Dragon Rider

I remember reading the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke when I was a young teen, and I loved the books (even if I can’t remember them so great). So while Dragon Rider isn’t a new book, I jumped at the chance to snag advanced readers of it (reissue, I guess, or just to get people excited for the second book) and her upcoming sequel.

Dragon Rider begins in a quiet dragon hideout in danger of being overrun by humans. Firedrake and his trusty brownie friend, Sorrel, set out to find the Rim of Heaven, a legendary hideout where some dragons may still be, and the one spot likely still to be safe from humans. Early on in their journey, they encounter Ben, an orphan boy who helps them figure out where they need to go, and joins them on their journey.

But Nettlebrand is soon on their trail–a dragon, so to speak, Nettlebrand was created and enjoys nothing so much as hunting and eating other dragons, and it’s been too long since he’s had a good hunt.

With a cast of courageous characters, Dragon Rider is a fun story about protecting nature, and of the weak and small overcoming the strong and big. It’s a magical story, which we’d expect nothing less from Funke, and while it’s geared toward kids (3rd and 4th grade, I’d say), it’s still enjoyable for adults, too. It reminds me why I’ve always loved magical stories, and of the classic style of the good guys winning the day. It’s also nice because, the characters are human in their behaviors, making the same kind of easy mistakes we all make. Sometimes, in adult fiction, we lose some of the humanity in our characters because we’re so busy trying to make them a different hero than the next guy. All in all, it’s just a fun, refreshing read.

So, if you have some youngsters in need of a good book, check out Dragon Rider. Just make sure you have a second book on hand, because they’re going to read through it fast.

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Daring Greatly

Brené Brown has been on my radar for quite a while as someone I wanted to read. I don’t dip into personal growth (self help) too often, but I’d heard good things about Brown.

Daring Greatly is a book based on a decade of Brown’s research into shame and vulnerability, and how the two are linked. While many people see vulnerability as weakness, Brown argues that vulnerability is courageous, and is a countermeasure against shame. Instead of keeping shame bottled up, Brown challenges people to open up to trustworthy people and allow the feeling of not being good enough to be replaced by a feeling of worthiness.

After laying out her research, Brown takes the final two chapters to discuss how vulnerability and shame can each change the dynamics of the workplace, schools, and families, and how to start implementing good practices.

For being in the personal growth section, I was definitely expecting something more inspirational, if you will. But Daring Greatly really felt like it could have been at home in the psychology section as well. Either way, it was a good read that really challenges you to think about your behaviors, both in terms of your own vulnerability, and in terms of how you encourage vulnerability in others.

Brown argues, and I think I agree with her, that in order to live the fulled “wholehearted” life, we have to be willing to be vulnerable with others. In my own experiences, this is true. Being open with others creates genuineness, and without those, no relationship is going to be strong enough to last, nor will it be deep enough to be meaningful.

Daring Greatly is a must read, I think. If we could just change the way we interact with others to be more real and more positive, think of how much the world itself might change.

Into the Black

Continuing my flight into NASA and space flight history, my latest read picked up, essentially, after the Apollo missions, looking into the development of the space shuttle and the U.S.’s attempt to get back into the space race after the conclusion of the Apollo missions.

Into the Black by Rowland White is several things. White intended it to be the story of the shuttle’s first flight, and how, with the heat shield potentially classified, NASA relied on a classified government agency for help. But more than that, it’s the history of the shuttle program, and how the cancellation of the Air Force’s manned space program made it possible for the National Reconnaissance Office to be in touch with NASA in the first place.

The book covered such a broad time frame, it was easy to forget that it was all leading up to the revelation of now-declassified information. And, after having read it, I would say the synopsis certainly felt like an over-dramatization (though surely in the moment, without knowing if the classified spy satellites could even get a picture of the damaged shuttle, and by knowing how extensive the damage was, the men flying the shuttle and those controlling from the ground were in the edges of their seats).

But as a historical account of the shuttle program, and the journey to get there, Into the Black is excellent, going into detail and getting perspectives and comments from nearly everyone involved. It’s clear that White did extensive research and interviewing to reconstruct the story.

It was complete accident, though not all that hard, to have bought three books on space history and have them chronicle the timeline almost without skipping any time. But I’m so glad it worked out that way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my journey through space history so far.

For anyone interested in space history, the shuttle program, or classified government agencies, Into the Black is a book to add to your reading list.

Apollo 8

I’m on a hardcore space kick, and my latest read (ok, last couple, with more to come) fed right into that.

In natural progression, I went from the the Mercury missions to Apollo (I skipped Gemini, I’ll have to go back sometime), specifically Apollo 8.

Jeffrey Kluger jumps into space history with American Astronauts training for missions to the moon, trying to make good on the late President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon by 1970. But with a craft that is riddled with issues, and tragedy striking, it seems impossible.

But just when things seem hopeless, NASA’s brightest give voice to an unthinkable but perfect idea: push forward a lunar mission. So, what was supposed to be a routine launch and testing some maneuvers that lunar missions would need for the return trip, became a lunar mission. And not just to the moon, Apollo 8 was going all out, shooting for 10 orbits before reigniting the engine to come home.

Nearly everything about Apollo 8 was untested. While NASA had done the math, there were no guarantees that things would go well. But the men assigned the mission–astronauts, scientists, and controllers– and their wives, set aside fears and the bounds of logic and pursued history.

