It’s back-to-school month and the GeekMoms have been working hard on their very own reading lists. From Bill Murray to origami, To Kill a Mockingbird to Shakespearean Star Wars, check out what we have been reading this month.
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.
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.
“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June.” – So wrote Dr. Seuss, and for those of us reaching the halfway stage of various reading challenges for the year, we may be wondering “how the time has flewn” quite so quickly this year. Let us know how you’re getting on whether you’re taking a GoodReads challenge of your own or the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge along with countless others. The GeekMoms have been reading about Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, and many other less well-known characters this month so read ahead to see what pages they’ve been turning.
Thanks to a recent birthday and bookstore gift cards, Lisa was able to stock up on a couple of books from one of her favorite reading obsessions: alternative Sherlock Holmes stories.
For those wanting to dive into the many alternative mysteries about Sherlock Holmes not actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the best place to start is with books and stories that bear the seal of approval by the Conan Doyle Estate. This is a good indication that the author involved did their homework in keeping with the spirit of Doyle’s most famous creation. Lisa’s favorite read of the month, Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, (a follow-up to his first Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk), is one of those. This tale introduces the reader to Pinkerton Agency inspector Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard’s Athelney Jones trying to hunt down a sinister criminal with mind to take over as the kingpin of London’s criminal world not long after that fateful disappearance of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.
Horowitz is known for his knack for mystery via his books for adults and young readers, as well as his creation for the World War II TV series Foyle’s War. This was evident with Moriarty, as it will keep Holmes and mystery fans up all night reading ’til the end, as well as pondering the outcome long after they finish the book.
The other Holmes-inspired novel she purchased is the collection of “Holmesian Tales Across Time and Space,” Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by David Thomas Moore. Moore, who had admitted to not being a huge fan of Holmes in his younger days, has since realized what a rebel the detective was after seeing the many new incarnations of the detective in movies and television. As a result, he complied fourteen tales from established and emerging science fiction and fantasy authors that take Holmes, Watson, and the usual supporting characters into scenarios that are anything but usual. The stories range from Wild West adventures to outer space adventures.
There were a couple of tales where the scenario just didn’t feel right (entering the world of the Wizard Lords’ events during the Year of the Yellow Cat was confusing, to say the least), but all of these stories were inventive and certainly not your typical Holmes. Traditionalists who find the modern Holmes’ versions a little far-fetched should steer clear of this collection, because there are female Holmes, a carnival dwarf version of Mrs. Hudson, and even appearances by pop icons like Andy Warhol and Elvis Presley. For those who want to take a journey with an unlimited amount of twists, turns, and surprises, then this anthology won’t disappoint.
Several years ago GeekMom Judy read a book that stuck with her for a long time. It was called Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. The touching story, that Stephen King called “the best memoir I’ve ever read,” was basically heart wrenching reflections on life after the author’s husband was struck by a car while crossing the street, and left with a severe brain injury. Turning to her family, friends, and bed full of dogs for comfort, the author navigated some pretty treacherous life waters. Judy loved the book so much that as soon as the library copy was returned, she bought a copy for her own bookshelves.
Then a few months ago, Ms. Thomas released a new book, called What Comes Next and How to Like It. This book covers a friendship that lasted for decades and some major life events that threatened to end it. The new book is written in very short, sometimes one paragraph “chapters” which make it very easy to read. Like Three Dog Life, What Comes Next is brutally honest and revealing. It will leave you thinking about the friendships in your own life, especially those which have lasted decades.
This month Patricia is reading Judy Blume’s latest book, In the Unlikely Event, released on June 2nd. If you have been a fan of Judy Blume’s poignant youth-point-of-view novels since a young age, as Patricia has been, you won’t be disappointed. The story follows several characters’ lives brought together by a C-46 commercial airliner crash in 1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a true event that impacted Judy Blume herself in real life.
In Blume’s classic style that we have experienced in adult novels such as Smart Women and Summer Sisters, she takes us through numerous points of view, male and female, young and old, privileged and in-need. She covers issues and topics from the 1950s that are still of concern in today’s society, such as racism, religious freedom, and the challenges of single-parenthood. And, of course, first love. Patricia is about halfway through the novel right now and things are getting pretty emotional! She could barely put down the book to write up this brief review!
Sophie has been reading a wide variety of books this month, beginning with Red Dragon by Thomas Harris in preparation for season three of Hannibal which began on NBC earlier this month. This was her first time reading a Hannibal novel and she found the experience fascinating as a die-hard fan of the TV show. She often found herself noticing where ideas had been lifted from the source novel and changed, subtly or not, for the TV show, and she loved getting to see how the characters had been subtly altered to increase the diversity of the cast by adding more women and people of color from the original. Sometimes she even recognized full lines of dialogue that had been appropriated into different scenes. Sophie loved the book and cannot wait to see these new characters introduced this season.
Sophie has also been reading a number of graphic novels this month. She picked up Fury’s Big Week by Christopher Yost after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. The book was published as a prelude to the first Avengers movie in 2012 and although it has its moments she didn’t really enjoy it, much preferring the current ongoing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic series. Staying with Marvel, Sophie also read Mark Millar’s Civil War, her first real foray into the Marvel comics-verse. After getting to grips with the often very different characterization (Captain America was barely recognizable to her), she enjoyed the book but found herself deeply unhappy with the ending which felt like it came out of nowhere.
Sophie’s book club chose The Book Thief by Markus Zusack which she began reading almost immediately thinking the premise sounded very interesting. Sadly, after around 50 pages she ended up passing it on to another member because the writing style was just too annoying for her to stand. This is one month where she will be watching the movie adaptation instead! She chose to spend her time finishing up the third and final installment of Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy—The Last Town—and really enjoyed it despite the extremely violent scenes which pushed her right to her limits despite her being a fan of somewhat graphic horror. The book took a very different journey from the previous two and was non-stop action right from page one; she felt almost out of breath after reading it!
Finally Sophie read the first book in The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The book is the first in a series of YA novels set in a somewhat dystopian future U.S.A. (now renamed Illea and also now a kingdom), which echo The Hunger Games if the parts set in the Capitol had been the entirety of the competition. In The Selection, 35 young women have been chosen to enter what is basically a glorified version of The Bachelor and “compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.” You can imagine the rest of the book from that one sentence. Sophie thought the book was about as good as she imagined from that description (and from the hilarious reviews on Goodreads) but found the book to have that same guilty pleasure factor as The Twilight Saga—you know it’s awful but keep reading anyway! She plans to read more of the series to see if it can get any better!
Fran is re-reading Stephanie Feldman’s Angel of Losses. This Crawford-Award-winning book about family, sisterhood, myth, magic, and mystery grabbed her when she read it last fall. This time, it’s the interweaving of theology, history, and folk tales that drew her back.
She’s also reading an early copy of Max Gladstone’s Last First Snow because she loves the world of The Craft Sequence, and this might be the best one yet—bureacracy-mancy, necro-arbitrage, and more.
Lastly, she has a book hangover because she read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted in twelve blissful hours. Fantastic characters, electric magic that doesn’t color within the lines, and a world that breaks free of its fairy tale origins. Yes, please.
Copies of some books included in these recommendation have been provided for review purposes.
This merry month of May the GeekMoms have been stuck on Mars, trapped in a strange town, debating the merits of STEM and creativity in our schools, and solving puzzles in a future dystopia. Check out our reading lists as we get ready for the summer.
The GeekMoms have taken advantage of Spring Breaks and Easter holidays to get some reading in. This month their selections include math in The Simpsons, a mysterious town in Idaho, YA science fiction, and a teenage girl from Japan determined to chronicle the life of her great gandmother.
As we sprung forward and lost a precious hour of sleep, the GeekMoms still found time to cram in plenty of reading. This month’s selection includes demonic advice, a future British dystopia, and dinosaur sex–just thankfully not all at once! Read on to delve deeper into what we’ve been reading.
This month’s Between the Bookends sees the GeekMoms reading about talking cows, dystopian future entertainment, a steampunked wild west, a wall of Trudd, and some big changes for Harry Dresden.
Sophie‘s 2015 resolution to read more has started off well as she is currently on her seventh book of the year. She really enjoyed David Duchovny’s debut novel Holy Cow, a somewhat surreal book told in the first person by a cow named Elsie. Elsie learns about meat farms and decides to escape her home and fly to India where she will be worshiped as a goddess. Along for the ride are a Jewish pig named Shalom and Tom the turkey who is starving himself to avoid ending up on a plate come Thanksgiving. The book is highly irreverent but also includes a deeper moral message.
She has also been reading some non-fiction behind-the-scenes books about television. Wrapped in Plastic looks at the importance of Twin Peaks twenty-five years on from its initial broadcast. Whether you love the show or hate it, its impact on modern television cannot be understated. Showrunners examines the rise of the showrunner in the last two decades, the person with overall responsibility for a television show from writing to finance. It suffered from a lack of depth caused by trying to cover too many ideas with input from too many people but still managed to convey a sense of what the role is all about.
Sophie is currently reading Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey with her bookclub. The story is set in a dystopian future where social class is determined by which colors a person can perceive and how strongly. It’s a very strange book so far with a strong sense of Douglas Adams-style whimsy although she hopes the pace will pick up soon as she is finding it becoming a little repetitive.
Ariane finished reading Changes, book 12 of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. She had been warned to expect big changes for wizard Harry Dresden in this book, made obvious with a title like Changes. In fact, Ariane had been told that there was going to be so many changes that she’d be left begging for the changes to stop. With a warning like that, she braced herself through the whole book for the imminent changes to blow her mind, and she found herself disappointed that said changes didn’t actually really happen until the last ten pages. At least in the end, the very, very end, changes did happen and did blow her mind. Thank goodness it’s not the last book available in the series, because Changes ended on quite the cliffhanger. Ariane had to go start the next book right away to find out what happened next.
Fran read Karen Memory again—the steampunk/wild west story about an gold-rush era “sewing club” (ahem) and the amazing women who run it was so much fun to read the first time, she gave in to temptation and read it again (you can read Fran’s interview with author Elizabeth Bear at SF Signal). She also read V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic—Multiple Londons! Amazing Sartorial Feats! MAGIC!—and the non-fiction The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. The latter is filled with the history of coroner’s science as well as poisons. Okay. A Darker Shade of Magic‘s got some poison and pointy sharp things too. She’s now reading Jodi Meadows’ YA The Orphan Queen, and Ken Liu’s upcoming Dandelion Dynasty book: The Grace of Kings.
Laura normally avoids dystopian novels but she loved Station Eleven. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, writes tenderly about the current world we take for granted. A world where small rectangles hold the power to connect us with people around the world, where metal cylinders transport passengers across the sky, where warm air flows at the touch of a button, and something magical called the Internet answers every question. In Station Eleven, this time has passed although it can be remembered through artifacts on display at the Museum of Civilization. This novel describes a future where 99% of the population has been killed by a horrific plaque. As expected, there are many dangers including the threat of survivalist gangs and cults. There’s also a troupe of artists who travel from settlement to settlement playing Beethoven and performing Shakespeare. Their motto is lifted from Star Trek: “Survival is insufficient.” Through storylines that stretch across decades, the reader comes to know all sorts of characters whose lives intersect in unexpectedly compelling ways.
Being a book nerd, Laura promptly read two earlier novels by Emily St. John Mandel. The Singer’s Gun centers on a man who was raised by a family of thieves but tries to live more conventionally, even though his job and his love life hinge on deceit. The story takes us from art theft to espionage to an island in Italy where secrets aren’t what they seem.
In The Lola Quartet, the author gives us another disgraced character, this time a promising journalist whose professional lapses force him to move back to his hometown. When he’s shown a picture of a child who may be his daughter, he’s caught up in a dangerous swirl of vengeance he didn’t anticipate. Emily St. John Mandel is an excellent writer. Her novels showcase her many fascinations, from weather to music to comic books to the nuances of personal responsibility. Any of her books are worthy reads. Station Eleven is a new pinnacle, don’t miss it!
Rebecca Angel has been reading the Mark Crilley Akiko series to her nieces. Currently they are on Akiko and the Great Wall of Trudd. Akiko is a human girl who is contacted by very nice aliens to come with them and help their king on the planet Smoo. Akiko decides to go, and sets off with the knowledgeable Mr. Beeba, brave Spuckler, helpful robot Gax, and the sweet but mysterious Poog. It’s a great series with humor, adventure, and learning about courage and leadership. Independent readers will enjoy it, but it makes a fantastic read-aloud!
GeekMom received some of these items for review purposes.
As we begin a new year, the GeekMoms have been diving into their recent Christmas presents. This month’s books include a look at the power of introverts, a mystery from J.J. Abrams, some serious scientific answers to hypothetical questions, and a mysterious circus.
Laura is reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. This novel takes readers into the bright new world of a futuristic Google-ish company, where optimistic developers create products to improve society through complete transparency.
No lies, no crime, and perfect health are all via the wonders of a connected world. Laura thought it seemed like an overly long cautionary tale, but for days after finishing this novel, she kept noticing tech articles striking a similar tone. She may also have paid more attention to her own social media addiction…
She’s also reading Confessions of Madame Psyche by Dorothy Bryant. After reading Bryant’s brilliant sci-fi novel, The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You, Laura is working her way through this author’s diverse oeuvre. This engaging novel, told like a memoir, follows the life of a motherless half-Chinese girl who’s forced to masquerade as a psychic to earn a living. She grows into an independent-minded woman, whose experiences are emblematic of Northern California history.
And Laura is a fan of cooking ahead, pretty much a necessity in a busy life. She’s having company this weekend and will be using several recipes from Ina Garten’s new book, Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. You can’t go wrong with Roasted Vegetable Lasagna and Vanilla Semifreddo with Raspberry Sauce. Yum.
Lisa received, S., created by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, as a Christmas gift, and it posed the question to her: “When is a book not a book?” The answer: When it’s an event! This hardback, interactive novel first appears as just a weathered library book called Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka. In reality, it is an adventure filled with surprises… literally.
Like anything Abrams is involved with, this book demands the reader’s full attention. The story is really about the woman who finds this book (the final novel by a mysterious author) left behind by a stranger. The book is covered with comments in the margin, and soon she begins leaving her own comments. This soon turns into a conversation that draws both her and the stranger into an even bigger mystery. Not only that, but there are postcards, news clippings, discarded napkins, maps, and more that have been strategically inserted throughout to help events unfold.
Readers should note every scrap is vital and should be kept in its place. Be warned, this book will not allow readers to just be passive observers. They should get ready to make a space on the desk or table when experiencing this book, as they will become part of the adventure whether they want to or not.
She also received, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, creator of the science and tech nerd webcomic xkcd.com. Munroe attempts to use scientific logic to answer some of the strangest, and often hilarious, questions asked to him by fans. One typical example: “If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?”
Munroe’s conclusion is six pages long, with several of his stick figure illustrations and photos. This is pretty much how every question in the book is handled. Whee, let the joy of science and silliness merge! This will join another favorite reference book of Lisa’s, An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew out Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human by Richard Zacks. Learning is fun!
Rebecca Angel was chatting with a friend about her son’s introverted self… and her husband… and her daughter. The friend recommend she read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
It’s a non-fiction adult read (though any high-schooler would find it interesting, too). So Rebecca read the book and realized many of the traits of introversion she has herself! Like most people, she is not all one or the other, though extroversion is stronger.
The book challenges the American assumptions that success can only be found through extroverted traits. Instead, the author provides countless examples and studies that show introverts can be highly successful in business, friendships, and self-fulfillment. However, our current society is set up against taking their needs into account. As someone who runs workshops for groups of people, this book is highly useful in giving tips to make sure the introverts in the crowd can feel comfortable. And yes, the book did help Rebecca appreciate her introverted family’s gifts.
She recommended it to her book club for their selection this month—should be a great discussion!
Karen‘s favorite Christmas present was What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by world famous xkcd author Randall Munroe.
Based on a web spinoff to his famous comic, the What If? blog has been an amazing source for science writing for a couple of years now. When answering silly questions (“What happens if a baseball is pitched at 90% of the speed of light?”), Munroe illuminates fascinating bits of real science (“The ball would be moving so fast that the air molecules couldn’t move out of the way, and it would rapidly cause an expanding fireball that engulfs the whole stadium”).
The book has a lot of great content from the blog as well as additional features, of which Karen’s favorites are the sections titled “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox,” with questions that—for very good reasons—never got answered on the blog. Also, the book has a section on questions about lightning. Karen has dealt extensively with lightning phenomena for protecting the spacecraft that she’s worked on in the aerospace industry, so she was really impressed when she noticed that Munroe had all of his facts right in that section. It gives her good confidence that he’s reached a similar level of fidelity for the other subject matter in the book. She can’t wait until her kids are old enough to pull this book down from the bookcase and start reading it themselves.
Sophie intends to use 2015 to really start reading again, after finding very little time over the last few months. She is participating in the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge and has already finished her first book toward it: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
This is one of those books that is very hard to describe without giving away too much. The plot centers on a strange, monochromatic circus that suddenly appears on the outskirts of cities the world over. It is filled with unique tents, the contents of which captivate their audiences and create a band of devoted followers who travel thousands of miles to follow the circus around. However, the circus itself is merely the stage for a secret battle between two magicians, forced since childhood to duel one another by creating ever-more amazing creations, but as the years pass, something has to give.
Sophie has also been slowly reading through the first volume of Millennium: The Unofficial Companion by N.E. Genge, while she co-runs a weekly Millennium Re-Watch on Twitter (Sundays 5:30 p.m. EST, #XFNMLM). Finally, she has made a start on one of her Christmas books, X Marks The Spot: On Location with The X-Files by Louisa Gradnitzer and Todd Pittson. Louisa and Todd were the location managers for the first five seasons of The X-Files and the book offers a unique look at this aspect of television production, from gathering permissions to film in all sorts of locations to the challenges faced once the cast and crew arrived.
As we leave behind Halloween and head inextricably forwards towards turkey, trimmings, and tinsel, the GeekMoms are still finding time to read. If you dare to join them this month, you will find astronauts, dragonslayers, mysterious children, Plato, a platypus, and a rather curious dead dog.
GeekMom Samantha Cook just finished reading My Foreign Cities: A Memoir by Elizabeth Scarboro. She had held off reading it for some time, thinking that the love story with an inevitable end might be overwhelming and sad.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
A touching tale of two lovers, one with cystic fibrosis, this memoir turned out to be one of the most uplifting and validating love stories she has ever read. Scarboro’s writing is descriptive and endearing, like she is sitting in front of you narrating. The reality of the situation is not lost nor glossed over, but adds to the complexity of a shining example in what love is and what love does. In the end, this is a story about being present, brave, and fiercely alive in whatever time we have with each other.
As it often occurs, it took the threat of a movie for Lisa to finally dig into one of the many books she had been meaning to read. This was the case with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, a book that proved nearly impossible to put down.
The book became known for its weirdly clever use of vintage photos, but also has a wild story to tell. From Jacob’s first nostalgic and eerie introduction to his Grandpa Portman, to a tragic turn of events in the woods surrounding his grandpa’s home when Jacob was 15, to his travels to a remote Welsh island in search of his Miss Peregrine’s Home and the truth behind his grandpa’s life, the twists, turns, and surprises keep happening. They don’t stop until the end, leaving the reader wondering if they’d returned from a wild trip or woken from a dark and beautiful dream.
She also picked up Jasper Fforde’s mystery, The Fourth Bear, after her 12-year-old daughter brought home Fforde’s young reader’s novel, The Last Dragonslayer, the first book in Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam series. Having only read his classic book-jumping adventures in the Thursday Next series, which have resulted in Lisa really wanting a dodo as a pet, departing into his dark and wickedly funny Nursery Crime series seemed strange at first. Despite the Mother Goose-based characters and material, these nursery crimes are not for kids. Them’s mean streets for Detective Jack Spratt and his partner Sergeant Mary Mary, especially when journalist Goldilocks has gone missing.
She did, however, end up reading the more ‘tween-friendly The Last Dragonslayer as well, when her daughter wasn’t looking. Like Fforde’s adult novels,The Last Dragonslayer has a strong female protagonist, over-the-top strange and fun character names, and more puns than any book should be allowed. It’s hard not to keep reading through, with Fforde’s brand of Monty Python-esque humor and his attention to literary details; it’s hard to stop after one book!
GeekMom Judy has been enjoying a new book by Philip Yancey called Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? Having grown up a strict Baptist and finding a new path in her adult years, she has been fascinated by the discussions about how the church in general is perceived as being alienating in recent years. Judy found herself pondering the suggestions Yancey offers on how to turn this attitude around for days afterward.
It was doubly touching for her to read the book No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife while she was riding in a car headed to greet her son, who was returning from his deployment in Afghanistan. The author, Angela Ricketts, writes candidly about what it’s like to be married to a man who is married to the Army. Judy learned a lot about what military life is like for the families of our service men and women and thought of the author and her family many times as she then drove around the military base in KY that was mentioned often in the book. Reading as the mom of a soldier, but also feeling empathy from being a wife herself, made this book one that was hard to put down, even at the cleanest rest stops along the way. She rates it as one of the top books she’s read this year.
Judy was also fascinated to read a book called Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found, about a woman who finds out in her late teens that instead of “just being the clumsy one” in the family, she actually has a rare disease that will eventually rob her of her sight. This memoir follows the author, Rebecca Alexander (with Sascha Alper), through her young adult years, as she tries to make peace with the diagnosis—then pretend it really isn’t happening to her, all at the same time. Stories like this one, about how people survive the perils life can throw your way, are what make memoirs Judy’s favorite genre in the library.
So far, GeekMom Karen‘s favorite science-fiction novel of the year is The Martian by Andy Weir. This is a hard SF engineering story about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after a near-future NASA mission goes wrong. He has to use the resources he has to survive until a rescue mission can get to him. As a former NASA engineer, the mission design, engineering, and science all seem spot on to Karen, although the tone of some of the NASA engineers doesn’t quite ring true. The novel takes the character through a series of setbacks and achievements all the way until the end. This would be a good book for any teenager interested in the current future of space exploration, as well as any fan of the magazine Analog.
GeekMom Sophie has had very little time to read this month, thanks to a much-needed vacation to Walt Disney World. She did, however, manage to finish off her book club’s current selection, The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time by Mark Haddon. She hadn’t been entirely sure what to expect from this book, but it certainly wasn’t what she ended up reading. Although she enjoyed the story, especially the inserted diagrams and maps, she was surprised to find herself at the end having expected the book to continue far longer—and she found the ending a bit of a let down.
Sophie hopes to find a bit more time for reading in the coming months, especially as she just received a collector’s edition copy of A Vision of Fire, the debut novel by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin. Now that her jet lag has worn off, she intends to dive in and find out what all the fuss has been about.
GeekMom Rebecca Angel is having fun with philosophy by reading Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. They take deep questions about life, types of reasoning, and complex theories, and use jokes to explain them. It isn’t a gimmick: the jokes make it easier to understand complicated logic. Plus, they are actually funny!
Copies of some books were provided by their publishers for review purposes.
It’s Halloween season and the GeekMoms have been reading some surreal and spooky books to prepare, as well as our usual varied choices. Carry on reading for Floridian sci-fi, WWII France, a C. S. Lewis retelling of an ancient Roman myth, and a selection of classic children’s stories.
Karen recently finished up Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy with the concluding volume, Acceptance. This is a nice, tight trilogy of weird, surrealistic fiction that might be SF or might be fantasy depending on how you squint at it. In this trilogy, an area of the Florida coast has been… invaded? Appropriated? Incorporated? By some bizarre force. In the first book, Annihilation, we follow a quasi-scientific expedition that is investigating the now uncanny Area X. In Authority, we learn about the government bureaucracy that controls the expeditions, and in the concluding volume we return to the Area X with perspectives on its past, present, and future. That all sounds too simple—at every step this book subverts expectations an instills a feeling of abnormality. The characters are really the core of the book—how they are affected by, and in turn affect, Area X. None of them are uber-heroes; they’re folks (although not particularly “normal” themselves) trying to come to grips with the incomprehensible. An amazing piece of work from a World Fantasy Award-winning author.
Insomnia helps Laura get in plenty of reading time. Two novels stand out for her this month.
All the Light We Cannot See took author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write. His craftsmanship lifts this story into the realm of art. The two main characters, who don’t meet until late in the novel, are entirely memorable. Maurie-Laure is a blind girl raised by her father. He has built a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood so she will never be lost. He takes her to work with him at the Museum of Natural History, where learning builds on her fascination. When the Nazis take over Paris, Marie-Laure and her father seek refuge a walled seaside city. The other main character, Werner, grows up in an orphanage. His intelligence is obvious as he teaches himself to fix radios and understand radio waves. His talent marks him for a privileged spot in an elite military academy. As the war builds, these children grow up in strikingly different ways yet both do their best to stay true to an inner light that leads them. There’s so much to discuss that this title is perfect to read with a book club or to share with an older teen.
Strange Bodies makes the reader question identity, immortality, and what it means to be human. Author Marcel Theroux introduces us to a man in a locked psychiatric unit who claims to be someone else, a professor known as an expert in the work of Samuel Johnson. The impostor doesn’t look or speak like the man but knows every possible detail of his life. That’s impossible, because the person he claims to be is dead. So begins a tale of speculative fiction that leads from Silicon Valley to Soviet-era experimentation, all the while echoed by new words allegedly written by the reknown Johnson who has been dead for 230 years.
GeekMom Judy stumbled upon the book What If? by Randall Munroe, on the new book shelf at the library. The subtitle, Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, drew her in. Monroe has a degree in physics and left his job in robotics at NASA to draw science-oriented cartoons. Through his website, xkcd, he answers random questions from his followers, all related to the principles of science. This book is a compilation of some of his best questions and answers. Judy’s family was especially intrigued by the answer to the question “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” This is a great book for curious adults, and will encourage kids to see science in a whole new light.
The book Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul (drawings by Wendy MacNaughton) has so many beautiful watercolor paintings it could almost be considered a graphic novel. Instead, it’s a sweet story, that even school aged children would like, about a woman whose timid cat suddenly disappears for six weeks. When he comes back home he has suddenly sprouted a confident personality. When the curiosity of where he had been for those six weeks gets the best of her, the author goes to great lengths (clue, the subtitle’s mention of GPS) to figure out who is sharing the ownership of her feline. The pictures, paired with clever text, make this a fun read, for anyone who has ever loved a cat, even if he’s never cheated on you.
Finally Judy really enjoyed a book she heard about through a People Magazine review. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty is a book you might be surprised that you’ll love. The author falls into a job as an assistant at a crematory, helping to cremate people and body parts. Through her experiences she becomes much more aware of the concept of death and dying in our culture and eventually finds healing from a traumatic incident that happened in her childhood. Don’t be afraid of the subject matter. Sometimes facing the reality of death can actually make you further appreciate life.
Sophie hasn’t had much time to read over the last few weeks thanks to several trips and endless preparations for her family’s first big foreign vacation in, well, ever. She has been enjoying her book club’s current choice, Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. Although considered a classic in the USA, the book is much less well known in the UK. In fact she had never even heard of it until a few years ago when a librarian friend introduced her to the title. On a similarly surreal note, she has also been slowly making her way through the graphic novel adaptation of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. She has only read the first two chapters so far but is already fascinated by the ideas; London will never look quite the same again.
Finally, in advance of her son’s first trip to Universal Studios next week, Sophie has been getting her tongue in a twist by reading several classic stories by Dr. Seuss at bedtime. Her five year old enjoyed The Cat in The Hat and his crazy antics but was distinctly less impressed by Horton Hears a Who. Sophie on the other hand enjoyed the latter immensely, especially the somewhere political message that we could all stand to live by.
This month, Rebecca Angel read C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the Cupid and Psyche myth retold by the ugly, older sister, Orual. Rebecca’s mother built a Little Free Library on their front lawn last year, and recently a neighbor left this book with a Post-It, “A more mature read from this author. Excellent!” So Rebecca gave it a try.
It was excellent. The original myth is about the destructive jealousy of woman, wives should trust their husbands blindly, and the gods really like a pretty face. This version is about the lies and truths we tell ourselves to create a world that fits our needs, and one woman’s moral journey to unmask herself. A thoughtful rendering; it takes a spin right at the end to make you rethink the whole tale…and your own life.
Copies of some books were provided by their publishers for review purposes.
Wondering what the GeekMoms have been reading this month? As the new school year begins, our choices include time travel romance, astronaut biographies, kings’ messengers, Irish immigrants, killer cakes, and The Doctor. Phew! Best get stuck in then…
Rebecca and her teenage son waited months for Mirror Sight: Book Five of Green Rider by Kristen Britain to come in the library. After wondering what was taking so long, she found out there was only one copy. So Rebecca got them to order another copy and it came in! There were two bookmarks in the book for the week, because they could not possibly wait for the other to read it!
It was good. The epic fantasy series is not as well known, but it comes recommended by this family. The story follows Karigan G’ladheon and her adventures in the highly dangerous messenger service of the king. Britain does not rush the series, and the plot moves along at an even pace, getting more and more complex as the books continue. Although there is plenty of action, the author favors character development and relationships more.
She won’t say too much about this latest book because everything would be a spoiler if you haven’t read the series, but this one took a completely different spin by adding time travel into the 19th century-like future. Since the series is a typical medieval/renaissance world, she was quite unsure if the author could pull it off. Britain was splendid and at the end of the book, she needed big hugs from her son when she cried and cried. He understood, because he just read it as well. A good one! Start the series!
With this book, Strout definitely proves himself to be a strong player in the urban fantasy genre. Alexandra, one of the two narrating characters, has such a strong voice and is so well developed, it was easy to forget this book was written by a person outside of the story. Events in the book played out like a fast-paced movie, yet there was a lot of emotion at play here as well. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, yet the humor is very nicely balanced with suspense and mystery. Come for the geeky entertainment—there is plenty to go around, with nods to practically every corner of the geekiverse, from gaming to TV to books. But stay for the emotional kick, as the relationships between the characters grow and change. Melanie didn’t want to close this book when she was done and honestly, got a little teary at the thought of not being able to go on new adventures with Lexi, Stanis, Rory, Marshall, and Caleb.
Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance is one of those books—one of those series—that just haunts long after it’s done. It’s a psychological-nature thriller that packs an emotional punch and stays with the reader long after they close the book. Even at the end, one never quite knows what is real, what is going on. VanderMeer has a gorgeous style of writing, and with this third book, Area X especially came alive with so many rich elements. Each character had his/her own way of telling their piece of events and it really added to the world of the story. The nature geek in Melanie really appreciated the amount of research VanderMeer did to write the Southern Reach series. Area X is a character in its own right in this story. There is so much detail in here, but it makes the story organic, it doesn’t bog it down at all. This is a tough thing for a writer to accomplish, and VanderMeer proves himself a master at it. Beautiful imagery fills the pages of this book, making the world come to life in the reader’s imagination—so much so that there were parts that really made Melanie’s neck prickle. The book left her with a lot to ponder.
Lisa recently purchased William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, the final book of the bestselling William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy by Ian Doescher, and just by chance, ran across a similar concept tailor-made for Whovian Bard fans: Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by Justin Richards (Harper Design).
These “rediscovered” long lost notebooks compiled by Shakespeare indicate that The Doctor had long been an influential role in his creative life. Some of the Bard-Meets-The Doctor crossovers include “original notes” from Hamlet and notes on the origin of the faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is an interesting and fun twist on both history and literature. The “lost works” of Shakespeare stay true enough to the original source to encourage readers to dig out the original Shakespeare works as basis for comparison. If anyone can bring a reluctant reader to Shakespeare, it’s The Doctor.
Also this month, she re-read the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett comic fantasy, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. There’s nothing like a botched apocalyptic prophesy to make a person feel better about their lot in life. The armies of Good and Evil are getting ready for the final battle, but unfortunately, the Antichrist was the victim of a switched-at-birth scenario. Instead, the evil nuns who were supposed to raise and prep him for his coming are looking over the wrong child and the actual Antichrist is now a boy named Adam, who is happily living a perfectly normal life. The story is lively, thought-provoking, and very, very, funny. The interaction between the angel and demon, Arizaphale and Crowley, both contented long-time Earth residents, is especially hilarious. Lisa’s reason for picking up this book once more was that she finally convinced her husband to read it. Having a second person read it for the first time made the second time through even better, particularly with the conversations it produced. “What do you think about their take on the Four Horsemen?” “Who will play Arizaphale and Crowley in the movie version, should there ever be one?” (Lisa’s choice, by the way, is to get the BBC Sherlock stars Martin Freeman (Arizaphale) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Crowley) some off-season work.) Picking up a Gaiman book again after several years was like visiting an old, silly friend who may tell a story that’s been heard before, but it is still just as entertaining.
This month, Maryann is fascinated with time travel romance novels. Maryann really enjoys reading romances, and mixing romance with a science-fiction twist is a perfect blend for her. The two books that stood out this month are Across the Winds of Time by Bess McBride and Echoes of Tomorrow by Jenny Lykins. In both of these books, the main male characters travel forward in time from the 1800s to modern times, and with time travel comes lots of confusion and humor about their situation. At times, the authors had Maryann laughing out loud as the characters tried to learn about and adjust to all the conveniences of modern times that we take for granted. Often, the main female characters took great joy in stunning the guys with modern technology like fast cars, hot showers, and microwaved food. Just imagine going from using a privy to having hot running water in the house! No more horse-and-buggy day trips to go to the nearest town; now you drive there and back in an afternoon. At every turn, there was something new to take in and deal with.
Just when their situation in the future seems to be stabilizing, the guys find themselves back in the 1800s with their ladies. Turn about becomes fair play, as the ladies now have to get used to doing things the good old-fashioned way. They have to adjust to strange clothing like hoop skirts, dealing with no AC in the summer, and trying not to use unknown idioms. The ladies have to be very careful to keep from saying something out of time and character. Minding their place becomes difficult for the spirited women.
The stories also contain a lot of discussion about whether time travel is possible and if the characters out of time are sane. The characters worry about whether they can count on their trip through time not being reversed. At first, they want desperately to go back to their own time, but after falling in love, they worry just as much about leaving their lovers. The characters have to deal with the sadness of family and friends left behind mixed with the joy of starting a new life with love and fulfilled dreams. Do the lovers go back to their right time, or do they stay with their new loves? You’ll have to read to find out. These books were very entertaining, and Maryann is already searching for another time travel romance book!
Fran read and re-read a heap of science fiction and fantasy short stories over the past couple of months in preparation for the London World Science Fiction Convention. Several of her favorites include Aliette de Bodard’s Hugo-nominated The Waiting Stars from The Other Half of the Sky anthology and John Chu’s Hugo-winning The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere from Tor.com. When she wasn’t reading short stories, Fran finished Max Gladstone’s latest novel, Full Fathom Five, which features an excellent mix of economics, man-made gods, and magic; Beth Cato’s upcoming steampunk spectacular, The Clockwork Dagger, with gremlins, assassins, and airships … a perfect blend for trouble; and Nalo Hopkinson’s wonderful Andre-Norton-winning young adult novel Sister Mine, where the heroine, Maketa, sets out to live on her own, but must come to terms with her supernatural family first.
Next up? Everything has come to a full stop so that Fran can read Steven Gould’s latest Jumper novel, EXO. There’s an R&D designer at dirigible company Blimp Werks named Fran Wilde who GeekMom Fran Wilde is very interested in meeting. In addition, and more importantly, Jumper is an amazing series, and Fran is delighted to see the latest installment hit the streets!
Karen has been reading books about astronauts! This year, in response to two sad passings, two new biographies have arrived about two groundbreaking astronauts. Lynn Sherr’s biography of her friend, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, is particularly informative. Much less has been written about the Shuttle-era astronauts than the Apollo era, so the stories here are fresh and new. Dr. Ride makes one heck of a role model: an athletic tennis player, physicist with an interest in literature, pioneering astronaut, tough investigator of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and science educator, as well as being (as only became widely known after her death) a lesbian. The kind of personality who could make all those things work together in a sadly too-short life makes for fascinating reading.
Jay Barbree’s biography of his friend and space pioneer in Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight, makes for somewhat less enlightening reading. So much has been written about the Apollo space program (and Karen had read a big chunk of those books even before joining NASA herself) that the incidents Barbree chooses to include don’t shed much new light. And while there are incidents from Neil Armstrong’s pre-Moon landing life that make for a real humanization (he lost his daughter to brain cancer when she was 3-years-old and his house in El Lago, Texas, burned down, almost taking him and his whole family with it), there is almost no insight into his very private years after leaving NASA. Karen was hoping for at least a story or two about how the students at the college where he taught reacted to finding out that their professor was globally famous, but aside from some vignettes about returning for NASA functions and celebrations, that portion of his life is almost entirely elided. A good book for someone casually curious about the behind-the-scenes stories of the first Moon landing, but not much here for those already familiar with the history.
Sophie has been enjoying We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, which she picked up on the glowing recommendation of Supernatural‘s Misha Collins. The book follows the story of an Irish immigrant family living in Queens through the 20th century. While not the fastest-paced book ever written, the level of character depth and nuance is astounding—every person feels utterly real, with realistic motivations and responses to every situation thrown their way. The “Salad Days” chapter left in a lump in Sophie’s throat and a tightness in her chest for days, after it perfectly encapsulated feelings she had never known how to articulate. Misha will be running a book club in late September/early October to encourage people to read it and Sophie will definitely be joining in.
Also on Sophie’s reading list have been several books on fandom, in preparation for attending the Fan Studies Network Conference in London later this month. She devoured one of the most recent additions to a favorite book series, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural. The book is edited by Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen, the authors of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, and is a compilation of essays about Supernatural and its fandom. Sophie found the insights from Misha Collins and Richard Speight Jr. fascinating, but one of her favorite parts was an interview with Supernatural fanvidder Ash48 (Sarah House), which also encouraged her to reopen Sony Vegas after several months of estrangement. Sophie is now slowly working her way through Digital Fandom: New Media Studies by Paul Booth, the conference’s keynote speaker. The book discusses the ways that media, consumption, interaction, and fandom have and continue to change as the digital era evolves.
Helen has enjoyed catching up with a bit of reading over the summer months, in preparation for her move to teaching year 6 (10- and 11-year-olds) and a promotion to literacy coordinator this September. Although this is going to mean an increased workload, on the plus side Helen has been able to spend some of her holidays leisurely browsing in children’s bookshops and pretending that she’s actually working.
One book which Helen will definitely be using with her class this year is Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge. This spooky tale concerns Triss, who wakes up after an accident unsure of what happened. As the story progresses, strange things begin to happen to Triss and her family. There are leaves in her hair and she’s ravenously hungry, and suddenly her dolls start to move… Helen thinks that this is an extraordinarily well-written tale, with a great deal of rich description and wonderful, flawed characters. It’s probably most suitable for the 10- to 14-year-old age bracket, but older teenagers and robust younger children will also enjoy the story. They might put all of their dolls in the wardrobe though, just to be safe.
Another shoe-in for use with Helen’s class is a great new book in the mystery genre: Murder Most Unladylike (or Murder is Bad Manners in the U.S.) by Robin Stevens. Daisy and Hazel have their own detective agency at their boarding school, although they are only mainly called upon to locate missing ties. However, they are suddenly pulled into a real mystery when Hazel thinks she has witnessed a murder in the school gym. The girls have to work together to find clues and narrow down their suspect list, without letting the killer know that they are on to them. This is a great story which twists and unravels at a great pace. The boarding school setting is perfect for this, with its range of teachers and traditions, such as bun break. Hazel and Daisy are both wonderful characters, and Hazel particularly is drawn with a real warmth. Again, children of around 10 to 14 will probably enjoy this the most, although it really does have appeal to both older and confident younger readers. Helen is very much looking forward to reading the next volume over a bun break, and finding out what cases Daisy and Hazel solve next!
