The first month of 2022 was a successful reading month for Sophie. In this month’s Between the Bookends, she shares a range of books from educational books for kids to informative non-fiction for adults, an LGBTQ paranormal detective drama to a book that helps you plan your own funeral! As always, she hopes you’ll find something you love among the pages.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. All author/illustrator photos are credited to themselves.
Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning Changed the Science of Prehistoric Life by Cheryl Blackford
Sophie was seven years old when Jurassic Park arrived in cinemas, making her the perfect age to instantly become obsessed with everything paleontology-related. That interest has never gone away and has these days manifested into an interest in the scientists responsible for bringing dinosaurs into the public eye. Mary Anning is one of Sophie’s favorites and so she was keen to pick up Fossil Hunter by Cheryl Blackford, a biography aimed at young readers.
Fossil Hunter packs an enormous amount of information into fewer than 100 pages and yet remains incredibly easy to read. Mary Anning’s whole life is covered from her childhood finding fossils on the beach with her father and brother, through to her later years when she ran her own fossil shop and befriended many leading scientists of the day who would discuss their new theories with her. The whole book is filled with photographs and illustrations showing the incredible discoveries she made, how the fossilized creatures she uncovered may have once lived, and other more mundane things such as her childhood home and a sketch Mary herself once drew of her dog Tray.
The book is frequently frustrating, especially when it discusses the obstacles Mary faced simply because of her gender. Women at the time were not taken seriously as scientists and despite her obvious knowledge—knowledge that often benefited her male contemporaries—Mary’s contributions were usually ignored or forgotten with men taking credit for her discoveries. The book doesn’t shy away from pointing out the injustice of this, and of the extra difficulties she faced due to her poor, working-class upbringing. Instead, it shines a light on these challenges and uses them to prove how strong a woman Mary was and why we should continue to tell her story.
Sophie absolutely loved Fossil Hunter—her first five-star read of 2022—and encourages anyone with an interest in paleontology to pick it up.
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Last summer, Sophie thoroughly enjoyed It Doesn’t Take a Genius by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, so when she spotted a new release from the same author—Operation Sisterhood—it was an instant must-read.
Operation Sisterhood follows Bo, a meticulously organized middle grader who has grown up living in a New York apartment with her mom. However, life is about to change a whole lot for Bo because her mom is moving them in with her new partner. Bill lives in an old brownstone with his daughter Sunday, plus a whole other family—Mama Hope, Papa Charles, and their twin daughters Lil and Lee—not to mention an entire menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, chickens, a tortoise, and a hat-wearing bearded dragon.
The group considers itself an extended family collective with all “The Parents” responsible for all the kids and working together to create a free schooling program for them to follow. Suddenly Bo finds herself cleaning out the chicken coop, volunteering at the animal shelter, taking field trips to Louis Armstrong’s house, and being forced back into the swimming lessons she hated. Can Bo carve out a place for herself amidst the chaos or will she risk being swallowed whole by her new family?
Sophie honestly struggled a lot with Operation Sisterhood. Perhaps it’s because she’s a largely reclusive introvert who doesn’t cope well with changing routines, but being thrown into the same situation as Bo with so little agency is her idea of a nightmare come true rather than the apparently fun experience the author tries to portray. Instead, Sophie spent most of her time reading feeling deeply uncomfortable and even upset at times as Bo’s control and choices seemed to be constantly manipulated away from her. While the book is clearly trying to alleviate worries young readers might have about joining a blended household by showing that they’ll be happy in the end, Sophie felt that the wrong message was being deployed – just suck it up and accept the changes because you’re going to be ignored and have no choice about anything anyway.
Sadly, this isn’t a book Sophie will be returning to any time soon, but that won’t stop her from trying more from this author in the future, and just look at that stunning cover art too!
When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura
Sophie wasn’t sure when she’d be ready to read her first book set during the Covid-19 pandemic but plunged into When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura in the hope that it would set a positive precedent, something it most certainly did!
Shayla, Liam, Ai, and Ben are four middle schoolers who live in the same apartment building. When COVID-19 closes their school and locks them all inside, the four face new challenges. Shayla’s dad is a fashion designer who finds all his orders canceled because no school means no prom and no prom means no need for prom dresses. Liam suffers from anxiety and panic attacks that have been exacerbated by the thought of an invisible attacker lurking on every surface, but he has to manage his feelings to help look after his little sisters. Ai’s mum has fallen into a deep depression, her sister is locked in her room studying for finals, and despite being stuck at home with her family, Ai has never felt more alone, meanwhile Ben will do anything to escape his parents’ increasingly loud and bitter fights.
Facing these challenges while also navigating their own fractured relationships, the four ‘tweens soon find that they can work together and make their world a better place by helping their neighbors and the building’s Super. However, when George Floyd is murdered and protests erupt on the streets nearby, the kids have to decide how far they’ll really go to help their community.
Sophie loved this fast-paced book and raced through it in little more than a day. The book brought back all the most positive memories she had of the earliest months of COVID lockdown when communities rallied together to help their neighbors and produce facemasks when supplies were limited. Of course, these same pages could be triggering to anyone who struggled during that time and especially for anyone who lost a loved one to the disease—one part of the book Sophie didn’t like was that the fate of a neighbor taken to hospital was never resolved.
Sophie also appreciated that the Black Lives Matter protests were included so prominently in the latter half of the book and the related social justice issues discussed in ways that would be relatable to young readers. The four main characters each belong to different racial groups and so each of them relates differently to the events they see and hear, making the book extra relatable to all young readers.
Rockstar Detectives by Adam Hills
Sophie has been a fan of Australian comedian Adam Hills since she watched him hosting the UK’s paralympic coverage in 2012. When she learned that he had written his first middle-grade novel, Rockstar Detectives, while in quarantine, she knew she had to pick it up.
Twelve-year-old Charley Parker is a newly minted rockstar and a viral sensation out on her first tour across Europe where she is performing regularly to hundreds of young fans. Also in tow is her best friend and videographer George whose video of Charley singing at their London school sparked her rise to stardom. However, after Charley’s show in Amsterdam, the pair find themselves interviewed by a local detective investigating the theft of a painting at the Van Gogh Museum—a painting that Charley and George both admired that very afternoon as part of an assignment set by their teacher.
Shaking off the strange coincidence, Charley and George head to their next show in Rome, but when yet another artifact is stolen the night after they were seen admiring it, rumors start to spread. Now Charley and George are under serious suspicion from the police and their fans are starting to have doubts too. It’s up to Charley and George to solve the crime before the tour is canceled and they find themselves behind bars, but who is behind the thefts, and why are they doing it?
This was a fun, fast-paced story with a refreshingly diverse pair of protagonists. Sophie doesn’t think she has ever read a novel starring a character who uses a wheelchair (and even if she has, there clearly aren’t nearly enough such books) and loved seeing the world through George’s perspective because, as he puts it, he, “sees the world on a different level to everyone else.” George’s goal to become a comedian is also something Sophie doesn’t recall ever reading before which gave the writing a very unique—and funny—style.
While the story itself was a fairly typical middle-grade mystery (both Sophie and her husband had figured out “whodunnit” well before reaching the halfway point) the characters, interesting settings like the Colosseum in Rome and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and other unique elements like Charley’s viral fame and George’s comedy ambitions all work together to make this a great debut that young readers will love.
The Science of Surfing by Kim Dwinell
Sophie has never been surfing. If she’s being honest, she will probably never go surfing. Partly because she lives nowhere near the coast but mostly because she’s a truly terrible swimmer and has a mild phobia of being splashed in the face—she’s never even been down a water slide. However, her best friend is an avid surfer who regularly rides the waves off the shores of Malibu, and so she has what she recently saw termed on TikTok as a “Contact Special Interest” in the subject—where you have an interest in something simply because someone you care about cares about the thing. That’s why she picked up The Science of Surfing, a graphic novel by Kim Dwinell.
The Science of Surfing is a spin-off from a graphic novel series called The Surfside Girls in which BFFs Sam and Jade investigate mysteries while surfing, however, you don’t need to have read any of the books or even heard of them (Sophie hadn’t) to enjoy this. While the book characters provide the narration, this is technically a non-fiction book that looks at all the science around surfing—largely focused on physics and biology. In the physics section, readers will learn about tides and waves, the weather, and even the moon as its cycles determine much to do with the oceans. The biology section looks at all the creatures you might come across while surfing, from the beach to the intertidal zone (think rock pools) and out in the water itself—lookout for sharks!
The rest of the book takes a look at strange ocean phenomena such as bioluminescence; how to be a good steward by taking part in beach clean-ups, volunteering, and investing in reusable water bottles and bags; and of course, there’s a look at how to actually surf including how to stand up on your board without falling off and the “rules of the road” regarding who has right of way on a wave.
This was a really interesting introduction to the world of surfing that covered dozens of topics in a short space but never felt rushed. Sophie loved the bright, watercolor illustrations throughout, and found that the conversational style from the two young narrators never felt condescending, just fun. There was a lot of physics packed in here—they even take a look at the mathematical formula for wavelength—but by relating everything to surfing, it all felt easy to understand and appealing to the younger audience the book is aimed at. Although Sophie is well outside that age group, she really enjoyed this book; it was almost enough to make her want to climb on a board herself…
100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul
Sophie grew up with the internet. As a millennial, she’s in that unique generation who experienced largely analog childhoods but digital teenage years (she herself got her first computer with an internet connection aged 12), meaning she grew up on both sides of the digital divide and experienced first hand the shift from one to another. 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul is exactly what it sounds like, a look at 100 things that have disappeared as the internet took over our lives. Sophie listened to the audiobook courtesy of Libro.fm.
Stretching from silly, innocuous items to hard-hitting ones with potentially dire repercussions, this fast read covers an exceptionally wide variety of topics including voicemail (when did you last leave one or record your own personal message for recipients), blind dates (can you imagine going on one today without at least a cursory pre-emptive Google), the Rolodex (spotted one on any CEO’s desks recently?—didn’t think so), and surprises at high school reunions (we saw it all on Facebook months ago). Some of the entries were predictable, but others were things it hadn’t even occurred to Sophie had gone until they were pointed out.
While some chapters are short and often funny—the one on attention span immediately comes to mind—others are far longer and worthy of more in-depth analysis, after all, who knows what the long term repercussions of our kids’ teenage years being documented online by the second and with no regard to privacy will be. Sophie is certainly glad that her own teenage self escaped the perils of omnipresent social media.
Sophie loved this book which filled her with a mix of nostalgia but also prompted her to think about making some changes to her digital life in order to reclaim some more time away from the internet.
Sylver and Gold by Michelle Larkin
Trigger Warning: Child abuse, detailed descriptions of gruesome crime scenes, torture, necrophilia, stalking.
Sylver and Gold by Michelle Larkin is a detective novel with a few twists that has been sitting on Sophie’s virtual TBR pile for several years. She finally picked it up in an attempt to clear some books from her Kindle backlist and ended up wondering why she put it off for so long.
Detective Reid Sylver works homicide for the Boston police department and maintains an unbelievable 100% case solve rate. A loner, her only partner is her disfigured dog Mug who she keeps as close as she pushes everyone else away. That is until her captain dies and her new lieutenant assigns a rookie—London Gold—as her new partner. Sylver is angry but mostly deeply concerned. Having a partner watching her back means it will be difficult to maintain the secret she has lived with since childhood that also accounts for her incredible record: Sylver can speak to the dead.
The same day, Sylver comes across a spirit who leads her to the body of an elderly woman killed in a disturbing manner. Soon, it’s obvious that a new serial killer is stalking Boston, but this particular killer appears to have a personal connection with Sylver and knows too many of her secrets. An expert hacker, the killer seems to have eyes and ears everywhere. At the same time, Sylver realizes she is attracted to her new partner and the young rookie seems to feel the same way in return. As the killer escalates in violence—threatening to reveal Sylver’s secret—and the attraction between the two detectives heats up, can they figure out who is behind the murders and deal with their own lust before the killer strikes close to home?
Sylver and Gold was a surprisingly short and enjoyable LGBTQ detective thriller with an interesting paranormal twist. The main character Sylver felt highly relatable and it was interesting to watch her secrets unfold and see how she approached the challenges thrown at her. The relationship between her and Gold did seem to grow a little too quickly, especially given Sylver’s well-established loner personality, but given the short length of the book that feels understandable. Sophie also loved the relationship between Sylver and Mug, enough that she feels inclined to drop a tiny spoiler here for anyone who might be concerned—the dog remains uninjured throughout!
The vibe of the book did seem a little confused at times. The writing style and pace felt more akin to a cozy mystery but the detailed descriptions of horrific crime scenes, references to necrophilia, and frequent mentions of child abuse give it a much darker tone, along with the stalker element that stemmed from a serial killer able to access seemingly any camera or microphone. Still, provided you have a reasonably strong stomach, this was an enjoyable and surprisingly light and fun (especially given the topics covered) read with some unusual elements that help it stand out from the crowd.
It’s Your Funeral!: Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime—Before It’s Too Late by Kathy Benjamin
No one likes talking about funerals or thinking about the death of loved ones, but these are topics we should be discussing more often. They certainly have been of late in Sophie’s family with some relatives recently sharing their decisions to pre-purchase cremation plans and others updating their wills. That’s why, when Sophie spotted It’s Your Funeral!: Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime—Before It’s Too Late by Kathy Benjamin she knew she had to read it. What she didn’t expect was for it to be laugh-out-loud funny!
It’s Your Funeral is a book that aims to “demystify death, decrease your anxiety, and put the fun back in funeral.” The brightly colored and fun (honestly) book looks at every aspect of funerals from ancient traditions to ideas so modern you’ve probably never heard of them—plastification and body farms anyone? It asks questions Sophie hadn’t even thought about such as which burial methods are the most eco-friendly, explores how to manage your digital legacy (and what you might want to think about protecting from sensitive eyes), and even invites you to think about what songs you’d like to have played at your funeral and the clothes you’d like to be buried in. For the record, if anyone tries to lay Sophie to rest wearing pantyhose—she’s coming back to haunt you. Speaking of hauntings, one page even offers tips on how best to plan for that if it’s a personal goal!
All throughout the book are work pages with space for you to write down your thoughts, ideas, and wishes. You can describe what you’d like done with your ashes (did you know that having them turned into tattoo ink, a vinyl record, or even a firework are all options?), list items you’d like to take with you to the great beyond and where you’d like them placed on your body, make a note of readings you’d like spoken and by whom, and even write your own epitaph and/or obituary. All throughout, the book encourages you to have fun—it’s YOUR funeral after all. Have you thought about what photos of you your loved ones might use for future obituaries or service sheets? Why not leave a folder on your computer titled “Photos Where I Look Super Hot to Use After I’m Dead” with some of your favorites in? Or why not request that your family form a flash mob and “perform an intricately choreographed interpretive dance to Adele’s Someone Like You every year on the anniversary of your death”? It’s really up to you!
This is a book that really got Sophie thinking. It’s one she would like to buy for several people she knows, but also feels slightly awkward about doing so—”Hey! Happy birthday! Here’s a book about planning your funeral…” For now, she’s working through several of the worksheets herself and making sure to talk to her family about her (and their) wishes. She recommends you do the same.
GeekMom received copies of all titles featured here for review purposes.
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