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

Project Superhero: A Book For Your Young, Comics-Loving Girl

Cover image courtesy of the author

Project Superhero‘s Jessie and her friends are the kids you want your daughter to be and be friends with in the eighth grade. She has an enviable comic book collection, and she loves journalism and science. (Things like the likelihood of Black Canary’s scream being possible bothers her.) Her friend Audrey is an electronics lover who has a room full of computer parts and builds robots.

In Project Superhero, written as Jessie’s journal, their class embarks on the Superhero Slam, a year-long 8th-grade project to explore heroes and superheroes—culturally, scientifically, and sociologically—culminating in a one-on-one debate for superhero supremacy.

Jessie’s stories will sound familiar to grown-up comic book geeks. They’re your friends talking about the characters. (“Zatanna…has cool sorcery powers, but I am kind of not so much into “magical intervention” when it comes to superheroes.”) They’re talk about women in and working on comics. (“There are lots of women on that team but they are still X-MEN—what is up with that?”) And it’s a pre-teen girl talking about her friends, parents, and figuring out who she is through the lens of her love for comics.

Author E. Paul Zehr’s previous works include Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero and Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine. Project Superhero is a fiction/non-fiction hybrid extension of those themes targeted at tweens, particularly girls. Within the fictional story of the Superhero Slam, the book includes Jessie’s letters to and real replies from:

– Clara Hughes, six-time Winter and Summer Olympic medalist
– Bryan Q. Miller, writer for Batgirl and Smallville
– Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
– Hayley Wickenheiser, Olympic gold medalist and World Champion in ice hockey
– Mike Bruen, NYPD sergeant-on-duty at Ground Zero
– Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
– Yuriko Romer, filmmaker (Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful)
– Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut and engineer
– Christie Nicholson, contributing editor at Scientific American and SmartPlanet

Project Superhero is all of this wrapped in a package of a lot of comic book history with a dash of science, history, and language lessons. It’s also delightfully illustrated by Kris Pearn, who co-directed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Though described as for 8- to 12-year-olds and perfectly appropriate for that audience, some of the heavier topics (9/11, friends in the hospital, dealing with medical issues like depression and insulin injections) may warrant a parental pre-read before giving it to the younger end. (You know your kids the best.) I’ll be happy to hand it over to my 9-year-old comic book fan.

GeekMom received a PDF of Project Superhero for review.

Pulp Fiction in Pearl’s Peril

Image: Wooga media

I’ll admit that I’m a casual gamer. Kingdom Rush and Plants vs. Zombies on my phone have gotten considerably more play than any game on my PC, and at the moment I don’t even own a gaming console. However, I’ve never been tempted by the Facebook games that bug your friends to join you and send you things. There’s one game that’s overcome that barrier, however, and I’ll argue that it has succeeded due to its exuberantly pulp fiction plotting. Pearl’s Peril is a Facebook hidden object game (that I play on my iPad) that has held my attention for much longer than any comparable game ever has.

Pearl’s Peril has a straightforward structure: in each scene, you find the hidden objects on the list. The faster you do it, the more points you get. It gets a little complicated with game progression: the more points, the faster you progress. But to unlock new scenes you need to build buildings and decorations on your own personal island. There’s a limit to how fast you can advance, and you can speed that up considerably if you spend money. This is the only game I have sunk more than $5 into in the last several years, and I’ve been playing it for over a year now.

Image: Karen Burnham

For one thing, decorating your island is actually fun in and of itself. You unlock new buildings and decorations as you progress, and they often offer seasonal decorations for limited times. I took advantage of a Halloween special to build a mausoleum with a fiery fountain of doom in front. I’ve also got a research quad (with an observatory, aviary, library, and greenhouse) and a forest going.

But really, the thing that keeps me playing is Pearl, the heroine, and her adventures. Pearl Wallace is the daughter of privilege. In 1929 she is living in America, flying her own plane, when she gets news that her estranged father has died. They say he committed suicide after the stock market crash, but while they weren’t on good terms she’s pretty sure he was murdered. She and her journalist friend Iris fly home to her family’s island (the one you’re decorating) to investigate. Thus begin her adventures that take her all over the world and from the depths of the seas to the peaks of the Himalayas.

