Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book Review: Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger, narrated by Brian Troxell (audio)

My husband read this a few months back and I really had wanted to read it, but given my work reading marathon, I just couldn't justify it, unless I listened to it on audio. And I'm so glad I did! Especially because it came with some fun extras!

In case you don't know (as I didn't), Apollo 8 is important because that was the first spacecraft to go around the moon. It didn't land, but it was the first time humans saw the dark side of the moon. It proved that landing on the moon was certainly possible, and it pushed the boundaries of what NASA could do. It also included Jim Lovell, later be on the disastrous Apollo 13, and thank goodness he was the most experienced astronaut or that flight might not have had the outcome it did. (He held the record for days in space.)

The book doesn't assume you already know anything about space flight, and gives a good overview of the entire Gemini and Apollo programs, a cruise-by of most of all the active astronauts, and comparisons to where the Soviet flight program was at the time. The narrator pronounced it "gem-in-ee" which is how I've heard real astronauts pronounce that word, not "gem-in-eye" like we call the astrological sign. That was a good detail. And at the end, we got two tracks of an interview between the author and Commander Frank Borman, and then about 5 tracks of real audio from the flight itself, both excellent extras.

This book is publisher by Macmillan, my employer, and I got the CD audio free from work.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper, narrated by Steve Shanahan (audio)

I almost exclusively listen to nonfiction on audio. And while most everyone has at one point or another recommended that I try mysteries, I've dismissed them, because I find it's so easy to be distracted while driving or doing other things, that I'm likely to miss something in the book, and in fiction it's usually a problem, and in a mystery it can be a deal-breaker. Still, I heard such great things about this book that I thought I'd give it a shot.

Aaron Falk returns to the rural, Outback town he grew up in from Melbourne, to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke Hadler. It's a very grim occasion because Luke seems to have killed his wife and son before killing himself (kindly sparing the baby girl). Not to mention there are still a fair number of people in the town who still believe, after all these years, that Aaron had something to do with the drowning of Ellie, his good friend, when they were teenagers, an event that lead to him and his father eventually leaving town.

Now, Aaron's a federal officer, and while he's not used to the homicide scene, as he investigates financial crimes, at the request of Luke's father, he decides to look into the deaths, just to make sure there was nothing hinky in the original investigations, and so the family can know everything was done. The local investigator seems very on-the-ball but understaffed and underfunded to an extreme, and he welcomes Aaron's help. Aaron doesn't think there's anything to find, but when you start lifting up rocks, dark things tend to scurry out...

The narrator was just terrific with a good rural Australian accent. It might take some people a bit of time to get used to it, but it really helped immerse the listener in the barren, dried-out farming community of the Outback. The mystery kept me guessing with a couple of good red-herrings, and the older mystery as well made the novel complex and layered. I agree with everyone who says this sure doesn't read like a first novel. And while I hope Aaron isn't like a Jessica Fletcher type with people dropping dead all around him, therefore the second mystery in this series must necessarily not be so personal, I am intrigued and likely will give that a listen, too!

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer. I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

This is a powerful, horrifying, important true story that everyone—not just teenagers—should read.

Two high school students were on a city bus in Oakland, heading home. Sasha, who is agender and prefers the pronoun "they," was napping. Richard, an African-American boy from public school, was messing around with a couple of friends. One boy dared him to set Sasha's skirt on fire, which he did. Stupid, absolutely. But he had no idea that some fabrics would whoosh up into a ball of flame as if Sasha had been dowsed in gasoline (he had thought it would be a small little fire that Sasha would pat out with their hands, and then be mad at Richard, but that would be the end of it.) Sasha was very badly burned and Richard was brought up on hate crimes charges, facing life in prison.

Ms. Slater does an excellent job of fully telling both sides of the story, who Sasha and Richard truly were, what their backgrounds were, how they grew up, and how they both came to be on that bus that fateful afternoon. She is non-judgmental and has empathy for everyone involved. Like the books The Other Wes Moore and The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace, this book shows how sometimes it's a fine line, a single small thing, that can turn someone's life completely upside down for the worse. I'm not excusing Richard's behavior at all but it wasn't maliciously intended—it was meant to be a (very, very stupid) prank.

