Between the Bookends 12/15: Conquest, Catalyst, & Carcassonne

Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown

The holidays might be upon us, and we might all be running around like headless chickens in our attempts to spread festive joy in our collective wake, but the GeekMoms have still found time to dig into some serious reading. This month, Shiri takes a look at the prequel novel to the movie of the year: Rogue One, Nivi steps further into fantasy with her children, Anika finally finds time to pick up a book she’s been intending to read for years, and Sophie delves deep into dystopia. Happy Holidays from the GeekMoms!


Annihilation Conquest, Image: Marvel
Annihilation Conquest, Image: Marvel

A lot of Shiri’s November was taken up doing research for her New Jersey Comic Expo moderator gigs. One of her favorite “reference” books was the Annihilation: Conquest Omnibus, a huge, multi-title arc which reset the Marvel Comic Universe in 2014/2015. Shiri chose it for Sean Chen’s art, and on GeekDad Mordechai’s recommendation; Chen’s art is really quite lovely despite his protestations to the contrary during the panel, but with official research done, Shiri quickly found herself engrossed in the overlapping stories of Nova (1-12, annual), Star-Lord (Annihilation Conquest 1-4), Quasar (Annihilation Conquest 1-4), Wraith (Annihilation Conquest 1-4), and the Annihilation Saga.

Shiri hadn’t had much exposure to Richard Rider’s Nova or Wraith and is always pleased to find herself in the presence of the Guardians of the Galaxy, including Mantis, who was added to the crew for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2. Annihilation. It was also a fascinating opportunity to encounter Ronin as a very different sort of character from the one serving Thanos in Vol. 1. This collection doesn’t skimp on the action either: EVIL ALIENS! SENTIENT ROBOTS! ALIEN POSSESSION! KREE! SKULLS! SHIRTLESS STARLORD… I mean… *ahem* As massive crossover events go, this one is pretty fantastic and having the omnibus means one doesn’t have to hunt down single issues or buy a bunch of trade paperbacks with extraneous issues. Unless you want the extraneous issues. Which Shiri probably would… well. You get the point.

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Grayson, Image: DC Comics
Grayson, Image: DC Comics

Shiri also caught up on Grayson: Volumes 2-4 this past month, individually titled We All Die at Dawn, Nemesis, and A Ghost in The Tomb. The creative team on this one is fabulous (Tom King, Tim Steely, Mikel Janin) and is, Shiri was happy to discover quite recently, the same team working on the Nightwing book post-Rebirth.

Part spy thriller, part superhero book, part mystery, and part Robin-fest, the Grayson books are pure entertainment and pure fun, packed full of the absolute joy that’s evident when writers and artist love what they’re doing and are in on some of the canon running gags (like, for instance, the caliber of Dick Grayson’s hindquarters). They make great holiday gifts for any comic lover on your list and Shiri found plenty of cheaper, used copies of each through Amazon marketplace if you’re trying to conserve or don’t have a local comic shop.

 

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Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, Image: Del Rey Books
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, Image: Del Rey Books

With Rogue One on the horizon (*squeeeeee*) Shiri felt it would be a good idea to get the backstory as presented in Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno. It was… not bad but also not awesome? The entire novel was basically a character study of Jyn’s father, Galen Erso, and her mother (whose name Shiri honestly can’t even remember at the moment [it was Lyra – Ed.]), combined with a laundry list of the mistakes Galen made which led the Ersos into the situation in which they find themselves at the beginning of Rogue One (Shiri won’t expound in case anyone has been hiding from trailers for the last couple of years).

Catalyst was well written for what it was, it simply wasn’t all that compelling of a read and the contents could probably be summed up with greater brevity and efficiency in a Wookiepedia entry. Shiri also imagines it will be covered, at least in brief, in the opening scenes of Rogue One. Shiri is of the mind that even Star Wars fans can skip this one, especially since there is some really good stuff out there, including…

 

 

 

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Aftermath: Life Debt, Image: Del Rey
Aftermath: Life Debt, Image: Del Rey

…. Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy. Shiri read the first entry, entitled simply Aftermath when it first came out. Aftermath: Life Debt has been sitting on her Kindle app for some time, not from lack of desire but just because of life. She busted it out last month, however, and is very happy she did. Wendig is writing some of the best Star Wars stuff out there at the moment (tied with Claudia Gray’s Leia-centric novel Bloodline and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader comic). The book follows the continuing adventures of the reluctantly thrust-together Rebel team of Nora Wexley; her son Temmin, better, and later, known as Snap; his insane droid, Mister Bones; former Imperial Loyalty Officer Sinjir Rath Velus (a personal favorite character of Shiri’s); bounty hunter Jas Emari; and Rebel Special Force veteran Jom Barell.

Shiri has read a lot of reviews complaining about Wendig using his books to advance a social justice warrior agenda. Shiri’s response is this: it’s a whole. Flipping. Galaxy. Just because the early canon stuff fails the diversity test doesn’t mean the new stuff should and Wendig is one of the only Star Wars writers taking the risks and giving us the depth and breaths of life and sexual orientations and ethnic/species diversity that would surely be present on a galactic scale (considering the diversity present on the single planet of Earth). And Wending handles it all deftly and gorgeously in that he doesn’t handle anything. The diversity simply is and that is as it should be.

This entry into the canon is also awesome on the action front with massive battles galore, an attempted assassination, mind-control, and a certain missing husband, who happens to be trying to free his walking carpet of a co-pilot and the Wookiee homework of Kashyyk, from the Empire.
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The Vegetarian, Image: Hogarth
The Vegetarian, Image: Hogarth

For something completely different, Shiri read The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The story of a woman who converts to vegetarianism because of a troubling dream, much to the chagrin, and, ultimately, violent reaction of her family, is both gorgeous and utterly disturbing simultaneously. The language is something very special, even in translation, and Shiri would be willing to learn Korean just to be able to read this book, and Kang’s upcoming novel, in the original language.

There is a component of both spousal abuse and abuse of an adult child by her father in this book, so be aware if those are particularly difficult or personal. This is one Shiri put down and sat with for a while; it’s probably best experienced with some time, space, and quiet. Absolutely worth clawing out that space.

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Atonement, Image: Anchor
Atonement, Image: Anchor

Over a year ago, Anika bought Atonement by Ian McEwan at a used book sale for the cover featuring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy, stars of the 2007 film adaptation. It was one of those films Anika wanted to see but never got around to, and after purchase also became one of those books she wanted to read but never got around to it. But she finally read it over Thanksgiving break.

The story and the characters are somewhat simplistic and Anika figured out all of the ‘plot twists’ within the first couple chapters. But in the end, neither plot nor character is the point. The ‘atonement’ (amends) is found within the writing, both the act of it, and the beauty of it. For it is beautifully written — vivid, poignant, and deliberate. It is also incredibly sad. After she finished reading the book, Anika watched the film, which is very true to the novel in that it emphasizes aesthetic over story. Anika recommends both, but only as art, and only if your heart can take it.

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The Red Pyramid, Image: Disney-Hyperion
The Red Pyramid, Image: Disney-Hyperion

Nivi’s 10-year-old continued his fascination with all things Rick Riordan by picking up The Red Pyramid. After finishing both the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, Nivi hoped it would be time for Harry Potter, but alas, the prolific Rick Riordan has another series already out there. Hopefully, they’ll outpace him eventually, maybe before he starts in on the Hindu gods, because that could take a while.

In any case, the series (all of them), have been great fun for the reluctant reader (the 10-year-old, not Nivi), who has enjoyed learning all things Greek, Roman, and now Egyptian in school, which is a welcome change from the math-only approach he formerly took to life. The books are engaging, funny, and complex, and Nivi’s getting plenty of practice on her British accent reading in Sadie’s POV, despite complaints that it sounds just like her Hermione accent.

The Red Pyramid tells the story of siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, as they fight against the House of Life when their parents release the ancient Egyptian Gods and mayhem ensues. It’s the first of a trilogy, so if she fails to post further, assume they’re plodding ahead.

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The Demon King and The Exiled Queen, Image: Hyperion
The Demon King and The Exiled Queen, Image: Hyperion

Once in a while, homework and soccer practice get finished early enough that Nivi gets a chance to read with her 12-year-old, and they have been enjoying the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. As she just described the series to a friend of hers, the Seven Realms books are about wizards who abuse power, clans who master earth magic and create the talismans wizards need to cast their spells, kingdoms who are anti-magic, a queendom under attack, and political intrigue. But centrally, it’s about a former gang leader trying to get out of the life who encounters the princess heir, who is trying to learn more about the world she will one day lead but is being sheltered from, driven to focus on what to wear at dances and preparing for a politically advantageous marriage.

The only negative about reading this with her 12-year-old is that, when he gets free time that doesn’t correspond to her free time (i.e. when she’s reading to the 10-year-old), he goes ahead and reads ahead without her, so she misses out on revisiting this wonderful series in its entirety. Because it really is one of those series that grabs you by the lapel, yanks you into their world, and even when you return to the real world, you’re still tethered there, afraid that somehow their lives are going on without you (which is obviously absurd, since it’s a book–except when your kid goes on reading without you–but she feels that every time she read these books solo, which is each time a new book comes out in the series). These are the first two books of a four-book series.

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The 5th Wave, Image: Penguin Books
The 5th Wave, Image: Penguin Books

Sophie has been steaming through books this month in order to complete the 2016 PopSugar Reading Challenge before the year ends. For the “book being made into a movie this year” category, she picked up The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, a post-alien invasion YA novel that follows several young people through the aftermath of our planet’s near-destruction. There’s 16-year-old Cassie – on a mission to find her little brother Sam, 17-year-old Zombie – her former classmate turned hardened soldier and Evan – who may or may not be one of Them.

The book is set several months after the initial waves of the invasion. Wave one was an EMP that took down our power, wave two: giant tidal waves that devastated the landscape, wave three: a plague that wiped out billions and wave four: the realization that an unknown percentage of the survivors are alien sleeper agents – leaving those left behind incapable of trusting one another. The book explores this theme, never making it entirely clear who is on whose side and just when you think you know what’s going on, the tables are turned once again.

Sophie thoroughly enjoyed the book, which kept her guessing right up until the end, although she did find the romance subplot between Cassie and Evan (you knew there had to be one) just a little creepy. She is looking forward to hopefully picking up the other two books in the trilogy: The Infinite Sea and The Last Star next year.

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The Road, Image: Picador
The Road, Image: Picador

Sophie began Cormac McCarthy’s The Road one morning and finished it before she went to bed, finding the book utterly un-put-downable. She did somewhat regret reading it immediately after The 5th Wave, finding the constant stream of dystopia direct to her brain somewhat overwhelming, but the world McCarthy painted was so detailed that even its unending bleakness and tragedy was worth sticking with.

The book follows two unnamed characters, the man and the boy (his son) as they walk through the charred remains of what was once America. The entire country is burned from some unknown event several years in the past which has left nothing alive. They survive purely on a mixture of hope and luck – avoiding the tribes of wandering cannibals and praying to come across hidden stashes of food which are becoming harder and harder to find. Unlike most post-apocalyptic tales which have the protagonists making their way to some promised Eden – a last refuge or final stand of humanity – this is a story in which there is no final destination and no real hope, just the two of them keeping going.

Sophie found The Road to be a hard, yet rewarding read, although she couldn’t help both finding the language a little overly obtuse, and wanting to know more what had caused all that devastation in the first place.

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Whographica, Image: BBC Books
Whographica, Image: BBC Books

Sophie also took a look at the Doctor Who: Whographica – a new book that lays out an incredible amount of information about Doctor Who over 200 pages of infographics. The book is spread across twelve sections that include The Doctor, Planet Earth, Companions, and Gadgets & Weapons – and of course there are also sections devoted to the Doctor’s regular nemeses plus his beloved TARDIS. The book is stunning, beautifully laid out in full color with clean, crisp graphic design on every page. It makes you want to investigate further no matter what page you randomly flip open to, even if that page happens to be, “The first use of particular letters and punctuation in Doctor Who episode titles.” Did you know that the letter E has appeared 231,163 times in titles to date? Well, now you do.

While beautiful, this is a book that is only really going to appeal to the nerdiest of Whovians, the type of fans who care to know, for example, the frequency of the letter “A” in the names of the Doctor’s companions. If you were wondering what to buy for the Whovian who has it all, this book might just be the answer to your problems.

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Ticket to Carcassonne, Image: Amazon Digital Services
Ticket to Carcassonne, Image: Amazon Digital Services

Another book Sophie really enjoyed this month was Ticket to Carcassonne by Steve Dee, a “guide to the new world of tabletop games.” Beginning with a brief history of the rise of modern day tabletop games, the book soon dives into in-depth chapters concerning five games considered by many to be stellar examples of different modern styles: Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Stone Age, and Dominion. Each chapter gives some of the game’s history, an overview of gameplay, strategy tips, lists of available expansions and ends with an amusing collection of quotes taken from negative reviews of the games. There are several interviews with game designers mixed into these chapters as well, including chats with Alan R Moon (designer of Ticket to Ride), Matt Leacock (Pandemic) and Richard Breese (Keydom/Aladdin’s Dragons – recognized as the first worker placement style game).

Sophie did find herself a bit confused about the book’s intended audience. For regular gamers, there is little here they won’t already know beyond a few strategy suggestions. On the other hand, newbies are likely to find the book a struggle. She ended up skipping most of the chapter for the one game she hadn’t played yet (Dominion) because page after page of explanations of card types she couldn’t even picture was very dry material. Sophie couldn’t imagine that the chapters on other games will be any more interesting to people who are unfamiliar with them.

There is a useful section on how to throw a games night with advice on everything from snacks to choosing games based on your specific group to dealing with problem players, and lists of other recommended games across different difficulty levels and styles. Sophie found herself adding several titles to her “want to play list.” Towards the back are recommendations of YouTube channels and websites to visit in order to learn more about the hobby, although anyone even vaguely interested in tabletop games will almost certainly have heard of these already. Sophie also found it odd that the YouTube shows/channels were alluded to in a chapter at the start of the book, but only named toward the end. All that being said, Sophie found the book to be frequently laugh-out-loud funny and filled with great anecdotes and little stories, she is now pressuring her husband to hurry up and read it himself. If you’re in need of a stocking stuffer for a tabletop games fan, then this is likely to make them smile.

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The Audacity of Hope, Image: Crown
The Audacity of Hope, Image: Crown

Finally, Sophie finally completed Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. She had intended to read the book ever since Obama’s election in 2008 but it somehow always remained toward the bottom of her TBR list until she selected it as her “political memoir” choice for this year’s PopSugar Reading Challenge. Even then, she found the book challenging and has spent the year working through it in small sections.

Sophie found the book to be an insightful, interesting, and at times, depressingly prescient look at US politics. Although clearly written from a liberal perspective, Obama makes efforts to see the issues he discusses from other points of view, particularly those of the middle American working class. The book did little to change Sophie’s political views, which closely aligned with Obama’s anyway; however, it did open her eyes to some of the intricacies of domestic policy and social reform that she had been previously unaware of. At a time when she, and many others, are feeling a distinct lack of hope, Mr. Obama’s audacity restores just a little of hers.

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GeekMom received some titles in this collection for review purposes.