Between the Bookends: 8 Books We Read in September 2018

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown

With our children back in school for a new year of learning, Sophie, Kay, Lisa, and Rebecca share some of their latest reads. With a new, feminine take on an ancient Greek classic, a girl detective for the new generation, the first Deadpool prose novel, and an epic fantasy in a magical land amongst much else, we hope you’ll find something new to interest you.

Amulet 8: Supernova, Image: Scholastic
Amulet 8: Supernova, Image: Scholastic

Supernova: Amulet 8 By Kazu Kibuishi

“We have to stop doing this, Navin. We can’t do this anymore.”
“Mom – I don’t think that’s even an option.”

This line is spoken with a fierce hug in Supernova, the latest installment in Amulet, one of the most imaginative and epic graphic novel stories Rebecca has read – check out a quick review of the previous seven books in June’s Stack Overflow. In case you doubt her, this series gets kudos from another GeekMom. Plus, Rebecca’s twelve-year-old niece, an avid, but critical, reader is a total fan.

The series follows two siblings, Emily and Navin, caught in another world called Alledia which is filled with magic, robots, and talking trees. They try to get home at first, but then realize they won’t have a home if they don’t help this one. Emily bears an amulet from her great-grandfather that gives her amazing powers, while Navin is told he will fulfill the prophecy to become a great leader. But they are just kids!

Supernova, the eighth book, brings us to Emily’s final struggle, one she has had to discover throughout the story. Yes, the Elf King has brought destruction to Alledia, but the real enemy goes deeper than that. Ultimately, the battle resides within herself before she destroys not just Alledia, but the entire universe. Meanwhile, Navin continues to rise to the challenges in an interstellar fight. As he tells his mother in the beginning quote, he won’t ever back down. But he does need help. Can Emily control her powers enough to provide the final help he needs to bring peace to all the worlds?

Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Lochleven Castle, Image: Kelpies
Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Lochleven Castle, Image: Kelpies

Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Loch Leven Castle by Theresa Breslin

While Sophie believes there’s some truth in the old adage to never judge a book by its cover, she admits it was the cover art that caused her to pick up Mary, Queen of Scots: Escape from Loch Leven Castle by Theresa Breslin. This short picture book explores the life of Mary Stuart who became Queen of Scotland at just six days old, and, as the title suggests, focuses on her escape from imprisonment on Loch Leven island where she was being held by Scottish lords fearful of her power.

It’s fair to say that this book skips over a lot of detail, but that’s to be expected from a picture book primer aimed at younger children. The reasons for Mary’s imprisonment were far more complex that could reasonably be explained here, and Mary’s baby son James – technically king of Scotland at the time she was held in Loch Leven – is barely mentioned, nor is her forced abdication. However, to its credit, the book does not skip over all the nasty parts and Mary’s eventual fate at the hand of her cousin Elizabeth I ends her story.

This is a beautifully illustrated and fun book that explores an exciting but lesser known story from Scottish history in an accessible and interesting way that parents and children will enjoy reading together.

Fantasyland, Image: Ebury Press
Fantasyland, Image: Ebury Press

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen

From the Salem Witch Trials to Medicine Shows, P. T. Barnum to alien abductions, Americans have always shown themselves to be generally more open to believing in crazy things than those from other nations. Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen is an interesting book that charts the history of America through its various fantastic obsessions and beliefs, showing how the country has become increasingly immersed in fantasy over the years to the point where many people are finding it hard to see where the boundaries between fact and fiction lie – if they even believe that such a boundary exists.

Sophie found Fantasyland hard to take seriously at points. While she is in total agreement that many of the beliefs described here are indeed dangerous as they can, and have, led to people being falsely imprisoned and killed, the author seemed keen to decry literally any activity that involved a degree of fantasy as putting people on a road to a complete breakdown in their ability to recognize the fact/fiction boundary. This included (among hundreds of examples) video games, television, Disney theme parks, Tolkien novels, historical reenactments, and cosplay. Indeed, a footnote tells us knowingly that Timothy McVeigh once visited Area 51 and watched the movie Contact on Death Row, as if these were somehow inextricably linked to his crimes. This tendency, unfortunately, means that many of the more consequential points are lost amid an atmosphere of “grumpy old man shouts at clouds“.

This is not a book that those with strong spiritual beliefs will enjoy as it vehemently links nearly all forms of religion and spiritual belief to living in fantasyland, nor will those who support the current president and GOP find themselves welcome among its pages. However, those who have watched the news cycle over the last few years and wondered whether the world actually is going insane will find much to validate themselves here.

The Silence of the Girls, Image: Hamish Hamilton
The Silence of the Girls, Image: Hamish Hamilton

The Silence of The Girls by Pat Barker

Sophie also picked up The Silence of The Girls by Pat Barker because the blurb intrigued her enough to overlook that this book is very far from her usual reading style. It is, in some respects, a retelling of Homer’s Iliad from the perspective of a minor character – Briseis. Briseis was the queen of the Trojan city of Lyrnessus until the city was sacked during the final months of the epic Trojan war when she was taken as a slave and given to Achilles as a prize. In The Silence of The Girls, we witness the final months of the war from her point of view as she is forced to be the bed-girl (the nicest term used for her position) of the man who brutally murdered her father, brothers, and husband while he spends his days fighting to destroy what remains of her country.

This is not a book filled with easy subject matter. The descriptions of warfare are akin to what you see on Game of Thrones with no tiptoeing around the atrocities of the battlefield and the aftermath of the fighting, and the women’s discussions are stark and equally brutal as they compare notes on the acts their new masters force them to perform. That being said, Sophie found the book a surprisingly easy read thanks to its beautiful prose which flowed smoothly and thoughtfully throughout its pages.

The Silence of The Girls is a book that gives a voice to the female characters whose lives became mere commodities for men in the original, well-known telling of this story. It is a book that forces you to consider what you think you know well from an entirely new angle and considering our society still has a habit of silencing women’s voices, the point it tries to make in doing this is equally as important today as it was in the time of the Ancient Greeks.

Deadpool: Paws, Image: Titan Books
Deadpool: Paws, Image: Titan Books

Deadpool: Paws by Stefan Petrucha

Out of a sheer whim, Lisa picked up the first Deadpool prose novel, Deadpool: Paws by Stefan Petrucha. With the use of various fonts, emojis, and other little visual tricks, Petrucha was able to take the famously fourth-wall breaking comic series and successfully transform it into a prose work.

Lisa admits she read the entire thing, told from Deadpool’s perspective — or perspectives thanks to the multiple personalities in his head — hearing actor Ryan Reynolds’ voice. However, this is not the Deadpool of movie fame, and in order to pick up on many of the references, a reader would have to be somewhat familiar with Deadpool’s comic book history. This isn’t to say a fan of the movies wouldn’t get a kick out of it. It’s an easy, funny read, for older teens and adults, filled with mutated monster puppies, hilarious commentary and plenty of goopy comic gore, but not R-rated graphic. Deadpool having to face the prospect of killing big, murderous beings from mutated puppies is as deep as the moral dilemma in this story gets. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. play a big part, and there are a couple of other cameo appearances by Marvel favorites.

Those that just want some goofy, Deadpool-style fun will find Paws captured it to a tee. If Petrucha is toying with the idea of typing out another of these, Lisa is more than up for the journey.

Hard in Hightown, Image: Dark Horse Books
Hard in Hightown, Image: Dark Horse Books

Dragon Age: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras

Kay is an utter nerd for the Dragon Age series of games. In Dragon Age II and Dragon Age Inquisition, she was particularly taken with the character of Varric. Varric is a prolific author, and characters in the games frequently reference his writing.

When she heard about Dragon Age: Hard in Hightown, penned by Varric Tethras himself, she had to give the book a try. This novella is a classic noir story set in Kirkwall. The old patrolman, Donnen Brennokovic, is just weeks from retirement and is paired with the newest on patrol. They uncover the murder of a wealthy Hightown resident. Despite his captain repeatedly urging Donnen to leave this one alone and just enjoy the last two weeks until he retires with a full pension, Donnen continues to pursue the killer. In proper noir style, every layer he pulls back exposes another side of Kirkwall’s dark underbelly, until the final, unexpected conclusion.

If you’ve played the Dragon Age games, Hard in Hightown is a fun story that pulls in various characters from Dragon Age II. If you haven’t played the games, you may still find the story enjoyable, but the many references may leave you feeling like you’re missing something. Still, a fun story that Kay enjoyed reading.

The State of Grace, Image: Swoon Reads
The State of Grace, Image: Swoon Reads

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

When she finished The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, Kay found herself telling friends that there were now two whole young adult books with autistic main characters that she was willing to recommend to her friends. This is a romantic book that is not about autism but accurately and authentically portrays a person with autism.

Grace is a teenager with a horse and a best friend. She’s regularly in trouble at school because she doesn’t behave the way she’s supposed to. She has a fierce advocate in her mother, though her mother is privately frustrated with Grace’s behavior. She also has a little sister with whom she has a good relationship. Grace’s life is pretty settled – until it isn’t.

After Grace’s sister makes an incredible mistake, Grace experiences her grief and fear and trauma in a way that is sharply autistic. She goes non-verbal and has an intense shutdown that lasts for an extended period. Eventually, with care, her trauma begins to heal, and she resumes her life.

What Kay particularly loved about this book was the way Grace faces situations that are typical for all teenagers. Her sister is acting out, her parents are in the process of splitting up, and her mother’s new friend is turning all their lives upside down. The story is not about Grace being autistic; the story is about a teenager and views events through an autistic lens.

As an autistic person, Kay is highly critical of portrayals of autism in the media. Having two whole YA books to recommend is pretty darn exciting. (The other one is Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde).

Goldie Vance Volume 4, Image: Boom! Box
Goldie Vance Volume 4, Image: Boom! Box

Goldie Vance Volume 4 by Hope Larson and Jackie Ball

The fourth volume of Goldie Vance, the kid-focused girl detective comic by Hope Larson (adding Jackie Ball on writing credits in this volume) continues to be one of Kay’s favorite reads – you can read her February review of the series so far elsewhere on GeekMom. Goldie is a sharp and smart girl detective who investigates various crimes and capers that relate to the hotel where her father works.

In this volume of the comic (illustrated by Elle Power), Goldie and her girlfriend Diane are running into some relationship trouble. While Goldie is very content in their resort town, Diane is clearly dreaming of bigger things. As Diane gets more and more involved with the Rockin’ the Beach Music Festival, Goldie gets concerned that something about the festival isn’t on the up-and-up.

As in previous volumes in the series, Goldie is wrong almost as often as she’s right. Diane gets more and more upset with her, convinced that Goldie is trying to undermine the possibilities that Diane sees in front of her. Goldie, meanwhile, is absolutely afraid that Diane is going to leave her for someplace more exciting – but insists that this isn’t why she’s investigating the festival.

The volume concludes with a larger-than-life finale in grand soft mystery style, and Goldie and Diane resolve their issues without the conversations feeling like a Hallmark card or a Made for TV movie. Kay has loved all the previous volumes in this series and will continue to pick them up as they come out.

GeekMom received some titles for review purposes.

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