Between the Bookends May ’17: Sexy Vampires & American Gods

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown

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In this month’s Between the Bookends, Patricia finds romance in a most unlikely place, Sophie is deeply unimpressed by a middle-aged man’s tale of woe, Nivi explores her creativity, Shiri explores one of her favorite novels in a new language, and Anika learns more about Abigail Adams. We all hope you find something new to inspire you.

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Cover of Tender Wings of Desire, Image: KFC
Tender Wings of Desire, Image: KFC

Patricia has been doing a lot of reading this spring, having worked her way through all of Carrie Fisher’s books, and is now working on Charlene Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series (which she’ll address momentarily). She wants to let the fans know first and foremost about the free Amazon Kindle download of Tender Wings of Desire, the novella that Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) released at the beginning of May as their own twisted way of honoring mothers. Patricia shared a link to the Amazon download on her Facebook page and her friends thought she was joking! Time magazine even ran a feature about what KFC was thinking releasing this book.

Tender Wings is a short read; at only about 96 pages, Patricia was able to finish it in just a couple days (two hours of reading). The plot flows pretty quickly (almost TOO quickly, in that the ending buttons everything up cleanly, reminding her of the end of Star Wars Episode III), and follows the classic Harlequin-style romance novels: heroine is in a situation she doesn’t enjoy, meets a good-looking man who treats her right, they may or may not live happily ever after.

Fellow GeekMoms asked a couple of key questions, which are definitely worth addressing for this review. (1) How does it relate to KFC? For the most part, it doesn’t. In fact, the time setting will leave you wondering if there was such a thing as fried chicken at all. The male suitor’s name is “Harland,” which, for those familiar with the history of KFC, is an homage to the company. Otherwise, this is just a love story. (2) Is it explicit? Not at all. Patricia didn’t think it would have been good for KFC’s business to put its name on a story with graphic sex scenes. There are a couple references to “making love,” but most of the verbiage sticks to more tame expressions like “her heart lit on fire” and “she didn’t have the same passion she seemed to see in her sister.” Younger readers would be fine with it.

It will be clear that the story was written in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Harland appears to be a poor fisherman and wears glasses. The heroine pondered how the fisherman could afford glasses. There are numerous hints at time settings, but you won’t know for sure until the very end. KFC recognizes that Mother’s Day is a popular day for their business, and decided to capitalize on it in a fun way.

Tender Wings of Desire is exclusively available as a free Kindle download through Amazon. It’s good for fun. Even if you don’t want to read the novel, be sure to check out such review comments as “Is he a leg or breast man?

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Cover of Living Dead in Dallas, Image: Ace Books
Living Dead in Dallas, Image: Ace Books

As mentioned above, Patricia is now working her way through the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. For those who have been living under a rock for the past decade or so, the series, beginning with Dead Until Dark, is the one from which the HBO series True Blood is based. Patricia is now on Living Dead in Dallas and is thoroughly enjoying the series. She had been meaning to start this series for the past 5 years and is so glad she finally did. Sure, the vampire genre is so…2010…but Patricia has been enjoying how vampire Bill Compton compares to Edward Cullen (Twilight Saga), Lestat de Lioncourt (Vampire Chronicles Saga), and (of course) Count Dracula, the main characters of other vampire books she’s read.

Patricia enjoys Harris’ matter-of-fact writing style, sharing even the more mundane facts with her readers to give them a true picture of Sookie’s character. Even the descriptions of the settings are very detailed, bringing back Patricia’s memories of the three years she lived in west-central Louisiana, about 90 minutes southwest of the fictional town of Bon Temps.

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Cover of The Best of Adam Sharp, Image: Penguin
The Best of Adam Sharp, Image: Penguin

Sophie read a copy of The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion and soon wished that she hadn’t bothered. On first hearing about it, the book had appealed to her immediately. The titular protagonist, Adam Sharp, is a music trivia expert who hails from the same northern English town as Sophie herself, and Sophie had also enjoyed one of Simsion’s previous novels – The Rosie Project. The blurb promised a similar feel to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a story of love played out against a background of music that was right up Sophie’s street.

What played out instead was nothing more than a middle-aged man’s masturbatory fantasy committed to page (note, spoilers ahead). Adam is in a stable, childless relationship with his long-term partner, Claire. Their relationship is almost entirely practical, utterly pedestrian, and hitting a rocky patch. Then along comes Angelina – Adam’s long-lost love of over 20 years prior. Adam and Angelina had enjoyed a fling back in the 80s when he spent three months consulting in Australia and he has spent the intervening decades regretting not making the effort to make a long-term relationship with her work. Angelina, for her part, reads as if she has been created entirely from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl entry over on TVTropes. She’s attractive, smart, funny, slightly damaged, and has sexual inhibitions that it appears only Adam can fulfill. As soon as she emails her way back into his life, Adam starts turning his life around while trying to convince himself this change is nothing to do with Angelina at all.

Adam and Claire conveniently separate just as Angelina and her husband Charlie are planning a week in the South of France, so of course, Adam ends up joining them. What follows is a whirlwind of utter inanity. Adam and Angelina, of course, end up sleeping together. Charlie, of course, finds out but is perfectly at ease with the situation. In fact, it turns out that inviting Adam along on this trip is Charlie’s birthday/”sorry I had an affair” present to Angelina, (“happy birthday darling, let’s spend a week in France with your ex-lover so you two can sleep together,”) and there’s even a weird scene in which Adam and Angelina get it on while Charlie watches – especially awkward as Sophie unexpectedly hit that part whilst reading next to her young son. Charlie is portrayed as the perfect man, cultured to an almost Hannibal Lecter degree with an astounding repertoire of meals and knowledge of wine with which he plies Adam for the week while letting him sleep with his wife. At the end, Adam has a moral epiphany, races back to France to help Charlie save his marriage with Angelina, then rekindles his relationship with Claire who’s response to the week away is simply “I assume you slept with her but I don’t want to know”, and they all lived happily ever after, Adam patting himself on the back for being such a gentleman.

Effectively, the entire novel is a premise for letting one middle-aged man, as Dana Scully once put it, “get his ya ya’s out” with no consequences. He gets to spend a week relaxing in France and sleeping with the woman of his fantasies multiple times, her husband and his own partner content with the situation, and at the end of the book, everyone is happier from the experience. There’s was also something that sat wrong with Sophie as she read about the problems of a bunch of rich, middle-class white people as they complained about the difficulties of their lives while drinking expensive wine and nibbling foie gras in their holiday home in France. Maybe it was those New York Times alerts about the refugee crisis that were popping up on her phone while she read?

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Cover of Fan Phenomena: The Twilight Saga, Image: Intellect
Fan Phenomena: The Twilight Saga, Image: Intellect

Sophie also read the latest book from the Fan Phenomena series: The Twilight Saga, edited by Laurena Aker. Sophie loves this series of books which serve as introductions to a more academic understanding of the books, movies and TV shows they examine, and the Twilight Saga volume was no different. The essays in this book frequently focused on women’s issues, a natural fit when you look at the fanbase for Twilight, but there were much bigger subjects at play here than just an acknowledgment that the series appealed more to women than it did to men. Jane M. Kubiesa explored how the series managed to appeal across the generations, with everyone from young tween girls to their grandma’s put under its spell, Simon Turner examined the way the series was marketed in East Asia – taking into account cultural differences which resulted in variations in the manga publication of the story and a different marketing focus, while Amy Cummins looked at the legacy of Twilight in YA publishing, something very apparent to anyone who has spent time in that section of a bookshop since 2008.

The essays that really appealed to Sophie, however, were the ones that explored how women have been treated in and around the Twilight franchise. Natalie Wilson and Laurena Aker dived into the cinematic adaptations of the films, looking at what the series did for women in film. Here was a movie written, directed, produced, and screenplayed by women, and with a female protagonist that became a global sensation, yet it nearly wasn’t made because studios didn’t think such a film would succeed. When it did, the remainder of the films were taken out of women’s hands to a degree – the other four Twilight movies were all directed by men. Melissa Avdeef’s essay on ‘The Music of Twilight’ also connected with Sophie. Here we saw how male music fans and reviewers struggled to understand the Twilight soundtracks which were filled with “authentic” indie rock rather than the mainstream pop that might have been expected. These men found it hard to accept that the silly, hysterical teenage girls who loved sparkly vampires could also truly appreciate “their” music. It is pointed out that many fans of the band Muse were unwilling to accept new fans who had discovered the music through Twilight, concerned that these newcomers would “diminish the worth of their fandom”.

Regardless of your opinions of The Twilight Saga, Sophie would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the way women, women’s issues and women’s culture are dismissed, ridiculed, and only accepted when they conform to traditional, masculine forms – whether that be in publishing, film-making, music, or any form of media.

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Cover of the Aftermath Trilogy, Image: Del Rey
Aftermath Trilogy, Image: Del Rey

Finally, Sophie has been making her way through the Star Wars: Aftermath series by Chuck Wendig. This trilogy of books is set over the year following the destruction of the second Death Star at the end of Return of The Jedi. The Empire is in chaos, the newly formed New Republic is trying to find its feet as it takes on the overwhelming responsibility of establishing a new government for an entire galaxy, and criminal groups sensing a power vacuum are vying for control of outlying regions. Taken together, this creates a galaxy filled with uncertainty, disorder, and an enormous desire for vengeance from every direction.

The books center around an unlikely bunch of heroes that reminded Sophie in many ways of the Guardians of The Galaxy thanks to their “rag-tag bunch of a-holes here to save the galaxy” way of doing business. There’s former rebel pilot Norra Wexley, her estranged fifteen-year-old son Temmin and Temmin’s insane droid Mister Bones (easily Sophie’s favorite new Star Wars character), former imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus (a very close second in the favorites stakes), bounty hunter Jas Emari, and New Republic commando Jom Barell. Book one sees the group coming together and learning to work as a team in the face of an Imperial threat, while the second novel in the trilogy, Life Debt, sees the established team facing new challenges.

Sophie read these books as part of her hope to read all the new canon Star Wars books (yes, she knows how insane that is given how fast new material is being released) but she propelled the trilogy to the top of her must-read list after several friends praised it highly. During the first two books, she found herself somewhat underwhelmed. Although the characters are all interesting, she found the storyline itself lacking. Book one was filled with short cutaway scenes from other parts of the galaxy which, although adding flavor to the chaotic feel of this galaxy in turmoil struggling to find its political feet, kept jolting Sophie away from the main plotline for what felt like unnecessary reasons – even if many would become relevant much later on. Book two featured fewer of these cuts but had an annoying tendency to skip ahead just when the action seemed to be getting good. A particularly irksome moment was when the team was preparing a liberation effort. The book followed the run-up, planning, and emotions of the team as they prepared for this epic-scale attack, yet as soon as it began, the book leaped forward several weeks – skipping over most of the events entirely and moving on to the aftermath – admittedly fitting considering the series’ title. However, Sophie was advised to reserve judgment until she had finished the third book – a fellow GeekMom advising that the story is more of “a long view thing.”

Sophie’s problem was that even after finishing the third book, she still came away feeling rather, “meh” about the books. Despite the excellent characters, the story fizzled out without shaking her world the way she had hoped such a well-praised book would. Sure, there’s some pretty evil scheming going on, but one of the most dramatic situations at the finale is permanently dampened because (assuming the reader has watched The Force Awakens) you know how it will play out from the beginning. If you want insight into the galaxy during the year following the Battle of Endor and would like to meet characters who may well become some of your Star Wars favorites then you will love this trilogy, anyone looking for a story that will leave you wide-eyed with new revelations is liable to be disappointed.

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Cover of Big Magic, Image: Riverhead Books
Big Magic, Image: Riverhead Books

Nivi decided to give audiobooks a try now that she spends a bit more time driving these days, so she decided to listen to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Author Elizabeth Gilbert narrates this non-fiction book, which is filled with humorous, insightful, and ultimately rather inspirational anecdotes that are just the thing to kick off a productive day of writing (and keep from being distracted).

While it didn’t need to convince Nivi to live creatively (she’s already a full-time writer), it did offer timely advice to help encourage her family in their creative endeavors. The only downside of feeling like Gilbert is talking to you personally is that, when you disagree with something she says, you feel compelled to respond to her. Fortunately, she ignores you, keeps talking, and if you can just keep listening, she brings you around to her way of thinking. It’s easy to listen to, well-written, and unapologetic, which is something Nivi needs to learn about.

