2017 Year in Review

2017 was a pretty good reading year for me. I read a mix of science, history, historical fiction and regular fiction. Here is a list of the books I read and blogged about this year.

The Whole Story of Climate by E. Kirsten Peters

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown

Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick 

I participated in a few events this year, too. The first was Doing Dewey’s Women In Science event– which I loved! I had a great time reading and learning about the various women of science– most of whom I had never heard of– by reading Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsy and The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown. I won’t stop here though; I plan to continue reading about women of science in the New year!

The second event was Witch Week–and I had a blast!– where I read about Merlin and became intrigued by this legendary character through my reading of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. I would like to read her Merlin trilogy and will start by reading The Hollow Hills, which is the second book in this series, sometime early next year.

Speaking of next year, I will be participating in Doing Dewey’s 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge, so I plan on reading some good nonfiction and learning new things along the way.

My top reads this past year were The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown (historical fiction), and Modern Girls by Jennifer S Brown (regular fiction). The Stargazer’s Sister is beautifully written and demonstrates what can be accomplished if given the opportunity. Modern Girls, a mother/daughter story, reminds me of what we can accomplish with a mother’s love and support. Looking back, these favorites seem appropriate; together they illustrate that with family support and the opportunity to learn and try new things, we can accomplish more than we ever dreamed!

2018 is right around the corner and I look forward to more travels and adventures between the pages!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

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2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge 

2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Hello, Book Lovers!

Doing Dewey is hosting a nonfiction reading challenge throughout 2018. The aim is to read more nonfiction and it’s pretty flexible so you can set any sort of nonfiction reading goals you want to reach for this event. She will have a giveaway, some twitter chats and quarterly group reads. Check out her post to read more about it. You can link up if you want to participate, or, you can just take a peek to see who is participating and find out what they are reading.

I know I would like to add more nonfiction to my reading list so I plan on participating. Here is my list for this challenge.

  •  Newcomers by Helen Thorpe
  • Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • Victoria, The Queen by Julia Baird
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy
  • Judge Sewall’s Apology by Richard Francis
  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith
  • Labgirl by Hope Jahren
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s a pretty good assortment and I hope to learn a few new things about science and history along the way.

Happy Reading in 2018!

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

I have been meaning to read this book for about a year now! I started reading it last year, but never finished it, then I picked it up again recently and started it from the beginning. My intent was to have it finished and reviewed by Thanksgiving, but, obviously, that didn’t happen. My reading tends to slow down at this time of the year, but I’m glad I finally found the time to finish this book.

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Summary from Goodreads:

HOW DID AMERICA BEGIN?

 This simple question launches acclaimed author Nathaniel Philbrick on an extraordinary journey to understand the truth behind our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony. As Philbrick reveals in this electrifying new book, the story of the Pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving; instead, it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic and heroic, and still carries meaning for us today. 

Is this a good book to read before Thanksgiving? I’m not so sure as it was pretty depressing. Then again, maybe it is so that we can sort through all of the mythology of what we believe about Thanksgiving and learn the facts. The book deals with much more than just Thanksgiving though, it covers a good 55 years of history and much of it was new to me.  As I finished this book I realized that there was so much history I was completely unaware of and that the Pilgrims behaved in ways that I felt compromised their spiritual beliefs.

The first half of the book focused on the Pilgrims and their voyage to the new world, establishing relationships with the Indians and surviving long enough to start a community in New England. This section has a lot of  history that was interesting to read.  The second half of the book focused primarily on King Phillip’s War, which, to me, was not as interesting but illustrated how far the second generation of Pilgrims and Indians had come from the cooperative spirit their parents had.

As the summary states, the author wants to understand “…our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth colony.” He does this by delving into the history behind the myth and it’s a much more complicated story than I had realized.  There were numerous historical facts that I only learned about from reading this book. Somehow it never came up in any American Literature or American History class I took when studying the Pilgrims that their voyage to the New World was an investment and they were expected to generate profits once they landed to pay their debt. I also never knew that only half of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower were Pilgrims, the other half were “Strangers” or non-separatists.  So, this was not simply a group of religious non-conformists who made a long and dangerous journey to the New World in order to worship God as they chose. Knowing this also made the Mayflower Compact more significant. After all, it was a civil document and all who signed it agreed to abide by the rules and authority of the elected officials.