There’s a lot to love here: for one, Pearl is fully competent and always clothed. That seems like it shouldn’t need stating, but a while ago I was jonesing for a new hidden object game, so I downloaded a highly rated one for the iPad. In the first scene you’ve just survived a plane crash on a creepy deserted island, so of course the first thing you see is a barely clad buxom flight attendant throwing vampy looks your way. Delete. Pearl always wears her flight jacket and is ready for adventures. One scene is from her private room in the zeppelin, and even her intimate space isn’t titillating: it’s got her dressing gown, but also her diary, college graduation picture, pictures of exotic locales she’s visited—no lingerie for her! And while she does have the occasional romantic interest, they never distract her from the plot.

And what a crazy, pulp adventure plot it is! In each scene you start with some dialog between a few characters to advance the plot. Then you can find three clues. After five scenes each chapter ends with an adventure scene where Pearl has to solve some puzzle, enabling the dramatic climax that leads to the next chapter. In over a year of playing she’s been to New York, Paris, Africa, Atlantis, Russia, the Himalayas, Oklahoma, been on a submarine, cruise ships, and a zeppelin, attacked by a kraken, forged an aegis, found a pirate cove, etc, etc. Just like the old pulp serials, it can go on forever! Some clues immediately pan out and others wait in the background to resurface many chapters down the road. And amazingly, it stays true to history: every time I’ve googled some plot element that they mention, it’s turned out to be historically accurate: from the Graf Zeppelin’s record breaking flights in 1929 to the mystery of Kolchak’s gold in Russia after the Soviet Revolution.

And through it all, Pearl is a focused, competent heroine. Usually the dramatic chapter-concluding puzzles involve her doing some engineering to get something to work: smelting gold, fixing the sabotaged control system of a zeppelin, disabling some guards to steal a submarine, that sort of thing. Very MacGyver-y. Although violence happens around her, she rarely resorts to it herself. It’s amazing how much plot you can get through using just the few lines of dialog and notes on the clues she finds. And just like the pulps, each character has a very limited range of facial expressions/emotional states: I think Pearl herself only has four expressions: cheerfully competent, winsomely affectionate, frustrated/disgusted, and surprised. But you can go a long way with that in an adventure story; this is the casual gaming equivalent of a magazine serial page-turner.

There is a social aspect to the game, although I don’t really take advantage of it. The game often urges you to send energy to your friends on Facebook, even those who don’t play. These prompts are pretty easy to ignore. There’s also a “Captain’s Challenge” section where you do a timed scene and compete against friends to get a high score. I enjoy these, competing against my husband who just picked up the game recently. Everyone plays the same scene during the challenge period, so it’s fun to compare. And you can send each other resources, increasing the amount you can play. So if anyone wants to start playing, send me something in the game and I’ll happily reciprocate!

Jonathan Wood: Being a Man Who Doesn’t Kick-Ass, Writing Women Who Do

Image: Titan BooksGuest post by Jonathan Wood

The rule goes like this: write what you know.

So what do I know? Well, I’m a copywriter. I’m in my mid-thirties. I have kids and a mortgage. For the record, the closest I’ve ever been to getting in a real fight was back when I was sixteen and a friend and I had had a bit too much to drink. (It was England, that sentence is normal there). We threw exactly one punch each. Also, for what it’s worth, I have owned a Y chromosome since birth.

Or, to put that all another way: I am not, nor have I ever been, a female action hero. hero-full

So when I first considered writing stories that contained them, I was a bit worried it was going to be a problem. I mean, what the hell did I know?

Well, fortunately, I happen to know a fairly large selection of kick-ass women. Thanks to the simple demographics of this world, ever since I’ve been born, half the people I have met have been female. And, what’s more, a great number of them have kicked ass. It’s not like there’s a dearth of experience for me to pull from here. Hell, the person I know best in the world is my wife, and she definitely outguns me on both the X chromosome and ass-kicking fronts.

