Book Review: Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space by Chris Jones

Too Far From Home
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Title: Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space
Author: Chris Jones
ISBN-13: 9780385521901
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 3/6/2007
Sold by: Random House
Pages: 304

In the thirty-seven years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, space travel has seemed more and more a routine enterprise-at least until the shuttle Columbia blew up, and the Challenger before it, reminding us, once again, that the peril is all too real.

TOO FAR FROM HOME vividly captures the dangerous realities of space travel. Every time an astronaut makes the trip into space, he faces the risk of death from the slightest mechanical error or instance of bad luck: a cracked O-ring, an errant piece of space junk, an oxygen leak….There are a myriad of frighteningly probable events that would result in an astronaut’s instant death.

Yet for a special breed of individual, the call of space is worth the risk. Men such as American astronauts Donald Pettit and Kenneth Bowersox and Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin, who in February 2003 were on what was to be a routine fourteen-week mission maintaining the International Space Station.

But then the shuttle Columbia exploded beneath them. Despite the numerous news reports examining the tragedy, the public remained largely unaware that three men were still orbiting the earth. With the launch program suspended indefinitely, these astronauts had suddenly lost their ride back to earth.

TOO FAR FROM HOME offers a vivid and detailed portrait of the odd life of the people who live in zero gravity. The book chronicles the efforts of the beleaguered mission controls in Houston and Moscow as they work frantically against the clock to bring their men home, ultimately settling on a plan that felt, at best, like a long shot.

Latched to the side of the space station was a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-1 capsule,the rocket equivalent of a 1976 Gremlin. (It made headlines in 1971 when a malfunction left three Russian astronauts dead.) Despite the inherent danger, the Soyuz became the only hope to return Bowersox, Budarin, and Pettit home. Their harrowing journey back to earth is a powerful reminder that space travel remains an incredibly dangerous pursuit.

Written with immediacy and an attention to detail, TOO FAR FROM HOME rivals the finest contemporary adventure-driven narrative nonfiction.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

I feel as if I don’t need to give much of a review after that blurb. It pretty much says it all, but I do have a few things to add, so here goes.

The reason I read this book was for research. I don’t read non-fiction a whole lot. It’s not that I don’t like non-fiction, but there are only so many hours in a day and if I’m going to read, it’s going to be YA for learning and enjoyment. The only time I really read non-fiction is for research. My local library is a little low on space related books, so when I found this account of the Columbia disaster and the events following, I figured it was my best bet at learning what it is like to live in space. I was right.

This book was exactly what I needed. I wanted to know what it was like for humans living in space, what it was like to blast off, what concerns and precautions were there in relation to space travel and space living. Some of it is obvious, but I learned so much just from reading this novel that I realized I really didn’t know anything about space exploration. Even better, it was a personalized account of the astronauts, their past, what they dealt with and how they related to each other. If you are going to do research on space, even for futuristic science fiction, I highly recommend this book.

The prose kept me enthralled from the beginning, despite the fact I’ve never had any interest in space travel. Seriously, not even as a kid in the Shuttle Era, did I even entertain a thought about wanting to be an astronaut. It has never appealed to me. So for me to say I was completely engaged by this story is a testament to Chris Jones ability to stick to the facts, impart non-fiction knowledge, and still tell a good story. I cheated for the last third of the book and skimmed, but not because I was getting bored. I just knew I had a lot more research to do and this is a long book with small print. Though I enjoyed the personal stories of each astronaut, I needed to move on to other parts of my research.

One thing it did highlight for me shortly after I concluded reading was the utter lack of acknowledged science in Science Fiction. I don’t read a lot of Sci-fi, so I don’t want to judge all of it, but I have read a few YA books lately, and they, and this book has prompted me to write a Keeping the Science in Science Fiction post you can look for next week.

In conclusion, if you enjoy non-fiction adventure chronicles without a ton of action, or if you just like reading about space and astronauts, or if you are researching for a space related novel, this is the book for you. Maybe someday when time isn’t so pressing, I’ll go back and read every word with the rapt attention I gave the first 2/3’s of the book. But for now, I have a huge list of research to do, so it will have to wait!

My Review: 4 stars

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Book Review: Glory, Passion and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer


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Title: Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution
Author: Melissa Lukeman Bohrer
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Atria; 1St Edition edition (April 29, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743453301
ISBN-13: 978-0743453301
Amazon Review: 3.2/5 stars

I picked this book up while on vacation in Boston. There are two things I can be counted on to purchase on every vacation: a Christmas ornament and a book. I read it along with several others, because there is nothing I love more than to read a book while on vacation. Being allowed to dedicate hours upon hours to devouring page after page of whichever volume happens to come under my nose is a blissful treat I am not often afforded.

But, having read this back in July, I’m finding my powers of inspiration a little lax in how to describe the book to you. So instead, I will transcribe the words on the inside jacket cover, because they do such an excellent job of explaining the contents, I’m sure I could do no better. Then I’ll share my thoughts.

Much has been written of the brave deeds, acts of heroism, and intellectual prowess of the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence over two hundred years ago, yet almost no attention has been paid to the extraordinary women of that time—women who helped found our nation with courage, sacrifice, and intellect equal to any of the famed politicians of 1776.

Glory, Passion, and Principle tells the story of eight incredible women, each deprived of formal education, world travel, or equal status, and yet all managed to flourish against incredible odds. Whether advising such men as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin on political theory; publishing poems and plays that would rouse a nation to independent furor; helping negotiate treaties; acting as spies; or fighting alongside men in the military—these women broke the limiting definition imposed upon them, much as America was doing for itself, and helped form and found the country that is America today.

Each chapter features a different woman. Abigail Adams, political confidante and wife of John Adams, used her intellect to influence her husband’s position in the Continental Congress, and earned the distinction of being the only person to put Thomas Jefferson in his place.

Nancy Ward, the brave and diplomatic leader of the Cherokee tribe, matured from a young widow to bold warrior, risking her life and those of her people when she warned the Patriots of imminent attack by Native American tribes. She became a strong voice when the Treaty of Hopewell was signed in 1785.

Yet another bright light was Sybil Ludington, a sixteen-year-old who took it upon herself top alert her town’s militia that the British were coming, and survived a ride twice as long as Paul Revere’s. And where Revere got caught, Ludington did not. Alongside Ludington, Adams, and Ward, the five other chapters chronicle the lives of Deborah Sampson, Lydia Darragh, Mercy Otis Warren, Phillis Wheatley, and Molly Pitcher.

Filled with unimaginable heartbreak, personal sacrifice, and cunning survival skills, Glory, Passion and Principle is an inspiring testament to the women who undoubtedly made a considerable dent in our great nation’s history.

I absolutely loved this book! If you are a history buff, this book is a must read. If you are a lover of stories—especially true ones—that highlight strong female characters who overcome insurmountable odds, then you simply can not pass this by. Reading the accounts of these women who achieved greatness in a time when women were expected to have babies, take care of the home, and be ladylike was truly inspirational. And it isn’t sugar coated. One of my favorite chapters is on the mythical Molly Pitcher. No woman by that name ever existed, but there are multiple accounts of women who fit the description and Molly’s legend status can be attributed to a number of women and their amazing deeds. Even more compelling, these women came from the meanest of beginnings. They were crude, crass and about as far from the romanticized version of Molly Pitcher as you can get, but I still loved them.

And if you’re thinking of writing historical fiction, this is definitely fodder for the inspiration mill. I’m already percolating stories I’d like to write about these ladies. In short, I personally think every American teenage girl should read this book. It is educational, yet a fun read, with the chapters being broken up into sections that are non-fiction writing with facts and details presented in an unemotional way, accompanied by portions that are written as a story would be, making the conveyment of information more enjoyable. Just go get the book, okay. And share it with your daughter or a friend!

My Review: 4/5 stars

Here’s another book listed alongside GPP on Amazon that might be a good companion read: