Custom Made Disease: Geeking Out About Mutants With William C. Dietz

This week, New York Times bestselling science fiction author William C. Dietz joins us to tell us about what made him geek out while writing his Mutant Files trilogy!

Image: Ace/Roc Books
Image: Ace/Roc Books

Geeking Out is a natural part of writing science fiction, and vice versa. So when I wrote Graveyard, which is the third volume in the Mutant Files trilogy, I was in the full-on geek mode.

The book’s main character is a Los Angeles police detective named Cassandra Lee. The story takes place in 2069, a time when the entire world had been divided up into a patchwork quilt of green zones (where the norms live,) and red zones (where the mutants live.)

That’s the McGuffin, and to justify it I knew that it would be necessary to get some science on. The mutants had to come from somewhere, right? Continue reading Custom Made Disease: Geeking Out About Mutants With William C. Dietz

The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

My husband and I have this little trick we play on our children.

Every night, we try to get our three children in bed as close to 7:00 pm as possible. Our rule is that they need to stay in their rooms quietly and lights must be off. Oh, unless they feel like using this

Are you scratching your head over there? Continue reading The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

Geeking Out About New Fans

Kenny Soward is the author of the fan-loved Gnomesaga fantasy series, but gnomes are not the only thing he likes to write about. Kenny has recently tried his hand at another of his passions, urban fantasy, and as he tells us in this week’s Geek Speaks…Fiction!, it gave him a whole new set of things to geek out about.

Image: Broke Dog Press
Image: Broke Dog Press

Venturing into a new genre can be quite an exciting time for an author, or it can be a stress-inducing nightmare. Although I sense writers are becoming more and more willing to try new things, many consider writing in varied genres career suicide especially right out of the gate. So I knew writing my latest book, Galefire, might set me back a bit.

Then again, I was already all over the place with three epic fantasy books and two weird west novels, so I supposed trying out something new (again) wouldn’t be such a stretch.

What finally crushed my fear was the realization I had an opportunity to write for a target audience I didn’t know I had. Let me explain. I realized that while I interacted with a lot of people via social media about movies, TV shows, and books, only about half of those people were into epic fantasy. Far less than that were interested in gnomes. And knowing some were curious about my stories but not enough to purchase a book they’d might lose interest in simply because of the subject matter, I was instantly struck with a sense of intense focus and determination to make Galefire a reality with them in mind.

The marketing experts out there might groan a collective, “duh,” but I didn’t have the experience in marketing when I started Gnomesaga in 2001 and certainly didn’t understand how much the epic fantasy world had changed since I read Dragonlance ages ago. I didn’t know about grimdark, and I only learned through Gnomesaga reviewers exactly what epic fantasy readers expect to see—paired with the realization I may not be that kind of writer after all. It doesn’t mean I won’t venture into epic fantasy again (I have so many ideas for future Gnomesaga books and novellas) but for now I thought it might do me some good to branch out a little bit and experiment before writing the next six books.

The idea I’d be writing for my old and new friends struck a nerve of excitement in me. Plus I’d also be merging some of my favorite things…dark fantasy, magic, a touch of horror, as well as working out some of my snarky social commentary through Galefire’s protagonist, Lonnie.

Publishing Galefire under my Broken Dog Press gave me a chance to delve into hybrid publishing and try out some things on my own, which is something I think every author should think about. It doesn’t hurt to learn how to gather editors, artists, and promoters around you. You have to do a lot of your own promotion even if you sign with a major publisher, unless you’re one of the few at the very top of the pyramid, so it’s good experience.

Given the positive responses over Galefire thus far it seems I made the right call with this one, and I can’t wait to finish the sequels.

That’s what has me geeking out these days!

Image: Joe M. Martin
Image: Joe M. Martin

Kenny Soward grew up in Crescent Park, Kentucky, a small suburb just south of Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to hard rock and playing outdoors. In those quiet 1970s streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar.

Kenny’s love for books flourished early, a habit passed down to him by his uncles. He burned through his grade school library, and in high school spent many days in detention for reading fantasy fiction during class.

By day, Kenny works as a Unix professional, and at night he writes and sips bourbon. Kenny lives in Independence, Kentucky.

GeekMom Recommends: Christmas Picture Books

Christmas is a time for traditions, with the same food, films, music, and memories brought out year after year. Yet it’s always great to add a little something new to the mix as well. Here are some of my favorite Christmas-themed picture books that I hope you might enjoy adding to your own library. Continue reading GeekMom Recommends: Christmas Picture Books

Half Hour of Code, Montessori Style: Check Out This Free Binary Counter

When I approached my four-year old’s teacher about Hour of Code, she invited me into the classroom to do a half hour lesson. My little ballerina goes to a Montessori, so the classroom is computer free.

“How hard can it be,” I thought. “I will just grab something off the internet and teach from that.”

So I told the teacher that I would be happy to do this.

I discovered how hard it is to plan a lesson for four-year-olds, both when following a lesson plan and making a new one.

I also created a binary counter that you can download and use with your children.

Counter
Copyright Claire Jennings

After giving a successful lesson on counting in binary and the Divide and Conquer algorithm, I have a new found respect for preschool teachers.

Continue reading Half Hour of Code, Montessori Style: Check Out This Free Binary Counter

STEM Education for 3-Year-Olds: Teaching Toddlers To Count in Binary

A long time computer science professional and mother of a young family, Lisa Seacat DeLuca is sharing her profession with both her twins and children everywhere.

Her board book, A Robot Story, started life as a Kickstarter campaign and is now available on Amazon. Easy to read and interactive, the book explains binary at a level a young child can understand by the simple method of counting to ten.

The interactive “switches” in the board book that my daughter pretends to control based on the binary numbers provides a meaningful way to equate ones and zeros to on and off. Additionally, it expands the child’s vocabulary and uses industry jargon in a friendly way.

My four-year-old daughter even asked me what “allocate” means. The best part fo this? She later used the word to describe something else in her life.

But at the same time, the book is simple enough and short enough to read to an infant.

GeekMom had a chance to talk with Lisa about her career, family, and book’s concepts:

Continue reading STEM Education for 3-Year-Olds: Teaching Toddlers To Count in Binary

Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

In these days of apps, games and show-streaming, it’s unusual to amuse yourself with something as analog as paper dolls. Leave it to Quirk Books to come up with a fun, pop culture-friendly take with the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset.

Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald, the paper doll set imagines Hillary as the first woman in charge of the Oval Office.

Continue reading Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

In our house, we limit screen time, maybe an hour a day. For the first two years, we capped TV watching at an hour a week.

We also tend away from the licensed products.

You know the ones I am talking about, the Elsa socks, Batman toothbrushes, or Elmo dolls. So imagine my husband’s surprise when I announced we were giving our two-year-old nephew Spider-Man for Christmas.

It all started with a sentence:

“I’m going to lose!”

Continue reading Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #1: Books, Books, Books!

It’s that time of year, folks. Halloween is over, and we’ve begun our holiday shopping. Or perhaps we have just begun our wish lists. In any case, first up for GeekMom’s gift guides this year is Books! Books are wonderful gifts for all ages, and there’s bound to be something here for someone on your gift list.

Image: Tor Books
Image: Tor Books

Updraft by Fran Wilde
$18.27
“Welcome to a world of wind and wings, songs and silence, secrets and betrayal.” GeekMom Fran Wilde’s debut novel has made several prestigious lists, including Library Journal’s Debut of the Month and Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Fall 2015 SF, Fantasy, Horror Debuts. It also received a very favorable review on NPR.

Image: Potter Craft
Image: Potter Craft

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families
$13.75
Start the new year right, with plenty of project and activity ideas to do with your kids. Written by the founding editors of GeekMom, this book is also full of insightful essays on being a geek and a geeky parent, as well as bits on geeky people and topics of interest to the geek world.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #1: Books, Books, Books!

How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

I didn’t read to my daughter when she was in the womb, but it wasn’t long after she was born that I started reading to her.

Some of the first books she heard were The Catcher in the Rye, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, because they’re some of my favorites. Plus, it’s never too early to know about phonies, and the fact that sometimes the smallest, strangest person can make the biggest difference in your life.

a prayer for owen meany
This is one of the first books I read to my daughter. Really. Image via HarperCollins.

