Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown

Between the Bookends: 5 Books We Read in December 2019

Between the Bookends Books Featured Columns
Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends, Image: Sophie Brown

Happy New Year! In this first edition of Between the Bookends for 2020, Rebecca, Amy, Robin, and Sophie share the books from their December reading that saw them out of the last decade and into a shiny new one.

We hope you find something inspiring to start you out in a new decade of reading.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

December reading
So You Want To Start a Podcast, Image: William Morrow

So You Want To Start A Podcast By Kristen Meinzer

Like a growing number of people, Rebecca listens to podcasts, and like those same number of people, she has considered starting one of her own. So You Want To Start A Podcast is the place to start. Rebecca saw it on display at her local library and read it quickly, as it is engaging and informative. Kristen Meinzer has been a producer and host of several award-winning and popular podcasts, including Happier, which is one of Rebecca’s favorite shows. That experience comes through in every stage of putting together a successful podcast.

Meinzer takes the reader step by step in creating a good idea, title, writing a script (yes, even non-fiction “chatting” podcasts have at least a general outline script. Or at least they should!), casting, using your voice, and more, with lots of tips and advice along the way. There is a section on diversity in podcasting and why you should include it and how. There is a very informative part for female voices and the specific challenges they face.

She focuses on non-fiction podcasting more than fiction. There is only a general overview of equipment hardware and software, as her advice is to go online for the latest tech. There is not much in the way of hosting services information. But overall, an engaging book from an expert in the field who encourages everyone to be creative in this emerging field of entertainment.

December reading
The Whispering Wars, Image: Arthur A. Levine Books

The Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty (known in its original Australia and several other countries as The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars), is a prequel/companion book to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, which Amy and her two tweens loved reading last spring.

To tell exactly how the two books tie together would be spoilerific (beyond that they take place in the same world), but you do not need to have read the first to enjoy The Whispering Wars, which happens approximately 15 years earlier. It starts off as a bitter sports rivalry between two groups of kids – one at a poor orphanage and the other at a posh boarding school. But when the nearby Whispering Kingdom declares war on the other Kingdoms & Empires, putting their town in direct peril, the two groups team up to rescue the dozens of children who have been kidnapped by mind-controlling Whisperers.

Like the original book, this one is full of quirky unique characters and unexpected magical details, but being a war story it’s also, well, slightly alarming, and manages to slip in social commentary about xenophobia, political activism, and economic disparity. But in a fun way! Amy and kids enjoyed this one possibly more than but at least just as much as Bronte Mettlestone, and spent the read laughing, gasping, speculating, and regularly shouting “I hate him SO MUCH!” in regards to one odious character (at least the 5th grader did). This middle-grade series has not gotten the hype it deserves, so make a point to seek both books out!

The Devouring Gray, Image: Titan Books
The Devouring Gray, Image: Titan Books

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman is a perfect read for Halloween, which is why Robin read it in December. His book reviews are rarely on time. This book has a definite Stranger Things feel to it. It has teenagers running around a provincial town in the middle of nowhere and a mysterious alternate version of the town, where things are, well, gray.

If Stranger Things owes something to Stephen King then author Christine Lynn Herman has borrowed from the master too. The Devouring Gray is all about small-town secrets, bitter feuds, and hidden power, and like the best of King’s novels features teenagers coming of age wrestling with their place in the universe.

The book deals sensitively with trauma. Many of the characters in the book are dealing with loss, some of a family member, others a loss of potential. The realization that the world was not going to deliver what they had anticipated. This feeds into a wider-examination of power. The idea of a rigged system and how resentful those who feel like their voices are unheard can become.

The book is a creepy read and the oozy nature of the gray instills a discomfiting sense of dread in the reader. Robin found the opening intriguing, the middle built things up to simmer nicely, though was perhaps a shade too long. The finale was well worth the pay-off. It’s exciting, twisty, and a story of friends coming together, which is exactly what Robin was looking for in this kind of novel. Many threads are tied up, but there is also plenty of scope for a sequel. Deck of Omens will be out in 2020 and Robin is looking finding out what happens next.

The Nightjar, Image: Tor Books
The Nightjar, Image: Tor Books

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

The opening chapters of The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt are some of the most intriguing and suspenseful Robin has ever read. Fifty pages in, the book was poised to be an eerie, macabre tale of soul-chasing magic.

Unfortunately for Robin, the book didn’t continue in the same vein. This is not to say its a bad book, far from it, but the rest of the tale doesn’t live up to its opening. Unless, perhaps, you like A Discovery of Witches.

In The Nightjar, Alice can see people’s souls, in the form of birds. It’s a rare skill that marks her out as a member of a magical race that exists, hidden, alongside the rest of the normal world. Many members of the magical race also live in an alternate London, a pocket reality, frozen in the past where they can live unhunted. For, inevitably, there are unscrupulous people trying to kill them.

Alice is propelled into this world after a car accident almost kills her best friend. Alice discovers that her friend’s Nightjar (soul) is between worlds, almost in purgatory, and only she can rescue it. This sets up the central quest. Robin compares the book to A Discovery of Witches because many of its pages are dedicated to Alice’s relationship with her savior/mentor/tormentor. A tall brooding man, who doesn’t say much, and has a dark and shadowy past. This is not where Robin wanted to novel to go, but other readers may enjoy it.

The Nightjar is well-written and evocative. Robin enjoyed the unusual manifestations of magic, and he does like a parallel universe. If you’re looking for a literary paranormal romance, this may well be the book for you.

Highfire, Image: Harper Perennial
Highfire, Image: Harper Perennial

Highfire by Eoin Colfer

After reading The Fowl Twins before Christmas, Sophie picked up Highfire by Eoin Colfer – the author behind the multi-million selling series, Artemis Fowl. Although he has put out adult novels before, Highfire is Colfer’s first adult fantasy book and a children’s book this most definitely is not.

Vern is the last dragon. He is hiding out in a swamp in Louisana, whiling away his days on vodka, binge-watching streamed movies and TV series, and avoiding humankind who killed his brethren centuries ago. When his familiar, Waxman, has to take a leave of absence, Vern must put aside his distrust of humans and take on a new familiar – a local teenager called Squib.

Unfortunately, Squib has drawn the unwanted attention of a psychotic local law enforcer, Constable Hooke, having witnessed Hooke committing a murder on the orders of a local drug lord. Hooke has designs on taking over the drug lord’s empire and soon Vern, Squib, and Hooke are locked into an imaginative, twisting plot that will not end well for some or all of these characters.

This is a good book but, for Sophie, it fell short of being great. Vern is curmudgeonly but not endearingly so (even if he does love Flashdance). Squib is delinquent but good-hearted though hardly original. Hooke is just a plain vicious sociopath who can gut and carve people up without the faintest glimmer of remorse.

The story takes time to set the scene and the characters before it really gets going and then it is a rollercoaster ride to the finish. Throughout there are blood and guts, significant quantities of profanity and vices, and lots of wit and humor. As creative as the plot is, it just lacks the usual Eoin Colfer charm. If the premise intrigues you then Sophie recommends giving the book a read. She just doubts she will read it again.

GeekMom received copies of some titles for review purposes.

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