Between the Bookends: Tea, Vampires, Fantasy CSI &…Cheese-Mites?

In this month’s bumper edition of Between the Bookends, the GeekMoms have been reading about vampires (of both the sparkly and non-sparkly kind), tea, horror in New Zealand, cheese-mite cosmology, CSI meets The Brothers Grimm, and much more. Dive in to check out our recommendations for the month.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage Cover © Pantheon
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage Cover © Pantheon

GeekMom Beth has been on a science high since reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua. At the heart of the book is the intellectual relationship between Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first version of what the world now considers computer software, and Charles Babbage, who designed a prototype computer known as the Analytical Engine. Padua tells their story through charming, steampunk-flavored cartoons, and gives them a happy ending by plopping them into a pocket universe where Lovelace doesn’t die young of cancer and Babbage sees his machine built. They also become math superheroes of Victorian London, solving problems with their unique skills. The book is far more fun than it should be, and it feels lighthearted even though it’s heavy with footnotes, endnotes, and historical documentation. The staggering parade of facts, figures, and formulas is balanced perfectly with both accurate and imagined whimsy, such as Babbage’s tale of cheese-mite cosmology, the possibility of 19th century theoretical, computer-generated cat printouts, and a truly funny reference as Ada realizes the need for Twitter. It’s the most anyone can learn while laughing.

Wake Cover © Victoria University Press
Wake Cover © Victoria University Press

This month GeekMom Cassie read Wake by Elizabeth Knox as part of New Zealand Book Week. She had been meaning to pick it up for years now, but it wasn’t until she saw it on the shelf at the library that she finally got around to it–and now she wishes she hadn’t waited so long!

This horror novel follows the survivors of a mysterious event which shuts their small New Zealand town off from the rest of the country and results in mass death within the first chapters. Cassie found it to be a beautifully written book in parts, though the convoluted timeline near the beginning meant it took her a bit longer to get into than expected–definitely worth it, though. Cassie particularly liked the ambiguity about what was happening and was pleasantly surprised when the answers were revealed. She will definitely be picking up other titles by Knox.

She also started Cress by Marissa Meyers, in preparation for the upcoming release of Winter. While YA is not Cassie’s normal go-to read, she adores these science fiction re-imaginings of fairy tale characters and can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate Cover © Macmillan Publishers
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate Cover © Macmillan Publishers

GeekMom Ariane finished reading The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, which is the sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. These books are middle-grade novels—though very enjoyable for adults as well—centered around a girl growing up in rural Texas at the end of the 19th century. In the first novel, 11-year-old Callie seeks to learn about the natural world from her aloof scientist grandfather, all while hitting a few speed bumps as everyone else expects her to pursue more ladylike activities. The recently-released sequel sees 13-year-old Callie face far more roadblocks as she tries to plan for the future she wants for herself. While she now enjoys a closer relationship with her grandfather who’s clearly taken her under his wing, Callie is repeatedly reminded of the limitations she faces as a young woman. It was a good book, but so much heavier than the first. You couldn’t help but feel constantly frustrated right along with Calpurnia.

Railhead © Oxford University Press
Railhead © Oxford University Press

GeekMom Sophie greatly enjoyed Railhead by Philip Reeve, the first in a new book series by the author who is best known for his wonderful Mortal Engines (Predator Cities) and Larklight series. Railhead is set in the far future where the human race lives on numerous worlds far from Earth and travels between these colonies on The Great Network: a vast network of wormhole gates traversed by sentient trains and providing instantaneous travel.  When a young thief, Zen Starling, is recruited to steal an object from the Emperor’s train, a typically fantastical Reeve adventure ensues with drones, androids, maintenance spiders, and mysterious God-like Guardians all thrown into the mix for a thrilling story.  Once again Reeve employs his vast imagination to create a universe of wonder and wit that is futuristically sci-fi while remaining accessible to all. Sophie will be impatiently waiting for the next installment in the series.

A Streetcar Named Desire Cover © Penguin.png
A Streetcar Named Desire Cover © Penguin.png

Since watching Gillian Anderson’s award-winning performance as Blanche DuBois last summer, Sophie has been intending to read Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire as it was originally written. She finally got around to it this month and thoroughly enjoyed the story once again, finding the story of Blanche’s descent into madness during a visit to see her sister Stella equally as soul-destroying in black and white as it was on the stage. The final showdown between Blanche and her brutish brother-in-law Stanley loses none of its impact, in fact, Sophie found it even more difficult to read than it had been to watch given the way the imagination can always picture more detail than is given. Sophie does somewhat regret not having read the play before she saw it live, as she could only picture the scenes the way she saw them performed and imagined the dialogue in the same voices and intonations, but given how wonderful the play was, this did not detract from her experience.

Let the Right One In Cover © Quercus
Let the Right One In Cover © Quercus

Sophie’s book club chose to read Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist for their October book, and she devoured the whole 500+ pages in just a few days. Originally written in Swedish, the book follows the stories of several individuals who live close together in a Swedish suburb and whose lives will all intersect. At the center of it all is twelve-year-old Oskar who lives with his mother in a tiny apartment. Oskar–an obvious serial killer in the making–is the victim of relentless bullying, obsessed with murder, and fascinated by the new girl, Eli, who has just moved in next door. Eli, who is soon revealed as a vampire, needs blood to survive and soon the entire community is plunged into terror as it seems a murderer is stalking the area. Sophie found the book difficult to read in places, especially those chapters centered on Hakan–a middle-aged pedophile who lives with Eli–but rapidly found herself falling in love with the descriptions of the town and its residents which allowed her to build up an incredibly vivid picture. Afterward, she saw the book described as creepy. Not strange sounds and creaking doors creepy. Creepy like that ‘overly affectionate’ uncle who stares at you too often and always wants a hug that lasts for an inappropriate length of time.” She couldn’t have put it better herself.

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined © Little Brown
Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined © Little Brown

Continuing the vampire theme, Sophie also dove into Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephenie Meyer. This version of the infamous vampire romance switches the gender of every character except for Bella/Beau’s parents (for reasons of believability regarding custody), and when they say every character, they really do mean EVERY character. Even the gender of the high school secretary has switched even though Sophie doubts many people would be able to recall whether such a minor character was male or female in the original.

The book follows the plot of the original with obvious differences in certain places, some of which have raised a lot of eyebrows. The scenes in Port Angeles experience some of the most noticeable changes with Beau now in danger for very different reasons to Bella–which has brought up new questions about whether Bella’s original experience is no more than “literary (near) rape.” Beau’s constant inner monologue regarding Edythe’s “perfect” body gave Sophie pause for concern too as he comments on how she is “too perfect” mere sentences after informing the reader that he could nearly count her ribs and describing her collarbones as “fragile-looking twigs.”

On the plus side, the genderswapping did have some rather wonderful effects as well. Not only did Sophie see more women in roles of authority (Dr. Cullen, most of the teachers at the school, etc.), but the Quileute tribe has been switched to a highly matriarchal society with a female chief and other women occupying positions of power. However, there is also a question here of how appropriate this switching is, considering the Quileute tribe are indeed a real Native American tribe with their own culture.

The Good Dog Cover © IPG
The Good Dog Cover © IPG

Finally, Sophie read The Good Dog by Todd Kessler to her six-year-old son. This book tells the story or eight-year-old Ricky Lee who finds a puppy at the side of the road and takes it home. His parents agree to let the dog, now named Tako, stay so long as it is a “good” dog–or else it is off to the pound. The Lee family’s new bakery soon finds itself the victim of sabotage by a rival firm, and only Tako knows who is responsible, but in order to stop more damage he has to break the rules and risk his own future happiness.

The Good Dog has been marketed as a return to “traditional storytelling for young children” because of its length (twice that of a “standard” picture book today) and use of “complex themes”; the publishers claiming that other children’s books often rely on “clever concepts rather than character development and sustained narrative.” Sophie doubts this book will be quite the revolution its press makes out; to both her and her son, it was simply another enjoyable bedtime story (and yes, it was read out in a single night despite its length) with some interesting ideas and beautiful illustrations.

The Aeronaut's Windlass Cover © Roc
The Aeronaut’s Windlass Cover © Roc

GeekMom Jill just finished the first book of The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher. As a longtime fan of The Dresden Files, she wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, Butcher’s take on a sort-of-steampunk world. However, once she got past a rather slow-moving first quarter of the book or so, things really got up and running. While The Dresden Files has its own array of characters, things really do revolve (for better or worse) around Harry Dresden. So far, this series promises a more ensemble cast.

She kept expecting the eponymous aeronaut, one Capt. Grimm, to turn into a sort of wise-cracking steampunk Dresden, but that didn’t happen–Grimm is entirely a different sort of man, with a strong sense of honor and his own drives and motivations. She particularly liked the three central female protagonists, each of whom had her own sort of strength. (And Folly, and her way of looking at the world, makes for quite a unique one.) While Butcher doesn’t quite inflict one of his patented Dresden Files cliffhangers on readers here, there are a lot of loose ends to be picked up. She’ll be reading the rest.

Indexing: Reflections Cover © 47 North
Indexing: Reflections Cover © 47 North

Jill has also been reading Indexing: Reflections by Seanan McGuire. This is actually a Kindle Serial; a new chapter drops onto her Kindle every other Tuesday. Currently, there are seven chapters released out of 12. Reflections picks up where the first Indexing, also a Kindle Serial novel (although now available in a complete form both for Kindle and in paperback), left off. The obvious way to describe it is as the Brothers Grimm meet CSI… but that’s a just little too simple.
In a nutshell, the characters of both installments work for the ATI Management Bureau, working to prevent fairy tale narratives from taking over everything around us… and everyone… all the while struggling to make sure they aren’t consumed themselves by the stories by which they’re been touched. McGuire is very, very good at getting to the heart of the allure and the magic and, yes, the horror that lies beneath the surface of what so many consider children’s stories, and Jill just can’t recommend this one enough. And while it can be torture waiting for the next chapter to drop every other week if you want to start at the beginning, the complete first Indexing is available without any waiting.

The Power of Habit © Random House
The Power of Habit © Random House

GeekMom Caitlin is always reading half a dozen books at once and this month is no different. The psychologist in Cait is savoring The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Pulitzer-winner Charles Duhigg, a fascinating account of how habits take shape and influence individuals, businesses, and societies. If you’ve ever wondered how habits form, or what you can do to create a new habit (think: New Year’s resolutions), this is an interesting read. Cait has been most interested in how well-known companies have harnessed the habit loop to create sales, for everything from toothpaste to Febreze. She’s now pondering ways to use the habit loop as a parenting strategy.

Get Some Headspace © St. Martin's Griffin
Get Some Headspace © St. Martin’s Griffin

And… speaking of habits, Cait is also reading Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Just Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe. The backstory is this: Late in the summer, Cait’s kids were struggling with sleep issues. In an attempt to get them into a better routine before school started, Cait downloaded the Headspace app after hearing several people rave about it. Cait and her little crew have been using the app almost every evening since August and, miracle of miracles, her children fall asleep immediately after using it–and in some cases, before the exercise is even complete! Amazed by the results of a mere ten minutes of mindfulness, Cait ran out to get the Headspace book to learn more, and she’s been enjoying reading about Puddicombe’s journey, the concept of mindfulness, and how to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. Reading this book concurrently with The Power of Habit made Cait snicker because Puddicombe’s Headspace is a perfect example of successful implementation of the habit loop. Yes, Cait bought into it but sleeping kids are priceless.

The Hired Girl © Candlewick Press
The Hired Girl © Candlewick Press

As for fiction, Cait is almost finished reading The Hired Girl by Newbury medalist Laura Amy Schlitz. Set in 1911 and written in diary entries, the book tells the story of 14-year-old Joan Skrags, a hired girl working for a wealthy Pennsylvania family. Something about Joan reminded Cait of Anne Shirley and so the book was an instant hit. Cait is currently reading the American Girl: Meet Samantha series–which is set in 1904–aloud to her children and believes that The Hired Girl would be a perfect complement to the series for her 7-year-old son. He agrees and is not-so-patiently waiting for his mother to finish the book. 

The Boy Who Fell off The Mayflower, or John Howland's Good Fortune Cover © Candlewick Press
The Boy Who Fell off The Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune Cover © Candlewick Press

Finally, in addition to the Meet Samantha series, Cait is reading a number of Thanksgiving-themed books aloud to her children, as part of the {virtual} family book club that she runs on her site. One book that Cait is especially looking forward to reading with her children this week is The Boy Who Fell off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by Irish author P.J. Lynch. This beautifully illustrated book tells the true story of a young Englishman named John Howland, an indentured servant aboard the Mayflower, who fell overboard while crossing the Atlantic. Miraculously, John survived and went on to have ten children while living in the new colony. Cait is excited to share this intriguing story with her children because it captures how challenging the journey was in a way that children will understand and hopefully remember for years to come. It promises to be a perfect addition to our November homeschooling.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry © Algonquin Books
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry © Algonquin Books

Rebecca Angel has been enjoying a few books this month: First up is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, this month’s pick for her book club. It is a light, fast read about a curmudgeon book seller in a tiny New England town. His life starts off pretty crappy, but with the unexpected adoption of a young, brilliant child, his life changes for the better. It’s sweet and full of literary references, jokes, and each chapter refers to a short story. Our book club asked everyone to read one of the short stories mentioned (Rebecca chose “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw), and we had a lively discussion! Adult read.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo & Juliet Cover © First Second
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo & Juliet Cover © First Second

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo is a graphic novel, and the second in the series (the first was Macbeth) to bring Shakespeare’s plays to a younger audience. The setting of this book is a zoo that has a theater company of animals that perform after-hours for an audience of other zoo animals. In this tale, the zoo animals take the star-crossed lover tragedy and make it between a wild bear girl and a petting zoo rooster who want to be best friends. It’s a great adaptation that could only happen with this cast of talking animals. The audience of animals is just as entertaining as the play itself with commentary throughout. Recommend for elementary age and up.

Firefly Hollow Cover © Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Firefly Hollow Cover © Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee and Christopher Denise is a gentle novel about friendship and following impossible dreams. Rebecca has been reading this book slowly one day a week when her young nieces visit (they are ages six and nine) and they LOVE IT. Firefly and Cricket are the main characters that have goals that just don’t fit with their communities. They run away and find each other, forming a bond with a miniature giant (a boy named Peter) and a river vole (that Rebecca uses a Scottish accent for…). Throughout this sweet tale are illustrations that are gorgeous. Highly recommend!

The Book of Tea © Dover Publications
The Book of Tea © Dover Publications

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo is a book published at the turn of the last century, but the poetic description of life and tea and art and beauty and culture and tea and tea… Oh, it is a lovely book. Rebecca has been briefly discussing each chapter in her tea blog, Steepings. “Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.” An adult read to savor a sip at a time.

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

Top image: Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown

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