Kluger’s account of the Apollo 8 mission and the years leading up to it is an easy, interesting read, filled with research and personal interviews. It’s an exciting story that requires no extra dramatization, and Kluger does a good job of allowing the story to unfold and do itself justice.

Whether you’re a space junkie, and adventure junkie, or history junkie, Apollo 8 is worth the read.

The Right Stuff

I first hear about Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff when I read Scott Kelly’s biography, Endurance. Kelly had said it was what inspired him to become an astronaut, so I was interested in reading it.

In a laid back style, Wolfe looks back on the beginnings of the space program and NASA and it’s first astronauts.

Before the space race, the highest achievement for men wanting to prove their mettle, their cool, and their possession of “the right stuff” was to work their way up to test pilot. When the opportunity for space flight came up, there was a choice to make: keep climbing up through the rest pilot ranks, or stake a career on a new venture. Many people saw space flight as little more than science experiments, considering the Mercury flights were not controlled by their “pilots.”

In the end, as we all know, the astronauts came out on top, not only in public opinion, but also finally in winning pilot controls for their space craft.

Wolfe’s style of writing is conversational and a little sarcastic. It reads just like how someone would tell it to you, down to the snippy little asides and comments. It’s an open, inside look at the early years of the space program, and how it went from thought to reality.

While not quite what I was expecting when I started in (I expected a little more of a biography, not a sassy history), I enjoyed it immensely, and I can fully understand how it would inspire someone to pursue a career as an astronaut. All in all, it was a fun read, and a good place to start if you’re interested in the history of NASA and the space program.

The Summer Wives

The last time I saw an advanced copy of a Beatriz William’s book, I thought it look d interesting, and decided I’d take it later if no one else did, but when I came back, someone else had taken it.

This time, when The Summer Wives came in, I snatched it up.

William’s story takes place on a fictional island on the East Coast. Miranda’s mother is marrying in to the Fisher family, not quite one of the old money families that summers on the island, but a wealthy family that has managed to buy its way in, to a degree.

Miranda spends the summer with her new stepsister, Isobel, learning the divides between the summer families and the year-round islanders, and enjoying the glittering, boozy parties. The summer families keep a good buzz going on at all times in order to avoid all the drama that comes with their lifestyle, but things start to go south, and by the end of the summer, nothing in he island will ever be the same, and Miranda herself, finding and losing her first love, flees heartbroken.

Nearly 20 years later, Miranda is back, running again, but ready to dig up the past, if it means finding the truth and laying it all to rest.

The story is one part young love story, one part mystery, and one part snobby love affairs. While it want incredibly difficult to know where the story was going, Williams’ writing style keeps you engaged, jumping between Miranda’s past and present, as well as snippets from the even further past that fit together as the story unfolds.

All around, it was an engaging story and a fast read, perfect for a summer read when I comes out in July.

Outlander: a series review

When I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon for the first time in 2014, I didn’t think it would take me nearly four years to get through all eight books. But, at that point, I also wasn’t posting a book review blog once a week either, and that makes a significant difference in one’s ability to dedicate time to long books/series.

I think Outlander is the longest series I’ve ever read, at least that isn’t episodic by nature (like The Boxcar Children or stories similar that may have an underlying purpose plot, but that mainly stand alone). I was hesitant, I remember, because it seemed like a tall order, to write such long books, and so many, and expect it to maintain the standard of writing that I as set with the first book. But boy was I mistaken!

Outlander begins with the same-titled first book, wherein Claire Randall, honeymooning in Scotland, finds herself transported through time from post-World War II to pre-Jacobite Uprising. We spend the whole first book watching Claire try to keep her secret, fit in among Scots who think she’s a spy, at worst, and try to find a way to get back to her husband. Things get complicated when, for her safety, she has to marry a Scots warrior named Jamie, and the waters only muddy further from there, when she starts to fall in love.

Throughout the eight-book saga, Claire returns to her own time and her first husband, Frank, where she births and raises Jamie’s daughter. When their daughter Brianna is older, and after Frank has died, Claire tells her the whole story, and they find out Jamie didn’t die in the battle of Culloden, the final battle in Charles Stuart’s ill-fated uprising. Claire decides to travel back through time once more to find him, and after several adventures in the tropics, they end up in America, with just enough time to settle and welcome Brianna before the American Revolution kicks off. And naturally, between Claire’s knowledge of the future and Jamie’s commanding personality, the Fraser’s are right in the thick of things.

Gabaldon has done an incredible job of keeping this series fresh and interesting throughout all nearly 10,000 pages she’s published so far. While the things that happen to them and the events they witness and live through are exciting, the series is first and foremost the story of Claire and Jamie’s lives, which is why she’s been able to keep it going for so long. There’s no plot to run out of, because anything goes. It’s a style I don’t think every writer can pull off, but Gabaldon has made a name for herself with it.

These characters are uniquely themselves, filled with humor, sarcasm, sass and spirit, and by the time you get through a book or two, they are your friends.

Having read so many standalone books in the last couple years, it was nice to come back to a series, and a long one, to rediscover how it feels to go along with friends on a journey.

I can’t wait for her to finish writing the next installment. Fall can’t come soon enough.