Between the Bookends: Dreaming Androids, Bared Blades, & Invisible Cats

Between the Bookends Header (c) Sophie Brown

It’s summertime and the reading is, well, somewhat difficult thanks to all those pesky children running around our homes instead of sitting at their school desks. Nonetheless, the GeekMoms have found time to squeeze in another round of reading that touches on everything from androids to zombies, with invisible cats, cursed children, and coding magic on the way. We’re sure you’ll find something new to love in here.

The Art & Making Of Independence Day Resurgence, Image: Titan

Sophie really enjoyed reading through The Art and Making Of Independence Day: Resurgence, which, despite its title, features art, background, and behind-the-scenes information for both the Independence Day movies. The oversized book (which measures 12″ x 10″) really allowed her to explore the world of one of her favourite movies through detailed set images, technical drawings, and concept art, and to learn more about what went into making the film’s – such as that 80% of the special effects in the original movie were practical, making it one of the last big-budget movies to extensively use CGI.

Sophie did find that the book didn’t flow as well as it could. The character profiles were thin and mixed up details with other books (according to this book Connie Levinson died of cancer, whereas in the official novels she died suddenly in a car crash), some of the captions on images simply repeat sentences from the main text making it occasionally repetitive, and the book changes style suddenly, for example moving from an in-universe introduction “written by” David Levinson, to a page discussing behind-the-scenes filming information. However, despite these flaws Sophie still found the book fascinating as it added yet another level to her appreciate of this universe.

How to Capture an Invisible Cat, Image: Bloomsbury

Sophie also quickly read through How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin: book one in the Genius Factor series. This silly story follows Delphine Cooper as she finds herself unexpectedly caught up in an adventure with her classmate and schoolboy genius Nate Bannister. Nate has a ritual of performing three not-so-smart things every Friday the 13th, and this time he’s turned his cat Proton both invisible and giant, and he needs Delphine’s help to clear things up before Proton either destroys the town, or is used by The Red Death Tea Society to eliminate Nate and clear their path to world domination. Just your average Friday afternoon then.

The book is aimed at a middle-grade audience so naturally it wasn’t the most thought-provoking of plots, that being said, the writing style offered lots for adults too, mostly thanks to Delphine’s fluency in sarcasm which she employs liberally at Nate’s expense, leading to some of the funniest lines Sophie has read in many years. This is a fantastic summer read for middle graders and a fun read-aloud book for younger kids as well.

Mythmaker, Image: Titan

Finally, Sophie really enjoyed Mythmaker by Tim Waggoner. Despite being the fourteenth Supernatural tie-in novel, and the second penned by Tim, this was the first of the books that Sophie had gotten around to reading even though she absolutely adores the TV show. This new story is set during the TV show’s tenth season when Dean was still bearing the Mark of Cain.

Mythmaker sees Sam and Dean head to Corinth, Illinois where an outbreak of new gods has the entire town in danger. A teenage girl has somehow brought dozens of these new deities into existence through her paintings and now they must battle, the victor absorbing their opponents’ life force until only one remains. It’s a little like American Gods meets Highlander. The book does a good job of creating interest by following the same story through multiple viewpoints, the two Winchester boys and the chosen “priests” of two of the new gods – Paeon and Adamantine. There’s also an interesting secondary story told through flashbacks to when the boys were in their late teens. In Sophie’s opinion, the book needed more Castiel (everything in life needs more pretty boy angel come to think of it), but despite this significant flaw, she really enjoyed her first Supernatural novel and thought it made an easy and satisfying summer read.

Bared Blade, Image: Ace

Shiri has continued reading through the A Fallen Blade series by Kelly McCullough. Aral Kingslayer was once an assassin for Namara, Goddess of Justice. Now, he’s a thief for hire trying to drink away the memories of the days when his mission was clear and absolute. His familiar, the shadow dragon Triss, is the only thing standing between Aral and self-destruction until he finds a new mission: saving an empire from the vicious plot of gods and monsters. Along the way, he meets old lovers, old friends, and a new ward. He becomes a teacher, a general, and, once more, a warrior for justice.

The world-building in this series is absolutely phenomenal and Shiri found herself wanting to look for the cities and nations therein on maps and half expected to find them. McCullough’s characters are vivid and alive, from Aral himself to his fellow blades to the familiars to minor characters who make only brief appearances. Also? Zombies, but really, really cool zombies, a new spin Shiri would never have thought of but is glad someone else did. Shiri read straight through all six books (she blurbed book 1 in last month’s BTB), letting library holds languish and purchased volumes stack up because there was no possible way she could focus on anything else until she found out what happened to Aral and Triss. Of course, then, she was sad there was no more. Clear your schedules for these, friends, and enjoy.

The View From The Cheap Seats, Image: William Morrow

Neil Gaiman is one of Shiri’s author heroes. If not for American Gods, she would never have realized all of the odd ideas in her head could be turned into stories other people might want to read. She would never have known legend and magic could fire salvos into the every day and the product of their union could be so remarkable. She has very much missed reading new fiction by Gaiman and was devastated to have been disappointed by The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The View from the Cheap Seats, however, has restored her faith in the man, the myth, the author.

Reading Gaiman’s thoughts on writing and creativity, especially those entries in the collection which were lectures or speeches, reminded Shiri just how remarkable Gaiman’s mind is. The sections in which he talks about his own doubts, the ways in which he is still awed to be writing for a living is inspiring for an aspiring writer and a reminder that it’s never too late, will never be too late. Shiri is ready once more to “embrace her obsessions” and “to make art” in the way that is right for her. Gaiman has helped Shiri to trust herself and trust her art again. She’s even planning to submit her next book to a publisher which she had entirely planned to back out of before reading this book.

The Android’s Dream, Image: Tor

The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi is one of Scalzi’s older books. Shiri saw it on a list somewhere, the location of which now escapes her, found the Philip K. Dick reference interesting, and decided to dive in.

To say that this book is hilarious would be an understatement: it starts with political assassination by fart and gets more insane from there (Shiri uses the word “insane” in the most positive way). There are hybrid sheep people, ludicrous aliens, political intrigue, religious cults, and more than enough delicious absurdity to be distributed among the aforementioned and everyone else. The Android’s Dream succeeds, however, where many similar novels have failed in that it has a coherent plot and maintains forward momentum. If you liked The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) or Redshirts (also by John Scalzi), you will love this book as well.

WebMage, Image: Ace

The aforementioned author of the A Fallen Blade books—Kelly McCullough—has also written WebMage, a series that brings magic into the modern age by forging a link between spell-casting and coding/hacking. Ravrin is a descendent of the Fates (yes, those Fates) who finds his comfortable, somewhat indolent lifestyle shredded when he refuses to debug a problematic spell for his great-aunt. He soon finds himself the center of a battle between all three fates, who are annoyed enough with Ravin to have sicced the Furies on him, and Eris, goddess of Discord. The only beings he can trust are his familiar, Melchior the web goblin and his cousin Circe, who has her own agenda.

Shiri found the romance in the book somewhat…standard…but the originality of the rest of the story more than made up for it. Sadly for Shiri’s bank account, her library only had books 1, 2, and 4 of this five book series so she was forced to purchase all five of them; they are waiting on her e-reader for a moment between library due dates and review books.

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Mycroft Holmes, Image: Titan

Shiri was a little dubious when she saw the cover of Abdul-Jabar’s Mycroft Holmes comic but one of her fellow geeks attended his panel at SDCC and let her know she should give it, and the novel which preceded it, a try. The first issue of said comic came out last week and it was phenomenal so Shiri, a total Holmes family nerd, dove into the Mycroft Holmes novel, hoping it would sustain her until next month when issue two was released. The book was so good, she read it in a little over a day and a half and now she still has to wait another month of issue two.

Abdul-Jabar really, really knows his Holmes lore and has clearly made a study of period literature; he manages to integrate the style of the original stories while still maintaining an active plot with an excellent pace. Mycroft is a fascinating character in the Holmes stories, including the newest BBC incarnation, because mystery wafts from him like expensive cologne and yet, somehow, this glimpse into his background serves to both reveal and conceal, to deepen his character while growing the legend, and thus, the shadows. A university-aged Sherlock does make a few appearances and is as much of a prissy snob as one would expect; the interactions between the two are absolutely spot on. Mycroft is in excellent hands and Shiri cannot recommend Mycroft Holmes vociferously enough.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, Image: Little Brown UK

Nivi picked Harry Potter and The Cursed Child up from her local bookstore (along with a bottle of Butterbeer) one evening, and finished it by eight-fifteen the following morning. She has thoughts, many thoughts, but wants to linger in the glow of Harry Potter world for a while before thinking about said thoughts. She resisted the urge to force her kids and their friends to sit with her and read the script out loud whenever they came over (which was quite difficult).

Nivi loves reading plays, so zipping through the story unburdened by long passages of narrative was pleasant. But then again, she realizes that given that the sets are pretty much all ones that are already known by audiences around the world, and she acknowledges that perhaps as she’s read thousands of pages of set description and backstory already (in the form of the first seven books), so she didn’t exactly read this in ‘no time.’

Rufus + Syd, Image: Harmony Ink Press

Nivi also picked up Rufus and Syd, by Robin Lippincott and Julia Watts. A gay teenage boy living in a conservative Christian small town in the South. A ‘new girl’ from Kentucky with a single mom and a desire to leave. Early on, the reader waits for them to meet (as is promised in the title). And the meeting does not disappoint. This story takes you into both these characters, explores their troubled lives and touching friendship.

The narrative alternates between the two characters’ points of view, and is also interspersed with brief chapters of dialogue between the two. Sometimes chapters revisit the same scene, offering two perspectives on the same events. Other times it moves forward. The writing is fresh, realistic, and the story poignant and meaningful. It does explore some topics of a sexual nature, so if you’re considering having your teens read it, you may wish to review it first. But the underlying message–of love versus hate, of acceptance and family–is so important that it’s hard to suggest that it shouldn’t be read.

The Blood of Olympus, Image: Disney-Hyperion

They’re done. Nivi and her almost-10yo son have finished the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. The final battle was on August 1 in the book, and they tried, really tried, to finish reading the book by then. But alas, it took an extra few days. Which was fine. But now what?

This was a great series, a great natural continuation to the Percy Jackson series. Rick Riordan has more books, so they’ll probably shift to the Kane Chronicles next. Although really, Nivi wants to start the Harry Potter series again. In any case, this is a great series, with strong characters (female and male, which is awesome), minimal “ickiness” (couples kiss, but do little more than that), and the chapters are short. Mind you, subsequent chapters with the same narrator lead to reading more chapters than she intended, and kids going to sleep later than she hoped, but hey, it’s summer vacation, and he’s staying up to read, so what’s the harm, right? Good book. Recommend it.

The Art of Fielding, Image: Little, Brown and Company

Nivi watches way too many sports. Beyond just her boys’ soccer and baseball games, she cheers on the Cleveland Cavaliers, enjoys the occasional Cleveland Indians baseball game, begrudgingly follows the Browns (and less begrudgingly the Ohio State Buckeyes) football teams, and yes, has found herself enjoying the Olympics. But she is not a huge sports fan, and still found The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach to be a thoroughly engaging book.

Despite its title, It’s not just about baseball. It is the story of Henry Skrimshander, a kid obsessed with becoming the best shortstop ever, and his single-minded focus on achieving this baseball goal. But it is also about his roommate Owen, his mentor Mike, Westish University president Affenlight, and Affenlight’s daughter Pella. It is about baseball, literature, humanity, and relationships. It is about falling and getting up again, about second chances, about despair and hope. It is well-written, engaging, and thoroughly satisfying.

Nightingale, Image: Cliffhanger Press LLC

Finally, Nivi picked up Nightingale by Anthony Karcz. A fellow GeekDad wrote this book about a world with folks with super powers. A world in which those with powers are discovered and recruited, trained and supported, organized to fight evil. One of those with powers is Alyson, who unfortunately also has the spirit of her dead mother hounding her.

This is just the first book of The League Cycle series, but it certainly sets the stage well. The world of the story is rich and well-defined, with plenty of fascinating characters and relationships to span more books. The conflict between Alyson and her mother certainly took center stage and was handled quite well. The complications that having your mother inside your head could pose were entertaining, and not-just-a-little thought provoking; made Nivi appreciate her relationship with her own mother a little more. The rules of the world of the story were consistent and understandable, and she looks forward to revisiting it.

The Good Soldier, Image: Vintage

Anika thinks The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion by Ford Madox Ford is an infuriating read. She read it for a class in Narrative Theory, as an acclaimed example of an unreliable narrator. And he is! By the end of the book, Anika wasn’t certain anything that was related actually happened, or if any of the characters even existed.

The novel opens with the line “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” Remember when James Cameron won the Oscar for Titanic and proclaimed himself King of the World? Anika loves that movie, even that scene within the movie, but Cameron’s over the top display made her eyes roll for about twelve minutes. Narrator John Dowell is a James Cameron kind of guy, either willfully clueless or just a straight up jerk. But Cameron is at least talented. Dowell never does anything but whine — except possibly he murders two people. Unfortunately, the ambiguity is the point. Anika didn’t like this book but acknowledges it’s an interesting read if infuriating.

GeekMom received certain titles for review purposes.

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