Between the Bookends at GeekMom

Bookends © Sophie Brown
Bookends © Sophie Brown

Once again, the GeekMoms have been reading an incredible variety of books this month. Keep reading to hear about a drug-filled near-future dystopia, a mouse detective, the “lost journal” of Assassin’s Creed‘s Blackbeard, and an academic introduction to the work of Joss Whedon. There’s even one book written by GeekMom’s very own Corrina Lawson. There’s something for everyone, so what are you waiting for?

Afterparty © Tor Books
Afterparty © Tor Books

Karen enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s latest novel immensely. Afterparty is a near-future science-fiction story about drugs, neural modification, and what happens when your brain goes haywire in very specific ways. The main character is Lyda, once a biotech millionaire, who we meet in a mental institution, where she and the angel that she now sees all the time reside. When she realizes that the drug that saddled her with a permanent messenger from God is getting out onto the streets, she takes her leave of the facility, so she and her lover (suffering from a different mental hiccup based on years of drug-enabled, high-level intelligence work) can hunt down the source. At times a road trip novel, at others a thriller, it is also a murder mystery, as Lyda comes closer to finding out the truth about who murdered her wife many years ago. But really, the strength here is in the characters, as is always true with Gregory’s books and stories. Every character is unique, quirky, damaged, motivated, and unforgettable.

Rebecca has been reading Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell, a great web series that has bound books you can buy. It is set in a world starkly divided between nature and technology. Two best friends are living at a school to develop their unique talents. Each is being drawn to opposite ends of the spectrum. The fourth book in the series brings in some teen angst and romance as the girls, Annie and Kat, grow up. The world and plot continue to thicken in fascinating ways, while the humor always weaves its way around every deep moment. Big recommendation for early YA through adult.

The Humans © Simon & Schuster
The Humans © Simon & Schuster

Helen‘s Twitter feed has been jammed with people raving about Matt Haig’s new novel, The Humans. It explores what it means to be human and how we navigate through life’s trials and turmoil, from the perspective of an alien who is masquerading as a Cambridge mathematician. There’s a very healthy dose of humor mixed in with musings on life, love, relationships, animals, mental illness, and peanut butter, making this a feel-good read that prompts you to consider the human condition and revel in the bittersweet paradoxes that life entails.

Tape by Steven Camden is both a love story and a tale of family connections, tied together by a cassette tape. Ryan records a diary onto tape after his mum dies, using it as an outlet for his feelings, especially about his first love. Twenty years later, Ameliah can hear a voice speaking on a old cassette, and it seems to be talking to her. Camden weaves both aspects of the tale together gently and although some twists are easier to see than others, they keep coming as the story progresses. There’s a lot of sadness in here, but it’s tempered by other aspects of the story, as we find out how things turned out for Ryan and the girl he loved.

Take Back the Skies, the debut novel by teenager Lucy Saxon, is an adventure starring skyship stowaway Cat, who is running away from her oppressive life with an abusive politician father. Set in Anglya, a sort of alternate reality Britain, children are disappearing and Cat uses her knowledge of the government to find out who is really in charge and what they are trying to do. She quickly discovers that the populace is being deceived, but by who and why? Although Helen enjoyed this fast-paced tale, some parts moved too quickly for her and seemed to jar a little. She would have liked Cat to spend more time building a relationship with the crew of the Stormdancer, as Cat seemed to settle in very quickly and become completely trusted almost straightaway. Some of the romantic moments also felt a little off-key, but that didn’t diminish the novel’s emotional payoff. Helen is looking forward to reading more from this promising young author.

Laura Dockrill’s new book for children, Darcy Burdock: Hi So Much, concerns the eponymous Darcy starting secondary school and negotiating the changes that this brings. Although Helen is a long way from being in the target audience, it certainly brought back some memories of that difficult time for her. Darcy is a great character, full of fizzy mischief, and also a talented writer who cares for her family and friends a great deal. She deals with a series of social setbacks in her own inimitable style, as she finds out what it’s like to be a small fish in a big pond.

Another great title about those early teenage years is The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle. Charlie is a social outcast at school, stigmatized for both his small size and his parent’s takeaway business. His overprotective mother embarrasses him, but is also keeping something important from him. Charlie thinks that he has found the way out of his lowly social position: skateboarding. But with a mum who won’t let him out of her sight and an even weirder best friend, can Charlie conquer the skatepark and win the respect of his schoolmates? Helen thoroughly enjoyed this funny and moving book. It covers all sorts of social issues, from bullying and fitting in to grief and guilt, with a real deftness of touch, so that you really root for Charlie. This is one not to be missed.

The Curse of The Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing Ltd
The Curse of the Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing Ltd.

For the youngest readers, Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey is a real treasure. Filled with Grey’s beautiful, playful illustrations, it tells the long and curly tale of Hermelin, a mouse who lives in a cheese box in an attic and is possessed of a range of skills as befits a rodent Sherlock. As the mysteries build up in Offley Street, it’s up to Hermelin to solve them and save the day. But will the residents of Offley Street be pleased with their savior when they realize that he’s a pest rather than a person? Helen’s daughter loves this book so much that she has taken to sleeping with it on her pillow. There is no higher praise indeed than that from a 4-year-old.

Kay read like a glutton Corrina Lawson’s (our Corrina!) The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. This Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery, with magic underpinnings, a touch of romance, and a polish of steampunk, was a big question mark for Kay before she started, but it definitely found a sweet spot. The story’s heroine, Joan Kreiger, is the kind of heroine Kay loves to see: strong and resourceful, but recognizing realities—and in the Victorian setting as a marginalized Jewish female professional, she has a lot of realities to face. When Joan’s custom designs become involved in several deaths, her fashion business and personal freedom are in jeopardy. She calls on Gregor Sherringford, a consulting detective, to investigate. He not only digs into the mystery, but also into the family secrets. Kay approved of Joan’s curiosity and steadfastness and the believable quandaries. Her special pleasure is villains with sympathetic motivations.

Changing pace, Kay stepped up to the challenge of The Word Exchange, a debut novel by Alena Graedon. This reading experience immersed Kay in a near-future world, where over-dependence on personal technology leads to loss of verbal acuity to the point where scholars and the folks on the street are relying on word vendors to define everything from “fork” to “paradox” to “ambivalence.” The main character, Alana, works with her father at NADEL, the leading American dictionary. When he doesn’t show for their regular dinner date, Alana sets out to discover where he is and how his disappearance relates to the loss of words and the threats to the existence of the dictionary. In this story, language itself becomes both a character and a weapon. Kay suffered along with the characters as they lost not only friends and family members, but the ability to communicate. Although the book was overly muted in its establishment phases, Kay enjoyed it more once all the elements were in play and multiple characters had stories to (try to) tell. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a worthy project for adult language lovers or dystopian and near-future fans.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag: Blackbeard: the Lost Journal © Insight Editions
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag: Blackbeard: The Lost Journal © Insight Editions

An interactive journal inspired by a popular video game may seem like a weird choice for a sit-down read, but Lisa found the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag-based book Blackbeard: The Lost Journal to be a surprisingly beautiful (and in some ways historically accurate) work. Lisa owns numerous publications on the subject of historic and fictional pirates, including at least six interactive books, so she is always skeptical of the next “novelty” book to come along. From its elaborate “pen and ink” drawings and watercolor images to its yellowed “authentic-looking” pages and removable “letters of marque” and other artifacts, The Lost Journal is an exceptionally crafted piece of eye candy for pirate lovers, regardless of their interest in the gaming world. The question is, however, is it worth actually reading? With author Christie Golden’s experience in the science-fiction and fantasy genres, the first-person, journal-style narrative is compelling, interesting, and wonderfully done. The attention to history and pirate lore, despite this being a fictionalized account, was also appreciated. Readers do not have to have played or even seen the related Assassin’s Creed game to enjoy this book, but it should also be a much treasured piece in the collection of those who love the game as well.

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Fran just finished Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. The story is about Maia, a banished child who suddenly finds himself on the throne of a powerful empire and must navigate intricacies and intrigue while staying true to himself. It is a glorious, sweeping, richly layered story and she found herself cheering for more than one character. She is about to read A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, which is about a young pepper merchant who travels to a distant land and revels in its books and culture, before he learns of the struggles simmering beneath the surface. Fran is completely over the moon about a 2013 favorite read, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (see November 2013’s edition of Between the Bookends), winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Outlander © Dell Publishing Company
Outlander © Dell Publishing Company

Helene has been rereading (for the third time) the complete Outlander series, written by Diana Gabaldon. This latest reread was spurred by the impending June 10 release of the 8th book in the series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Helene doesn’t think she will ever tire of reading this series; it has the perfect mix of history, romance, science fiction, kilts, adventure, and mystery. Gabaldon is an incredible storyteller and Helene cannot wait to read the next installment.

On the other side of the storytelling spectrum is George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Before starting the Outlander series again, Helene read all five books in Martin’s popular series. While Martin is amazing at describing every detail of a scene perfectly, Helene found herself incredibly disappointed in his storytelling abilities and wonders if even he knows where he is headed with the rest of the series.

Dakster has taken the dive into theMan of Steel novelization by Greg Cox, so she can prepare to watch the movie with her husband. A plus to reading the book before seeing the film is how much she is learning about the background moments of the movie that you don’t see on film. You learn how old Earth was when Kal-El was sent to Earth (hint…hint…it wasn’t anywhere close to when he landed) and the description of Kal in the capsule is much different than what her husband has described in the film. She’s excited to compare the two and see what was included in one and left out of the other.

Sophie has been reading mostly non-fiction over the last month, mixed in between a frankly terrifying volume of fanfiction—the result of sinking deeply and wholeheartedly into the Supernatural fandom. Away from tales of gay angels, she has been slowly working her way through The Fan Fiction Studies Reader from The University of Iowa Press. This collection of foundational texts from the growing field of fan studies focuses on fanfiction and the ways it can be interpreted. After only a few chapters, she is already approaching the genre in a new way.

On a similar note, she is also working her way through Reading Joss Whedon from Syracuse University Press; a collection of essays covering aspects of Whedon’s work. He is one of the most recognized figures in pop culture and his work has touched nearly everyone at some point in his career, making him and his body of work a fascinating subject for study. In particular, Sophie found that the comparison to Shakespeare in the book’s introduction shone a whole new light on Whedon’s casting choices.

Copies of certain titles were provided for review purposes.