Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

We close out 2013 with a selection of books that is heavy on magic, witches, potions, and wizards, rounded out with a little bit of historical fiction and … flowcharts.

This month, Fran is reading Hild, by Nicola Griffith. This epic historical fiction about the childhood of the real St. Hilda of Whitby has pulled her in and will not let go. With its brilliantly researched 7th century England, its foreground of dangerous plots, battles, intrigue, and clashes of religions and cultures, Hild is an extraordinary study of history from a (very military) female point of view. There are so many fascinating figures in this story, but it is the central character, the young seeress and future Abbess and advisor to kings, Hild, who is the most captivating character of all.

Fran is looking forward to reading Jack McDevitt’s latest, Starhawk, about Priscilla Hutchins, space pilot. She’s a huge fan of McDevitt’s Alex Benedict novels.

When Lisa purchased Doogie Horner’s Everything Explained Through Flowcharts for her husband for Christmas, she thought it would be something to glance casually through on the rare occasion. Instead, she found herself glued to it, reading it cover-to-cover in just two sittings. Imaginative, educational, and just plain funny, Horner has taken the business-savvy art of creating informational flow charts and applied it to, well, everything! There are charts for superheroes, fears, evil twins, zeppelin warfare and Doomsday scenarios, and even Things People Say To My Dog (e.g. “what are you sniffing there?”). Even the table of contents is arranged in tidy flowchart form. You’ll find yourself laughing  out loud, reading aloud to friends, and eventually purchasing two or three more copies of this to give as gifts.

Image: Signet
Image: Signet

Just before Christmas, Karen was enjoying the debut fantasy novel The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. She found it shelved in literary fiction, but the only possible reason for that is that in chapter one our heroine, Nora, is an English lit grad student who has just been dumped by her boyfriend. By chapter three, she has accidentally wandered into a fairy kingdom and is enchanted by the fae who live there. After a thrilling but disastrous time among the fae (which thankfully doesn’t last too long, given how painful it is to watch their effects on her), she escapes and has to make her way in a fantasy world under the testy protection of a wizard.

The story of how she finds her feet in this world and begins to make her way back to ours is wonderfully done. Karen loved the protagonist, the narrative voice, and the pacing. This would be a good bet for lovers of Susanna Clarke’s smash hit Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with the added bonus of Pride and Prejudice references. However, what really won Karen’s heart was the unique way that Nora ends up rescuing her wizard toward the end of the book—trying to avoid spoilers, let’s just say that even today’s English majors know quite a bit more math than fantasy land wizards.

Kelly Knox was delighted to start a new cozy mystery series by author Heather Blake this month. Blake writes the Wishcraft mysteries, one of Kelly’s favorite cozy series, and A Potion to Die For has the same charm and magic.

The Magic Potion Mysteries take place in the South in the small fictional town of Hitching Post, Alabama, home to Carly Bell Hartwell. Carly owns a potion shop sprinkled with real magic to help customers with matters of the body and heart. But when a dead body is discovered in her shop, Carly has to put her abilities as a white witch and amateur sleuth to work so she can clear her own name. With a cast of crazy characters and a whodunit that kept Kelly turning pages, A Potion to Die For looks like the start of another must-have series for anyone who loves paranormal cozy mysteries.

Kris picked up Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder on a whim and found herself immersed in a magical world. Kidnapped when she was just six years old, Yelena endures unspeakable acts throughout her childhood but is rescued as a young adult. The discovery that she has magic leads her to a new life in her country of origin, where she studies under a master magician. Yelena’s history creates unease for some who suspect she is a spy, and her secret relationship with an enemy of the state puts her in peril. When the appearance of a rogue magician threatens the safety of her family and new friends, she dangerously pushes her new-found magical abilities beyond their limit. Magic Study is a light and enjoyable read, and Kris has Poison Study, the next book in the trilogy, on hold at the library.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

This month the GeekMoms have read an interesting collection of books covering math (from The Simpson’s, even), geometry, essays, and garbage.

Kelly Knox was taken back to her first year of college thanks to the delightful novel Fangirl from author Rainbow Rowell. The story follows fan fiction writer and identical twin Cath as she leaves home for her freshman year of college. Her twin sister wants to branch out and make new friends, leaving Cath fending for herself with a stranger for a roommate.

All Cath wants to do is squirrel away and keep writing her Simon Snow fan fiction (think Harry Potter), but finds herself reluctantly making friends and making her own way through an eventful first year at school. Fangirl is an engrossing read with likable characters and world of fandom that you will wish was real.


This month Patricia found time to check out Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets which was released at the end of October. What a fun read! And double bonus word score: You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of The Simpsons to appreciate the mathematical fun the show has enjoyed over the years.

The book is presented in a historical context, and the mathematics referenced throughout the show is thoroughly explained, in case your fan isn’t quite versed in Mersenne primes or the most recent status of Fermat’s Last Theorem. In addition, Singh is sure to explain every single joke, right down to the punchline. Serious fans of The Simpsons might get annoyed over time with the punchlines being presented, as I have been, but in general, it’s really cool to see a consolidation of 25 years of the show’s math jokes. This book will make a fantastic gift for the math (and/or Simpsons) geek in your life.

Sophie hasn’t had a lot of time for reading this month but she did manage to finish Stephen King’s Needful Things, her village book club’s choice for the Halloween season. It was her first novel by King and she found herself quite surprised as it was nothing at all like she had expected. She has also been reading two books from the Fan Phenomena series by Intellect. Star Trek (edited by Bruce E. Drushel) and Twin Peaks (edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulegue) are volumes of collected essays that serve as an introduction to that fandom. Look for her review of the series appearing on GeekMom soon.

Rebecca must be in a historical geometric mood right now, because the two books she is enjoying are Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Diana Taimina, and Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami by Meher McArthur and Robert J. Lang.

The crocheting book certainly shows you how to make cool stuff, but it’s not a craft book with lots of projects. Instead, it’s a historic journey of math in art, and by working with the yarn yourself, you can feel part of that history and find understanding of geometric concepts as well. The origami book is not a how-to crafty projects book either. This is a stunning collection of art that can be created with simple means. The authors write about the journey of origami as it has moved throughout the world. Expand your mind, be inspired, or just look at pretty pictures!

Photo: Penguin Group

Judy has had a great run on library books this month, finding a few that she hated to turn back in because she loved them so much. The first one was Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. Why do we have no problem eating chickens but wouldn’t think of eating a cat? Why do some cultures let their dogs sleep in their beds with them and others see dogs as vile, horrible creatures? Does dolphin therapy really help autistic children come out of their shell? All of these questions (and many more) about our relationship with animals are discussed in this thought-provoking book.

Then there was Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link, about a newly divorced woman with three sons, one in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. They had been living the middle class life, comfortable and stable, until an unexpected separation, then divorce, hit their family. Suddenly Mardi is living in a rundown farmhouse, carving out a new life for her sons with only the income from her occasional writing assignments. She resorts to gardening, raising chickens, and being as creative as possible to supply the very basics of life for her family. It’s a story of doing whatever it takes to survive, and living above the idea that life owes you a comfortable place to land. This true story will make you appreciate the basics you enjoy every day and be more open minded to the silent struggles of those around you.

Judy’s most recent life changing book is called Garbology by Edward Humes. This book is a thorough history of how the United States handles trash, from the turn of the century when it was common to throw household garbage in the streets, to trash services today, and where the trash that is collected from the end of your driveway really ends up. One chapter covers the massive amounts of refuse that is currently floating around in our oceans, and how it affects the wildlife and our own food supply. Another covers the question of how effective recycling truly is. A group of researchers put electronic trackers on pieces of trash, then put them in the system, tracking where they really went. The results were surprising. The chapter that impacted Judy personally was the discussion of plastic grocery bags and how they impact our landfills. Her family is preparing to try an experiment to see if they can live without any plastic bags for a two week period. That’s the definition of a good book — one that changes your life.

Fran tore through Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice – a space opera of incredible proportions and perspective, about a character named Breq who is on a mission that weaves purpose and potential through themes of empire, individuality, hive minds, and more. Leckie’s attention to detail, to language, and to excellent explosions is exquisite, and Fran has a lot more to say about this one than space will allow. Stay tuned! Fran also finished Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema – a YA novel about copyright, intellectual property, hacking, and the families we make for ourselves. She’s currently reading Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent and Mary Szybist’s National Book Award-winning poetry collection, Incarnadine.

The Lego Adventure Book, Volume Two Does It Again

Image: No Starch Press


Kris Bordessa’s son, Evan, talks about The Lego Adventure Book, Volume Two. 

Author Megan H. Rothrock is back with a second book in the Lego Adventure Book series. The Lego Adventure Book, Volume One was great; it had a fun backstory, interesting creations, and instructions for some of the more basic builds. The Lego Adventure Book, Volume Two is even better. The book starts off at the Idea Lab once again, where you’re encouraged to build some simple models to add to the original Idea Lab layout discussed in volume one. Once you’ve built those models, you dive in head first into building some pretty impressive models. Here’s what Lego says:

Learn to create sleek spaceships, exotic pirate hideaways, fire-breathing dragons, fast cars, and much more. With nearly 40 step-by-step breakdowns and 100 example models, The Lego Adventure Book is sure to spark your imagination and keep you building!

The models featured in this book were created by builders within the online Lego community, which I’m pretty familiar with. Since I’ve met or had contact with many of the artists included in this collection, I connected with this volume more than I did with the first book. The creators featured in this book include Mark Stafford (Lego set designer), Tommy Williamson (founder of BrickNerd), Tyler Clites (freelance Lego artist), and more. I had the opportunity to see Tommy Williamson’s slightly modified visual effects Stage 18 at BrickCon 2013, though I had no idea it was going to be featured in this book. 

One model, The Sludge Puppy created by Tyler Clites AKA Legohaulic, really brought back memories. In fact, it was one of the first models I saw before joining the online Lego community. I was pretty hyped to see that Tyler had a chapter of the book dedicated to his builds. But when I saw instructions to build the Sludge Puppy included in the book, well, I had a bit of a fanboy moment. Even though the model is a simplified version, with all strictly “legal” techniques, it’s still a fantastic model. And while I haven’t had time to build one myself, I plan on doing so in the near future. I was also impressed with the car ferry and the collection of film equipment models.

I’d highly recommend The Lego Adventure Book, Volume Two to anyone who enjoys building with the little plastic bricks! Whether they’re new to the hobby, or a hardcore builder, this book has enough for everyone, and is not to be missed.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom


Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

This month, the GeekMoms have tackled both fiction and non-fiction. From vampires and classic Stephen King to historical fiction and novels featuring strong female characters, the selection this month is quite varied!

At the urging of a friend, Kris Bordessa read Wool by Hugh Howey. She was intrigued first by the making of the book: Wool started out as a self-published short story that eventually attracted enough fans to encourage the author to expand on the work. He began releasing chapters serially, and ultimately found himself with a novel published by Simon & Schuster on the New York Times Bestseller list.

The story itself is an incredible work of imagination and the author deftly weaves intricate details together to draw the reader into a time hundreds of years after an apocalyptic event. This is not the burnt-out future of The Road, though. The functioning society looks somewhat familiar, but as the story unfolds we realize that there are more secrets within—and without—this new world. Gutsy and curious Juliette, the story’s central character, stretches societal norms, survives an ordeal that nobody has ever survived, and uncovers a wicked truth. 

Wool1Sarah Pinault is still working on Gone With the Wind, but took a hiatus mid-month to begin reading The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Four books devoured in less time than it took to birth her first child! Now that Sookie has moved on in her affections she is enjoying it so much more, but wonders how on earth so many supernatural beings can exist in such a small place. She is also reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp, piece by piece each day, in an attempt to control time. To enjoy each moment of toddlerhood instead of fretting about it.

Helen Barker has spent time with Tris and Four this month, re-reading Divergent and Insurgent in preparation for the release of Allegiant. She’s interested to see what happens next in this dystopian YA trilogy, especially as reviews seem to be rather mixed. Helen’s “fear landscape” would include being in an out of control car, being late for an important appointment, and not knowing whether she’d left the oven on.

In a different realm entirely, Helen has just finished Catherynne M. Valante’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. This is another adventurous romp through fairyland, with a cast of colorful characters supporting September on her journey as she attempts to stop the exodus of shadows to Fairyland Below.

Samantha Cook is reading In Defense Of Childhood: Protecting Kid’s Inner Wildness, for both personal and professional reasons. Written by Chris Mercogliano, co-director of the Albany Free School, this book takes a critical look at the “domestication of childhood” with community and educational systems that suppress kids’ abilities to create, experiment, and have adventures that are key to healthy development. He argues that by taking the wonder, autonomy, and physicality out of our children’s lives, we are systematically destroying the spark that leads to individuality, innovation, and passion.

There isn’t much in the book Sam disagrees with. Mercogliano’s arguments line up with the experiences Sam has had in 20 years of teaching in both formal and informal settings. Perhaps the one section where their opinions diverge is technology. Mercogliano argues that technology such as video games interferes with real play, and Sam feels that technology can enhance it. Sam admits that as the founder of an organization that teaches technology skills, she sees its possibilities in a more optimistic and varied way.

Professionally, this book inspired her to create more space for “inner wildness” in her programs at Curiosity Hacked (formerly Hacker Scouts), and also in her work in helping to build the community at the Oakland Free School, which will open next year. But personally, Sam found many ways she could be supporting this idea with her own kids even more. In his last sentence, Mercogliano says it best: “It is absolutely possible, despite the many obstacles and complications, for us to re-establish childhood as an undomesticated period of fertile growth and exploration, the time set aside for children to construct whole, authentic selves that are imbued with the spirit and determination of their inner wildness.”

Image: Beacon Press

Rebecca Angel had two hours to hang out at the library and had forgotten her work, so she had the unexpected pleasure of picking out a book to pass the time. The title of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo caught her eye—the cover was glittery. The plot is a mid-19th century Chinese young woman in (what we now call) Malaysia, who has few marital prospects, and becomes the “ghost bride” to the dead son of a powerful, wealthy family. It’s an old, strange custom, but her situation is desperate.

Rebecca was intrigued, not just by the plot, but the location. She lived in Singapore as a youth, and visited Malaysia several times. It is a region of the world she once called home, but is not often featured in fiction. She decided to take a chance on this first time author, with no praise or quotes on the cover of her book. A quarter of the way in, it’s a keeper! Mystical dreamworlds, fascinating ancient customs, a smart heroine who is caught by tradition, and a mysterious romance. She can’t wait to finish it!

Sophie has had very little time to read recently but has somehow managed to keep up with her book club. She recently finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, a very interesting and often funny novel about an Australian college professor with a personality similar to The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper who decides to find himself a wife.

The latest book club choice is Needful Things by Stephen King. She is looking forward to reading it as it will be her first literary encounter with the author despite enjoying many of his films and TV shows. For GeekMom, Sophie has recently read Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film, a compendium from the BFI that looks at the history of gothic film since its inception. She is also reading two books from the Fan Phenomena series from Intellect: Star Trek and Twin Peaks. She hopes to get around to reading the books she received for her birthday a few weeks ago including the latest from one of her favorite authors—Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America 1927.

Laura has been reading some great novels featuring strong women. Her favorite is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s set in a time when scientists were still called “natural philosophers.” The excitement of discovery, and desire to codify or at least profit by those discoveries, drives this story. It revolves around Alma, whose passion is botany. Relentless curiosity leads to a life unusual for a woman of her time, one that catapults from being “the smart one” to adventures in science, love, and self-expression. This is a fascinating read.

Also not to be missed is Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life. It’s inspired by an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79). Main character Axie grows up in Dickensian squalor. When she witnesses her mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth, Axie begins to understand the unique perils of being a woman. She works to free herself from poverty and ignorance, provides doctoring that’s against the law, and accepts the consequences with prideful disdain.

After a bout of preterm labor, the very pregnant Ariane was put on bed rest. Talk about suddenly having a lot of free time to read! She finally finished Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, a story about a man from Mars introduced to life on Earth. After having read the light fare Have Space Suit—Will Travel by the same author, Stranger in a Strange Land was surprisingly loaded with philosophy, religion, sex, and politics. It was interesting, but very strange indeed.

Reading White Night by Jim Butcher next was a welcome change. As the ninth book in the Dresden File series, it was as good and entertaining as its precedents. You really can’t go wrong with a cocky wizard protagonist. After that, Ariane asked for reading suggestions and went with GeekMom Karen’s recommendation for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This young-adult fantasy novel included a mysterious wizard, a strong-willed girl, a rebellious yet good-natured fire demon, and a wicked witch. It was a quick and easy read, but delightfully imaginative and captivating in every way. Now she’s looking forward to watching the Miyazaki movie adaption.

Kay’s reading has been all over the Dewey decimal system. She read a historical romance,  a memoir, and an innovative textbook that shows the way for books of the future. Anne Stuart’s Never Kiss a Rake features a never-give-up heroine, Bryony Russell, who goes undercover in Victorian London to discover who bankrupted her family and caused her father’s death. In the course of protecting her sisters and investigating the events of her family’s downfall, Bryony goes undercover at the household of the Earl of Kilmartyn, a notorious rake. Anne Stuart is known for writing heroes who are bad boys with a capital B before they eventually reform; our hero here is not her most extreme, which made the book more pleasant for Kay. Bryony’s character is portrayed a little inconsistently in what she knows and how pragmatic her reactions are, but the descriptions, emotions, and mystery added up to a readable story.

An Animated Life by legendary animator Floyd Norman (named a Disney Legend) is a memoir of his life at animation studios. The writing is plain and straightforward. Kay felt like she was sitting down and chatting with a long-lost relative and catching up on decades of stories. He tells inside stories about long years of work at both Disney and Pixar, including work on such beloved films as Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the StoneToy Story 2, and Monsters Inc. There’s even a chapter on P.L. Travers’s visit to the studio for the Mary Poppins movie. Floyd delivers the flavor of the 50s, 60s, and later years in the narrative, and his tales of studio events and personalities enriched Kay’s memories of the finished films. The end of the book also includes hints, tips, and short exercises for future animators, but Kay failed horribly at these.

Finally, Kay is reading a textbook, The Discipline of Organizing by Robert J. Glushko of the University of California, Berkeley. TDO describes ordering, curating, describing, and labeling items (“resources” in TDO-talk) from the point of view of library science, computer science, cognitive science, law, and even the everyday reader. Kay is reading the hardcover, but it is a groundbreaking, forward-looking book with added charms as an e-book, because it is a “six-million-dollar man” version of a book, and all those millions mostly go into the e-version. This book has categorized notes, so some annotations are targeted to librarians, some to lawyers, etc., and readers decide which notes to follow. The authors are also collecting contributions from classes that use the textbook, and adding new contributions, so the 2nd edition of the hardcopy will benefit from all these innovations but the website and e-version can be modified more intermittently. Check out a sample chapter if you’re curious.

A Live Action Short Film Inside Aperture Laboratories

That Lego Thinking with Portals project that had so many people excited has finally been officially declined by the folks over at Cuusoo. Worry not, Portal fans. While a Lego GLaDOS is simply not in the cards, you can console yourself with another alternative Portal world. This live-action video takes viewers inside Aperture Laboratories and features very convincing special effects. Dive in. They’re serving cake.

5 Geek-Worthy Destinations in Seattle

I traveled to Seattle last week with my sons; one was there to attend BrickCon, the other to teach ‘ukulele lessons. Me? I got to tag along and see sights like the famous gum wall and the myriad vendors at Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the very first Starbucks location (complete with a long line that I didn’t wait in). I even got to meet our own GeekMom Kelly live and in person! There’s plenty to see in the Emerald City, and a fair number of them make the cut for those of us who consider ourselves geeks.

Heading to Seattle? Take note of these five stops!

Comics at Golden Age Collectibles.
Comics at Golden Age Collectibles. Image: Kris Bordessa

Golden Age Collectibles

We spent an inordinate amount of time in this store that is packed to the ceiling with geeky pleasures. With a large collection of comic books, scripts from iconic television shows and movies, autographs, star photos, and vintage collectibles, fans of cult classics will find plenty to ogle. Then there’s the collection of memorabilia and toys based on popular games like Portal and Minecraft, as well as fan faves from TV shows like Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, and The Big Bang Theory. My eldest came home with a Walter White figure for a friend who has a serious love of Breaking Bad.

We could have spent even more time in there, poking through the various button collections, stickers, and other totally random fun stuff, but we wanted to see what else Seattle had to offer.

Costumes worn in The Princess Bride at the EMP
Costumes worn in The Princess Bride at the EMP. Image: Evan Bordessa

Experience Music Project + Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic

In its own right, the Experience Music Project (EMP) is a music geek’s playground. Rockers can delve into the history of Jimi Hendrix or Nirvana, see a visual display of the history of the guitar, or watch the big screen showing all music, all the time. Bang the drum—quite literally—in soundproof booths that allow visitors to try out a variety of musical instruments like guitar, bass, and keyboard. My son the musician had a go at the full drum set, while I took an electronic drum kit for a (not very impressive) spin. While there is a hands-on aspect to the EMP, I suspect younger children will find it a bit tedious unless they have an intense love of music.

Prepare to Die!
Swords and a six-fingered glove from The Princess Bride. Image: Evan Bordessa

The Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit at the EMP cranks the geek volume up to eleven. Divided into three different themes—science fiction, fantasy, and horror—there’s a display for everyone. Tolkien fans will drool over the handwritten manuscript page and sketches from his earliest known version of The Hobbit. Trekkies can see where Captain Kirk sat at the controls along with one of those famous red suits, while fans of the Man of Steel can see the Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve. Darth Vader’s lightsaber and Yoda’s cane will be the highlight for Star Wars fans.

The crowning glory for me, though, was the costume and prop collection from The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup’s pale blue gown, the costumes worn by Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black, and the six-fingered glove, along with the swords used in the famous “prepare to die” scene had us quoting the movie for the rest of the afternoon.

A tour of the Boeing factory allows visitors to see workers in action.
Image: Boeing

Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour

Boeing offers the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America at its facility just north of Seattle. It is amazing to step into a 93-acre building (yes, you read that right — it’s the largest building in the world by volume) and watch as jetliners are assembled, piece by piece. Airplane geeks will definitely get a thrill out of seeing the production line in action. Jets in various stages of completion—just the fuselage, the fuselage with wings, the fuselage with wings and cockpit—are visible in the bays below as they’re assembled by some of the 43,000 Boeing employees that work here. The Future of Flight gallery gives visitors the chance to see some parts of a jetliner, compare various plane materials, and sit in a mocked-up version of the new Dreamliner.

Despite the fact that the tour has appeared on a number of “top factory tours” lists, I have some reservations about it after taking the tour with several young adults. While the tour is touted as a 1.5 hour activity, we probably spent just half an hour in the factory itself. The sheer size of the facility meant a lot of time on buses and walking through underground tunnels to get to the interesting stuff, and the time we were inside the facility was rushed as one group after another was herded through. This is really a shame because there was so much to see! The Future of Flight gallery was given a solid “meh” by the five young adults who joined me on the tour. Caveat emptor and all that.

The neon bright blown glass on display at Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Neon bright blown glass on display at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Image: Brad Bordessa

Chihuly Garden and Glass

You won’t find any iconic characters at this venue, but if you’ve ever been amazed by the art of glass blowing, this place will blow your mind with the neon-bright displays created by Dale Chihuly and his team. A friend of mine suggested that we visit, promising “your eyes will be happy.” Right she was. The displays are pure eye candy, each one more impressive than the last. The 20′ high display of blue glass reminiscent of ocean waves; the indoor “garden” of glass; the ceiling of glass that had visitors (well, okay, me) sitting on the floor in an attempt to see it from a different angle? They were all just visually stunning. We really enjoyed the video vignettes shown at the end of the tour that offer a look at the art of glass blowing itself as well as the creation of many of Chihuly’s art installations.


You’ll only catch this event once a year—the first weekend in October—but if you can be in Seattle for it, it’s worth a few hours of your time to see some of the amazing Lego creations dreamed up by hobbyists. Check out my earlier post about the Lego Rivendell on display in 2013; that alone might entice you to plan for an early October visit to Seattle.

Entrance to Boeing and the EMP was provided to GeekMom for review purposes.

Lego Rivendell Wows at BrickCon 2013

As the mom of a confirmed Lego junkie, I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of a good Lego build. It’s tricky to use a brick system meant to create a specific item—say, a space shuttle or pirate ship—to build something new and entirely different. Even so, plenty of A.F.O.L. and T.F.O.L. (adult/teen fans of Lego) builders do it and do it well. Many of those builders displayed their best work at BrickCon 2013 in Seattle this past weekend, but one stunner stood out: Rivendell.

All photos: Kris Bordessa

Conceived of by Alice Finch and David Frank, the two builders discussed the idea the first time they met three years ago as novice builders. With a little experience under their belts—Alice created the large Hogwarts display that won honors at past BrickCon events—they decided to go for it this year. Planning started in February, with images from Weta Workshop, the folks behind the breathtaking visuals for The Lord of the Rings movies. Using stencils based on those images, the pair created a plan that allowed them to build on 48-stud base plates that would eventually fit together to create a scene measuring 4′ x 6′ or so. (One of those components ended up weighing in at about 75 pounds!)


The actual building process began in March. Alice and David worked on the project at their respective homes, sharing progress pictures via email. Their plans changed a bit when The Hobbit was released in theaters; they decided to expand the scene to include images that appeared for the first time in the movie.


The intricate details of the build required lots of assembly—even the simple details had to be pressed together, brick by tiny brick. For this, David and Alice enlisted the help of their kids. They even had a two-family tree-making workshop to create the amazing forests. (Notice that the trees change from spring green to the rust colors of fall across the model.) Even with that extra help, David tells me, “We’ve lost many nights of sleep in the past few weeks.” The final few days before BrickCon found David crashed on Alice’s couch, grabbing a little shut-eye when he could.


Their goal was to make the final piece seamless. Done and done. The Rivendell display is simply stunning. To create something so fluid and aesthetically pleasing from a very angular building material is a feat. And yet, while the display won several awards—including the People’s Choice Award—I had a fascinating discussion with a BrickCon attendee by the name of Rick, comparing Rivendell to Alice’s previous winner, Hogwarts.


“Look at the roofs,” Rick said. “Nobody’s ever* done that with cheese slopes. Alice can say she’s the first one to have used this technique.” And yet, Rick feels that Hogwarts is a better build. The architecture and the various diorama scenes based on the Harry Potter movies that are tucked within the castle are more technically challenging, he says, than the landscape work that makes Rivendell so visually appealing.


Another thing to consider, some of the attendees tell me: A build like Rivendell wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Why? Some of the parts—in particular the railings and many of the tree leaves—are third-party Lego-compatible pieces that have only become readily available in the past few years. The use of a variety of leaf colors is just one of the techniques that makes Rivendell seem so lifelike; official Lego colors are extremely limited but third-party sellers offer a wider selection of colors.


Read GeekMom Kelly’s interview with Alice Finch about her popular Hogwarts display.

*Says Rick. I have no way to verify this with every Lego builder in the world.

BrickCon 2013 in Seattle This Weekend

This weekend, Lego hobbyists present some of their best “builds” to the public at the 12th annual BrickCon in Seattle. While Saturday and Sunday are open to the public, Friday was set aside strictly for those that are most passionate about the iconic brick. Attending with my son, I had a chance to peek in on the activities on Friday as the builders assembled—or reassembled—their creations for public viewing. Some attendees came from quite a distance—New Zealand, Great Britain, and Germany were in the house, as were plenty of builders from the United States and Canada. Roughly 400 hobbyists brought creations to display.

There were plenty of geek-worthy entries—take a quick tour of some of the highlights with me.

Inside the Batcave:

All photos: Kris Bordessa
The City Pool complete with swimmers. Check out the lanes under the “water.”



Note the tentacles on the octopus.


The white tree of Gondor, the white horse of Rohan, and the white hand of Sauraman.


Kermit the Frog serenades a mosaic Grumpy Cat.


Disney fans will adore this scene from Disneyland.


My money was on this epic build of Seattle’s Space Needle built by the director of BrickCon, Wayne Hussey…
Until I saw Rivendell. The stunning—STUNNING—recreation of Rivendell. Stay tuned for more on that project—I had a chance to talk with one of its creators—but here’s a glimpse.
BrickCon Seattle continues this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, October 5 & 6. Tickets are $9 per person or $32 per family.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Image: Tor Books

This month, the GeekMoms have been captivated by a Kickstarter reward, entranced by classics, and educated about science fiction. What have you read lately?

Fran dropped everything to read V.E. Schwab’s Vicious. She received the book as part of a Kickstarter reward; when it came in the mail, she opened it casually, read a few pages, and soon found herself furtively reading while cooking dinner and by flashlight late at night.

Twenty-four hours later, she finished it and put the book back into her to be read pile.

Vicious is about choices and second chances and morality and villainy and pain and pronouns and tropes and relationships. It is addictive and fun and does not shy from the difficult. It feels like V.E. Schwab took Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Donna Tart’s The Secret History and Buffy and the X-Men, a couple poets, two philosophers, and a box of masks and capes down to a secret lab in an undisclosed location and emerged with not a Frankenstein monster, but something entirely new. Something that is brutal and wrenching and very, very good.

The rest of the Kickstarter box contains many equally exciting books, including Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons and Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema. That should keep her busy for a while.

September was another month in which Patricia could take a break from her Air War College coursework and enjoy a pleasure book. This time she kicked it old school and revisited one of her childhood favorites: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. She caught a wonderful Amazon promotion in which the entire Anne collection is available for only $0.99 (and it still is, as of this writing) and therefore has been able to delve even deeper into Anne’s stories than ever before. Patricia has one more week to enjoy the books before returning to her studies; so far in September she has read Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and is nearly finished with Anne’s House of Dreams. This is a series that’s well suited for pre-teens through adulthood, chronicling the adventures of Anne Shirley, an orphan girl who is accidentally taken in by a Prince Edward Island couple and grows up into a successful woman, but not without her share of adventures (and humorous misadventures!). The descriptive settings in the series have made Patricia want to visit Prince Edward Island one day.

Image: Random House Books for Young Readers

Sarah has taken the plunge with a book that has been on her shelves, unread, for ten years. Fully immersed in the land of cotton, she is finding Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone With the Wind to be as engaging as the movie, but with several shocking differences.

One hundred pages in, she is delighted to know the back story of Gerald and Ellen O’Hara’s marriage, surprisingly unalarmed at Scarlett’s lack of moral fortitude, and completely in love with a cad, oh Rhett!

Next to this epic work lie the week’s findings from the children’s library. Her family is currently addicted to Pete the Cat: I love my White Shoes and everything by Mo Willems, though GeekMom’s own Melissa Wiley gets a look with Fox and Crow are NOT friends.

Karen Burnham has been reading some non-fiction lately and is excited to recommend Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack to everyone she meets.

It is relatively short and written to be accessible to a wide audience, and it provides insights into the history of science fiction that may be new to you. Karen was especially happy to learn new things about science fictional themes and aesthetics in musical forms ranging from jazz to funk to hip-hop, and also about some black 19th century authors who dabbled in science fiction. If you have any interest at all in the history of literature and art, you could do a lot worse than picking this up.

Taking a break from serious stuff, Karen picked up one of the excellent adventures from the Pathfinder Tales RPG-tie-in series from Paizo publishing. Pirate’s Honor by Chris A. Jackson is the modern equivalent of a pulp adventure novel. Torius Vin is a pirate with a heart of gold. Celeste is his lunar naga lover and navigator. After a theft gone wrong leaves them on the wrong side of the powers that be, they hatch a plot to restore their fortunes and take revenge on those who would mess with them. Add in a half-orc bosun, stiffly elvish first mate, and snarky gnome engineer, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a fun adventure novel that’s quick to read. If the eventual plot gets rather loaded down with complication after complication (mostly stemming from Celeste & Torius’ unfortunate tendency towards emotional drama), at least it is still a fast read in the great pulp adventure tradition. This is a fast-paced sea story with good dialogue, just the thing for a rainy weekend.

When Lisa Kay Tate picked up Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher, she was unaware the unintended side effects of it, most notably the uncontrollable urge to read passages aloud to anyone who would listen: “Proceed with care…I have earn’d the penalty of death in many systems…./Luke: Tut, careful shall I be/Being 2: — Thou shalt be dead!

She has plans of building a backyard barn soon for the sole purpose of staging dramatic readings, complete with chorus and costumes.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Natural Ant Killer


If you’ve ever had ants in your house (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?) you know how desperate a person can be about getting rid of them. I’ve got ‘em. Bad. But I don’t want to spray chemicals to get rid of them, so I’ve been experimenting.

The folks over on Pinterest are crazy for natural ant killers:

“This REALLY works–STILL no ants–we had an ant-free summer!”

“It works!”

“Worked on the regular black ants … great stuff.”

I decided to try out a couple of these methods. Here’s how it went down:


This article, pinned to Pinterest, says of dry cornmeal:

“They eat it and become bloated and it does them in.”

I wasn’t sure about the science behind that statement, but it seemed easy enough. I sprinkled piles of cornmeal –  outside – right in the path of some very active ants. Almost instantly the ants moved in and started hauling off bits of cornmeal. I waited; I read in a number of places that it could take up to a week to see results. A week later? Two weeks later? The ants are still happily marching back and forth, farming aphids. They might even be a little bit fatter after that feeding session. Pinbusted.

Borax and sugar, dry mix

A dry mixture of borax and sugar acted like a sponge in my humid climate, quickly turning into a hard cake. The ants were not impressed. Pinbusted.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted? Which of the popular natural ant killers on Pinterest actually work?
Do we have a winner? Image: Kris Bordessa

Borax and sugar, liquid

Pinners claimed that ants swarmed to this DIY liquid ant bait immediately. I placed three different trays of this near ant trails. In two places, the liquid was initially ignored. In the third—the location with the most ants—the ants did swarm to it very quickly. A couple of hours later, there were ants bellied up to the bar in all three locations. The ants took the bait. They disappeared for a day or two. But now they’re back, with no evidence that their numbers have been reduced. Pinbusted.

So, I’m still looking for the perfect natural ant bait. Got one? Please share in the comments! I’m getting desperate.

(Lest you think this whole pest control issue is boring, check this out. Poisoning ants and a little science wrapped into one fun-filled project.)

Screen grab of
Screen grab of

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

This month, the GeekMoms are reading about zombies, Shakespeare, art, gardening, and peculiar children. What’s on your bookshelf?

Rebecca (along with her family) is currently enjoying The Impossible Museum: The Best Art You’ll Never See by Celine Delavaux. It’s a great book to flip through and wonder about. The sections are “disappeared,” “transformed,” “destroyed,” “hidden,” and “stolen.” The “destroyed” chapter is the hardest to look at, since most of these amazing pieces of art were ruined on purpose through war, like the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The “hidden” chapter is so interesting; it showcases works that are hidden for their protection (like the Cave Paintings at Lascaux) and works that private collectors just keep to themselves. Rebecca highly recommends it!

Image: breadpig
Image: breadpig

Do you remember reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid? Cindy White does, and she is having a blast working her way through all the different paths in To Be Or Not To Be, a new novel by Ryan North written in the Choose Your Own Adventure style. The book gained notoriety after it became the most funded publishing project in Kickstarter history (North was seeking $20,000 and got more than half a million) and Cindy is happy to report that it’s just as awesome as advertised. As the title implies, the story is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and would be a great introduction to the Bard for teen or tween readers. It’s written in modern, irreverent language and lets you “play” as Hamlet, following the original play, or you can branch out into new territory as Ophelia, or even Hamlet Sr. There are also fun illustrations by notable artists from animation and web comics. But probably the best thing about it is that it’s never the same book twice.

Lisa is likely the last person to ever want to read, much less thoroughly enjoy, a paranormal romance, but she likes a good zombie story. Warm Bodies by Issac Marion, although dark, somber, and at times gag-inducing, actually melted her icy heart. When a young (or maybe not so young; he really isn’t so sure) undead man encounters the girlfriend of a man he just killed, his longing to become a feeling, living being is slowly rekindled. Those who enjoyed the movie version should be warned: This book isn’t the quirky “zom-rom-com” of its film companion. R, however, is much more philosophical and “alive” inside. Plus, the zombie culture is much more organized. There are zombie-versions of schools, marriages, church, hierarchies, and even sadly-lacking attempts at sexual relations between the undead. It’s the evolving relationship between R and Julie, and R’s internal battle with himself that helps Marion’s slim novel maintain its status as a page-turner throughout.

wisp of a thing
Image: Tor Books

Fran is reading 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, after hearing the author read from the book last week. She says, “Nova’s voice sweeps you up and carries you along the lives of her characters like a river. The reading was so amazing, and I hadn’t read this one of hers yet, so I snapped it up. I’m loving it.” She is also re-reading The Price of the Stars, by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. She loves space opera and this one, recently re-issued as an ebook, is a longtime friend. Fierce female characters, things going pear-shaped when you least expect them. Oh yes. She’s also finishing up her nonfiction read from last month, Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, and confesses to crying in the bathtub at one point. Over nonfiction.

Laura has been reading enticingly magical novels lately and can heartily recommend three. Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is told by a seven-year-old boy whose childhood is changed by his neighbor’s supernatural secret. It’s a poignant tale of true friendship and discovery. Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe takes us along with a young musician as he searches for a legendary song that might heal his grief. The source, he’s told, lies in a mountainous area among a dark-haired people called the Tufa. Their hidden knowledge is much more than a song. For a real feast, Laura suggests Patrick Rothfuss’ 672 page book, The Name of the Wind. It’s the first part of an extraordinary new trilogy, taking the reader deep into a wizard’s mind. Reviewers are calling it “profound,” “riveting,” and “an unrivaled masterpiece.”

Kris picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, finished it quickly, and passed it on to her son. Well-written and captivating, the story was a bit creepier than she expected—actually, it was nothing like she expected—but she and her son both enjoyed it. The photos interspersed with the story are from several collections and include some seriously quirky, slightly disturbing shots. The question: Which came first, the story or the images? Kris also started reading The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. The title may sound a bit apocalyptic, but this is by far one of the best, easiest to read books about growing food that she’s picked up. The author really delves into the details, explaining why one method works better than another, and walks readers through the processes that have worked successfully in her own garden for years.

Would You Rent Lego Bricks?

Screen grab from Pleygo site.

A new service called Pleygo invites users to subscribe to receive Lego bricks delivered right to their door—on a rental basis. Choose from three different price points ranging from $15-39 per month and Pleygo will keep your kid in bricks. Members can return one set in exchange for another as often as they’d like, and shipping is free. Bricks are sanitized between users and if your geekling happens to lose a brick, there’s no charge.

The premise here is that buying Lego sets is expensive. (Our own Ruth Suehle tackled the issue of the rising—or not—price of Lego bricks awhile back.) No matter what it costs to purchase a new set of bricks, those monthly rental fees are going to add up. Personally, I’d much rather save my cash for a few months and purchase a set that will add to an ongoing collection. Restricting a child’s Lego play to one set at a time eliminates the potential for free form building that comes with an assorted collection of bricks.

That said, I could see this being of value to a family residing in really tight living quarters where there’s little space for a collection of Lego bricks. Or perhaps for grandparents who want to have something new for the kids to play with each time they visit.

My Lego junkie—who maintains his own giant collection of bricks—had strong words to say about the service: “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

What say you? Would you consider renting Lego bricks instead of buying them?

Hacking the Tooth Fairy

Photo: Philip Brewer under CC BY 2.0
Photo: Philip Brewer under CC BY 2.0

When my oldest son lost his first tooth, he tucked it under his pillow like so many children before him. The Tooth Fairy left a fifty-cent piece in its place. He was thrilled. A couple of weeks later, a boy he knew had his own encounter with the Tooth Fairy and told my son all about it.

“Mom, why did the Tooth Fairy leave Jacob five dollars and only left me fifty cents?” my son asked later.

<insert squealing tires and car crash soundtrack>

FIVE dollars? For a tooth? Color me incredulous. (ABC News reports that the Tooth Fairy left an average of $2.42 in 2012.)

I can’t recall how I responded to my son, but it became apparent very quickly that we’d need another plan. Whatever the Tooth Fairy tucked under the pillow next time needed to be unquantifiable. Kids will be kids, and kids will compare their loot. Gifts with an obvious value, like cold hard American cash, made it very easy for them to use words like better or more. We needed a simple token to celebrate a milestone; something that made the recipient feel special without breaking the bank. Something that didn’t leave them feeling like they’d been outdone by the kid with the overzealous Tooth Fairy.

Ultimately our Tooth Fairy opted for a type of currency that couldn’t be compared to what the other kids found tucked under their pillows: foreign coins. The next time my son lost a tooth, his loot entranced his friends. Was it worth more than what the other kids got? Less? Nobody knew, but it didn’t matter. The foreign coins had an exotic flair that made their actual value unimportant. I was delighted. (Plus, I admit I was thrilled that those coins piqued my son’s interest. Each one sent him off to the map to discover its origins.)

Got kids who are getting ready to lose a tooth? Come on over to the dark side and join us by considering these alternatives:

What does the Tooth Fairy leave under pillows at your house?

Bubble Science: Making the Most of Your Suds

Photo: Evan Bordessa

There’s nothing like spending a summer afternoon blowing—and chasing—bubbles. But does your geekling know why those bubbles pop when she touches them? Steve Spangler says:

A bubble’s worst enemies are oil and dirt.

Years of playing with soap bubbles taught us that if our hands were wet, we could often catch a bubble without popping it, just as a bubble will often land on a wet surface without popping. This premise, of course, requires much experimentation and lots of bubble making. Happily, homemade bubble solution is cheap and super easy to make. Take advantage of the warm days and let your kiddos get wet and wild!

Bubble recipe: Gently stir about one cup of liquid dish soap and a quarter cup of corn syrup into a gallon of water. (See how easy that was?)

To get you started, here are five ways to explore with bubbles. Little yellow wand not required.

Photo: Evan Bordessa

Under the dome: Pour two cups of bubble solution onto a jelly roll pan. With one end of a drinking straw in the bubble mix, blow a giant tabletop bubble. Now for the trick: Dip a matchbox car or other small toy (and any part of your hand that will touch the bubble) into the bubble solution and gently push the car into the bubble.

A string thing: Thread two drinking straws onto a three-foot length of cotton string. Tie ends together in a knot. Holding onto the straws, dip the entire string (and your hands) into bubble solution and lift out, holding the string taut. Use big arm movements to make giant bubbles.

Photo: Evan Bordessa

Handsome bubbles: Dip both of your hands into bubble solution (yes, really!), and clasp hands. Lift hands from the solution and slowly unclasp them, maintaining contact between both thumbs and forefingers to form a diamond shape. Blow through the film of bubble solution.

A rope of soap: Push a plastic pot scrubber or recycled mesh onion bag halfway into a cardboard tube; tape into place. (Unless you’ve got dragon-size lungs, a short tube is better than a long one, here.) Dip the mesh into bubble solution and blow into the opposite end of the tube. You’ll make tiny bubbles, all connected in a long rope.

Big wand: Push a four-foot length of sixteen-gauge wire into a four-foot length of soft, braided rope. Shape the wired rope into a circle, leaving about one foot of rope at each end. Twist the ends together to form a handle. Soak the giant wand in bubble solution, then practice making super-sized bubbles.

Delve Into World Geography With Geoguessr

Screen grab of game results.

One of my kids is a map whiz and has a tremendous understanding of geography. The other one, not so much. Over the years we’ve delved into cartography, searched for Carmen Sandiego, and played lots of different games, all to no avail. So color me surprised when my map-challenged young adult wanted to show me a game he’d found called Geoguessr.

The web-based game uses Google Street View technology, challenging players to guess their location using visible clues. Load the game and you’ll be virtually dropped somewhere in the world. Navigate the streets—remote dirt lanes or busy downtowns—to figure out your location. Take a look at street signs. Are they in English? Are the measurements in miles or kilometers? What about the cars? Or the terrain? Taking these clues into consideration, players can then pull up a map (Google, of course) and guess the location. And that’s where the map skills come in—in order to guess Finland, players need to be able to find Finland. Once the marker is placed, Geoguessr shows the distance between the actual location and the player’s guess. Players receive points based on the accuracy of their guess. After players guess five locations, the game shows those results on a world map.

During our virtual adventures, my son traveled a remote road with few clues for quite a distance, finally guessing—based purely on the terrain—that the location was somewhere in Australia. He was right. I spotted a business sign on a building; the language was Portuguese, so I incorrectly guessed Portugal. It was actually Brazil. There were some locations that gave virtually no clues, so we ended up randomly guessing at those.

There are no specific rules to playing the game, but I rather like that. It offers players the chance to use critical thinking skills and their own knowledge of things like architecture, language, and climate zones to determine the best possible guess. And while players can set a time limit to challenge themselves, I’m perfectly content with the slow explorations that happen with the game.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

Summertime and the reading is easy! Hopefully, you’ve managed to get in some beach or hammock reading.

This month, the GeekMoms have read Sherlock Holmes mysteries, anthologies featuring the wonder of discovery, young adult fiction, the latest from Barbara Kingsolver, a little classic Heinlein and a book about—of all things—fonts.

Fran is reading Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. She’s loving the stories behind the decryption of the ancient Linear B texts, as well as the lives of individuals like Alice Kober, who helped break the code.

She recently finished Yoon Ha Lee’s amazingly beautiful collection of science fiction short stories, Conservation of Shadows. Drawing on mythology, mathematics, computer science, Korean history, space warfare, and themes of revenge and moral dilemma, the stories in the collection are carefully folded so as to seem tiny at first—and imbued with enormous ramifications later. Fran has just started Bee Ridgeway’s time travel adventure romance, The River of No Return.

Lisa Kay Tate recently picked up The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams as part of her summer reading escape. This 2009 compilation of 28 stories featuring the most celebrated sleuth in literature—as well as in movies and television—takes Holmes and his ever-present companion Dr. Watson on adventures with a macabre or supernatural edge.

Like recent collections featuring Holmes, the book is a literary who’s who of suspense, horror, fiction, and fantasy authors. In addition to Adams’s being called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes and Noble booksellers, these improbable adventures feature some impressive contributors: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anne Perry, and Anthony Burgess, to name a few.

Lisa finds such compilations some of the best choices for casual reading, as these tales can be read in any order or one at a time between other reading list books. She has found this particular fast-paced and intelligently written volume hard to put down, if the first few stories are any indication of what lies ahead. However, whether or not the remainder of these tales, like the classic stories of the sleuth they celebrate, live up to the book’s strong start remains a mystery until the last tale is devoured by the reader.

Image: Harper Perennial

Laura is escaping into fiction lately. She couldn’t put down Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, Flight Behavior. In it, characters named for an Italian sculptor and an ancient Roman poet connect in a backwards town over the fate of migrating butterflies. The details in the science and the characters are exacting. This is a good book to read outside.

Laura is also marveling over Jewelweed by David Rhodes. It’s told from many viewpoints—a precocious child, a wary young mother, an ex-con, a long-distance trucker, and many more. Each character reveals him or herself in quietly brilliant observations about everything from philosophy to sex.

Sophie has just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s the story of Auggie, a boy born with an awful facial disfigurement just starting middle school after having been homeschooled his entire life. The book follows his first year at middle school from different perspectives: Auggie himself, his older sister, and other children at the school, showing the different ways in which they see Auggie and the world. It’s a book she never would have picked up herself, she is glad joining a book club has pushed her to explore different genres.

She is currently finishing off Antibodies by Kevin J. Anderson before beginning on the book club’s two choices for their summer break: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom.

Image: Gotham

Karen Burnham is currently reading One Small Step, an all-Australian woman anthology on the theme of discovery. Edited by the most excellent Tehani Wessely, this book contains multitudes. It may look like an anthology of wall-to-wall space exploration, but these stories are as much about personal discovery as outward exploration (although there’s plenty of that as well).

Karen loves the opening story, Grass by Michelle Marquardt, featuring a young girl who is part of a colony trying to carve out a living on an interestingly hostile planet. There are aliens and alienated family. It is immediately followed up by the deeply creepy fantasy, Of Blood and Incantation by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, which provides different views on motherhood through three main characters. Definitely worth checking out.  

Karen also recently read a debut novel by Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Samatar has previously published accomplished poetry, and her poetic prose shines through in this fantasy story. The story is told by a young man as he leaves his native island to head for the big city, Olondria, and the adventures he finds there. Obviously that’s a much, much too simple synopsis, but to fully summarize it would take almost as long as the book itself. There are ghosts, festivals, battles, cults, and politics. Recommended for fantasy fans who love beautiful language and an immersive reading experience.

Rebecca Angel is reading Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. While visiting a friend last weekend, she pulled out the book and was asked, “Why are you reading a book about fonts?” She answered, “Because I find them beautiful and interesting.” And then there was a twenty minute discussion about comic sans, which another person in the room was using as the font on her college bio exams and which Rebecca did not think was an appropriate use. Lots of opinions. You care more than you know; check out the book!

Kate Hannigan just finished The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer as her own daughter headed off to a summer arts camp. Wolitzer asks big questions in this story about six friends who get to know each other at a summer performing arts camp. Nixon is in the White House, and these precocious teenage observers are blooming with talent and potential. Wolitzer takes readers through the decades of their lives, as some sustain the promise they showed at 15 and others lose the spark of creativity that made them so interesting. And while Wolitzer explores envy, creativity, and authenticity, she’s at her finest when she writes about the very human moments of living. Kate especially loved the way her main character, Jules, writhes with jealousy when she has to read the annual Christmas cards from her best friends and witness more of their successes. It’s a story that lingers, forcing a consideration of what defines a successful life.

ashen winter
Image: Tanglewood Press

Though it came highly recommended, Kris was a bit skeptical about Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue—could a story about a woman held captive for years with her young son be anything but depressing? Turns out, yes.

The author captures the perspective of five-year-old Jack beautifully and adeptly expresses the intense attachment between Ma and Jack. I was particularly impressed with Ma’s creativity in entertaining young Jack while in captivity. Kris also sped through Ashfall and Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin, the first two books in a planned trilogy for young adults. Set during the months following an eruption of a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park, the apocalyptic novels feature a cast of characters struggling to survive in an ash-choked, snowy landscape. As food dwindles, the daily battle between life and death breeds government corruption, gang wars, and even love.

If you are delighted by robots, forest elves, trickster gods, and delicious family secrets, all set in a spooky english boarding school setting, Melody thinks you will love  Gunnerkrigg Court. This mysterious and charming ongoing story by Tom Siddell is a young adult, female-driven tale available as either a webcomic or bound in graphic novel form. There are currently four of the graphic novel volumes, each featuring colorful art and self-contained but connected chapters.

The story follows each year the students and friends, Annie and Kat, attending Gunnerkrigg Court. Melody was given a copy of volume one in 2009, and has been in love with this so-called “Harry Potter for girls” world ever since. Right now, she is reading the second graphic novel collection, Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 2: Research.  She is about halfway through and already there have been ghost attacks, secret tombs, and a mystery that ties the court to Annie’s past.  Melody even purchased several copies of these graphic novels and gave them to friends who have teenage daughters; all reported back on how much they loved it and devoured everything online and otherwise from this world.

Ariane has finally gotten around to reading a Robert A. Heinlein novel! She briefly started reading the paperback The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress a while ago and loved the intro, but she ultimately couldn’t go on due to her capricious preference for ebooks. “Real” books just don’t have the convenience and transportability of their digital counterparts, you know? She waited and waited for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to come out digitally, but decided she might as well try a different Heinlein novel already available in the Kindle store in the meantime. She somewhat randomly picked Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which turned out to be a surprisingly fun and easy read.

Considering its status as a popular science fiction classic, she was expecting something a little harder to swallow. The story follows the smart and space-obsessed teenager Kip Russell as he dedicates all of his talent and energy trying to score a trip to the colonized station on the moon. He gets more space than he ever could have wished for when he finds himself kidnapped by aliens and forms an unlikely partnership for survival with a young but witty girl. You can officially color Ariane a Heinlein fan; she has since moved on to reading another Heinlein classic, Stranger in a Strange Land. The latter is proving to be quite a bit more challenging and philosophical.

Jackie just finished The Unwanteds, the first book in Lisa McCann’s middle grade series about a future society that tries to kill off all of its creatives. Thirteen-year-old twins, Aaron and Alex Stowe, are separated when Aaron is chosen to attend the land of Quill’s elite military university and Alex is sentenced to the “death farm.” But Alex finds an entirely new future for himself. Great start to a series.

Jackie just started the audio book for Laurie R. King’s Justice Hall, the sixth book in the Mary Russell series. She is obsessed with the Mary Russell novels of life with Sherlock Holmes, which are so beautifully detailed and sharp they feel like the perfect cup of tea on a crisp English day.

Disclaimer: Some books included in this list may have been provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Read to Earn Free Entry to Northern California Science Centers and Museums

Lawrence Hall of Science
Display at Lawrence Hall of Science – Photo: Flickr userJohn Morgan under CC BY

California’s Bay Area is home to some stellar science centers and museums. The famous Exploratorium is a must-see, but did you know that the region is also home to the Pacific Pinball Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, and the GLBT Historical Society? And while I’ve never actually visited Lawrence Hall of Science, I’ve been a fan for years: Their GEMS curriculum was the basis for many awesome homeschool co-op classes. (Forensic science for the win!)

Teen library patrons in Alameda County, California can earn free entry to these venues and more with the Discover and Go program. Part of the Contra Costa Library’s summer reading program, patrons 15 years and older can earn free or discounted passes to explore local museums or cultural institutions simply by reading. Offers and availability vary by venue, but this is a great opportunity to explore some undiscovered gems.

Not in Alameda County? If you’re planning on road tripping this summer, check out the Association of Science-Technology Center’s Passport Program, or visit the Association of Children’s Museums site to learn more about their reciprocal program for museum members. These programs allow you use your local museum membership to get discounted or reciprocal admission at participating venues to save a bit of cash.

Google Doodle Celebrates 66th Anniversary of Roswell

Screen grab of

Sixty-six years later, there are still questions about the Roswell incident. What exactly was the object that crashed to Earth in Roswell, New Mexico?

The United States Armed Forces first said it was an experimental surveillance balloon, but other reports stated that a “flying disc” was recovered on July 8, 1947. In another version, the “flying disc” became a weather balloon. The story disappeared into relative obscurity until Major Jesse Marcel came forward in 1978, saying that he believed the U.S. military had recovered an alien spacecraft and subsequently covered up the story. This revelation has led to theories and official inquiries and provided lots of fodder for both UFO researchers, conspiracy theorists, and skeptics. Might there be alien remains hidden in Area 51?

In today’s interactive Doodle, Google re-imagines the crash, putting a cute little alien on the ground—alive and well—in Roswell. Can you find all the puzzle pieces? (I’m still looking!)


The Lego Movie: Coming to a Theater Near You

Warner Bros. has released a trailer for The Lego Movie and my son is already counting the quirks. “That 80s spaceman is famous for having a cracked helmet in real life,” he says. “And look! If you look closely you can see his helmet is cracked in the video, too.”

“The LEGO® Movie,” the first-ever, full-length theatrical LEGO® adventure, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, opens in theaters February 7, 2014. It stars the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, and Alison Brie, with Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman.”

Morgan Freeman, people.

While you’re waiting for 2014, you can keep up with all the action on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter


Screen grab of Pinterest page

You may have met Quinoa. She’s been spotted in London, Hollywood, Seattle, Chicago, and Miami. You may have even seen her in your home town.

Tiffany Beveridge—wife, mother, freelance writer, aspiring novelist, maker of incredible cookies, kitchen dancer, clothes horse, funny in person, funnier in print, middle child—has created a Pinterest board that excels at pure entertainment. “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter” introduces us to the fictional Quinoa and her equally fictitious friends. Toddlers and tweens, boys and girls, all share in the chance to be dubbed Quinoa for 15 minutes of fame on Pinterest. Populated with images of sultry children in fashion garb, divas with glitter, and disinterested young hipsters, the board features Beveridge’s sarcastic wit shining through with each description.

Everything went fine at Quinoa’s playdate with Booker until she realized that when he said he loved vinyl, he meant jackets not vintage records.

Know what really gets Quinoa down in the dumps? Pleather.

When Quinoa wears her chevron maxi, she opens a portal in the trendy space/time continuum and can travel to any fashion trend in history.

The page is a most excellent diversion, though I have to point out that many of the pins go to uncredited images or bad links.

Cuusoo Makes Decision About Lego Portal Set

There’s news from the folks at Cuusoo about the Fall 2012 review!

We’ve been waiting on pins and needles here; you may recall that my son was part of the team that submitted the Lego Portal project that garnered interest from Lego and Portal fans alike. Aaand…we’re still on pins and needles. You see, the folks at Cuusoo chose the Mars Rover submission—designed by a mechanical engineer who worked on the actual Mars Curiosity Rover—as the winner of the Fall 2012 review. That set will be produced by Lego. Yay, if you love NASA and space exploration! Yay for Mars!

End of story, right? Not necessarily. Here’s what Cuusoo has to say about the Portal project:

When this project was posted, Portal™ fans showed up in force to vote this to the top. As of today, the test results are not yet in; we’re still looking into the possibility of releasing a set based on the Thinking with Portals! project. Once we have a decision, we’ll share it with you here.

Thus we remain on the edge of our seats. Waiting for cake.

Edward Snowden: Brilliant “Dropout”

Screen grab: Kris Bordessa

The source of the recent leaks from the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, sure has people talking. Should he have leaked the information? Or should he have kept quiet? What was his motive? And those documents!

Rest assured, GeekMoms, I’m not going to delve into the politics of the NSA leak, or the Patriot Act, or Snowden’s travel to Hong Kong. I’m not here to judge whether he’s a hero or not or if the NSA and its contractors should have hired him in the first place. But let’s talk about his education.

The Atlantic wrote that Snowden was a high school dropout, later correcting the story to reflect that in actuality he received a General Equivalency Diploma.

* Update: The first version of The Guardian piece described Snowden as a high-school dropout, which raised a lot of eyebrows as the U.S. Army does not take people without either a high-school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma, with very rare exceptions. The paper later clarified that he holds a GED.

The Daily Mail wonders:

How did a high school dropout become entrusted with the government’s biggest secrets?

I think a more important question is: Why are we still so hung up on that little piece of paper?

In many of the articles about Snowden, his lack of a high school diploma is front and center. Mother Jones reports that now even Snowden’s community college courses are in question. The fact that he may have lied about this is one thing; but why the focus on whether or not he finished a degree or took cyber-related courses? Clearly he has the skills. Does it matter if he acquired them independent of the school system?

In this day and age, kids with the desire to learn have access to more information than they can possibly process. With free online college courses, e-libraries, and access to peer reviewed studies (to name just a few of the options), a student with a little initiative can easily outpace the typical high school curriculum. A kid with a specialized interest—in programming, say—might find himself in high demand for his skills with or without a diploma.

The roster of successful high school dropouts is a long one, including names like Walt Disney, anchorman Peter Jennings, Frank Lloyd Wright, world chess champion Bobby Fischer, and Albert Einstein. High school dropout isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you see these names, is it?

School attendance is compulsory in America, but it isn’t for everybody. Some students may simply drop out to pursue their interests on their own terms while others seek alternatives like charter schools or homeschooling. In fact, Education News reported in May of 2012 that:

Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75%.

If you’ve been reading GeekMom for long, you might recall that my own kids were homeschooled. One—like Snowden—holds a GED; the other is set to get his next month. Are they high school dropouts? Are they failures because they didn’t cross that high school stage in cap and gown? Or are they young men who had the opportunity to pursue their passions fully and with abandon? Are they young men with the potential to rock the world in their chosen fields?

We want young people who are supercharged about their education. Kids and young adults who are excited about learning and who can learn using all of the non-traditional methods that are available to us now. To focus on whether or not Snowden has a diploma, to make that the story, is archaic. So what if he doesn’t have a diploma? Snowden is clearly brilliant. I suspect it was his extensive, competent knowledge of surveillance, sophisticated technology, and programming rather than any school pedigree that netted him his job. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you have to admit that he is highly skilled in his field in spite of (or perhaps because of) his unconventional education.

People are curious about this guy, sure. And we’ll certainly find out more about Snowden and his motives as the days pass. But what high school Snowden attended, which courses he took, and whether or not he passed is irrelevant. His transcript from a decade ago has exactly nothing to do with the moral values that seem to have driven him to come forward.

Call him a patriot. Call him a whistle blower. Call him a traitor. But let’s leave his diploma out of it.

Eoin Colfer’s The Reluctant Assassin

My son, Evan, really enjoyed Airman and the Artemis Fowl books so I knew he would jump at the chance to read The Reluctant Assassin, the first in Eoin Colfer’s new WARP series.

“WARP, which stands for ‘Witness Anonymous Relocation Program,’ is an action-adventure series full of mayhem, magic, and murder—with a villain to die for,” said Eoin Colfer. “I think of this series as Oliver Twist meets The Matrix.”

Yeah, Evan’s all over that. Here’s what he thought:

Image: Disney-Hyperion

Through the magic of time travel, The Reluctant Assassin is set in both Victorian and modern day London. The adventure starts off fast, dropping readers straight into Victorian London and an attempted murder by Albert Garrick and his (reluctant) assistant, Riley.

Meanwhile, Chevron Savano is feeling the backlash of a botched mission, stuck on daycare duty for the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) program in modern day London.

Time travel ensues, Riley meets Chevron, and the pair tries to rid themselves of Garrick’s lunacy in cooperation with government agencies.

As the story unfolds, fans of Colfer will recognize familiar characters such as Otto Malarky, who we first met in Airman on the island of Little Saltee. It took me awhile to figure out why his name sounded familiar to me. Turns out, Otto served his time in prison and returned to terrorize London with his gang known as the Rams.

With witty remarks peppered throughout, the books are very reminiscent of the deadpan Artemis Fowl series and Eoin Colfer’s writing style quickly sucked me into another of his fantastic stories. Fans of Colfer are sure to enjoy this new novel.

The publisher provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

The Turncoat: Renegades of the Revolution

When author Donna Thorland asked if she could send me a review copy of her new book, The Turncoat: Renegades of the Revolution, she offered up some geek cred: she was one of the writers of Tron: Uprising‘s season finale. That, coupled with the impressive book trailer that she created, convinced me to give it a read.

Inspired by Quaker Lydia Barrington Darragh, who in 1777 “put her patriotism before her pacifism,” the author paints this moment in history with a story of female strength. With the Revolutionary War as a backdrop, The Turncoat takes readers from the barracks of the Continental Army to a hearthside with Alexander Hamilton and beyond as Kate fights for her own life and that of the man she loves.

Continue reading The Turncoat: Renegades of the Revolution

Handcrafted Steampunk USB Drives!

Photo: Steamworkshop
Photo: Steamworkshop

Sure, you can pick up a USB drive for $20 or so at any office supply store. But are they this awesome? Etsy seller Derrick Culligan crafts “accurate reproductions of items that never existed” for sale in his Etsy shop, Steamworks. These fab USB drives made with brass, copper, glass, and watch parts, for instance. They run from $100-250 or so, but just think how much you’ll impress the folks at your next con when you whip one of these babies out. (Alas, while the gears look functional, the operation of the flash drive is purely electronic.)

Steampunk USB drive
Photo: Steamworkshop

Material World and Hungry Planet Show us the World

Material World
Bonus content includes images of toilets from around the world. Collage of book pages: Kris Bordessa

It’s a big world, but it seems to get more connected every day. We read about places across the globe in the news, meet new people from other countries on the ‘net, and talk with customer service reps in faraway places. But when it comes down to it, we may know Syria, Iraq, and China by name. We might even be able to locate them on a map. But do we have any inkling about the people who live in those places? Often not.

There are two fabulous books that have (seriously) traveled 7,500 miles with my family over the years as we’ve moved from place to place, simply because they must be on our bookshelves. Material World: A Global Family Portrait and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats are wonderful, thought-provoking, educational, and interesting.

Continue reading Material World and Hungry Planet Show us the World

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan

This month the GeekMoms’ never-ending stack of books unfurled stories featuring angry teens, dragons, a bit of psychology, witches, and more witches. What have you read lately?

Laura is reading Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter.The author, an expert in the psychology of marketing, packs the book with ingenuous studies showing what really influences us. The conclusions are strange, funny, and surprisingly useful. No chance of reading this book without talking about it.  Laura just finished The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson. It’s packed with very real characters, from an angry teenager haunted by a secret to a wealthy woman who wonders if she can pay people to be good. Even the author’s smallest observations, like the artifice of a metallic jacket, have purpose in the larger story.

Kay Moore  is finally reading Wicked by Gregory Maguire after finally seeing the awesome touring stage musical last year. Continue reading Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Vintage Thrift Shop by Postmodern Jukebox

What if you could introduce fans of pop music to genres of music they might not otherwise listen to, simply by creating a cover of a popular song? You might get something like this vintage “grandpa style” version of Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. This version has more than 1.5 million views and the group, Postmodern Jukebox, just released a 1940’s swing version of Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj’s Beauty And A Beat. What do you think? Love it? Hate it? (I think it’s a kick.)

Breaking Bad, Lego Style


Being a fan of the Lego series of video games and a big fan of the AMC show Breaking Bad, this video is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while — sit back and enjoy the spectacle of a Lego-ized Walter White wreaking havoc. The time and effort that went into this parody really shows. While the game doesn’t really exist, I know I wouldn’t be the only one who’d drop a chunk of change on it if it did.

Courtesy of Evan Bordessa