Doll Bones, a middle-grade novel by The Spiderwick Chronicles author Holly Black, is another spooky tale. This story centers on the friendship between Zach, Poppy, and Alice, as they grow up and their relationships change. The games that they play together are the platform for the story, and when one of dolls they use in their games turns out to perhaps be haunted, an adventure begins. Helen found the doll premise genuinely creepy, so would recommend this for readers aged around 8 to 11 who aren’t as easily frightened as she is!
Two books which would be great to use in school are The Mute Button by Ellie Irving and Smart by Kim Slater. Both books have the potential to not only be great reads, but also to help children who might be going through difficult times. Books are a powerful way to put the reader into someone else’s shoes, which can help children to find ways to deal with problems in their own lives. So, The Mute Button, suitable for children around 8 to 12, concerns a boy called Ant. He decides to stop talking and see how long anyone takes to notice, when a new older brother suddenly enters his already hectic life. The elective mutism is handled with real sensitivity but also humor, as Ant tries to deal with his problems without talking. Kieran in Smart also has problems. His home life includes poverty, drugs and abuse, and he is bullied in school for being different. Worst of all, he finds a homeless man dead in the river. He knows that the man was murdered, but no one believes him. Kieran decides to find the killer, using his drawing talent to help him solve the crime. Although it’s not mentioned overtly in the story, Keiran has some sort of learning difficulty or is on the autistic spectrum. This is handled extremely well in the story. It’s part of Keiran’s personality, but it doesn’t define who he is. Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, it gives you a window into his world. Helen thought that this book was suitable for slightly older readers, due to the subject matter and Kieran’s home life.
On a completely different tack is Cakes in Space, the new book for younger independent readers from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Like their previous book together, Oliver and the Seawigs, Reeve and McIntyre have crafted an epic adventure which is full of humor and daring escapades. Oh yes, and killer cakes. In this story, Astra has to overcome cakey fiends and spoon-obsessed aliens to rescue the ship carrying her cryogenically-frozen family to their new home on Nova Mundi. Astra is a great heroine, who bravely battles the sharp-toothed cakes along with her robot friend, Pilbeam. As always, McIntyre’s wonderful illustrations bring the story to life. Helen’s 4-year-old daughter loved hearing this as her bedtime story, and even asked for a Cakes in Space-themed cake for her birthday.
Finally, Helen has also been tackling a more grown-up tome: Hild by Nicola Griffith. This is a huge, complicated historical novel, detailing the life of Hild, a 7th century Northumbrian princess. Helen hasn’t quite finished the whole book, as she’s found that she can only cope with it in small pieces, to give her a chance to digest everything in between readings. The research which must have gone into this is mind-boggling, as the description and world-building is incredibly detailed and rich. Sometimes it feels like you can almost smell the woodsmoke or the dye vats, or hear the twang of the loom threads or quiet gossip of the ladies as they weave. The plot itself is fairly complex, with a number of warring factions and different religions and socio-economic groups to keep track of, as well as some very nuanced political machinations. Helen has even found herself having to reread some sections as she’s become confused. Hild herself is a very interesting character, who uses her intelligence as well as her station of birth to become an important member of the King’s household. Hild will certainly appeal to anyone who is interested in St. Hilda of Whitby or life in Britain in between the Romans and the Normans.
*Fran Wilde is a Tor author with a novel debuting in 2015. She has zipsquat experience designing dirigibles, though she’s planning on changing this. She’s been reading Tor books (and everything else) since long before she became a novelist.
Copies of some books were provided by their publishers for review purposes.
This month the GeekMoms have run the gamut from new interpretations of Beowulf to a murder mystery in post-Revolutionary War New England. There are graphic novels filled with aliens and wizards, shadowy government organizations, teenage boys painting models in their bedrooms, and girls being discovered floating in cello cases. If something there doesn’t pique your interest then I don’t know what will!
Lisa has taken on the summer reading challenge of poring over two new books featuring until-recently-unpublished writings by two classic writers: Thomas Bulfinch and J. R.R. Tolkien.
She was particularly excited to pick up Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Tolkien actually wrote this translation of Beowulf in 1926, before The Hobbit was even published, and apparently never intended to publish this translation. His son Christopher has recently granted permission for the release of both this meticulous translation and accompanying lecture-style commentary, as well as Tolkien’s own accompanying work in a similar style, Sellic Spell. In addition, Christopher Tolkien’s comments and contributions to this volume are both helpful and welcome.
A perfect companion to it is the Tarcher Cornerstone Edition of Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Classic Introduction to Myth and Legend — Complete & Unbridged by Thomas Bulfinch (Tarcher/Penguin), Thomas Bulfinch’s comprehensive compilation of myths, from Greco-Roman to medieval and Arthurian times, has been an essential element to booklovers’ collections since 1881, more than ten years after the writer’s death. This new collection, set for release June 12, not only includes his three volumes of myth and history in its original text, it features never-before published text from Bulfinch’s journals, and interpretations of more modern works published after his time.
Neither of these books is a simple read, and both demand the reader’s attention. With these new doses of familiar authors, however, readers will want to give it.
Karen has been taking advantage of the late-night feedings that come with having a newborn, and catching up on eBooks. Two that stand out from the last month are Karen Joy Fowler’s Nebula-nominated and PEN/Faulkner award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A fascinating character study of a young woman in college in California in the 90’s whose story looks back to the past (an unusual childhood driven by her father’s psychology experiments—to be any more specific would be spoilery) and ahead to her future. Fowler captures the person, the times, the environment, and the skewed weirdness of the premise just perfectly.
In addition, she picked up a much-talked about sf/fantasy novel from last year, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. A wonderful blend of fantasy (jinn and a more-or-less magic book) and sf (hackers and coders subverting the national security state) set in an imagined Middle Eastern emirate, this fast-paced book puts one in mind of a really great comic book. Alif, our young hacker protagonist, can be kind of obnoxious, but he does eventually learn the error of his ways, and the characters surrounding him more than make up for his obtuseness. A nuanced portrait of an environment that is too often stereotyped, Wilson does an amazing job of bringing her setting (both realistic and fantastic) to life along with her characters. If the plotting sometimes falls into slightly cliched ruts, that’s a small price to pay for this fabulous and well-rounded story.
This month Helen has tried a couple of middle grade books, suitable for children around 8-12 year olds. First up was CHERUB: The Recruit by prolific award-winning author Robert Muchamore and suitable for readers around 10+ years. Published a decade ago, the first book in the CHERUB series sees young scamp James, who seems destined for a life of crime, recruited to a shadowy government organization after he is orphaned. He is whisked off to a plush campus where he begins his training to become a spy, making friends with his fellow trainees. James ends up carrying out a dangerous mission, all while dealing with the normal early teenage issues. It’s a fast-paced and exciting ride, with James navigating relationships both inside and outside of his training and missions, as well as attempting to overcome his fear of water and swimming. The CHERUB series would appeal to fans of the Young Bond or Alex Rider books, and hopefully the reissues will gather a new set of fans.
Tethers by Jack Croxall is the first in a trilogy of books with an interesting mixture of genres. Set in Victorian times in the north of England, it also has a science fiction and fantasy edge, as well as adventure and mystery. The main characters are Karl and Esther, friends whose curiosity leads to them becoming embroiled in a strange and fantastic plot to control a magical artifact. It soon turns out that more people are also on the trail, and that they will stop at nothing to control the artifact and harness its powers. Karl and Esther are placed in mortal peril, and with the help of their companions they set out to find out the truth. Helen particularly liked that Karl and Esther weren’t content to wait around for the life that people expected them to have, and that they chose to break away and follow their instincts rather than stay on the expected path. Esther wasn’t limited by the politics of the day, and was able to use a new-found skill which she wouldn’t have been able to develop had she stayed at home. Helen hopes that the next book in the series will cover the expectations of women in the society at the time and how Esther deals with the limitations placed on her gender. Tethers is a great start to the story and she’ll certainly be checking up on Karl and Esther in the next volume.
Depression is the theme in Brilliant, a new children’s story by Roddy Doyle. Set in Dublin, it follows the nighttime adventure of two siblings, Gloria and Raymond, as they attempt to rid the city of a metaphor which has taken form: the Black Dog. It’s a modern fable or fairy tale, filled with talking animals, a friendly vampire, and a pair of children desperate to find a way to rid their uncle of the Black Dog who has settled on his back. It could be a good way to talk to children about mental illness, although I’m not sure how much of the subtleties children will be able to pick up, or whether they’ll see it in a more literal sense. Helen liked the story a great deal, especially that it hinged on the power of a spoken word. Also, she likes that Gloria is the hero and lynchpin, the child who won’t give up in her quest to rescue her uncle.
Malorie Blackman’s Noble Conflict explores morality in a future setting. In a world which has been destroyed by war and genocide, can young soldier and idealist Kaspar find his way to the truth about the past, and decide which side he should be fighting on? As with all Malorie Blackman’s novels, this one has great characterization and a meaty storyline, full of events that really make you think. There are twists and turns as Kaspar uncovers the truth, which will keep you guessing throughout. There is some description of torture in the book, so Helen recommends it for older readers.
The final book that Helen has read this month is Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. This book has been well publicized recently, being shortlisted for a plethora of awards, and winning the prestigious 2014 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. When Helen visited her local bookshop to buy a copy, the sales assistant at the till enthused about it, saying that it was a brilliant book and that all of the staff loved it. So, this is the tale of Sophie, who is found floating in a cello case in the flotsam after a shipwreck. She is taken in by English eccentric Charles, as it is presumed that her parents had perished in the shipwreck. Sophie however, thinks differently, and knows that her mother is alive. Charles teaches Sophie the important things in life: music, books, and Shakespeare. However, he fails to teach her the skills to be ladylike, and when Sophie is threatened with being taken away from Charles, they go on the run to find Sophie’s mother across the rooftops of Paris. Sophie is a fantastic heroine: brave, focused, and tenacious. She explores the roofs of Paris on bare feet and tightrope, learning to trust her new friend Matteo and teaching him to trust her in return. Helen really loved this book. There’s a poetic feel to the prose, and the characters are really multifaceted. Charles is a great father, being supportive but also letting Sophie go when he knows that she must follow her belief that her mother is alive. There’s a great angle of following your instincts and also finding the solution to a problem by looking at it from a different angle, literally in Sophie’s case, as she surveys Paris from high above.
Fran devoured The Best of Connie Willis (Del Rey, 2013), enjoying the short stories that were old friends equally with ones she hadn’t read before. The biggest treats were Willis’ notes on each story, telling the how and why of their writing, and also the journey of this amazing author. Fran is also working her way through two anthologies, 21st Century Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, 2014), and Women Destroy Science Fiction (okay, this is a magazine issue with the size and heft of an anthology, brought to you by Lightspeed Magazine and all of us Kickstarter supporters!). Fran and her daughter are reading Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea together, which is a WW2 story told from the perspective of 11-year-old Dewey Kagan, who likes science and math more than some feel a young lady should, and finds herself in a town that doesn’t exist, called Los Alamos, with her mathematician father. And, because Mount To Be Read is growing exponentially, she’s also started Jaime Lee Moyer’s wonderful sequel to her ghost-detective debut Delia’s Shadow, A Barricade in Hell (Tor, 2014). So gorgeously written.
With an official list now drawn up for this summer’s Young Adult Literature Festival in London, Sophie has begun attempting to read at least one book by as many of the attending authors as possible. Her journey has begun with Andy Robb’s Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, the story of 14-year-old D&D geek Archie and his attempts to change himself to try and win the affection of new girl Sarah. It’s an interesting story that shows the pitfalls of changing who you are to suit another, whilst also suggesting that sometimes changes should indeed be made in order to move on in life. Next up on the young adult challenge is Holly Smale’s Geek Girl.
Sophie has been filling the Supernatural summer hiatus by working through some books on the show. She found Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis a fascinating and resonating read (look for a fuller review soon here) and also enjoyed the first official graphic novel from the series, Supernatural Origins, which tells the story of the first weeks of John Winchester’s change from average guy mechanic to hunter. The story gave her a fuller appreciation for the tough decisions John had to make in those early days, however the latter half of the book turned into something more akin to a Sandman story and didn’t feel as in-keeping with the Supernatural verse.
Sophie has also been slowly making her way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which is a slow going if beautifully rendered story with the ability to really make you feel a part of the world created within its pages. She has just begun Charles Soule’s graphic novel Letter 44 where a newly inaugurated U.S. president learns the truth about aliens and what we’re doing to defend ourselves from them, a common enough trope given a new twist here. She found it refreshing to see a female captain aboard the spaceship, especially one that is pregnant—an outcome of long term space missions she had yet to see covered in comics.
Finally Sophie has been somewhat taken aback by her four-year-old son’s interest in the David Chauvel and Enrique Fernandez graphic novel adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book has taken well over a week to read yet his interest has been maintained despite the strange and often distorted illustrations.
Rebecca Angel just finished A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns. Set right after the Revolutionary War in New England, nothing is simple about this one, with bodies being found, people and horses going missing, unexpected romance, and a father trying to understand his son. Our hero/detective is William Rees, and he’s not an official detective, but very good at figuring these sorts of things out. This time, the murders take place on a Shaker community, bringing discord to the brethren of what is supposed to be a peaceful society. Good book!
Copies of some books provided for review purposes.
Once again, the GeekMoms have been reading an incredible variety of books this month. Keep reading to hear about a drug-filled near-future dystopia, a mouse detective, the “lost journal” of Assassin’s Creed‘s Blackbeard, and an academic introduction to the work of Joss Whedon. There’s even one book written by GeekMom’s very own Corrina Lawson. There’s something for everyone, so what are you waiting for?
Karen enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s latest novel immensely. Afterparty is a near-future science-fiction story about drugs, neural modification, and what happens when your brain goes haywire in very specific ways. The main character is Lyda, once a biotech millionaire, who we meet in a mental institution, where she and the angel that she now sees all the time reside. When she realizes that the drug that saddled her with a permanent messenger from God is getting out onto the streets, she takes her leave of the facility, so she and her lover (suffering from a different mental hiccup based on years of drug-enabled, high-level intelligence work) can hunt down the source. At times a road trip novel, at others a thriller, it is also a murder mystery, as Lyda comes closer to finding out the truth about who murdered her wife many years ago. But really, the strength here is in the characters, as is always true with Gregory’s books and stories. Every character is unique, quirky, damaged, motivated, and unforgettable.
Rebecca has been reading Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell, a great web series that has bound books you can buy. It is set in a world starkly divided between nature and technology. Two best friends are living at a school to develop their unique talents. Each is being drawn to opposite ends of the spectrum. The fourth book in the series brings in some teen angst and romance as the girls, Annie and Kat, grow up. The world and plot continue to thicken in fascinating ways, while the humor always weaves its way around every deep moment. Big recommendation for early YA through adult.
Helen‘s Twitter feed has been jammed with people raving about Matt Haig’s new novel, The Humans. It explores what it means to be human and how we navigate through life’s trials and turmoil, from the perspective of an alien who is masquerading as a Cambridge mathematician. There’s a very healthy dose of humor mixed in with musings on life, love, relationships, animals, mental illness, and peanut butter, making this a feel-good read that prompts you to consider the human condition and revel in the bittersweet paradoxes that life entails.
Tape by Steven Camden is both a love story and a tale of family connections, tied together by a cassette tape. Ryan records a diary onto tape after his mum dies, using it as an outlet for his feelings, especially about his first love. Twenty years later, Ameliah can hear a voice speaking on a old cassette, and it seems to be talking to her. Camden weaves both aspects of the tale together gently and although some twists are easier to see than others, they keep coming as the story progresses. There’s a lot of sadness in here, but it’s tempered by other aspects of the story, as we find out how things turned out for Ryan and the girl he loved.
Take Back the Skies, the debut novel by teenager Lucy Saxon, is an adventure starring skyship stowaway Cat, who is running away from her oppressive life with an abusive politician father. Set in Anglya, a sort of alternate reality Britain, children are disappearing and Cat uses her knowledge of the government to find out who is really in charge and what they are trying to do. She quickly discovers that the populace is being deceived, but by who and why? Although Helen enjoyed this fast-paced tale, some parts moved too quickly for her and seemed to jar a little. She would have liked Cat to spend more time building a relationship with the crew of the Stormdancer, as Cat seemed to settle in very quickly and become completely trusted almost straightaway. Some of the romantic moments also felt a little off-key, but that didn’t diminish the novel’s emotional payoff. Helen is looking forward to reading more from this promising young author.
Laura Dockrill’s new book for children, Darcy Burdock: Hi So Much, concerns the eponymous Darcy starting secondary school and negotiating the changes that this brings. Although Helen is a long way from being in the target audience, it certainly brought back some memories of that difficult time for her. Darcy is a great character, full of fizzy mischief, and also a talented writer who cares for her family and friends a great deal. She deals with a series of social setbacks in her own inimitable style, as she finds out what it’s like to be a small fish in a big pond.
Another great title about those early teenage years is The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle. Charlie is a social outcast at school, stigmatized for both his small size and his parent’s takeaway business. His overprotective mother embarrasses him, but is also keeping something important from him. Charlie thinks that he has found the way out of his lowly social position: skateboarding. But with a mum who won’t let him out of her sight and an even weirder best friend, can Charlie conquer the skatepark and win the respect of his schoolmates? Helen thoroughly enjoyed this funny and moving book. It covers all sorts of social issues, from bullying and fitting in to grief and guilt, with a real deftness of touch, so that you really root for Charlie. This is one not to be missed.
For the youngest readers, Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey is a real treasure. Filled with Grey’s beautiful, playful illustrations, it tells the long and curly tale of Hermelin, a mouse who lives in a cheese box in an attic and is possessed of a range of skills as befits a rodent Sherlock. As the mysteries build up in Offley Street, it’s up to Hermelin to solve them and save the day. But will the residents of Offley Street be pleased with their savior when they realize that he’s a pest rather than a person? Helen’s daughter loves this book so much that she has taken to sleeping with it on her pillow. There is no higher praise indeed than that from a 4-year-old.
Kay read like a glutton Corrina Lawson’s (our Corrina!) The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. This Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery, with magic underpinnings, a touch of romance, and a polish of steampunk, was a big question mark for Kay before she started, but it definitely found a sweet spot. The story’s heroine, Joan Kreiger, is the kind of heroine Kay loves to see: strong and resourceful, but recognizing realities—and in the Victorian setting as a marginalized Jewish female professional, she has a lot of realities to face. When Joan’s custom designs become involved in several deaths, her fashion business and personal freedom are in jeopardy. She calls on Gregor Sherringford, a consulting detective, to investigate. He not only digs into the mystery, but also into the family secrets. Kay approved of Joan’s curiosity and steadfastness and the believable quandaries. Her special pleasure is villains with sympathetic motivations.
Changing pace, Kay stepped up to the challenge of The Word Exchange, a debut novel by Alena Graedon. This reading experience immersed Kay in a near-future world, where over-dependence on personal technology leads to loss of verbal acuity to the point where scholars and the folks on the street are relying on word vendors to define everything from “fork” to “paradox” to “ambivalence.” The main character, Alana, works with her father at NADEL, the leading American dictionary. When he doesn’t show for their regular dinner date, Alana sets out to discover where he is and how his disappearance relates to the loss of words and the threats to the existence of the dictionary. In this story, language itself becomes both a character and a weapon. Kay suffered along with the characters as they lost not only friends and family members, but the ability to communicate. Although the book was overly muted in its establishment phases, Kay enjoyed it more once all the elements were in play and multiple characters had stories to (try to) tell. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a worthy project for adult language lovers or dystopian and near-future fans.
An interactive journal inspired by a popular video game may seem like a weird choice for a sit-down read, but Lisa found the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag-based book Blackbeard: The Lost Journal to be a surprisingly beautiful (and in some ways historically accurate) work. Lisa owns numerous publications on the subject of historic and fictional pirates, including at least six interactive books, so she is always skeptical of the next “novelty” book to come along. From its elaborate “pen and ink” drawings and watercolor images to its yellowed “authentic-looking” pages and removable “letters of marque” and other artifacts, The Lost Journal is an exceptionally crafted piece of eye candy for pirate lovers, regardless of their interest in the gaming world. The question is, however, is it worth actually reading? With author Christie Golden’s experience in the science-fiction and fantasy genres, the first-person, journal-style narrative is compelling, interesting, and wonderfully done. The attention to history and pirate lore, despite this being a fictionalized account, was also appreciated. Readers do not have to have played or even seen the related Assassin’s Creed game to enjoy this book, but it should also be a much treasured piece in the collection of those who love the game as well.
Fran just finished Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. The story is about Maia, a banished child who suddenly finds himself on the throne of a powerful empire and must navigate intricacies and intrigue while staying true to himself. It is a glorious, sweeping, richly layered story and she found herself cheering for more than one character. She is about to read A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, which is about a young pepper merchant who travels to a distant land and revels in its books and culture, before he learns of the struggles simmering beneath the surface. Fran is completely over the moon about a 2013 favorite read, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (see November 2013’s edition of Between the Bookends), winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Helene has been rereading (for the third time) the complete Outlander series, written by Diana Gabaldon. This latest reread was spurred by the impending June 10 release of the 8th book in the series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Helene doesn’t think she will ever tire of reading this series; it has the perfect mix of history, romance, science fiction, kilts, adventure, and mystery. Gabaldon is an incredible storyteller and Helene cannot wait to read the next installment.
On the other side of the storytelling spectrum is George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Before starting the Outlander series again, Helene read all five books in Martin’s popular series. While Martin is amazing at describing every detail of a scene perfectly, Helene found herself incredibly disappointed in his storytelling abilities and wonders if even he knows where he is headed with the rest of the series.
Dakster has taken the dive into theMan of Steel novelization by Greg Cox, so she can prepare to watch the movie with her husband. A plus to reading the book before seeing the film is how much she is learning about the background moments of the movie that you don’t see on film. You learn how old Earth was when Kal-El was sent to Earth (hint…hint…it wasn’t anywhere close to when he landed) and the description of Kal in the capsule is much different than what her husband has described in the film. She’s excited to compare the two and see what was included in one and left out of the other.
Sophie has been reading mostly non-fiction over the last month, mixed in between a frankly terrifying volume of fanfiction—the result of sinking deeply and wholeheartedly into the Supernatural fandom. Away from tales of gay angels, she has been slowly working her way through The Fan Fiction Studies Reader from The University of Iowa Press. This collection of foundational texts from the growing field of fan studies focuses on fanfiction and the ways it can be interpreted. After only a few chapters, she is already approaching the genre in a new way.
On a similar note, she is also working her way through Reading Joss Whedon from Syracuse University Press; a collection of essays covering aspects of Whedon’s work. He is one of the most recognized figures in pop culture and his work has touched nearly everyone at some point in his career, making him and his body of work a fascinating subject for study. In particular, Sophie found that the comparison to Shakespeare in the book’s introduction shone a whole new light on Whedon’s casting choices.
Copies of certain titles were provided for review purposes.
This month’s Between the Bookends covers comical cats, Lemony Snicket causing despondency yet again, and a story of ordinary hardship in World War I.
Sophie has been reading quite a mixture of books this month. She is working her way through Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery by Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella; the set reading for a Canvas Network course on FBI investigative methods; and recently finished You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson, which discusses how music affects us throughout our lives. She fell in love with Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, a story about fan-fiction author Cath as she begins college, but her book club’s previous selection Fractured by Dani Atkins (soon to be re-published as Then and Always in the USA) impressed her much less. It had an intriguing premise: Protagonist Rachel wakes up in hospital to a world very different to her own, where dead people are still alive. However, the conclusion felt like a let down. She has just started this month’s choice, How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, and is enjoying it very much. Finally, she is reading Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek. This is a collection of strange, often disturbing short stories that include John Wayne visiting a Wal-Mart and the answers to a questionnaire set to the music of Johnny Cash. It’s all very surreal and very brilliant and if you love Neil Gaiman, then it’s right up your alley.
Another trip to the library with her son has resulted in yet another towering pile of preschooler books entering the house. Current favorites are Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story by Sam Lloyd and Gracie The Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown. Her son has also picked out his first Roald Dahl book and together they are making their way through The Enormous Crocodile.
Lisa still isn’t sure why she continues to read Lemony Snicket. She and her daughter’s venture through Series of Unfortunate Events left her despondent and grumpy for days, not that the author didn’t warn her several times. Currently, she is making her way through his four-part young readers series, All the Wrong Questions, and just completed its second installment, When Did You See Her Last? The series is a noir-ish sequel to his Unfortunate Events, focusing on the 12-year-old Snicket as a recent recruit to an investigative organization of which the reader knows very little. Like most of his works, this series is a frustrating read: All adults are inept know-it-alls, the surroundings are decrepit and dismal, and the situations never seem to resolve themselves (the cliffhanger at the end of the first book hadn’t even been resolved, when the second book threw a whole new mess of “wrong questions” the reader’s way). However, these books are also cleverly penned and filled with resourceful and smart youth (for the most part), as well as witty and fun. For young readers, they enhance deductive reasoning and vocabulary. For adults, they provide page-turning plots and a stream of “chuckle-to-yourself” one liners: “I do not like Honeydew melons,” Snicket quips.”I don’t see the point in them.” The adventure and the silliness, the inability to take things too seriously, and the promise that despite dire circumstances, the strong can endure, must be the reason she keeps reading.
This month has seen Helen Barker reading some YA and children’s books. First up was The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss, which Helen really enjoyed. Centering on the struggle of teenager Pearl to adjust to the loss of her mum, it’s a heartwarming tale about family and a mother’s love. Pearl is a great narrator, self-deprecating and self-centered in the way that only teenagers can be, but you can feel her grief flow through the pages. After Pearl’s mum dies in childbirth, she withdraws from her family and friends, and the book explains how she finds her way back to the people who love her. It’s not depressing or overly sad though, but instead shows how Pearl begins to recover slowly, with help from someone unexpected.
Next up was Riot by Sarah Mussi. Set in a near future Britain where society is on the brink of crumbling, activist Tia is thrown into danger when a peaceful demonstration that she has organized suddenly turns violent. Tia is EVE, an undercover computer expert and white-hat hacker who is trying to stop her father’s parliamentary bill, which would mean forced sterilization of the poor, unemployed, and imprisoned. When the police and government attempt to track her down, Tia goes on the run, aided by riot poster-boy Cobain. It has shades of Cory Doctorow’s fantastic Little Brother and Homeland books, in that the plot concerns young people using technology to organize resistance to government plans, as well as a government starting to erode the liberties and rights of the people. However, Riot doesn’t have quite the same depth of plot or Doctorow’s authentic feel, but it is a fast-paced and exciting story, and it’s also good to see a female main character who is so tech-savvy.
With the centenary anniversary of World War I this year, Helen thought that Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne (author of the brilliant The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) would be a perfect choice. The story follows young Alfie Summerfield, son of a London milkman, and his search for his missing father. Alfie’s dad signed up on the first day of the war, and left for France soon after. The letters he sends home become more rambling and incoherent, before they finally dry up altogether. Alfie’s mum says that his dad is on a special secret mission, but Alfie doesn’t believe that is the case. When Alfie discovers that the truth has been hidden from him, he sets off to put things right and bring his dad home. Boyne deals with the hardships of ordinary people during wartime with a real deftness of touch. Although the narrator is only a young boy, so many aspects of the war’s negative effects are shown through his eyes. The hospital and the way that the soldiers are treated is quite shocking, and shows not only how devastating and terrible the experiences were for the soldiers, but how far rehabilitation for our armed forces has come. It’s a good introduction to the war for younger readers, but adults will be able to read between the lines and gain even more from the story.
Fran is reading The Time Traveler’s Almanac, an anthology of time-travel stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Divided into handy reference sections including “Experiments,” “Reactionaries and Revolutionaries,” “Mazes and Traps,” and “Communiques,” the encompassing anthology features authors from Isaac Asimov and Ursula LeGuin to Kage Baker, Greg Egan, Vandana Singh, and Charles Stross. Fran’s found that she has to ration herself to one story a day in order to keep from being lost in time herself. She is also re-reading Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars in order to prepare for the final book in the trilogy, Steles of the Sky. It’s due out in early April, and she is very excited.
Copies of certain titles were provided for review purposes.
Between the Bookends returns for 2014 with ghosts in Malaysia, murder and intrigue in Westeros, and a whole lot of My Little Pony!
Sophie has been reading a lot over the past few weeks. She just finished Dan Brown’s Inferno, the January choice at her book club, and rather enjoyed it despite its obvious flaws. She is currently working her way through You Are the Music by Victoria Williamson. It’s described as “exploration of how music makes us who we are throughout our lives.” She’s also (very) slowly progressing through Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files by Robert Shearman, reading the section for each episode after watching it as part of her complete series rewatch.
With her young son, she is reading My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume One by Katie Cook and Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by Daniel Sean Kaye. The latter is a wonderful series of cartoons about the secret lives of her favorite crustaceans. They also just finished a beautiful edition of T.S. Elliott’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
Kelly Knox and her daughter recently stumbled upon The Elements of Harmony, a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic guidebook. The companion to the TV show is packed with an episode guide, concept art from the show creator, character descriptions, and even song lyrics. (Kelly and her daughter have been happily singing “A True, True Friend” together.) Official companion books can be hit or miss, but the behind-the-scenes tidbits and close look at the world of Equestria make this one a must-read for Pony fans young and old alike.
Rebecca is currently re-reading a book for a book club she is hosting: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is a most unconventional romantic ghost story. It is set in the Chinese society of Malaysia during British colonial times, and she finds that setting and culture fascinating! The main character is Li Lan, who was brought up by her widower father, who seems to be more interested in sharing his love of books and maps with his daughter than keeping her in high society. Although that sounds like a great childhood to us now, once she becomes a grown woman, a good marriage is the only way to keep her family finances intact.
A marriage offer comes in from a wealthy family for Li Lan to become a ghost bride—a rarely used practice, where a recently deceased young man is officially married to a living woman. She gains all the status and money of marrying him for real, but is a widow forever (with no children or society life).
That premise was interesting enough for her, and then the dead fiance starts courting Li Lan in her dreams. And he’s a total jerk! Her foray into the Chinese afterlife, and the other people she meets, is a wonderful tale where the setting is just as important as any character in the book.
The last few months have seen Helen go into a reading frenzy, aided by many hours of having to feed her baby. The Kindle app on her new phone is the best thing that ever happened to nighttime feeds. The past six weeks have seen 20 books finished, chosen mainly by what’s on offer in the Kindle store. The main highlight has been George R.R. Martin’s epic A Game of Thrones, which Helen began knowing nothing about and, like many others, is now slightly obsessed by. She’s half-way through a dead tree version of A Clash of Kings now, enjoying the richly detailed world, as well as the excitement and intrigue of such a long-running saga. In a related vein is Rod Rees’ Demi-Monde quartet, including similar levels of sex and violence to Westeros, but this time set in an alternate reality and also concurrently within a sophisticated computer simulation. It also includes a large cast of characters, any of whom might come to a sticky end at any time, but also raises issues of consciousness, morality, and what it means to be human.
On a completely different tack was Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, which didn’t include any gruesome decapitations or battles, but did include mysteries and ancient secret societies instead. It was a quick and easy read, but no less enjoyable for that. After all that fiction, next up is Quantum by Manjit Kumar, which delves into the history of the science of quantum mechanics, and looks at how these theories were debated and discussed by scientists such as Einstein and Bohr. Whether Helen’s sleep-deprived brain can handle this remains to be seen, but she thinks it’s worth a try.
This month the GeekMoms have read an interesting collection of books covering math (from The Simpson’s, even), geometry, essays, and garbage.
Kelly Knox was taken back to her first year of college thanks to the delightful novel Fangirl from author Rainbow Rowell. The story follows fan fiction writer and identical twin Cath as she leaves home for her freshman year of college. Her twin sister wants to branch out and make new friends, leaving Cath fending for herself with a stranger for a roommate.
All Cath wants to do is squirrel away and keep writing her Simon Snow fan fiction (think Harry Potter), but finds herself reluctantly making friends and making her own way through an eventful first year at school. Fangirl is an engrossing read with likable characters and world of fandom that you will wish was real.
This month Patricia found time to check out Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets which was released at the end of October. What a fun read! And double bonus word score: You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of The Simpsons to appreciate the mathematical fun the show has enjoyed over the years.
The book is presented in a historical context, and the mathematics referenced throughout the show is thoroughly explained, in case your fan isn’t quite versed in Mersenne primes or the most recent status of Fermat’s Last Theorem. In addition, Singh is sure to explain every single joke, right down to the punchline. Serious fans of The Simpsons might get annoyed over time with the punchlines being presented, as I have been, but in general, it’s really cool to see a consolidation of 25 years of the show’s math jokes. This book will make a fantastic gift for the math (and/or Simpsons) geek in your life.
Sophie hasn’t had a lot of time for reading this month but she did manage to finish Stephen King’s Needful Things, her village book club’s choice for the Halloween season. It was her first novel by King and she found herself quite surprised as it was nothing at all like she had expected. She has also been reading two books from the Fan Phenomena series by Intellect. Star Trek (edited by Bruce E. Drushel) and Twin Peaks (edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulegue) are volumes of collected essays that serve as an introduction to that fandom. Look for her review of the series appearing on GeekMom soon.
Rebecca must be in a historical geometric mood right now, because the two books she is enjoying are Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Diana Taimina, and Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami by Meher McArthur and Robert J. Lang.
The crocheting book certainly shows you how to make cool stuff, but it’s not a craft book with lots of projects. Instead, it’s a historic journey of math in art, and by working with the yarn yourself, you can feel part of that history and find understanding of geometric concepts as well. The origami book is not a how-to crafty projects book either. This is a stunning collection of art that can be created with simple means. The authors write about the journey of origami as it has moved throughout the world. Expand your mind, be inspired, or just look at pretty pictures!
Judy has had a great run on library books this month, finding a few that she hated to turn back in because she loved them so much. The first one was Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. Why do we have no problem eating chickens but wouldn’t think of eating a cat? Why do some cultures let their dogs sleep in their beds with them and others see dogs as vile, horrible creatures? Does dolphin therapy really help autistic children come out of their shell? All of these questions (and many more) about our relationship with animals are discussed in this thought-provoking book.
Then there was Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link, about a newly divorced woman with three sons, one in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. They had been living the middle class life, comfortable and stable, until an unexpected separation, then divorce, hit their family. Suddenly Mardi is living in a rundown farmhouse, carving out a new life for her sons with only the income from her occasional writing assignments. She resorts to gardening, raising chickens, and being as creative as possible to supply the very basics of life for her family. It’s a story of doing whatever it takes to survive, and living above the idea that life owes you a comfortable place to land. This true story will make you appreciate the basics you enjoy every day and be more open minded to the silent struggles of those around you.
Judy’s most recent life changing book is called Garbology by Edward Humes. This book is a thorough history of how the United States handles trash, from the turn of the century when it was common to throw household garbage in the streets, to trash services today, and where the trash that is collected from the end of your driveway really ends up. One chapter covers the massive amounts of refuse that is currently floating around in our oceans, and how it affects the wildlife and our own food supply. Another covers the question of how effective recycling truly is. A group of researchers put electronic trackers on pieces of trash, then put them in the system, tracking where they really went. The results were surprising. The chapter that impacted Judy personally was the discussion of plastic grocery bags and how they impact our landfills. Her family is preparing to try an experiment to see if they can live without any plastic bags for a two week period. That’s the definition of a good book — one that changes your life.
Fran tore through Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice – a space opera of incredible proportions and perspective, about a character named Breq who is on a mission that weaves purpose and potential through themes of empire, individuality, hive minds, and more. Leckie’s attention to detail, to language, and to excellent explosions is exquisite, and Fran has a lot more to say about this one than space will allow. Stay tuned! Fran also finished Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema – a YA novel about copyright, intellectual property, hacking, and the families we make for ourselves. She’s currently reading Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent and Mary Szybist’s National Book Award-winning poetry collection, Incarnadine.
This month, the GeekMoms have tackled both fiction and non-fiction. From vampires and classic Stephen King to historical fiction and novels featuring strong female characters, the selection this month is quite varied!
At the urging of a friend, Kris Bordessa read Wool by Hugh Howey. She was intrigued first by the making of the book: Wool started out as a self-published short story that eventually attracted enough fans to encourage the author to expand on the work. He began releasing chapters serially, and ultimately found himself with a novel published by Simon & Schuster on the New York Times Bestseller list.
The story itself is an incredible work of imagination and the author deftly weaves intricate details together to draw the reader into a time hundreds of years after an apocalyptic event. This is not the burnt-out future of The Road, though. The functioning society looks somewhat familiar, but as the story unfolds we realize that there are more secrets within—and without—this new world. Gutsy and curious Juliette, the story’s central character, stretches societal norms, survives an ordeal that nobody has ever survived, and uncovers a wicked truth.
Sarah Pinault is still working on Gone With the Wind, but took a hiatus mid-month to begin reading The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Four books devoured in less time than it took to birth her first child! Now that Sookie has moved on in her affections she is enjoying it so much more, but wonders how on earth so many supernatural beings can exist in such a small place. She is also reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp, piece by piece each day, in an attempt to control time. To enjoy each moment of toddlerhood instead of fretting about it.
Helen Barker has spent time with Tris and Four this month, re-reading Divergent and Insurgent in preparation for the release of Allegiant. She’s interested to see what happens next in this dystopian YA trilogy, especially as reviews seem to be rather mixed. Helen’s “fear landscape” would include being in an out of control car, being late for an important appointment, and not knowing whether she’d left the oven on.
In a different realm entirely, Helen has just finished Catherynne M. Valante’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. This is another adventurous romp through fairyland, with a cast of colorful characters supporting September on her journey as she attempts to stop the exodus of shadows to Fairyland Below.
Samantha Cook is reading In Defense Of Childhood: Protecting Kid’s Inner Wildness, for both personal and professional reasons. Written by Chris Mercogliano, co-director of the Albany Free School, this book takes a critical look at the “domestication of childhood” with community and educational systems that suppress kids’ abilities to create, experiment, and have adventures that are key to healthy development. He argues that by taking the wonder, autonomy, and physicality out of our children’s lives, we are systematically destroying the spark that leads to individuality, innovation, and passion.
There isn’t much in the book Sam disagrees with. Mercogliano’s arguments line up with the experiences Sam has had in 20 years of teaching in both formal and informal settings. Perhaps the one section where their opinions diverge is technology. Mercogliano argues that technology such as video games interferes with real play, and Sam feels that technology can enhance it. Sam admits that as the founder of an organization that teaches technology skills, she sees its possibilities in a more optimistic and varied way.
Professionally, this book inspired her to create more space for “inner wildness” in her programs at Curiosity Hacked (formerly Hacker Scouts), and also in her work in helping to build the community at the Oakland Free School, which will open next year. But personally, Sam found many ways she could be supporting this idea with her own kids even more. In his last sentence, Mercogliano says it best: “It is absolutely possible, despite the many obstacles and complications, for us to re-establish childhood as an undomesticated period of fertile growth and exploration, the time set aside for children to construct whole, authentic selves that are imbued with the spirit and determination of their inner wildness.”
Rebecca Angel had two hours to hang out at the library and had forgotten her work, so she had the unexpected pleasure of picking out a book to pass the time. The title of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo caught her eye—the cover was glittery. The plot is a mid-19th century Chinese young woman in (what we now call) Malaysia, who has few marital prospects, and becomes the “ghost bride” to the dead son of a powerful, wealthy family. It’s an old, strange custom, but her situation is desperate.
Rebecca was intrigued, not just by the plot, but the location. She lived in Singapore as a youth, and visited Malaysia several times. It is a region of the world she once called home, but is not often featured in fiction. She decided to take a chance on this first time author, with no praise or quotes on the cover of her book. A quarter of the way in, it’s a keeper! Mystical dreamworlds, fascinating ancient customs, a smart heroine who is caught by tradition, and a mysterious romance. She can’t wait to finish it!
Sophie has had very little time to read recently but has somehow managed to keep up with her book club. She recently finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, a very interesting and often funny novel about an Australian college professor with a personality similar to The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper who decides to find himself a wife.