Now why does that matter? Because, writing any character at all, is a question of changing perspective. You need to learn how to see the world through someone else’s eyes. So knowing how my wife and how my female friends have seen the world, and how what they’ve seen has shaped their responses is invaluable. But it’s also experience everyone has. Hell, it’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone has a mother.

So when I wanted to write kick-ass women, I thought of my wife. I thought of my friends. I thought about the issues I’ve seen them face and how they’ve kicked ass responding to them. I’ve thought about how the way they kick ass isn’t just literally applying boot to derrière. It’s also been about dealing with problems in clever, creative ways. It’s been about being smarter than the issue. It’s been about knowing when to meet a problem head on and when to side-step it and come from a different angle. I’ve thought about what I’ve seen my wife and my friends do a thousand times. What everyone has seen. Because that’s the world we live in.

Honestly, I know exactly as much about being a female action hero as I know about being a male one. I’ve never been either. They’re both just individuals with individual points of view, shaped by their individual life experiences. Worrying that individuality ends at a gender boundary line is kind of absurd if you think about it for any length of time greater than two seconds.

So now I write about kick-ass women. And when I do, I’m really writing about the women I know. It’s just occasionally I’ll give them katanas to help them along the way.

Jonathan’s book, Yesterday’s Hero, the sequel to No Hero, is out today. You might be familiar with him through other guest posts, but certainly check out this series (and yes, he still hates book promotion).

7 New Middle Grade and YA Books I Want to Read This Fall

Fall 2014 Books
Collage by Jackie Reeve from covers © Scholastic Press, GRAPHIX, Knopf Books for Young Readers, Putnam Juvenile, Scholastic Inc., and Simon Pulse.

Back in June, I attended Book Expo America in New York, and I previewed some great new reads for kids and teens. There are so many books at the Expo each year that it’s impossible to see them all. And reading time is precious when I’m chasing a two-year-old around. So these are the titles I really want to make time to read this fall, based on what I previewed.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown. The second book about Roan Novachez’s middle school years from the author of Vader’s Little Princess hit shelves last month, but I think it’ll be a great back-to-school pick. Roan’s second year at Jedi Academy finds him dealing with tough classes, friend problems, and bullies. (July 29th from Scholastic Inc.)

Amulet #6: Escape from Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi. The gorgeous and absolutely thrilling Amulet graphic novel series continues with Emily and Navin splitting up to find keys to defeating the Elf King. (August 26th from GRAPHIX)

The Iron Trial is the first book in the new Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. It’s a middle grade fantasy that follows Callum Hunt, who has been warned away from magic all of his life, as he’s accepted into the Magisterium and discovers dark things lurking there. (September 9th from Scholastic Press)

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. I would love to spend a day inside Scott Westerfeld’s imagination. His new book is a story-within-a-story about a college student who leaves school when her first novel, Afterworlds, is published. The book follows a year in her life as a young writer finding her way in New York City. It also weaves in her actual novel, about another girl who escapes a terrorist attack by entering the Afterworld, “a place between the living and the dead,” according to the book description. This is the only one I couldn’t get my hands on at Book Expo, and I cannot wait for its release! (September 23rd from Simon Pulse)

Skink—No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen. The sixth novel with Skink and another from the great Hiaasen. When Richard’s cousin disappears, he gets Skink to help track her down somewhere in Florida with his own unique methods for justice. This one is already getting starred reviews for teens and adults. (September 23rd from Knopf Books for Young Readers)

The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry. It’s Blizz Richards’ job to keep hidden creatures, “or “cryptids,” hidden. Blizz is a yeti. When his cousin Brian accidentally gets his picture taken, he disappears and sends Blizz and his ace team on a mission to find him in time for the annual yeti family reunion. From the author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, a picture book I love to pieces. (September 30th from Scholastic Press)

The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Lu is following up her insanely popular YA trilogy Legends with this new fantasy series. When a terrible illness wipes out her country, Adelina Amouteru survives. She and the other children who survived are left with markings like silver hair and scars, and there are rumors that they also have special powers. They’re called the Young Elites. (October 7th from Putnam Juvenile)

GeekMom received some copies for review purposes.

Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

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?

Afterparty © Tor Books
Afterparty © Tor Books

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.

The Humans © Simon & Schuster
The Humans © Simon & Schuster

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.

The Curse of The Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing Ltd
The Curse of the Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing Ltd.

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.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag: Blackbeard: the Lost Journal © Insight Editions
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag: Blackbeard: The Lost Journal © Insight Editions

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.

Outlander © Dell Publishing Company
Outlander © Dell Publishing Company

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.

Writing Bone Dust: Learning to Love Process With Evernote and Post-it Brand

Writing a book is hard.

Writing many books is harder.

Writing books while raising two kids, working full time, acting as editor at GeekMom, writing songs, playing ukulele, and crafting anything I can get my hands on? Pretty much impossible.

I came to a strange realization a few months ago, after a very difficult run on Watcher of the Skies, the follow-up to my novel Pilgrim of the Sky. It took forever. I felt like I could never give it the time it needed, and every time I got stuck, I’d be out for days.

Now, there are a thousand pieces of writing advice out there. But I didn’t have to look far. It was my longtime friend and critique partner Jonathan Wood’s posts on story process that really got me thinking about how I go about writing my novels. About narrative and thought and character and… planning.


Yeah. See. I’ve always written the same way. As a pantser. I just get an idea, with some other random ideas sprinkled throughout, and sort of barrel through from beginning to end like a steam train. I have no idea what’s on the track, let alone if there are tunnels or bridges along the way. It’s totally fun, exciting. But absolutely impractical when life itself is complex enough to make me lose sleep.

So how do I keep track of my ideas? How do I keep inspired when I’m too tired to get up and take a shower, let alone figure out what my characters are doing next?

I digitize. I think outside the box. I take it in small chunks, and I keep it visual as much as I can—all with help from the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection.

We’ve been using Evernote here in the Harrison-Barron household for a while now and we are big fans of using Post-it Products to really enhance the whole experience—bringing two things we already use together in one perfect way is just too good an opportunity to pass up.  Writers rooms have used Post-it Products for decades, and geeks like me need Evernote to keep me organized. Makes sense to put them together, doesn’t it? And while I’ve been using Scrivener as my novel writing software of choice, I decided to give Evernote a try this time, using Evernote in conjunction with special Post-it Notes from the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection. My first step was character profiles. The novel I’m working on now is called Bone Dust, and it’s basically Men In Black meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the old west. It’s alternate history with some paranormal, some gunslinging, and lots and lots of fun (and explosions… as you do).

My first step was to write out little character sketches for each of my main characters. What they look like, what their motivations are, how they got to Bodie, CA, where the story starts.  Sometimes this part starts by itself—other times, I’m working and I get an idea for a scene or a character. So I draw it down on a Post-it Note from the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection—and here’s where it gets fun.

It’s so simple – with one tap of Evernote’s Post-it Note Camera feature,  my Post-it Notes are captured, digitally enhanced and saved in my my Bone Dust folder within Evernote. Now I have my notes with me wherever I am. That means if I’m waiting in line at the cash register, or at the doctor’s office, or at my desk.

Adding a new note in the iPhone app.

Adding a Post-it Note to my Bone Dust file. I click on the plus sign to add a note, select the camera, and then swipe to select Post-it Note format.

Taking a picture in Post-it mode.

Snap the picture and it automatically converts to a scanned image.  Now my Post-it Notes can be automatically organized by color, flagged with a reminder and tagged with a keyword for future reference.

Over the last few weeks I’ve managed these little mini snapshots of each of my main characters. You can see what Araby’s looks like below.  I like sharing these with my friends and followers, too, which I can do straight from the app. It keeps them in the loop with what I’m working on, and looks pretty badass, too.

Also I love doodling. Did I mention that? It’s super sweet that I put that hobby to good use.

The fully integrated image and text!

I like to think that the process really lights up all parts of my brain. It allows me to keep that tide of creativity going no matter where I am. Part of the reason that I love the flexibility of the Evernote app so much is that it really allows me full creativity to scribble and capture, even if my schedule is insanely full.

But there’s more! Stay tuned for another look at how the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection is keeping this scattered author organized! How about you writers out there—fiction and non-fiction alike? What do you use to stay organized and on-track?

Learn more about the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection by visiting your local office supply store or by visiting, Post-it Brand on Twitter, or Facebook.

 This post is brought to you by Post-it Brand.

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Backward Compatible: YA Romance for People Like Us

Backward Compatible © SDE Press
Backward Compatible © SDE Press

I’ve never been all that big a fan of romance as a genre. I think the biggest problem I’ve always had with it is that is simply doesn’t represent who I am. OK, so that statement could apply to most of us unless of course you were painted lounging naked on a chaise lounge on the Titanic, but if you’re reading a website called GeekMom I’m sure you get my point. Romantic films always seem to be about girls who have a secret desire to have boys propose their undying love in front of the whole school/holiday camp/castle. If you’re like me, then having someone drag you into the spotlight for any reason is enough to trigger a panic attack that will last several days and being crowned prom queen is probably the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy things that you could imagine.

Backward Compatible is a boy-meets-girl romance for people like me. It opens at a midnight release for the 10th installment of fictional game Fatal Destiny X where George (cosplaying as a druid character named Wayfarer) meets Katie (cosplaying Syntania, a scantily clad mage) and soon introduces a cast of characters I felt like I already knew. There’s Lanyon the best-friend who I’m sure was based on one of my high-school friends, Seynar the somewhat arrogant blogger who believes everyone wants to read his opinions of The Desolation of Smaug despite only having 12 followers, and a host of other random gamer types. The plot follows George and Katie’s exploits through both the real world of their new found friendship and also online in FDX as they and their friends team up, gathering the weapons they need to fight the game’s ultimate hidden Boss.

Backward Compatible Cover © SDE Press
Backward Compatible Cover © SDE Press

The book is crammed full of more references than an entire season of Community, and not just the soft-core ones that anyone who’s seen Star Wars will get. The level of obscurity attained inside these pages is enough to impress even the most die-hard nerd. There’s an impressively involved Portal gag, a joke about Christopher Tolkien, and more Python references than you can shake a heavily-laden swallow at; plus the characters even occasionally swear in the Firefly style. At first the constant referencing felt forced, as if the authors were intentionally trying to cram as many in-jokes onto each page as possible, but the style soon settled down and soon it felt more natural. Once you got to know the characters it seemed obvious that they would tell a Denny’s waitress how many pancakes they wanted by announcing that “three is the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three.”

As a lot of the plot follows the characters playing FDX, the gaming talk comes thick and fast (insert countless jokes about grinding at this point). I’m not a hardcore gamer so a few went over my head but even my husband who has never played an MMO, RPG, or anything along those lines in his life enjoyed the book and had no problems figuring out what was going on. Of course a familiarity with that world is going to enhance your appreciation of the book exponentially but most people who’ll pick this book up will have no problems there. Gaming also plays a large part in one of the most traditionally romantic parts of the book, when George writes a poem for Katie. However unlike poems in most other books this one includes the line, “You are the weapon at my spawn point.” It’s a very specific line for a very specific kind of girl, but for the right girl it’s about as romantic as it comes.

I absolutely loved this book. It was about people who represented me and it was set in the real-life world I have inhabited since my early teens. I wanted the characters to be real so I could talk to them and become friends (also FDX sounds pretty freaking awesome). OK, so I’m a married mom and so have left the awkward dating phase behind, but this is still my world. I hope we get another book in the series where we can meet George and Katie a few years on and see how their relationship has progressed. After all, staying up all night to grind and level your character is a lot trickier when you’ve got a baby—just saying!

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Green Tara: Sci-Fi Eco Adventure

green tara_print_front_cover_cropped_400dpi
Image By KH. Brower

Ecology gets a space-adventure for young adults in a new book by K.H. Brower.  Green Tara: A Bosque Family Adventure is set in a future where Earth can no longer sustain life; colonists have gone off to live without our beloved planet.

However, there is one family, the Bosques, that had a plan long ago to someday renew the Earth. Fast-forward several generations to the main character of the novel, Virginia Bosque: a teenage girl living on a large space-ship with an emotionally distant father, a furry pet robot, and a cousin named Gordy. Her mother disappeared when she was five, and Dot (the furry pet robot) is her only link, since her mother designed and programmed it. Gordy’s mother is also gone. Life on the ship is strict due to the Triumverate, a corporate controlled government that rules the humans still around the universe. Virginia’s only goal in life is to fly freely in her Blast- a small spaceship she is still too young to pilot on her own.

Purely by accident, Virginia and Gordy discover details about their missing mothers, and the Bosque family mission to bring life back to Earth. They set off on an adventure to a secret planet called Tara where humans have been nurturing Earth plants and animals. They find Virginia’s mother, but it is not the loving reunion Virginia always hoped for. In fact, nothing is what Virginia hoped for. She is thrust into a role she was unprepared for, with parents who were never there for her, physically or emotionally. Written in first person, our heroine thinks Gordy and Dot are the only ones who seem to really care about her. She is overwhelmed with dealing with family issues, let alone saving Earth! But she has courage and hope.


The ecological message is there, but never forced beyond what is necessary for the plot, which I really appreciated. However, except for the lush vegetation described on Tara, the book lacked much in the way of description. I often found myself struggling to envision the physical sci-fi world Virginia was a part of, including the characters. I looked up later that this book was originally a script, which explains a lot. However, Virginia’s thoughts and emotions are well written and bring depth to the book that would otherwise just be a fun action novel. Gordy and Virginia are well-rounded characters, and I hope we get a story from Gordy’s point of view next.

Does Virginia help her family’s mission to restore life on Earth? Join a band of space-pirates (that is an option!)? Or figure out how to return to her previous life under the Triumverate? I won’t give away any more of the plot here, but Green Tara is full of action and emotion for ages nine and up.

Geekmom received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Hammer of Witches

TU Books


“My uncle’s meaningful stare pierced right through me. “Dashed off, leaving a child in my arms.”                                                                                 By that time in my life, I’d heard enough fairy tales to know what a sentence like that meant. Until then, though, I’d never known what it felt like to be part of such a story. The end of my uncle’s tale was so obvious, so inevitable, and yet I could hardly believe the words.”

Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski is all about stories: fairy tales, religious texts, and history. She takes what we know of Columbus’ voyage to America  and uses it as the backdrop about a boy learning the power of words, and the magic behind the meaning of stories. It’s a good book.

Historical fantasy is not a genre I have read before. The heroic tale of Columbus that I learned in school was soured by the brutal reality when I learned about that same voyage as an adult. After her fictional tale ends, Mlawski takes several pages to explain what parts in the book were based on historians best guesses of what really happened, and what she played around with for the sake of a good yarn. I’m impressed with how much truth she wove into a story filled with witches, genies, and magic!

Set in 1492 Spain, Baltasar Infante is our hero, and he’s an optimistic, chatty teen boy with multiple layers to his own story; a story he learns about slowly as the book progresses. Baltasar has grown up under the threat of the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition. His parents were Christian converts, once Jews, but killed by the Inquisition. Yet he learns that he is part Muslim as well. This blending of faiths, and the stories they hold, is a source of conflict and ultimately strength for Baltasar. But this is not a book about religion, it’s a book of adventure and magic.

Through a series of events, Baltasar must go on the run to avoid the Malleus Maleficarum, and to destroy or be destroyed by the hero-turned-traitor Amir al-Katib. He joins Columbus’ crew to find a new sea passage to Cathay. Baltasar learns that he has the magic to summon creatures at will, but only creatures from stories he knows, and to summon them takes an intimate understanding of the truths within them. Yet, he learns there are many interpretations to the same story, and many truths that can be hard to accept. But he has a genie named Jinniyah to help him, and eventually a cool friend named Catalina, a fellow magic user.

Mlawski’s prose is fluid and colorful. The characters grow, and the story is unique within the setting of familiar history. I am always interested in new takes on magic, and the idea of understanding tales as the source of power really appealed to me. I recommend Hammer of Witches for junior high and up.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.