Women In Space

UnknownBefore we let women’s history month go by unnoticed…

So I’ve been on a space kick lately, reading a LOT of books about space and astronauts.  In my hunt this book, Women in Space: 23 stories of first flights, scientific missions, and gravity-breaking adventures by Karen Bush Gibson, really caught my attention, I never knew that there were women being tested for the Mercury space program.  I never knew the Soviets launched a woman into space before the US did.  This book is in the teen section at my local library but I’d recommend it for anyone 4th grade and up, maybe even lower depending on their reading level.

This book first talks about the Mercury 13, women who underwent all of the same tests as the male Mercury 7 astronauts.  Each of these women was an accomplished pilot.  They underwent the tests often completing them with better results than the male astronauts but were not allowed to be part of the program.  One was made a “NASA consultant” that was almost never consulted.  When the women tried to get changes made allowing them to be part of the program, appealing to then Vice President Lyndon Johnson who as a Senator had fought for the space program they were rejected.  One reports that when she spoke to Johnson about it he told her “We can’t let you into space, if we did we’d have to let the Blacks go to space, and then the Mexican Americans, all the minorities would want to go.”  Now this is obviously a secondhand quote but WOW.  I realize this was before the Civil Rights Movement really got underway and made a difference but to hear that these words came from a man that would soon be President of the United States is seriously disconcerting.

The book continues with stories of four female Soviet Cosmonauts, two of which went to space before the first American woman.  Before their individual stories there is a short chapter giving a bit of the history of the Soviet space program and comparisons between it and the US program at NASA.

Next up a chapter on American women in space beginning with Sally Ride the first American woman in space, it also tells of women walking in space, piloting the shuttle, commanding the shuttle and commanding the Space Station, and ends with the story of Barbara Morgan the back up to Christa Mcauliffe, teacher who died in the 1986  Challenger explosion (a site that gives me shivers to this day and I only saw it on tv unlike a friend of mine who living in FL at the time was standing outside her elementary school watching the launch live) previously there is the story of another American female astronaut that was on that flight.

The last section of the book begins with a summary of the space programs of other countries and then continues with stories of female astronauts from several other countries including another member of the Challenger crew.

The exciting thing to me is that while it took a long time for women to get to space it seems in the US at least that women are really making headway, 1:4 astronauts are women (compared to 1:7 in the police force nationwide), the 2013 class of astronauts is half women (a fact I was excited to see on a special display at the St. Louis Science Center for Women’s History Month.)

I can’t recommend this book enough, it was definitely one I could not put down and when I get a classroom again I’ll be adding this book to my room library!



The Compound

9780312578602_p0_v1_s260x420For our YA lit fans!

The Compound is an award nominee, well at least in the state of Missouri.  See each year the Missouri Association of School Librarians comes out with award nominee lists for grades 1-12, Show- Me nominees are for grades 1-3, Mark Twain nominees are now for grades 4-6 (for years they were 4-8 but someone decided there are books that are ok for the upper grades but not so ok for intermediate grades hence the next level) Truman nominees are for grades 6-8 (yes sixth grade has an overlap but anyone who has ever taught sixth grade can tell you they are in a transition from elementary kids to middle school preteens so this overlap makes sense some kids will be ready for the Trumans while others should still be reading the Mark Twains), finally the Gateway nominees for grades 9-12.  The Compound has the distinction of being one of the very few books to ever be on both the Truman and Gateway lists (I believe Hunger Games was another if that gives you the idea of the quality of this book).  And now that I’ve taken up this much space telling you about the MASL lists I think it’s time to talk about the books.

The Compound is the story of Eli and his family.  At the beginning of the story they have just moved into an underground compound where they will live for the next fifteen years because there has been a nuclear attack.  Their new life begins in a panic and in grief as Eli’s twin brother Eddy and their grandmother have been left behind meaning they will die.  The story then jumps six years.  Each member of the family is dealing with living in the compound in different ways, Eli exercises and avoids all physical contact, he is racked with guilt over the death of his brother which he insists is his fault, Lexie seems to hide in books and movies, Therese begins speaking with an English accent, Mother plays her cello, and father spends more and more time in his office.  Things have not been as rosy as Father has led them to believe they will be underground, yes they have a safe place to live, they have clothing, and water but their food supplies are already beginning to be an issue and trust in their parents is also diminishing.  The story does start a bit slowly but then it picks up and at the end moves rapidly towards its finish. I really enjoyed it.