Prior to reading this book, I knew that the Indians had helped the Pilgrims to survive that first year- I just didn’t know a lot of the details or even how they established their colony.  After reading this book, I can safely say that there may not have been a Plymouth colony if it were not for Massasoit’s friendship. The English didn’t know how to fish, they were lacking in food and near starvation and many had died. The Indians provided the English with interpreters who helped them to trade and Squanto taught the English about Indian agriculture. Relationships and alliances were vital to their survival, however, they were often complicated and Philbrick explores the complexity of these relationships throughout the book.

Another thing that came across to me was the determination and perseverance of the Pilgrims. Despite the fact that they were weak with hunger and many of their people were dying, they persevered– their survival depended on it. They persevered, from the very beginning, despite numerous setbacks, in actually sailing aboard the Mayflower. Once they arrived in New England, they persevered through hunger, illness and death; then, against all odds, they established a colony. However, they also behaved poorly. I saw little evidence of the love and mercy of Christ in their life and even less in the second generation of Pilgrim settlers. The first generation of Pilgrim settlers attacked a tribe of Indians in response to hearing that they would attack the English. Yes, it was complicated, and Massasoit encouraged them to do so, but at that point, it was an unprovoked attack. Later, the second generation of Pilgrims would change a law allowing them to sell “powder and shot” to the Indians in order to make a profit.  During the war, they killed Indians who refused to fight against them and sold into slavery others who surrendered– after they were promised amnesty!  These are only a few examples of how I felt their actions were at odds with their Christian faith. I felt that they should have taken a more active role in being peacemakers and that they should have remembered and respected the Indians for the role they played in helping them to survive in the New World. Would this have prevented the war? I don’t know, but their actions would have been more in line with Christ’s teachings and who knows what kind of far reaching results that would have had.  

Overall, I enjoyed this book, despite having to almost push myself to get through the second half.  For me, there was a lot of new information and history to learn and I feel like I have a better understanding of this period and the people involved.  I learned a lot through this book and for that reason I think it’s a worthwhile read.

Happy Thanksgiving 

thanksgiving-background

Thanksgiving! It’s that wonderful time of the year again. The weather is finally starting to cool down, the days are getting shorter and the holiday season is now upon us.  For many, today may have it’s own hustle and bustle, but I appreciate the beauty of this season with its emphasis on spending time with family and reflecting on all we have to be thankful for. Where ever you are today, I hope you get to spend time with the people who mean the most to you. Enjoy the day! 

I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving. 

Witch Week

It’s Witch Week! Actually, this is my first year participating in Witch Week which is hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review. The theme this year is ‘Dreams of Arthur’ and I have decided to read The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart which is told from Merlin’s point of view.  One thing the book blogging community does well is to encourage others to read more widely. Honestly, I don’t read much fantasy and I may not have picked up this book if I were not participating in this event. However, I am so glad I read this book because I really enjoyed it!

 

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 Summary from Goodreads:  Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. This is the world of young Merlin, the illegitimate child of a South Wales princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity. Yet Merlin is an extraordinary child, aware at the earliest age that he possesses a great natural gift – the Sight. Against a background of invasion and imprisonment, wars and conquest, Merlin emerges into manhood, and accepts his dramatic role in the New Beginning – the coming of King Arthur.

The Crystal Cave is the first book in a trilogy that is told from Merlin’s perspective.  This book, which is narrated by Merlin, opens the story when he is just six years old. We read along as he grows and learns how to use his unusual gift: The Sight. We journey with him through his adolescence where he meets his father, are held in rapt attention as he makes legendary prophesies and witness the dangerous lengths he went to in helping to bring forth King Arthur.

This book is more than just setting the stage for the main event though, which is the coming of King Arthur. Here, we are introduced to the young Merlin: to the boy and adolescent before he becomes the legend we all know him to be. We read how he is influenced by The Sight and how he grows into young adulthood. I enjoyed reading about the ordinary, logical aspects of his personality that are often lost in the legend. It’s interesting how stories evolve over time making someone larger than life. Even in this book, we read how the stories and songs about Merlin were creating a false- although, magically fantastic – picture of him, until they barely resembled the real story.

I liked how the legendary, almost supernatural side of Merlin could be logically explained. There was a valid reason his mother never told anyone who his father was, there was a mathematical precision to moving the stones at Stonehenge and his prophesies with Vortigern show someone quick of mind without removing the prophetic mystery that makes Merlin who he is.

I was disappointed that Merlin’s mother and father never got the chance to see each other again after so many years apart. It would have been nice for them to connect again, even if it was only to be thankful for Merlin. I wonder, if they had the chance to meet again, what would have happened? His mother really suffered in refusing to name Merlin’s father. Did she love Ambrosius? Or was she protecting someone? Her son? Or, perhaps, herself? That is open to interpretation and although I want to say that she loved Ambrosius (and who knows, maybe she did), but, the fact remains that she was a mom, and so, was most likely protecting her son. Then again, it could have been all of the above. 

For me, one of the most interesting scenes was when he prophesied before Vortigern. This whole scene from witnessing his mother reveal his father’s identity – in a very engrossing way, –  through the prophesies of the dragons and becoming ‘Vortigern’s prophet’. I was completely absorbed in this story.  I was all ears, in a manner of speaking, as his mother told the court about Merlin’s father, then later, I was eager to read how he would get out of the predicament he found himself in. It was great storytelling!

As someone who doesn’t read much in this genre, I thought this was a great book to begin my adventures into fantasy because, for me, the story wasn’t so fantastic and magical as to be unbelievable. At times I found myself reading this as though it were historical fiction- my favorite genre! – which speaks well of Stewart’s writing. The magical and supernatural were balanced with a logic and rationality that kept me reading. We read that Merlin was a lonely and odd child who grew up amid rumors of an unholy union between his demonic father and Christian mother.  His unusual gift could be viewed as Satanic power that stems from his father (Actually, I was surprised to find out who really passed on that gift). And so, it’s not difficult to believe that this would have shaped him as an outsider going into young adulthood. 

This book is very much a story of self discovery for Merlin; he needs to find and make his own way in life and he does just that. This is Merlin before he becomes a legend and before King Arthur.

Thank you Lory for hosting this event! It allowed me to stretch myself and broaden my reading horizons. Now, I want to finish reading this trilogy and see how this story plays out.

#BloggingTheSpirit 

Laurie at relevant obscurity has been hosting an event called ‘Blogging The Spirit’ where she encourages us to share what inspires us spiritually. I thought about sharing this poem because of its simple, yet beautiful, life lesson of stopping what your doing to talk to a friend. Life today is much more fast paced than it was for Robert Frost. This poem was originally published in 1916 and life has changed so much since then. I think it’s harder to stop to make time for friends; instead we schedule time for them. Life is what it is though, often chaotic and crazy, but making time for friends is important and benefits both parties. Sometimes it takes effort to get together-there is always something that needs to get done- but, we need to make the effort, it’s worth it.  I know that I have benefited from spending with friends; I think it’s safe to say that we all have.  It strengthened our relationship by allowing time to talk freely and listen supportively. Robert Frost may not have written this poem with any spiritual significance, but, whether we apply it spiritually or not, we can appreciate his poem and the thought it conveys.

A Time To Talk by Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road 
And slows his horse to a meaning walk, 
I don’t stand still and look around 
On all the hills I haven’t hoed, 
And shout from where I am, What is it? 
No, not as there is a time to talk. 
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, 
Blade-end up and five feet tall, 
And plod: I go up to the stone wall 
For a friendly visit. 

