Whoa Baby!: Favorite Books for Babies

Given that the two of us are such heavy readers, it’s probably no surprise that our kiddos also really enjoy books (even if they’re still a little young to read themselves). So we thought it would be fun to give some recommendations of books that our babies have enjoyed, given that the holidays are coming upon us fast and you may have kiddos in your life that could use some fun books to read.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Kitten’s First Full Moon” by Kevin Henkes

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, March 2004

Why Will and I Like It: I obviously like it for the kitten aspect. And as I want to forcibly instill a love of cats into my son, this was a favorite to read to him right from the get-go. Luckily, he also seems to really like it. The black and white pictures provide a lot of contrast, making it a book that even very young babies can appreciate. The story is simple and sweet with just enough repeated words that, as he’s gotten older, he can follow long and repeat some of them back. This is a Caldecott winner, so obviously it’s a big favorite with a lot of people, and there’s a reason why!

Book: “Little Blue Truck” by Alice Schertle, Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, May 2008

Why Will and I Like It: This has been a more recent favorite. I picked this book up on a whim before a long car trip this summer, and much to my surprise it became a quick favorite. The illustrations are lush and beautiful. And the bouncy, fun rhyme that makes up the story is fun for Will. He’s also recently begun to really like matching animal noises with the animal, and this book has been a perfect match for that neat, little trick. There are a bunch more “Little Blue Truck” books in this series, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be getting more for Christmas.

Book: “‘More, More, More!’ Said the Baby” by Vera Williams

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, 1990

Why Will and I Like this Book: This is an oldie, but a goodie. Another Caldecott nominated book, it’s been a favorite for many years. My mom got this book for Will this summer, and he had tons of fun reading it with her during our long visit. It features three short stories of babies running around being chased and loved on by their caregivers. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the rhythm and meter of the story are unique and beautiful. Will particularly appreciates having his nose, toes, and tummy tickled along with the babies in the book!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Candlewick Press, September 2017

Why Winnie and I Like It: My daughter has books that she obsesses over, and she has gotten to the point where she recognizes the spines on her shelf and grabs them with intent and vigor. “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke is a favorite of both of us, though probably for different reasons. For me, it’s the gorgeous artwork, the fun way of incorporating counting into a cute story, and a setting of an African marketplace with lots of different people and imagery. I think for Winnie it’s more about the colors and the repetition of the words as a baby keeps adding items to his mother’s basket. Regardless, “Baby Goes to Market” is one that we revisit over and over again.

Book: “Look, Look!” by Peter Linenthal

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 1998

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was the first book that my husband and I read to Winnie, as the black and white pictures with splashes of red is great for infant eyesight. When we incorporated reading into her bedtime routine at about three months, “Look, Look!” was the book, and it’s still a nightly read. Winnie likes the pictures, the sun and the cat especially get big smiles each night. I like the unique drawing style that probably is designed specifically for infant optics in mind. It’s a simple and generally plotless read, but we haven’t gotten sick of it yet.

Book: “Rocky Mountain Babies” by Wendy Shattil

Publishing Info: Farcountry Press, 2009

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was an impulse buy while my husband and I were visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Who knew that it would become one of Winnie’s favorite books (one she loves so much that she once burst into tears because we weren’t getting to it fast enough)? “Rocky Mountain Babies” introduces the reader to various animals that you can find in the Rockies, all in baby form. If you like baby animals, which Winnie certainly does, this will be a hit. I, too, like cute baby animals, and the rhyming scheme is easy to memorize, so if your child is holding the book up across the room in hopes you’ll read the page they’ve selected, all you have to do is tap into the ol’ memory bank and voila. Everyone’s happy. The photos really are adorable.

