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review 2018-03-26 19:57
Wing walking feminist during Prohibition
Nothing But Sky - Amy Trueblood

Disclaimer: reviewing advance uncorrected proof via NetGalley

 

This is a solid historical fiction debut with an interesting and unique premise. An orphaned teen is determined to win a contract with a film studio to keep her found-family together and hold onto her dangerously exhilarating job as a wing walker - an acrobatic who performs stunts on (and off of) flying ex-WWI planes.

 

I thought there was a good balance between period-accurate tone and characterization, and of-the-moment attitudes and values. Language use wasn't totally jarring, and especially at the beginning, there was a noticeable effort to avoid anachronism. Based on true-to-life examples, the wing-walking girl's fierceness and her (and her friends') push back against traditional expectations for women weren't totally out of left field. The structure of the story is not unlike a sports story - the big game coming up, the secret early morning training, the big snag etc. There is a fairly significant romance subplot that didn't really hold my attention, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. Very good twist at the end - some excellent slight of hand helps it land effectively, and if the wrap-up was a little pat, that's just the way of engaging storytelling. Generally an enjoyable read.

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review 2018-03-24 01:49
HOLDING UP THE SKY AMID STORMS & SHELLS
Jagdgeschwader 1 ‘Oesau’ Aces 1939-45 (Aircraft of the Aces) - Robert Forsyth,Jim Laurier

This book provides a concise and yet expansive history of one of the Luftwaffe's most active fighter units in the Second World War: Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). The unit came into being in 1939 as a result of a reorganization within the Luftwaffe. Upon the outbreak of war in September of that year, JG 1 played a minimal role in the invasion of Poland. Furthermore, between 1940 and 1942, JG 1 was deployed over Northern Europe and on the Western Front, where it saw action during the Battle of France in May and June of 1940. JG 1's main opponent (following the French defeat) was the Royal Air Force (RAF), which made incursions into its airspace which encompassed the defense of Northern Germany from its bases in Holland. 

By late 1942, with the United States now in the war, JG 1 became increasingly a vital part in the defense of the Reich. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was now fully committed with the RAF to the Allied air offensive with its growing numbers of bomber and fighter groups to help destroy Germany's capacity to wage war. 

This book has plenty of first-hand accounts from many of JG 1's pilots, which recount in considerable detail, the struggles these pilots faced in taking on the fleets of USAAF B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers (and their fighter escorts). The reader will shudder while reading these harrowing accounts, tangibly experiencing the fright the JG 1 pilot must have experienced from flying his ME 109 or FW 190 fighter plane into tight formations of enemy bombers, braving the streams of defensive fire directed at them from these formations. 

From 1943 to war's end in May 1945, JG 1 fought a tenacious battle - which expanded to 2 fronts, West and East. As with any book of this magnitude from Osprey, there are plenty of photos and illustrations in "Jagdgeschwader 1 'Oesau' Aces 1939-45" to give greater clarity to what the Second World War was like for the airmen on both sides who fought in it. 

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review 2018-03-21 01:32
WHAT "WE" ACCOMPLISHED
We by Charles A. Lindbergh - Charles A Lindbergh,Sam Sloan,Fitzhugh Green Sr.,Myron T. Herrick
I wonder how many people knew that Charles Lindbergh had written a book in 1927 shortly after he accomplished the remarkable feat of flying solo from New York to Paris? Until about a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that "WE" existed. "WE" in the title was Lindbergh's way of referring to himself and the airplane ('The Spirit of St. Louis') that carried him across the ocean to Paris. He considered what he achieved in that flight not a singular accomplishment for him alone, but also for the plane. 

Most of the book is taken up with Lindbergh telling his life story, his brief time as a student of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, his initial training as a pilot in a flight school in Nebraska in 1922, his experiences barnstorming in the South and Midwest, his subsequent acceptance into the U.S. Army Air Service as an aviation cadet in 1924, his successful completion of his military training the following year (Lindbergh was made a reserve officer), followed by his service as an air mail pilot --- all of which led up to his undertaking the quest to carry out a transatlantic flight. A quest (as represented by the award of the $25,000 Orteig Prize for any aviator who succeeded in flying across the Atlantic) that had already been taken up by many of the world's renowned aviators --- without success. Many died in the attempt. 

The remainder of the book goes on to describe the reception Lindbergh received across Europe and the U.S. in May and June of 1927 after his record flight. 

I enjoyed reading this book so much. While there are aspects of Charles Lindbergh --- later manifested in his life when he became a controversial political voice with the America First isolationist movement pre-Pearl Harbor --- that I do not like, his achievements in aviation are AMAZING.
 
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review 2018-03-04 23:07
Workmanlike writing, fascinating life.
Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly

I have found Scott Kelly a lot more engaging in interviews than he was in this book, which could get a little plodding at times, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. It's certainly the most detailed and emotionally-open description of the long-duration missions on the International Space Station. (Alternating chapters were about his childhood, military career, and other NASA missions both as a space shuttle pilot and on the ISS.)

 

Unlike Mike Massimino, I would never describe Kelly as the happiest man in space. Even though he talked a lot about what he liked about his work and why, a lot of the book focused on the difficulty, deprivation, and tedium that comes with spending months and months away from life on earth, often with just two other people. NASA deliberately ran that man through the wringer to see what happened, and it doesn't seem to have been an entirely enjoyable experience, either physically or psychologically. The crap this man willingly put himself through through to further the science behind space exploration is flat out heroic.

 

I'm making it sound like this book was a drag, and it wasn't entirely. It was on a certain level good to read a book that wasn't 100% WOW SPACE! Kelly was more willing to criticise NASA and Roscosmos when he felt like they're letting the astronauts and cosmonauts down, which was a nice change, and felt more honest. He did seem to have liked his work, (most of) his co-workers, and being in space on a general level (when the toilet and the CO2 scrubbers were both working). He also seemed to be naturally a little more of an Eeyore than either Hadfield or Massimino, I think part of that being his military background, and part of it being a general outlook on life.

 

I would totally recommend this if you're looking for what's going on with the space program in the past few years, but if you're looking for something more fun, and frankly better written, I'd point to Massimino or Hadfield.

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review 2018-02-24 05:31
Huh. I feel like Chabon is backsliding.
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon

At least in regards to women. I felt like Yiddish Policemen's Union was a massive step up from Chevalier and Clay in that regard, but this was... a step sideways at best.

 

I don't know, maybe I just wasn't feeling this book. It's a pretty self-indulgent project in that it's a fictionalised family biography of his grandfather and himself wrapped together and told out of order, and it never quite gelled for me. I enjoyed a lot of the segments, especially the WWII stuff. I liked the relationship between Chabon and his mom. I liked the humour much of the time.

 

I just never quit developed a strong attachment to the characters, and the different timelines never really told a story in a way that justified the skipping chronology. We get bits of his grandfather in WWII, bits of his childhood, bits of a year in prison, bits of his courtship and tumultuous marriage, bits of a later courtship with another woman, bits of him dying. Almost all of it starring as him being gallant and heroic. The through line is possibly his relationship to rockets and a one-sided rivalry with Werner Von Braun, or it could be his relationship with his manic pixie dream wife. I couldn't really tell, and by the end I didn't care.

 

I'm probably being overly harsh with that description, but it seemed like the purpose of the women in this story was to be difficult, frustrating, slightly mad, and very sexy. We rarely if ever saw the story from their perspective, but we get a series of prostitutes, French girls with mysterious pasts, sexy widows in retirement homes. There's a lot about the grandmother's mental illness, especially in how it effects the men around her (and to some extent her daughter), and very little about what's actually going on in her head or what she wanted. A lot of the interactions involved implied sexual violence.

 

Towards the end, we get a narrative-shattering backstory revelation that more or less sinks without a ripple, and I always came back to the feeling that--rocket obsession aside--I'd much rather be reading the novel that Cabon decided not to write about his grandmother. Too bad he didn't go with that.

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