(This poem is in public domain)

Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson 

I saw this book at the library back in March when I was participating in Doing Dewey’s Women in Science Event. Since I already had a reading plan I put this book to the back of my mind for a later time. When I read The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel I was introduced to Henrietta Swan Leavitt and her period- luminosity relation: Leavitt’s Law. I knew then that once I finished reading The Glass Universe that I wanted to read this book and learn more about Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

 

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However, Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson is not a detailed biography. But, this is not the author’s fault. He tells us immediately in the preface that, although she deserves a “proper biography”, she will most likely not get one because of the “faint trail she left behind”. I wasn’t sure that I would like this book because, really, I wanted a “proper biography”. In the end, I’m so glad that I read it because I really enjoyed it.

This book was published in 2005, so it’s not a new book. However, the first half of this book had a familiar cast of characters from the Harvard Observatory that I immediately recognized from The Glass Universe: Edward Pickering, Harlow Shapley, and briefly, Annie Canon Jump and Cecelia Payne. The first half of the book focuses on Henrietta Swan Leavitt, while the second half focuses on Edwin Hubble and how he used her findings of the Cepheid variable to make his own discovery: we are not the only galaxy in the Universe. In fact, not only are there are numerous galaxies out there, but the Universe is expanding! To me, this part of the book was fascinating! Reading about how they realized that there were other galaxies out there was actually pretty thrilling. And, it seems the more they study the Universe, the bigger it gets. I could keep on reading this kind of stuff for another 100 pages!

Miss Leavitt was a human computer, much like the ladies at NASA in Hidden Figures. However, her work consisted of studying variable stars on photographic plates. Through her study she discovered a relationship “…between the brightness of these variables and the length of their periods…”P 43.  What does this mean? What exactly did she discover? A new law known as the Cepheid yardstick, which was  ” …a way to measure through great stretches of space” P 44.  Of course, a lot of work was involved before her “…stars could be turned into true yardsticks…” p 53,  but it is this work that others would build on to reveal a Universe vastly larger than anyone could have fathomed.

 She certainly did a lot of painstaking work and George Johnson makes an interesting point that women were valued “…for being good at detail work…but deeper matters were still reserved for the men”. This book made me see Edward Pickering in a less favorable light. There were a few negative quotes and comments about Edward Pickering that surprised me. Dava Sobel’ s The Glass Universe really painted him in a positive way. Yes, she mentioned some criticism from Williamina Fleming, his maid who became an astronomer,  in her journal about his demanding too much from her, but overall she seemed to view him favorably. This book added some contrast to that picture. In general, he was probably a well liked Director who treated the women at the Harvard Observatory with respect, and gave them an opportunity to work in science, a limited field of study for women at that time, but he also may have either limited their options or asked for more than he should have from them. I got the impression that he asked too much of Henrietta Swan Leavitt. I think it’s worth mentioning that Johnson tells us that her findings were  “… a work to take pride in.  Ph.D.s have been awarded for less.” (P. 58)  It sounds like she was doing much more than “detail work”.

This book is part of the “Great Discoveries” series published by W.W. Norton; there are 14 books in this series which highlight discoveries in math and science. This is the first book in this series that I have read so I can’t compare it to any of the other books. It’s a short book of only 132 pages, it’s easy to read and the author covers a lot of material and time in a short space. He doesn’t shy away from the science, but he doesn’t get so deep with science either that he looses me. I think he did a very good job of educating me on the science involved and really helped me to understand her discovery and it’s significance.

I believe George Johnson wrote this book out of a real respect for Henrietta Swan Leavitt and wanted to give her due credit for her contribution to science. I think he succeeded because he gave me a closer look at what she did and helped me to understand her work and how it was used by others to measure distance in space. When I hear or read about Edwin Hubble, and his very significant and fascinating contribution to astronomy, I will also remember Henrietta Swan Leavitt and her work with Cepheid variables.

 This book may not appeal to everyone, but if your interested in science and want to understand Miss Leavitt’s work, how others added to it and what they discovered in the process, then you may find this book to be an interesting read.