As the weather starts to cool off (for those in the northern hemisphere at least) and Spooky Season rapidly descends, there couldn’t be a better time to snuggle up with a good book.. or twelve! This month, Sophie, Sarah, and Lisa share some of the books they’ve been reading throughout September. Looking for more spooky stories? Watch out for Sophie’s Halloween Reading Roundups, the first of which will be posted today.
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The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Needing a “medical thriller” to count toward her 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, Sophie picked up The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton courtesy of Audible and listened to it over two days while decorating. A huge fan of Jurassic Park, she hadn’t yet read any of his other works and hoped for more in a similar style.
In The Andromeda Strain, a US satellite crashes by a small Arizona town and unleashes a deadly contagion, instantly killing all but two of the townsfolk along with two military personnel dispatched to retrieve the device. The event triggers the government’s Wildfire protocol and brings together a team of five top scientists and doctors in a top-secret laboratory buried deep underground as they race to understand this new, alien pathogen and prevent it wiping out all of humanity.
Sophie absolutely loved this book, right until the end. Crichton continuously builds up the tension in an almost painfully methodical way. The whole book reads like a military report tweaked for public consumption and it is cleverly put together in such a way as to make you second guess whether or not certain elements are fact or fiction. Every procedure is explained and reports are included as they would be seen in real life, complete with timestamps and redacted sections (unfortunately this didn’t always suit an audiobook format where it could become annoyingly repetitive) but rather than coming across and dry and dull, these work to make it all feel disturbingly real.
Everything was great until the final few chapters. The action-sequence finale came across as faintly ridiculous given everything that had previously been established and the conclusion made Sophie feel totally let down, dropping her rating from five to three stars in a matter of minutes. The poor ending wasn’t enough to ruin the rest of the book, but prepare yourself to be a bit disappointed if you choose to pick up this sci-fi classic.
Instagram Poetry for Every Day, Edited by Jessica Atkinson and Chris McCabe.
Sophie does not consider herself a poetry fan but in an effort to broaden her horizons (and complete another reading challenge prompt) she picked up Instagram Poetry for Every Day – a collection edited by Jessica Atkinson and Chris McCabe.
Divided into ten sections with themes such as Aspirations, Creativity, Humour, and Spirituality, the book collects works of poetry from Instagram that merge words with a wide variety of visual media formats. Here we see photography, paintings, collages, and creative use of typefaces all blended with the words to create poems that are often more than just words on a page. Each poem is captioned by its creator in the style of an Instagram comment, and those creators use this space to explain their work and why they have chosen to use Instagram as a platform to share it.
Of course, in an anthology like this, not everything will appeal and Sophie did find herself unimpressed by many of the poems included for a variety of entirely personal reasons. On the other hand, she also found herself following several of the featured creators on her own personal Instagram account in order to see more of their work. She would especially recommend checking out @brian_bilston whose take on 2020 events has had her laughing and sharing his work widely among friends and family.
Sophie would recommend this book both to poetry lovers looking for something original and also – perhaps more so – to anyone who has traditionally found it difficult to “get into” poetry or considers the format off-puttingly pretentious in general. She would also suggest it as a great choice for high school students new to studying literature who are finding the subject hard to relate to because Instagram Poetry for Every Day might just help to bridge that gap.
Slay in Your Lane Presents: Loud Black Girls, Edited by Yomi Adegoke, Elizabeth Uviebinené
Like many people, Sophie has been making a concerted effort to both learn more about racism and to read more from Black authors this year. One thing she has found however is that the majority of books she sees making waves focus on racism in the USA. Being British, she went out looking for a book that explores the issues closer to her home in the UK, which is why she found herself picking up Slay in Your Lane Presents: Loud Black Girls, Edited by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené.
Loud Black Girls is a collection of essays from 20 Black, British women writers that look at countless aspects of what it means to be Black and British in 2020. The subjects covered are wide, Brexit obviously plays a key role as it currently casts its shadow over everything but the authors cover education, finance, politics, the impact of the Black Panther movie, food, gender, and almost any other subject you could care to name, all recalled and analyzed through the voices of those who have traditionally been silenced. These women have been given the opportunity to be loud and they have seized it, even if they feel personally shy.
The voices here represent the diversity within that collective, there are voices here that are lesbian and trans, mothers and daughters, voices of those born in the UK, those who emigrated to it, and those who have moved away. This diversity helps reflect that there is no single Black experience, no single way that Black women can be represented, but also that there are shared struggles that need to be discussed in order to make way for change.
Sophie learned a lot from these essays and plans to use them as a stepping off point to discover and follow more Black voices in order that she can better understand both the problems facing Black people in her country and what she as a white woman can do to fight them.
How to Speak Astromech with BB-8: A Communication Manual by I. M. Rollin, Illustrated by JAKe
Moving on to something completely different, Sophie was delighted to receive a copy of How to Speak Astromech with BB-8: A Communication Manual by I. M. Rollin. This adorable board book with a BB-8 shaped sound pad built-in will help little ones learn to communicate with their droid pals. The batteries on the sound pad can be easily replaced, unlike some of these sound pad books, so you won’t need to worry about little fingers wearing them out and rendering the book permanently mute.
How to Speak Astromech with BB-8 is designed to feel a little like the manual you would receive with any new piece of technology but is very much aimed at young readers and filled with illustrations of various astromech droids from the films having fun with their owners. The first page congratulates the reader on your new purchase and also provides a handy Aurebesh to English alphabet translator.
The remaining pages each represent a facet of your astromech’s personality (playful, helpful, heroic, etc) and come with a number that relates to one of the ten buttons on the BB-8 sound pad. The page provides a pronunciation guide for that specific phrase in droid speak (e.g. WHEEE BEEboo BEEboo) and it’s translation – for example, that previous example means “we’re on a roll”.
Other example phrases are also given on each page. Some of these phrases, such as “they see me rollin’…” and “I’m sorry, this goes against health and safety regulations” may fly over the heads of younger readers but they certainly made Sophie laugh. One phrase, especially when coupled with the illustration on the page, also made her ridiculously emotional over a pair of entirely fictional machines.
Of course, there’s very little substance to a book like this but little Star Wars fans will love it and grownups will most likely get a kick out of playing with it too.
The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
If you enjoyed the whole Marie Kondo thing, but at the same time were irritated by the whole Marie Kondo thing, then you will love GeekMom Sarah’s latest read. The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi does not offer a twelve-step program, or a new way to do things, it does not even laud simplicity. At one point Adachi even protests at society’s current obsession with downsizing and simplicity by saying that simplification is not actually simple, that one single voice cannot tell you how to live. This is where her approach is a breath of fresh air in a society of self-help and get simple quick inspirational voices.
Adachi encourages you to simply look at your actual life, decide what matters to you and not the person next to you. Once you have that pinned down her ethos is simple; be a genius at the things that matter, and lazy with the things that don’t. So maybe your house doesn’t have to be decluttered, but you need your bed to be made every day. Maybe you are okay with spaghetti for dinner every night but have to have a Starbucks in the morning. Adachi offers a series of simple routines that work for her as examples of how to do this, one of the key takeaways for GeekMom Sarah being that clutter does not mean you have too much stuff, it just means the stuff you have doesn’t have a place. So the collection of Disney mugs doesn’t have to go, it just needs its proper home. Also, it’s okay if her house looks like the before photos of a re-model show!
Adachi talks a lot about how essential and minimal are not the same thing, which is a breath of fresh air after the dumpster fire of 2020, in which we have been so often tempted to burn it all down! And if the book isn’t enough for you, there’s a terrific podcast to go along with it.
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, Illustrated by Gris Grimly
Lisa feels there has always been something about the works of Ray Bradbury, as in his stories like Something Wicked This Way Comes and the story collection of The October Country, that just captures the crisp fall weather and spooky sensation of October.
For some reason, she has never owned a version of Bradbury’s early 1970s tale, The Halloween Tree. This summer, she purchased the 2015 Gris Grimly-illustrated hardback of the tale for her first easy fall afternoon read. According to Lisa, these two talents couldn’t be a more perfect marriage of story and style. Grimly’s creepy fun, curly flowing black and white illustrations help bring to life this story of a group of trick-or-treaters on the pursuit of a missing friend. With the help of the mysterious Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, they are led through histories and origins of Halloween and similar fall celebrations throughout the world and time, including Celtic traditions, Roman, Egyptian, and – Lisa’s personal favorite as a resident of the border area – Día de Muertos.
What is so wonderful about this story is it isn’t merely an “all about different cultures” read for kids, but it includes a spooky, exciting story as its anchor. It is not only a good way to learn about these customs, but it is also very enjoyable for both adults and young readers. Grimly’s contribution also features three beautifully colored illustrations that add to the October feel.
Even from the first page, Bradbury’s small-town description of a Halloween afternoon is enough to make any adult nostalgic for the edgy, anxious, cool feel of experiencing All Hallow’s Eve as a kid. Lisa encourages anyone who wants to rekindle that excited glow for all things Halloween to pick up a copy of this particular edition, grab a warm beverage, and take advantage of the late afternoon glow on a back porch rocker, or in a cozy chair after dark, and disappear into this world with 13-year-old Tom Skelton, Mr. Moundshroud, and the others on a very rewarding journey and satisfying read.