Need Fresh Reads? Try Bill Murray & ‘The Martian’

It’s back-to-school month and the GeekMoms have been working hard on their very own reading lists. From Bill Murray to origami, To Kill a Mockingbird to Shakespearean Star Wars, check out what we have been reading this month.

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray © Quirk Books
The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray © Quirk Books

GeekMom Patricia has been busy reading this month, having finally finished the first book in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (which she mentioned working on in July), and enjoying a couple new releases.

This past month Patricia and her family had the chance to enjoy a preview copy of The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor by Robert Schnakenberg, due out on September 15th. Patricia’s family enjoys all things Bill Murray, from Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters for the whole family, to Stripes, Caddyshack, Zombieland, and The Royal Tenenbaums for the adults. This book is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of Bill Murray facts, covering all of his movies (yes, even including Garfield and Charlie’s Angels) as well as his days with Saturday Night Live. In between sections are numerous anecdotes about the dozens of parties he’s crashed over the years. Even though Patricia knew quite a bit about Murray’s party-boy reputation (he was taking the drugs and getting into bar brawls alongside John Belushi), it was sobering to read the often-harsh accounts of his antics by his directors and co-actors. This book would make a great gift for that Bill Murray fan in your life…That’s a Fact, Jack!

Patricia is currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Wow! Not since The Da Vinci Code in 2005 has Patricia been so excited about a book! Readers will follow along as Mark Watney, accidentally left behind from an aborted Mars exploration mission, attempts to survive by himself on Mars with limited supplies and (very) limited communications with NASA back on Earth. Patricia is only about 1/3 of the way through the novel, and is actually hurrying up to finish her Between the Bookends entry so she can get back to the story! If you are thinking about reading The Martian, act fast! The movie, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, comes out on October 2nd!

Patricia finished Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places last week. The novel, by the author of the bestselling Gone Girl, tells the story of Libby Day, a woman who was the only survivor of a horrific murder spree in the mid-1980s, for which her brother had been imprisoned for a quarter-century. The story flips through numerous points of view, and sends the reader back and forth between the 1980s and 2000s as the story of what really happened unfolds. Can Libby get the truth out and prove her brother’s innocence? Patricia found the first half of the book very slow and cumbersome with the drastic setting changes, but by the midpoint of the story, she was completely drawn in! Similar to her feelings during Gone Girl, Patricia was hating the characters more and more. But then the revelations that emerge will keep your interest up till the very last page! Flynn does a wonderful job triggering strong emotions about her characters and Dark Places is no exception.

Finally, another book Patricia feels is worth checking out is Ian Doescher‘s latest in his Shakespearean Star Wars series: William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third, the retelling of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in iambic pentameter. Students of Shakespearean tragedy will find numerous references from the great tragic plays throughout Tragedy. Doescher expertly incorporates Hamlet‘s play-within-a-play storytelling as Anakin and Palpatine are attending an opera on Coruscant. Followers of this series will also continue to enjoy R2-D2’s personified asides, as well as Anakin and Padmé’s romantic rhymes, which purposefully break down over the course of this chapter of the story…much like their relationship. Doescher makes it clear in the afterword: He is looking forward to applying Shakepearean magic to Episodes 7, 8, and 9!

Demon Road © HarperCollins Children's Books
Demon Road © HarperCollins Children’s Books

It was with great anticipation that GeekMom Sophie read Demon Road, the first in a new YA book series by Derek Landy. The author had previously written the excellent Skulduggery Pleasant novels about a skeleton detective working with a teenage girl to stop the end of the world in a universe with magic. The Skulduggery books were written with boundless energy, wit, and imagination which incorporated fantasy and horror. While Demon Road has nothing to do with the Skulduggery universe, the elements of fantasy and horror remain in a story which is essentially a road trip across America as a 16-year-old girl discovers she has a horrifying secret and must go on the run from monsters who want to kill her. Aided on her journey by the mysterious Milo in his black Charger, Amber must find the person who can help stop the monsters chasing her, along the way dealing with killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers, and demons.

While the story moves along at a good pace with frequent bursts of action and peril, the elements which made the Skulduggery Pleasant books such a joy and stand out from other YA novels are lacking in Demon Road. The book doesn’t have the same razor sharp wit and dialogue. Yes, it is frequently amusing but not laugh out loud as has come to be expected from Landy. The main protagonists, too, are lacking in character: Amber at least improves from being extremely naïve to clever and conniving by the end of the book, but Milo is rather gruffly one dimensional with a blatantly obvious secret (this will hopefully be explored in more depth in later books to round out the character). There is also a character introduced who is the “comedy relief” but quickly grates and increasingly irritates.

Despite these flaws, Demon Road is a good solid YA novel and sets up enough intriguing threads that Sophie will be checking out the 2nd book due out in Spring 2016. She just hopes that Landy can inject a bit more into the character development and sharpen up the wit and dialogue to Skulduggery standards.

Sophie’s book club also took its usual summer break, which meant choosing two books for members to read over the summer. The first was Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which Sophie had read in high school but not appreciated. This is a hard to book to read at this point in time, given the ongoing situation in towns like Ferguson, MI, and it shows us both how far we have come since the era depicted in the book, but also how far we still have to go. The other book chosen by Sophie’s book club was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: his first solo novel. Having once lived near London and a regular visitor to the city, Sophie particularly enjoyed the sections of the book set in towns and streets she knows well, which allowed her to visualize them while she read. She is looking forward to returning to London now that she has read the book, and imagining that there is far more going on below (and occasionally above) her feet than she ever imagined before.

Finally Sophie read Millennial Fandom: Television Audiences in The Transmedia Age by Louisa Ellen Stein, a look at “the circulation of the contradictory tropes of millennial hope and millennial noir,” “what millennials do with digital technology,” and “how millennials are undermining, negotiating, and changing” narratives. The book looks at the way in which the two groups–“fans” and “millennials”–intersect and what that means both in terms of content being produced, and in how it is received and later transformed.

The book presents a number of case studies. Glee provides the focus for the first section on millennial hope and allows for an interesting debate to open regarding the representation of queerness on network television. Millennial noir is represented by a foursome of Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, Revenge, and Veronica Mars. Despite having never watched any of these shows, Sophie found herself drawn into the ideas presented, comparing them to those she learned back in college, and adding several to her Netflix queue. This focus did have the unfortunate side effect of creating a book which felt more like someone simply discussing their favorite fandoms rather than a true academic study of the themes. Characters were occasionally introduced in a manner that expected Sophie to know who they were just from a first name, without any explanation of their role on the show, an expectation of familiarity which she simply didn’t have. There was a strong focus on female characters in this section which, although refreshing and interesting, served to create a somewhat one-sided view of millennial noir. Sophie was particularly interested in a later chapter entitled “Misha Collins and the Power of Decentered Authorship,” which focused on one of her favorite actors and the online presence he has created for himself.

Origami Card Craft © Potter Craft
Origami Card Craft © Potter Craft

Rebecca Angel’s three book selections this month sum her up pretty well…
First is Origami Card Craft by Karen Elaine Thomas. She wants to do EVERY project in the book because the photos are so inviting! So far, just a couple, and the directions were easy to follow. Rebecca is still someone who sends greeting cards, so this origami book is perfect to add a new dimension to her physical, real-world, thinking-of-you posts.

She is also reading a novel for her book club: The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart. So far she is only a quarter of the way through and already has lots of sticky notes on passages she likes: “The sky remained an obstinate shade of used bathwater, ready to disgorge a second filthy load at any moment.” She will see where the story leads…

And finally, Black Butler by Yana Toboso. This is the start of a manga series recommended by several people she hung out with at ConnectiCon this past summer. Rebecca and her son read the first book and it seemed very silly (in a good way!), but by the end it revealed some good plot. It is interesting to see how a Japanese person sees English traditions (it is set in Victorian England). They plan on reading more.

Copies of some books included in these recommendation have been provided for review purposes.

Top image: Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown