In this month’s Between the Bookends, our writers have been immersing themselves in Russian history, feminist sci-fi, teenage wizards, millennial poetry, and flipped fairytales. Read on to find out what’s been floating our boats now that spring has finally sprung.
This month, GeekMom Sophie‘s book club read The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler (the alter-ego of Lemony Snicket). The book follows Flannery Culp and her social group, the Basic Eight, during their senior year of high school. The Basic Eight consider themselves pretentious, intelligent, and more than a little superior, hosting elegant dinner parties and attending Shakespeare plays in their free time, but they soon begin to unravel under the stresses of failed relationships and school finals. The whole book is narrated by Flannery from her prison cell where she now resides after murdering someone, and she frequently interrupts the narrative with asides and sarcastic comments, often ending chapters with vocabulary lists and questions for the reader. Sophie found the book to be quite a slog to get through, although she did enjoy it. She found herself imagining a teenage Hannibal Lecter fitting well into the book’s dynamic, and although she saw the big plot twist coming well before the halfway point of the story, many of the other members of her book club did not and found themselves astonished by it. It’s not a book she would likely pick up again, however, she considers her time spent reading it to be well-spent.
Sophie also continued her journey through the Star Wars: The Force Awakens novels with Greg Rucka’s Before The Awakening, a collection of three short stories that set up the characters of Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron prior to the movie. Sophie found that she enjoyed all three, but considers Poe’s the best of the bunch as it really helped set the stage regarding what is happening in the galaxy at large when the movie begins, especially regarding the political relationships between the New Republic, Resistance, and the First Order. Finn’s story fleshed out more of his life so far and helped establish why he reacted the way he did during the battle on Jakku, while Rey’s tale nearly brought her to tears. Rey’s story also helped her appreciate the character even more, explaining where she learned to fly, and how she knew so much about ship mechanics. If you thought Rey was awesome before, you’ll fall in love all over again after this.
Sophie also inhaled Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, a sort-of spin-off from her bestselling novel Fangirl which kept her up until 2am in a “must read the next chapter” haze. Carry On is the tale of two fictional characters from within Fangirl, Simon Snow and Basilton (Baz) Pitch who both attend Watford School of Magick. The whole world is a clear parody of the Wizarding World found within the Harry Potter series, but with enough differences to make it its own. Simon is a prophesied “Chosen One” destined to defeat an evil being known as The Insidious Humdrum (it took a while for Sophie to be able to take that part seriously) who is draining the world of magick. Baz is his roommate/nemesis and part of the old guard of magickal families who despise “normals” and any attempt at opening up their world to outsiders of those with less power. Clearly they hate one another but, as all good fangirls will tell you, there’s always more to the story. Carry On takes place during Simon and Baz’s eighth and final year at Watford and serves in some way as the final book in the fictional book series introduced in Fangirl, which means it wraps up without the obvious “read the next book” ending so common in YA lit where everything has to be a trilogy. Sophie felt that you don’t have to have read Fangirl to appreciate Carry On, but thinks you will get far more out of the book if you have.
Having read the first book in Derek Landy’s new Demon Road trilogy last year, Sophie picked up the second book, Desolation, with great interest and was surprised to note that Landy seems to be moving away from Young Adult into New Adult territory. His new book features even more blood and gore than before, a less than subtle inference of a burgeoning lesbian/bi relationship and, most notably, an increase in middling levels of bad language. No f-bombs, but probably stronger swearing than most parents of the mid-teen readers his previous books were aimed at might be happy with.
The plot finds the two main characters, Amber and Milo, on the run from the demonic bikers, the Hounds of Hell, who have been tasked with bringing the pair back to the Shining Demon following the events of the first book. Amber and Milo seek refuge in the Alaskan town of Desolation Hill, where they have been told they will be safe from the Hounds. However, the town has a dark secret that immediately causes antagonism between our heroes and the town’s population and police force, with Desolation Hill about to hold an annual celebration open only to townspeople. Unable to leave with the Hounds of Hell at the town’s perimeter but faced with open hostility from the locals and police, Amber and Milo have to avoid the local authorities and stay within Desolation Hill. Help comes from a blatantly 21st Century update of the Scooby Gang who themselves arrive in town to investigate a supernatural myth called the Narrow Man who is believed to be behind the disappearance of children for years.
The tempo of the story is kept high with frequent fights and action peppering the plot, and genuine peril for all the main and new characters–you get the sense Landy takes great delight in causing his characters copious amounts of excruciating pain and misery. One of the issues with the first book was a lack of likable characters aside from the young and naive Amber. This time, Landy throws in a new group of characters with great banter who you can actually care about and feel concern for when things go bad. Very bad.
While Desolation still doesn’t quite hit the heights of Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series, it is another good, solid horror/action romp that sets up for the final book out in 2017.
Finally, Sophie read Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. She had been dreading the “a book of poetry” prompt in this year’s PopSugar Reading Challenge but was immediately drawn to the cover of this collection. The book version of the hugely popular Quarter Life Poetry Tumblr and Instagram accounts, each page contains a single, four-line poem and an illustration which will appeal strongly to the single millennial female set, and although Sophie doesn’t quite fit into that demographic, she found herself relating to many of the poems and recognising friends in the others. She found herself frequently sending snaps of the poems to her friends whom she felt would relate–these were most often the ones about wine–and she has a long list of people she’s going to buy the book for during the year. Sophie also discovered a poem that spoke to her on a deeper and more profound level than anything she has previously read: “I saw my favorite band tonight, but that’s not the best part: instead of standing on my feet, there was a seating chart.” Perfection.
GeekMom Samantha is reading several books this month. Her audiobook of choice for April is Shadows on Snow by Starla Huchton. Shadows on Snow is part of the loosely linked set of novels Ms. Huchton writes she calls Flipped Fairytales. Each book in this set features a familiar fairy tale plot that has the gender roles of the main characters flipped. The fairytales are an undercurrent to the story Ms. Huchton weaves around the lives of the characters and can be quite subtle. The fairytale featured in this novel is Snow White. Prince Leopold serves as our Snow White for this story and his princely behind is repeatedly saved by his Princess Charming played by a girl named Ray. This particular audiobook has a phenomenal narrator in Lauren Harris. Her soft European accent serves this story incredibly well. She advises that the soft voice can at times be too soft when she’s narrating male lines, so be prepared to adjust your volume, but I haven’t minded since her narration has been so pleasing. This is the second Flipped Fairytale that Samantha has read, the first was Ride the Wind which will have a much lengthier review in the near future.
Samantha’s print novel of choice for April is Calamity by Brandon Sanderson. Samantha is a huge fan of Mr. Sanderson’s work, having read most of his series in their entirety. Calamity is the third book in The Reckoners series, which revolves around the arrival of a mysterious new star in the sky that causes powers to manifest in certain people. They become Epics and each are granted certain different and unique powers. Unfortunately, the use of their powers causes them all to become crazy and they use Earth as their battle zone and her people as fodder as they fight for control against each other. A small group of people known as The Reckoners band together to kill the Epics and each novel is set up with a particular Epic as the theme. First was Steelheart, then Firestorm, and now Calamity. This is a fun series, filled with humor and not as heavy as many of Mr. Sanderson’s usual novels. The books are fairly quick reads as a result, but still have really good stories within.
This month, GeekMom Jena finally got to read Night Broken by Patricia Briggs. As one of her favorite authors, Jena hasn’t missed any of her books until this one which was a silly oversight on her part since it was so good. Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series is always fun as it is set in Jena’s town. Reading about locations she sees on a daily basis is a fun treat in an already entertaining series. This book sees the protagonist Mercy facing off against an ancient fae and an even older creature that threatens everything she loves while dealing with her mate’s ex-wife returning to try to regain her stature within the pack and the home. Jena had trouble putting it down.
The second time in two months reading a book recommended by GeekMom Karen, Jena spent an afternoon flying through the entirety of Giant Days Volume 1. A trade paperback of the Giant Days comic, it was entertaining and fun, reminding her of her time in college. Though Jena’s experience was slightly less British. Still, it was a quick read that she will be picking up again for a reread before getting the next volume as soon as possible.
GeekMom Anika is taking a course in Forensic Anthropology this semester and writing her final research paper on the discovery and identification of the skeletal remains of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas Romanov, and his family. Most of her reading for the past two months has been scientific or political but she also decided to read The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport. The Romanovs’ youngest daughter, Anastasia, is familiar to many (love of the animated film is why Anika chose this topic to begin with!) but Rappaport gives all four Grand Duchesses new life. Their story is the historical version of Gossip Girl and it ends in murder. The book is compelling and reading it successfully made writing the paper all the more poignant!
GeekMom Amy hasn’t done much reading on her own this month, but she and the kids (7 and 9) plowed through The BFG after finishing Matilda, and then started James Howe’s Bunnicula books. They took a quick detour when she realized she’d gotten Shannon Hale’s latest book The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde in at the library and forgotten to bring it home. Now the 7-year-old can read most of it herself, but the three of them have taken turns reading bits to each other.
GeekMom Rebecca Angel‘s sister handed her Crazy Little Thing by Tracy Brogan:
“Here, you need something fun.”
Even though life means Rebecca can barely read a chapter a night, it IS fun and exactly what she needs. The story is about Sadie Turner, a control-freak mother of two young kids, very recently divorced from a philandering charmer, spending the summer with her eccentric Aunt Dody. Aunt Dody is convinced romance is the cure for all Sadie’s problems.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is the read-aloud choice with Rebecca Angel’s young nieces. Rebecca let them know:
“It starts off awful, but only gets better!”
She forgot exactly how awful it starts off: Mary, an unloved, unwanted young child forgotten and abandoned in a house in India in the late 1800s where everyone has died of disease or run away. She is found by the British army and escorted to England to stay in the large estate of her uncle–once again unloved and unwanted. However, people, animals, the environment, and the mystery of a secret garden change this “contrary” girl. There is a reason this is considered a classic. Perfect with tea and cake on a snuggly couch.
Shiri discovered Rachel Bach’s Paradox Series on a list of “Fun Sci-Fi Books To Get You Through the Winter” (paraphrased–she apologizes for not having the link any longer). While not generally a consumer of military sci-fi due to the preponderance of dude-bro-ness in the sub-genre (certain notable exceptions acknowledged) she was intrigued by the idea of “feminist military sci-fi” and she has not been disappointed. Deviana Morris is a fantastic, complete, and kick-butt voice character who is fully fleshed out and allowed, despite her toughness, to express the full gamut of human emotion. She is also exceptionally good at getting herself into trouble, which makes for both excellent individual novel arcs, and overall series arcs. The ancillary characters are diverse and engaging; each could certainly host a novel in his/her own right. Their personalities and histories are built through interactions with Deviana, which works extremely well in a first-person narrative structure, and if the “cheat” of one character entering another character’s mind is occasionally employed Shiri can forgive it because it works well in the context of the story. The world-building is excellent and combines both traditional and innovative genre elements which harken to the classics while simultaneously building into something innovative. There are some style elements Shiri found slightly problematic (repetition of words and sentiments in close proximity, incidents of telling when showing would have been more effective) but she attributes this more to editing than to the author herself and was pleased to discover that there is, so far, markedly less of this in Honor’s Knight (book two) than there was in Fortune’s Pawn. She stayed up far too late after a work shift ending at 1am to finish Fortune’s Pawn, and couldn’t fall asleep after another of the same until she’d finished her chapter of Honor’s Knight. She is intrigued to see how the remainder of the story plays out and already has book three, Heaven’s Queen, waiting on her Kindle for immediate transition.
The only book Shiri sees potentially interrupting her Paradox series love binge is Sebastien de Castell’s new book, Saint’s Blood, the third entry in his Greatcoats series, for which the world will need to kindly stop rotating for a couple of days so that Shiri may indulge herself without interruption or call to responsibility. That one is coming hardback, signed and numbered from the UK so that she doesn’t have to wait for the inexplicably two-month gap between the UK and US releases to pass before Falcio, Brasti, and Kest are once more entering her eyeholes.
Copies of some books included in these recommendations have been provided for review purposes.