9780312650117_p0_v2_s260x420Now for those that have not yet read The Compound SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

Ok hopefully that got the point across 🙂  The Fallout is the sequel to The Compound.  Eli and his family are above ground once again and reunited with Eddy, their grandmother and their housekeeper.  They want to return to normal life but they quickly find that life back home is anything but normal.  They have to move out of their home into one bought under a fake name so no one can find them, they have a bodyguard and security guards at the gate to their new home.  Phil, their father’s right hand man who helped their father keep them underground for those years remains in charge of his company until the twins are 25.  Ok so I have to be honest here for the first half to two thirds of the book I was enjoying most of the story.  My main problem in that part was Eddy, at one point Eli is complaining/disparaging their father and Eddy begins defending him saying he “lost” his father when he was nine and the man was still a hero to him.  Um WHAT? Really he didn’t become furious with his father when he realized that his family he had mourned was NOT dead, that his father had taken them down into that compound and left him to believe he was the only family member alive, nevermind the fact that apparently Eli and the sisters didn’t fill Eddy in on what the conditions in the compound truly were, and I want to know why not btw, he still sees Dad as the hero?  Yeah that doesn’t come across as a genuine reaction to me.  I get why it was written that way after reading the rest of the book.  Anyway beyond that I was at about a 4 star rating for the book, that is until the BIG REVEAL.  Umm yeah my reaction to the BIG REVEAL: “WTH are you freaking kidding me?  I mean seriously?  This is where you’re going with this really???  UGH!!!”  I put the book aside and wasn’t sure I’d finish it, I spent I’m not even sure how much time awake in the middle of the night going over it in my head trying to make it come out ok rather than what it was.  I did finish the book and while it ended ok, it was not what I expected.  The sudden jump into the sci-fi realm from near realistic fiction was too harsh for me.  Overall I’d give this book a 2 maybe, maybe a 3 if I were feeling kind, and looking online it appears I may be the only one who feels that way.  You know I don’t like giving a negative review to a book but this one just let me down.  I did like the way it was heading but the last third to quarter of the book just shot it for me.  If you read The Fallout and disagree with me please tell me how you feel.

Final note for anyone that’s interested the MASL award nominees for next year can be found at this address http://www.maslonline.org/?1415FinalNoms



Choose Your Own Adventure

9780061133220_p0_v2_s260x420Some of my favorite books growing up were the Choose Your Own Adventure stories.  It was so thrilling to feel a part of the book, choosing what path to take next.  I was really excited recently that there was adult version of this adventure genre, written by Heather McElhatton.  I should have been warned by the title, Pretty Little Mistakes, but as the bookjacket suggests, there are 150 possible endings, each one of them incredibly dark.

The very first choice you are given is what to do after your high school graduation, although it’s not necessarily mentioned, there is the assumption that you are a young woman.  Will you follow your high school boyfriend to college, or will you take some time off and possibly travel?  When I first picked the book, there seemed to be quite some heft.  It was deceiving though, in a book with almost 500 pages it took about 15 minutes to get to the end.  So I decided to read it twice, and from the very beginning, I chose once to follow my boyfriend to college, the next time I chose to take time off.

None of these choices, or the path I took seemed logical to me.  Again, going back to my remembered experiences of Choose Your Own Adventure, I loved feeling part of the story.  In this book I kept thinking, wait, what??  I would never do that!  Not even in my wildest imagination would any of this have happened to me.  The first time I read through the book I first went to college, I ended up studying at Berkley, but in order to keep up with my work I started using “trucker speed”.  This must have been a gateway drug, as it led to using crystal meth.  I eventually decided to work with Doctors Without Borders, and was quickly and tragically killed while picking up my dry cleaning.  Wow!

This seemed like a freak accident, so when I read the book again, I decided to take some time off after my school graduation.  Again, this path took me to school in Berkley, as I had followed friends out to California.  I crossed paths with the same character as before, a boyfriend I dated in both runs through the story.  I got involved with David, who was a fellow med school student and meth manufacturer.  He was not someone I would have ever encountered in real life (at least I would hope), and in both trips through the story I encountered violence and a sexual assault.  In the second story I was a doctor who was killed by a terrorist bombing in Chad.

The suggestion of “mistakes” in the title make it seem that these are mistakes anyone could have made.  Definitely not in my life!  McElhatton also published Million Little Mistakes, taking the reader through an interesting life after winning a $22 million lottery jackpot.  What would you do??

New (non)Fiction Friday: The Unremarried Widow

9781451649284_p0_v3_s260x420If you’re not a non-fiction fan, or don’t usually read non-fiction, I urge you to pick up this book.  As a military spouse, I found this hard to read – but I knew it was something I should read.  It reminded me of how delicate life is, and each time my husband deploys there’s always the fear, however slight or unfounded, that he may not come back.  Artis Henderson’s husband Miles was a helo pilot, a much more dangerous job than what my husband does.  I am grateful that he does something relatively safe, and have always wondered how these women sleep at night, knowing that their husbands are constantly in harm’s way.  That requires quite a bit of bravery and strength on their part.  Henderson is a graduate of the Wharton School of business, at UPenn.  She had always dreamed of being a writer, yet she was taught to be very practical, so that dream was pushed to the back burner.

Her father was also a pilot, working for a small commercial line; he also had a small plane of his own that he flew out of his family’s own remote property.  When Artis was only 5, she and her father were taking a short trip, just for fun, when his plane crashed.  She wasn’t badly hurt – but her father was, for him it was a fatal injury.  Could this have possibly foreshadowed her own husband’s crash years later?  It’s something that certainly shaped her life.  It’s something that makes recovering from the death of Miles sort of familiar, as her mother had been a young window herself.

After she first met Miles, she had no idea where military life would take her.  She also had no idea the type of sacrifice she would be making, supporting a military spouse.  This is something I definitely related too, this feeling of a life that is not quite your own.  We do what we can to support our spouses, and this calling that they have to serve, and a job that they love doing.  However, there is always this sense of waiting, when will I have a normal life/career/a husband who comes home every night for dinner?

She writes of her feelings before they were even married:  “I began to worry about what it would mean to be tied to the military.  How would I navigate this life for the long haul?  Where would my own dreams and ambitions fit in?  When the brightness had disappeared from the day, I turned on the porch light and sat in the yellow glow, waiting for Miles to come home.”

This is a way of life, not one that is easy to get used to.  They decided to get married before he deployed, they didn’t want to wait until he came back.  Going back and forth from one base to the other, she works a variety of jobs – none of which are truly worthy of her time, and level of education.  While he is deployed, she is told by his unit commander’s wife to censor what she says, don’t say anything that may stress him out or keep his mind off his mission.  I have also heard this speech and find it ridiculous.  Of course you want to tell your spouse everything, good or bad.  That is your husband or wife over there, someone you share everything with.

She had sort of imagined what it would be like to have those soldiers knock on her door to tell her he was gone.  She panicked when they were there, in real life, and it was nothing like she had pictured.  “There is no greater hurt than knowing you have been loved and the source of that love disappearing.”  Not being with him in the last few days of his life, or not knowing the real details of his death was incredibly difficult for her.  She wanted him to be at peace, to truly honor him, and most of all feel that in the last moments that he wasn’t scared.  Even though they were married for less than a year, the grieving process was much longer.  The military’s investigation into the crash took longer than she wanted, as she was ready to get some type of closure.  I hope that people read this and remember the sacrifice that people make to serve this country – service members and their families as well.  I hope too, that they can be encouraged by Artis, and the incredible life that she made for herself after this tragedy.

