Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hidden Figures (Book Review)

Title: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction/History/Women’s Studies
Plot: The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner, opening in January  2017.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

 Purchase Links

Audience: Fans of narrative history, civil rights, inspirational women - but this practically reads like a novel!

About the Author: Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in Hidden Figures.  She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing.  She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

My Impressions: I didn’t know much about this book before I started reading but was instantly hooked. I liked that author Shetterly became aware about these women and their history during an adult visit to her parents, learning her old Sunday School teacher had a personal story of such magnitude it simply had to be told. The book is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, and contains so many fascinating anecdotes that I kept reading aloud from it to my father, author of his own book about brave African-Americans making a difference (in his case, fighting for the right to vote). One of my favorite facts was that the black women working as computers (the word sounds strange to a modern audience but they were computing) were assigned to a cafeteria table that was labeled “Colored Computers” – the only group of employees with a designated seating area. Petite Miriam Mann kept making the sign disappear, causing her colleagues to fear there would be repercussions, but eventually some anonymous HR staffer gave up replacing the signs. I am sure I will enjoy the movie of this book as well, and it has a great cast.
Source: I received a copy of Hidden Figures from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow Books in return for a candid review. Thank you for the opportunity to read such a fascinating story!  For other stops on the Hidden Figures tour, see below:

September 6th: A Bookish Way of Life
September 7th: Doing Dewey
September 8th: Tina Says…
September 9th: Sapphire Ng
September 12th: Read. Write. Repeat.
September 13th: Kritters Ramblings
September 14th: Back Porchervations
September 15th: A Bookish Affair
September 16th: Reading Reality
September 19th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
September 20th: In the Garden of Eva
September 22nd: View from the Birdhouse
September 26th: Man of La Book
September 27th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chocolate Thinsies (Recipe)

Chocolate Thinsies were always our 'go to' cookie recipe when I was growing up if we had unexpected afternoon guests and were out of eggs.  They are fairly quick to make, and we were usually well supplied with the other ingredients. Try them warm from the oven with a cold glass of milk!

Ingredients
1 cup less 2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cinnamon
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Cream shortening and sugar.  Add milk gradually. Mixture will look slightly curdled (this was always my favorite line from the recipe).  Mix dry ingredients together prior to folding them into the shortening mixture.  Stir until well blended.  Add vanilla.

Preheat the oven to 350°.   Spread the mixture about 1/4 to1/8 inch thick onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.   Cut into squares while warm, using a spatula if necessary to remove them from the cookie sheet.

Enjoy!  I don't remember where my mother found this recipe but it used to be taped inside her kitchen cabinet for convenience.   I will add a picture over the weekend.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living (Book Review)

Title: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
Author: Louise Miller
Publication: Viking, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: Fiction
Plot: When Olivia Rawlings, pastry chef at an exclusive Boston club, accidentally sets the historic building on fire with a flaming dessert, she more or less loses her job. Humiliated, Livvy flees for comfort to her best friend in Vermont and ends up employed at the nearby Sugar Maple Inn. The curmudgeonly owner is on a quest to regain dominance of a local apple pie contest, and Livvy is up for the challenge, even though they don’t always see eye to eye. Despite her flamboyantly dyed hair and distaste for the country, Livvy makes friends quickly, including a quiet farmer, Martin, and his family who may be the first to make her feel she really belongs somewhere. Can she find lasting happiness in rural Vermont?

Audience: Understood Betsy for grown-ups! Guthrie, Vermont also reminded me of Stars Hollow, although I believe that is supposed to be Washington, Connecticut. Readers who enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Elinor Lipman should appreciate this debut novel as well.

My Impressions: First of all, I loved the descriptions of food, although it is always a mistake to read a book about food when you haven’t had time to go to the grocery store for days - I was almost ready to gnaw on the book. Second, I loved the quirky, minor characters, including Alfred the chef (I enjoyed how at first they shared the kitchen and communicated without meeting; they communicated beautifully when collaborating as well); Dotty, who welcomes Livvy to family gatherings; Tom who delivers milk and devours Livvy’s cooking; and Margaret, whose gruff demeanor hides the hurt caused by an unrelenting Mean Girl. Finally, as a city girl myself I am always fascinated, if disbelieving, of young women who find fulfillment in rural communities. It is possible that Livvy’s transformation happened too quickly – also, in Boston Livvy wasn’t making enough money to pay her rent so how is that she could be solvent as a pastry chef in Vermont? Admittedly, she was living rent free in a cottage on the Inn’s premises.

The obstacles between Livvy and Martin seemed contrived, making the last 30% of the book less interesting and satisfying. Either Martin’s motivation was unconvincing or his character was not very likeable, I couldn’t decide which.  However, his parents were so sweet they compensated for his unreliability.  I was disappointed with Livvy for not valuing her friend Hannah more. Hannah is loyal in a way few friends are when the BFF and the husband don’t get along.
For another take on  Understood Betsy, try the most recent installment of The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick: Mother-Daughter Book Camp.

Source: I learned about this book when I saw it listed on my library website as an “in demand” new release.  I was convinced when I saw it had been edited by my former colleague, Pam Dorman, and I promptly put it on reserve. Later, I learned that Miller is a local author which made the book even more enjoyable. I am enjoying her Instagram posts as well. Recommended!