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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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

Nonfiction November

November is here, and I am back from an untended, but needed hiatus. The holidays are upon us; the weather is finally starting to cool off, packages containing Christmas gift are already arriving, and my obsession with coffee is in full force. November normally finds me craving period mystery novels, especially those with spunky female detectives. So I was all prepared to read some Phryne Fisher and Murder on the Orient Express (to celebrate the movie coming out!). Then I watched A Book Olive’s announcement of Nonfiction November, and realized I had only read ONE book out of the FIVE listed as my 2017 goals.

texas rangers grin GIF by MLB

Luckily three of my goal books fit well with this year’s Nonfiction November challenges (they are all listed below). My goal is to read and review these four nonfiction novels, plus four detective stories this November. Lofty goals but enjoyable none the less.

 

Home: Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

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Substance: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

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Love: Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography

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Scholarship: A Man on the Moon

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Are you participating in #NonfictionNovember2017? Please let me know what books you plan on reading this month, and you can look forward to new reviews on History and Mystery! Happy November everyone!

Lindsay

The Martian

The Martian

by Andy Weir

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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 & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& 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—& 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?

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