Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
Would you like to spend a year in space? That was the challenge faced by Scott Kelly, an astronaut since 1996. How would his absence affect his relationship with his two daughters, and his longtime partner, Amiko? What would happen to his health, especially his vision? Scott finds out, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, as they spend 340 days on the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016. Scott thought school was boring until he read Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff as a teenager. An EMT, he later attended SUNY Maritime College, then became a Navy pilot, learning to land on aircraft carriers. Scott and his identical twin brother Mark were selected to the astronaut corps on the same day, and they agree to a twin study comparing their health during Scott’s year in space. Though the reader knows he returns safely to Earth, Scott still makes parts of his memoir suspenseful. In 2015, three supply missions to the International Space Station failed, and there were some issues with station rendezvous and docking. Scott also made an emergency spacewalk. Over the year in space, he had twelve crewmates. I was interested to learn that the Russian cosmonauts stay on their side of the station most of the time, hosting the others for Friday dinners and other celebrations. Scott keeps very busy repairing equipment, conducting science experiments, exercising, welcoming new crew members, taking photos, monitoring his health, and being interviewed, rarely getting time to relax and read his copy of Endurance, about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. In November, public television will air a documentary about his journey, “Beyond a Year in Space”. What Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail learned and experienced during their year in space may help in planning for future voyages to Mars. This memoir is entertaining and compelling reading.
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
In 1947, Grace Holland has two children and an unhappy marriage. Gene brings her a wringer washing machine as an apology, but discourages Grace from visiting his mother when she is taken ill. Later, Grace learns that Gene’s mother has a washer and dryer, along with a large jewelry collection and expensive clothes. Grace has her young children, her lively friend Rosie, and walks on the Maine shore. Grace’s mother expects her to make the best of things, which another pregnancy does not help. Fires break out all along the coast, and Grace is saved only by her daughter coughing in the night and her own quick thinking. Gene is away fighting the fires, and the family finds shelter at his mother’s house, which is being occupied by a gifted pianist. The night of the fire is vividly described, as is Grace’s new job at a doctor’s office. Her husband and mother-in-law are sketchily drawn, and some plot twists are rather melodramatic. The reader is meant to worry about Grace’s safety, but we know that the newly self-reliant Grace will dare to do the right thing for her children. Excellent period details and plenty of action make for a fast-paced, compelling read.
The Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10 a.m. on October 17 to discuss The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende. Alma Belasco, an elderly textile artist, is looking back on her long and colorful life, especially her childhood in San Francisco and her friendships with her cousin Nathaniel and with Ichimei, the Japanese gardener’s son. My earlier review is here.
On October 24 at 7 p.m., the Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb. In 1947, Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Goldah moves to Savannah to live with his cousins and work in the family shoe store, and finds the thriving Jewish community virtually untouched by the war. Here’s my earlier review.
The Crime Readers will meet at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7 p.m. on October 19 to discuss Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? by Stephen Dobyns, with optional dinner at 6 p.m. The Crime Readers is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of the books are available now at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
I was not expecting a novel about a widow with two young girls to be laugh-out-loud funny. Lillian’s husband died suddenly three years ago. She fell apart, but her sister Rachel helped pick up the pieces. Lillian is a textbook illustrator, and her daughters Annabel and Clare are now five and seven. A new work assignment has the whole family taking a gardening class, led by a Dutch master gardener. The class bonds over pizza and gardening, and a couple of romances have potential. Though conversations are very frank, especially when Lillian’s sister-in-law comes to visit, there are no sex scenes. The characterization is top notch and the witty dialogue, both spoken and internal, is great. It will not surprise the reader to learn that the author has three kids and several pets, as Annabel, Clare, and their new friend Bash often steal the scene. This first novel was a delight to read. More, please!
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Adventure, treasure, and romance are in store for Daniel MacCormick when he meets Miami lawyer Carlos in a Key West bar. Mac and fellow veteran Jack run a charter fishing boat in the Florida Keys, and Carlos wants to charter the boat for a 10-day fishing tournament. After the destination is revealed as Cuba, Mac is not interested. But when a reward of millions of dollars is mentioned, he’s willing to hear more. Beautiful Cuban American Sara Ortega wants to retrieve her grandfather’s treasure. A banker, he stashed a fortune and property deeds in a remote cave, to which she has the map. The plan is for Sara and Mac to join a tour group of Yale alums in Havana, while Jack captains Mac’s boat in the fishing tournament, later picking them up along with the treasure. Mac and Sara’s tour guide seems suspicious of them, and is jealous when they begin a romance to cover their unexplained absences. The tour group sees all the sights in and around Havana, and hears a version of Cuban history. This part isn’t very exciting, nor is the romance, but the pace really picks up when the pair head out of Havana in an old Buick station wagon, trying to avoid the police as they head for the treasure. The risk of betrayal and arrest keeps increasing and Mac wonders if they’ll make it out of Cuba alive, with or without the treasure. A fun trip through Cuba, and a good readalike for Clive Cussler.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker
Edgar’s not much of a father or husband. When news of the end-of-the-world crisis comes, he’s drunk. But he’s mentally prepared, and helps Beth and their two little kids survive. Later, the family gets separated and Ed is left behind in Edinburgh with a small group. He needs to get to Cornwall in a hurry to find his family again, but the roads are mostly impassable. Surprisingly, Ed won’t ever give up, and the group starts running southwest through the bleak landscape, where they have encounters alternately charming and malevolent. I found the completely ordinary Ed appealing and memorable, and the story very compelling reading.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Jende and Neni Jonga, immigrants from Cameroon, pursue the American dream in New York City in 2007. Jende is fortunate to find a good job as chauffeur to Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards and his family. Neni is in college, their son Liomi is in elementary school, and they are happy together in their tiny Harlem apartment. Jende hears Clark’s phone calls in the limo, Neni spends time in the Hamptons helping Cindy Edwards with child care, and they both learn the family’s secrets. Neni is pregnant again, and Jende wants her to take time off from work and school, even though their legal status in the United States is uncertain. Then Lehman Brothers collapses, the Great Recession begins, and both families are in turmoil. Jende thinks that with their savings, they may be happier back in Cameroon, but Neni really wants to stay and get her degree. The Edwards, not as resilient as the Jonga family, are even unhappier. They are not as vividly drawn as the Jongas, and I didn’t care about their problems as much. I really enjoyed reading about life in Cameroon, and the Jongas’ interactions with their fellow immigrants. This debut novel is our September book discussion selection, and is also the latest book club selection by Oprah Winfrey. I look forward to hearing what everyone else thought about this compelling novel.