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

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

The Electricity Fairy

The Electricity Fairy
by Alex Mar

The inspiring true story of Loïe Fuller, a radical nineteenth-century art nouveau icon who turned artificial light into performance art and became the incandescent inventor of modern dance.

In a new era lit by Edison bulbs, Loïe Fuller was the quicksilver that connected scientific and artistic inspiration. In a flurry of shifting lights and serpentine spins, she inspired the earliest films of Georges Méliès and held Jean Cocteau spellbound. She even sought out the Curies for a radioactive showstopper. In this transportive and hypnotic historical narrative, the uninhibited Folies Bergère superstar la fée lumière is finally restored to her shimmering, glorious place in modern history.

The Electricity Fairy 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.

I started with listening to The Electricity Fairy, and am not ashamed to say I picked it because I thought it would be about the electricity wars between Edison and Tesla. (Nope…didn’t even bother to read the story summary.) I was pleasantly surprised to find myself learning about the life of Loie Fuller, dancer and harnesser of light. This was a historic figure/story that I knew NOTHING about…I GET TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW! That is why we read nonfiction right?

Loie Fuller, the Electricity Fairy, was a dancer who combined flowing fabric and colored lights to create mesmerizing performances. She was driven by the effects of light and motion, and was innovative in her use of extensive moving light rigs to produce her desired illusions. But The Electricity Fairy covers more than just dance and fancy lighting. This story introduces readers to Marie Currie’s research on radium and Edison’s push towards moving pictures through our artist’s personal association with the scientists. Readers are also provided a detailed description of period artistic movements, with Fuller’s activities highlighting how art mixed with industrial innovation to influence the society growing around the advancements.

The information presented in The Electricity Fairy was well researched and presented in an easy to read format. It is a wonderfully engaging mix of light, dance, and science.

Let me know if you have listened to the Inventions collection and happy reading!

Lindsay

Running Like a Girl

Running Like a Girl
by Alexandra Heminsley

In her twenties, Alexandra Heminsley spent more time at the bar than she did in pursuit of athletic excellence. When she decided to take up running in her thirties, she had grand hopes for a blissful runner’s high and immediate physical transformation. After eating three slices of toast with honey and spending ninety minutes on iTunes creating the perfect playlist, she hit the streets—and failed miserably. The stories of her first runs turn the common notion that we are all “born to run” on its head—and expose the truth about starting to run: it can be brutal.

Running Like a Girl tells the story of how Alexandra gets beyond the brutal part, makes running a part of her life, and reaps the rewards: not just the obvious things, like weight loss, health, and glowing skin, but self-confidence and immeasurable daily pleasure, along with a new closeness to her father—a marathon runner—and her brother, with whom she ultimately runs her first marathon.

But before that, she has to figure out the logistics of running: the intimidating questions from a young and arrogant sales assistant when she goes to buy her first running shoes, where to get decent bras for the larger bust, how not to freeze or get sunstroke, and what (and when) to eat before a run. She’s figured out what’s important (pockets) and what isn’t (appearance), and more.

For any woman who has ever run, wanted to run, tried to run, or failed to run (even if just around the block), Heminsley’s funny, warm, and motivational personal journey from nonathlete extraordinaire to someone who has completed five marathons is inspiring, entertaining, practical, and fun.

Are you wanting a kick-start to a healthier lifestyle? Are you wanting confirmation that you aren’t alone in those awkward first steps? Are you constantly waiting for next Monday to start on your goals? READ THIS BOOK!

I am trying to run more and dream of eventually completing a marathon. I struggle with maintaining motivation, especially when life gets super stressful or busy. As such, I like to read running books to remind me that I am not alone and that there are others out there who have completed the seemingly impossible. (Feel free to peruse my reviews of How to Lose a Marathon, My Year of Running Dangerously, and Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow)

I discovered Alexandra Heminsley via an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Adventure Sports Podcast. She talked about her running and open water swimming journey during the interview. Her frank honesty had me interested in Running Like a Girl; so I picked up the audiobook. (Sadly Audible doesn’t have the UK version where Heminsley reads her own work but it was still well narrated.)

The format is incredibly easy to follow. The first part of Running Like a Girl details Heminsley’s often hilarious running journey. The second shorter part provides a summary of tips on how to pick shoes, run for charity, and just general running tips. Heminsley’s work is honest. She is bluntly open about her experiences, both the good and the bad. She shares her fears of running in front of people, her horribly demeaning first experience buying running shoes, her elation at successfully wrangling her boobs during runs, and the emotional rollercoaster she experienced during every race.

Heminsley doesn’t sugar coat anything. She openly mocks herself for her stubborn refusal to ask for advice. But she also shares the joy of finding strength and confidence with each completed run. My favorite parts are when she talks about meeting new people while running, and talking to runners who have to overcome great physically difficulties just to run. Her experiences provide a glimpse at a positive perspective most modern adults are too self-centered to realize. 

The few complaints I’ve seen can be summed up under the following topics: Heminsley self-focused narrative, her lack of scientific information on running, and the section on running makeup. Yep. There is a section on running makeup. So I am going to address these one at a time.

1.       The summary of the novel tells readers this is the author’s personal running story. Heminsley is blatantly open about her faults and trying to improve them. She berates herself for her own stubbornness, lack of confidence, and fluctuating emotions. This is her story about learning to run and how to be a better version of herself. Get off your preachy soapbox ya negative Nancys.

2.       There are plenty of books out there on the science of running. Running Like a Girl never pretends to be one. Go pick up Born to Run if that’s what you are looking for.

3.       I don’t really wear makeup but I put on mascara every day. I wear mascara to group workouts. And there is nothing wrong with people using makeup to boost their confidence during a race. She shared what had worked for her just in case someone out there could use the information.

If y’all could only see the eyerolls over here! Also, it should be obvious Running Like a Girl is specifically written for a female audience; however, this book is for anyone who has trepidations towards getting out the door on that first run. Sure, guys probably won’t get much from the section on sports bras, but this definitely isn’t a ‘dude bashing’ story. Heminsley talks about all her supporters, both male and female. The best takeaway for anyone reading this book….you can run; all you need to do is get yourself out the door.

This book is the perfect boost for anyone wanting to run, or tackle any exercise. Heminsley quickly points out that it doesn’t just have to be about losing weight but instead promotes exercise as a way to meet new people, potentially help others, and live your best life. Make today your last ‘I’ll wait until next Monday.” Pick up this story and get a needed kick in the butt to do more with your life. Have a great week and happy reading!

Lindsay

Summer Reading!

Summer is here! And is there really a better way to spend a day at the beach than with a good book?

Here is my Summer reading recommendations. I have read, or am in the process of reading, each book. Let me know if any of these are one your list!

Mystery

Cozy Mystery

Nonfiction

Classic

Pirates

Historical Fiction

Murder on the Home Front

Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries During the London Blitz

by Molly Lefebure

mothf

It is 1941. While the “war of chaos” rages in the skies above London, an unending fight against violence, murder and the criminal underworld continues on the streets below.

One ordinary day, in an ordinary courtroom, forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson asks a keen young journalist to be his secretary. Although the “horrors of secretarial work” don’t appeal to Molly Lefebure, she’s intrigued to know exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door.

Capable and curious, “Miss Molly” quickly becomes indispensable to Dr. Simpson as he meticulously pursues the truth. Accompanying him from somber morgues to London’s most gruesome crime scenes, Molly observes and assists as he uncovers the dark secrets that all murder victims keep.

With a sharp sense of humor and a rebellious spirit, Molly tells her own remarkable true story here with warmth and wit, painting a vivid portrait of wartime London.

Murder of the Home Front is my first nonfiction of 2019! It is also my first book from my 2018 Leftover List. (the full list is on my 2019 Goals post)

Molly Lefebure is working as a journalist when she is approached by famous pathologist C Keith Simpson in a courtroom. He needs assistance and hopes she is willing to be his secretary. Molly has no intention of being stuck behind a desk taking notes but she can’t say no to the chance of working in the mortuary. Murder on the Home Front is Molly’s account of her years working as CKS’ secretary during World War II.

First, my negative comments. It took me over five months to finish Murder on the Home Front! I typically breeze through audiobooks, but the narrator’s voice was just a tad too lilting for my taste. It still took me a solid third of the book to become invested in Molly’s life primarily because of the high-brow tone of the audio. The layout of the story didn’t help either. The individual stories are presented in a quick sequential orderand they read like mini-chapters within each chapter. This style is awesome for the amount of information presented but these easy stopping points meant I stopped. Frequently.

That’s it for my personal negative thoughts but I noticed some reoccurring complaints from other reviewers and decided to address them too. First: readers need to remember the book was initially published in the mid-50s. I love the tone because it is written from Molly’s youthful view. Her memories haven’t been influenced by subsequent decades of life and life lessons. However, many people considered her flighty because of her nonchalant tone. Look. She is writing about her job; it’s an amazingly cool job but still just a job. She talks about her days the same way any of us would talk about our boring jobs. Second: many people claim Molly comes across as victim blaming. I feel it’s a personal choice to read this view point into Murder on the Home Front. Look, Molly bluntly states that people wouldn’t have been murdered if they hadn’t been wandering around dark streets alone at night or spending time with violent people. That’s true. Her approach is very factual and somewhat devoid of sympathy for the people laying on CKS’ table. Come on true crime fans….you should know this the typical reaction of people who handle this gruesome stuff on a regular basis. 🙄

Murder on the Home Front is an interesting read. I liked Molly. She is a smart, strong willed, confident woman who quickly adapted to her somewhat gruesome position. Her story gives a lighthearted approach to post mortem examinations, a unique view of wartime London, and a personable experience with the changing social roles of the 1940s. Murder on the Home Front needs to be on every true crime buff’s TBR. It’s a fantastic work detailing the ‘back office’ aspect of investigations and the implementation of forensics.

Let me know what you think and happy reading!

Lindsay