Between the Bookends: 6 Books We Read in Jan-Feb 2018

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown

In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie and Rebecca explore worlds with a unique take on time, Melissa listens to Ready Player One with Wil Wheaton, and Lisa dives into some short stories with Dracula.

Everless, Image: Hachette Children's Group
Everless, Image: Hachette Children’s Group

Everless by Sara Holland

Everless by Sara Holland is one of the biggest YA releases of the year so far. It is a fantasy novel which takes place in the land of Sempera. Back in the old days, alchemy was used to bind time itself to blood iron which is forged into coins. This allows the poor to bleed themselves of time, losing days, months, or decades from their lives in order to pay their taxes and live. The rich, meanwhile, consume the coins and are effectively immortal.

Jules’ family are poor and her father has little time left so she takes a job at Everless, the estate of the wealthy Gerling Family; the place her family ran from when she was a child and witnessed something she should never have seen. Roan, the Gerling heir who Jules played with as a child, is due to marry the Queen’s daughter and dozens of extra servants are needed to prepare, so Jules believes she can go unnoticed and earn enough time coins to keep her family going for years to come. Of course, her plans are upended once she arrives at Everless and discovers she may be more intricately bound up the future of Sempera than she ever thought possible.

Sophie loved the unusual premise of Everless. She found the book a little slow to get going, but once it hit its stride around halfway through, the revelations came apace and she ended up staying awake until 2 am to finish! Some of the twists were easy to see coming but these were so obvious that they disguised others which genuinely caught her by surprise, and Jules’ visit to the village of Briarsmoor was one of the creepiest things Sophie has read in a long time. She is now eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel.

Only The End of The World Again, Image: Dark Horse
Only The End of The World Again, Image: Dark Horse

Only The End of The World Again by Neil Gaiman

There’s a certain feeling that comes with reading Neil Gaiman stories. It’s one Sophie had never quite been able to describe but can sort of be explained as a creeping discomfort about the world around you. A prickling sensation that something isn’t quite right, but that you are not equipped to know precisely what, or why. A sense that there is more going on than you will ever understand and that it is all happening just below the surface, a gossamer-thin fabric separating your reality from another far more interesting and terrifying one.

All this is true of Only The End of The World Again, a re-release of one of Gaiman’s stories originally published during 1998. This particular story concerns Lawrence Talbot, a depressed insurance claims adjuster (and a werewolf) who moves to the little New England town of Innsmouth. The residents of the town are strange, and over the course of several increasingly bizarre occurrences, Lawrence comes to realize that they plan to bring about Armageddon by raising the Elder Gods – and he is a key ingredient in their plan. As Lawrence gradually begins to understand the town, he discovers that, “Armageddon is averted by small actions,” and that he will have an important role to play whether he likes it or not.

This is a reprint of the original 1998 issues, but the new edition includes a sketchbook made up of the original cover art and internal layouts as drawn by P. Craig Russell, and the inks by Troy Nixey which allow you to see the transformation of the pages from initial sketch to finished product, a fascinating insight for anyone interested in comic art. This wasn’t one of Sophie’s favorite Gaiman stories, but with him, even the less brilliant ones shine more than most.

Queen Victoria's Matchmaking, Image: Bloomsbury Publishing
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, Image: Bloomsbury Publishing

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury

Finally, Sophie read Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury. Sophie has been a fan of Cadbury since she picked up The Dinosaur Hunters many years ago and has slowly been working her way through her books ever since.

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking is an intricately detailed look at the way the Queen attempted to shape history by strategically positioning her grandchildren into the royal courts of Europe. With over 30 in total this was a grand strategy indeed, one she and Prince Albert hoped would strengthen Britain’s global power and lead to peace. As we all know, this didn’t turn out how they hoped, and the book follows events across the continent as revolutions begin and the world edged ever nearer to the Great War.

Cadbury’s excellence as a history writer comes from her ability to make the stories she is telling personal. Instead of feeling that you are reading about a remote figure who lived and died decades ago, the intimacy of the stories envelops you in its twists and turns and you begin to feel a real connection with the people she writes about. She truly makes history come to life. Many of the conventions here seem alien to us now, first cousins marrying and young princes discussing their “pretty” 12-year-old cousins with an eye to marriage that seems distasteful to us today, but we are asked to but our modern opinions aside and remember that the protocols these individuals lived by was wildly different to our experiences of dating.

