Can you believe it’s the final Between the Bookends of 2018? No, we can’t either! In this month’s column, Sophie, Lisa, and Missy share some of their favorite November books that they’ve read themselves or with their kids. Look out for our “Best of 2018” coming soon, and we’ll see you back here in 2019!
My Cutest Kitten by Kay Woodward
Sophie began her November by looking at My Cutest Kitten with her cat-obsessed son. This is an augmented reality book which works with a free app of the same name which can be run on iOS and Android devices.
My Cutest Kitten allows kids to design and play with their very own virtual reality kitten. Throughout its pages, you get to choose your kitten’s fur, eye, and collar colors, name them, then begin playing with toys, stroking, and feeding them. You’ll also get to train your kitten to use a litter tray and scratching post. At the end of the book is printed “save screen” which allows you to store up to six different kittens and choose which one to play with when you next open the book.
Of course, My Cutest Kitten isn’t the most weighty tome to grace shelves, it’s more about the app than what’s inside its pages, but it is filled with some handy tips on kitten behavior and their requirements along with dozens of adorable photos of real kittens. While it’s certainly not a comprehensive guide to owning a cat, the simple language and easy-to-follow advice would make this an excellent book to give to a small child prior to adopting their first cat.
While Sophie found the book underwhelming, her son really enjoyed getting to name and design his own kitten, then being able to play with it any time he wanted. She suspects he would have continued reading and playing with it for much longer had they not adopted two real kittens (and a cat) a few weeks after receiving this book because no augmented reality kitten will ever quite live up to a real one!
This Is a Whoopsie! by Andrew Cangelose
The second book Sophie read with her son this month was This Is a Whoopsie by Andrew Cangelose, the author behind This Is a Taco, which they both read and enjoyed earlier this year. This Is a Whoopsie has a similar premise, a primer book about a specific type of animal is taken over by one that, well, doesn’t fit the stereotypes of its species! In this book, Whoopsie is a clumsy moose who can’t stop falling over.
Whoopsie does his best to demonstrate typical moose behavior for the book but ends up falling over and knocking all the letters out of place. He and his friend, a small yet sarcastic bluebird, try to fix the book and create some brilliantly silly moment in the process (trampolining hamsters anyone) and Taco the squirrel from the previous book in this series even makes an appearance. Soon, Whoopsie figures out what makes him a special moose, and uses his new confidence to end the book his way.
Cangelose is quickly becoming one of Sophie’s favorite picture book authors, with stories so clever and funny that her son still enjoys reading them with her, despite having aged out of picture books now. This is another fantastic story from him and Sophie knows she’ll be picking up his future stories to read no matter how old her son is.
The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan
Sophie ended her November by getting into the festive spirit with The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan. Swan writes a certain type of Hallmark movie-style book that isn’t usually Sophie’s style (at least six more of her books have the word Christmas in the title), but the oh-so-modern premise intrigued her and she ended up really enjoying the story.
Zac and Bo are Instagram celebrities with a following of millions, traveling the world and posting daily pictures of their perfect life to their heavily curated grids with the help of their photographer Lenny. This Christmas they are spending a month living in a remote Norwegian shelf farm owned by Signy, a 90-something-year-old lady whose standoffish grandson Anders soon becomes their unwilling tour guide. When Bo injures herself taking a dangerous photo, it sets off a chain of events that upends her carefully constructed world, and she begins to see the cracks that had been forming around her. A second story follows Signy during one teenage summer in the 1930s when she lived in the high pastures above her farm, raising goats with the other girls from her village.
In both stories, it soon becomes apparent that the remote location of a Norwegian shelf farm is excellent for keeping secrets and there were some excellent twists and turns to the plot that Sophie didn’t see coming, although one of the biggest reveals was something she found rather predictable. Zac felt as if he never became much more than a caricature, but Sophie found herself warming to Signy and her grandson Anders, along with Bo, who got some much-deserved character development later on. While the ending was predictably saccharine, this was a darker tale than she expected from its cover and Sophie was glad she gave it a try.
Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone adapted by Walter B. Gibson
Lisa ran across a wonderful fall read in a friend’s Little Free Library last month, the short story collection of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, adapted in prose form by Walter B. Gibson. This 1983 book combines 26 eerie tales previously published as two volumes.
Many science fiction and supernatural fans may know Serling for his narration and hosting of the early 1960s The Twilight Zone television series, but he also served as a primary writer for the series and penned many of the episodes himself. This collection of ghostly tales includes both original stories and some taken from the show.
There were, as common with these tales, some life lessons. Among Lisa’s favorites was “The Man in the Bottle,” based on the episode of the same name. In this version, the wish-granting genie is described as a mid-century “prosperous, conservative businessman” in style who Lisa immediately pictured as John Hamm from Mad Men. Of course, he came with the “be careful what you wish for” warning, that went unheeded by the recipient of the bottle, a struggling shop owner named Arthur Castle until it was nearly too late. Castle later learned even if he “can’t afford a brand-new life,” he could work to “give the old one a new paint job.” It was also one of the few stories that wasn’t an actual “ghost story.”
Since October and November are such busy months, these suspenseful tales made it easy to take brief reading breaks between responsibilities. The winter months were popular times to tell ghost stories in the past, so Lisa suggests these sometimes bleak but sometimes hopeful tales of the classic Twilight Zone era would be a fun holiday gift for lovers of spooky stories.
Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
Missy started a new job with a public transportation commuting option and dove into her backlog historical mysteries and romances with a great glee. First up: Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley, the second of her Below Stairs mysteries set in Victorian London. The lead character, Kat Holloway, is a cook for a grand Mayfair house who ends up solving murders in her spare time, as one does. This book picks up a few months after the first novel in the series (Death Below Stairs) as Lady Cynthia, the young, free-spirited lady of the house, asks Kat for her assistance with a friend who is caught up in a scandal involving thefts from her London home. Several other characters, including Daniel McAdam, the mysterious man of many occupations and classes who is quietly courting Kat in between all the murders, his son, James, and his very intelligent (and socially unaware) friend, Elgin Thanos, return and become entangled in the rapidly expanding mystery.
Missy isn’t going to lie: she’s in this one for the food, as the descriptions of the food Kat prepares, for both upstairs and downstairs meals are amaaaaazing in this series. She’s also happy many of the supporting characters from the previous books have returned but thought this installment might have tipped its hand with a little too much of a reveal about Daniel’s past. Still, she appreciates how deftly Ms. Ashley spins the story across class and gender lines when many books keep their plots strictly in the upper classes and she’ll be keeping an eye out for the next in the series.
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Missy’s second book this November was An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, an American Civil War-era romance that is gripping and emotional. It tells the story of a young, free, African American woman, Elle, who goes undercover as a slave in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, as a spy for the Union, and Malcolm McCall, a Scots-born Pinkerton agent, also undercover as a Confederate officer. They meet in the home of a Confederate senator and quickly come to realize they need to work together to find and relay vital information to the Union forces.
This is the most nerve-wracking romance Missy has read in a long time, where the stakes are incredibly high and the tension just keeps ratcheting higher and higher. Most romance writers don’t tackle scenarios where their main characters can’t really even be seen speaking to each other without calling down horrible consequences from the society around them. Ms. Cole starts there and keeps right on escalating. She navigates one tricky situation after another, always making sure we, the readers, are crystal clear on just how high the personal stakes are to the characters and how much they were willing to gamble, not just for each other, but for their beliefs and morals. It makes the love Elle and Malcolm find that much deeper and richer, and the ending that much more satisfying. Also, note that this is not a fade-to-black romance and that characters are in mortal peril.
Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris
And finally, Missy read Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris, the thirteenth book in her Sebastian St. Cyr Regency-era mystery series. Thirteen books is a long time to keep characters and plots fresh, but Missy enjoyed this one as much as, if not more than, the first few. The series follows Viscount Devlin, the titular Sebastian St. Cyr, heir to the Earl of Hendon and a disillusioned former army officer, as he works unofficially with the London police to solve particularly unusual (and sometimes gruesome—these are really not cozy mysteries in the slightest) murders. The characters are all sharply drawn and come in for their fair share of growth in each book, but the real glory of this series is the impeccably researched detail that brings the era to life in all its glory and misery. The notes at the end that lay out the actual history are almost as much fun as the books themselves.
In this book, the mystery centers around a woman found dead in an alley by Lady Devlin. The dead woman proves to have ties to Princess Charlotte, who, as the only child of the Prince Regent, is the Heir Presumptive to the throne, which provides an extra layer of complexity to the plot. Ms. Harris works with the actual events of the time to set the stage for secrets, feuds (the Prince and Princess of Wales loathed each other), petty jealousies writ large (again with Prinny), and betrayals that could ruin the kingdom. At the same time, she makes everyone human and, especially in this book, lays out the less-than-even hand women had to deal with, in the arts, in politics, and in legal matters. Missy already has the next book’s publication date noted down.
GeekMom received some of these books for review purposes.