Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Mission of a Lifetime

I’d been eyeballing this book all summer, in light of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. So when it went 50% off in July, I couldn’t help myself. Who wouldn’t want to read a book full of wisdom from the men who went to the moon?

Basil Hero lays out a collection of wisdom and lessons from the Apollo astronauts , along with a dash of the history and the journeys they took.

Covering a variety of topics such as fear, faith, focus, responsibility, sacrifice, marriage, leadership, and the environment, Hero’s interviews with the remaining astronauts paints an insider picture of what made these brave men committed and willing–and what their wives had to go through. Though it would be easy to imagine these astronauts as cocky and arrogant, the picture Hero gives is of humble men who believed in the job, and believed it was about more than just themselves.

Hero also includes chapters on the future–both of space exploration, and the environmental future of earth. Both questions are world-wide questions, not up to any one nation to solve single handedly, but for everyone to come together for the benefit of all.

The Mission of a Lifetime was just as good as I expected it to be. A former investigative journalist, Hero puts his skills to use and writes an easy-to-read narrative focusing on his various topics, while also including the historical context to make it all make sense. Through the book, readers get a little snapshot into the lives of these astronauts in a way that’s missing from other biographical pieces focused on their missions.

The book hones in a little more on “the right stuff” that’s always talked about among astronauts and test pilots. In their own words, the astronauts lay out their commonalities and in the end, readers can see what kinds of things it takes to have “the right stuff.”

The Name of the Wind

Anyone else put off reading a certain book because it’s a series, and you’re not ready to get wrapped up? That’s where I was before starting The Name of the Wind. I’ve been trying to chip away at my pile of books to be read, and thus anything that’s a series (and would require either buying or borrowing more books) has been moved toward the bottom.

But, since I was loaned a copy of Patrick Rothfuss’ first book, I went ahead and read it. Since the third book is still in process, I can’t finish the series right away anyway.

The story opens at the Waystone inn, owned by a quiet, rather mysterious man. When an unexpected visitor arrives, Kvothe starts to tell his story. He grew up with a family of traveling performers, but when tragedy struck, he found himself alone living on the streets in the city. His lifelong dream was to study at the University, and when the opportunity presents itself, Kvothe is willing to do anything he needs to to get accepted.

But getting in is the easy part– staying is what poses to be the challenge for Kvothe. Younger than most of his classmates, Kvothe starts out with marks against him, and his youthful follies keep getting him into more and more trouble. But Kvothe’s bigger goal, bigger even than University, is finding the truth behind the deaths of his family, and destroying the ones responsible.

When I started this book, I hadn’t quite realized it was going to largely be a school story. I hadn’t read much about it, I just knew it was a popular fantasy series. But I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, except for when Kvothe was making dumb choices. But those very choices are part of what makes him as a character feel real. They remind you that he is, in fact, just a kid of 15, not the experienced, middle-aged man we first meet at the inn.

The story is part adventure, part quest, part love story, and Rothfuss moves the story along well, showing what needs to be shown of the school setting and building the storyline with other scenes and characters. So even though you don’t circle back around to what first sends Kvothe on his quest of sorts until the end of the story, it’s 600 pages don’t drag on.

I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, but, since the third book doesn’t have a publication date yet, I think I’ll focus on my TBR pile first, and return to this world a little later.

Wrinkle in Time Trilogy

Before you say it, yes, I’m aware Madeleine L’Engle’s series is actually a quartet. But as you can see from the photo of the cover, my copy calls it a trilogy, because it’s the three about Meg and Charles Wallace. No, it’s unlikely I’ll ever read the fourth book. I’m not quite sure why I even read these three.

A Wrinkle in Time introduces us to Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, three young kids who get quickly sucked into a supernatural, inter-galactic struggle against an overwhelming power of darkness. In hunting for Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, the kids end up on a planet controlled by one large brain, whose purpose is to make everyone the same. Only by embracing themselves can they escape and prevent the sameness from reaching their own world.

In A Wind in the Door, Meg and Calvin embark on another journey, this time to save Charles Wallace, who is getting more and more sick with each passing day. This time, their task is to show the small particles that make up the world that is Charles Wallace that sacrifice for the greater good can be for your own good, too.

Finally, in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace sets out with a unicorn and a mind connection with Meg to uncover the lost history behind the South American leader promising nuclear war. Only by understanding who he could be, and what made him who he is, do they have any hope of saving the world.

Obviously these are children’s stories, but despite the acclaim they’ve received lately (and not so lately), I found I didn’t really enjoy them. I intended to watch the movie and do a bit of a book-to-screen comparison, but I found that after reading the book, I didn’t want to watch the movie, too.

Most of the time, the stories felt like a lot was going on, but nothing happened. Which I realize doesn’t make sense. The books were all about the fight between good and evil, but I can’t help but think it’s maybe lost a little on the audience. The most engaged I was in the series was in the third book, when Charles Wallace was Within. I could have read a whole series on those different people.

Maybe I’m just past the age where it’s enjoyable. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset to enjoy it. Whatever the case, the series isn’t high on my list of recommendations.

Black Cross

Everything I’ve read so far by Greg Iles has been in the same genre–modern day suspense. But Black Cross was a change up for me, moving into historical fiction and suspense. But Iles proved himself a master in historical fiction, too. Not that I’m surprised, as the Natchez Burning series required a fair amount of historical research to tell the story he wrote.

Black Cross is a World War II story. American Mark McConnell is a pacifist and scientist who’s been working in England when he’s recognized as one of two men perfect for a secret mission into the heart of Germany. Along with Jonas Stern, McConnell must sneak into a Nazi concentration camp where new poisonous gasses are being developed and tested. Their success could change the tide of the war, and could spell victory or defeat for the D-Day invasion.

But things start going wrong from the moment they step foot in Germany, and McConnell and Stern quickly start to realize they’ve only been told partial truths and blatant lies. They can’t trust what they’ve been told, they’ll have to rely on their own consciences.

A mixture of fact and fiction, Black Cross poses a challenging question that comes up during times of war or discussions of philosophy: the idea of putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few. Iles’ characters are faced with this exact question. They know their mission will benefit allied troops by destroying the poisonous gas, but especially for pacifist McConnell, the sacrifice demanded may be too much.

I did feel like the story took a while to get going, though I understand the need to develop the characters and give them the tools they needed for their mission. But the book was halfway done before they even landed in Germany.

While you knew for the most part where the story was going, Iles weaves in enough suspense to keep you guessing about how things will end for each character. No one is safe. And that kind of writing I find very enjoyable.