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking was by far the slowest and hardest of all the Deborah Cadbury books Sophie has read so far, partly because there are simply so many characters needing to be introduced, but once the players are all on the board it became thoroughly entertaining. A must-read for fans of history, monarchy, and those who love a good, intricate romance.

Ready Player One, Image: Random House Audiobooks
Ready Player One, Image: Random House Audiobooks

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is UBER WOOT and the perfect book for anyone that grew up in the 80s and has a nerd crush on Stephen Spielberg and all things geeky.

Melissa stumbled upon Ready Player One while perusing Audible. The major selling point was the sale price and it didn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton narrated the story. The first mention of EverQuest was all it took to hook Mel. Being an addict of MMORPGs, Mel enjoyed the gaming lingo, not to mention the dominant presence of 80s references.

Set in 2044, the story follows Wade Watts on his quest through the OASIS (a virtual reality world) in search of Halliday’s Easter egg. Halliday, the creator of OASIS, announced upon his death that whoever finds his egg will inherit his fortune. Along with Wade’s campaign for the egg, he must fend off Innovative Online Industries or IOI as IOI is constantly farming campsites in search of the three keys in order to reach the Easter Egg before Wade or the other gunters (a slang term for egg hunters).

Most of the gaming action in the Ready Player One is based on old 80s single-player arcade games (which ties into the title), but then there are scenes that portray the gunters raiding sites that IOI attempts to farm. The only thing missing from Ready Player One was a Leeroy Jenkins reference and maybe a noob training the entrance of a high-risk dungeon. You’re not going to want to miss this novel by going AFK. And not that this story needs a rez but Wheaton breathes life into Ready Player One taking it to new levels. Ready Player One is one epic campaign!

Anno Dracula 1899, Image: Titan Books
Anno Dracula 1899, Image: Titan Books

Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories by Kim Newman

Every now and then, Lisa enjoys mixing short story collections into her busy schedule, and she felt British author and movie critic Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories was an ideal choice, particularly for those who enjoy quick reads packed with adventure, horror, fantasy and science fiction.

Newman’s collection of previously published and new material made it hard for her to read just one story at a time. Her knowledge of the entertainment world mixes well with these stories, and one of Lisa’s favorites was “Completist Heaven,” filled with wonderful retro television references. She also enjoyed the Jack The Ripper story, “Red Jacks Wild,” set in 1951, in which a 100-year-old surgeon reveals the “secret to his success.” The radio play transcripts were also interesting inclusions, and she would love to hear the thriller “Frankenstein On Ice” in its original radio form.

The only slight disappointment, was the cliffhanger element to the title story, as it acts as a bridge to his forthcoming novel Anno Dracula: 1999. Oh well, at least she has something to look forward to.

TimeKeeper, Image: Sky Pony Press
TimeKeeper, Image: Sky Pony Press

The Timekeeper By Tara Sim

Rebecca Angel greatly enjoyed The Timekeeper by Tara Sim. It’s a unique steampunk world set in an alternate Victorian England where clock towers actually control time. When a clock tower breaks, time breaks for those nearby. Rebecca read this for one of her book clubs and everyone thought it had a good balance between plot and romance.

Danny Hart is a 17-year-old prodigy mechanic, part of the tradespeople who have a magical connection to time and engineering ability to keep the clock towers, and the towns they control, running smoothly. He is dealing with his trauma from an explosion at a previous work site when he’s called to fix a clock tower in Enfield.

Every clock tower has a spirit, but it is extremely rare for anyone, even a mechanic, to see one. The Enfield spirit is in the form of a beautiful young man. Danny is both annoyed and captivated by him. A relationship between clock spirits and mechanics is forbidden, but Danny can’t seem to help himself from visiting Enfield’s clock tower, even when there is nothing wrong.

A series of clock bombings all around London are putting all the mechanics on edge and in danger. There is already one Stopped town, where Danny’s father is trapped, and more might happen if the bomber can’t be found. Danny’s character is shown as a very real, confused, and hurt young man struggling with new love in the midst of intense family and world problems.

One of Rebecca’s 2018 goals was to read more diverse fiction. Sims is an Asian-American author, plus gay main characters are rare in the fantasy/sci-fi world. Love is love and combined with magic and steampunk, The Timekeeper is a winning debut. The sequel – Chainbreaker – is already out and on Rebecca’s desk to read next!