fiction stories! The Martian belongs on the Space theme week as it provides a snapshot of our potential future. It also celebrates the drive for scientific research and the yearn for adventure that propelled the US’ intial space flights. I adore this book. Enjoy!

I admit that I can be a ‘book snob’ because I tend to steer clear of books that become instant hits. You know which books I mean. The novels that, all of a sudden, everyone is talking about. Usually these books just don’t live up to the hype and this is why I avoided reading The Martian for so long.

It was quite stupid because I knew it was my type of book the instant I read the back cover. And yet, I still hesitated! Then I saw the movie trailer and realized that I was just being stubborn. Space exploration and astronomy are favorite subjects of both my dad and my husband (and me!) I’ve watched every documentary and I needed to read The Martian. I purchased my copy the next day and I couldn’t put it down.

The Martian tells the survival story of Mark Watney, a Mars astronaut that is accidentally left behind when his mission is aborted. It is Andy Weir’s debut novel and my favorite novel of the year! I loved the journalistic writing style and the  plot flowed smoothly, keeping me consistently engaged. was great. I enjoy how Weir mixes Watney’s storyline with that of the scientists on Earth, his crew, and the backstory of the equipment. I even enjoyed the science and had no problem understanding the application.

Many might consider the technical and straight-forward writing style too dull but I loved it. I’m a blunt, literal person so I t worked for me. The secondary characters are cookie cutter and underdeveloped but the only one that really annoyed me was Annie, the PR rep. I’m pretty sure Weir can’t stand media people from his descriptions of her. I also doubt Weir will be able to write any other novels in this style with the same level of success. I don’t see him as a one hit wonder but I do hope to continues to grow as a writer and expands his character development skills.

So many reviewers have complained that the book is trying too hard to be funny. I personally loved the corny humor of the novel. Watney’s goofy attempts to lighten the mood kept me reading and for those who wanted to see someone struggling to deal with the trauma of being left on Mars? You got it! Humor is one way many people deal with a bad situation (we all have been to a funeral where one person won’t stop laughing). Read a YA romance novel or modern women’s lit story if you need 300-400 pages of angst and tension. The humor is obviously Watney’s way of coping with the boredom and stress of being stuck alone for over a year. Go back and read the parts where our plucky astronaut is actually dealing with a life or death situation. You’ll realize that he’s not making jokes in the heat of the moment. They come afterwards. Plus, the journal is what Watney wants other people to know. He mentions that MANY times, so it may be a window in to his personality and experience but it’s edited. Sheesh!

I definitely recommend The Martian but I also understand that it might not be the book for everyone. Let me know if you have any questions or please share all the things you love about this story! I can’t wait until October 2nd because I NEED to see this movie!

Lindsay

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

The #1 New York Times Bestseller. Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world. 

NOTE: There will (hopefully) be four books reviewed this week. Each will cover either the space race or the future of space travel. I wanted to start the week with Hidden Figures. It just seemed like the perfect book as it covers the development of NASA’s predecessor, NACA, and the unique people behind the aeronautical advancements from WWII to the 1960s. Enjoy!

Hidden Figures has been on my TBR since the day it came out. I love the history of NASA, I love reading about science, and I enjoy reading the achievements of a semi-forgotten group of people. It was my type of book! And yet…I hadn’t picked it up and finished it until last weekend. Why? A few things:

1. I was worried it would turn into a history of the Civil Rights movement. There is nothing wrong with that topic, but I wanted what the book promised…super smart women doing amazing things!

2. I was worried it would be an unintelligible information dump. This is a valid worry. So many nonfiction stories are ruined because the story is downed by a sea of data.

3. And lastly….I’ve really been struggling to read nonfiction. This year seems to be my comeback!

I should have read Hidden Figures a long time ago. It was great! These women were absolutely amazing! Shetterly’s book was informative without being overwhelming; it was incredibly organized and flowed for a perfect read. The story discusses the impact of many women but focused on three central computers, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine G. Johnson, and their contributions at NACA/NASA.

The most impactful aspect of Hidden Figures was how these women tackled their social hurdles in the same calm and professional manner they approached their work. My biggest worry was Hidden Figures would quickly become an expose on the Civil Rights movement; however, Shetterly just delivered the facts in a seamless documentation of extraordinary lives. These women managed their work, the raising of their children, the push for equal education, and the impact of the Civil Rights movement on their daily activities with a stoic determination. They steady broke down social barriers while diligently working to build up their community. They were ‘just doing their job’ and the humility and kindness of these women cover these pages.

Hidden Figures was meticulously organized and written in an easy to understand style, but it was also dry. The story was engaging and I couldn’t put it down, but I felt that a little extra time spent on developing a showing instead of telling style would only draw readers deeper into the lives of these computers. Her writing just wasn’t strong, but I see her quickly developing into an excellent nonfiction author. Also, I mentioned earlier how Shetterly fluidly mixed details of the Civil Rights movement in seamlessly with all other aspects of the women’s lives. But, this wasn’t necessarily the case during the last few chapters, where we read of Katherine’s involvement with calculating the reentry of John Glenn’s orbital flight. The information was quickly presented before Shetterly transitioned to the negative social responses to the cost of the space program and the lament over the lack of an African-American astronaut. Valid points, but I was craving more details concerning Katherine’s personal experience with the Mercury flight. I was hoping to hear if she felt apprehensive, or even proud of her contribution. And it just wasn’t there. This is thankfully the only negative thoughts I have on Hidden Figures.

I have yet to see the movie, but will be watching it later this week. It seems as if the movie combines decades of segregation and racial tension and presents them as all occurring during the Mercury-Atlas 6 flight…which was not in the book. I just hope it is an accurate representation of how these women overcame social hurdles with intelligence, grace, and poise.

Hidden Figures was a wonderful book that left me feeling hopeful and inspired. The brilliance of Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary has pushed me to learn more about other scientific achievements. Let me know what you thought of Hidden Figures!

Lindsay

Space!

I had no intention of doing another theme week until September, but then I realized the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing is in just one week!

Guys….I love mystery stories. I love historical nonfiction. But your girl is the biggest fangirl/nerd when it comes to aviation and space exploration history! I mean…I fly an airplane build in this late 40s…I used to work at an aviation museum (dream job!)…I watched the last night launch of the Space Shuttle! I had to read all the books, and then of course share them with you!

lift off space GIF by US National Archives

The next week is going to include a great selection of nonfiction and fiction, and I am so excited to be sharing it with you! Please hit me up with your favorite books on this topic. I definitely need to add more to my library.

excited anna kendrick GIF

Lindsay

Empire of Blue Water

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign
by Stephan Talty

He challenged the greatest empire on earth with a ragtag bunch of renegades—and brought it to its knees. Empire of Blue Water is the real story of the pirates of the Caribbean.

Henry Morgan, a twenty-year-old Welshman, crossed the Atlantic in 1655, hell-bent on making his fortune. Over the next three decades, his exploits in the Caribbean in the service of the English became legendary. His daring attacks on the mighty Spanish Empire on land and at sea determined the fates of kings and queens, and his victories helped shape the destiny of the New World.

Morgan gathered disaffected European sailors and soldiers, hard-bitten adventurers, runaway slaves, and vicious cutthroats, and turned them into the most feared army in the Western Hemisphere. Sailing out from the English stronghold of Port Royal, Jamaica, “the wickedest city in the New World,” Morgan and his men terrorized Spanish merchant ships and devastated the cities where great riches in silver, gold, and gems lay waiting. His last raid, a daring assault on the fabled city of Panama, helped break Spain’s hold on the Americas forever.

Awash with bloody battles, political intrigues, natural disaster, and a cast of characters more compelling, bizarre, and memorable than any found in a Hollywood swashbuckler—including the notorious pirate L’Ollonais, the soul-tortured King Philip IV of Spain, and Thomas Modyford, the crafty English governor of Jamaica—Empire of Blue Water brilliantly re-creates the passions and the violence of the age of exploration and empire.

2019 has found me really wanting to learn more about the Golden Age of Piracy. Not really a weird reading trend; I did take an Archaeology of Piracy class during my Undergrad studies. It’s just last year I preferred fiction (Pirates Latitudes and Daughter of the Pirate King) and this year I am craving nonfiction. So I decided to finish Empire of Blue Water.

Note: Empire of Blue Water is one of the 2018 stragglers I needed to finish.

My overall reaction to this novel was…meh. The good thing is Empire of Blue Water provides so much detailed information. The bad thing is Empire of Blue Water provides soooooooo much detailed information.

