John Adams by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
A friend who owns more books than he has room for gave this to me, complete with all his personal annotations. It is an excellent and highly readable biography of John Adams, our second President, by a well-known historian. Both John Adams and his wife Abigail loved to write, both to each other and to others, so there was a rich historical archive of primary source materials to work from. McCullough quotes extensively from John and Abigail, their son John Quincy Adams, and other important public figures of the late eighteenth century such as Thomas Jefferson. It was fascinating to read all about the American Revolution and the first decades of the United States from the point of view of those who were in charge. And by including extensive material and quotes from the letters of Abigail Adams, McCullough makes the story not just about politics and government, but also about family life in the eighteenth century, which was important to Adams and makes the book more interesting.
This book won a Pulitzer Prize and has been called the best biography of John Adams ever written. Find it at your local library or bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/john-adams-9780743223133/9780743223133.
Act your age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (Harper Collins, 2021)
This is a very entertaining book I found on the library new books shelf. It’s a steamy romance between two young British adults who are both mildly autistic. The woman is Black and the man is white, but this is not a plot point. Jacob, who surprisingly owns a bed-and-breakfast, finds himself in need of a chef just when Eve, who is a wedding planner who can cook, shows up in need of a job and a place to live. They find themselves attracted to each other but with their prior history and behavioral quirks, it’s not all smooth sailing. Eventually they accept their good fortune in finding each other. Talia Hibbert also wrote books about each of Eve’s sisters, if you want to read more.
Find it in a local bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/act-your-age-eve-brown/9780062941275
Beach Read by Emily Henry (Penguin Random House, 2020)
This could have been just another Hallmark movie fluff romance, but it was deeper than that. It does start out with a young woman who writes romance novels and a young man who writes literary fiction, in neighboring beach houses, who “coincidentally” know each other from college. But in Hallmark movies the woman’s father would not have left her the beach house that he shared with the mistress she never knew about until his funeral. They are both grieving losses (his wife just left him, it is eventually revealed) and not in any condition to write in their usual genres. So they decide to help each other in a motivational switch – he will try to write a romance and she will prove she can write literature without a happy ending. But in the story inside the story, they also fall in love with each other. I know the title is supposed to be ironic but it would actually make a good “beach read.”
Support your local bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/beach-read/9781984806734
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books, 2018)
This is the sequel to The Calculating Stars, in which our brilliant pilot/physicist heroine of the alt-history 1960s gets to work on a moon base and then co-pilot the first spaceship that lands on Mars. She literally sits there calculating trajectories and burn rates on graph paper while flying through space. And she has to deal with sexist, racist 1960s men the whole time. Luckily her husband is a decent guy who supports her 100%. Definitely read this one even if you found the previous book too depressing – it has a happy ending.
Support your local bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/the-fated-sky/9780765398949
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (McMillan, 2018)
This science fiction story takes place in the 1950s, yes you read that right, nearly 70 years ago. It is an “alternate history of spaceflight” in which a meteor hit the Washington DC area in 1952 and wiped out large portions of the east coast, killing all residents. The main character is a young woman pilot and brilliant physicist who convinces the shattered nation that the world must start a space program immediately. Using physics, she proves that a runaway greenhouse effect caused by the meteor will make the planet uninhabitable in mere decades, so colonies on other planets will be needed. They form an international version of NASA and start hitting major milestones like earth orbit a decade before they happened in real life. But it all happens against a backdrop of 1950’s American culture, where women and non-white people are discriminated against and belittled, and the word “computer” refers to women and not machines. Elma is one of the computers who calculates launch and orbit trajectories, but she really wants to be an astronaut. This is a great story of smart women fighting male prejudice, similar to the movie Hidden Figures.
This novel won both a 2018 Nebula Award and a 2019 Hugo Award! You can find it on bookshop.org:
Cordelia’s honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Publishing, 1986)
Obviously this novel was written a while ago but it holds up well. It’s part of a long series which I have read one or two other titles in, all excellent. Cordelia is initially the leader of a planetary survey team but meets her future husband in an attack on the planet she’s surveying. She eventually goes home with him to his rather violent and backward planet. It turns out that he is quite high up in the ruling hierarchy which leads to interesting times as they attempt to build a life together and start a family. This is a rare science fiction book in which babies and children are an important part of the cast of characters.
This book is not available on bookshop.org, but is likely to be in your local public library system.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Harper Collins, 2014)
This is a full length science fiction novel by the author of the book I reviewed in my previous post. It takes place in the unspecified far distant future when humans are part of a galactic alliance and Earth is no longer habitable. The human main character, Rosemary, is a young woman from the Mars colony who hires onto a spaceship crew that creates tunnels (wormholes) in space to permit quick travel between star systems. Although she is only a clerk, hired to handle the “formwork” (paperwork), she is open-minded and has no trouble fitting into the small but diverse crew. The crew members and their friends, who belong to various sentient species, share a variety of interesting drama along the journey to a “small angry planet” where they are to tunnel. This is a unique and well developed story with minimal violence and some unexpected romance.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate: a novella by Becky Chambers (HarperCollins, 2019)
This book was on a list of the best science fiction by women authors on LibraryThing. You won’t find out the reason for the title until the last page, but this short novel is very good. The main character is a woman flight engineer on a 2162 journey to a star system with several planets identified as worth exploring. There is no political or personal drama between her and her shipmates, as is typical of these kinds of stories. Instead the focus is on the life forms they discover and what they learn.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World, 2021)
This edited collection consists of one hundred short essays on the history of African Americans, each by a different historical or literary expert. Each essay writer was given a period of five years to focus on, starting with 1619-1624 and ending with 2014-2019. After every nine essays there is a poem. It was a very interesting book in which I learned a great deal about the history of African Americans. This is a book that should be in every public high school and college library as a reference for years to come.
Dancing with Bees: a journey back to nature by Brigit Strawbridge Howard (Chelsea Green, 2019)
This is a lyrical memoir by a woman who became an amateur naturalist in mid-life, with a particular focus on bees. Brigit Howard developed an interest in bees after realizing their critical role in pollinating plants, which are being affected by climate change. She shares with readers the story of her journey learning about the hundreds of bee species that inhabit our planet, not just the ones everyone knows about like honeybees and bumblebees. I was surprised to discover that many bee species are solitary and don’t live in colonies. Much of the book consists of descriptions of what she saw on her walks in outdoor spaces near her home in England, or simply sitting in her garden observing. Howard is a good observer who explains candidly how she learned to identify bees with the help of friends, social media and the Internet. She also writes about connections with other animals and plants, local ecosystems, and the climate, making it clear that she knows what she is talking about even though she is not a trained scientist. Unfortunately the author uses British terminology and references throughout without any explanations for readers who might live elsewhere. For example she keeps talking about her “allotment” which I eventually deduced was what Americans would call a community garden plot. The exclusive focus on the United Kingdom, which she calls “Britain and Ireland,” leads the reader to wonder whether the bees she describes live in other countries too, and how relevant her story is to non-British readers.