In the first Between the Bookends of 2020, Sophie, Rebecca, Lisa, and Amy share what they’ve been reading to kickstart their new year. We hope you find something to enjoy here too.
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Mythos by Stephen Fry
Sophie started listening to the audiobook edition of Stephen Fry’s Mythos while decorating a bedroom in May 2019 and finally finished (now having moved to an e-book edition) on December 29th, just squeezing it in before the new year. While the book is indeed fairly long – the audiobook clocks in at over 15 hours – it’s not THAT long, it took her forever to finish it because she simply couldn’t muster up any desire to continue listening.
Having very much enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology during 2018, Sophie had been hoping for more of the same, but Gaiman’s easy, flowing style was lacking from Mythos which felt disjointed, more like a collection of notes that have yet to be assembled into a single narrative. Each part is interesting enough in itself, but the collective whole just didn’t work for Sophie which made her struggle to finish it.
Mythos does indeed do a good job of covering every myth and story you could possibly want from a book like this. It begins with the Greek creation story and moves through the age of the Titans to the age of the Gods and the arrival of mankind, ending just prior to the Age of Heroes which is covered, (presumably equally thoroughly) in the sequel volume Heroes. If there’s a myth you’ve heard of, even in passing, chances are you can read about it in full here.
While she is certain that many will enjoy Mythos, this one just did not work for Sophie and she won’t be aiming to pick up the sequel any time soon.
Lost or Forgotten Oldies Vol 1, Hit Records from 1955 to 1989 that the Radio Seldom Plays by Rembert N Parker
If you spend time listening to oldies stations on the radio – or the equivalent playlists on Spotify and other streaming services – you may have noticed that they all tend to repeat the same small percentage of the available music from bygone eras ad nauseam, never broadening their selections to encompass a wider variety of tunes. The goal of Sophie’s second book this month – Lost or Forgotten Oldies by Rembert N Parker – is to reacquaint you with popular songs from the past that have been left off the oldies rotation and are thus passing into obscurity.
There are 70 songs included here, each one receiving its own short chapter that talks about the artist behind it and the history of the song itself, although with only a page or so per record, the chapters are more introduction than thorough analysis. The digital edition of the book also includes direct links to YouTube videos where you can listen to the records for yourself, although sadly a handful of these links were already broken. There is a wide variety of genres included although the earlier chapters did lean heavily toward Northern Soul records which made it less to Sophie’s taste but no doubt more to the taste of others.
Sophie did question whether or not many of the records included could really be classed as either lost or forgotten. Billy Joel’s “Allentown”, Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”, and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” are all songs that, in her opinion at least, have never been forgotten and Sophie hears them all relatively frequently. Those records are in the minority, however, and the majority were indeed songs she was completely unaware of.
This is a great book for broadening your oldies playlists so that they include more than the standard “best of” hits, but don’t expect too much depth from the text. Lost or Forgotten Oldies Volume 2 is also out now.
The Art of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order by Lucasfilm
At the end of 2019, Sophie played through the new Star Wars video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Having completed the main storyline over Christmas, she’s now digging deep into the game to complete every area to 100% and so it was time for her to read through The Art of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a short companion book for the game.
The Art of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is packed full of stunning images that show the development of the game from initial sketches and concept art to the finished product. Sophie found it interesting to see how the characters, in particular, were developed and how that, in turn, drove changes to the game’s central plot. She also loved seeing how the game developers were careful to make sure everything matched up with previous canon material, both visually and thematically. This was especially important for Dathomir where events of the game follow on directly from those of the Clone Wars TV show.
She did find it disappointing that there was so little text to go along with the images. Both of her favorite characters warranted little more than a sentence each and as she had hoped to learn much more about their backstories from the book, this was a letdown. However, this was partially made up for by the beautiful full-page pictures spread through the book.
The Art of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is far from a must-read but fans of the game will no doubt enjoy it. Sophie advises that you don’t read until completing the main game plot though, as there are some significant spoilers scattered throughout.
Stargazing by Nirmala Nataraj
Sophie’s final book this month was Stargazing by Nirmala Nataraj. This beautiful coffee table book features dozens of photos of the night sky selected from the NASA archives, each one presented with a short paragraph explaining precisely what it is you’re looking at, when the photograph was taken, and by whom, and the book also includes a preface from Bill Nye.
One thing Sophie really liked about this book was the wide variety of photographs it featured. While many of these books focus on one specific subject or only show distant objects that can only be viewed by NASA’s high powered telescopes, Stargazing included both very distant objects such as nebulas and far away galaxies and also things closer to home such as the auroras, rocket launches, and the moon at different times. For Sophie, who received a pair of high-powered binoculars for Christmas and who hopes to use them to improve her astrophotography, this meant that Stargazing often felt inspirational because she felt like she had a chance of taking at least a few photos similar to the ones in the book. On the downside, Sophie did feel that many of the descriptive paragraphs lacked depth and she frequently found herself wanting to know more. For a book focused on photography, she also felt that many of the printed pictures were very small so she couldn’t see all the detail she wanted to in them.
Stargazing will make a lovely gift for those casually interested in astronomy who simply want to look at some beautiful pictures but are not concerned about getting into details. For anyone who considers astronomy to be a hobby and who wants more in-depth information, this book will most likely feel that it is lacking.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
Amy and her tweens read Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl, a beautiful middle-grade novel about sisterhood and magic. While technically a fantasy, most of the story is grounded in the everyday struggle of Iris and Lark, twin 5th graders adjusting to their first school year in separate classes. The girls are identical on the outside, but Iris is serious and practical while Lark is a sensitive daydreamer, and Iris is distraught over not being constantly there to “protect” her sister anymore.
Meanwhile, things are disappearing around town – small things like Lark’s favorite bracelet, large things like priceless works of art – and a strange antique store has moved in across from the library and posted an enigmatic sign out front that keeps asking after someone named Alice. Iris begins to spend more and more time in the shop as her world seems to crumble around her, but she’s going to have to learn to trust -in her sister, in her peers, in the adults of her life, in herself – if she’s going to overcome the new sinister magic at work with the more powerful magic of love. That makes it sound cheesier than it is.
While different from the Weirs’ usual fantasy-adventure reads – quieter, more poetic magic that merely lurks in the background until the last few chapters of the book – the tweens still found the characters relatable (and Lark is basically Amy-as-a-child) and their trials captivating. The Lost Girl is a literary yet readable, enjoyable book.
Welcome to Marwencol by Mark Hogancamp and Chris Shellen
After Lisa had finally gotten around to seeing the movie Welcome to Marwen, she was fascinated by Mark Hogancamp’s use of 1:6 scale action figures and dolls as not only a creative outlet but as a healing tool. Knowing there had to be more to the story than Hollywood tends to show, she found the book Welcome to Marwencol by Mark Hogancamp and Chris Shellen.
Marwencol refers to Hogancamp’s fictional town in Belgium and its residents whom he created to help him cope with the aftermath of a being severely beaten outside of a bar in 2000, which resulted in a severe head injury and devastating memory loss. The residents of the town were mostly based on real people in his life from his mother, to caregivers, to the attackers themselves.
If one were to casually pick the book up and thumb through it, it would appear on the surface as WWII era photographs featuring dolls, but Lisa read the entire story from the beginning and found it to be so much more. It was one part biography, one part study of the artistic process, one part look into mental health, and one part graphic novel. For Lisa, the most amazing part was seeing what Hogancamp used to create every element of his town, as well as how much detail he put not only into its final appearance but in the backstory of each person and location. There were not only some elements of Hogancamp’s “real world” story that were heartbreaking, but there were also some elements of his “created world” that were very unsettling.
Taking this trip through this man’s creative, resourceful, and at times tortured mind wasn’t often a pleasant journey, but it was one well worth the time to take.
The Beach Head by Christopher Mari
The Beach Head is a thoughtful science fiction novel that asks questions about where science and religion meet along the same threads of faith and examining what it means to be human. Mari explores those deep themes within a fascinating tale set in the aftermath of Armageddon.
A small group of humans witnessed the destruction of Earth but were saved by winged beings they call the Orangemen, who left the survivors on a beach somewhere in the universe with basic tools, seeds, animals, and books – including Bibles written in various languages. The people built a new life, trying to keep humanity intact, creating a walled compound near the beach and thriving in peace for fifty years.
The story begins at this point, seen from the eyes of two young soldiers of the compound, John and Kendra who both have reasons to question everything the Elders tell them. An unexpected event shakes up their society, and the two are sent on a quest to find answers. The pair journey into the wilderness beyond the beach and instead of finding answers, they are faced with more and more questions.
Rebecca started guessing right away about the “truth” of what was going on, but the plot kept putting out different angles and clues to keep her turning the pages. The love story was woven well into the story, and the characters were very real and their thoughts brought out parallels to our own world to think upon. Religion was handled with respect, which Rebecca appreciated.
The book contained 39% female speaking characters. Rebecca recommends The Beach Head for sci-fi fans who look for heart as well as mind in their stories or anyone who has questioned their faith.
Bear Goes Sugaring By Maxwell Eaton III
Bear Goes Sugaring is all Rebecca could ever want to know about creating maple syrup. She is a big fan of the sweetener since Rebecca does not eat refined sugar and this book was full of fascinating details about the process from tapping to boiling to straining including equipment needed for each step and how long the process usually takes (a long time.)
Although there is a lot of information packed into the pages, this is a children’s picture book with sweet illustrations of a bear going through the maple syrup process. She has a dog who keeps waiting impatiently for things to finish so pancakes can be made, and a squirrel friend joins in too. The author’s enthusiasm for the topic comes through every step of the way with the happy animal characters. Rebecca came away with much more respect for the process.
Rebecca also appreciated that the main bear character was identified as a “she” since the majority of picture books sadly have terribly unfair gender ratios and usually animals are default male. But not here! Kudos to the author. Bear Goes Sugaring will be entertaining for a wide range of children and the parents will learn something too!
GeekMom received copies of some titles for review purposes.