Between the Bookends Feb 2016: Smugglers, Spaceflight, and Schooling

In this most romantic of months, the GeekMoms have been reading about smugglers, spaceflight, and schools, elder gods, forensic anthropology, and grumpy cats.

Oh, and there might be a romance novel buried in there somewhere too! Read on to check out our February book choices.

Castle Hangnail © Dial Books
Castle Hangnail © Dial Books

After several months reading all of Edward Eager’s Half Magic books together, Amy and her kids (almost-9 and almost-7) have moved on to something more recent but still full of humor and magic. Another mother-of-a-Half-Magic-loving-kid recommended Ursula Vernon for their next read, so Amy brought Castle Hangnail home from the library.

After only two chapters, the seven-year-old was drawing fan art. The large cast of creative and delightful characters inspired Amy to do a lot of different voices that she now has trouble keeping track of!

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To The Stars © Penguin Random House
To The Stars © Penguin Random House

Sophie and her six-year-old son spent January talking a lot about space thanks to BBC Stargazing live and British astronaut Tim Peake’s first spacewalk. To The Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan is a beautifully illustrated children’s book that introduces kids (and adults) to former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan. Sullivan flew three space shuttle missions between 1984 and 1992, performing the first EVA (extra-vehicular activity) by an American woman on October 11, 1984.

The book mixes scenes from her childhood with those from her NASA missions, although Sophie felt that the book may have benefitted from being presented in chronological order as her young son seemed to struggle to grasp that the young girl and older lady were, in fact, the same person. The end of the book included a detailed biography of Kathy and a section of shorter bios of fourteen other female astronauts including Sally Ride, Christa McAuliffe, and Kalpana Chawla making the book a fantastic introduction to women in space.

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The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat and Pokey © Dynamic Forces
The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat and Pokey © Dynamic Forces

The pair also made their way through The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat and Pokey, Volume 1. Sophie has been slowly introducing her reluctant reader to graphic novels in the hopes that something might inspire him to start picking up books of his own accord, and although Grumpy Cat didn’t quite meet that mark, they still enjoyed reading about her adventures together. The cats get up to all sorts of mischief including searching for treasure in a supposedly haunted house and getting one another into trouble.

Sophie also found that the stories presented ample opportunities for discussing good and bad choices, as her son often commented that Grumpy didn’t always make good choices when she got Pokey into trouble or tricked him.

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Deja Dead © Random House UK
Deja Dead © Random House UK

Instead of a traditional Secret Santa, members of Sophie’s book club had each bought a favorite book, wrapped & labeled it with a few bullet points about the kind of book inside, then swapped with one another at their Christmas meal. Sophie picked out Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs – a book she had been intending to read for a very long time.

Despite its 500 plus pages, Sophie devoured the book in only a few days, finding herself completely drawn into Temperance Brennan’s world. She considered the book a little bogged down in detail (Sophie felt that she could do a fair job of navigating Montreal – a city she has never visited – after reading the endless descriptions of streets and neighbourhoods) but also found that this didn’t detract from her enjoyment and the sense of rising suspense and fear as the story built to its somewhat inevitable finale. She will definitely be reading more Brennan books.

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Smuggler's Run © Egmont
Smuggler’s Run © Egmont

After the hard work of a Kathy Reichs novel, Sophie wanted something she could read quickly with little mental strain. On a trip to the library with her son, they discovered an entire shelf of Star Wars books and she picked up Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka – part of a series of short stories that formed “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens“.

A quick, easy read that still remained in character, Smuggler’s Run follows Han & Chewie on an extraction mission for the rebellion immediately after the Battle of Yavin. Sophie’s husband described the book as more a single, extended scene from a longer novel than a book in its own right, and Sophie agreed with him. Despite this, the book still added some depth to the new Star Wars canon and was perfect for a break between longer novels.

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You Had Me at Hello © Avon
You Had Me at Hello © Avon

For January, Sophie’s book club picked Mhairi McFarlane’s, You Had Me at Hello. A fairly typical romance story, this was not the kind of book Sophie would ever choose for herself, however, she found herself enjoying it more than she anticipated when she discovered it was set in her very own hometown of Manchester in the UK.

The constant reminders of home maintained her interest through what she found to be a very predictable plot with “twists” she saw coming many chapters in advance. Although it emphasized to Sophie that she avoids reading “chick lit” for a reason, she has no doubt that this would be a wonderful story for fans of the genre.

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Daughters of Arkham © Th3rd World Studios
Daughters of Arkham © Th3rd World Studios

Sophie was asked if she would read Justin Robinson & David A. Rodriguez’s Daughters of Arkham by a friend who also happened to be friends with the authors As a fan of both YA lit and Lovecraftian horror she happily decided to try the book out. She discovered a story that managed to continuously surprise and disturb her with its twisted take on the classic small town with a big secret trope.

In much the same way that Twin Peaks distorts the image of small towns in the Pacific Northwest, Daughters of Arkham subverts the world of the obscenely wealthy Massachusetts/Cape Cod scene, intermixing masonic secret society ideas with Lovecraftian horror, and more traditional YA plot elements. Although a few ideas were very obvious long before they were “revealed”, others took Sophie by complete surprise and she found herself picking up the book whenever she had a few spare moments just to squeeze in an extra chapter. The book built to a satisfying and suitably powerful conclusion but left plenty of questions hanging for the sequel which will hopefully be released in the fall.

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The Opposite of Spoiled Cover © Harper
The Opposite of Spoiled Cover © Harper

This month, Cait finished The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber and she found it so fascinating that she and her husband have started giving their children a small weekly allowance based on the book’s spend, save, give principle.

Her kids are overjoyed about this recent development while Cait finds herself scrambling to find loose change every Friday afternoon.

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Creative Schools © Viking
Creative Schools © Viking

Cait is currently halfway through Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education and is thoroughly enjoying it. A huge fan of Robinson and his push to end our industrialized and outdated public education system, Cait is trying to savor this one and it’s hard!

She is also reading Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington, a book about slowing down and taking the time to enjoy the moment with your children. It is reminiscent of one of Cait’s all-time favorite books, Simplicity Parentingwhich she rereads annually.

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On Stage © Chicago Review Press
On Stage © Chicago Review Press

This month, Cait’s kids will be enjoying a month’s worth of performance related reads along with the rest of her {Virtual} Family Book Club.

They started off with On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids by Lisa Bany-Winters and the kids love it! The book is jam-packed with games and activities for little thespians.

Next, they will read  The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen, followed by Big Magic for Little Hands by Joshua Jay. Cait’s oldest is currently obsessed with all things magic and so everyone is looking forward to week three!

Finally, they will finish off the month of February by reading The Barefoot Book of the Operaby Husain Shahrukh. Cait is hoping that these books will help her little family survive February in New Hampshire!

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As You Wish Cover © Touchstone
As You Wish Cover © Touchstone

This past month, Patricia has been playing catch-up with her reading. First she was finally able to read Cary Elwes’s account of filming The Princess Bride, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, thanks to Rebecca’s account in last month’s Between the Bookends. The anecdotes are fun and very touching, especially the stories of André the Giant.

If you’re as big a fan of the movie as Patricia has been since the late 1980s — she had Farm Boy posters in her room! — this book is a must-read! Included in Elwes’s account are several dozen sidebar anecdotes from virtually all of the still-living members of the cast, as well as from directors Rob Reiner and Andy Scheinman, and author of the original book (as well as the screenplay) William Goldman. Patricia was most impressed with Elwes having to finalize the great sword fight scene with Mandy Patinkin while recovering from a broken toe.

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A Clash of Kings © Bantam Books
A Clash of Kings © Bantam Books

With As You Wish finished, Patricia has decided to resume her incredibly slow journey through George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.

It took her about 6 months to read Game of Thrones, even though she had seen the HBO series already. She simply kept putting it down to read other books that she knew she could get through more quickly. She now has A Clash of Kings in her hands and has a vacation this month with which she plans to read as much of it as possible. As of this writing, she’s only on page 21, so she’ll have more to report next month, most likely.

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

Top image: Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown