Between the Bookends: 6 Books We Read in June 2017

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown

In this month’s Between the Bookends, Corrina takes a trip across America in search of frozen dairy goodness before staying cool with a book all about the unfortunate habit of fridging female characters. Mel visits Les Cirque des Rêves, while Sophie catches up with an old skeletal friend before stepping into a selection of tales based around her beloved Haunted Mansion.

We hope you find something to enjoy reading over the summer months and invite you to share your reading choices with us in our new GeekMom Talk Facebook group.

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Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America – Amy Ettinger

Sweet Spot, Image: Dutton
Sweet Spot, Image: Dutton

Corrina started Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America by Amy Ettinger with high hopes. After all, summer plus ice cream plus education about the history of the frozen treat plus a look into some terrific ice cream stores.

And the book did deliver on much of that, from a look into an artisanal ice cream shop in California to the frozen custard shops in Wisconsin to what’s one of the last Good Humor trucks in Brooklyn and then to a buffalo dairy farm. It also had side trips into the world of frozen yogurt and information about a course in ice cream making given at Penn State.

All of this was fascinating. The problem for Corrina was her tour guide. While Ettinger’s research and fact-finding are terrific, her narration could be grating. Ice cream is fun, right, but she takes it very, very seriously. Not seriously in that she eats a ton or that she makes her own on a regular basis or even that she wrote about it.

No, seriously in that she expresses annoyance when finding out what’s behind the curtain. In Buffy-speak, she can get judgy about the makers of ice cream. Omigod, they use a mix created by a dairy farm because there are regulations about pasteurization designed to prevent people from getting sick from ice cream. She’s taken aback and becomes unhappy at this as if she’s been literally betrayed by the knowledge, even though she points out that when ice cream was unregulated, it made people sick on a regular basis.

For instance: “Bags! Tubs, I hated to hear such things. The more I delve into the secrets of ice cream making, the more it makes me wonder what else the food industry is hiding from me. It feels like a fake world.” This is a rant after finding out that, yes, ice cream and gelato makers almost always use pre-mix bases from which to add their own spin. Where did she think the ingredients were coming from, especially with no dairy barns nearby? She also seemed to be Shocked!!! when she realized that a regular cup of FroYo yogurt with mix-ins is not good for you and might well be over 500 calories. Ya think?

It’s basically a hipster, “I want real organic all the time” guide to ice cream, albeit one full of interesting facts and trips. Still, it did make Corrina want to head to Milwaukee for that frozen custard and to head out to the Whole Foods near her to see if they have Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches, and that cannot be a bad thing!Break 2

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The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne M. Valente

The Refridgerator Monologues, Image: Simon & Schuster
The Refridgerator Monologues, Image: Simon & Schuster

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente is a slim little volume that takes on the practice of fridging female characters to cause angst for their male loved ones. The term “fridging” comes from the comic where Green Lantern’s girlfriend was murdered and literally stuffed in the refrigerator by the villain. But the book takes on the idea in an unusual way, creating counterparts to the most famous women fridged in comic books. This is their story, their time to shine. Corrina recognized analogs of Gwen Stacy, Jean Grey, Harley Quinn, Mera, and, of course, Alex from Green Lantern. They’re interesting tales, all leading to the death of the women telling the tale as they sit around the table in their version of Hell.

Corrina appreciates the creativity and imagination in the book but found that her extensive knowledge of comics was actually a hindrance to enjoying this book, as she spent time matching up Valente’s characters to their counterpoints. Plus, the book is written to make a point, so it’s a series of vignettes without an ending where any of them gain justice. That, Corrina knows, is the point: the book is to spotlight the practice. But she thinks it would be fun to take these characters and create a sequel where they return from Hell, take their vengeance, and gain the agency they never had before.

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The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, Image: Anchor
The Night Circus, Image: Anchor

The Night Circus is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel about a magical circus that appears without warning, opens at nightfall, and closes at dawn. Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

Unbeknownst to the patrons, the circus is secretly the stage for a competition between two dueling magicians: Celia and Marco. These two magicians are pushed into the competition by their mentors. Each mentor trains a young magician from a tender age and prepares them for the duel of a lifetime.

However, Celia and Marco quickly see through their mentors’ plan to use them as tools in a century old grudge, and the two young magicians quickly realize that the competition sparks more of a love than hate relationship. This magical love story takes place in the late 1800s through early 1900s. As someone who enjoys historical fiction, fantasy, and romance, Melissa was mesmerized with Morgenstern’s writing style.

This was one of Mel’s summer reads for her lazy days by the pool. However, this story is so compelling that she couldn’t wait to get poolside to continue reading, and Mel quickly consumed The Night Circus in a couple of days. Not only is the format of the novel unlike anything Mel has read before, but the writing style of Morgenstern is so lyrical and vivid with imagery that anyone could get sucked into this story and easily lose track of time.

Mel did check out some reviews on Goodreads before starting The Night Circus and noticed several readers stating that the story never went anywhere. However, this novel is character driven rather than plot driven, which might be one of the main reasons for certain comments. If you are a fan of historical fiction and enjoy a more literary fiction style that has a character driven storyline, then The Night Circus might be your next summer read.

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Skullduggery Pleasant: Resurrection – Derek Landy

Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection, Image: HarperCollins
Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection, Image: HarperCollins

It is not always a good idea for an author to revisit a book series that had previously been successfully and satisfactorily finished, so Sophie was interested to see the result of Derek Landy revisiting his Skullduggery Pleasant universe.

Resurrection is set five years after the end of the original nine book series and sees Valkyrie Cane returning to Ireland and the now rebuilt and burgeoning sorcerer city of Roarhaven. The deeply emotionally scarred Cane, against her better judgment, is persuaded by her former partner, Skullduggery Pleasant–a wise-cracking skeleton detective–to help out with one more investigation. This leads to the discovery of the Anti-Sanctuary who are trying to set in motion plans to start a war between the non-magical mortals and sorcerers.

The wit and humor that the previous Skullduggery Pleasant books are loved and well known for are all still in evidence. While Valkyrie and Skullduggery are back, they are not entirely the same as we previously knew them; Valkyrie, in particular, is effectively suffering from PTSD and no longer the confident almost arrogant person of the first nine books.

Resurrection moves along at a fair pace, and while the plot is not the best that Landy has written to date, it sets up characters and events nicely for a new series. Landy avoids shoehorning in too many contrived cameos for popular characters from the previous series (well, the few that survived) and most of the new characters are interesting and intriguing, with one a trans-person (with a magical spin) and another in a gay marriage. In the universe of the book these are treated as matter-of-fact; no uncomfortable character reactions or anything derogatory or special are made of these, it is just accepted as normal. Landy handles this well and it’s good to see in popular Young Adult book series. There is even a satirical swipe at President Trump–a thread that will no doubt have huge consequences as the story arc develops.

Long time Skullduggery Pleasant fans will be delighted with Resurrection, and anyone coming to Skullduggery’s world for the first time will find much to enjoy. No prior knowledge of the previous nine books is required, and any necessary information and exposition are neatly woven into the story and dialogue. Sophie feels that Derek Landy has successfully relaunched his beloved skeleton detective and is looking forward to where this new story arc goes in the future.

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Tales from The Haunted Mansion, Volumes One & Two – As Told by Mansion Librarian Amicus Arcane

Tales From The Haunted Mansion, Image: Disney Press
Tales From The Haunted Mansion, Image: Disney Press

Sophie also made her way through volumes one and two of Tales From The Haunted Mansion. These books are tie-ins to the Disneyland attraction and both contain four short stories linked together by scenes within the Haunted Mansion itself. The stories are along the lines of Goosebumps tales, spooky but aimed at younger readers–still, if you have young ones prone to nightmares, they may be best avoided because the spooks here are a little more intense than those found on the ride.

In volume one, The Fearsome Foursome, the book features one tale for each of a group of four middle schoolers who find invitations inviting them to visit the mansion the night their clubhouse is blown down by a freak storm. At the Mansion, Willa, Tim, Noah, and Steve meet librarian Amicus Arcane who insists upon reading them each a story from his extensive collection. The stories feature the kind of spooks found in a Simpsons Treehouse of Terror episode–a cursed baseball glove, a zombie hamster, and a purchase from the back page of an old comic that goes somewhat awry–but it’s not until the end that you understand what is really going on. It’s a twist Sophie saw coming, as would many mature readers, but played well enough that it will certainly shock the readers this book is aimed at.

Sophie found that she much preferred volume two, Midnight at Madame Leota’s, which follows a similar pattern in terms of how the book progresses. In this volume, we are introduced to William, a young man whose sister died when they were children and who has spent the intervening years visiting every medium, tarot reader, and voodoo practitioner he can find all over the world, hoping to find the one who isn’t a fraud. After one more failed attempt, William finds himself at his sister’s grave where he meets Amicus Arcane and finds himself visiting the Haunted Mansion in hopes of meeting the world renowned (and now, otherworldly) Madame Leota. Before he will introduce them, Amicus insists on reading William a selection of his tales. They feature a haunted traveling show, a bloodthirsty family legend, and the suggestion that the magic of cinema might be more magical than you ever realized. These stories felt less like silly Treehouse of Horror tales and more genuinely and uniquely spooky. Sophie also enjoyed the subtle references to other Disney attractions and park legends that were hidden for die hard fans to spot.

There is some minor continuation from volume one to volume two, so Sophie recommends reading these books in order. Considering they are aimed at younger readers, there was nothing especially out of this world for Sophie in terms of storytelling, yet she enjoyed them both and hopes to one day read them aloud to her son (though not for many years given his recent reactions to some far less scary books). The stories also feature frequent asides from Amicus in a different font as he makes sarcastic and foreboding commentary about what the characters in the book are up to. This takes a bit of getting used to at first, as it can disrupt the flow of the story, but Sophie found she soon got used to it.

One final thing Sophie particularly loved about the books is their design. Both have been designed to look like they belong on the shelves of the mansion itself, not only with beautiful covers but with pages filled with old-fashioned etching style illustrations, faux-stained pages, and chapters broken up by pages featuring the classic Haunted Mansion wallpaper pattern.

GeekMom received some of these titles for review purposes.

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