The girl is six now, and reading is still a major pastime of ours. Through the years we’ve been able to introduce a few classics—Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz—and while it’s hard to wait on some of our favorites, we know it’s important to.

She’s afraid of people in masks, for instance, so the Star Wars movies are flat out. I’m ready to read her Harry Potter but I don’t want to ruin it for her if she thinks it’s scary.

Continue reading How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

Appreciating How to Fail: A Library Storytime

When brainstorming topics for my weekly Family Storytimes at the public library, I like to browse the Brownielocks site for unusual holidays. I’ve spun storytimes out of the likes of Squirrel Awareness Month, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, World Vegetarian Day, and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

October 13, as it turned out, was The International Day For Failure. There are a lot of commemorative days that do not make good family storytime topics, and at first glance “International Day For Failure” seemed like a pass. It sounded like a cynical joke, a day to fail. By the bemused looks on the faces of everyone who saw the week’s topic when I scheduled it, this is a common reaction.

But when I read what http://dayforfailure.com/ had to say about it, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. Continue reading Appreciating How to Fail: A Library Storytime

Between the Bookends: Nightvale, Miss Peregrine & Black Widow

This month the GeekMoms have been enjoying spooky tales of peculiar children, talented alchemists, mysterious desert towns, and deep, dark, fears.

These include the latest in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children‘s novels, a novelization of the Welcome to NightVale podcast world, the latest from Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, and the definitive origin of Black Widow.

Continue reading Between the Bookends: Nightvale, Miss Peregrine & Black Widow

‘Storied Myth’ Is a Hands-On Reading Experience

My son will pretty much do anything to get his hands on my iPad. He has plenty of his own devices, but that doesn’t keep him from ogling my iPad’s big, beautiful screen and whatever apps I’m checking out. I don’t mind forking it over if he’s using it wisely. Like I said, he has plenty of other portables for comics, books, and games. However, Storied Myth is a good reason to give up my precious portable. This is an iOS exclusive that combines reading with hands-on activities.

Storied Myth is an app that weaves a series of stories in with an “adventure kit” that includes puzzles and other trinkets. After you finish reading each chapter, there’s a puzzle that will help you move on to the next installment. Continue reading ‘Storied Myth’ Is a Hands-On Reading Experience

Need Fresh Reads? Try Bill Murray & ‘The Martian’

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.

Continue reading Need Fresh Reads? Try Bill Murray & ‘The Martian’

4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

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

Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview

LittleRobot300RGB
Image: First Second

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking For New Young Books?

IMG_7654
Image By Rebecca Angel

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

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

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

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

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

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 4.45.14 PM

SRClogo
Image: Scholastic

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

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

EB_Backtoschool
Image: Energizer

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

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

Refrain from Brain Drain

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

More Reading Resources

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

#SummerReading

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Back To School 2015: Electronics, Gadgets, and Shiny Stuff!

Back to School \ Image: flickr user Jesuscm some rights reserved
Back to School \ Image: Flickr user Jesuscm, some rights reserved.

It’s time to head back to school and in this year’s planning guide, we have a little bit of style, a little bit of gadgets, and a lot of coolness. So let’s get started!

Electronic Accessories
Witti Dotti ($69.99)
This app-controlled pixel light will keep you posted on all of your notifications, with the added bonus of being able to customize the lights to suit your style.

Photo App Keyboards \ Image: Photojojo
Photo App Keyboards \ Image: Photojojo

Keyboard Shortcut Skins ($30)
Keyboard Shortcut Skins by Photojojo are one of my go-to accessories for my MacBook Pro. I have the one for Final Cut Pro and it’s a huge help when trying to learn the program. Shortcut Skins are also available for Photoshop (CS4/CS5/CS6), Aperture (2.0/3.0), Final Cut Pro/Express, or Lightroom (2/3/4/5). The available keyboard models include the MacBook with black or white keys, Macbook Air 13″, Apple Ultra-Thin Keyboard w/o Numeric Keypad, and the Apple Ultra-Thin Keyboard w/Numeric Keypad. Use coupon code: GEEKMOM for $5 off!

Scosche’s freeKEY ($49.99)
For the student on the go, check out this roll-up bBuetooth keyboard.

Ultimate Screen Care Kit by Dust Off ($24.99)
Electronic users should have one of these in every bag they carry. It comes with a bottle of screen cleaner, a cleaning shammy, and a mobile cleaning pad.

Power Tap \ Image courtesy of Thumbs Up UK
Power Tap \ Image courtesy of Thumbs Up UK

Power USB Tap by Thumbs Up UK ($19.71)
The Power Tap is a fun and unique way to “turn on” power to your device for charging. The blue/red light tells you if the device is charging or not and offers a great little nightlight to any room.

Scanmarker ($79.99)
I’m not a fan of highlights in my textbooks because I usually end up typing my notes anyway. With the Scanmarker, I can just scan my notes in directly from my textbook without marking them up (makes for better resale value as well). The Scanmarker lets you capture text and then edit it on your computer.

Gunnar Optiks Gaming/Computer Glasses ($50-150 depending on whether you need a prescription)
These glasses ease eye strain for anyone who spends a lot of time looking at screens (computer or gaming). They really work. It’s not magic; it’s a combination of anti-glare coating and amber tinting.

Nyrius Aries Prime ($199.99)
Apple users have been able to stream their PC to a TV with the help of Apple TV and now Windows users can do the same thing with Nyrius Aries Prime. I use this at home when previewing my slideshows for class and I love it. My son loves it too because he likes to stream his Minecraft games to our TV.

Inateck MP 1300 13.3 Inch Macbook Air Sleave \ Image courtesy of Inateck
Inateck MP 1300 13.3-inch MacBook Air Sleeve \ Image courtesy of Inateck

Inateck MacBook Sleeve ($16.99)
A soft, felted sleeve for your MacBook. This gender neutral case allows you to transport your laptop in your backpack or purse in style.

Lumo Lift Posture and Activity Tracker ($79.99)
Posture is something everyone needs work on here and there. The Lumo Lift will tell you when you are slouching and keep a record of how much time a day you spend in a good posture. It’s a nifty little device for those of us who spend our day sitting at a desk and are not always aware of how we are sitting until it’s too late.

Kinivo BTH220 ($20.99)
I’ve had more than one pair of Kinivo headphones and for the price, they’re pretty good. These are over-the-ear headphones that work via Bluetooth, with buttons to play your music as well as make and receive phone calls.

Audiofly’s AF33 Headphones ($39.99)
If wired headphones are more your thing, check out Audiofly’s AF33. They may be on the pricey side, but they offer noise isolation and are comfy to wear.

Scosche’s goBAT 6000 ($54.99)
I love this little battery charger because it doesn’t require any cables. Just plug it into the wall when the battery dies and wait for the red light to go off. It’s also lightweight compared to other chargers and is small enough to fit into your back pocket.

Coffee Cup Power Inverter V2.0 ($34.99)
When my husband first saw this, he thought it was a mug you can heat up in the car. He was kind of close. It’s a charger that looks like a coffee cup and can accommodate up to two wall chargers and one USB cable. The best part is that it fits in your cup holder so there’s no awkward worrying about where to put it while it’s plugged in. 

Tablift ($59.99)
My brother saw this and thought I would be lazy for using it. He obviously hasn’t tried to lay in bed while watching lectures and taking notes. Not to mention, it’s great for keeping your hands free while watching a movie, so you can eat your snacks. I set it up the other day to hold my iPad to help me follow directions on a sewing pattern. Tablift helped keep it off the floor and out of my pup’s mouth. 

Stress Relievers and Fun

Recess for the Soul \ Image courtesy of Deepfun.com
Recess for the Soul \ Image courtesy of Deepfun.com

Recess for the Soul by Bernie DeKoven
Meditations on the mind’s “inner playground” are perfect for teachers to practice with kids of all ages. Parents too. Check out the recording Recess for the Soul by Bernie DeKoven to practice exercises for “inner swing set” and “teeter-taughter teachings.” It’s $20 for the CD, $9.99 for the iTunes album, or $0.99 per track.

