In the final Between the Bookends of 2019, Sophie, Lisa, Mariana, Rebecca, Missy, and Sarah share what they’ve been reading during the last month. We wish you all a joyous holiday season however you will be celebrating and hope you find something here to gift to a loved one or enjoy reading yourself.
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Christmas in a Book, Designed by Allie Runnion
Christmas in a Book was Sophie’s first pick for the holidays and blurs the boundary between book and ornament. Part of the Uplifting Editions series from Abrams Noterie that also includes titles such as Bouquet in a Book and Succulents in a Book (which Sophie recommended earlier this year for those living in dorms or small apartments), these titles are short, hardcover volumes designed for display.
The text within Christmas in a Book is a re-telling of The Twelve Days of Christmas with one or two lines from the poem per fully-illustrated double-page spread. On each double-page spread, there is a decorated branch attached so it can be rotated to stick up out of the top of the book. After reading through the 24 pages and twisting each branch upwards, you will be left with a miniature Christmas tree—the lower half of the tree being printed on the cover.
Sophie fully admits there’s not a huge amount of literary depth to this title, and it’s certainly not going to be one you pick up to settle down with in front of a roaring fire for the evening. But, as with the other books in the series, it will make an ideal gift for anyone living in cramped quarters who wants a token tree that can sit atop a desk or bookshelf, and the clever design makes it easy to store for the rest of the year as well.
The Muppet Christmas Carol by Brooke Vitale, Illustrated by Luke Flowers
If Sophie had to pick her all-time favorite Christmas movie, she would choose The Muppet Christmas Carol without hesitation, which is why she was so excited to hear that the film would be adapted into picture book format ready for this holiday season.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic follows the movie exactly, using a mixture of traditional third-person narration and speech bubbles with dialogue from the film. The illustrations are stunning: full-page, colorful, and perfectly blending traditional and modern styles, just like the film did when it was released in 1992. There is not an inch of this book that won’t bring a smile to your face—except, perhaps, the scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which remain as chilling and heartbreaking in this format as they are on-screen. As with the original film, you’ll almost immediately forget that the pages are populated with a mixture of muppets and humans, so compelling are the characters themselves.
Of course, something is naturally lost in a literary adaptation of any musical because the songs are missing. “One More Sleep ’til Christmas,” “It Feels Like Christmas,” and “Thankful Heart” are holiday season staples in Sophie’s household even when the movie isn’t on, and it feels strange to see these scenes and not hear the music that goes with them, especially given that many of these moments are illustrated with musical notes in the book. However, this is easy enough to overlook—you’ll simply find yourself wanting to listen to the soundtrack immediately after reading.
Even though her ten-year-old son has almost outgrown illustrated picture books at bedtime, Sophie knows she will be reading this one aloud this Christmas and holding onto it ready for the next generation. If you already love the movie, then you will love this faithful adaptation.
YouTube World Records by Adrian Besley
Sophie requested a copy of YouTube World Records by Adrian Besley for her ten-year-old son who, like most kids his age, is something of a YouTube addict. The book features over 300 records covering dozens of topics, all of which you can watch for yourself on YouTube after reading about them.
The records are broken up into over 60 categories, covering everything from animals to apps, science to sports, celebrities to construction, which means there is bound to be something to interest every kid (and adult) who picks this up. Sophie and her son particularly enjoyed the pages and videos related to cats, theme parks, and movies, getting to see the world’s fattest cat, fastest rollercoaster, and most expensive dress.
Each record is discussed with a short paragraph of text that explains what makes it worthy of inclusion, and most also feature a photograph to go with it, but it’s the interactive content that really sells this book. Not only does each entry have a URL printed alongside it, but also a QR code that can be scanned with your phone to go directly to that video. This is one of the very few books where Sophie actively encourages her son to keep his phone in-hand whilst reading! Getting to witness the incredible events, feats, and people that are discussed in the book for yourself brings the records to life.
While this is not the most in-depth and detailed book ever written, it will make an ideal gift for any YouTube-loving tweens on your list this holiday season and might even encourage them to try setting a world record of their own—longest amount of time spent watching YouTube over the holiday season, perhaps?
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
Lisa can’t remember experiencing such a fun October read, having run across a book club discussion on Roger Zelazny’s comic horror fantasy A Night in the Lonesome October.
This is the story, told by a dog named Snuff, of a potentially sinister “game” to be held on October 31. Readers soon learn that some sort of portal or gate will be opened by some of the “players,” while others are set on making sure it stays closed. To say any more about this will take away from the fun, as one of the cleverest things about this book is the perfect way the chapters are set up each as one day in October. Lisa took the fans’ advice and read one chapter a day. Every day the family followed Snuff and discussed the further unraveling of the mystery. It became very tempting to read ahead, but following the chapter on the actual day it was set made the anticipation and wild ending worth it.
Although they are never referred to by the names for which they are best known in literature and pop culture, this book brings together a who’s who in the horror and mystery worlds: “The Good Doctor,” “The Great Detective,” “The Count,” Snuff’s own master “Jack,” and others. There are also wonderful original animals, with Snuff and Graymalk the cat being Lisa’s favorites.
This book, the last one before Zelazny’s death in 1995, has made such an impression of readers, Neil Gaiman used it as inspiration for his tale Only the End of the World Again, and some avid fans have made a tradition of reading it each day every October.
Lisa doesn’t think she will commit to that, but this was certainly enjoyable enough to revisit again in a lonesome October in the future.
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
Mariana doesn’t know exactly what she was expecting when she started this collection of biographies. Maybe something like the very intense recount of Mary Shelley’s work written by Esther Cross (La Mujer Que Escribió Frankenstein, only available in Spanish), however, this is not that.
Instead, for Monster, She Wrote, think less non-fiction biographies and more exhaustive collection of trading cards, the main theme being ALL those incredible women who wrote ghostly tales, gothic horror, and mysterious novels; many of whom you may have never heard of.
Mariana knew, as an intuition, that women wrote all the time, and as the book corroborates, women have been primary architects of speculative literature of all sorts. Also, their own life stories are as complicated and convoluted as their fiction. Some of the women collected here are: Margaret “Mad Madge” Cavendish, Violet Paget, Ann Radcliffe, V. C. Andrews, Eli Colter, and Ruby Jean Jensen.
Each entry comes with a small biography and a recommendation or reading list. The book is organized by theme:—ghosts, murder mysteries, monsters, and the like—and there are a lot of curiosities in the book because a hundred women were out there in the Victorian era, fending off life with their words, and they wrote more than two hundred mysterious, spooky novels, novellas, and stories.
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
In Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju, which Rebecca read this month, the author paints a vivid picture of small-town life for those who don’t exactly fit it. Nima is a teenager on the outskirts of high school society, but she’s ok with that since she has a best friend who is even more awkward than she is. Nima is in love with her only other friend, a pretty and popular girl who is not interested in Nima that way. Feeling stuck and out of place, Nima happens upon a drag King and Queen show on the night of the town’s festival. Her eyes are opened to new possibilities and friendships and more. But in discovering a new part of herself, does she have to leave the people she loves behind?
Rebecca found Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens to have plenty of cringe-worthy scenes of awkward adolescence but balanced with a fair look at how adults don’t have everything worked out either. No one is perfect in this book, but everyone is trying, and that’s the best lesson any teen can learn.
Recommended for YA readers who want inspiration on pushing past your own boundaries. (65% female speaking characters.)
Mind Games by Shana Silver
Rebecca’s other book this month was Mind Games by Shana Silver. In the future, a brilliant scientist invents HiveMind, a cloud-based memory bank for users that directly ties into their brain, so no one has to forget anything again. But like all tools, someone figures out a way to misuse it. In this case, it’s the creator’s daughter, Arden. Arden is seventeen, in a school for gifted children, and has a side business hacking into and selling memories from HiveMind: being crowned prom queen, winning the final touchdown, studying for a test.
Arden doesn’t see anything wrong with this since the original owners keep the memory and are unaware of the hack. Yet, when someone starts tampering with her own memories, deleting them entirely, Arden is furious… and scared. Then a mysterious boy named Sebastian comes to her for help, and the two of them desperately try to get their memories back, all the while being hampered by someone who keeps deleting them every time they get close to the truth.
Rebecca Angel found the premise to be intriguing. Yet the beginning was clunky and the heroine unlikeable, egotistical, and wearing stilettos? Then the story started chugging, and Rebecca could barely put the book down, thoroughly enjoying the ride. Mind Games is a mystery that kept her guessing, a thriller with constant twists and turns, serious ideas on biomedical ethics, and a strong romance that was integral to the plot. Rebecca was reminded of Memento and a certain Star Trek TNG episode, in all the best ways.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and up. (39% female speaking characters.)
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Missy broke a months’ long reading slump in November with Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday, a delightful contemporary romance featuring a main couple well-outside the normal ages of most romance novels (both are in their 50s) and a fairly swoon-worthy setting in a “cottage” on the British royal estate of Sandringham.
Vivian, a social worker from Oakland, agrees to accompany her daughter Maddie to England when Maddie, a stylist, has the opportunity to work with a royal duchess over the Christmas holidays. While there, Vivian meets the queen’s private secretary, Malcolm, and a light flirtation ensues, complete with tours of the royal estate, horseback riding lessons, and a delightful correspondence carried on by means of handwritten notes delivered by footmen.
There’s also some mistletoe involvement.
The flirtation turns into something more involved when Malcolm invites Vivian to stay a few extra days with him in London and real-life intrudes a bit more insistently (though there are still several excellently romantic excursions). Both Vivian and Malcolm are successful, competent characters who aren’t without their blind spots, but they complement each other well and make a really lovely couple. There isn’t a lot of drama or angst in this book, but the conflicts are grounded in reality and Missy found the happily-ever-after payoff the better for it. It was the perfect warm, engaging, loving kick-off to the holiday season.
Although this is the fourth book in a loosely-connected series of romances featuring protagonists of color, it stands perfectly well on its own, so you won’t have to add the entire series to your TBR list to be able to enjoy this one. Also: yes, it’s that royal duchess (and her loving husband), though this really isn’t about them, so they’re minor (and unnamed) characters.
Dragonwatch: Master of the Phantom Isle by Brandon Mull
Sarah finally got time this week to sit down with the long-anticipated third title in Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch series: Master of the Phantom Isle. At the end of the last title, our enemies had been thwarted, but our heroes disastrously divided. Now as magical preserves across the globe continue to fall, they are working against each other to accomplish different goals.
Mull’s first Fablehaven series was a delightful read that gets re-visited every other year, and Dragonwatch is matching it for energy and engagement. In Master of the Phantom Isle, readers spend much of their time in two places that they have never experienced before: the Phantom Isle, home of the UnderKing, and Crescent Lagoon, a recently fallen dragon sanctuary that Kendra now battles to restore to its former glory. It is a nice relocation to a completely different kind of sanctuary and gives readers a chance to encounter some new beings. Readers don’t see much of Bracken in this book, which is necessary but disappointing, however, his mom makes an appearance, which is always delightful, and when he does arrive on the scene in the final pages, he does it in style.
As Seth continues to battle his inner demons, Kendra goes from strength to strength and is easily one of the best-written heroines we have seen of late. Her affections do not mar her judgment, but neither does she dispel her emotions completely. She balances out her love for her brother and for Bracken, with clear-headed decision making and authoritative action.
This book demands to be read straight through, and there is rarely a dull moment that will make you put it down, so buckle up. Another fantastic Fablehaven installment from Brandon Mull.
GeekMom received copies of some of these books for review purposes.