Everyone should read this powerful and amazing book. It is being published as a young adult book, but all adults ought to read it as well. It's beautifully written, compelling and page-turning, as Ms. Slater had great access to everyone involved. I even think this should be (and will be) taught in schools. Teenagers, without fully developed frontal cortexes, don't always foresee the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences can be devastating.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I got this book for free from my work because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

I like science books and I like medical books, but at times, they can be a slog. Not this one though! I think Ms. Fitzharris's book is the most readable science/medical book I've ever read. I breezed through it.

In grade school we all spent about one day learning about germ theory and, as kids, we dismiss it as it's crazy to think that people didn't understand that germs caused illnesses. And then in high school we get one paragraph in history class about how President Garfield died not from being shot, but from dozens of doctors (and others) sticking their dirty, unwashed fingers into his gunshot wound unnecessarily, giving him a raving infection which did kill him. But that's pretty much it for most of us. If you're lucky, you'll know that Listerine is named after a Doctor Lister, but that's it.

Turns out Dr. Lister was an important and fascinating man. He came of age and went to medical school at a time before germ theory was widely known and accepted, when the best skill a surgeon could have is speed. He studied under a Dr. Liston whose claim to fame was that he could take off a leg in under a minute. Sawing through a femur is really hard, so that was a real feat. Hundreds of people would pack into the surgical theaters to watch his prowess with the saw. But Lister saw the theory in Pasteur's research into germs and understood that it was correct and it was what was killing people. It took a very, very long time to catch on. (Garfield dies decades after Lister had been publishing his findings.) He developed a bath of acid to use to clean all the instruments and everything in the operating room, including the hands of the surgeons and assistants, and his death rates went down. To us, it's a no-brainer, but he had to argue against men who had been wearing the same unwashed surgical coat (sometimes even passed down from multiple other doctors--still unwashed) as a point of pride for decades. It was an uphill battle. Thankfully, he did eventually win over hearts and minds, but it took a horrifically long time.

Steeped in Victorian medicine and history, this biography is so smoothly and eloquently written, that it flies by. I zipped through it in short order, and learned a lot along the way.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Charlotte and her family move a lot, but she's tired of it, and she likes living in Kentucky where they know which church in their neighborhood has the spaghetti supper and which church has a big Sunday brunch. So when her mother announces they're moving to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, so that she can continue her burgeoning children's writing career in a place infused with the spirit of Laura Ingalls, Charlotte feels Laura Ingalls is ruining her life. So when they arrive and she's assigned an essay at school about Laura Ingalls, that's what she titles it.

Normally she's okay with moving but this time, she was sick when school started so her twin brother Freddy started without her, and when she arrived, she found to her shock that he'd made friends for the first time and she felt left out. They'd always been a team. Now she has to hang out with her younger half-sister Rose instead and also with the girl upstairs (they rent the basement from her grandparents) who she doesn't really like. And over the course of the year, eventually Charlotte starts to fit in, make friends, and understand Walnut Grove.

On the surface, this is a great book for 11-year-olds about moving and making friends and fitting in. However, there's a lot more meat to it for more mature kids (or for adults). Kids not ready for the more mature material won't really notice much of it, such as that in Kentucky it was really important that they knew which church had which free meal on which day, because these kids are poorer than they realize and are getting the majority of their meals this way. Their mom is doing the best she can but she has a bad track record with men (see the missing fathers of her kids) and it's hard to chase your dreams while raising three kids solo.

You certainly don't need to have read the Little House books to enjoy this book (although there are Easter eggs in it for those of us who have). It's helpful to know the books exist, but anything else you need to know is well covered.

This book is poignant, at times worrisome although with a hopeful ending, and some very real kids who leap off the page with personality and emotions. I absolutely loved it. She left the door open for a possible sequel which I would leap on eagerly. I think any middle school age kid would enjoy it, and Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will devour it.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I got this book for free from the publisher, my employer, Macmillan.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My Month in Review: September

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

I'm starting to slow down a little bit. Couldn't keep up that breakneck speed. Also, I moved last month, and I'm in my travel season, so I have a lot on my plate. Six seems like not very much though. But it was nice to take a small break and read a few non-Macmillan books.

Books completed this month: 
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller*
How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard (audio)*
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (audio)
The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life by Amy E. Herman. This is the first book an account has talked me into at a store.

At SIBA I got:
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy
The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan