Even though I am a space geek, I hadn't heard of Mike Massimino before randomly finding this book. It turns out he's a lovely fellow. And while the second half of the book is dedicated to his various space exploits, two space flights, the deaths of his colleagues on the Columbia, and his eventually moving on to teaching at college, the first half is dedicated not only to how he got there, but how unlikely it was for him to have made it to being an astronaut. He grew up in one of those neighborhoods in New York where everyone just ends up doing what his parents do for a job, and going to college and to space was just like saying you wanted to be Spider-Man. He didn't know anyone who knew anything about space, he had no idea how to get from here to there. He also had bad vision, was scared of heights and water, and was generally a scaredy-cat.
"I had this fantasy about going to the moon, but that's all it was, a fantasy. The whole idea of actually joining NASA and going to space was so far-fetched and so far removed from my life that it was hard for me to stay interested in it." Eventually his dream burned out, like many childhood dreams do. But he eventually makes it to going to college at Columbia, which he finds difficult. After college, he gets a boring engineering job, and a friend/advisor of his tells him that he doesn't want to end up here and he needs to find something more interesting to do. But he isn't perfect at it. He blows his first qualifying exam big time, MIT kicks his ass, and he's got a whopping eye problem and having any eye problem is an automatic disqualification--and this was before the days of LASIK. However,, maybe contact lenses could correct it? Well...in the end, he had to get the right kind of help to get his eyes fixed, including vision training.
Mike's big message here is that he doesn't believe in self-made men--he says he's never achieved anything on his own, because he needed encouragement, directions and help to get everywhere--plus NASA is a team effort. When his dad got cancer, people signed up to donate blood and otherwise help him out. In turn, the astronaut community looks out for its own in various touching ways.
"People ask me all the time what it takes to become an astronaut. It's not about being the smartest or having the most college degrees. The real qualifications for being an astronaut are: Is this someone I'd trust with my life? Will this person help look after my family if I don't make it home?"
Mike ended up working on Hubble, servicing it in space twice. He ended up becoming a hit with the media because he'd talk about his story, and Mike talks about how during his time, excitement for space had died down since the 60's. He might not have been the best in space, but he could be one of the best at telling the story of space. He and everyone else involved at NASA was gutted at the explosion of the Columbia, and even I got choked up reading about it. Everyone was devastated but pitched in to support the families. After everything was put on hold regarding space travel, Mike fought to make it back to Hubble again, and eventually got to. He had his scariest moment ever when he messed up a screwhead in space, but eventually got through it with the help of his friends. After that, his space days were over and he eventually moved on to teaching.
I really liked this book--and not just for the space stuff, but for the revealing of how unlikely it was for him to have made it where he did and the doubts and fears he had while trying to do it for so long. I really related to that. Four stars.
Louna's mom, Natalie Barrett, has a wedding business with her best gay friend William. Even though both Natalie and William haven't been in a relationship in at least a decade and like to make bets on how long the marriages last, they consider putting on weddings to be their calling. Louna doesn't have the issues that her parents (more or less) have, but she did lose her first love, Ethan, to a school shooting and hasn't been in the mood to have all the fun flings her best friend keeps encouraging her to have before she goes to college.
One family decides to book Natalie Barrett weddings twice in one summer--the mother gets remarried at the start of the summer and the daughter's getting married at the end. Both weddings have the problem of dealing with Ambrose, the delinquent teenage son who's usually disappearing to go flirt with girls. The family makes a deal for Natalie to hire Ambrose for the summer to keep him busy and out of his sister's hair, thus putting him into Louna's. Louna certainly thought he was cute upon meeting him, but otherwise isn't too thrilled about dealing with him all summer.
I liked how Ambrose was portrayed, with both his good and bad points. On the one hand, he got kicked out of school and lost his driver's license and generally seems to have some signs of ADHD even though that's not mentioned in the book. (He tends to randomly break office supplies.) On the other hand, he's cute and very charming and friendly, and those traits serve him very well when it comes to working on weddings and soothing personalities. And he's very kind--he'll rescue a dog from an abusive owner or help spruce up a sad wedding during his time off, not to mention saving Louna from handsy dudes. And he's honest about why he goes through women so fast--he enjoys the courtship more than the long term relationship drama, which reminded me of The Victoria In My Head. Louna and Ambrose spend a lot of time hanging out together and it's really enjoyable. By the end of the book, Ambrose is shaping up on his own recognizance and you feel just fine with them having an LDR.
