In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie, Nivi, Kay, and Rebecca celebrate back to school season with a collection of books covering a bit of everything from ghostly graphic novels to bad-ass Native American monster hunters, missing husbands to sexy bachelors, and much more too. We hope you find something to enjoy the extra peace and quiet with.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Kay is a sucker for speculative fiction and dystopian novels with kickass women, and also a sucker for stories told from diverse, #ownvoices perspectives. When she heard that Rebecca Roanhorse had written a dystopian novel centered on the world and mythology of the Dinétah (or Navaho, as they are called by white people), Trail of Lightning was an instabuy. She was not let down.
The story focuses on Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter, who gets caught up in the world of witchcraft, her own clan powers, and her companion. Many stories in this category end up being very focused on sex and relationships, paranormal romances. While these are great stories that are fantastic and fun to read (and Kay reads a lot of them), sometimes a demi girl wants something that’s more focused on the hard nature of the life in a dystopian world. The world is carefully crafted around what would happen if most of the world flooded. Maggie’s truck has been modified to run on hooch, for example, and people trade in cigarettes and other hard to come by goods. There’s a particular moment where Maggie gets a cup of real coffee, and decides not to put sugar in it: it’s been so long since she had sugar that she can’t remember if it’s good or not, and she won’t risk ruining it.
Trail of Lightning does have a touch of romance in it, and one fade-to-black implicated sex scene, but the primary focus of the story is absolutely on the monsters. Kay already preordered the sequel.
The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
Nivi read The Secrets Between Us for her book club, after having read its predecessor, The Space Between Us, years ago. First things first, she didn’t need to reread the first to know what was going on, as this book nicely refreshed her memory. The characterization, the writing, the plot—all of it is solid.
The story takes its time delving deeply into the lives of several women in incredibly trying circumstances, and the growth and changes of these characters are moving and realistic. The ending, while definitely satisfying, in Nivi’s mind leaves open the possibility of a sequel, though it was definitely a fulfilling ending with all loose ends tied up. It’s not entirely necessary, but as satisfying as this one was, there’s no doubt that the next stage in Bhima and Maya’s life could be explored.
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
Nivi found the premise of Instructions for a Heatwave engaging; in the midst of a heatwave, a husband disappears, and the family tries to figure out where he went. The story shifts between the points of view of each of the members of the family, between the current situation and backstory, which serves to seriously slow down the pace of the story. However, this works well in establishing a leisurely pace. The characters are each messed up, in their own way, which of course makes for a much more interesting story. There were parts that were reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which was unexpected but appreciated. The writing was beautiful, and the POV shifts were well done, so that it wasn’t difficult to keep track of whose head you were in. The only negative was the ending, which was rushed and not quite conclusive. For all the time that was spent throughout the story, it was more than a little jarring.
Tech Generation by Mike Brooks, ph.D. and Jon Lasser, ph.D.
Tech Generation bills itself as a guide to “raising balanced kids in a hyper-connected world” and it does a good job at approaching a notoriously tricky subject without ever coming across as preachy and without falling into the trap of over-simplifying the issues.
Rather than demonizing technology, Tech Generation begins from a point of accepting the value of modern technology in our lives. Instead, it explains the psychology used by app developers and others to keep us hooked on our phones, and how video games, social media, and other forms of technology use our own evolutionary instincts against us to keep us coming back to their products, even when we know we’d rather be spending our time doing something else.
For the most part, Tech Generation focuses on parenting tech issues using a traffic light system. Green Light is where we’d like to be with minimal issues, Yellow Light signals early issues that require more intervention to prevent escalation, and Red Light signifies severe problems that could result in danger to our children and/or others such as texting while driving and cyberbullying. There are appendices with Family Assessment forms for everyone to complete and quick reference guides to the ideas covered in the book. While the book does espouse the virtues of many standard responses to the screen-time problems such as “reduce time spent with screens” and “use the rating systems for movies and video games,” it also accepts that systems like a simple daily time-limit doesn’t provide the flexibility needed for the modern family and provides alternative ideas.
Clearly written by nerds (one of the many example situations includes a Dr. Jones, an archaeology professor whose inbox causes him to struggle with focusing on writing papers), Tech Generation is written by people who are as screen-obsessed as we are and will make a great resource for families struggling with tech issues, without making the tech itself the enemy.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day sounds like an odd combination, but in The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, it works brilliantly.
A man awakens in a forest with no memory of who or where he is. Arriving at a nearby manor house, he learns his name is Dr. Sebastian Bell, yet upon awakening the following day he finds himself in the body of another man. Soon, the protagonist learns that he is trapped at the house until he solves the murder of the Evelyn Hardcastle who will die, every night, at 11 pm while he will awaken within a new host body for eight days—reliving the same day over and over again from a new perspective. If he can deliver the name of Evelyn’s killer to the mysterious Plague Doctor at 11 pm, he can go free, but there are others out to solve the puzzle first who will stop at nothing to beat him, and if no one can solve the murder by the end of the final night, the loop will reset as it has done for countless years.
This is a masterpiece of planning, with dozens of plots threads intricately woven through the many days and hosts. Each body the protagonist inhabits has its own quirks and limitations, along with its own advantages that allow him to see the day anew. Sophie wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about the ending, however. While the mystery of Evelyn’s murder is wrapped up carefully and doesn’t feel like a cop-out (as many of these intricately woven, clever stories can), the very end made her feel uncomfortable. Certainly, she didn’t feel as capable of forgiveness as the protagonist became, and the sense of shifting identity was something that didn’t sit well under her skin. It did prompt a conversation between her and her husband, though, and she could see this being a perfect book club title with infinite points for discussion.
Sheets by Brenna Thummler
The first thing Sophie read this month was Sheets, a middle-grade graphic novel by Brenna Thummler that is the story of two very different children. Marjorie is 13 and has run her family’s laundry business since her mother died in a tragic accident one year before, causing her father to withdraw almost entirely from life. Wendell is 11, and he is a sheet-wearing ghost. He lives in Ghost Town where he spends his days attending death therapy sessions with other young ghosts and struggling with finding an identity.
Marjorie and Wendell’s worlds collide when Wendell sneaks back into the human world and begins hanging out at Marjorie’s laundromat—a veritable theme park for sheet dwelling ghosts like him. However, his nighttime antics cause untold distress for Marjorie as she tries to keep the family’s dwindling business alive while a sinister local businessman (who’s voice Sophie constantly heard in her head as The Yes Guy from The Simpsons) tries to buy the land out from under them. Eventually, Wendell learns what he has done, and the two kids figure out that by working together they can solve both their problems.
Sheets is a beautiful and heart-warming story with gorgeous illustrations to match. Despite its short length, the book succeeds in building two distinctive worlds in Ghost Town and Marjorie’s small hometown of Finster Bay, and in populating those places with unique, three-dimensional characters. Sophie felt immediately drawn to Marjorie and Wendell and was rooting for them both from page one.
The story centers around death and grief, so it may be worth reading in advance before handing over to more sensitive readers, but this is a wonderful short story and one Sophie would recommend to young readers and adults alike.
Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
Sophie has read several depressingly mediocre books lately, so it was a great relief to finally find something so un-put-downable that she devoured the entire thing in 36 hours. Cross Her Heart is the latest thriller from Sarah Pinborough. Despite usually avoiding the genre, Sophie had been impressed with Pinborough’s previous novel Behind Her Eyes (that of the highly appropriate #WTFThatEnding hashtag) and was curious to see if her next novel would be as impressive. Although it didn’t quite meet its predecessor’s greatness, she still found Cross Her Heart to be a masterpiece in double bluffing, and misdirection.
The book is narrated in turns by three women: single mom Lisa, her 16-year-old daughter Ava, and Lisa’s best friend Marilyn. All three women are hiding secrets from one another and from the world, and the book follows them as their secrets begin to unravel, twisting and turning so much that you soon begin to inherit Lisa’s sense of paranoia, distrusting every character from the gossipy women in the office to Ava’s friends on the swim team.
This is not an easy book to read. In terms of upsetting content, it pretty much ticks all the boxes: Child prostitution? Check. Domestic abuse? Check. Rape? Check. Normally, any one of those would be enough to switch Sophie completely off, yet despite the often horrifying content, Cross Her Heart never ventured into sadness porn territory, nor did it tout its atrocities for cheap thrills. Instead, every incident felt chillingly, terribly, right—as if it belonged in this world and to those characters.
Cross Her Heart doesn’t have the same level of crazy ending that Behind Her Eyes pulled off, yet it still fills its pages with a special breed of hyper-intelligent madness. It’s a thriller that will hook even those who don’t read thrillers, assuming you can get through the nasty bits.
Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton
Cream of the Crop is the second book in Alice Clayton’s Hudson Valley Series of romance novels. In the first book, Nuts (also reviewed by Rebecca in the July 2018 Between the Bookends), we are introduced to the small upstate NY town of Bailey Falls, which has some very “healthy” bachelors. Enter the heroines of this first-person romance novel filled with silly humor and sexy sex. Natalie Greyson is a fashionista living very well at her marketing job in Manhattan. Her personality is large and so is her amazing ass, which she loves to show off every Sunday at the farmer’s market. It brings in a weekly crop of not just veggies, but her favorite cheese from Bailey Falls Creamery, made and sold by Oscar Mendoza, who is hot enough to melt all his wares. When a chance to market Bailey Falls town comes to her firm, Natalie grabs it and heads upstate to meet Oscar on his territory. What she finds is more than she bargained for, both in the bed (or barn) and in her heart.
Clayton again makes a heroine that is doing just fine, but the right man would be the icing on the cake. Natalie is a plus-size hottie, which is rare in the romance field: women can have ridiculous boobs, but a body to match? And her dress size was not the plot of the book. Yes, her body size affected her early dating days, but when we meet Natalie, she struts her stuff and gets any man she wants. It takes an equally intense partner to finally settle her down (almost). A fun read while you’re enjoying warm brie…
GeekMom received some titles for review purposes.