The latest book club choice is Needful Things by Stephen King. She is looking forward to reading it as it will be her first literary encounter with the author despite enjoying many of his films and TV shows. For GeekMom, Sophie has recently read Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film, a compendium from the BFI that looks at the history of gothic film since its inception. She is also reading two books from the Fan Phenomena series from Intellect: Star Trek and Twin Peaks. She hopes to get around to reading the books she received for her birthday a few weeks ago including the latest from one of her favorite authors—Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America 1927.
Laura has been reading some great novels featuring strong women. Her favorite is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s set in a time when scientists were still called “natural philosophers.” The excitement of discovery, and desire to codify or at least profit by those discoveries, drives this story. It revolves around Alma, whose passion is botany. Relentless curiosity leads to a life unusual for a woman of her time, one that catapults from being “the smart one” to adventures in science, love, and self-expression. This is a fascinating read.
Also not to be missed is Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life. It’s inspired by an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79). Main character Axie grows up in Dickensian squalor. When she witnesses her mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth, Axie begins to understand the unique perils of being a woman. She works to free herself from poverty and ignorance, provides doctoring that’s against the law, and accepts the consequences with prideful disdain.
After a bout of preterm labor, the very pregnant Ariane was put on bed rest. Talk about suddenly having a lot of free time to read! She finally finished Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, a story about a man from Mars introduced to life on Earth. After having read the light fare Have Space Suit—Will Travel by the same author, Stranger in a Strange Land was surprisingly loaded with philosophy, religion, sex, and politics. It was interesting, but very strange indeed.
Reading White Night by Jim Butcher next was a welcome change. As the ninth book in the Dresden File series, it was as good and entertaining as its precedents. You really can’t go wrong with a cocky wizard protagonist. After that, Ariane asked for reading suggestions and went with GeekMom Karen’s recommendation for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This young-adult fantasy novel included a mysterious wizard, a strong-willed girl, a rebellious yet good-natured fire demon, and a wicked witch. It was a quick and easy read, but delightfully imaginative and captivating in every way. Now she’s looking forward to watching the Miyazaki movie adaption.
Kay’s reading has been all over the Dewey decimal system. She read a historical romance, a memoir, and an innovative textbook that shows the way for books of the future. Anne Stuart’s Never Kiss a Rake features a never-give-up heroine, Bryony Russell, who goes undercover in Victorian London to discover who bankrupted her family and caused her father’s death. In the course of protecting her sisters and investigating the events of her family’s downfall, Bryony goes undercover at the household of the Earl of Kilmartyn, a notorious rake. Anne Stuart is known for writing heroes who are bad boys with a capital B before they eventually reform; our hero here is not her most extreme, which made the book more pleasant for Kay. Bryony’s character is portrayed a little inconsistently in what she knows and how pragmatic her reactions are, but the descriptions, emotions, and mystery added up to a readable story.
An Animated Life by legendary animator Floyd Norman (named a Disney Legend) is a memoir of his life at animation studios. The writing is plain and straightforward. Kay felt like she was sitting down and chatting with a long-lost relative and catching up on decades of stories. He tells inside stories about long years of work at both Disney and Pixar, including work on such beloved films as Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc. There’s even a chapter on P.L. Travers’s visit to the studio for the Mary Poppins movie. Floyd delivers the flavor of the 50s, 60s, and later years in the narrative, and his tales of studio events and personalities enriched Kay’s memories of the finished films. The end of the book also includes hints, tips, and short exercises for future animators, but Kay failed horribly at these.
Finally, Kay is reading a textbook, The Discipline of Organizing by Robert J. Glushko of the University of California, Berkeley. TDO describes ordering, curating, describing, and labeling items (“resources” in TDO-talk) from the point of view of library science, computer science, cognitive science, law, and even the everyday reader. Kay is reading the hardcover, but it is a groundbreaking, forward-looking book with added charms as an e-book, because it is a “six-million-dollar man” version of a book, and all those millions mostly go into the e-version. This book has categorized notes, so some annotations are targeted to librarians, some to lawyers, etc., and readers decide which notes to follow. The authors are also collecting contributions from classes that use the textbook, and adding new contributions, so the 2nd edition of the hardcopy will benefit from all these innovations but the website and e-version can be modified more intermittently. Check out a sample chapter if you’re curious.
This month, the GeekMoms have been captivated by a Kickstarter reward, entranced by classics, and educated about science fiction. What have you read lately?
Fran dropped everything to read V.E. Schwab’s Vicious. She received the book as part of a Kickstarter reward; when it came in the mail, she opened it casually, read a few pages, and soon found herself furtively reading while cooking dinner and by flashlight late at night.
Twenty-four hours later, she finished it and put the book back into her to be read pile.
Vicious is about choices and second chances and morality and villainy and pain and pronouns and tropes and relationships. It is addictive and fun and does not shy from the difficult. It feels like V.E. Schwab took Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Donna Tart’s The Secret History and Buffy and the X-Men, a couple poets, two philosophers, and a box of masks and capes down to a secret lab in an undisclosed location and emerged with not a Frankenstein monster, but something entirely new. Something that is brutal and wrenching and very, very good.
September was another month in which Patricia could take a break from her Air War College coursework and enjoy a pleasure book. This time she kicked it old school and revisited one of her childhood favorites: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. She caught a wonderful Amazon promotion in which the entire Anne collection is available for only $0.99 (and it still is, as of this writing) and therefore has been able to delve even deeper into Anne’s stories than ever before. Patricia has one more week to enjoy the books before returning to her studies; so far in September she has read Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and is nearly finished with Anne’s House of Dreams. This is a series that’s well suited for pre-teens through adulthood, chronicling the adventures of Anne Shirley, an orphan girl who is accidentally taken in by a Prince Edward Island couple and grows up into a successful woman, but not without her share of adventures (and humorous misadventures!). The descriptive settings in the series have made Patricia want to visit Prince Edward Island one day.
Sarah has taken the plunge with a book that has been on her shelves, unread, for ten years. Fully immersed in the land of cotton, she is finding Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone With the Wind to be as engaging as the movie, but with several shocking differences.
One hundred pages in, she is delighted to know the back story of Gerald and Ellen O’Hara’s marriage, surprisingly unalarmed at Scarlett’s lack of moral fortitude, and completely in love with a cad, oh Rhett!
Next to this epic work lie the week’s findings from the children’s library. Her family is currently addicted to Pete the Cat: I love my White Shoes and everything by Mo Willems, though GeekMom’s own Melissa Wiley gets a look with Fox and Crow are NOT friends.
Karen Burnham has been reading some non-fiction lately and is excited to recommend Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack to everyone she meets.
It is relatively short and written to be accessible to a wide audience, and it provides insights into the history of science fiction that may be new to you. Karen was especially happy to learn new things about science fictional themes and aesthetics in musical forms ranging from jazz to funk to hip-hop, and also about some black 19th century authors who dabbled in science fiction. If you have any interest at all in the history of literature and art, you could do a lot worse than picking this up.
Taking a break from serious stuff, Karen picked up one of the excellent adventures from the Pathfinder Tales RPG-tie-in series from Paizo publishing. Pirate’s Honor by Chris A. Jackson is the modern equivalent of a pulp adventure novel. Torius Vin is a pirate with a heart of gold. Celeste is his lunar naga lover and navigator. After a theft gone wrong leaves them on the wrong side of the powers that be, they hatch a plot to restore their fortunes and take revenge on those who would mess with them. Add in a half-orc bosun, stiffly elvish first mate, and snarky gnome engineer, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a fun adventure novel that’s quick to read. If the eventual plot gets rather loaded down with complication after complication (mostly stemming from Celeste & Torius’ unfortunate tendency towards emotional drama), at least it is still a fast read in the great pulp adventure tradition. This is a fast-paced sea story with good dialogue, just the thing for a rainy weekend.
When Lisa Kay Tate picked up Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher, she was unaware the unintended side effects of it, most notably the uncontrollable urge to read passages aloud to anyone who would listen: “Proceed with care…I have earn’d the penalty of death in many systems…./Luke: Tut, careful shall I be/Being 2: — Thou shalt be dead!”
She has plans of building a backyard barn soon for the sole purpose of staging dramatic readings, complete with chorus and costumes.
This month, the GeekMoms are reading about zombies, Shakespeare, art, gardening, and peculiar children. What’s on your bookshelf?
Rebecca (along with her family) is currently enjoying The Impossible Museum: The Best Art You’ll Never See by Celine Delavaux. It’s a great book to flip through and wonder about. The sections are “disappeared,” “transformed,” “destroyed,” “hidden,” and “stolen.” The “destroyed” chapter is the hardest to look at, since most of these amazing pieces of art were ruined on purpose through war, like the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The “hidden” chapter is so interesting; it showcases works that are hidden for their protection (like the Cave Paintings at Lascaux) and works that private collectors just keep to themselves. Rebecca highly recommends it!
Do you remember reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid? Cindy White does, and she is having a blast working her way through all the different paths in To Be Or Not To Be, a new novel by Ryan North written in the Choose Your Own Adventure style. The book gained notoriety after it became the most funded publishing project in Kickstarter history (North was seeking $20,000 and got more than half a million) and Cindy is happy to report that it’s just as awesome as advertised. As the title implies, the story is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and would be a great introduction to the Bard for teen or tween readers. It’s written in modern, irreverent language and lets you “play” as Hamlet, following the original play, or you can branch out into new territory as Ophelia, or even Hamlet Sr. There are also fun illustrations by notable artists from animation and web comics. But probably the best thing about it is that it’s never the same book twice.
Lisa is likely the last person to ever want to read, much less thoroughly enjoy, a paranormal romance, but she likes a good zombie story. Warm Bodies by Issac Marion, although dark, somber, and at times gag-inducing, actually melted her icy heart. When a young (or maybe not so young; he really isn’t so sure) undead man encounters the girlfriend of a man he just killed, his longing to become a feeling, living being is slowly rekindled. Those who enjoyed the movie version should be warned: This book isn’t the quirky “zom-rom-com” of its film companion. R, however, is much more philosophical and “alive” inside. Plus, the zombie culture is much more organized. There are zombie-versions of schools, marriages, church, hierarchies, and even sadly-lacking attempts at sexual relations between the undead. It’s the evolving relationship between R and Julie, and R’s internal battle with himself that helps Marion’s slim novel maintain its status as a page-turner throughout.
Fran is reading 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, after hearing the author read from the book last week. She says, “Nova’s voice sweeps you up and carries you along the lives of her characters like a river. The reading was so amazing, and I hadn’t read this one of hers yet, so I snapped it up. I’m loving it.” She is also re-reading The Price of the Stars, by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. She loves space opera and this one, recently re-issued as an ebook, is a longtime friend. Fierce female characters, things going pear-shaped when you least expect them. Oh yes. She’s also finishing up her nonfiction read from last month, Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, and confesses to crying in the bathtub at one point. Over nonfiction.
Laura has been reading enticingly magical novels lately and can heartily recommend three. Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is told by a seven-year-old boy whose childhood is changed by his neighbor’s supernatural secret. It’s a poignant tale of true friendship and discovery. Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe takes us along with a young musician as he searches for a legendary song that might heal his grief. The source, he’s told, lies in a mountainous area among a dark-haired people called the Tufa. Their hidden knowledge is much more than a song. For a real feast, Laura suggests Patrick Rothfuss’ 672 page book, The Name of the Wind. It’s the first part of an extraordinary new trilogy, taking the reader deep into a wizard’s mind. Reviewers are calling it “profound,” “riveting,” and “an unrivaled masterpiece.”
Kris picked up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, finished it quickly, and passed it on to her son. Well-written and captivating, the story was a bit creepier than she expected—actually, it was nothing like she expected—but she and her son both enjoyed it. The photos interspersed with the story are from several collections and include some seriously quirky, slightly disturbing shots. The question: Which came first, the story or the images? Kris also started reading The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. The title may sound a bit apocalyptic, but this is by far one of the best, easiest to read books about growing food that she’s picked up. The author really delves into the details, explaining why one method works better than another, and walks readers through the processes that have worked successfully in her own garden for years.
Summertime and the reading is easy! Hopefully, you’ve managed to get in some beach or hammock reading.
This month, the GeekMoms have read Sherlock Holmes mysteries, anthologies featuring the wonder of discovery, young adult fiction, the latest from Barbara Kingsolver, a little classic Heinlein and a book about—of all things—fonts.
Fran is reading Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. She’s loving the stories behind the decryption of the ancient Linear B texts, as well as the lives of individuals like Alice Kober, who helped break the code.
She recently finished Yoon Ha Lee’s amazingly beautiful collection of science fiction short stories, Conservation of Shadows. Drawing on mythology, mathematics, computer science, Korean history, space warfare, and themes of revenge and moral dilemma, the stories in the collection are carefully folded so as to seem tiny at first—and imbued with enormous ramifications later. Fran has just started Bee Ridgeway’s time travel adventure romance, The River of No Return.
Lisa Kay Tate recently picked up The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams as part of her summer reading escape. This 2009 compilation of 28 stories featuring the most celebrated sleuth in literature—as well as in movies and television—takes Holmes and his ever-present companion Dr. Watson on adventures with a macabre or supernatural edge.
Like recent collections featuring Holmes, the book is a literary who’s who of suspense, horror, fiction, and fantasy authors. In addition to Adams’s being called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes and Noble booksellers, these improbable adventures feature some impressive contributors: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anne Perry, and Anthony Burgess, to name a few.
Lisa finds such compilations some of the best choices for casual reading, as these tales can be read in any order or one at a time between other reading list books. She has found this particular fast-paced and intelligently written volume hard to put down, if the first few stories are any indication of what lies ahead. However, whether or not the remainder of these tales, like the classic stories of the sleuth they celebrate, live up to the book’s strong start remains a mystery until the last tale is devoured by the reader.
Laura is escaping into fiction lately. She couldn’t put down Barbara Kingsolver’s newest book, Flight Behavior. In it, characters named for an Italian sculptor and an ancient Roman poet connect in a backwards town over the fate of migrating butterflies. The details in the science and the characters are exacting. This is a good book to read outside.
Laura is also marveling over Jewelweed by David Rhodes. It’s told from many viewpoints—a precocious child, a wary young mother, an ex-con, a long-distance trucker, and many more. Each character reveals him or herself in quietly brilliant observations about everything from philosophy to sex.
Sophie has just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s the story of Auggie, a boy born with an awful facial disfigurement just starting middle school after having been homeschooled his entire life. The book follows his first year at middle school from different perspectives: Auggie himself, his older sister, and other children at the school, showing the different ways in which they see Auggie and the world. It’s a book she never would have picked up herself, she is glad joining a book club has pushed her to explore different genres.
Karen Burnham is currently reading One Small Step, an all-Australian woman anthology on the theme of discovery. Edited by the most excellent Tehani Wessely, this book contains multitudes. It may look like an anthology of wall-to-wall space exploration, but these stories are as much about personal discovery as outward exploration (although there’s plenty of that as well).
Karen loves the opening story, Grass by Michelle Marquardt, featuring a young girl who is part of a colony trying to carve out a living on an interestingly hostile planet. There are aliens and alienated family. It is immediately followed up by the deeply creepy fantasy, Of Blood and Incantation by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, which provides different views on motherhood through three main characters. Definitely worth checking out.
Karen also recently read a debut novel by Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. Samatar has previously published accomplished poetry, and her poetic prose shines through in this fantasy story. The story is told by a young man as he leaves his native island to head for the big city, Olondria, and the adventures he finds there. Obviously that’s a much, much too simple synopsis, but to fully summarize it would take almost as long as the book itself. There are ghosts, festivals, battles, cults, and politics. Recommended for fantasy fans who love beautiful language and an immersive reading experience.
Rebecca Angel is reading Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. While visiting a friend last weekend, she pulled out the book and was asked, “Why are you reading a book about fonts?” She answered, “Because I find them beautiful and interesting.” And then there was a twenty minute discussion about comic sans, which another person in the room was using as the font on her college bio exams and which Rebecca did not think was an appropriate use. Lots of opinions. You care more than you know; check out the book!
Kate Hannigan just finished The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer as her own daughter headed off to a summer arts camp. Wolitzer asks big questions in this story about six friends who get to know each other at a summer performing arts camp. Nixon is in the White House, and these precocious teenage observers are blooming with talent and potential. Wolitzer takes readers through the decades of their lives, as some sustain the promise they showed at 15 and others lose the spark of creativity that made them so interesting. And while Wolitzer explores envy, creativity, and authenticity, she’s at her finest when she writes about the very human moments of living. Kate especially loved the way her main character, Jules, writhes with jealousy when she has to read the annual Christmas cards from her best friends and witness more of their successes. It’s a story that lingers, forcing a consideration of what defines a successful life.
Though it came highly recommended, Kris was a bit skeptical about Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue—could a story about a woman held captive for years with her young son be anything but depressing? Turns out, yes.
The author captures the perspective of five-year-old Jack beautifully and adeptly expresses the intense attachment between Ma and Jack. I was particularly impressed with Ma’s creativity in entertaining young Jack while in captivity. Kris also sped through Ashfall and Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin, the first two books in a planned trilogy for young adults. Set during the months following an eruption of a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park, the apocalyptic novels feature a cast of characters struggling to survive in an ash-choked, snowy landscape. As food dwindles, the daily battle between life and death breeds government corruption, gang wars, and even love.
If you are delighted by robots, forest elves, trickster gods, and delicious family secrets, all set in a spooky english boarding school setting, Melody thinks you will love Gunnerkrigg Court. This mysterious and charming ongoing story by Tom Siddell is a young adult, female-driven tale available as either a webcomic or bound in graphic novel form. There are currently four of the graphic novel volumes, each featuring colorful art and self-contained but connected chapters.
The story follows each year the students and friends, Annie and Kat, attending Gunnerkrigg Court. Melody was given a copy of volume one in 2009, and has been in love with this so-called “Harry Potter for girls” world ever since. Right now, she is reading the second graphic novel collection, Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 2: Research. She is about halfway through and already there have been ghost attacks, secret tombs, and a mystery that ties the court to Annie’s past. Melody even purchased several copies of these graphic novels and gave them to friends who have teenage daughters; all reported back on how much they loved it and devoured everything online and otherwise from this world.
Ariane has finally gotten around to reading a Robert A. Heinlein novel! She briefly started reading the paperback The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress a while ago and loved the intro, but she ultimately couldn’t go on due to her capricious preference for ebooks. “Real” books just don’t have the convenience and transportability of their digital counterparts, you know? She waited and waited for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to come out digitally, but decided she might as well try a different Heinlein novel already available in the Kindle store in the meantime. She somewhat randomly picked Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which turned out to be a surprisingly fun and easy read.
Considering its status as a popular science fiction classic, she was expecting something a little harder to swallow. The story follows the smart and space-obsessed teenager Kip Russell as he dedicates all of his talent and energy trying to score a trip to the colonized station on the moon. He gets more space than he ever could have wished for when he finds himself kidnapped by aliens and forms an unlikely partnership for survival with a young but witty girl. You can officially color Ariane a Heinlein fan; she has since moved on to reading another Heinlein classic, Stranger in a Strange Land. The latter is proving to be quite a bit more challenging and philosophical.
Jackie just finished The Unwanteds, the first book in Lisa McCann’s middle grade series about a future society that tries to kill off all of its creatives. Thirteen-year-old twins, Aaron and Alex Stowe, are separated when Aaron is chosen to attend the land of Quill’s elite military university and Alex is sentenced to the “death farm.” But Alex finds an entirely new future for himself. Great start to a series.
Jackie just started the audio book for Laurie R. King’s Justice Hall, the sixth book in the Mary Russell series. She is obsessed with the Mary Russell novels of life with Sherlock Holmes, which are so beautifully detailed and sharp they feel like the perfect cup of tea on a crisp English day.
Disclaimer: Some books included in this list may have been provided by the publisher for review purposes.
This month the GeekMoms’ never-ending stack of books unfurled stories featuring angry teens, dragons, a bit of psychology, witches, and more witches. What have you read lately?
Laura is reading Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter.The author, an expert in the psychology of marketing, packs the book with ingenuous studies showing what really influences us. The conclusions are strange, funny, and surprisingly useful. No chance of reading this book without talking about it. Laura just finished The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson. It’s packed with very real characters, from an angry teenager haunted by a secret to a wealthy woman who wonders if she can pay people to be good. Even the author’s smallest observations, like the artifice of a metallic jacket, have purpose in the larger story.
It’s time for another look at the GeekMoms’ never-ending stack of books. Collectively, we sure manage to make our way through a fair number of pages, whether we’re reading them on dead trees or e-readers. This month we’ve read books about DIY hacks and learning, costuming and cosplay, and even listened to some audio options.
Cathe is not much of a reader, but does like to listen. While she is stumbling her way through the Skaven rulebook for Warhammer Fantasy in preparation for a large tournament in June, she is trying to decide between listening to The Guardians Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King or Fablehaven Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary or The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects. Even though all three are for young readers, Cathe enjoys listening to books before letting her daughter read the print version.
It’s time for another look at the GeekMoms’ never-ending stack of books. Collectively, we sure manage to make our way through a fair number of pages, whether we’re reading them on dead trees or e-readers. Here’s what we’ve read this month.
Sophie has just finished reading I Want to Believe (The Official Guide to the X-Files, Vol. 3), the novelisation of the second X-Files movie written by Max Allan Collins and possibly the worst novel ever written, she’s not even sure it had an editor. She is a quarter of the way through On Stranger Tides, an adult’s pirate novel by Tim Powers that provided the vague plot for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Junior Novel (Junior Novelization) film, although so far the plot bears no resemblance at all to the film. She also hopes to begin Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L.James this week after picking up an offer to see what all the fuss is about.
Patricia had to take a break from Chad Orzel’s How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog — she was thinking too hard for the book to be “light reading” and decided to hop on board this month’s GeekMom Book Club selection: Pilgrim of the Sky by GeekMom’s own Natania Barron! So far it’s been such a fun adventure! This is also the first Kindle download she’s read in about 2 years. Which means she can turn on the white-on-black screen and read late late late into the night, yay! She will return to How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog in May.
Judy Berna is now addicted to GoodReads and the amazing books it finds for her. Being a fan of non fiction, specifically memoir, having thoughtful suggestions has been a boost to her library list. In the past few weeks she’s read two noteworthy books.
The first, My Lobotomy, by Howard Dully, is the story of a man who, as a 12 year old boy, underwent one of the infamous ice pick lobotomies, performed by the creator of the procedure, Dr. Freeman. The reason? His stepmother didn’t like him and convinced the doctor he was mentally ill. It’s a moving book, told candidly by Mr. Dully himself.
The second book, on a much different note, was a moving story of marriage, disabled children, and a devastating Iowa flood. It’s called By the Iowa Sea, by Joe Blair. The language, description, and writing are beautiful. The anguishing story of how these three forces came together for Mr. Blair, and changed him as a husband and a father, is written so cleanly that it’s very hard to put down. Even if you’re not into memoir, this book is worth a look. You can read sample snippets at joeblairwriter.com.
Chaos Mandy is listening to her all-time favorite fantasy series, The Belgariad by David Eddings, via audio book. Epic and wonderful are both words she would use to describe this five book series that she has read probably 20 times since she found the first book, Pawn of Prophecy, on her father’s bookshelf when she was a teenager.
Kristen Rutherford just finished The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and wasn’t sure if she should start the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson or dive into Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Jobs won in the end.
Laura, despite her best intentions to read lighter fare, adores the insights in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. It describes how communities react to tragedies of all kinds. People commonly show altruism, innovation, solidarity, and yes, joy–calling us to rethink our perceptions of humanity as selfish and violent when facing trouble. This is the perfect book to renew sagging optimism. Another less-than-jaunty book she recommends is Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. Bought it as a potential gift for a high-risk loved one, Laura realized that it’s relevant to any of us who might wander off the trail or find our plane going down. The stories reconfirm what it means to live through our ordinary days as well, that it’s not all about the plan and who thrives isn’t necessarily the expert but the one who can adapt and even deepen into greater awareness of the moment at hand.
This month Kelly Knox happened across a picture book at the library called Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess by Ralph Cosentino. Her daughter let out a squeal of delight when she saw the cover, so of course they had to check it out. This picture book tells the origin story of Wonder Woman with bold illustrations and simple words for young readers. Some of the concepts are over Kelly’s three-year-old’s head, like Greek gods and a baby fashioned out of clay, but it’s possible to skim over those parts and she’s none the wiser. She asked, “Why does Wonder Woman have an invisible jet, Mom?” “Right?!” Kelly answered. Kelly considers this book a great read for young superhero fans, and she recommends it for any young comic book reader. Batman and Superman picture books are also available from the same author.
Kris Bordessa seems to be reading multigenerational novels this month. Glow: A Novel by Jessica Maria Tuccelli is one of the most interesting books she’sread lately, speaking linguistically. The novel takes the reader from Washington, D.C. on the brink of World War II to the antebellum south, complete with slavery, hoodoo, and love. As the setting changes, so too does the dialogue, lending an authenticity to each of the characters as they are woven into the complex lineage of Ella McGee. Another story cascading through generations of rich and downtrodden, Fox’s Earth by Anne Rivers Siddons caught Kris’ eye after reading Fault Lines: A Novel, another book by the author. Fox’s Earth is again set in the south but is tinged with evil and a little bit of insanity couched in proper genteel society.
Melissa Wiley’s garden-lit rabbit trail has taken her to No One Gardens Alone, a delightful biography of Elizabeth Lawrence by Emily Herring Wilson. She has also been on a bit of a Miss Read jag lately, enjoying the quiet charms of Village School and Thrush Green. These mellow novels offer a glimpse of mid-twentieth-century English village life that has been a perfect match for the beloved children’s series Melissa has had the pleasure of introducing to her brand-new six-year-old this month: Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge.
Corrina Lawson spent a lovely hour waiting for a flight home last week reading The Tourist of Zenda by Christine Merrill, a fun, romantic take on identity switch classic, The Prisoner of Zenda. In order to catch up on her history while waiting for the next season of Spartacus, she’s also reading The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss, a readable history of the conflict between the former slaves and the Roman Republic. It’s fascinating because Strauss clearly identifies what were contemporary reports versus reports years after the rebellion ended.
Helene has spent the last month reading more then ever before. She attributes the new love of reading to her Kindle Touch. After finishing The Hunger Games last month, she finished the trilogy with Catching Fire and the Mockingjay. She liked all of them, although the first is by far her favorite. In search of a new book to suck her in, she started reading Outlander the first book in Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series. She was so glad a friend recommended it, because it is the perfect mix of history, romance, mystery, and adventure. The book gets her back to the gym for at least an hour each morning.
We’d love to know what you’re reading. Feel free to add a bit about it in the comments section so we can all have equally precarious stacks of books on the “to be read” pile.
Book stack photo: Flickr user austinevan