Happy New Year! Now celebrating its 10th annual edition, I thought I would begin the New Year by posting around New Year’s Day my favorite books that I read from the prior year.
In years past, I have read almost an equal number of fiction and non-fiction books but of late, it seems I am reading much more fiction. This year, I read a total of 48 books, 29 fiction and 19 non-fictions, just a bit more than the 46 I read in 2021. Not to make excuses, but as you will learn in upcoming posts, I read two books in 2022 that were both around 1,000 pages long which could easily translate into an additional two to three books of normal length. But excuses aside, let’s dive right into my favorite reads.
I first heard of Colonel Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, through a Rick Steves podcast when Rick was interviewing him about a recently published book of photos he had taken while serving on the International Space Station. I enjoyed Col. Hadfield’s very profound remarks related to our Earth and the photos he had taken from space, but the real thrill was learning of and then watching his YouTube video of him in weightless outer space strumming his guitar and singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. So, last December when I came across a novel written by him with the intriguing title The Apollo Murders, I couldn’t resist.
I have written many times before about my fascination growing up with the US space program so it should come as no surprise why I picked this book. The story picks up right where the non-fictional story of the Apollo program ended. The last lunar mission was Apollo 17 although two additional missions (18 & 19) were originally planned but later cancelled due to the Apollo 13 accident and budget cuts. The interesting premise of Hadfield’s book that makes it even more intriguing is that Apollo 18 is a covert Department of Defense mission.
Being told by an actual astronaut who clearly “knows his stuff” adds even more validity to the story. While in real life, the US was in a race to beat Russia to the moon, in this fictionalized novel, a different kind of space race is on.
The telling of the steps getting to the moon and back are based on fact so this could really have happened just as the story unfolds and the ending of the story is absolutely incredible. In fact, Col. Hadfield includes at the conclusion of the book a “Fact Check” and it is amazing that everything and almost everyone in the book is real. There are so many things about this book I would love to tell you but that would sadly ruin the story for you. So, trust me, if you too were fascinated with the actual space program of the 1960s, you will enjoy this most believable story.
If you have read my “Best of Books” posts before, you know that a number of books by John J. Nance have made my list in the past. I enjoy them for the realism and authenticity of his aviation knowledge but more so for the excitement that many of them bring, keeping me on the edge of the seat with my heart racing for much of the book. This one, Orbit, surprised me as how good it was, a pleasant surprise.
While almost all of his books are aviation stories, this one is unique in that it is his first in outer space. In this story, the protagonist, Kip Dawson, wins a lottery that grants him a rare seat on a private venture’s spaceship (sound familiar?). These rides that are costing the wealthy a half million dollars each take paying customers on four orbits of the Earth before landing back from where they were launched in the Mojave Desert. But for a number of reasons, his wife and family try to discourage him from fulfilling this lifelong dream of his. In spite of their wishes, he makes the trip.
Soon after launch and on a stable orbit around the Earth, disaster strikes and leaves Kip as the sole survivor thinking he will die in space within five days when the carbon dioxide scrubbers become saturated. Animosity between the NASA head and the CEO of this private venture brings an interesting twist to potential rescue attempts which includes international players as well. Without a way to communicate with the company’s ground control, Kip ponders his options and his past life. Without giving any spoilers, the best way I can describe this interesting story is picture The Truman Show meets Apollo 13.
If you have taken my recommendations before and both read and enjoyed some of Nance’s other books, you will be pleased with this outer space ride as well.
I had heard my sibling talk about what a great show The Queen’s Gambit was so when I discovered through my discount BookBub the book by Walter Tevis, upon which the NetFlix series was based, I thought I would give it a read. Obviously, I liked it enough as it made this list.
For someone who does not play chess, this might be a hard book to read as much of the stressful chess matches are written in chess nomenclature. I have played chess since I was in high school but have never used this to describe my moves. But even being familiar with the terminology and the positions of the board, I still had trouble visualizing the moves on the board based on the text. But in spite of this, almost every one of the matches got my heart racing. And it was amazing to think that real chess masters could literally play a game in their mind.
In case you are unfamiliar with this fictional story, the protagonist is a young girl who learns chess at an early age and quickly develops into a chess prodigy. Being an orphan, she not only has to battle to overcome the adversities of that situation but once she enters organized competition, compete against mostly older and predominately male players. Her ultimate goal is to compete with and beat grandmasters. This is her story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it prompted me to want to then watch the series as well. If you have not seen the series or read the book, I would encourage you to read the book first since you can get so much more out of the book before watching the series.
To be Continued…