Between the Bookends: Nightvale, Miss Peregrine & Black Widow

This month the GeekMoms have been enjoying spooky tales of peculiar children, talented alchemists, mysterious desert towns, and deep, dark, fears.

These include the latest in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children‘s novels, a novelization of the Welcome to NightVale podcast world, the latest from Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, and the definitive origin of Black Widow.

Hollow City Cover © Quirk Books
Hollow City Cover © Quirk Books

After Lisa finally picked up the long-awaited, Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which she plans to tackle this month, she was able to finally read his second installment, Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. She had been waiting to read this follow-up to the original Ransom Riggs bestseller, Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, as she sensed it would hang just as much as the first. She was right. As a matter of fact, the pit of peril for these “peculiars” and their now-very-avian headmistress is even deeper and more desperate by the end of this second novel. She felt Hollow City was as entertaining as the first book, and had plenty of the trappings that made the first book so intriguing. The time-jumping, the feel of constant pursuit in a war-ravaged environment, the interaction between the youth and, best of all, the eerily-manipulated vintage photographs. For those who haven’t read this follow-up (or the original novel for that matter), now is the best time to do so as there is no need to wait between books. So far, Library of Souls picks up right where Hollow City hung, so it is just like tackling a the next chapter of the same book. The story moves so fast, it won’t take most readers long to plow through all three of these volumes.

Tim Burton’s motion picture adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children is set for release in 2016, and one can only wonder if it will leave off where the first book does. If so, be ready to wait for a sequel.

The Blackthorn Key © Aladdin
The Blackthorn Key © Aladdin

Rebecca Angel and her son, Luke, just finished reading The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This is Sands’ first novel, geared towards middle-grades and up–great debut! They both devoured the thrilling (and full of humor) tale set in 17th century London of mysterious murders, alchemy riddles, and running away from both the law and a secret cult.

The main character is Christopher Rowe, an apprentice to Master alchemist Benedict Blackthorn, a talented and legitimate healer in the city. Christopher has a penchant for blowing things up, usually taking his best friend Tom along for the “fun.” Although daily life as an apprentice can be hazardous, The Cult of the Archangel is out for the blood of all alchemists in London, and Christopher’s life, and those he cares about, are in danger. Luke really enjoyed the puzzles throughout this book. Rebecca thought the writing style was so funny and fast-paced–perfect for any age to be entertained. Luke had an issue with a character who survived that didn’t really make sense (except for keeping them around for the next novel…). They recommend it for ages 10 and up due to some bloody descriptions.

Welcome to Night Vale Cover © Harper Perennial
Welcome to Night Vale Cover © Harper Perennial

Thanks to forcing herself to dedicate time to reading every day, Sophie has managed to work through an enormous stack of books this month. After an entire year of waiting, she was ecstatic to finally get her hands on a copy of Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. A long term fan of the podcast, Sophie was curious to see how the show would translate to a written form without the calming voice of Cecil to guide her through the weird and wonderful desert town where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. The novel focuses on two characters who fans will know by name but whose stories have never been explored: PTA Treasurer Diane Crayton (mother of teenage shapeshifter Josh) and 19-year-old Jackie Fierro who runs the pawn shop. Through the book, we learn more about these two and how their lives intersect both with each other, and with The Man in The Tan Jacket, a strange presence who first appeared way back in episode 14. Regular Welcome to Night Vale listeners will enjoy appearances from favorite characters including Cecil & Carlos, John Peters (you know, the farmer), Old Woman Josie, Mayor Dana Cardinal, Leann Hart, and (annoyingly) Steve Carlsberg–however Sophie believes that even non-listeners will be able to pick up the book and read it without prior knowledge of the show. She is looking forward to getting a copy of the audiobook narrated by Cecil, especially to hear him read aloud a specific, terrifying scene…

Red Joan Cover © Doubleday Canada
Red Joan Cover © Doubleday Canada

Sophie’s book club chose Red Joan by Jennie Rooney this month and Sophie fell in love with it, devouring the whole 400 pages in just a few days. The book is inspired by the real-life tale of Melita Norwood who at the age of 87 was unmasked as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, and it tells the story of Joan Robson who one morning sees MI5 agents walking up her garden path and realizes that after fifty years in hiding her secret is finally going to come out. The book flips cleverly between Joan’s week-long interrogation in the present day and her youth in Cambridge but manages to do so carefully without ever becoming confused. Sophie also found it interesting to read a story about the development of the atomic bomb from a British perspective, because having grown up in England that period of history always felt distant and Americanized to her.

Furiously Happy Cover © Flatiron Books
Furiously Happy Cover © Flatiron Books

Sophie was also excited to read Furiously Happy by The Bloggess (Jenny Lawson) after thoroughly enjoying Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir when it came out in 2012. Jenny runs one of Sophie’s favorite blogs; in fact, she keeps a bookmark on her phone to the epic tale of Beyonce the giant metal chicken so she can easily re-read it whenever she feels down–she cannot physically read it without laughing to the point of tears. IT’S FULL OF WHIMSY. Sophie experienced the same level of hysteria reading Furiously Happy as she feels reading that blog post. The stories of giraffe heads in pickup trucks, rattlesnakes in freezers, unexpected dead cats in the mail, and laminated cats… well, reading back over that it makes Jenny sound like someone who needs reporting to the ASPCA, but in reality they made Sophie laugh so much she had to stop reading in the park so as not to worry other parents. On another occasion, she managed to wake her husband by making the bed violently shake from the effort of keeping silent, and from that point on she was banned from reading books by The Bloggess in bed. As odd as it may sound, Furiously Happy is a more serious read than Jenny’s previous book as it delves into frank discussions about her life with mental health problems: anxiety, depression, suicide, trichotillomania, and more. For Sophie, who also lives with mental health disorders, this was actually deeply refreshing. Hearing someone speak so honestly about the conditions really helps alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can come with them. She would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to those who also live with mental health issues.

Pop Sonnets Cover © Quirk Books
Pop Sonnets Cover © Quirk Books

Another book Sophie read this month was Pop Sonnets by Erik Didriksen. The first print incarnation of the insanely popular Tumblr blog, the book introduces itself as a collection of supposedly lost Shakespearean sonnets which have been updated and used by modern songwriters to produce dozens of hit songs. Some of the artists whose songs are featured include the Backstreet Boys, Queen, The Cure, Britney Spears, and The Bee Gees. Sophie found the quality of the sonnets to vary wildly. While many were well thought out and translated perfectly to Shakespeare’s favored iambic pentameter (she particularly enjoyed “Livin’ On a Prayer” and “Piano Man”), many others feel as if the author had done nothing but add in a few extra apostrophes and the odd “doth” and “thou” leaving them feeling clunky and awkward. While not a book she can imagine re-reading many times, Sophie pictures this as a great Christmas gift for English Lit or music fans, and asking guests to guess the song would make an excellent party game for the holidays.

Black Widow: Forever Red © Marvel Press
Black Widow: Forever Red © Marvel Press

Sophie recently finished Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl,  the supposedly “definitive story of Natasha Romanoff’s past.” Natasha is Sophie’s favorite M.C.U. character besides Phil Coulson, so she was thrilled to see the Black Widow receive her very own book. She was distinctly less thrilled when Natasha was frequently made a secondary character in that book in favor of two new teenage characters–Alexei Manorovsky and Ana Orlova, the latter of whom made her debut in the Mockingbird comic one-shot.  The book is told almost entirely from the perspective of the two teens, with Natasha often nowhere to be found. Sophie also found it difficult to fit the book into the existing M.C.U. canon. The book is clearly set after the events of Marvel’s The Avengers, yet Black Widow, Coulson, and Iron Man work together which should not be possible given that Coulson is dead as far as the Avengers know. Those issues aside, Sophie really enjoyed looking into Natasha’s past, finding her memories of the Krasnaya Komnata especially chilling, and she is keen to read the second novel in the series which was announced at NYCC recently.

Deep Dark Fears Cover © Ten Speed Press, and Poorly Drawn Lines Cover © Plume
Deep Dark Fears Cover © Ten Speed Press, and Poorly Drawn Lines Cover © Plume

Finally, Sophie read two graphic novels this month: Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause and Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazmand. Both books are based on comics you have probably seen floating around online. The Deep Dark Fears webcomic on Tumblr frequently appears on Sophie’s dashboard with thought-provoking and often chilling strips that speak to the fears you have always carried around, and many you didn’t have until the moment you saw them (Sophie thanks Fran for her new eye drop-based anxiety). The book is filled with equally dark, occasionally funny, and frequently poignant fears that made Sophie stop and think at every page. Poorly Drawn Lines is another webcomic-turned-book that Sophie frequently sees across her social media feeds. While generally lighter in tone than Deep Dark Fears, the strips here are still often hilarious in a twisted way and both books had her constantly stopping to show her husband different pages and to text friends about what she was reading: both signs of something she was deeply enjoying.

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

Top image: Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown