Right Kind of Crazy

9781591846925_p0_v2_s192x300By now readers of this blog are I’m sure well aware of my obsession over anything space related. One of the places I always go when looking for books to read is the  new books section of my local library, (which by the way is closing for remodeling soon and I’ll have to go to another location I’m having a bit of angst over that). At this point I know exactly where to go to find the new space books – 629.45, which falls under branches of engineering. The books on rocketry and robotics are nearby. Not long ago when I went to the new bookshelf in that section I found the book The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation by Adam Steltzner and William Patrick.

Right Kind of Crazy is a cross between a biography of Steltzner and a book about how to be a good leader. Steltzner led the Entry, Landing, and Descent team for the Curiosity rover. The book begins with a problem propping up just days to hours before the final descent of the rover to the surface of Mars, then backtracks to Steltzner’s schooling. A bit of a wild child his education took an unusual route but he eventually made the commitment and found what worked for him and succeeded.

I’ve always been a bit curious as to how things run at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In other books about the space program, astronauts, and NASA you get behind the scenes information on several locations but somehow JPL is always left out. Here is that window behind the scenes.

Adam takes us through his journey at the JPL from his starter position to taking on leadership roles and finally his role as lead of the EDL team. Along the way he shares mistakes he made and what he would do differently. He also shares successes, things he did that worked well. It’s a fast and enjoyable read although if like me you don’t have much engineering knowledge you may find yourself bewildered when he occasionally gets technical, still it’s worth it to read.

May 30, 2016 Mars was the closest to Earth as it would be for 26 months, it was brightest on the 22nd. I sat on my back patio on the 22nd and looked at Mars, marveling that I could see it with my own eyes when it’s so far away, marveling even more that considering just how far away it is, and that it moves closer and further away that there are people who were able to calculate the trajectory to land several rovers there on Mars in different places. That there are people who are even now calculating how to get humans to Mars. It’s easier to understand how people got to the Moon, you can see it fairly clearly. One a good full moon night you can easily see the Sea of Tranquility where Apollo 11 landed, but Mars???  It’s nearly mind-boggling to realize that we have sent machines to what appears in our sky as a twinkling reflection of the sun with a distinctive red tint, that we are able to communicate with those machines and receive information back from them. I hope I’m alive when humans make it to Mars, in the meantime I’ll keep following the work of the JPL and those putting the rovers on Mars, orbiters around other planets, and on asteroids and comets.


New Fiction Friday: The Best of Enemies

unnamedThe Best of Enemies is Jen Lancaster’s latest work of fiction. She’s more known for her memoirs, which is what she does best, but she has a knack for humor. I’ve read all of her books, and though I’ve enjoyed them all, I think her personal stories are much funnier than those of fiction. Although, I have to say, having read all of her memoirs (and I think there are 7?) I think there is a lot of her in her fictional characters. This story focuses on a group of 3 friends, they grew up together, went to college together, and have been friends for years when the story picks up.

9780451471093_p0_v1_s192x300Jacqueline, Kitty and Sarabeth have known each other since college. Kitty and Jack were college roomates (though had a falling out and hadn’t talked in years). Sarabeth and Jack were friends before high school, and they became a threesome their freshman year of college. They are very different girls, and grow to become very different women. After the falling out between Kitty and Jack, Sarabeth is torn between the two. Years after they go their seaparte ways after college, Sarabeth is the anchor for the t here of them.  Yet, they are all drawn together again after her husband disappears in a plane crash.

Kitty is a stay at home mom, with three growing kids, and a somewhat successful blog (quick sidenote – Lancaster herself started as a blogger). Jack is a journalist, single, and is often working abroad.  Sarabeth could’ve gone to any college she wanted, but she wanted to stay close to friends.  She is smart, ambitious, and accomplished, and after college goes on to found her own company with her husband. It’s through this company, and other major investments, that leads Kitty and Jack to be suspicious of Sarabeth’s husband’s disappearance.

Although I enjoyed this book, I have to say this isn’t my favorite of hers, and it’s definitely not her best. Parts of it were kind of funny, but don’t stand up to the comedy that she’s kind of known for.  It’s still a fun read though, and perfect for the summer!

Enjoy and happy reading!!

Daddy Stop Talking

9780062394255_p0_v2_s192x300In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, here is Adam Carolla’s hilarious take on fatherhood.  Carolla has a lot of wisdom to share, surprisingly. His most recent book, Daddy Stop Talking: And Other Things My Kids Want But Won’t Be Getting, offers some pretty humorous – yet spot on parenting advice. I’ve been a fan since his Loveline days – and as he ages and evolves, so does his comedy. He is the father of 8 year old twins, and the book is his way of sharing parenting advice, and also guidance for his children in their later adult lives. He also wants to reclaim some of the power he thinks dads lost in modern parenting.

“The days of Father Knows Best are long gone. It’s no longer enough to be just the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Dads today are expected to be earners, handymen, and spider killers, like we always were – but now all the mommy bloggers have demanded that we’re also diaper changers, meal makers and field trip chaperones, too.”

He comes off a bit insensitive, but his comedy is refreshing. He wants to be the man of the house, but some of the power that once came with that role he believes is gone.  While he’s trying to reclaim this power, he’s also conceding to his role in the house. If you’ve ever listened to his Podcast (which by the way is in the Guiness Book of World Records as the most downloaded Podcast ever), you can hear his ridiculous stories about living with his wife and twins.

He also has a show on HGTV, To Catch a Contractor, and has quite a bit to say about the house they live in. One place that seems sacred to him – the garage, he loves cars – collecting them, racing them, and hopes to pass this passion on to his kids. Outside of his garage, he has no real power – his wife is the ruler of the house, then his children, then Olga, their nanny.  He’s at the bottom of the totem pole, and not too happy about it.

One of the funniest parts of the book is his chapter entitled “Don’t Be This Guy”. Among those he warns his kids from becoming are “zombie guy”, “foreskin restoration guy”, “formerly fat guy”, “weird handshake guy”, “empty ice-cube tray in the freezer guy”, “anti-milk guy”, “unfinished beer guy”. For Natalia, his daughter, “breastfeeding activisit”, “half-marathon chick”, “drunk woman who calls herself a MILF or cougar”, “complicated starbucks order chick”.

Don’t be these people. One day you’ll be in therapy. Your therapist will probably a woman, please pass along this book. You’ll one day receive a trophy you didn’t really earn. I’m trying my best to not do the same things my parents did, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Parents shoud put down the iPads/iPods and parent.  I can myself become these people, or my own daughter becoming one of these people.  I still laughed, some be offended though.  The book, like his Podcast, and his comedy in general, is not for everyone.  I can laugh at myself, and often do.  He’s calling us out – good parents, and bad parents – and those in between, which is almost all of us.

Happy Father’s Day!  Enjoy, and happy reading!

A Plug for Fan Fiction

unnamedAges ago when Amy and I answered questions on books we read, one was what is your guilty pleasure. The only thing I could come up with that to me was a guilty pleasure read was fan fiction. I’m here to say though, fanfiction shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure it should just be a reading option. I’ve come to love fan fiction as I travel the stories on www.fanfiction.net.

It seems no matter what you’re interested in books, movies, comics, games, tv shows there is fan fiction for it and an amazing amount of it. There are crossovers between stories that can be incredibly interesting to read. Obviously some titles have more stories than others, with Harry Potter topping the books list with 741,000+ stories, followed by Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Lord of the Rings, and Hunger Games rounding out the top five, but there are hundreds of books and series listed. It will come as a shock to no one I’m sure that Star Wars and Avengers are the top of the movies list.

Myself, I have read Harry Potter, Avengers, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and M*A*S*H stories so far. I’ve even begun dabbling in writing Harry Potter fan fiction. It’s fun, and as a teacher seems natural to me. We ask kids all the time if they were writing the story or if they were the characters what would they do differently. That builds naturally to writing fanfiction.

Finding familiar loved characters in outrageous situations always leaves me wondering how it is people can be so creative. Whether someone changes a major plot point like Voldemort dying in the battle at the Ministry, or takes the characters completely out of their universe putting them in another there are always stories that will catch your attention. Some authors concentrate on sequels, others on prequels, still others on simply changing the story as it is. There are authors that are excellent at keeping the characters in character as they were written by the original author and others who change the characteristics wildly.

There really is something for everyone. I know there are other sites to read fan fiction, fanfiction.net just happens to be my favorite. The site allows you to search by characters in the story, rating (yes just like movies these stories are rated for language and mature situations), the language it’s written in, pairings, and whether you’re looking for stories in progress or complete.

Pairings, ah the ships that exist. If you haven’t heard the term ships first what rock have you been living under, just kidding I’d heard it all the time but it took me a while to pick up on it. I’m not sure if it really started just as a shortening of relationships but that’s always made the most sense to me, anyway ships are the pairings people want to see. They might be the same pairings the author created or altogether new ones. You might see one and think, Oh my gosh YES, or you might see one and think EW EW EW EW EW! There are several HP ships I’ve seen that I just cringe and get the creepy crawlies but I skip on by those stories and don’t read them.

You may not find the book or character you’re looking for as some authors have requested that fan fiction of their works not be allowed on the sites as they are still working on the series and don’t want to risk someone posting a story with an idea they have also had and then being sued over it. Can’t say I blame them but what a sad world we’ve come to that this is even a concern.

So if you’re missing your favorite characters because there are no more books coming out, or it’s a wait for the next, or maybe it’s the offseason for your show, give fan fiction a try you might just be pleasantly surprised!!

New Fiction Friday: The Nightingale

515p3OrN1KL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I gave up on Kristin Hannah a few years ago.  My book club had picked Firefly Lane, and I think I might’ve been the only one who didn’t like it.  Everyone else seemed to like it, and I was really wondering why – it was a little too sappy for me.  Since then, I hadn’t even considered reading another one of her books.  Her latest book is The Nightingale, which seems to be very popular, and has been on the NYT’s bestseller list for 66 weeks. A few of my friends have been raving about it, insisting that I should read it.  I decided to give it a try, despite my ban on her books.

The story focuses on Vianne, a young woman living in France before World War II, before the Nazi occupation began.  So, not only was I hesitant about reading another Kristin Hannah book, as soon as I started reading it I though I cannot handle another book about (or at least set in) WWII.  I just can’t.  Vianne’s husband goes off to fight, and she is left behind.  They have a daughter, and while he is away their home is requisitioned by the German military.  She is then forced to live side by side with the enemy, as their home becomes the living quarters for a German army officer.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read set in France in the beginning stages of the war.  It was a difficult time for the French people, and certainly one for Vianne, and her younger sister Isabelle.  They’re both young when the war starts, and this experience shapes their lives significantly.  How they survive the war is remarkable, and it brings them together in a way nothing else ever could.  Their relationship and bond is probably the most enduring thing about the story.  Without each other, neither would have been able  to survive.

I had no expectations about this book.  Even after hearing so many good things about it, I still had reservations.  I challenged myself to read it.  If I can challenge myself to read a really long book, or something really difficult to read – can’t I challenge myself to read something I’d normally just dismiss?  I thought it was a good story, but overall I wasn’t that impressed.  I’m glad I read it though.  The had the expected sentimentality, a bit of romance, and two strong sisters.  If you’re a romance fan, or a fan of Hannah’s previous book, you’ll like this book too.  It’s a great summer read!

Enjoy, and happy reading!


A Long Walk to Water

41ZnAfT8rKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Do you ever think about how lucky you are to have running water in your home? I realize that this is not everyone, but an overwhelming majority of Americans have fresh, clean water to drink in their homes. This is not something I think about often, but I probably should.  After reading A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, I was reminded just how lucky I am. This story follows a young girl in Sudan, whose job it is to walk every day to the nearest source of water. Hours there and back, sometimes twice a day. It consumes her life. She thinks only of the time of the year where her family will relocate, and live closer to water so that she won’t be making these long, daily trips.  And for her sister to get a little older, so then the job will be passed down to her.

The story goes back and forth between this young girl named Nya, and a young boy named Salva. Although they live in different times, they both are from Sudan.  Sudan has historically been a unstable, and that becomes a major disrupter in Salva’s life.  He is able to escape conflict after his school, home, and family are destroyed, but then is alone.  He becomes one of the lost boys of Sudan. He walks and walks for days – weeks even, to get to a safe place.

The story was written by Linda Sue Park, a past Newberry Medalist winner. After reading this, I was wondering why she hadn’t won again for this book. This is such an important story, especially one for a young audience. Salva and Nya are about the same age as Park’s  target audience, making it easy for readers to relate to the characters. To put myself (or any reader) in those shoes is unimaginable.

Salva’s journey is hearbreaking, one that no one should have to make – regardless of age.   There is saving, there is healing in this story though. What eventually happened to the Lost Boys was not enough to make up for the loss of the many many lives that were ruined or lost.  He eventually makes his way to the states, to New York, where he is fostered by a family. He meets Linda Sue Park, who retells his life story in this book. **Spoiler Alert**, he does make his way back to Africa to see his father, after years of searching for family members. Not everyone was that lucky though, this part of his story is unique.  This is such a great story, and so inspiring to young readers.  Salva experienced the unthinkable, and yet at the end of the story, he returns to Africa a survivor, and was determined to make changes.  He now works with Water for Sudan, which is committed to providing fresh water to people in rural Sudan.

The Missing Kennedy

9781610881746_p0_v1_s192x300The Kennedys have been one of the most fascinating families in American history. For decades, there have been countless books and movies, all about them. I’m not quite sure what makes them so interesting, so intriguing, that years (if not decades) after one of their brightest stars passed, people are still interested.

Joe Kennedy and his wife Rose had 9 children, each of whom were the light of their lives. One child in particular caused them more trouble, heartache, and worry than any of the others. Rosemary Kennedy, The Missing Kennedy, was their third child, and their oldest daughter. Her two older brothers were smart, ambitious, and one would become a president. She had four younger sisters, with whom she was incredibly close. Despite her siblings’ success and accomplishments, something seemed wrong with her. At least that’s what her paretns thought. She struggled in school, and didn’t seem to measure up to any of them. Although, in growing up in this household there must have been high expectations.

Rosemary was slower than her siblings, and slower than friends and classmates. She was once diagnosed as mentally retarded. This was in the 1940s. There weren’t many options available for treatment or care for her.  During her father’s rising career (he once served as an ambassador to the UK), she was maturing, she was beautiful, and she was believed to be a risk to her brothers’ ambitions.  Her behavior was unlike her siblings, and though not out of the ordinary for her age, she was expected to be a proper young lady, especially while living abroad. As her behavior grew more erratic, as she was prone to extreme mood swings, her father began considering his options.

He resorted to a lobotomy. At the time, the surgery was revolutionary. It promised to balance her moods and behavior, and basically keep her in line. After the surgery, she was sent to live in a group home in Wisconsin. This is where the story really begins. The author, Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff’s, aunt was a nun who worked at this group home. Her Aunt Stella became Sister Paulus.  Both women came from large, strong, Catholic families. That’s where the similarities ended. Yet, Rosie’s family included Sister Paulus in theirs, the two women took several trips together, and no one cared better for Rosemary than Sister Paulus.  The Kennedy family continually expressed their thanks to both her, and the home.

The book was really interesting, and included many personal details that had been shared with Koehler-Pentacoff, who was really close to her aunt.   She had exclusive access to this information, as well as a ton of pictures that are shared throughout the book, of her aunt, Rosemary, and the rest of the Kennedy clan who frequently visited her. Part of the story was heartbreaking, knowing that Rosemary went through a procedure that would essentially end her life as she knew it.

The book could’ve been better, but I still enjoyed reading it.  Included in this brief history of the Kennedy family, and of the details of Rosemary’s life, is the background of the author’s family –  with a focus on the aunt who got to know Rosemary so closely.  It takes a special person to care for the disabled – and that’s exactly who Sister Paulus was.  She cared for Rosemary better than anyone in the Kennedy family.