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Shadowcaster, Image: HarperTeen
Shadowcaster, Image: HarperTeen

Nivi also read Cinda Williams Chima’s Shadowcaster, book two of the Shattered Realms series, which she found to be different from her earlier books in a couple of interesting ways. There’s been an increasing level of complexity with each series Chima has written, including larger casts of characters and broader timelines. As such, Shadowcaster is a complex book. While Flamecaster focused on Ash and Jenna, whose lives intersect in Arden, Shadowcaster travels much further, exploring more of the Seven Realms. There are more players, including Lyssa, Ash’s sister and heir to the Fells queendom; Halston Matelon, a Southern Captain, and Breon d’Tarvos, a traveling musician.

Interestingly, the timeline in this novel overlaps the timeline of Flamecaster, which makes for an interesting balance of experience what is going to happen on a high level, yet still being surprised by the narrative. Having re-read Chima’s books many times, Nivi has no problem with this feeling of deja vu, though it can hardly be dismissed as that. Rather, it explores further a fascinating side plot that was only marginally mentioned in Flamecaster and which certainly warranted more depth. And quite a satisfying exploration it was.

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Cover of Heroine Complex, Image DAW
Heroine Complex, Image DAW

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is an absolutely delightful novel Shiri pretty much gobbled up in her search for an escape from everything real. Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter, aka her childhood best friend Annie, likes her life the way it is: Aveda out front kicking ass and Evie herself behind the scenes, making sure the social media runs smoothly and Aveda is stocked with her favorite boots. To say Aveda is high-maintenance would be quite the understatement but Evie doesn’t really mind, she and the rest of the team know all the tricks to keeping Aveda primed and ready to save San Francisco from demon threats. After an accident, however, circumstances conspire to force Evie to pose, temporarily, as Aveda.

Many writers would collapse into cliché at that point, Kuhn does not, gifting readers with a story containing a little of everything: heroes, demons, romance, superpowers, physics, magic, snark, lady friendships, character growth and girl power. This is also the first book of the genre to focus on Asian-American superheroines, which is the radness. Book two of the series, Heroine Worship is scheduled for release on July 4th of this year and Shiri, for one, cannot wait for it to land on her Kindle.

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Cover of American Gods, Image: Harper Torch
American Gods, Image: Harper Torch

Shiri also re-read American Gods by Neil Gaiman (again) in preparation for the STARZ TV adaptation, but she did it a bit differently this time: she read it in Spanish as translated by Mónica Faerna. It took almost two weeks, which is why the light reading list for the past month but it was absolutely worth the effort.

Not only did reading a familiar, beloved book go a long way in assisting Shiri to resurrect some fallow language skills, but it reminded her that English is a bit of a clunker where linguistic subtlety is concerned and that it’s worth reading novels in the language in which they were written when possible, even if it takes three or four times as long as it normally would. It also reminded her that translation interpretation plays heavily into a given edition’s nuance, and that very small choices in translation can have resounding implications as regards meaning (Eve didn’t originally come from Adam’s rib, for example, she came from his side. Half of him, not a subservient piece. I know, right?). Next up in this particular challenge is Fahrenheit 451.

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Cover of Abigail Adams, Image: Free Press
Abigail Adams, Image: Free Press

Earlier this year Anika decided to accept the Presidential Biography Challenge to read a biography of every American president. Her goal is to be done by the next presidential election in 2020, so it’s still early, but George Washington was incredibly difficult to get through due to it being all war all the time. At the suggestion of a friend on Goodreads she decided to try Woody Holton’s biography of Abigail Adams for book number two, and she found it far more enjoyable.

While she’s always preferred cranky John Adams to stately George Washington, it’s the home front drama Holton provides from Abigail’s perspective that really makes the difference. Holton also delves deeply into the highs and lows of what he calls Abigail’s ‘proto-feminism’ rather than leaving it as “good enough for her time”. Finally, Anika found the Adamses extended family, which included alcoholism, abuse, and mental illness, as well as a touch of whimsy, fascinating. It’s a long book, and certain passages were a slog to get through, but well worth the effort. Next up: the incredibly controversial Thomas Jefferson — any suggestions?

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