The novel details the life of Henry Morgan and the golden age of Caribbean piracy. Readers are provided a detailed history of Henry Morgan’s upbringing, his life of privateering (let’s be real…it was piracy), and his transition to plantation owner and civil servant. The text also provides an generalized account of the lives of pirate crew, which works as both an educational and comparison tool. And I was shocked to learn that Morgan specialized in ‘over land’ battles instead of epic battles at sea. Empire of Blue Water was well organized, deftly presented, and relatively engaging.

And yet I struggled to get through the audiobook. It took me a solid four months to read! The problem was the book talked about everything that influenced Caribbean piracy: Spanish politics, English politics, the varieties of Christianity, the sugar crop, the silver trade, all the pirate captains and their impact on the Caribbean. EVERYTHING. There were just so many people covered that it was often difficult to keep them all separated in my mind. I consistently found myself drifting off, especially when the author spent an entire chapter dedicated to the health and superstitious qualities of the Spanish monarchy. I know, I know; this information is important in understanding all aspects of the golden age of piracy. The story just dragged, and I was a tad embarrassed at how relieved I was upon finishing it.

Empire of Blue Water was ok. I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about Morgan and the Golden Age of piracy. Just be prepared for the information dump and know you won’t really get to read about epic sea battles.

I think my next pirate reads will be X Marks the Spot and the Under the Black Flag. Let me know your favorite pirate fiction and nonfiction!

Lindsay

The Diamond Formula

The Diamond Formula
by Alina Simone

A possible genius, a smidgen of madness, a twist of science, and an invention that very nearly changed the world—all collide in a giddy, unbelievably true mystery set in turn-of-the-century Paris.

In 1905, inventor Henri Lemoine claimed that he’d uncovered the secret to a coveted alchemy: creating diamonds in a laboratory. It intrigued a host of investors, and it soon made Lemoine an international celebrity. Then he disappeared.

The Diamond Formula is part of Inventions: Untold Stories of the Beautiful Era, a collection of incredible true stories from the belle epoque, an age of innovation, daring, bluster, and beauty when anything seemed possible. Each piece can be read, listened to, and marveled at in a single sitting.

Amazon’s Inventions: Untold Stories of the Beautiful Era collection may be my favorite discovery of 2019. It consists of three nonfiction novellas covering the inventions and discoveries of the early 1900s. I listened to the audiobook versions which were an interesting mix of audiobook and podcast. Actually, I often felt as if I was listening to a radio broadcast of the events. I enjoyed the format as a nonfiction lover and I feel it will make nonfiction more accessible for those new to the genre.

The Diamond Formula was the second story I read in the Inventions series; it was also my least favorite. Now, that doesn’t mean this review is going to be negative. I just don’t typically enjoy stories about con-men and that is probably the nicest way to describe Henri Lemoine. I just couldn’t make myself care about his life or the outcome of his actions. And well, it is hard to get past that when the audiobook is only an hour long.

The Diamond Formula discusses the initial attempts to create artificial diamonds and covers the development of the De Beers diamond dynasty. So in this story, readers are exposed to the blood diamond trade, often questionable acquisition techniques used by big business to control the competition, and the implications that basic lying has on the scientific community. So it was kinda a rough read guys. I love how this series doesn’t attempt to lessen the good and bad effects of actions but instead focuses on how this moment in time resulted in eventual positive developments for society/art/science/safety/technology…and Simone does a wonderful job with this. I still struggled with finishing the book in a positive frame of mind.

The good thing is this story reminded me of perusing the gem stone section of Natural History Museums visited in my childhood. Thinking about museums always makes me happy! And The Diamond Formula pushed me to realize there are aspects of history I still need to explore, no matter how tough the content. Read it, and then go dance in the rain just for the sheer joy of doing so.

Lindsay

Second Quarter Update/Midyear Check-in

Time for the Second Quarter Update and Midyear Goals Check-in! My overall reading numbers are lower than I would like due to a slump at the beginning of the year, but I am rather excited that I am doing so well with my nonfiction goals! I have been devouring nonfiction in 2019 which is awesome!

(A little back story for newbies to the page….I have a Master’s degree in History/Public History/Museum Management. Years of reading horrific academic style writing left me burned out on all things nonfiction. Which is sad, because I adore documentaries and reading nonfiction. So my midyear numbers make me happy! I’M BACK, BABY!)

Let’s start off with the Goals Check-in; these are the goals I shared in my 2019 Goals post. I’m pretty confident that I will reach my Total Books and Nonfiction goals by the end of the year! I haven’t made an effort to work on my 2018 Stragglers list, but we will see what the next six months holds!

Midyear 2019 Goals Check-in

Total Books Read:
Goal: 50 Current: 12

Nonfiction Read:
Goal: 12 Current: 6

2018 Stragglers:
Goal: 22 Current: 1

And now for my Second Quarter Summary! These are the books, separated by genre, that I finished in April, May, and June. (Once again…just look at those nonfiction numbers!)

Second Quarter Total: 8

Mystery: 1

Cozy Mystery: 2

Nonfiction: 5

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery
by Agatha Christie

As Jane Marple sat basking in the tropical sunshine she felt mildly discontented with life. True, the warmth eased her rheumatism, but here in paradise nothing ever happened. Then a question was put to her by a stranger: ‘Would you like to see a picture of a murderer?’ Before she has a chance to answer, the man vanishes, only to be found dead the next day. The mysteries abound: Where is the picture? Why is the hotelier prone to nightmares? Why doesn’t the most talked-about guest, a reclusive millionaire, ever leave his room? And why is Miss Marple herself fearful for her life?

Of note: A Caribbean Mystery introduces the wealthy (and difficult) Mr Jason Rafiel, who will call upon Miss Marple for help in Nemesis (1971) — after his death.

NOTE: A Caribbean Mystery is the last review of Vacation Mystery Week! Thank you all for tagging along and sharing in these vacation themed stories. Please check out one of my favorite Agatha Christie stories and let me know which books you love to read on vacation!

I was first introduced to Agatha Christie as a preteen. I spent many a night curled up on the couch with my mom binge watching David Suchet’s Poirot (and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and A&E’s Nero Wolfe). My mom is definitely responsible for my love of historical mysteries.

Now, I know I read a number of Agatha Christie novels as a preteen, but I cannot remember which ones, and I decided it was time to revisit her work after watching Murder on the Orient Express over the holidays. I found myself rewatching the old tv shows, and found A Caribbean Mystery to be the perfect read for the Caribbean cruise vacation I took last week.

I have always been a fan of Hercule Piorot, but GUYS, I forgot how much I loved the snarky Miss Marple! Miss Marple is on vacation in order to relax and maintain good health…which of course means that she is bored out of her mind. Then a man suddenly dies, the day after telling Miss Marple that he has a picture in his wallet of a murderer. Marple knows that something fishy has happened, and must discover the truth without her normal confidants.

I loved how our detective assumed a self-depreciation persona to gain information from her fellow guests. It’s refreshing how she does not lament her age, instead embraces it. She frequently rolls her eyes at the ignorance of youth and manipulates people’s preconceptions of ‘little old ladies’ to her advantage.

The mystery was interesting, twisted, and surprising. It kept me hooked and guessing until the very last page. Marple is relatable as she frequently brainstorms the facts in order to discover the culprit; she does just suddenly have the answers. My favorite part of A Caribbean Mystery was Marple’s conversation with the fantastically curt Mr. Rafiel. And it was kinda refreshing that Christie didn’t attempt to provide an explanation behind the murder’s behavior.

A Caribbean Mystery was fantastic and a mystery that I would recommend to anyone, especially those needing a light read for a beachy vacation! I have a feeling that I will be spending more time enjoying the adventures of Miss Marple this year.

Have you read A Caribbean Mystery? What is your favorite Agatha Christie story? Let me know and happy reading!

Lindsay

Murder on the SS Rosa

Murder on the SS Rosa
by Lee Strauss

It’s 1923 and young war widow fashionista Ginger Gold makes a cross-Atlantic journey with her companion Haley Higgins to London England to settle her father’s estate. When the ship’s captain is found dead, Ginger is only too happy to lend her assistance to the handsome Chief Inspector Basil Reed.

The SS Rosa delivers a convincing array of suspects ~ the wife, the mistress, a jealous crewmate. To Ginger’s dismay, her name has been added to the list! With a little help from Ginger’s dog Boss, Ginger and Haley navigate the clues (those wartime operative skills come in handy.) They must solve the case and clear Ginger’s name before they dock ~ and oh, whatever shall she wear!

NOTE: This is the last of the cozy-mystery reviews for Vacation Mystery Week. Murder on the SS Rosa is definitely my favorite cozy mystery on this list! Keep going for the review…

Amazon suggested I read the Ginger Gold box set, which contained the first three books of the cozy mystery series. Murder on the SS Rosa is the first book and it is set on a cruise ship. Folks, it was FATE! I had to read it. I had just finished A Subtle Murder and was REALLY needing a good vacation cozy mystery. Lee Straus delivered!