Father Tim

9780143114390_p0_v1_s260x420For our fellow Mitford Years fans!  The story continues, the story of Father Tim that is in Home to Holly Springs.  He has received a very strange letter in the mail, it comes from his hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi and contains only two words: Come home.  At loose ends because his wife Cynthia has recently broken her foot postponing their trip to Ireland with Timothy’s cousin Walter and Walter’s wife Katherine, Father Tim decides to head home and see if he can find the meaning behind this strange note.

The trip to Holly Springs is interspersed with flashbacks to Tim’s childhood.  Memories of his mother, father, grandparents, and his nanny Peggy.  Peggy disappeared when Tim was just a child and he has missed her for years, wondering what happened to her.  He hopes that on this trip home he will find her and possibly find his child friend Tommy who has also disappeared.

While we hear a bit from Cynthia and Dooley this story is mainly Father Tim.  It’s him facing old demons, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, and finally finding the letter writer.  I really enjoyed this story especially finding out more about Timothy’s childhood.

9780143119913_p0_v1_s260x420The second book in the Father Tim series is In the Company of Others.  Cynthia’s foot has healed so the Kavanaughs are off to Ireland.  The story begins with a harrowing ride down a narrow road at night in the rain.  I don’t think I’d want to be in the car with them that’s for sure.  As I read I could hear the Irish brogue of the the speakers in my head, it was comforting in a way I never would have expected.  Not long after arriving the power goes out and there is a break in at the bed and breakfast/inn where Tim and Cynthia are staying.  The rector finds himself a host of new friends and serves as the shoulder to lean on, ear to hear for several of them. Cynthia hurts her foot once again and while she is stuck in the room she also makes new friends and a discovery, the diary of a doctor who built the large house up the hill. I have reread this book several times, more than the previous one.   There is just something about this one that calls to me, or maybe to my Irish heritage. 🙂

I sincerely hope Jan Karon continues to write stories about Father Tim and the rest of the Kavanaugh clan as well as those he has met throughout the series.

Palace of Stone

9781599908731_p0_v4_s260x420Happy St Patrick’s Day!  Today we’re featuring Shannon Hale, author of the Palace of Stone YA series.

I came across the Palace of Stone at the library again quite by accident while wandering the shelves.  Palace is the sequel to Princess Academy the story of the girls in a small mountain village being taken away to be a part of the Princess Academy.  Their little village on Mount Eskel is part of the country of Danland.  Future kings of Danland do not simply get to pick their own wives, the nation’s priests determine what area of the country the wife is going to come from and then an academy is set up to teach all of the girls aged 12 – 17 what they need to know to become princess and then queen.  I remember pulling the book out of my classroom library to read.  I tried to read as many of the books as I could for two reasons: 1) so that I knew exactly what was on my shelves and I wouldn’t be surprised if a parent raised an issue with a book, then I could respond intelligently about the book and 2) it’s much easier to recommend books to students when you’ve read them.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the growth of the girls, their awakening to the larger world they are a part of, especially Miri.

Palace picks up not too long after the end of Princess.  Miri and girls of Mount Eskel, now ladies of the princess are headed to spend a year in the capital city of Asland helping the princess prepare for her wedding.  Miri will be attending the Queen’s Castle school while there, and Peder her close friend and she hopes betrothed will also be going along to learn to carve the linder they villagers dig out of the quarry on the mountain.

I’ll be honest, after reading the book I read the reviews and while I agree that I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of description of Asland the city, there was much more going on and it just didn’t stick with me as a problem.  Others were also bothered by the “love triangle” one reviewer saying Miri and Peder’s relationship just doesn’t seem to develop slowly rather it undergoes a sudden change.  I don’t see that. Miri clearly feels deeply for Peder but as she has been raised says nothing to him, it’s supposed to be the boy who expresses interest and yet when he doesn’t and another boy does it is no surprise she responds while remaining conflicted.

The politics in the book are what really caught my attention though.  The nobels are required to pay tribute to the king this means they are taking money and other things from the commoners on their lands. The commoners, known as the “shoeless” are becoming poorer and poorer with each passing year.  A revolution is on the way, Miri who believed that all lowlanders had life better than the Eskelites has her eyes opened and ends up smack in the middle of the fight.  It does move rapidly, there are transitions that seem almost too fast like something is missing.  Over all I really liked this book, I found Miri to be a totally believable character.  Some complaints in reviews were that she was such a strong person in Academy and now is unsure of herself, well DUH, someone particularly and adolescent to a dramatically different environment than the one she is used to will often lead to what seems to be a change in personality.  Given time however that fades as the person becomes accustomed to their new place.  This is exactly what happens with Miri.

This is a great read for those wanting to show how history may or may not repeat itself, how revolutions begin, and how even unknowingly you can play a role in something as large as an uprising.  I will be adding it to my classroom collection when I get a classroom again!

New Fiction Friday: Just What Kind of Mother Are You?

9780802121622_p0_v5_s260x420Can I just say first off that the very title of this book is intimidating?  Just What Kind of Mother Are You?  Hopefully a good one!  Don’t be fooled – this is in no way a parenting book.  Instead, it is a very compelling mystery of a young girl who has disappeared, it’s a great page-turner.  I’m going to blame this book for the lack of sleep I’ve gotten in the past few days.  Paula Daly, the mastermind behind this haunting mystery has found away to expose a parent’s worst fears, losing a child.  The book was released in September, but was very recently released in paperback.

As a mother of three, Lisa, who is also the director of the local animal shelter, has quite a bit going on her life.  Her 12 year old  daughter was having a week-night sleepover with a friend, and when that friend who was supposed to come home with her daughter from school didn’t show up, she blanked and forgot to get in touch with the girl’s mother.  Of course this is a huge oversight, but it was a combination of juggling everything else, and assuming that the girl’s mother was already aware that her daughter wasn’t at Kate’s house.  Yet, Daly makes it seem that one slight misstep like this one could’ve happened to anyone.  The next morning the girl doesn’t show up for school, yet nobody really realizes she’s missing until that afternoon, when her mother becomes concerned that her daughter doesn’t come home from school.  At that point she’d been gone for almost 24 hours, and everyone is completely freaked.  Adding to the panic, a girl of similar age had recently been kidnapped and raped, and the attacker was still at large.

Throughout the first days of the search for this young girl, details are revealed about Lisa’s relationship with her husband, and with the girl’s mother, Kate.  One critical detail is revelaed about Lisa, that happened during a dinner party at Kate’s house.  Everyone had had a bit too much to drink, Lisa included, and she had sex with Kate’s brother in law in one of Kate’s bathrooms.  I’m not sure if this detail was meant to damage Lisa’s credibility, because I don’t think that it does.  Instead, I think it points out a vulnerability in Lisa, who is an otherwise strong woman.  She has always felt inferior to Kate and her family, as Kate’s husband is a doctor and Lisa’s works as a taxi driver.  She was flattered by this man’s attention, and in a way it was a way for her, for once, to feel superior.  These feelings are only made worse with her personal feeling of responsibility when Kate’s daughter goes missing.

Here she is after showing up at Kate’s house to help: “My voice is weak and shaky.  I want to ask how she is, but I can’t bring myself to do it, because it’s such an inadequate question.  Because you know they’re not all right.  You know they’re holding on to the edge, their fingernails scratching to keep a hold.”

About a hundred pages in, the story takes a twist, pulling the missing girl’s father into suspicion.  At this point it became almost impossible to put the book down!  Of course there are several leads, taking the reader in several directions, so it’s hard to predict the book’s ending.  (Isn’t that mark of a great book?)  After a couple days into the search, a third victim is kidnapped.  Yet the details are different that of Lucinda’s (Kate’s daughter) disappearance.  After the third girl is kidnapped, Kate and her husband have a falling out, which Lisa overhears after calling apparently in the middle of this argument.  Kate tried to call her friend the following morning, and when she got no answer by telephone she decides to go over to Kate’s house.  There, shockingly, she finds the house almost empty, with Kate passed out on the kitchen floor.  Later that day Kate’s husband is arrested in connection with Lucinda’s investigation.

Wow!  This young girl’s disappearance has touched so many lives, uncovering some unflattering details about a family that was believed to be so perfect.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and now that I’ve finished it, I can rest again!