Oregon Scientific Aroma Diffuser Elite ($99.99)
Who doesn’t want to wake up to the smell of their favorite essential oil? Instead of waking you up with a noise you just hit the snooze on, this alarm clock wakes you up to the essential oil of your choice. If you are not allergic, I suggest starting the day off with peppermint. It’s my favorite.

DreamPad 26 \ Image courtesy of ILS
DreamPad 26 \ Image courtesy of ILS

Integrated Listening System’s Dreampad 26 with Optional Bluetooth Receiver ($209)
Not everyone wants to fall asleep to white noise or music. Integrated Listening System’s Dreampad 26 has a built-in speaker that lets you plug in your device and listen to your heart’s content, while not disturbing those around you. If you want to keep your device charging while you sleep, pick up the optional Bluetooth receiver as well.

Lunch Box Jokes \ Image courtesy of Lunchboxjokes.com
Lunch Box Jokes \ Image courtesy of Lunchboxjokes.com

Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids ($7.99)
Add extra humor to cafeteria time with Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids. It’s especially good for 1st to 3rd grades.

Color Me Crazy: Insanely Detailed Creations to Challenge Your Skills and Blow Your
Mind
($11.00)
Pick up some colored pencils, make yourself a blanket fort, and color your cares away in this adult coloring book. I enjoy coloring in mine when I have a headache or when I’m anxious and it helps me forget the pain.

Scrabble Twist ($19.99)
Scrabble Twist is my newest addiction. It’s small enough to fit into a purse and has multiplayer and solo game features. A single game lasts about a minute, so it offers a quick break from studying. 

Bags

Xventure SmartCord Sling bag \ Image courtesy of Brakentron
Xventure SmartCord Sling bag \ Image courtesy of Bracketron

Bracketron: SmartCord Sling Bag ($24.99)
The Braketron: SmartCord Sling Bag will protect your tablet/smartphone and other personal belongings from the weather and has a special holder to make sure your headphones are close by. Great for anyone who has minimal stuff to carry.

Zelda Eject Backpack ($54.99)
My favorite part of this Zelda-themed backpack is not that it’s Zelda, but that the lunch box is on the outside and comes off. If you want to carry just the lunch box, unzip the edges and attach the shoulder strap. Otherwise, you have a cooler and a backpack in one.

Pelican Elite \ Image courtesy of Pelican
Pelican Elite \ Image courtesy of Pelican

Pelican Elite Luggage ($505)
For the students with expensive stuff in their luggage or who plan on taking it white water rafting, check out the Pelican Elite Luggage. I use mine for carrying my costumes to and from events so I don’t arrive with a broken Bat cowl.

Build On Brick Bookends ($19.99)
Build your own bookends with ThinkGeek’s Lego bookends. Lego bricks not included.

Zoku Ice Cream Maker ($25.49) and Zoku Slush & Shake Maker ($17.95)
The Zoku Ice Cream Maker and the Zoku Slush and Shake Maker are a must-have for the dorm room refrigerator. My family loves pouring soda into the slush maker and getting a frosty treat within minutes. And with Pinterest having truckloads of ice cream recipes, it’s hard to pick which one to make first.

AutoSeal Kangaroo Water Bottle with Pocket ($12.18) and Gizmo Sip Kids Water Bottles ($9.81)
Keep your student hydrated with the Kangaroo Water Bottle or the Gizmo. Both have a great seal on them and won’t spill when tossed in your backpack. (I toss mine in with my iPad all the time.) The Kangaroo comes in a variety of colors and holds 24 ounces. The Gizmo model comes in four different colors and holds 14 ounces of your child’s favorite drink. Both are dishwasher-safe. My suggestion is to keep only water in them if your only option is hand-washing.

Slim Sack \ Image courtesy of Greenpaxx.com
Slim Sack \ Image courtesy of Greenpaxx.com


Slim Snack
($13.95 for a four-pack)

Talk about your eco-friendly, multi-purpose product. Slim Snack is it. These leak-proof silicone tubes are perfect for packing fruit, granola, applesauce, veggies, or whatever. When school’s out for the summer, use them to make your own ice pops out of blended fruit or juices. Each one is easy to fill, even for kids, especially if you stand one up in drinking glass.

