Between the Bookends March 2016: Knee Replacements, Lost Civilizations, and Unusual Chickens

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Between the Bookends Header © Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header © Sophie Brown

The GeekMoms join the GeekDads with a new joint site this month, but that hasn’t prevented us getting some serious reading in. During the last month we’ve been reading about knee replacement surgery, lost civilizations, unusual chickens, and way, way more. Check out our reading lists for March.


The Pilot Who Wore a Dress Cover © HarperCollins
The Pilot Who Wore a Dress Cover © HarperCollins

Sophie began her month with The Pilot Who Wore a Dress by Tom Cutter, a book of “lateral thinking mysteries” and puzzles. The book includes sections on brainteasers, locked room mysteries taken from detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, and some puzzles you can try out on friends at a bar or restaurant. Sophie found many of the brainteasers surprisingly easy, such as the example here: “four bodybuilders are huddling together in the street, under a small ladies’ umbrella, yet after 20 minutes not one of them has got wet. How is this possible?” Several puzzles also highlighted how sexist our unconscious brains can be, such as the “conundrum” from which the book takes its title. Sophie did enjoy teaching some of the matchstick puzzles to her six-year-old son who had his mind blown by some of them, and demonstrated some impressive lateral thinking of his own. As for the answer to that puzzle above: Who said it was raining?

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Trust No One Cover © IDW Publishing
Trust No One Cover © IDW Publishing

Sophie also raced through The Truth Is Out There, a new volume of 15 X-Files short stories. As with the previous collection (2015’s Trust No One), this collection varied widely in quality and theme. Just like the show, the subjects of the stories cover everything from a teenage Mulder investigating his sister’s disappearance, to witches, bizarre physics, fae, and porn stars whose heads keep exploding. Sophie particularly enjoyed “Voice of Experience,” a creepy tale that will have you suspicious of everyone come NaNoWriMo time, and “Mummiya,” in which Mulder and Scully investigate an apparent mummy attack. There were a few duds, chief among them “We Should Listen to Some Shostakovich” which featured a heavily pregnant newlywed Scully inheriting an old oil painting from a family friend and discovering it holds a secret message – however, the good far outweighs the bad. If you’re already missing Mulder and Scully again then this is a great way to ease the pain.

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A Vision of Fire and A Dream of Ice Covers © Simon & Schuster
A Vision of Fire and A Dream of Ice Covers © Simon & Schuster

Continuing the X-Files theme, Sophie read both A Vision of Fire and A Dream of Ice, books one and two of The Earthend Saga by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin. The series follows Dr. Caitlin O’Hara, a child psychologist who finds herself caught up in strange events when teenagers across the world begin exhibiting odd behavior caused by souls from the lost civilization of Galderkhaan who have been trapped in a sort of limbo for millennia. In book one, Caitlin attempts to help the daughter of an important diplomat who is tortured by visions of this long-lost land during its dying hours. In book two Caitlin finds herself connected to the same ancient civilization and gaining powers she doesn’t understand. She and her young son are soon threatened when the spirits of the ancient Galderkhaani attempt to use Caitlin to save their society at the cost of billions of lives. The books are packed with ideas, perhaps a few too many really, and Sophie found them both to be page-turners; however, she often struggled to follow exactly what was going on – after two books she’s still not entirely sure what the czah is, or what the difference between ascended and transcended souls is. The constant moving around through both time and space, along with multiple visions that may or may not be real, adds to the general confusion. All that being said, Sophie will definitely be picking up the third book of the saga, The Sound of Seas, when it is published later this year.

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The Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target Covers © Disney Lucasfilm Press
The Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target Covers © Disney Lucasfilm Press

Sophie also continued her voyage through the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens book collection, with Jason Fry’s The Weapon of a Jedi, and Moving Target by Jason Fry and Cecil Castellucci. Luke’s story is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and follows Luke’s discovery of a ruined Jedi temple on Devaron. In it, Sophie learned a little more about how Luke continued his training between the loss of Obi-Wan and meeting Yoda. In Leia’s story (set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) she got to see into Leia’s mindset after the loss of Han to Jabba, and also got a look at the tactical side of the Rebellion. Sophie enjoyed both books but strongly preferred Moving Target as she found it added more to the Star Wars universe while providing a look at the sacrifices made by the rebels away from the front line battlefields. However, she did find Luke’s meditation technique very useful to get herself through a nasty dental appointment while she was reading his book!

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In Real Life Cover © St. Martin's Griffin
In Real Life Cover © St. Martin’s Griffin

Finally Sophie picked up In Real Life by Jessica Love. The book is about two online friends who have known each other for years, and know every intimate detail of one another’s lives, but have never met in person. It appealed hugely to Sophie, who also counts someone she has never met in person as one of her two best friends (incidentally, so does her husband). Unfortunately, she found the book something of a letdown. The two friends in the novel, Hannah (aka “Ghost”) and Ben, live an apparently insurmountable four hours drive apart (SoCal and Las Vegas) which Sophie immediately found laughable given the twelve-hour transatlantic flight separating her from her online BFF. And although the book was about an online relationship, the two had met in person within the first few chapters, resulting in the rest of the book being just another teenage romance with a bit of a twist. Sophie figured that she’d probably have loved the book when she was in her late teens, but is simply much too old for it these days!

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Unusual Chickens for The Exceptional Poultry Farmer © Knopf Books for Young Readers
Unusual Chickens for The Exceptional Poultry Farmer © Knopf Books for Young Readers

GeekMom Amy W. and kids (ages almost-7 and almost-9) have revisited one of her childhood favorites this month, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which–in classic Dahl mode–really is far more horrifying to read as an adult than it is as a child. Also, Amy’s British accents suck, so most of the characters used British terminology in American accents, but the kids cared far less than she did. After that, her daughter’s inexplicable obsession with chickens prompted her to bring home a 2015 title she’d bought for the library, Kelly Jones’ Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, about a girl whose family inherited her great-uncle’s farm only to discover that he’d been keeping chickens with superpowers. She not only learns to take care of these special chickens but she has to keep others from discovering their secret and trying to steal them away. Meanwhile, she’s adjusting from moving to the country from L.A., and her background as a mixed-race Latina flavors her interactions too.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim © Carolrhoda Books
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim © Carolrhoda Books

In the meantime, Amy’s actually been reading some books on her own, in bits and pieces, when she gets around to it, which is not doing much for her attention span. But she’s flitting between The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston (an alternate universe YA where carbon-loving dragons constantly threaten the human civilization that INSISTS on continuing to create carbon EMISSIONS –Amy keeps thinking “but WHY do they keep DEVELOPING carbon-emitting technology when it results in… OH I get it now”– and dragon slayers are like sports stars, and our narrator becomes friends with a budding young dragon slayer and then officially becomes his Bard. Keep in mind this is not high fantasy, but takes place in modern Canada between otherwise typical high school students); and The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, the somewhat-historically-accurate graphic novel by Sydney Padua that spun off from the comic. She is too scatterbrained at the moment to concentrate on just one or the other.

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Total Knee Replacement and Rehabilitation © Hunter House, Inc
Total Knee Replacement and Rehabilitation © Hunter House, Inc

Kay had an out-of-control month, prepping for and experiencing a knee replacement, so her reading included research and retreat into denial and comfort. For preparation, she read Total Knee Replacement and Rehabilitation: The Knee Owner’s Manual, by Daniel J. Brugioni, M.D., and Jeff Falkel, P.D., P.T., CSCS. This was not an amusing read, but was engrossing in the details it provided about knee replacement. The book is copyright 2004, so more recent information is available on the internet, but TKRR served up well-organized, complete information to help her prepare for surgery and rehab. One of the advantages was getting helpful information about how to exercise to be in better shape for the rehab and body changes following the surgery. The book also provided Kay with a checkpoint from medical professionals to compare against information found on the internet.

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Blacksad © Dark Horse Comics
Blacksad © Dark Horse Comics

Kay also enjoyed a book relentlessly recommended by her daughter: Blacksad, by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido. This is a collection of three adult comic series, featuring anthropomorphic animal characters, set in a (mostly) New York-like city in something like post-WWII America (including nudity, violence, and difficult social relationships; not suitable for most youngsters). Kay swooned, like so many others, over the crisp and evocative art style and the expressive animal faces, which tell the emotional side of the story with snarling snouts, twitched whiskers, and tilted ears, while still portraying complete humanity as well. The mood of the stories is classic noir, with John Blacksad the narrating hard-boiled private eye who gets hoodwinked, involved against his better judgment, and throws a mean uppercut. Kay enjoyed the reduced tension of exploring social issues in this anthropomorphic universe, and the insights allowed by translating our noir tropes and our social history to a skewed animal fiction. Plus, she finds the pages just fun to look at!

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When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness © Penguin Random House
When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness © Penguin Random House

Returning to health and well-being, Kay has been reading When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends, and Caregivers, by Rebecca Woolis, MFT. Naturally, this is the kind of book you generally wish you would not need to read, but Kay is looking for ways to communicate with some folks who don’t admit to their diagnosis, and looking for ways to help them operate more successfully within their shared community and in the larger world. Kay finds the attitudes in the book (revised 2003) straightforward and helpful; there is no default assumption that the reader is a parent or adviser/therapist or spouse or friend. Each major consideration is looked at from those various roles, since the remedies and approaches available differ. A good bonus is a thorough set of 46 “Quick Reference Guides” that distill the more verbose discussions, like a cheat sheet. They even are listed separately in the Contents. These 46 topics range from “Improving Grooming” to “Preventing Suicide” to “How to Help People Who Do Not Understand That They Have Dual Disorders.” Kay found comfort and guidance in this book, even though there are more books with more answers out there, and many more questions and situations to resolve.

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Kingfisher © Penguin Random House
Kingfisher © Penguin Random House

Jill recently finished reading Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip… and can’t decide if it’s one of her favorite books ever or if she can’t quite figure out what happened. Maybe both. It’s definitely a book that begs a reread, preferably after some time spent musing over the story and perhaps some far older tales, legends, and myths.

Like all McKillip’s previous books, the writing is gorgeous and there are constant glimmers of something deeper going on underneath the surface. Those familiar with Arthurian legend will pick up threads of it immediately. However, this is a world in which our hero, Pierce Oliver, the son of a sorceress, meets a few knights and sets off on a journey to the court of the king… driving a small car, his cell phone close at hand. It can be a startling juxtaposition, but Jill thinks the combination of the legendary and the modern works. It introduces an unsettling element to what is, in some ways, an oddly familiar story. The players in the story–of which Pierce is only one, although he’s an important one–blur and blend together, like so much of Arthurian legend, and if you think you know who is who, you might still be surprised.

This book (like many of McKillip’s) probably isn’t for someone who likes their plotlines tied up in neat little bows. But for those who like putting down a book, thinking about it a while, and then whispering, “Oh!” … Well, give it a try.

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Chaos Choreography © Penguin Random House
Chaos Choreography © Penguin Random House

After reading Kingfisher over the course of several weeks, Jill then devoured Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire in less than 24 hours, which is pretty much unheard of in these days of constant motion and little sleep. The book is the seventh in McGuire’s InCryptid Series, which is just plain fun, although somewhat hard to explain beyond “Members of a family of cryptozoologists kick ass, take names, and do their best to both protect their world and survive.”

Oh, and in one case, dance. You’ll see.

McGuire has a gift for excellent dialogue, fantastic characters, humor blended with heartbreak (oh, Alice), and stories that move fast. Yeah, Jill’s a fan. This series and McGuire’s others are highly recommended for those who like urban fantasy.

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Stranded on Planet Strip Mall © Marvel
Stranded on Planet Strip Mall © Marvel

Since GeekMom Lisa has been taking an online course on C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man, a slim book with a very heavy theme of whether or not personal feelings and perceptions are relevant to the “truth,” she needed to lighten up a bit with something, well, not so deep. She hit the young reader’s section and discovered what Tom Angleberger has been up to. This latest little romp into mischief, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! is certainly not heavy. The middle school-level read, like Angleberger’s previous works, crash-lands Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon and Groot of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, fresh from a battle with giant space piranhas, onto a small unchartered planet of strip malls, armed only with a tape dispenser.

“It’s really a good tape dispenser,” the story reveals, “latest model, makes its own tape, HHHHD touch screen, artificially intelligent, purple with sparkles.”

This entire book is written, and drawn, by Rocket himself, with some interruptions from Groot and the tape dispenser, who will come to be called “Veronica,” along the way. There is also plenty of potty humor, too. Not figuratively either, as this pair (trio, actually if you count Veronica) will take on killer toilets among other perils. In order to not read this entire book in one sitting, Lisa read it aloud to her daughter, so it could last at least three nights. It barely did, as it was very fun to read. Having read the more substantial young readers’ novel, Rocket Raccoon and Groot Steal the Galaxy by Dan Abnett as a bedtime story, she was already aware her kids love a good Rocket and Groot story. Angleberger is no stranger to the juvenile humor world with his Qwikpick Papers books, including Poop Fountain! and Rat With the Human Face, neither of which Lisa has built up enough gag reflexes so far to get for her kids.

Her next read will be a little darker as she finally picks up Seth Grahame-Smith’s The Last American Vampire, his follow-up to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The book follows vampire Henry Sturges through his personal journey in the twentieth-century America. Lisa has made her husband promise to keep mum on all the details of this book, but having enjoyed the first in the series, as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, she expects good, but likely gruesome things.

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Red Queen © Harper-Collins
Red Queen © Harper-Collins

GeekMom Jena read Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen for her book club this week. While most of the group enjoyed it, she found it to be repetitive and too reminiscent of other recent dystopian novels to hold her interest. Maybe it is genre-burnout,but a special girl with the power to topple an unfair society while struggling between love interests, familial expectations, and doing what needs to be done is just overdone at this point. She knows others thought the book was great but she was bored and doesn’t feel the need to read the remaining two books in the series.

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Deliverance Dane © Hyperion
Deliverance Dane © Hyperion

At the other end of the spectrum, Jena absolutely adored The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. Recommended to her by GeekMom Karen, Jena had trouble putting this one down. A perfect combination of fantasy and history, the story of Connie and her search for the truth about a mysterious book was fascinating from beginning to end. With enough twists and turns to keep it interesting but not so complicated as to be difficult to follow, this is one she thinks everyone should try. If you have any interest at all in realistic fiction or American colonial history, this is a great read.

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Copies of some books included in these recommendations have been provided for review purposes.