Between the Bookends: 9 Books We Read in Oct-Nov 2017

Reading Time: 11 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, Lisa, Rebecca, Melissa, Sophie, and Chris share their favorite books from the last month, including Whovian style nursery rhymes, adventures in The Doughnut Kingdom, a disturbing tale of terrorism and the paranormal, advice for aspiring writers, and an unusual cookery book.

We hope you find something to inspire you, and invite you to return to GeekMom next month for both the final Between the Bookends of 2017 and the book edition of our holiday gift guide. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Now We Are Six Hundred: A Collection of Time Lord Verse by James Goss

Now We re Six Hundred, Image: Harper Design
Now We re Six Hundred, Image: Harper Design

Lisa added a charming mix of Gallifrey and the Hundred Acre Woods to her poetry shelf, Now We Are Six Hundred: A Collection of Time Lord Verse by James Goss, with adorable illustrations by Russell T. Davies.

The premise: as The Doctor grows older, he tries to understand the world around him a little more. The book is a parody of the A.A. Milne poetry collection, Now We Are Six published in 1927, with verses directly mimicking Milne’s original poems. “The Three Foxes,” in the original, for example, becomes “The Five Doctors.” Readers who aren’t huge Doctor Who fans, or who might not have read the original verses, may find it a little confusing to follow. Lisa suggests picking up the original first for those who haven’t read Milne’s poems. The illustrations are actually much more enjoyable than the verse, and Lisa is hoping to see them pop up on tees, mugs or other items. They really make the book.

More than anything, it is just a simple gift item for Whovians, as well as those who love children’s poetry and literature. Although Lisa has always loved both Doctor Who and Winnie the Pooh, she didn’t fall in love with this collection like she thought she would. She did find it enjoyable, however, and intends to get a couple more copies of this for gift-giving.

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Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, Image: First Second
Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, Image: First Second

Cucumber Quest, the first graphic novel by Gigi D.G. is a sweet treat. Rebecca Angel lingered on the gorgeous colorwork on every page The art is manga-inspired, but with a unique soft design that reminded her of 3D felt projects.

“Floating somewhere among the stars is a flat little world where dreams come true.” The world of Dreamside has seven kingdoms all populated by bunny people. The center of this world is The Doughnut Kingdom where the main characters of the story reside in towers, castles, and forests made of culinary desserts like Gumdrop Forest and Tiramisu Tower. Rebecca felt like she was reading a story out of the board game Candyland.

The plot is ridiculous and the bunny characters are very silly. Cucumber (all the bunny people of The Doughnut Kingdom are named after food) is a young boy magician and the ultimate reluctant hero who tries to figure out ways to avoid getting into epic quests. Unfortunately, he is too meek to overcome his younger sister Almond’s drive for battles and adventure so they are off to recover a legendary sword to conquer an evil creature. With humor, adventure and fantastic art, Rebecca knows this will appeal to her nieces aged eight and eleven.

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Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas, Image: Bantam
Odd Thomas, Image: Bantam

TRIGGER WARNING: This book deals with terrorism and could be disturbing to some due to recent current events.

Melissa is reading Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, a paranormal novel about a young short-order cook with psychic abilities. Odd–the protagonist’s first name–helps ghosts gain closure before passing to the other side. Odd is like the OG male version of Ghost Whisperer‘s Melinda Gordan (Jennifer Love Hewitt). An added bonus, Odd can also see Bodachs–ghostly creatures that feed on mass destruction–they are like red flags that something bad is going to happen. When Odd notices a gaggle of Bodachs following a nefarious man (fungus Bob), Odd investigates the situation only to discover that fungus Bob is at the center of a future mass murder. Odd spends the rest of the novel attempting to foil Bob’s plan to harm the people of Pico Mundo.

The novel closely mirrors the movie starring the late Anton Yelchin (R.I.P). Overall, Odd Thomas has an interesting plot and decent pacing. The entire novel is written in first person POV and is presented to the reader as Odd writing his memoir. There are times when Odd goes off on tangents, which slows the progression of the plot and is somewhat annoying. Although Kootz uses beautiful prose, the narrative spans 450-ish pages. At least 100 pages of the 450 is bloated prose, which stalls the story’s pacing. Honestly, who needs to spend four pages reading a description of a single item? Plot-wise there is minimal difference in the novel to the movie. So just watch the movie in an hour and forty minutes and save yourself the man-hours of reading, unless you enjoy long-winded narratives that take almost eleven hours to read.

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I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop by Mur Lafferty

I Should Be Writing, Image: Rock Point
I Should Be Writing, Image: Rock Point

Sophie decided that November, known to many as the month of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), would be an ideal time to dive into I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop by Mur Lafferty. This was only in part to avoid doing any actual work on her own NaNoWriMo project. Honest…

This short book – 160 pages – is split into two parts. The first half consists of friendly first-person advice from Mur, with interjections from two figures she refers to as her Muse – who gives her ideas and encouragement – and her Bully who advocates for procrastination and endlessly questions why she is even trying to write anything. These figures are effectively the angel and devil on her shoulders and she includes asides from them both in their own colored speech bubbles.

Mur covers situations familiar to anyone who has attempted to write: imposter syndrome, finding a routine, writing anxiety, and writer’s block. She also tackles a number of myths like that of the tortured writer, whether natural writing talent exists, and how to find the time to write. There is also some more factual advice such as a breakdown of how a publishing advance will actually pay out over time, which writing tools are really worth investing in, the differences between traditional and self-publishing, and a breakdown of basic story elements.

The second half of the book is a series of writing prompts designed to get you actually writing rather than simply reading about it. These are a mixture of exercises that begin with making a list of reasons not to write and include ways to brainstorm new ideas, and actual writing prompts. Each exercise comes with space to write inside the book itself, or you could write elsewhere if you’re like me and can’t bear to mark the inside of a precious book. There were some really fun exercises included here and Sophie found herself coming up with new ideas just reading them.

This is an ideal book for anyone toying with the idea of trying to write something for the first time, or even for those who have already started writing and are looking to improve their work and/or get something published. The advice isn’t groundbreaking, but the friendly way in which it is presented gives the book a feel of chatting with a friend who has already been there and done that and is passing along their advice. A perfect gift for the aspiring Rowlings and Gaimans on your Christmas list.

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Beasts from Bricks by Ekow Nimako and How to Build Brick Cars by Peter Blackert

Beasts From Bricks and How to Build Brick Cars, Images: Quarry Books/Quarto Publishing Group
Beasts From Bricks and How to Build Brick Cars, Images: Quarry Books/Quarto Publishing Group

Sophie and her eight-year-old son took a look at two LEGO ideas books together. Beasts from Bricks by Ekow Nimako and How to Build Brick Cars by Peter Blackert provide step-by-step instructions to build a wide variety of cars and creatures without needing to buy an official boxed kit. Both books provide a full parts list for each build, lots of full-color photographs of each step, and plenty of interesting background information on all the different animals and vehicles you can build.

The difficulty level for each model is about the same all the way through Beasts from Bricks, but increases as you move through the How to Build Brick Cars with simpler creations such as the V-8 Coupe and Roadster (155 pieces) at the beginning, progressing to the Bugatti Veyron (593 pieces) at the end. Even the easiest builds in both books are more complex than a lot of simple LEGO kits, so younger children are likely to need adult help to complete the models.

Of course, unlike buying a premade boxed kit, you will need to go out and purchase the bricks you need to build any of the models in the book unless you are very lucky and happen to have all the pieces required. Despite having a toy chest brimming with many decades worth of accumulated LEGO blocks, Sophie wasn’t even close to having everything she needed to complete even the simplest of models from these books. Purchasing them would easily set her back the cost of simply buying an existing kit, and that’s before the cost of the book itself is factored in. Parents who consider these books need to bear this in mind as they may end up spending a lot of money on new blocks in order for their children to be able to use them.

Sophie and her son enjoyed looking through these books and seeing how the models were put together. It also inspired her son to try out some new ideas on his own with his LEGO building. However, when it came to actually building anything, Sophie’s son opted to spend his money on other LEGO rather than the pieces he would need to complete any of the designs in the books, and Sophie imagines most kids would do the same. These are great books for serious adult LEGO fans looking to work on new projects, but are probably best avoided for kids.

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Ultimate Expeditions: Rain Forest Explorer by Nancy Honovich

Ultimate Expeditions Rain Forest Explorer, Image: becker&mayer kids
Ultimate Expeditions Rain Forest Explorer, Image: becker&mayer kids

Finally, Sophie and her son read Ultimate Expeditions: Rain Forest Explorer by Nancy Honovich together. She requested the book because her son’s second-grade class are studying the rainforest and she hoped the book might provide some useful information for homework assignments.

Rain Forest Explorer ended up being a very useful book indeed, as well as being a delight to look at. The book blends fact and fiction by following the adventures of Harold Bennington, a fictional explorer who spent several weeks on a museum-funded expedition into the rainforest during the 1920s with his guide Don Gilberto. The book is designed to look like Harold’s expedition diary and includes information about the animals he and Don encountered during their trip, written in a personal manner, rather than as dry facts. Each creature receives two double-page spreads filled with illustrations, photos which appear to have been taped to the page, a map of where the animal was encountered, and notes about appearance, behavior, and more. The book included a wide variety of rainforest creatures including jaguars, scarlet macaws, squirrel monkeys, tapirs, and river dolphins.

The book is one of a series of Ultimate Expeditions books. Dinosaur Hunter and Mythological Beasts are out now, and Deep Sea Diver is due to be released in summer 2018. Each of the books also include instructions and materials to make a 3D model of the eight animals featured; however, as we received a digital copy of Rain Forest Explorer, we we unable to try this part out.

Rain Forest Explorer is a beautiful book that will engage children via its layout and interactivity. The inclusion of models and the colorful layouts will make these books ideal Christmas gifts for children curious about animals modern, ancient, and fantastical.

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The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

The Book of Dust, Image: Knopf Books for Young Readers
The Book of Dust, Image: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Chris started things off this month by revising one of his favorite worlds. Philip Pullman created a mystifying, not-quite-like-our-own world for the series His Dark Materials and anyone that completed the massive series has surely cried out loud, “Tell me more about the Dust!” At long last, Pullman has invited readers to revisit the world of the experimental theology, priceless alethiometers, cuddly daemons, and Lyra Belacqua.

Lyra isn’t the principal character in this story, however. In La Belle Sauvage Pullman has turned back the clock ten years and the reader finds themselves face to face with Lyra as a wailing infant. This story focuses on the life of Malcolm Polstead: nascent spy, facial do-it-yourselfer, and all around good guy. Malcolm finds himself in short order with the seemingly impossible task of caring for the tiny infant Lyra as they find themselves adrift in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage.

Pullman works hard to paint the picture of Malcolm’s life in the first half of the book and the pace, though somewhat leisurely at times, suits the material and is exactly what readers who loved His Dark Materials have been pining for in the nearly two decades since Pullman ended the original trilogy with The Amber Spyglass. Chris found himself all-in by the end of the first chapter; the chance to live once again in Lyra’s world is just what fans have been waiting for.

The pace picks up as the book enters its second movement and readers are dragged into a deep and twisted world of adventure, action, and, of course, Dust. Chris can’t recommend this book enough both for readers familiar with the adventures of Lyra in His Dark Materials and also those unfamiliar with Pullman’s previous work. This is a fantastic story all on its own and one worth diving into for adults and young readers alike.

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F*ck, That’s Delicious: An Annotated Guide to Eating Well by Action Bronson

F*ck that's Delicious, Image: Harry N. Abrams
F*ck that’s Delicious, Image: Harry N. Abrams

This is a book that took Chris entirely by surprise. Even as a home cook that loves to experiment and entertain, he is not a fan of cookbooks by any stretch of the imagination. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, it is not a genre that finds itself on his radar. As is completely fitting the author of this book, F*ck, That’s Delicious: An Annotated Guide to Eating Well reached out and grabbed Chris by the collar and dared him to look away.

It started with a video on social media, one of those videos that scrolls by after the video you actually wanted to watch has finished. It was a pan of chicken parmesan and a brash, giant of a man with a beard that went on for days that called out to Chris. The chicken parm was a mess of bubbling cheese and crispy pieces of breaded meat and it spoke deeply to his stomach. After watching the chef craft this Italian masterpiece Chris realized that this was a cook after his own heart: the lyrical nature in which he spoke to the food as he prepared it, the passion in which he chose his ingredients, the ease in which he cut through the nonsense you read on food blog after food blog. The culmination of this video experience was a pitch to buy his book, the very same cookbook Chris is sharing with you this month.

The author’s name is Action Bronson and to say he’s a colorful character is the understatement of the century. Bronson is a professional chef turned hip-hop star turned food-travel celebrity. This book captures much of what Bronson has shared in his similarly named television show on Viceland. Bronson documents his experiences traveling the world and tasting just about everything along the way. The book contains soulful reflections of the events in his life that made him who he is today as well as solid, simple recipes that will give the reader an honest sense of how Bronson cooks. If you really love food you can’t help but be enthralled by this book. Even if you never try a single recipe out of this book it’s worth picking up just for the experience.

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GeekMom received some items for review purposes.