Between the Bookends May 2016: A Bad-Ass Baseball Bloodline

Reading Time: 9 minutes
Between the Bookends Header © Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header © Sophie Brown

As spring creeps toward summer, the GeekMoms have been piling on the literary pounds. From daring acts by librarians in Timbuktu to jinn-controlled super soldiers, horses in upstate New York to learning how to land aircraft, you’re sure to find something you’ll want to pack into your suitcase this vacation season.

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Bucky F*cking Dent, Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Bucky F*cking Dent, Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

GeekMom Sophie was sent a copy of Bucky F*cking Dent, David Duchovny’s second novel, and wasn’t sure how she would get on with it given her almost complete lack of baseball knowledge. Set throughout the 1978 baseball season, the book follows Ted Fullilove, a peanut vendor at Yankee Stadium with an Ivy League education and aspirations of writing the Great American Novel. When he learns that his estranged father Marty is dying, Ted moves back to his childhood home to support him and the pair attempt to rekindle a difficult relationship. Ted soon discovers that his father’s health is tied to the success of his beloved Boston Red Sox, and conspires to fake a winning streak for the team with the help of friends and neighbors. It’s a ridiculous premise, but one that is pulled off with so much care, and such well-crafted characters, that the ludicrous nature of the plan is soon forgotten in the emotion of the story.

Sophie loved this book, even though she felt she missed out on a whole level of meaning from it thanks to her British, baseball-free upbringing. The smell of the stadium, the thwack of a ball smashing off a bat–these are things she has only ever experienced on television, and so that shared community history of baseball cards, box scores, and beer was lost on her. Still, Duchovny’s writing made her feel nostalgic for a thing she had never experienced, and the subtlety of Ted and Marty’s growing love for one another kept her turning the pages long into the night.

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The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Image: Simon & Schuster
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Image: Simon & Schuster

Sophie likes to use her reading as an escape, so picking up a nonfiction book about the occupation of Timbuktu by Al Queda would usually be something she avoided entirely. However, when she spotted the title The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joseph Hammer, she was compelled to check it out. The book tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara and his nephew Mohammed Touré who saved hundreds of thousands of historic manuscripts from the hands of radical jihadis when Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb took over much of northern Mali in 2012. The manuscripts had been passed down through the generations, often buried in the desert or hidden away in caves, and contained priceless ancient knowledge of science, history, poetry, jurisprudence, and much more that the jihadis considered haram (forbidden).

Sophie found the book fascinating, although she felt it often strayed from the title subject. Large portions of the book were given over to the histories of the Timbuktu region, radical Islam in northern Africa, the manuscripts themselves and the culture surrounding them. This background information helped give context to what Haidara and Touré had to do but also meant the book was slow to get going and lost some of the sense of urgency that their cause necessitated. Sophie did find herself reminded just how Western-centric her own education (and that of most Westerners) is, given how little she knew of the Islamic scholars whose work had been passed down for thousands of years and she hopes this book will bring some of that knowledge to light.

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Welcome to Night Vale, Image: Harper Perennial
Welcome to Night Vale, Image: Harper Perennial

Lisa Tate had never listed to the podcast, Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, but her daughter, a huge fan, urged her to read their book of the same name. She did and fell into a Twin Peaks like trance (only nowhere near as dark) for several days while reading this. Not only does Lisa live in the desert Southwest, she loved the dreamy mystery surrounding this story from ghosts to extra-terrestrials.

Not a horror story by any accounts, it has a playful eeriness to it that will involuntarily give the reader some spine-tingling shudders between the numerous laughs. Lisa found out after reading that some of the information being shared throughout the novel comes from the podcast itself. Although readers will get full enjoyment of this book without having heard it, Lisa is planning on catching up on the happenings in this wonderfully outré community and its omnipresent Glow Cloud.

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How To Land An A330 Airbus, Image: Hodder & Stoughton
How To Land An A330 Airbus, Image: Hodder & Stoughton

Lisa was also able to get her collection of hilariously useful books by James May started with a trio of reads: How to Land an A330 Airbus: And Other Vital Skills for the Modern Man, James May’s Man Lab: The Book of Usefulness, and James May’s Magnificent Machines: How Men in Sheds Have Changed Our Lives. Of the three, the latter two are companion books of his television specials (Magnificent Machines was originally published as James May’s 20th Century), but How to Land an A330 Airbus is Lisa’s recommendation for anyone who hasn’t plunged into May’s fascinating take on manhood (and personhood), the world around us, and the wonderful things within it.

Lisa said the whole “gender neutral” world of books and toys has never been on her radar but does hope May realizes he gets plenty of readership from women who want to learn how to remain practical and useful in an increasingly high-tech, low hands-on world. His way with words and the sometimes morbidly insightful thought process he pours into his information should be appealing to all readers, although those who may be squeamish about cannibalism might want to steer clear of How Land an A330 Airbus. If not, she invites readers with a maker’s mind and do-it-yourself heart to “dig right in.” Pun intended.

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Saint's Blood, Image: Jo Fletcher Books
Saint’s Blood, Image: Jo Fletcher Books

Shiri waited impatiently for Saint’s Blood by Sebastien deCastell to arrive on her doorstep; so impatient was she it was ordered from the UK that she might not be forced to wait an additional six weeks for its US debut. She considers it very much worth the additional investment as this third entry into deCastell’s Greatcoats series (which also includes Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow) is the best entry so far in what has become Shiri’s favorite series in years.

Saint’s Blood continues to follow Falcio, Kest, and Brasti on their quest to bring peace and Law back to their homeland of Tristia after the murder of the king they all served so faithfully. No easy task when the majority of the populace, especially those with armies at their commands, want the trio and the heir to Tristia’s throne very, very dead. Magic, swashbuckling, and wit abound in a novel that is heroic, tragic, hilarious, and moving in turns, and, sometimes, all at once. If you are not reading Greatcoats, you should be. Start now and you’ll have time to read the series thus far a couple of times before the fourth and final installment, Tyrant’s Throne, comes out next year.

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Nexus, Image: Angry Robot
Nexus, Image: Angry Robot

Shiri’s next selection was Ramez Naam’s part cyberpunk, part techno-thriller, part meditation on the capacity of the human mind, Nexus. Overall, she enjoyed the story of a grad student caught up, by virtue of his research on a mind-expanding drug called Nexus, in a larger battle between governments and some entities even larger and more influential. She also enjoyed the exploration of human thought and the discussion of Buddhism as a perfect medium for expanding the capacity and interconnectedness of said.

Shiri did feel the book was a bit light on character development and that Kade, the main protagonist, was difficult to root for in spots due to an idealism that didn’t make complete sense and his willingness to pursue his own goals to the detriment of others whilst complaining vociferously about others doing the same vis a vis his research. Shiri also found Sam, the main female character, who started out complete and strong, degraded to a trope about halfway through the book with trauma as an explanation for her actions rather than her own conscience and priorities. Shiri doesn’t regret the time spend on Nexus but doesn’t see herself making further forays into the series.

 

 

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Gemini Cell, Image: Ace
Gemini Cell, Image: Ace

Shiri also read Gemini Cell by Myke Cole: a fascinating mix of military sci-fi, zombie novel, fantasy novel, and love story. Jim Schweitzer, a Navy Seal, and his wife and son are attacked in their home; Schweitzer wakes to find his corpse inhabited by both his own soul and that of an ancient jinn. He is super soldier experiment, prisoner, and war god all at once.

Jim learns most subjects in the Gemini Cell program are eventually dominated by the magic reanimating them and become killing machines who are destroyed by the program when they can no longer be adequately controlled. Schweitzer, however, manages to subdue his jinn and maintain his humanity and the operators of Gemini Cell are determined to discover what makes him special so that they can replicate it in future subjects. When Schweitzer discovers he has been lied to, that his family is still alive, he is determined to return to them with grave consequences all around. The book inhabits the same world as Cole’s Shadow Ops series.

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Star Wars Bloodline, Image: Del Rey
Star Wars Bloodline, Image: Del Rey

Bloodline by Claudia Gray  is the latest Star Wars novel and has already been reviewed in depth by GeekDad Jamie Green . It has been years since Shiri read a franchise novel as she has often found them disappointing (with the exception of Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath) but was unable to resist the call of a book devoted entirely to Leia Organa and set in the years just prior to The Force Awakens.

While less action/adventure and more political thriller (to which Shiri has no objection but which isn’t standard Star Wars fare), though with plenty of shenanigans and blaster fire–this is Princess Leia after all–Shiri thoroughly enjoyed Bloodline and would recommend it highly to all Star Wars fans. The story was fast paced, the characters well developed (even if they occasionally made those developments more swiftly than living humans might), and the reader is given a fantastic insight into a woman hasn’t always been given the credit she deserves. The book also serves as a sort of origin story for the First Order and the Resistance, providing the answers to some lingering questions left in the wake of The Force Awakens. Overall an excellent read that Shiri finished in two days despite a sick kid and a crazy work schedule.

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Brave Girl Eating, Image: William Morrow Paperbacks
Brave Girl Eating, Image: William Morrow Paperbacks

GeekMom Rebecca Angel dove into an intense memoir called Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle With Anorexia by Harriet Brown. It was recommended by a friend because Rebecca has a family member dealing with this illness.

She found the book to be intense and well-written, especially appreciating the science writing. Anorexia is a very misunderstood mental and physical disorder, and Brown makes a point to explain the research that has been done in a clear and compelling way.

Highly recommended for everyone. Seriously. Eating disorders are too prevalent, and deadly, and the only way to help (mostly our young girls) is to be informed and willing to talk about it. This book is a good start.

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The Mare, Image: Pantheon
The Mare, Image: Pantheon

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill is Rebecca Angel’s current read. It is a novel about Velveteen Vargas, a Fresh Air Fund young girl who stays with a host family in upstate NY. They are are a childless couple, Ginger and Paul, and it’s only due to Ginger’s desperate insistence that they participate. There is a horse barn within walking distance of the couple, and Velvet is a natural with horses, falling in love with an abused, wild mare called Fugly Girl. But the story is less about horses and more about Ginger and Velvet’s private struggles, and their relationships with each other and everyone else.

The prose is beautiful, often poetic. The characters are strong and real, sometimes too much; they are so flawed and struggling. Rebecca is only half-way through but recommends it already.

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Beezus and Ramona, Image: HarperCollins
Beezus and Ramona, Image: HarperCollins

Amy finally got her kids interested in Ramona Quimby through audiobooks on their recent road trip. They listened to Beezus and Ramona and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, so Amy read them her own favorite, Ramona and Her Father when they got home. Now they’re back to the Bunnicula series with The Celery Stalks at Midnight.

For herself, Amy grabbed the final book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Colours of Madeleine trilogy, A Tangle of Gold, as soon as it made it through library processing. Jaclyn Moriarty is a consistent delight, and this book is like her others: funny, suspenseful, twisty, and just plain weird.

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