Clothing

Toothless Tail Fin Fighter Skirt \ Image courtesy of WeLoveFine
Toothless Tail Fin Fighter Skirt \ Image courtesy of WeLoveFine

WeLoveFine Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt ($25)
Get your dragon training on with this skirt inspired by Toothless the dragon.

Avengers Assemble Charm Bead Set – ThinkGeek Exclusive ($119.95)
Assemble the charms!

Rocket Raccon \ Image courtesy of SuperHeroStuff.com
Rocket Raccon \ Image courtesy of SuperHeroStuff.com

Rocket Raccoon Hooded Women’s Tank Top w/ Tail ($44.99)
This is one of my favorite pieces from SuperHeroStuff.com because I get so many compliments on it. I love the fluffy ears and the removable tail.

Superhero Belts from Superherostuff.com ($17.99)
Keep those pants where they should be with superhero style.

Batgirl Rhinestone Watch ($34.99)
Every superhero needs a watch and this one is sparkly and awesome.

Tote and Scarf \ Image courtesy of Uncommon Goods
Tote and Scarf \ Image courtesy of Uncommon Goods

Library Card Tote Bag and Literary Scarf ($20 for the Tote and $48 for the Scarf)
Uncommon Goods, which specializes in high-quality items from independent makers, offers this pair of stylish accessories for teachers, librarians, or book lovers. The natural cotton tote is printed to look like a vintage library card, instantly noticeable by anyone who has every checked out a book from a library. The silk-screen cotton infinity scarf contains passages from a choice of three timeless classics: Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, or Wuthering Heights. Both products are sold on their own, with the tote made in Brooklyn and the scarf by  Tori Tissell out of Portland, Oregon.

When it comes to back to school, you can never have enough gadgets. What items are in your students’ arsenal for the new school year? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: GeekMom may have received samples of some of these items. 

Back To School 2015: Books To Stock Your Shelves

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

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

Books For the Very Young

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

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

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

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

Books For Ages 8 and Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GeekMom received review copies of these titles.

Between the Bookends – August 2015

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

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

Continue reading Between the Bookends – August 2015

Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Veronica Scott

geekspeaks

She’s the best-selling science fiction and paranormal romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today “Happily Ever After” blog. However, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history, and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.

Three-time winner of the Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances!

Thanks for inviting me to be your guest!

I love doing research and for my science fiction novels, I’m often doing a deep dive into odd things that I’m going to adapt for my future galactic civilization known as the Sectors.

SF Romance
Cover copyright Veronica Scott.

The first topic I geeked out about for a specific book was the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, because my first published SF novel was Wreck of the Nebula Dream, loosely inspired by the Titanic’s sinking. (I’ve always been fascinated by Titanic though.)

For that book, I researched anything and everything to do with the real-life tragedy, including the ship’s design, its passengers and crew, premonitions and superstitions connected to the event, the cargo… I enjoyed the creative exercise of applying that wealth of detail to a luxury cruiser roaming the star lanes. For my recent best-seller, Star Cruise: Marooned, I researched the world of the charter yacht, which is somewhat different in nature than a liner.

The second thing I’ve geeked out about for my SF world is Special Forces military operators.

My heroes are pretty much always in that line of work and my goal is to create men who could walk into any bar on Earth today where SEALs and Rangers gather, and be accepted as members of the brotherhood.

My late husband was a Marine, so I’m very supportive of the military in general, have had SEAL and Ranger authors as guests on my blog in the past… but as actual research, I’ve read numerous real-life accounts, asked a lot of questions, subscribe to a (public) Special Forces-oriented website to stay current, have been to at least one conference I’m not allowed to discuss….

Veronica Scott square photo
Veronica Scott, image via Veronica Scott.

I guess by now you can tell my definition of “geek out” isn’t about the hardware or the science, so much as it is about the world-building and the people.

I worked at JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory] for many years and totally geeked out over everything built and managed there, from Mars rovers to space telescopes, so it’s not that I’m not into those things! We’ll count that as the third thing for this column.

Nothing like looking at the actual flight hardware that’s going to be on another planet or watching a giant multi-legged robot cross the street in front of you. And yes, a lot of the engineers and scientists who work there could be characters on The Big Bang Theory. Maybe slightly exaggerated, but there’s a resemblance. Being in the room with those guys and gals is amazing. Some of the finest scientific and technical minds anywhere on Earth. I feel very privileged to have supported the efforts from my business-oriented vantage point as a contracts person.

cover copyright Veronica Scott
Cover copyright Veronica Scott.

The fourth thing I’ve geeked out about, which certainly influenced me as an author, would be comic books. As a kid, I had thousands squirreled away in my bedroom, mostly DC comics. I wasn’t into Marvel then, other than Thor. Two of my all-time favorites were Magnus Robot Fighter and Brothers of the Spear.

More geeking?

Interviewing John Scalzi, which I got to do for my USA Today “Happily Ever After SciFi Encounters” column. Talking to him was fascinating! His mind goes a mile a minute in a good way and as an interviewer, I absolutely felt motivated to try to ask him questions he hadn’t been asked before a million times. Discussing the processes of writing a novel, comparing notes with him, was like a Masters’ class for me. Really a rare and memorable experience!

You can find Veronica Scott at her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Her latest is Star Cruise: Marooned, on sale for just 99 cents:

Meg Antille works long hours on the charter cruise ship Far Horizon so she can send credits home to her family. Working hard to earn a promotion to a better post (and better pay), Meg has no time for romance.

Former Special Forces soldier Red Thomsill only took the berth on the Far Horizon in hopes of getting to know Meg better, but so far she’s kept him at a polite distance. A scheduled stopover on the idyllic beach of a nature preserve planet may be his last chance to impress the girl.

But when one of the passengers is attacked by a wild animal it becomes clear that conditions on the lushly forested Dantaralon aren’t as advertised—the ranger station is deserted, the defensive perimeter is down…and then the Far Horizon’s shuttle abruptly leaves without any of them.

Marooned on the dangerous outback world, romance is the least of their concerns, and yet Meg and Red cannot help being drawn to each other once they see how well they work together. But can they survive long enough to see their romance through? Or will the wild alien planet defeat them, ending their romance and their lives before anything can really begin?

Between the Bookends: July 2015

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

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

Continue reading Between the Bookends: July 2015

Geek Speaks… Fiction! Guest Author J. Kathleen Cheney

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

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

The Real Steampunk

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

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

RSP
Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos

Those two beauties are the Titans in Matosinhos, Portugal.

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

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

Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos
Photo: Monumentos Desaparecidos

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

You want steampunk? These babies are real steampunk!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interstellar Cinderella © Chronicle Books
Interstellar Cinderella © Chronicle Books

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

© Chronicle Books
© Chronicle Books

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

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

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

© Harry N. Abrams
© Harry N. Abrams

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

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

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

© Dial Books
© Dial Books

Violet the Pilot, written and illustrated by Steve Breen

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

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

Between the Bookends: June 2015

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

“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.

Moriarty © Harper (Fair Use)
Moriarty © Harper (Fair Use)

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.

Three Dog Life © Harcourt, Inc
Three Dog Life © Harcourt, Inc

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.

In The Unlikely Event © Knopf (Fair Use)
In The Unlikely Event © Knopf (Fair Use)

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!

Red Dragon © Delta (Fair Use)
Red Dragon © Delta (Fair Use)

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!

The Angel of Losses © Ecco Press
The Angel of Losses © Ecco Press

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.

Power Up and Read with he Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

SRClogo
Image: Scholastic

When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.

Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.

What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.

Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.

Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!

Resources from Scholastic Parents:

More about the program:

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Between the Bookends: May 2015

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

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.

Continue reading Between the Bookends: May 2015

Review: ‘The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy’

The Fangirl's Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)
The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)

There are some books whose titles that don’t just grab your attention, they leap up and lock your attention in a choke hold until you start reading them. The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy by Sam Maggs, released yesterday, is one of those titles. The second I spotted the book, and its amazing cover, I knew I had to read it right then and there.

Continue reading Review: ‘The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy’

Interview: Sam Maggs’ Guide to the Fangirl Galaxy

The Fangirl's Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)
The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk Books (Fair Use)

Tomorrow Quirk book releases The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy: a “fun and feminist girl-power guide to the geek galaxy” written by The Mary Sue associate editor Sam Maggs. I spoke to Sam about her experiences growing up as a “fangirl”, learning to approach media critically, and her hopes for the next generation of geek girls.

GeekMom: At what age did you first realise you were a fangirl? Can you describe that moment?
Sam Maggs: My parents both saw the first Star Wars film over twenty times in theaters, so I was pretty much destined to be a fangirl from the start. But my first foray into fandom was my obsession with Stargate SG-1, which I discovered when I was about twelve years old. Seeing a woman like Sam Carter on-screen, someone who could kick ass but was also an astrophysicist, was huge to me.

Sam Maggs © Sam Maggs Website (Used With Permission)
Sam Maggs © Sam Maggs Website (Used With Permission)

GM: What are some of your earliest memories that you look back on and think “only a geeky kid would have done that”?
Sam: The hours upon hours I spent in my basement on my computer reading Stargate and West Wing fanfic instead of making friends, for sure. I was also the head of my elementary school’s Library Club.

GM: How has being a fangirl changed for you as you’ve grown up?
Sam: Fandom has become more and more inclusive for women, so I’ve been able to meet so many ladies online, through social media, that I admire and am now friends with. There’s also so much more merchandise for girls now, so I can express my fandom that way too!

GM: In the book you discuss many different fandoms; do you consider yourself a part of any in particular? If so which ones and are there any fandoms you have left behind?
Sam: I’m definitely a huge fan of Harry Potter, Tamora Pierce novels, Mass Effect, and Marvel comics. The Stargate fandom has died down over the years, but I would still consider myself a part of it. I had a Twilight phase for a while there, but who didn’t?

GM: You also share a great list of female role models from different kinds of geeky media. Who were your role models when you were growing up?
Sam: I mentioned Sam Carter earlier, but Hermione was also big in getting me to accept my nerdy side and realize that it could be an asset, and wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and The Immortals quartet featured Alanna and Daine, two kick-butt heroines I still adore.

Cover of The Fangirl's Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk (Fair Use)
Cover of The Fangirl’s Guide to The Galaxy © Quirk (Fair Use)

GM: Who do you hope is going to pick up this book and read it? What do you hope they get from it?
Sam: I hope that everyone can get something out of this book! For girls new to fandom, it might be a good primer; for veteran fangirls, you might find some new tips and tricks about cons or trolls or a new video game to pick up. I’d even recommend it for allies to see what it’s like to be a girl in fandom.

GM: What geeky events/moments would you like to share with the next generation of fangirls?
Sam: I can’t wait to see more ladies at conventions! They’re so much fun and I just want everyone to be able to go to one!

GM: Do you feel that being a critical consumer is a necessary part of being a fangirl today, or is it possible to just enjoy a fandom without engaging in those debates?
Sam: I think it’s important to remember that you can be a fan of something even if you realize that it’s problematic. But representation for women and minorities will never change unless we speak up about what we take issue with, so it’s definitely important to engage with media on a critical level to realize what you’re taking in and how it influences your views on gender and society.

But you can still like something even if it has issues!

GM: Do you feel that the convention scene has shifted in the last few years, especially for women? Where would you like it to go?
Sam: It definitely has – con attendees are now nearly 50% women across the board. I would love to see more booths and panels catered specifically towards women – ECCC and C2E2 in particular are already doing a great job of this.

GM: Turning the tables from the interviews you did in the book: what does the word “fangirl” mean to you?
Sam: It means loving something passionately and without embarrassment. It means the things you love have changed your life for the better.

GM: How has being a geek positively influenced your life?
Sam: It’s basically given me everything – my career, my friends, my partner. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to make my fangirliness into a career, because I love sharing the things about which I’m passionate with other ladies. Plus, with the advent of social media, I was able to meet so many amazing people through our shared interests that I never would have met otherwise, including my partner! I’m very grateful.

GM: If you could give geek girls advice for their careers or personal lives, what would it be?
Sam: Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to love what you love and to be who you are. If the people around you don’t like it, there are a million other people out there who will.

Many thanks to Sam for her time. Look out for our review of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy later this week.