I enjoyed Murder on the SS Rosa. It was just well written. The first Ginger Gold book provides a detailed plot, a hardheaded protagonist, and a number of fully developed characters. And I mean each of these characters had distinct personalities, negative traits, positive traits, and plotted backstories. People…I don’t typically find this stuff when reading cozy mysteries. Most usually lack that one final rewrite before publication. So I really had fun reading it.

And I like Ginger Gold! I enjoyed her blunt honesty and shameless investigations. I liked her sweet friendship with Haley, her intelligence, her enjoyment of fine things. and her contemplation of both her past and her future. I like her so much that I immediately started the next book in the series.

The only negative I have was that it was a tad too short. Sure, cozy mysteries are not supposed to be long, but I would have appreciated 50 more pages of just detail. Murder on the SS Rosa needed just a little more descriptive language for the setting and the ending. But that’s it.

New to cozy mystery? I recommend this one. Fan of cozy mystery? I recommend this one. Burned out on cozy mysteries….I cant help fix that but this one is still good. Read Murder on the SS Rosa and let me know your favorite cozy mystery series!

Lindsay

Death in a Deck Chair

Death in a Deck Chair
by K.K. Beck

Young, innocent Iris Cooper, awarded a round-the world cruise by her doting and wealthy Aunt Hermione, is on the final lap of her voyage home. Her travels have prepared her for many of the types she meets on board: participants in a Balkan political intrigue, a vampy screen star, a muck-raking writer for a tattle-tale publication; a professor given to lecturing on the mind of the criminal lunatic; a prince who wants to be a jazz pianist. But she is not prepared for a murder. The captain recruits a reluctant Iris to take shorthand notes during the investigation, and soon Iris is on the trail of a dangerous murderer.

NOTE: Death in a Deck Chair is the book that hooked me on cruise ship mysteries. I loved this series and wish there had been more than just 3 books. Funny enough…the third book in the series is also a vacation mystery! Be sure to check out my reviews of Murder in the Mummy Case and Peril Under the Palms.

May found me struggling with a pretty epic book hangover after rereading my favorite mystery, Every Secret Thing. I’ll go into more detail about book hangovers later in the week, but I eventually found a cure while watching A Book Olive’s video, Spring 2017 Book Haul, Part 2: Fiction. (please check out her site as she is one of my favorite booktubers) Olive talked about picking up a few historical cozy mysteries by K.K. Beck and my interest was peeked. I started the first in the series, Death in a Deck Chair, on my Kindle that very night!

I am a fan of Beck’ Iris Cooper series. Death in a Deck Chair, finds 19 year old Iris returning to America via cruise ship after a around-the-world tour with her hilarious Aunt Hermione. I found Iris to be rather relatable and extremely likable; I enjoyed her intelligence, snarky whit, and unflapable curiosity. And I adore Aunt Hermione as well. I would have jumped at the chance of traveling the world with this woman and it’s obvious Iris inherited her spunk from her aunt. And don’t even get me started on Jack Clancy (you’ll hear more about him in the next few days!)

Each character was unique, with vibrant well developed personalities and each hiding their own secrets. It was easy to picture each of them sauntering along the upper ship decks by day and sneaking around the corridors by night. What’s even better is the lack of an insta-love story for Iris. Sure there is some flirting and the swapping of steamy kisses, but Iris doesn’t lose her cool over some good looking chap. She is there to find a killer!

My only negative point is that I wanted more. You will be able to read my review of the rest of the series, Murder in a Mummy Case and Peril Under the Palms, this week and my main complaint will be that I wanted just a little more from each story. I related with the characters and Beck provides decent descriptions, but I feel these stories would have better longevity just a few extra pages worth of detailed descriptions and enhanced development. The could just be a flection of the times as the book, though set in the 1920s-1930s, was written in the early 80s. *shrugs shoulder* Readers should also know thateven though I  didn’t figure out who-dunnit before the end, there were times where I easily guessed what would happen next. So, those wanting a novel that will keep them guessing at every turn should probably steer clear of this series. 

Death in a Deck Chair is a great start to a fun cozy mystery series and the perfect read for a racing summer day. Go ahead and pick up all the books, cause you won’t be able to put them down once you join Iris in solving the mystery! 

Are you a fan of K.K. Beck? Have you read any of the Iris Cooper stories? Let me know what you think!

Lindsay