Books: Hidden Figures

June 17, 2017

I don’t remember a lot of details of watching the first moon landing, in July 1969. Mostly I remember being bored with how long it took before they finally opened the door of the lunar module. I don’t actually know if my memories of scenes from Mission Control are from that night, or from movies I’ve seen since then. But my impression of Mission Control is of a bunch of men sitting at banks of computers.

White men, in white shirts, figuring out whatever needed to be figured out to get three men to the moon and back. It never occurred to me, until reading Hidden Figures recently, that a lot of the work behind the scenes had been done by black women.

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Books: A Thread of Grace

March 26, 2017

Having read Mary Doria Russell’s previous books, The Sparrow and Children of God, I was glad to find another book by her on the library shelves. (Though I have to admit I did not check it out the first time I saw it – I knew from her other books that it would be very well-written but also suspected it would be emotionally pummeling at times.)

It is quite a change from the science fiction of the other books, though unlike most science fiction those have as much philosophy as science, and reflect Russell’s background as an anthropologist (she creates entire civilizations to populate a faraway planet). I enjoy historical fiction, and this novel explores an aspect of World War II that I have read little about if at all previously.

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Books: Call the Midwife

October 2, 2016

Tomorrow is our monthly book club meeting, and I just realized I had not written a post on last month’s book, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. It’s not a book I would have thought of reading otherwise (mostly as I hadn’t heard of it before), but it was an enjoyable and fascinating read.

It is a view not only into the world of midwifery, but also into the lives of people living in postwar London Docklands. Worth recounts the stories of a wide variety of people, both the nuns (she lives and works at the convent of St. Raymund Nonnatus) and the women they serve and their families. There are a number of memorable characters, especially Conchita Warren and her very large family.

It is also a view into a historical era that exists now only in books and in memories. The slums have since been torn down and families moved elsewhere, ending a way of life that was very hard but that had its positive aspects also. The practice of medicine has changed a great deal since then also, so some of the practices of the midwives in the book seem strange to us in the 21st century. (I had never heard of boiling urine before, to test for pre-eclampsia.) Read the rest of this entry »


Books about WWII

July 30, 2016

I don’t know if there are more novels these days set in World War II, or if I just happen to be coming across them more, but I recently finished three of them, each told from a very different perspective.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, by David Robbins, follows the experiences of two American non-combatants from when they come ashore at Omaha Beach. Joe Amos Biggs is an African-American who left college to enlist and who longs to be able to fight alongside the white men. Ben Kahn is a chaplain who had fought in the trenches in World War I, whose son is a B-17 pilot shot down over France and now MIA, and who is motivated by desire for revenge on the Germans. Occasionally there are also passages told from the point of view of “White Dog,” an American pilot shot down over France, who prefers the comfortable life he has found as a black marketeer in occupied Paris to rejoining his comrades in arms.

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Books: Dictator

April 25, 2016

If I had realized that Dictator was the final book of a trilogy I’d have tried to read the other two books first. I knew Robert Harris had written other novels about ancient Rome – I just didn’t realize they were part of a single story.

I wonder now how far I’d have gotten if I had started with Imperium. It’s been a long time since I took this long to get through a library book – I actually had to go back to the library to check it out a second time (after using up my 3-week renewal period).

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Books: The Invention of Wings

April 17, 2016

The Reading Challenge 2016 I’ve been using calls for me to read a “book from Oprah’s Book Club,” and I had been wondering what book I could find that I wanted to read from that list. The books I prefer to read and the books on that list do not generally coincide.

But our book club selection this month was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, which I learned from the back cover is a selection of the Oprah Book Club 2.0. I don’t know what is different about the 2.0 list from the original, but all of us in the book club (well, those few of us who made it to this month’s meeting) thought this novel was well worth reading.

Before the meeting someone asked me if I enjoyed the book. I explained it’s hard to speak in terms of “enjoying” a book that describes the suffering of slaves, but it certainly was an engrossing book. I had thought, from the subject matter, it might take me a couple of weeks, reading it on and off, to finish it. But I finished it in two days.

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Books: Alexandria

March 26, 2016

Since I enjoy both historical fiction and mysteries, a mystery set in the Roman empire sounded interesting. I had not read anything previously by Lindsey Davis, but thought Alexandria sounded interesting.

When I check it out of the library, I was more interested in the fact that the ancient library of Alexandria featured prominent, than in noticing the book was part of a series. I generally like to start those at the beginning, and Alexandria turns out to be Davis’ nineteenth novel featuring Marcus Didius Falco. (For future reference, I found someone’s list of the books in order.) Read the rest of this entry »