This book balances two romances in it-- the present one with Ambrose and the past one with Ethan, which started out beautifully and then ended in tragedy. You like both guys for Louna even though they're very different, and you feel for her with Ethan's loss. As for the other romances in the book, both Natalie and William get some last-minute love interests to round out the book. Even though I kind of think Natalie's book-plugging dude seems a bit dubious, by the end of the book when this becomes an issue I was pretty much all "oh, whatever."
The one thing I did not like terribly much about this book was the bet plot. Ambrose and Louna make a bet--for him to stick to dating the same girl for seven weeks and for her to date a new guy every 3-4 days. The prize is whoever wins gets to set the other one up--it's pretty clear why Ambrose is going along with that one. Unfortunately, that kind of premise makes the book suffer from the same problem that Cougar Town had with its original premise. Cougar Town got sold on the idea of "Courtney Cox dates a bunch of young guys." However, the show people realized early on that this wasn't sustainable--it's a rotating bunch of guest stars that nobody cares about and there's no point in caring about because they'll be gone soon. So having to spend any time at all on Louna's various dates, no matter who they are, is a giant "who cares, skimming this" for that reason. We know what the endgame is, so why not get there a little sooner?
But overall, it was a good book, so I'll give it three and a half stars.
This somewhat reminds me of The Glamourist Histories books in that it's a Victorian-ish magical world (post-Napoleon here). Except in this case the glamours so far only seem to be about creating clothes/disguises with magic. Anyway, young miss Annis and her aunt Cassia are left destitute when Annis's spy father ends up dead and someone's managed to clear out or make all of his money disappear. Cassia, a practical sort, is all "We must get jobs immediately!" But once Annis realizes she has a talent for changing clothes magically when she sews them, she reasonably decides to forgo marrying for money and see if she can make some money off this talent.
Here's an interesting thing about her talent: it's very touch and go for most of the book. Annis only somewhat knows how to to sew at all since she's of quality lady stock--she has no idea how to put sleeves into a garment, for example. She can only make the magic work sometimes, usually during moments when she can really put feeling into it. I kind of appreciated that she wasn't a perfect prodigy from the getgo, but my inner crafter did get hung up on bits like "um, seriously, how are you going to be making glamoured clothes when you don't know how to put them together?"
Anyway, Annis's first idea is to apply to be a spy like her father was--she's also found some secret spy messages that need to be passed on to the right people. However, she is turned away, leaving her to go to Plan B. Plan B is to move to a small town where a friend of Cassia's runs a business and set up a glamour/sewing business under a fake identity. With the help of their new (unpaid) maid Millicent, who also knows her way around disguises, this plan at least goes off, more or less. (Millicent, btw, is both a combination of "too conveniently good to be true in this plot" and yet "super awesome, I think I love her.") However, the most prominent family in town is a bunch of jerks--and the stud of the family likes to try to rape maids and Millicent is terrified of him, so he comes by to scare everyone periodically. But as she finds out more about whatever spying situation her dad was up to, Annis is more determined to get in with the spies somehow.
This is kind of an odd duck of a review. On the one hand, I like the premise, I like the characters--Annis gives great voice and Millicent makes a lovely pairing with her. The countess character isn't seen too much, but is also awesome. I enjoyed how Annis's views on fashion colored what she was doing and what her goals were, especially when doing costumes or trying to fix up a girl. On the other hand, I don't know how well the mystery was structured so much. It's a little not totally baked, I'd say? Also, if you say something like, "one of the few things we know about the villain is that he has X rare trait" (no explanation as to why anyone knows this, btw) and then later say, "Oh, so-and-so also happens to have X rare trait," it's giving your characters an Idiot Ball to have them not pick up on that. I read a few reviews that are summing this up better than me and the "Diet Sprite of Regency Romps" one kind of nails it. Hell, just go read that review instead of mine, the sewing explanation is excellent.
Jane is an 18-year-old orphan who recently lost the aunt who raised her, Magnolia, when she froze to death on an Antarctic expedition. Since then, Jane's dropped out of college and been at a loss. So when her old tutor Kiran Thrash rolls into town and invites Jane to stay indefinitely at her family's estate, Tu Reviens, Jane goes. But not for the reasons you'd think--before Aunt Magnolia left, she made Jane promise that if anyone invited her to stay at Tu Reviens, DO IT. Jane packs up her life and her collection of handmade artistic umbrellas--that's what she does--and takes a boat out to Tu Reviens, located on a private island on the East Coast somewhere. Every season there's a gala, and the spring gala's just about to start.
Upon arriving at Tu Reviens, Jane finds that a lot of weird mysteries in the house: Some of the house art has gone missing, a kid that's in the news for having gone missing appears to be at the house, Kiran's stepmom Charlotte left about a month ago and nobody has any idea where she is, is Kiran's twin Ravi up to something interesting involving cosmology, and what is up with Jasper the dog, who seems to know a lot more than any dog should?
At this point, Jane has five choices as to who/what to pursue. Which one should she pick, Aunt Magnolia?
In this book, much like the Remedial Chaos Theory episode of Community, we see what happens when she chooses each pick, presumably rolling back to zero each time. And hoo boy, does she end up in very different situations as time goes on.
In "The Missing Masterpiece," Jane finds out about the art that's missing in the house--one Vermeer has been stolen and a Brancusi statue has gotten broken and half of it has gone missing. Good thing there's an art theft investigator in the house, right? An upset Ravi (who loooooves his art) calls all the authorities he can, upsetting Mrs. Vanders, the housekeeper. The situation wraps up fast, and some people have revelations about them that will remain in your brain forever--but at the same time, the story feels a bit unfinished. There's some good reason for that....
In "Lies Without Borders," the art thievery is still going on, but Jane chooses to investigate Grace, the missing kid. Grace's parents are scientists who have gotten into some whopping trouble with a discovery of theirs, causing the family to need to run for it. Turns out that Tu Reviens is a good place to go when you're in a jam like that--and it turns out that Aunt Magnolia had ties to the house beyond just party invites and art, which shocks the hell out of Jane. I think this was my favorite of the five stories, it fills in a lot of holes (even as it leaves a few from the last story that don't resolve in the same way) and in most books, I think this would have been where things ended. It's comprehensive, it's fun, you find out a lot of secrets, and I wanted to see how things went on from there.
"In Which Someone Loses a Soul and Charlotte Finds One" is when Jane decides to find out about the missing Charlotte. Charlotte was nice, she was an interior designer, and she became obsessed with the hodge-podge built nature of Tu Reviens. She was trying to redecorate and change the place so that the house could find its soul, and apparently she did a lot of work in redoing the library. However, just walking into that library--or reading the books--becomes straight up chilling. What happened to Charlotte? And what's happening to anyone if they start spending time in that library? Hoo boy, this was unnerving. I won't make the Community joke I want to make here, but if you read the book you'll know what I mean.
In "Jane, Unlimited"--as things have gone on in the story, you start getting the feeling that Kiran might be aware of the possibility of multiple universes. Well, yeah...turns out that Kiran and Ravi's mom Anita is still living in the house and Anita investigates alternate universes. Hey Jane, how'd you like to visit a world where there was an alien invasion, everyone lives on spaceships and no one needs umbrellas? This is a fun, crazy sci---fi adventure that shows different-and-yet-same versions of the household residents.
In "The Strayhound, The Girl and the Painting," Jane finally follows Jasper the dog to see what he wants her to see. I think I won't spoil this one, but let's just say it manages to top pretty much everything else in the surprise and weirdness factors. Jasper's clearly been superintelligent and watching out for Jane all along to the best of his ability, and now we get to find out exactly why. Very cool.
Tu Reviens is a very interesting character in its own right, completely fascinating. Jasper is adorable. You feel for Jane and Kiran in how adrift they feel in life right now (especially when people are bringing it up to Kiran that she hasn't gotten a job yet) and how they may not know each other super well, but they relate on that level. Jane and Ivy's budding mutual crushes on each other are darned cute, even if they don't get as much play as one would hope in each scenario. I was also intrigued by the other servants and what they were secretly up to, and how even the intimidating Mrs. Vanders (yeah, guess who inspired that) has more to her. Some folks totally surprised me and then watching the way they played out from story to story always piqued my interest. And the use of umbrellas as a theme is very well done. Lord knows I'm a crafter and yet I've never heard of anyone building their own umbrellas before (and bringing the equipment, and what equipment she doesn't have is already on the island?!). Hardcore making, y'all.
There can also be some sublte fun things, such as apparently frogs are a bigger thing in Jane's world than in ours--they find it strange that in one universe (LD387) Kermit is green and in love with Miss Piggy. Or that "Cook" isn't exactly who/what you think he is. Or how one random comment about "would you still make umbrellas if there was no rain" eventually gets an answer. Jane's ideas for new umbrellas also change from story to story, though I liked the uh, surprise foreshadowing painting she did on one best of all.
If there's anything I kind of wish this book did, it's that I wish that in a sense the book brought together everything as a whole. I was hoping that after reading the second story, the later ones would continue to build and combine upon each other. Well, in a sense they do because the only way you could find out all of the mysteries posited is to take five different trips, and logistically speaking they can't combine (or in the case of one particular mystery, shouldn't) so in a way, nobody can or will know all of the tmysteries in one go. And I guess I kind of wish they could--I'd feel sorry for the threads from the first few stories being noticed but let go of in later stories, even as Jane points that the weirder things get, the less interested she is in the more mundane (by comparison) things. And as a few others have said, it's always a bit sad/frustrating to have character growth and plot developments "reset to zero." I had kind of hoped that maybe at some point Jane would remember her alternate selves and what they discovered and maybe there'd be bleedover...basically to integrate it all. But no, this keeps it all separate. Oh well, I guess...
Anyway, five stars. Epic. Amazing. I wish I was that smart.
There will be a Spoiler Quote Corner beneath the spoiler cut.
Victoria Cruz is a 15-year-old fancy school attender in NYC whose parents expect nothing less than Harvard out of her. She is bored out of her mind with being a good girl. The first line of this book is, "I can predict my life with scary accuracy."
"I'm not psychic. My life is just that boring. Every day moves like a treadmill, a straight line without fluctuation.
I shouldn't complain. I know it could be much worse. But when I really think about it, I realize that every day of my life is exactly the same, and it'll continue to be the same as it was yesterday, and the day before that, until the end of high school.
Until, suddenly, it isn't.
Across a sea of plaid uniforms on the opposite side of the sophomore hall, I see him, and the treadmill that is my life comes to a grinding halt."
What just happened? The thunderbolt happened in two ways--Victoria fell for a guy AND the "we need a lead singer for our band" poster he just put up on the wall.
Regarding the band: Victoria auditions and gets the job (or else we have no plot, right?). That's the title reference--the Victoria in her head who loves music and singing and showing off and throwing her cutlets in her bra onstage (that sounds like it was fun) doesn't usually get to live out in her real life future Harvard grind. Victoria drops the running team that she didn't like anyway for this and ends up loving it, even as she has fears about being public in that fashion. However, her parents don't take to the whole idea at all, progressively grounding Victoria so it's harder and harder for her to perform with them. Which is sad, even though you see their point of view.
However, upon getting to know the guy that posted the flier--his name is Strand--she discovers that he dates a lot of girls. Reasonably assuming he's just a fickle player, Victoria tells herself never mind about this one. This is what happens when you ignore the thunderbolt. And when the other guy in the group, Levi, wants to date her, Victoria goes along with it. He's a nice guy, after all, why not? She wants someone who's stable. They become boyfriend and girlfriend, but the relationship is pretty dull, even if neither of them (especially Victoria) quite want to admit it. The lack of butterflies, the times when Levi doesn't call her or notice she's a vegetarian before inviting her over for veal, the fact that he only gives practical gifts... Meanwhile, Strand volunteers to be her dance partner at her cousin's quinceanera and they are obviously having far more fun together...if Victoria can just get over the impression of Strand being a man-whore.
I liked this one overall, I definitely related to Victoria's issues and the inner fight between wanting to break out and be awesome vs. being trapped in having to please her well-meaning parents. I really liked that dynamic since lord knows I relate to it and unlike Victoria, I never got a stage to go be fabulous on. I liked how her relationships were handled. In the end, Victoria gets what she wants for now, but will presumably resolve this college thing with her parents later. So, four stars.