4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

It’s still relatively warm where I live, but September means the coming of cooler weather for most of the country, and sometimes even snow, but often additional rain. For those weekend afternoons when your kids come to you, yet again, saying, “Mom, I’m bored,” here are a few new suggestions to give their play some direction. Continue reading 4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Giveaway: ‘The Marvels’ by Caldecott Medal Winner Brian Selznick

Marvels, Brian Selznick
Marvels in hand! Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Today is the release day for Brian Selznick’s latest beautiful children’s book, The Marvels. This is huge news if you’re a fan of his work, since it’s been four years to the week since his last book, Wonderstruck, was published.

Selznick is one of my absolute favorite children’s authors. I read Hugo Cabret to my third grade classes every year, and I’ve recommended Wonderstruck I don’t know how many times. I’ve been so excited for The Marvels since its preview back in May, and now it’s finally here!

Here’s the synopsis:
From the Caldecott Medal–winning creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck comes a breathtaking new voyage.

In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories—the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose—together create a beguiling narrative puzzle.

The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvelis banished from the stage.

Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, The Marvels is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.

Interior page from Marvels, book copyright Scholastic Inc.

You can learn more about The Marvels here. And, check here for a list of Brian Selznick’s tour dates to promote the book.

To celebrate, we are giving away a prize package to one lucky GeekMom reader. It includes:

· A copy of The Marvels;
· A custom The Marvels jigsaw puzzle;
· and a $50 Visa gift card.

There are four ways to enter, and if you follow us on Instagram you’ll get a bonus entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest will close this Saturday, September 19th at 11:59pm ET. A random winner will be selected and announced following the end of the giveaway.

Happy book birthday to The Marvels!
Prizes are provided by Scholastic.

‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

Today, the Star Darlings take the spotlight on bookstore shelves in a magical new series from Disney. Chapter books, toys, and apps will tell the story of the Star Darlings, magical girls who are working hard to achieve their dreams of becoming wish granters.

“The message I hope kids take away from Star Darlings is that no matter where you were born, what you look like, or what your tastes are, you have the power within you to create the life of your dreams,” says Shana Muldoon Zappa, writer and co-creator of the series. Continue reading ‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Image: First Second

Ben Hatke, of Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, has a new book! Yay! It’s called Little Robot, and I highly recommend it. Ben was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his new work:

GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.

Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?

Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.

It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.

GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?

Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.

Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie! Continue reading Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

Reading Gives You Superpowers Giveaway!

The main character of the Captain Underpants series keeps my son in stitches, and I get a few good laughs myself from the writer’s obvious jokes concerning his critics.

The latest book, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkey, picks up where the last one left off (and if you haven’t read it, you will be admittedly a little lost in the begining) with two Georges and two Harolds enjoying life because they each only have to attend school half the time while their other selves play video games in their tree house. Not all remains calm, however, when the stench of Mr. Meaner attempts to use mind control to turn all of his students into well-behaved children!

Wait! How is creating well-behaved children a bad thing? Mr. Meaner, call me; I’ll introduce you to Kickstarter!

My favorite lines in the book have been the jokes on the “old people with too much time on their hands” in chapter 2. I’m taking a wild guess that this is in reference to the Captain Underpants series being on the top 10 list of most frequently banned books of the 21st century.

Have no fear, fellow readers! Captain Underpants saves the day and today, he’s dropping off a Super Reader Prize Pack for one lucky reader.

From now through Tuesday, September 8, you can enter to win a super prize pack!

Super Reader Prize Pack \ Image courtesy of Big Honcho Media Used and with permission
Super Reader Prize Pack \ Image courtesy of Big Honcho Media Used and with permission

One lucky reader will receive:
· A copy of Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot
· A branded Captain Underpants T-shirt
· A $50 Visa gift card to fill out your super reader’s bookshelf!

To enter our giveaway, just log into the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address. (Use a valid email, so we can let you know if you win.) You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two additional entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget, so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: GeekMom was given a review copy of this title.

Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Fran Wilde

Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Hi! It’s so strange to be in the hot seat instead of asking the interview questions… but here I am. Your intrepid GeekMom correspondent is ready to dish on what I geeked out about most when writing my first novel, Updraft, which comes out (::checks watch::) today (!) from Tor/Macmillan.

A little bit about me: I’ve been blogging for GeekMom for almost two years. I’m a book geek, a travel geek, a tech and nautical geek, a technology consultant, and my geek co-star venn diagram merge point is somewhere on the Spike-10th Doctor-Stacker Pentecost-Lucy Liu-Mal Reynolds axis.

I’m first and foremost an author, with short fiction in Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and Nature Magazine.

Updraft is the first of three novels I’m writing for Tor. Here’s the short pitch:

A city of living bone rises high above the clouds, its past lost to legend. Danger hides in the wind. Laws have been broken. A great secret must be exposed.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Essentially, Updraft is the story of Kirit Densira, her friend Nat, her mother Ezarit, and how the consequences of a broken law change their world. There are monsters too, free of charge, and plenty of action. But there’s a deeper layer, about society and environment, economics, politics, and freedom. About being heard, and listening. And about what society values and what it throws away.

Also, there a lot of man-made wings.

So what did I geek out about when writing Updraft?

image courtesy Tor Books
Image courtesy Tor Books | Buy at Amazon
Wind: I consulted with cloud and weather experts, read everything I could about the way winds behave at high altitude, and threw myself into the research—literally. I went indoor skydiving to get a sense of how it felt to fly. I also spoke with friends who hang-glide, and pulled on my own experiences as a sailor. One friend pointed out that the taller a natural feature is, the stronger the updraft winds can be—and that was when so many things slid home.
Wings: The wings I wanted for Updraft had to be made from the supplies at hand: bone, silk, and tendon. I looked through plans for various wing designs over the centuries. I researched the history of solo flight attempts. And I grabbed several engineers to whom I’m related and made them check things over too. I also developed a small obsession with wingsuit flyers like Jeb Corliss.
Bridges: I love them, and have since long car trips as a kid. From a distance, they look like creatures rising out of the hills, or over the ocean, all metal spine and cables. I love the story of the Roebling family, who built the Brooklyn Bridge. And just about any rope bridge over a river is an irresistible force. So when it came time to talk about the city’s bridges, which are built of sinew and fiber, I wanted to make sure they really felt as if they could bear weight, as well as be obvious control paths throughout the city. I wrote about the process over at GeekDad yesterday.
Singing & Memory: Those who live in the towers above the clouds have constructed ways to avoid carrying too much with them as they rise higher. They pass on many important details, like laws and cultural history, through singing. While some members of their culture do keep bone tablets (mostly small and light) with information on them that’s too complicated to pass on in a song, most of the citizens sing what they need to know—and display that knowledge at various points in their lives during tests and rituals at Allsuns and Allmoons. Singing and memory are twined for me—when I hear something, I can remember it, almost word for word, especially if it’s set to music. I geeked out over pre-printing press cultures and singing histories, as well as the way information is passed through history.
[redacted]: There are other things I geeked out about for the book—one that left my shins bruised while I researched it—but they’re spoilers. You’ll have to read Updraft to find out.

Looking For New Young Books?

Image By Rebecca Angel

Well, here are three to check out with dinosaurs! pirates! robots!

First up is Carter Goodrich’s We Forgot Brock! It’s a tale about all kinds of friendship. Brock is the coolest pirate/rocker/hero young Philip could imagine. But when Brock is forgotten at the fair, another child invites him home. Will Brock ever find Phillip again…does he want to? The artwork is key to the book’s charm. The “real” world is colorful, round, and soft. The “imaginary” friends are black and white and flat, but with expression and sincerity. Although I was at first disappointed in the gender-stereotypical depictions of what boys and girls would imagine, it was hard to keep a chip on my shoulder as I read the story aloud to my nieces. We really, really enjoyed it. (And they thought Princess Sparkle Dust was as cool as Brock.) Highly recommend for all ages.

Next is Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park. If you have ever visited the NYC’s Museum of Natural History, and then walked in Central Park, it’s easy to see where Pett got his inspiration. Those dinosaur bones are so huge! And where would these giants fit in our world? That’s the problem Leonard, a young boy in the city, has when he hatches a lizard egg that may not be just your average lizard. As the mother to a young girl who was obsessed with dinosaurs, this is a sweet book I recommend for all ages.

Finally, Little Robot is Ben Hatke’s new book. This is perfect for youngsters looking for the next level up in storytelling from picture books. Without the need for many words (there is some dialogue) Hatke puts the emotion and layering of story in his artwork. The protagonist is a curly-haired, barefoot girl who finds an abandoned tool set, and box-o-robot in the local junkyard. She activates the robot and they quickly become friends. Yet, they are so very different! Can they stay friends? What is the meaning of true friendship when robot is in danger?

I have an upcoming interview with Ben Hatke about Little Robot, so stayed tuned for that. In the meantime, I recommend this book for ages 6 and up.

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 4.45.14 PM

Image: Scholastic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Summer is waning. Even here in North Carolina, where the hot season tends to linger a little longer than I’d like, we’ve had hints of autumn. My daughter just started preschool, and my son is back to school next week. But they had some great times this summer—we traveled, we relaxed (well, at least they did), and we immersed ourselves in some great books.

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

Image: Energizer

Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents, fuel their ambitions, and set them up for future success. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning.

Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more! Everyone who plays can also download free digital stories for their family.

Refrain from Brain Drain

The summer is almost over, but thankfully the Power Up and Read Summer Reading Challenge has you covered. Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire has 5 easy tips for making reading a priority for your child, like setting a weekly minutes goal, reserving special time to read together as a family, and celebrating reading accomplishments. It’s not too late to get your kids reading.

More Reading Resources

Scholastic has joined together with ENERGIZER® to power the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge and encourage families to find innovative ways to discover the power and joy of reading. It’s not too late to take part! Now through September 4th, visit Scholastic.com/Summer. Click the links below for a sampling of the fun resources you’ll find with Scholastic:


Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Romance Writers: A Safe Space For Women

As I sat last month in a darkened ballroom with approximately 2,000 other writers, the vast majority of them women, watching the Romance Writers of America present their two highest awards, the Rita and the Golden Heart, I marveled at the road that had brought me to that ballroom. Romance writing had been the last thing on my mind when I started a writing career. I’m a self-professed geek. I grew up as a tomboy. I read science fiction and fantasy books and comics, not romance.

So what was I doing with romance writers?

We on the internet often talk of female space spaces, organizations dedicated to helping women, and places where women can shine and be not only supported but celebrated by other women.

That’s exactly what RWA, which boasts approximately 10,000 members, is about. It’s a uniquely supportive organization among other professional writing organizations because RWA allows, no, encourages, the participation of unpublished writers. And with RWA, I’d found my tribe. I wasn’t alone. The acceptance speeches by the award winners were truly words of acceptance from women of high accomplishment even before they became writers.

For example:
A graduate of West Point, former Army officer Caro Carson won a Rita for Contemporary Romance: Short for her novella, A Texas Rescue Christmas. (See her acceptance speech at 11:00 in the video.)

Anna Richland, also a military veteran, won a Rita for a military story, His Road Home, the story of a severely wounded Special Forces medic, and dedicated the book to a mother she’d met at a veteran’s event, a mother whose son didn’t come home. Her speech had everyone in the audience in sympathy for the mother who lost her Marine. I only hope that somehow, that mother knows her son’s story is not forgotten. (That’s 1:19:10 in the video and you will need tissues.)

Tessa Dare, the winner for a historical romance that included a cast of early LARPers, told the crowd that she’d begun to doubt herself but had been buoyed by the belief of others in her writing. And, she said, if there was anyone sitting in the audience who doubted themselves and had no one to believe in them, to email her and she would be the one to believe in them. (Go to 32:15 for her full acceptance speech.)

Several of the winners of the Golden Heart Awards called out to their fellow nominees. This is unique for two reasons. First, the Golden Heart is given out for unpublished manuscripts. These are beginners in their careers. Yet the Golden Heart winners are feted as much as the Rita winners. Second, in a world that often seems so competitive, the Golden Heart nominees had banded together so they could have a collective experience, and dubbed themselves the Dragonflies. The Dragonflies received numerous shout-outs in acceptance speeches.

This banding together of nominees isn’t unique. Past groups include the Wet Noodle Posse and the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood. Those groups are still growing strong, still supporting each other.

Romance is a $1.08 billion dollar industry, larger than mystery or science fiction/fantasy. In today’s economy, romance is the surest bet for publishers. And yet the attitude of those who write romance isn’t one of competition, at least not collectively. Instead, it’s “a rising tide floats all boats” and “pay it forward,” as writers who were helped by those ahead of them turn around and help the new writers in turn.

Best author Suzanne Brockmann and Rita Nominee Farrah Rochon talk diversity in romance fiction.
Best author Suzanne Brockmann and Rita Nominee Farrah Rochon talk diversity in romance fiction. photo by Corrina Lawson

It’s not perfect.

The organization and the romance publication industry has much work to do to reflect our current society. Harlequin, which has separate lines for suspense, sweet stories, contemporaries, and historical romance subgenres, unfortunately puts all stories with black leads into one line, Kimani. This is appalling segregation and needs to end now.

RWA itself would do well to reach out to authors of color to bring more into the fold. For more, read this story of a live tweet session on a diversity panel at RWA.

There is also the revolution in digital publishing. RWA as an organization has had to sometimes be pulled, reluctantly, into this brave new world. As ebook sales exploded, largely pioneered by romance writers and readers, RWA lagged behind in recognition of authors who were leading this charge. But now the national conference is filled with successful self-published (indie) authors teaching others how to do what they do.

RWA also has had a long debate about the role of non-romance writing members. Those writers who don’t write romance are welcome to join RWA but due to new rules, they cannot vote in elections or serve on individual chapter boards. As a member, I feel this new rule lacks foresight, in that romance writers can often benefit from a more expansive point of view. Despite this, whenever anyone asks for advice about how to learn to write, I tell them “join RWA.” Writing information is available in person at many vibrant local chapters and busy online chapters. Many of those local chapters allow visitors to attend one or two meetings for free.

I’m moving back to my geeky roots in SF/F and working on an urban fantasy. But I will remain a member of RWA. I still have a great deal to learn about craft and the publishing industry, and I still need to pay it forward, to pay back the support that was given to me.

Because, like everyone else in that audience in late July, listening to the acceptance speeches, I belonged. We need more of these thriving, supporting female communities.

RWA offers a model of how to do it right.

Make Weird, Wonderful Ice Cream Without the Work

Dear Moon Pie Ice Cream: Get in my belly! Photo: Rachel Cericola.

It’s hot, so I want ice cream. Okay—it doesn’t have to be hot for me to want ice cream. That said, I do feel a lot better about having ice cream when it’s homemade ice cream.

Homemade ice cream has a taste that’s just so fresh and delicious. And making it yourself allows you to pack cookies, candies, fruit, and whatever else you want into one bowl. Heck, you can put carrots and cardamom into it, if you want. In fact, that sort of experimentation is heavily encouraged in No Churn Ice Cream.

This book inspires readers to make some pretty weird, often wonderful flavors. Even better, you don’t need rock salt or some type of contraption that needs the deep freeze for 24 hours. Instead, No Churn Ice Cream has an easier way—as well as a whole lot of recipes.

Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Leslie Bilderback, the same author who taught us how to make mug desserts and spiralized main courses, provides several interesting options, as well as plenty of old standbys. The hook on this book is that ice cream is as easy as mixing fresh ingredients in a bowl and popping that medley into the freezer. There are plenty of complex offerings too, with interesting flavor combinations such as Orange Flower Water-Almond Ice Cream, Pineapple-Pepper Ice Cream, Beet-Pistachio Sorbet, and much more.

Even though the idea is that this process is simple, the book shows you plenty of ways to pimp your ice cream concoctions, with purees, swirls, cookies, candies, and more. The idea of crushing up circus animal cookies and layering them into ice cream had me frothing at the mouth.

To start, however, I wanted to keep things simple, so I opted for old-fashioned mint chip. Although all of these recipes can be made with a whisk and the power of your biceps, I opted to use my KitchenAid mixer, which made things easy-peasy. The key is to whip the cream and fold in remaining ingredients. Once everything is blended, just pop the mixture into the fridge for six hours. Any freezable container can become your ice cream container. I opted for a loaf pan, but you can upcycle old containers if you’re a budding Breyers.

Of course, it’s really hard to wait the full six hours, so don’t be ashamed to sample after about four. My first attempt was minty delicious, even though I sort of messed up by not chopping the chocolate. I guess I was too excited and didn’t read the directions thoroughly. Even after the mixture was frozen, it was easy to remix into a different bowl. Either way, it didn’t keep us from scarfing it down.

Next, I wanted to try something with a bit more flair—and this book has plenty of those options. I played it semi-safe though, by making Moon Pie Ice Cream. I am wondering if I will ever make (or eat) another flavor again. Oh my. This was a little slice of heaven covered in a big slice of marshmallow fluff. It was simply awesome and made me more excited about trying the rest of the recipes in the book.

However, I opted to wrap up my review process by checking out another old-fashioned flavor: vanilla. In my opinion, if you’ve got a good vanilla recipe, the world is your oyster—at least the ice cream world. With this basic flavor, you can stir in all sorts of goodies, including the aforementioned animal cookies (which I loved).

Next on the list: Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream. Oh my! Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Just know that despite being simple, some of these recipes do not have simple ingredients. For instance, the vanilla recipe calls for actual vanilla bean. In my area, the cheapest I could find vanilla beans in a pinch were two for $10. Upon seeing this price, my eyes popped like something out of an old cartoon. When I showed these magic beans to my husband and told him the price, he said I could have picked up two gallons of already-made ice cream for the same money. However, the cost was for the greater good. You could probably substitute extract, but that wouldn’t be by the book now, would it? Just don’t be afraid to experiment, or at least do a little bargain shopping. (I know that affordable vanilla beans can be found online, but I wasn’t willing to wait!) The point of the book is that ice cream can be a simple but also creative process. However, you probably don’t want to blow your budget on well… beans.

Still, it was fantastic. It was even more fantastic when I stirred those little frosting-covered animal cookies in. Or chocolate chips. Or chocolate-covered pretzels. Yum.

I definitely want to get more adventurous with my ice cream making, and this is the book to help make that happen. No Churn Ice Cream is filled with recipes that are fun—and ones that are funky (in a good way). The next flavors on my must-try list include Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream, Apple-Spice Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sherbet, and Cardamom. I will check those out after one more round of Moon Pie, of course. If you’re in the mood for ice cream (hello, everyone!), I’d recommend that you pick up this book, pull out a freezable bowl, and get to work!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

This special edition of Fund This features what very well may be the most epic geek campaign ever. A group of architects has launched Realise Minas Tirith, a crowdfunding venture to raise the equivalent of almost $3 billion to build a functional, livable Minas Tirith in the south of England.

Minas Tirith, of course, was the capital city of Gondor. It was also called “The White City” as its courtyard held The White Tree. The city was featured heavily in The Lord of the Rings trilogy film The Return of the King for the final battle against the forces of Mordor and the coronation of Aragorn.

The campaign’s leader, Jonathan Wilson, states on the campaign page:

“We are a team of Tolkien fans who are passionate about creating a beautiful, inspirational and fully-functioning replica of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Minas Tirith, as seen in his Lord of the Rings films. We all share a love of Tolkien’s work, and a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture. We believe that, in realising Minas Tirith, we could create not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

They had me at Tolkien. Continue reading Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

Geek Speaks…Fiction! Guest Author Gail Z. Martin

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

What Made Me Geek Out Over Iron & Blood

by Gail Z. Martin

Writing Iron & Blood was so much fun, in part because the more we dug into Pittsburgh’s past, the cooler, geekier things we discovered. Iron & Blood is set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1898.

It’s a steampunk world of huge factories, fast trains, dauntless airships, mad doctors, clockwork zombies, crazy inventors, and artificially intelligent automatons, plus growing tension between old magic and new science. But the real Pittsburgh actually was the epicenter of steam-driven technology back in the late 1800s, with bigger-than-life figures like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, George Westinghouse, and many more. That created a lot of exciting, geek-worthy possibilities.

My husband and co-author, Larry N. Martin, and I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years and we’re originally from north of the city, so we had some ideas of where to start looking for odd facts and weird history that we could use in the book and series. And Pittsburgh did not disappoint! I read through dozens of books on Pittsburgh ghosts, urban legends, and folklore, geeking out over the stories about mysterious jets crashing into the river (and government cover-ups), mad scientists trying to keep severed heads alive, famous scandals—including one considered to be the “crime of the century” at the time—and strange hauntings. Perfect fodder for the kind of book we were writing, one that combined enough history and real landmarks to be recognizable, but with enough of a twist to be somewhere different.

Image: Simon & Schuster
Image: Simon & Schuster

Then there are the “what if?” questions real history serves up. What if—George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla had continued to work together? (In Iron & Blood they do, forming the Tesla-Westinghouse company).

What if the urban legend about the Congelier house and its gruesome history of Frankenstein-like experiments, murder, and explosions was actually true—and had a Steampunk twist?

What if the group of mines that boasted the largest mine in the world also had the deepest mine in the world—and it uncovered something ancient and evil, better left buried? What if Pittsburgh’s many immigrant groups brought not only their languages and foods but also their magic with them?

What if some of the old relics in the Carnegie Museum really were supernaturally powerful? And what if the legendary “green fairy” liquor was potent enough to do Absinthe magic?

We made a trip to Pittsburgh to refresh our memories about specific sites we planned to use in the book, like the warehouses of the Strip District, the mansions of Shadyside, the Ridge Avenue area where the Congelier House was supposed to be, and Homewood Cemetery, the site of a very unorthodox battle in Iron & Blood. That was probably our geekiest moment. I arranged for a private tour of the cemetery, especially Millionaire’s Row, where the wealthiest Pittsburghers like the Heinz family and the Mellons have been laid to rest for centuries. Seriously—these are mausoleums that “sleep” 21 bodies and have real Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows! So after warning our guide, Larry and I started to block out the battle scene, deciding where people would crouch, aim, and shoot! Of course, afterwards, we had to celebrate with a Primanti Brothers’ sandwich (French fries inside the bun) and a Pittsburgh steak salad (French fries in the salad). So much fun!

About the Authors

Iron & Blood is available online and in stores! You can also find more stories set in the world of New Pittsburgh with the Storm & Fury ebook short stories on Kindle/Kobo/Nook, including Resurrection Day. Our stories about New Pittsburgh and the characters from Iron & Blood also appear in several anthologies, including Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, The Weird Wild West, and the upcoming Unbound.

Larry N. Martin is the co-author of the new Steampunk series Iron & Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures and a series of short stories: The Sound & Fury Adventures set in the Jake Desmet universe. These short stories also appear in the anthologies Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens and Weird Wild West with more to come. Larry and Gail also have a science fiction short story in the Contact Light anthology.

In addition to co-authoring Iron & Blood and the Sound & Fury Adventures, Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; and Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (December 2015, Solaris Books). She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books, The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books, and Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures, and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, With Great Power, and Realms of Imagination.

Please join us on social media: @GailZMartin or @LNMartinAuthor on Twitter, The Winter Kingdoms on Facebook.com/winterkingdoms, blogs at DisquietingVisions.com, podcast at GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, and at our JakeDesmet.com home page, where you can sign up for our Chronicles newsletter which includes original flash fiction in every issue! You can also find Gail on Goodreads.com/GailZMartin and be part of frequent book discussions, giveaways, and events! Gail also features excerpts and the occasional full novella on Wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

About Iron & Blood

A Steampunk adventure novel set in the fictional city of New Pittsburgh.

New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood, and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as “hell with the lid off.”

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique “Nicki” LeClercq. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick, and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles, and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake’s courage, every bit of Rick’s cunning, every scintilla of Nicki’s bravura, and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.

Back To School 2015: Books To Stock Your Shelves

Minecraft Enchantment Table \ Attribution Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau
Minecraft Enchantment Table. Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau.

It’s time to head back to school and I’ve compiled a list of books I recommend you stock your shelves with for a profitable reading year.

Books For the Very Young

The Flowers Primer \ Image Fair Use
The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer \ Image BabyLit Books

The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer, and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer ($9.99)
BabyLit, who specializes in introducing kids to classic literature with beginning reader board books, just introduced their latest pair to the series. Author Jennifer Adams and artist Alison Oliver celebrate “Little Miss Burnett” and “Little Master Cervantes” with The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer.

The Flowers Primer shows young readers flowers featured in The Secret Garden, accompanied by a small quote. The Spanish Language Primer includes characters and items featured in Don Quixote, in both English and Spanish. This book works for both native Spanish and English speakers, with phonetic spellings on the back geared towards speakers of each language.

Both of these little gift books are a great way to get first-time students excited about reading and literature, as well as the natural world and different cultures. [Ages two and up.]

Books For Ages 8 and Up

Hamster Princess \ Image: Fair Use
Hamster Princess \ Image: Dial Books

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon  ($6.49)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible is my favorite title on this list. It’s a graphic novel that follows Princess Harriet who learns that she cannot be harmed until her 13th birthday, thanks to a Sleeping Beauty-like curse she received as a baby. It’s a fun story about a young girl who wants the adventure and action usually reserved for the princes. Available August 18, 2015. [Ages 8 and up—though younger children will enjoy this title as well.]

Hilo Book 1 \ Image: Fair Use
Hilo: Book 1 \ Image: Random House

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth graphic novel by Judd Winick ($6.99) 
A young boy falling from space has no idea where he came from or why going to school in his underwear is a bad idea. Sound like your kind of story? Then, this is the book for you. My son’s only complaint is that the sequel doesn’t come out until next year. It ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, so if you have young ones who can’t handle waiting till next year (and who can blame them?), I’d use this as an opportunity to have them write their own sequel. Available September 1, 2015. [Ages 8 and up, although younger readers may enjoy this being read to them.]

My Brother is a Superhero \ Image: Fair Use
My Brother Is a Superhero \ Image: Viking Books

My Brother Is a Superhero by David Solomons ($10.61)
Two brothers are hanging out in their tree house, when the younger brother’s life is changed with the four little words: “I need to pee.” When he returns to the tree house, he finds that his older brother now has superpowers and he missed his chance all because “nature” was calling. It’s a fun story that my son loved so much, when I was too tired to read at night, he climbed into bed with me and read out-loud to me. [Ages 8 – 12.]

Mission Explore Food \ Image: Fair Use
Mission: Explore Food \ Image: Can of Worms Kids Press

The Geography Collective
Get kids moving and investigating with unique, pocket-sized books by The Geography Collective. Each one is packed with activities that are made to be marked up and smeared as they’re used. Try Mission: Explore Food, with over 270 pages of strangely enticing ideas. Other titles include Mission: Explore on the Road and Mission: Explore Camping. Perfect for home or travel, and teachers can use these ideas too. Also know that more titles are available in the UK. [Ages 9-12.]

Mission: Explore Food (hardcover $29.90)
Mission: Explore on the Road (paperback $7.99)
Mission: Explore Camping (paperback $7.99)

Medieval Lego \ Image: Fair Use
Medieval Lego \ Image: No Starch Press

Medieval Lego  by Greyson Beights ($11.06)
Take a journey through English history in the Middle Ages with Lego. Written with the help of medievalists and scholars, this title will keep your young knights and princesses interested in the medieval times. [Ages 8 and up.]

The Lego Adventure Vol. 3 \ Image: Fair Use
The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3 \ Image: No Starch Press

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3  by Megan H. Rothrock ($18.46)
Follow the story of Megs and Brickbot as they face their toughest challenge: the return of the Destructor. On their journey, the two meet some of the world’s greatest Lego builders and show you how to build a Renaissance house, a classic movie theater, sushi, and much more. Available September 25, 2015. [Ages 9 and up.]

Young Adult

Smart Girls Guide to Privacy \ Image: Fair Use
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy \ Image: No Starch Press

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue ($13.76)
In the digital age, everyone needs to be more careful about what they do online. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy takes young girls through the various ways they can protect themselves. It’s hard to believe how quickly a photo or video can spread, and this book covers what to do when you are a victim of a compromising photo online, how to fix reputation mishaps, how to act if your identity is stolen, and much more. A must-read for anyone.

Game Art \ Image: Fair Use
Game Art \ Image: No Starch Press

Game Art  by Matt Sainsbury ($28.03)
Video games are not just fun, they are a work of storytelling art. This book is ideal for art students, who will get a kick out of the art from 40 video games and interviews with their creators.

Automate with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Automate the Boring Stuff with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart ($22.86)
This title is perfect for anyone who has menial tasks they don’t want to spend hours doing. In this book, you can learn how to write simple programs that will help you rename files in bulk, search for text across multiple files, and add a logo to multiple files without opening each one. There’s also 18 chapters’ worth of fun programs to play with.

Math with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Doing Math with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Doing Math with Python by Amit Saha ($15.79)
I’m all for anything that makes high school math easier. Doing Math with Python helps students learn how to do math with the help of a little programming. It’s like learning two subjects at once. Available August 25, 2015.

Start Where You Are \ Image: Fair Use
Start Where You Are \ Image: Perigee Books

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Patel ($7.97)
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is a hand-drawn, full-color journal by self-taught artist Meera Patel. Each left-side page offers an endearingly illustrated quote, while each right-side page asks the journal writer to answer a question in words, drawings, or both. This little book can fit easily into a backpack or dorm room, wherever it’s needed. You might want to include a package of colored pencils, because color.

Team Challenges \ Image: Fair Use
Team Challenges \ Image: Chicago Review Press

Team Challenges: 170+ Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity by Kris Bordessa ($15.10)
Former GeekMom contributor Kris Bordessa has created the best activity book out there for teachers and parents, as well as leaders of groups such as scouts, 4-H, and other enrichment programs. It’s a perfect resource to keep on hand!

Shakespeare's Star Wars  \  Image: Fair Use
Shakespeare’s Star Wars \ Image: Quirk Books

The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy ($26.12)
This beautifully illustrated retelling of George Lucas’ Star Wars in the style of William Shakespeare contains Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; and The Jedi Doth Return. Han shooteth first? Forsooth! Also included is a full-color poster.

Do you have a favorite book to start off the school year? Let us know in the comments!

GeekMom received review copies of these titles.

3 Picture Books for Grammar Geeks

Art by Mark Shulman © Chronicle Books
Mom and Dad Are Palindromes, illustrated by Adam McCauley © Chronicle Books

These picture books picks aren’t for the kids this time: They’re for all the parents out there who are unabashed grammar geeks! If you love grammar, writing, and word play, you’re likely to be more entertained than your kids when you read these clever books aloud together. Introduce writing concepts, palindromes, and grammar to your kids with the entertaining books below.

© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I Yam a Donkey! by Cece Bell

A fun read-aloud for everyone in the family, I Yam a Donkey! is sure to get some giggles. Simple, bold illustrations accompany the story of a yam and a donkey who just aren’t understanding each other.

A simple grammar lesson and a twist of an ending make this book memorable.


© Chronicle Books

Mom and Dad Are Palindromes by Mark Shulman and Adam McCauley

Teach kids about the fun you can have with words in this clever and unique book. With over 101 palindromes to spot, this picture book is an interactive addition to family story time.

Younger kids might have some trouble grasping the concept of a palindrome, but there’s no better introduction to learning to recognize one. As a bonus, parents will love trying to spot them as well. (My favorite has to be “too hot to hoot.”) If your kids enjoy this one, Ann and Nan Are Anagrams by the same author and illustrator is another great picture book to pick up.

© Chronicle Books
© Chronicle Books

Little Red Writing by Jean Holub and Melissa Sweet

A brave little pencil chooses her own adventure in this one-of-a-kind picture book.

Read this ingenious twist on Little Red Riding Hood to the kids to explore ideas like story structure and different types of words (like adverbs and adjectives), and you just might pass on your love of grammar and vocabulary. You might even learn a new word or two yourself, like “bosky,” a new one for me.

GeekMom received a promotional copy of I Yam a Donkey! for review purposes.

Between the Bookends – August 2015

Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown

This month the GeekMoms dove deeply into the Chris Carter-verse with books featuring both The X-Files and Millennium, fallen in love again with Star Wars through a new series of Little Golden Books, enjoyed home crafts, and finally found something to draw them away from a beloved series. Read on to find out more about what we’ve been reading this month.

Continue reading Between the Bookends – August 2015

Geek Speaks… Fiction! by Aliette de Bodard


Today’s guest on Geek Speaks… Fiction is author Aliette de Bodard.

house of shattered
Order on Amazon image courtesy Ace/Roc

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she works as a System Engineer and herds a toddler nicknamed “Snakelet”. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction: She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel The House of Shattered Wings is out from Roc/Gollancz this month. 

Manga, anime, and my writing

My writerly influences tend to the eclectic: I have a tendency to read everything (including the back of the toothpaste package if I get bored), and my childhood was filled with a mix of books in all genres, bandes dessineés, movies—and manga, which I sneak-read because my parents weren’t overly keen on it (they’d caught a bit of the Ken the Survivor anime on TV and decided they didn’t want me exposed to that kind of graphical violence, so I couldn’t have any manga or watch any anime). Needless to say, I felt like trying both anyway!

Below are my five influential manga/anime and how they impacted my writing and my most recent novel The House of Shattered Wings (out August 18th from Roc in the US, August 20th from Gollancz in the UK).

  1. Black Jack (manga): It’s probably a good thing that my parents never actually opened the Black Jack mangas I was so fond of, since they might have had quite a few surprises about graphically explicit… Featuring the adventures of a blackmarket surgeon and his precocious adopted daughter, and hovering between body horror, black humour, and serious ethical dilemmas, this has had a lot of influence on me—notably teaching me a lot about creepiness and unease and how effective they are when deployed against the background of everyday life; and there’s plenty of dark and creepy in The House of Shattered Wings, from people drinking the blood of angels to shadows that slither just out of sight, just out of reach…
  1. Sailor Moon (manga): Another manga I found when young—one of the few carried by my (small) local bookshop. I actually had a period of feeling ashamed about having read it because it felt so girly to me, but I came back to it years later, when Takeuchi Naoko released the new editions, and was genuinely surprised to still find it excellent. It’s about magical girls, reincarnation, and time travel, and I loved the mythic undertones to the whole saga (also, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are the best). It’s taught me quite a few things about merging science fiction and fantasy in my own fiction—The House of Shattered Wings mixes a post-apocalyptic setting (a devastated Paris with nuked monuments where people struggle to survive) with the presence of Fallen angels and magic, and I think the merge of genres makes it a much stronger one than the pure urban fantasy it started out as.
  1. Cowboy Bebop (anime/movie): To the best of my recollection, I actually watched the movie of this first, and was so struck with the aesthetic that we decided to watch the rest of the series. And I wasn’t disappointed: I love the run-down atmosphere of the series, and most of all the soundtrack, which is unusual for an SF series but just brilliant. It made for great listening when I’m writing!
  1. Revolutionary Girl Utena (manga/anime/movie): I watched this one on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, and it blew my mind away. It’s a freaking effective deconstruction of tropes, rpm fairy tales to gender roles to power dynamics. And the ending still makes me weep every time I get to it. The quality isn’t great (lots of recycled animations for scenes); the plot meanders a bit and can get repetitive, and there are a few triggery bits, and yet… and yet for all its flaws it’s got a freshness and an energy that drags me along every single time. It’s an object lesson that a thing doesn’t have to be technically perfect to grab the imagination of the audience (though of course as a writer I still angst over reaching perfection every single time—guess I can’t help it!)

(And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I own the movie and the manga too :) )

  1. Full Metal Alchemist (anime/manga/anime): It’s hard to encompass the impact Full Metal Alchemist had on my life. I watched the first anime, which I found a bit disappointing; checked out the manga and then the second anime—and now own all volumes of the manga (a pretty hefty space investment for my small house). It’s a meld of wonderful worldbuilding with an original magic system (alchemy and the principle of equivalence), a wonderful cast of memorable characters from naive Al to ambivalent Greed (and badass general Olivia Armstrong will always have a special place in my heart :) ), and an ending that delivers both on an epic scale and on a personal one (Ed’s final choice is inevitable but wonderfully done). I learnt a lot from it about entwining plot lines, and doing badass characters: My Fallen angels and my heads of magical factions in The House Of Shattered Wings owe more than a passing debt to Arakawa Hiromu.
Aliette de Bodard | Image courtesy of the author.

And I was very struck with the redefinition of alchemy into a non-potion-based magical system, and re-used the word in my book as a homage to the series: In my world, alchemists are specialized in re-using the breath and body parts of Fallen angels to provide magical energy to practitioners so they can cast spells—so not FMA‘s alchemists, but definitely at the centre of things.

Those are my top five, but it was hard to limit myself to just these. (I wanted to mention Le Chevalier d’Eon, Ergo Proxy, Black Butler, Haibane Renmei, and so many others that I vividly remember!)

Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com for book geekery, fiction, and Franco-Vietnamese recipes. Follow Aliette on Twitter.

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Giveaway and #MondayMinutesGoal

Image: Natania Barron -- My daughter, her bunny friend, and her favorite book.
Image: Natania Barron — My daughter, her bunny friend, and her favorite book.

It’s been a crazy busy summer here in the house, and what’s probably the most exciting bit when it comes to reading is just how much my daughter Elodie is getting into the habit. She’s not yet at the age where she can read, but she’s absolutely in love with stories and pictures. Every night she wants me to read her another story (her favorite is still Please Mr. Panda, which she just can’t get enough of).

While this summer has meant new jobs, a big move, and lots of changes, reading books at night has become a huge part of our day. And, I’ll be honest—sometimes it’s the very best part of my day. You can tell by her adventures with the Energizer Bunny that it’s been a fun—and stylish—summer for all of us.

Image: Scholastic
Image: Scholastic

The Innovation Book Packet Giveaway

While you’re tracking your kids’ reading minutes, I wanted to share a great giveaway that they’re doing right now that’s just up the alley for our geeky readers. The innovation book packet is a collection of Scholastic titles showcasing fiction and non-fiction boos for kids to want to get lost in the world of science, STEM, and inventions. Awesome, right?

The packet includes:

  • The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • Extreme Science Careers
  • Extreme Experiments
  • Plus Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge materials including reading logs, pledges, bookmarks, and more!
The  Innovation Book Packet. Image: Scholastic
The Innovation Book Packet. Image: Scholastic

Introducing #MondayMinutes

In an effort to log as many minutes as possible through the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge AND to break the world record for summer reading, Scholastic is setting special weekly goals for young readers. Every Monday they’ll be announcing a #MondayMinutesGoal, the number of minutes for kids to read together in one week (by the following Monday).

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Whether your child or student is reading independently aloud or together with you, you can join in. Here’s how:

  • Have your child log his/her minutes on the SRC website or on a paper log/piece of paper
  • Take a picture of him/her proudly displaying their minutes
  • Share it on social using #MondayMinutesGoal and #SummerReading and tag @GeekMomBlog!
  • We’ll pick a random winner.

US addresses only, prizing provided by Scholastic. Entries accepted through 8/7!

Sign up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Promote Authors You Love. Please.

Do your favorite authors a favor.
Share the harvest. (CC by 2.0 jaci XIII)

Those of us who are authors know it’s great to hear “I love your book!” from readers. Fantastic, really. We politely say, “thank you.” But what we want to say in response is, “GO TELL OTHER PEOPLE TO READ IT! PLEASE!” Boy, do we ever.

We live in a culture that shows us how to love celebrities and athletes. We hashtag them, go to their performances/games, read about them, imitate them, talk about them, and in many other ways make these people an ongoing presence in our lives (rarely considering how strange it is that we’re obsessed with particular celebrities).

It’s less common to love writers, far less common to show it.

Today’s publishing houses expect authors (except the most commercially promising ones) to shoulder the work of book marketing. Authors are expected to blog, tweet, arrange book signings and readings, do interviews, and otherwise connect with potential readers as if there’s nothing awkward about begging people to buy our words.

But we know that books, articles, essays, poems, blog posts, all forms of writing live on only when they’re read. It’s even better if they’re discussed, shared, and remembered. My writer friends and I do our best to promote one another’s work. Most writers do this for each other. If you’re inspired, take a tip or two from us and promote the authors you love. Here are some tactics I use.

Review books you love on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and wherever you go to check reader reviews. Short on time? Make it easy on yourself by simply leaving a bunch of stars plus a one-line opinion. On Amazon, you only need to click “like” to boost a book or other people’s reviews of the book. Your viewpoint really does help potential readers find what to read next.

Share a great author interview or book review. Share a passage from a book, article, blog post, or poem. Toss it out there on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, or whatever social media you use.

Quote. If you’re writing a report or giving a presentation, sprinkle in a relevant book quote or line of poetry (crediting the author). It’ll add another dimension to your work.

Contact local authors. Ask an author to answer questions for an interview you’ll publish online or in print. Invite an author to do a reading or lead a discussion for your organization, club, or business either in-person or by Skype. To locate local authors, check the database at Poets & Writers, listings offered by Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and your state’s art council.

Recommend. Create your own list of your favorite books on a topic via Amazon’s Listmania. (Oh, if only my recent book appeared in a list such as “Little-Known Poetry Books You Should Read…”) While you’re at it, search all the Listmania lists of interest to you.

Give books as gifts. They make wonderful presents for birthdays, holidays, and milestone celebrations. They’re great to give simply when you think a specific book and a specific person might go well together. Give books to children for special occasions, but also to share the joys of reading.

Try something different. Indulge in your favorite genres and let yourself branch out from there. A fan of historical novels set in a certain era? Try poetry from that time period, non-fiction books about the art or science of the era, and biographies of people from that time, as well as history magazines and related sites. I’ve come across writing I normally wouldn’t read only to discover a passion for science-y novels, tomes on evolutionary biology, sites offering vintage maps, work by outsider artists, and other fascinations.

Request. I couldn’t possibly afford to buy a fraction of the books I read. Instead, I’m a unrepentant library addict. If there’s a book you’d like, order it from your local library. They’ll call or email you when it’s available. If they don’t own a copy, ask them to purchase it. Some library systems put such request forms online; other systems prefer you go directly to a librarian with these requests.

Hang out with other book lovers. Our boys’ book club lasted till they all went off to college, over 9 years of lively bookish gatherings. And I’m a long-time member of an adult book club. It prompts me to read books I wouldn’t normally read and our wide-ranging discussions are a delight. You can start up a book club with friends or join an existing group. Check out nearby clubs through Reader’s Circle, your local library, or Meetup.

Give magazine subscriptions as gifts. There are a wealth of options, from boat-building magazines to literary journals to art for kids.

Link. A writer’s insight or idea sticking with you? Link to (or at least attribute) books or author sites when you write about ideas they’ve prompted in you.

Talk about writing you love. I tend to go on and on with vast enthusiasm about what I’m reading, recommending books I think friends will like. I urge them to read memoirs, from the sublime to the hilarious, like A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, and Kick Me by Paul Feig. I beg them to read beautifully written, unforgettable novels such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. For those who enjoy the worthy indulgence of animal books, I suggest The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery and A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler. I urge sci-fi fans to check out The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant, Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi, and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. Really, read these books!

Promote. The Southern Independent Booksellers Association started a YouTube channel called Parapalooza! Submit a video of yourself reading a passage from a favorite book to parapalooza@sibaweb.com. If you live in the UK, contact Steve Wasserman of Read Me Something You Love. He’ll come out to record your reading of a passage you choose, along with some conversation. If it’s poetry you adore, read it aloud for Record-a-Poem. You can also reach out to others in your community who’d like to share a favorite poem through the Favorite Poem Project or start up a poetry-sharing group on Meetup.

Read, already. Titles piling up on your Kindle, overdue library books, a teetering stack of magazines next to the couch are all evidence that you want to read. But you’ve got more to do than you’ve got time. Admit it to yourself; you’ll never defeat your inbox. Might as well go lie on the grass or in the tub or on your couch and read!

Offer books for sale through your business. If you have a bike repair shop, offer guides to bike trails along with some bike-riding memoirs. If you run a stand at a farmer’s market, offer a few cookbooks and urban farming volumes. If you own an art gallery, sprinkle a few poetry and art books among your offerings. (I am endlessly grateful that Elements Gallery in Peninsula, Ohio, sells copies of my poetry book.)

Connect. Follow authors on Facebook or follow their tweets. Write to them care of their publishers; the mail will be forwarded. You might send a brief note about how much you enjoyed a book or how it improved your life. You might send suggestions, questions, a cheerful aside. Writing is a solitary occupation. When an author hears that his or her work made a difference, I guarantee it’ll have an impact. On a few rare occasions, readers of my first book let me know it changed the way they parent or educate and how that’s impacted their lives. These communications are the sort of wealth I’d never believed possible. Utterly priceless.

Some days, I like to imagine a world where we love our writers and artists and scientists and volunteers with the same passion we show celebrities. A girl can dream.

Giveaway: ‘Trollhunters’ Top of the Food Chain

Disney-Hyperion is providing one reader a chance to climb to the top of the food chain with this prize package giveaway. Image: Disney-Hyperion.

Disney-Hyperion is providing young fantasy and horror fans a chance to “avoid becoming a monster’s next meal,” with its “Top of the Food Chain” giveaway, in celebration of the new young adult novel, Trollhunters.

One winner will receive the “Top of the Food Chain” prize pack, which includes a Trollhunters zip-up hoodie and pin, candy bones, and a copy of Trollhunters.

Trollhunters is written by horror film legend Guillermo del Toro and fellow award-winning filmmaker Daniel Kraus. It also features illustrations by Sean Murray.

Trollhunters follows Jim, a typical teen in suburban San Bernardino with an embarrassingly overprotective dad, a best friend named “Tubby” who shares his hatred of all things torturous (like gym class), and a crush on a girl who doesn’t know he exists. Everything changes, however, when a 45-year-old mystery resurfaces, threatening the lives of everyone in his seemingly sleepy town. Soon he has to team up with a band of unlikely (and some un-human) heroes to battle the monsters he never knew existed.

Del Toro is best known for his critically-acclaimed feature films including Pan’s Labyrinth, The Hobbit, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim. He’s also the author of the best-selling horror novel The Strain. Trollhunters is his first young adult novel.

Kraus, who shares del Toro’s penchant for horror, is no stranger to the world of young adult fiction with his debut novel, The Monster Variations, selected for the New York Public Library’s “100 Best Stuff for Teens.” His next novel, Rotters, was a Bram Stoker-finalist and Odyssey Award winner. His 2013 novel, Scowler, also claimed an Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults.

The creative minds behind Trollhunters (l to r): author Guillermo del Toro, co-author Daniel Kraus, and illustrator Sean Murray. Image: Disney-Hyperion.

Murray’s best-known work is on video games, such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. He is also the creator of Gateway: The Book of Wizards and the forthcoming card game Gateway: Uprising.

The book has already received accolades from bestselling authors like Inkheart creator Cornelia Funke who said this “adventure is not for the timid heart.”

According to the book: “You are food. Those muscles you flex to walk, lift, and talk? They’re patties of meat topped with chewy tendon. That skin you’ve paid so much attention to in mirrors? It’s delicious to the right tongues, a casserole of succulent tissue. And those bones that give you the strength to make your way in the world? They rattle between teeth as the marrow is sucked down slobbering throats.”

Cover image from Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus, with illustrations by Sean Murray. Images: Disney-Hyperion.

To make sure you aren’t food, log into the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or a valid email address, and tell us in the comments section what condiment you might prefer with your “meals” if you were a troll.

The contest ends at midnight on Aug. 3; the name of the winner will appear in the widget after the contest, so check back in after this date.

Hurry, so you aren’t dangling at the bottom of the troll food chain!

Trollhunters hits bookstores on July 7. Learn more at #Trollhunters, Un-RequiredReading.com, or via Twitter & Tumblr.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to winner, Bernie W! Thanks to everyone who entered for their culinary suggestions!

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

‘Something at the Window is Scratching’ To Be On Your Bookshelf

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 2.55.18 PM
Bed bugs! Don’t let the cuteness fool you in Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge. Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

“This stuff just comes to you, huh?”

When the dedication of a book contains a quote like this from the person it is dedicated to, it is hard not to want to read it.

This is a comment from the father of bestselling author and artist Roman Dirge. The newly released color version is his 1998 Slave Labor Graphics poetry collection, Something at the Window is Scratching, is now available from Titan Comics.

Dirge, most well known for his freakishly entertaining Lenore, The Cute Little Dead Girl and other stories like The Cat with a Really Big Head, has delivered a series of creepy and somewhat enduring poems, which are just such a blast to read out loud:

“A little horror / A scream, a cry…
That’s how you make a critter pie.
They beg. / They plead. / They try to run.
This makes cooking so much fun.”

Halfway through this book, I was dying (no pun intended, I hope) to read some of this to a classroom during the haunts and harvest season.

There is one thing I’ve discovered about Dirge’s work that readers need to keep in mind. If he seems off-putting or just over-the-top at times, remember everything he puts on paper is the literary equivalent of a playful smirk or a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

This comes through in all of these works, including the title poem that drills into the recollections of one’s own childhood bedtime fears:

“And then suddenly, as the egg of fear in me is hatching.
I realize that something at the window is scratching.”

Cover image from Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge. Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

This line may cause an involuntary spine-shiver, but you still want to read on. You gotta know, despite your best judgment, perhaps… what is out there. I am going to be very careful not to give any spoilers here, except to say first, it’s not what you think, and second, expect to go through about three distinct emotions in a really short time.

His shortest poems were my favorites, and some of these quick little ditties like “The Alien Ballerina” and “Pear Head Man and Bread Boy” are good for quick grins and giggles. The remainder of the poems maintain this blend of humor and horror filled with zombie bunnies, pirate squids, spider-haunting ghosts, and the pumpkin-loving little Eddie Poe.

Very much in the vein of other delightfully macabre poem collections like Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, this book may not be for all readers. In fact, there was a time in my youth, I might have been just a teensy, weensy bit—how can I say this?—weirded the hell out!

Once I started seeing the humor and “gotcha didn’t I?” behind these types of writings, I have actually become drawn to the weirder things in life. In the case of Something at the Window is Scratching, I just found it downright clever.

These stories would still give my five-year-old night terrors, but my 13-year-old was in on the joke. She loves Dirge’s Leonore story in the Slave Labor Graphics 2005 Haunted Mansion collection, and found all of these poems extremely funny. She was also very proud of “finding all the pigs” left throughout the book by Mr. Porkchop.

As for me, I can’t wait to add this dark little dance with Dirge to my bookshelf, next to Burton, Grimly, Gaiman, and Gorey, or anyone else who understands sometimes it takes some dark humor to lighten the spirits.

“We expect so much from people by the time thy have ‘grown up.’ so much stability and so much…adulthood,” Invader Jim creator Jhonen Vasquez writes in the book’s forward. “You put a child’s soul, symbol of purity, innocence, and hope into a grownup’s body, and you would have what Earthling society would call a lunatic.”

Thankfully, Dirge has managed to maintain that lunacy; that firm grasp on childlike celebration of the wonderfully weird, and has given readers a fantastic journey into the depths of it.

It is well worth the trip.

GeekMom received a PDF copy of the book for review purposes.

window image
Roman Dirge’s wonderful and weird stories will bring shivers, as well as laughter and maybe a tear or two. Image from Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge, courtesy of Titan Comics.

Mary Roach Gems on Audible for Less Than 5 Bucks!

Photo: Audible

Many of us at GeekMom love our Mary Roach books. I have personally read every one of them. I’ve had several email conversations with Ms. Roach, about how she should tackle the world of prosthetics next.  It’s just my little pet project that I want one of my favorite authors to cover. So far she’s found better uses of her time, but I’m working on her.

If the name Mary Roach doesn’t ring a bell, let me help you out. If you love learning about the world around you, but would prefer it be given to you in a fun way, with lots of anecdotes and interesting stories, Mary Roach’s books are for you.

The first book I stumbled upon was Stiff. Here is my GeekMom post about that discovery. It’s a very in-depth look at what happens to our bodies when we die, and how different cultures make different choices at the end of life. I was completely fascinated. Her writing and research actually changed a lot of my views about what I want done with my own body when I die.

Then I found her other gems. Having read her book Packing for Mars right before the family hit the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. was an amazing coincidence. All kinds of interesting back stories and behind the scenes information flooded through my head as I toured the exhibit.

Then I devoured Gulp, a book about how our digestive system works. It will make you think about everything you put in your mouth for weeks after reading it, and not for food quality reasons. Here’s the review of Gulp, from 2013.

Finish off your Mary Roach marathon with Spook, a look into the supernatural world around us, and Bonk, a very entertaining look at the psychology of sex.

The good news of the day is that through Thursday of this week, you can own any or all of these classic books for less than five dollars each. I’ve already clicked over and ordered my copies and didn’t want you to miss out on the same opportunity. These are all best selling books for a reason. They are a great read for even the most reluctant readers.

Chances like these don’t come along often. I personally am thrilled to have my audio book library now full of some of my all time favorite books. Don’t miss out on the big sale!

‘Mummy Cat’ Won’t Scare the Sphinx Out of Kids

Mummy Cat, Art by Lisa Brown © HMH Kids
Mummy Cat, Art by Lisa Brown © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Kids as young as kindergarteners can easily find an interest in all things Egypt, thanks to the allure of mummies, hieroglyphics, and golden tombs. The reality of mummification and Egyptian rituals can be hard to understand—and a little bit scary—for that age, however. Mummy Cat, written by Marcus Ewert and illustrated by Lisa Brown, is an excellent introduction to ancient Egyptology that appeals to a wide range of kids with a simple story with another tale hidden within.

Courtesy © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Courtesy © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the rhyming tale of a mummy cat who longs to be held by his best friend once again. The loyal companion wakes every hundred years to walk through the tomb of his owner, whose fate is revealed in the murals that adorn the walls.

Younger kids will likely miss the story hidden in the murals, a tale of jealousy and spite told in hieroglyphics, but older readers will love to uncover it thanks to the guide in the back of the book. The last pages also include a primer to ancient Egyptian history and culture in terms elementary age kids can understand.

If your child is interested in ancient Egypt, but you’re wary of cracking open an Egyptology book to see a real mummified face staring at you from the pages, Mummy Cat might be just the introduction to history you’re looking for. It’s touching, a little sad, and a book that can be revisited time and time again to uncover new details in the illustrations.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.


Between the Bookends: July 2015

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

This month in Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about alien parasites, parenting skills, dark fantasy, climbing Everest, and the songs that tell the story of modern Britain. Check out what we’ve been reading after the jump.

Continue reading Between the Bookends: July 2015

Geek Speaks…Fiction! Guest Author Django Wexler

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Fantasy author Django Wexler has had a busy couple of years. He is the author of the Shadow Campaigns fantasy series for adults (The Thousand Names, The Shadow Throne, and the just released The Price of Valor), the Forbidden Library series for middle grade kids (The Forbidden Library and The Mad Apprentice), as well as the cyberpunkish fantasy John Golden: Freelance Debugger novellas. Despite this, he took some time to write us an article this week about something that makes him geek out. Please welcome Django Wexler!

Stranger Than Fiction

I am, I have to admit, a bit of a history geek. I love the little details and vignettes you find in a good history book, and a lot of that stuff comes in very handy when writing novels. The Shadow Campaigns is based, very loosely, on the Napoleonic Wars, and there’s all kinds of tiny bits and pieces from various histories that have found their way into the text.

Image: Penguin Random House
Image: Penguin Random House

That said, I can’t put in just anything. The problem with history is that it doesn’t need to have a sense of dramatic tension, or even of plausibility. The former is a little more intuitive than the latter—in real life, things don’t often work out in a way that satisfies our dramatic sensibilities. The hero gets killed in a random skirmish before the final battle, or the villain dies of a cold before the epic confrontation. Wars are often decided, not by heroic action, but by idiocy and incompetence. (There’s an old maxim that says the battle is won by the general who makes the second-to-last mistake.)

Fiction has to do better than that, obviously. It needs to be more than plausible—it needs to be a good story, which means that dramatic arcs are completed, characters change and grow over time, and generally the reader feels satisfied at the end of the book. It’s one reason I write vaguely historically-inspired fantasy, rather than historical fiction—in actual history, things often don’t work out the way you’d like!

It’s the second point, about plausibility, that seems weird. Obviously anything in history that actually happened has to be plausible, right? But it’s not true. The problem is that weird coincidences and strange behavior, while common in real life, feel wrong in a story. It feels like cheating, like the author taking sides. Again and again, I find myself coming across bits of history that would make me roll my eyes if I read them in a novel.

Here’s my current favorite example. In 1920, while Greece was at war with Turkey, the King of Greece was walking on his own estate when he was attacked and killed by a rogue monkey. The results, politically, were catastrophic—the pro-war party gained power, and Greece went on to lose the war disastrously.

Can you imagine putting that in a novel? If George R. R. Martin revealed that Tywin Lannister was randomly killed by a rogue monkey? Readers would cry foul! History is full of this stuff. In 1862, Union General George McClellan received a complete copy of General Robert E. Lee’s order of battle, because a Confederate aide had used the order as a wrapping for his cigars, which he had then absent-mindedly dropped. In 1940, a plane carrying a German officer and plans for the invasion of France crashed in Belgium; with their strategy revealed, the German’s switched to Erich von Manstein’s far more audacious, and ultimately successful, scheme.

Image: Penguin Random House
Image: Penguin Random House

On a slightly darker note, in The Price of Valor, one of the plotlines is concerned with the first all-female regiment of the Vordanai army, led by Winter Ihernglass. Some of the old aristocrats object to this arrangement, and one of them rants at Winter about it. To get a properly insane feel, I cribbed most of the rant from stuff I’d read online, in some of the less savory corners of the internet. When I sent the book out to the first readers, they all objected that this was unrealistic, cartoonish—nobody could be that transparently awful!

What I’ve learned is that the fact that something actually happened isn’t good enough. Fiction demands higher standards, and you can’t lean on “but it really happened that way!” as an excuse. I still take lots of interesting stuff from history, but nowadays I’m a little more careful with it. After all, reality can be very unrealistic!

Photo: Rachel Thompson
Photo: Rachel Thompson

Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

Bringing Science Home Again: ‘The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory’

Image courtesy of Make Publishing.

Back in the 1960s, Raymond Barrett wrote a book on how to build a complete science lab to explore biology, chemistry, and physics. With tools and ingredients in hand, you could embrace the unknown of experiments and chemicals! Some of the formulas and instructions may no longer be practical, but what makes his book so compelling is the spirit behind it. The bold citizen scientist who could harness his or her interests, learn empirically, and take risks without everyone freaking out.

No one was more delighted than me to have Windell Oskay put into my hands a new, annotated copy of this book, re-written for modern technology, safety standards, and learning styles. This is exactly what was needed. So much of home-based experimentation right now is focused on technology and making. While there is nothing wrong with that, traditional sciences are just as important. Labs are important. The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory brings the magic of science home again.

My husband and I were waxing nostalgic on how these kinds of books were still totally available in libraries during the 1980s and how they simultaneously inspired us and disappointed us because while we were motivated and fearless, not all of the ingredients were available anymore. We couldn’t just saunter down to the pharmacy and pick up some mercury, sulfur, and salt peter. Three things make this kind of book work now: First, the DIY movement has charged people up again about owning and creating the skill building and education they desire. Second, a new annotated version helps guide you when you don’t know what you are doing, but offers modern advice and alternatives, improving accessibility to science. Finally, the problem we had in the 80s around getting our hands on the dicier ingredients has been solved by internet commerce and a little click of agreement on a liability waiver.

There are so many different options in this book, that there is something worthwhile for everyone. It will not matter if you don’t know what you want to study, you will find something that sparks—literally and figuratively.

I started off in the Geology section because it reminded me of my days in Paleontology and then later Archaeology, but was quickly distracted by the options on building generators. I also love that the book poses lots of questions without answering them for you, allowing you to find your own answers, and most likely more questions. The book places responsibility and trust on the user in a very tangible way, which is the best way to invest in a relationship. In this case, the relationship is between the authors and you who, instead of warning you to proceed with unnecessary caution, are encouraging you to try, to do, to make, to fail, and to do again.

But the most special reason I liked this book was an acknowledgment from Windell Oskay at the very end of the Forward. He says, “This is the book that taught me how to make things.” Oskay founded Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories with his awesome wife Lenore, and the work they do is creative and joyful. You can tell that they enjoy the products they make. So if this book helped Oskay get from a 10-year-old aspiring scientist to a maker and entrepreneur with a PhD in Physics, it’s definitely staying on my bookshelf. Not just for me, but for the other little scientists running around my house and my hackerspace who may find that it is the catalyst they were looking for too.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Cure Summer Boredom: Draw Your Favorites from DC Comics!

© Capstone  / DC Comics
© Capstone / DC Comics

There have been a number of fantastic DC Comics books for kids published recently—if you know where to find them! After enjoying Batman Science so much, I wanted to look at some of Capstone’s other new offerings featuring our favorite DC super heroes. How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains is a step-by-step art book with characters drawn in Bruce Timm’s wonderful style of the animated series. This isn’t a how-to-draw book for young kids or beginners, but the facts included about each superhero and villain make it worthy of being added to a young comic fans’ collection.

As you might expect from a book with this title, How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains focuses mostly on poses of the first two heroes in the list. Batman and Superman are given the how-tos for their civilian clothes, head and shoulders, fighting in various poses, and even their vehicles and lairs. Having never taken a drawing class and possessing no talent, I was grateful for the head shots, as those simpler drawings are just about the best I could manage.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Wonder Woman is featured on the cover of the book, even if she’s not named in the title, but I was disappointed there was only one full-body action pose included in the book. I would have loved to see the up-close head and shoulders how-to for both Wonder Woman and Batgirl. With the focus on Batman and Superman, it is still nice to see them at least included in the book, along with other heroines like Black Canary, Supergirl, and Lois Lane.

© Capstone
© Capstone

The descriptions and backgrounds of each character, item, and locale make fun reading themselves. This is one of those books that you’ll see your kid curled up with under the covers when they’re supposed to be asleep, memorizing every little fact about the heroes and villains within. With over 50 characters inside, there’s a lot to look through again and again.

How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains may be best suited for kids age 10 and up who won’t get frustrated when their drawings don’t look exactly like Batman: The Animated Series. But even if your child has never taken an art class, it’s fun to try to draw a favorite character. My 6-year-old and I had a blast drawing a wobbly Wonder Woman and a blobby Batgirl. The drawings may not have been perfect, but we loved laughing and trying together.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Geek Speaks… Fiction! Guest Author J. Kathleen Cheney

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Please help us welcome fantasy author J. Kathleen Cheney to GeekMom! Ms. Cheney is the author of The Golden City series from Roc Books. The Shores of Spain, book 3 in the series, has just been released today.

The Real Steampunk

I’ve always thought that if I had a chance to do my life all over again, my new day job would be as a civil engineer. It would be right up my alley. I have a nerdy fascination with sewer systems, underground building design, highways, rooftop gardening, and distribution/transport systems.

So when I worked on the first of the Golden City novels (aptly titled The Golden City), I fell in love with these:

Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos

Those two beauties are the Titans in Matosinhos, Portugal.

For those people who live in areas with harbors, they might even recognize what they are. Essentially, they’re cranes that specialize in building breakwaters. A breakwater is an enclosed area around a harbor or river’s mouth that makes for calmer waters where a ship comes in to dock. What the Titans do is carry 10-ton blocks from a building yard out to the end of the breakwater (via its own railway) and set the block into the water. Once enough stone is there to support the crane, the railway is extended, and the Titan goes back to get another block.

(Titans, by the way, are a classification of crane. It’s not the name of this particular set of cranes. So there are far younger Titans all around the world, in many industrial and nautical settings.)

Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos
Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos

I’ve included this picture so that you can get a bit of perspective on how big they are. The little “house” that’s sitting atop the crane’s boom arm is actually the housing for the steam engine. Beneath that, inside the boom arm, is the ballast that balances the heavy weights (up to 50 tons) that the Titan is made to carry. It’s an amazing piece of technology, particularly when you realize that these two were made during the Victorian age.

You want steampunk? These babies are real steampunk!

In my first novel, I managed to squeeze these guys in. There’s a scene where my hero, Duilio, ducks behind one of that behemoth’s rail wheels for cover during a gunfight. If you look at the little tiny people standing around on the temporary tracks, that will give you an idea how tiny he must have felt hiding under the Titan’s bulk. It’s huge, and in his place, I would have been terrified.

Now, at a ripe old age of 132 years, the Titans have seen better days. As they’re not being used for loading, they generally sit idle on the breakwaters. However, one did have an accident in 1892—it was swept into the ocean during a storm. The city managed (after a few years) to haul the thing back out of the water and set it back on its railway tracks. In early 2012, one of the Titans dropped some metal (metal fatigue), causing a rupture in a gas line and an industrial fire. After that, the city decided that instead of demolishing them, they would refurbish the two Titans to stave off another accident. That fall, when I traveled to Matosinhos, one of the Titans was, indeed, missing, having been taken away for that promised work.

There are many people arguing for the Titans to be named International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. There are actually very few of these things left throughout the world. One that was built in 1907, in Clydebank, Scotland, was recently converted into a bungee jumping site. So I watch with fingers crossed and hope that they will last another 132 years, and that our descendants will look at them and marvel that we could have—with our limited technology—have managed to build such beauties.

If you’d like to see more pictures of the Titans, click here to see my Pinterest Page: https://www.pinterest.com/jkathleencheney/the-titans/

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). The sequel, The Seat of Magic, came out in 2014, and the final book in the series, The Shores of Spain, will come out July 2015.

Tinker, Pilot, Maker, Oh My! 3 Picture Books Starring Girls Who Love to Build

Interstellar Cinderella © Chronicle Books
Interstellar Cinderella © Chronicle Books

Books about princesses and ballerinas are always fun reads, but it’s also great to find books starring heroines who also enjoy getting their hands dirty and figuring out how things work. Here are three charming and notable picture book picks featuring girls who love to tinker, fix, build, and make.

© Chronicle Books
© Chronicle Books

Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt

The classic fairy tale meets sci-fi in this lovely and welcome twist on the story of Cinderella. Cinderella doesn’t dream of living in a castle or meeting her prince, but of getting her own ship to fix and tinker with.

All of the familiar elements are there: the unpleasant stepmother and stepsisters, the prince, and the ball, and Underwood’s take on other parts of the tale are both clever and obviously well thought out. Cinderella’s mouse friend is a robot, she comes to the Prince’s rescue, and her response to his marriage proposal makes picking up this book worth it alone. And I’m not certain, but I like to think there’s an intentional nod to Doctor Who in there as well.

© Harry N. Abrams
© Harry N. Abrams

Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts

Rosie loves to build and tinker, but when one of her inventions goes haywire, can she find the courage to keep trying? Not only does Rosie Revere, Engineer include both colorful characters and a great jumping off point to talk about history, the story gives the rare message that it’s okay to fail. In fact, failure can be celebrated, as long as you keep trying.

This important theme and the wonderfully detailed illustrations of wacky gizmos make this a book that we revisit time and time again.

© Dial Books
© Dial Books

Violet the Pilot, written and illustrated by Steve Breen

Violet is a mechanical genius who loves disassembling and reassembling things to see how they work. When she turns eight years old, her dreams turn to the sky. She works hard to make her own airplane, even as the other kids avoid her or tease her. Her parents support her, which I loved to see in the story, and she and her best friend Orville never give up in their work to reach the clouds.

Violet the Pilot has a vintage feel with soft illustrations, and can even begin conversations about life before selfies and social media.

“The Princess and the Pony”–Kate Beaton’s Adorable Children’s Book Giveaway

Pages 3 & 4 of The Princess and the Pony, Image via Scholastic

Since my experience with the wonderful Kate Beaton’s work is limited to the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Wonder Woman of Hark, A Vagrant, when I first received an email about her new picture book for children, my first response was, “A children’s book?”

I should have known better because The Princess and the Pony is equal parts adorable and funny, and still very Beaton, especially given that the Pony is a character from Hark, A Vagrant. It’s about a warrior princess who is given sweaters as gifts instead of warrior things and given the Pony who farts instead of a war-horse.

I read it out loud to all of my nearly-adult kids and we all loved it, and then spent time looking for all the fun hidden in the artwork.

Now here’s a chance for GeekMom readers to win a The Princess and the Pony Gift Pack.

Image via Scholastic
The Small, Fat, and Mighty Prize Pack, Image via Scholastic

One (1) winner receives:
· A copy of The Princess and the Pony;
· $50 Visa gift card;
· Plus a Kate Beaton-designed Pony t-shirt and “Small Fat and Mighty” coffee mug.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Scholastic.

Just enter the giveaway widget below the video trailer for the book.

Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, and her work has been featured in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto, and you can find her online at www.beatontown.com and on Twitter as @beatonna.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Geek Speaks…Fiction! With Guest Brian Kirk

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! we welcome author Brian Kirk. Brian’s highly anticipated psychological horror book, We Are Monsters, is coming out on July 7th from Samhain Publishing.

Image: Samhain Publishing

Tell Should-Zu to Shut Up, by Brian Kirk

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent far too much of your life pretending.

And I don’t mean the cool kind of pretending, where you imagine yourself to be a shape-shifting spy ninja that can perform a perfect cartwheel and fly.

I mean the not-so-cool kind, where you pretend you enjoy looking at Power Point slides created by your boss who seems to have been born without an imagination at all.

I’ve pretended to like things I didn’t, like professional football.

I’ve pretended not to like things I do, like reading Dan Brown. (I’m sorry, I’ll admit it, I thought Angels & Demons was fun!)

I’ve spent so much of my life, it seems, conforming my likes and dislikes to the expectations of someone else. A vague parental/peer-body amalgamation that hovers over my decision making like some amorphous judge. Let’s call this thing: Should-Zu. Like Shih Tzu (which is one of my all-time favorite names), but with a “should.” Plus, Should-Zu can be yappy little thing, too.

Let me tell you a little something about Should-Zu. I grew up loving to tell stories. Scary stories, more often than not. And writing has always been the activity that provided me with the most inner joy. But then college came, and Should-Zu told me that writing was frivolous. That it was time to grow up and choose a field of study that could become a career. My dad was in advertising, so Should-Zu suggested I do that. And that’s what I did. For nine years I worked at a large ad agency, adhering to Should-Zu’s demands, counting down the days until I could retire and break free. I made it through about 2,000 of the requisite 12,000 days.

Pretty early on I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the work. It wasn’t the people. And it wasn’t the pay (although it was pretty abysmal at the beginning). It was the fact that I felt like a fraud. I felt like I was playing the role of an Ad Exec rather than being my authentic self. And it seemed like everyone around me was doing the same thing. Assuming this stiff, awkward posture, wearing clothes they wouldn’t normally wear, speaking in some strange language I never heard outside the office, “net-net, value add, core competencies (that no one would want to have)”.

See, it may have taken me thirty-one years, but I finally wised up to Should-Zu’s game. I saw it one day, at first from the corner of my eye, and then head on. Instead of appearing as some guiding light, it was this malformed lump of guilt. Not only was it gross to look at, it was dumb, and didn’t know me at all. Worse, it was a coward, frightened that I would find fulfillment living as my true self, something it itself was too afraid to do. So, I resigned from my corporate job to work freelance and do the thing I love most: write fiction.

What’s up with Should-Zu? Why do we listen to it? Why do we allow it to outfit us in these phony costumes and pretend to be something we’re not?

This is one of the themes I address in my debut novel, We Are Monsters, which takes place inside a mental institution and studies the attempted restoration of mental health. I had an epiphany when considering this environment. It seemed to me that the patients with their crippling mental disorders were living more authentically than some of the doctors likely were. Sure, it may not be how they would choose to live. Schizophrenia doesn’t sound like fun. But they weren’t putting on a pretense. They were in no way beholden to Should-Zu, and its unwarranted demands. Whereas the doctors may be living lies, or have emotional burdens they were hiding from or shoving deep down inside.

I wanted to unmask the doctors and see what I’d find underneath. I wanted to see what would happen if I woke them up from Should-Zu’s somnolent trance.

I still hear Should-Zu, it never leaves. But I don’t listen anymore, and I’m much happier now. If Should-Zu speaks to you, just tell it to hush.

Photo: Brian Kirk

Brian Kirk lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys. He works as a freelance writer in addition to writing fiction, and is currently working on the second book in a planned trilogy. We Are Monsters is his debut release. Feel free to connect with him online. Don’t worry, he only kills his characters.