Not Just Books: October 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “The Great British Baking Show”

It’s back!!! I was very concerned that like many of my favorite shows, this was going to be delayed and/or cancelled this year because of The-Pandemic-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I swear, it’s trying to ruin everything! But not the happy, British baking fun times! Instead, the show created their own little baking bubble where everyone remained together throughout filming and were thus able to film a pretty standard season. We’re only a few episodes in, but it’s great as always. My husband and I always pick two favorites to win and see who comes out on top. I’m 2 for 1 so far (there were seasons where neither of us got it right), so I’m hopeful my picks come through again so I can maintain my lead!

Netflix Movie: “Enola Holmes”

Of course I watched this movie. It’s like it was practically made for me. Sherlock Holmes re-telling? Check. Millie Bobby Brown? Check. Superman? I mean, Henry Cavil? Extra extra check! This was such a charming little movie. The acting was all superb. It leaned into the quirkiness of its concept, and of course, historical mysteries are always my jam. It’s the kind of thing where my biggest criticism of it is why it couldn’t have been longer? Like a mini series or something! But alas, all good things and such. Perhaps they’ll do a sequel? They definitely leave it opened ended enough to support that. But knowing Netflix….*sigh*

Movie: “A Knight’s Tale”

I loved this movie when it came out. It was a go-to for me and my sister when we were younger and wanted a feel-good romantic comedy to watch. Sadly, she owned the DVD and cruelly took it with her to college. So it had been quite a while since I had seen it and I was thrilled when I saw it pop up on Netflix. Of course, watching it now is a bit bitter sweet, all things considered. But it’s still such a fun ride, if you get past the sadness. And also so weird! I want to be in the meeting where someone pitched this movie to producers. A medieval story about a knight, but with a bunch of modern music and anachronisms every where. Very weird, but it worked!

Kate’s Picks

TV Show: “Evil”

Oddly enough, it was my mother, a woman who doesn’t care for horror as a rule, who told me I should watch this show. Perhaps it’s not that shocking, given that she was a HUGE fan of shows like “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Evil” definitely harkens a bit towards shows like that in a lot of ways. It follows Kristen, a forensic psychologist, and Acosta, a man studying to be a Catholic priest as they go out, by orders of the Catholic Church, to investigate potential demonic and supernatural events to see if the Church should perform exorcisms and other rights. In lighter hands it could have been a feel good CBS show, but it’s dark and hell and can give a serious case of the creeps to its viewers. Even this self professed nonbeliever. I love Kristen, I love Acosta, and I love their companion Ben, a tech whiz who is there to find hard scientific evidence (played by the HILARIOUS Aasif Mandvi). Also, the always unsettling Michael Emerson is there to play a potential demon who wants to throw wrenches into the teams work.

Netflix Show: “The Haunting of Bly Manor”

Honestly, they had me at a creepy version of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” in the trailer. Well, also at the fact that this is the next Mike Flanagan famous haunted house story adaptation. Based on “The Turn of the Screw”, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” has updated the classic mind twisty story of a governess and her charges in the isolated countryside. Much like “Hill House” before it, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” takes themes from the source material to tell a new story, in which a Governess takes a position at the Country House Bly Manor watching a man’s niece and nephew, and starts to experience strange things. Flanagan and the others expand upon this, with new characters, an updated timeline, and some twists that make it all the more intriguing. Plus, creepy creepy moments and unsettling ghosts galore! It’s the perfect Halloween watch! But be sure to have tissues handy. I spent the last half of the series bawling on and off.

TV Show: “Canada’s Drag Race”

I was VERY happy with season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, and knew that I was going to be craving more drag show content as the year went on and my need for levity remained in midst of everything else going on. Well never fear, because The Great White North has its own offshoot drag competition! Enter “Canada’s Drag Race”! While it’s officially part of the RuPaul brand, instead of Ru and the usual set of judges, we have a three judge panel (consisting of Stacey McKenzie, Jeffry Boyer-Chapman, and “Drag Race” alum Brooke Lynn Hytes), a rotating host, and a group of awesome Canadian Queens ready to fight for the crown. I love seeing the drag cultures of different countries from around the world, and I also liked the stripped down and organic feel of this first season (a stark contrast to a now VERY regimented and commercialized U.S. “Drag Race”). Plus, all the Canadian references are just wonderful (including an “Anne of Green Gables” inspired look in episode 1). I hope that we get more of this in the future!

Monster Mash: Books Featuring Cool Monsters

Happy early Halloween! Like everything this year, COVID is affecting everyone’s usual holiday traditions. But, while Halloween itself may not look the same as what we’re used to, there is still good ole reading holding down the fort as a prime socially distanced activity. So while you might be able to get out to the costume parties, you can still hunker down with a bowl of candy all to yourself and a few good books featuring the creepy crawlies! Here’s a list to give you some ideas!

Book: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

I mean, the cover speaks for itself, right? Even having read it and knowing the story and ending, looking at the cover still gives me the creeps. This is the story of Alys, a girl growing up in a village near the woods. In the woods lurks the soul eaters as well as the Beast, each as powerful and mysterious as the other. For her part, Alys knows too much, making her an object of fear by her neighbors as well. Try and hide as she might, Alys and her secrets are dragged into the light, and she soon finds herself deep in the woods itself. There she will discover not just the Beast, but the beast within herself.

Book: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

This book definitely falls more firmly in the “fantasy” category than “horror.” But I wanted to included it for those of you (coughmecough) who are often a bit wary about wandering too deep into the scary stuff. Plus, it features some really neat monsters that are born from evil books, which is pretty unique as far as monsters go. Elisabeth has grown up in one of the Great Libraries, the massive fortresses built to not only house books, but to protect the populous from the books. Grimoires are powerful, and if not carefully warded, can burst forth into powerful monsters that can wreak havoc. But when disaster strikes and one makes its way free of the Great Library, Elisabeth is suspected and thrust out into the greater world to fend for herself. Soon she discovers that there may be more to the libraries, books, and magic altogether than she had thought.

Book: “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” by Stephen King

Of course a Stephen King book was going to make this list! Unlike Kate, I haven’t read as many of his books, but I did read this one as a teenager. I think the fact that it is equal parts a woodsy survival story as it is a horror novel is what initially drew me. The story features a 9-year-old girl, Trisha, who gets lost in the woods. But as if surviving alone in the wilderness while trying to find home isn’t hard enough, Trisha soon begins to suspect that she’s not completely alone. Something is out there. Something more than just wildlife. Following the good old horror trick of keeping the monster off the page for most of the book, this story will definitely raise the hairs on your arms!

Short Story: “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce

Though this is a short story as opposed to a full on novel, “The Damned Thing” is too good to be left off such a list. I read it in high school for my English class, and I was completely taken with the build of dread and partial epistolary narrative (I remember me and my friend Blake being like ‘what the HECK’ after reading it). After a man named Morgan ends up dead on a hunting and fishing trip with a friend, an inquest is called in. His companion says that he and Morgan kept hearing things, but not seeing anything, and Morgan kept referring to ‘that damned thing’ before being attacked by some invisible force. Then diary entries are produced, which chronicle Morgan’s final days as he has started to hunt a creature that cannot be seen. It’s so strange and unique, especially for the time it was written (the 1800s), and not really knowing what is going on just adds to it.

Book: “Mongrels” by Stephen Graham Jones

I just recently discovered Stephen Graham Jones and am kicking myself for not looking into his works before. So a book added to my list is his novel “Mongrels”. One might think ‘ah, a typical werewolf story’, but I have the feeling that this is probably so much more than that. Sure, it DOES have to do with a boy who is potentially going to age into his lycanthropy, but it also has a coming of age story at its very center. A boy who lives with his Aunt and Uncle has been on and off the road for his entire life, the group moving on when they’ve needed to to stay ahead of the law and suspicion. But now things are starting to catch up to them, and the boy starts to sort out his identity. Jones is known to bring in some really good social commentary into his stories, and issues of identity, poverty, and family are sure to come together in powerful ways. All while dealing with werewolves!

Book: “The Devil In Silver” by Victor LaValle

If the setting in a run down and underfunded mental institution isn’t enough to give you the creeps, why not throw in being held there against your will AND a monster with a bison head terrorizing the patients? If that sounds up your alley, “The Devil in Silver” should definitely be a monster book on your list. When Pepper is thrown into the psychiatric ward at New Hyde Hospital, he knows he doesn’t belong there as he doesn’t have a mental illness. He doesn’t remember what he did to get committed, however. And it becomes clear that being involuntarily committed is the least of his problems, as a monster with a bison head is running around at night, scaring people nearly do death. Pepper recruits a few other patients to try and help him fight the monster, and to hold the hospital accountable for its misdeeds. Super weird, and definitely unsettling as well as scary.

What monster books do you like? Let us know in the comments!

Highlights: October 2020

It’s that time of year, folks! The time of year where the days start to get shorter, the wind and leaves dance through the air, and the scary and spooky feelings of Halloween get kicked up as well! Though it’s probably going to be a very different Halloween this year than we’re used to, that isn’t going to stop the feelings of the season. Kate has her Horrorpalooza reads all in order, and Serena is breaking out the cardigans. We also have books we’re looking forward to!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Return of the Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’ve been a fan of Whalen Turner’s “The Queen’s Thief” series for years now. It’s been a long haul, around 20 years I think, to get to this point, but here we are, the last book in the series! Luckily, each book in this series has read well enough as a stand-alone, completely its own story arc fully and leaving the characters in places that aren’t too unstable which has made the wait time between books much more bearable. So it will be bitter sweet to finally pick this one up and know we’re truly at the end of the line. Sadly, I was remiss on putting my name on the holds list at the library, so it will probably be a bit before I get around to reading this and reviewing it. Unless I break down and buy it…we shall see!

Book: “Murder on Cold Street” by Sherry Thomas

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Yet another book that is continuing a much-loved series. While I did struggle a bit with the previous book in this series, I’m still a big fan of Thomas’s writing style overall and her unique take on the Sherlock Holmes story. With a return to England and a return to a good old murder mystery, I’m hopeful that this book will return to some of the strengths that originally drew me in to this series. I’m also still intrigued by where the romance between Charlotte and Lord Ingram is ultimately headed. Will we see any new developments (finally!) in this one?

Book: “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Why I’m Interested: A break to all the continuations of book series comes in the form of a new, stand-alone novel by V.E. Schwab. The story sounds super originally, following the centuries-long life of a woman cursed/blessed to live forever but to never be remembered. Until, of course, she finally meets someone who does remember. I’m really intrigued by the entire concept, and if anyone is capable of pulling it off, it’s Schwab. The last thing I read from her was her YA duology which was…ok. But she also really wowed me in the with her “Shades of Magic” trilogy and other standalone works. In a lot of ways, this book doesn’t sound anything like what she’s written before, so I’m curious to see what she’ll do with it!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark

Publication Date: October 13, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I was a big fan of the book “Lovecraft Country” when I read it a few years ago (no I haven’t started the show yet, but I will!), and reading the description of “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark gave me some similar vibes. “Ring Shout” takes the idea of American Racism as the true horror and adds some cosmic and inter-dimensional elements as well. Three Black women are working to rid the world of Klu Kluxes, demons from another world that have been summoned by a sorcerer (D.W. Griffith, the man who brought the racist film “Birth of a Nation” to the screen), that have started amplifying the racist hate of the white people in this country. Led by the intrepid Maryse Bordeaux and her sword, these women and others hope to fight off the demons and bring justice to Black and other marginalized people before The Klan takes over. Unique concept and biting satire, a great combination.

Book: “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan

Publication Date: October 6, 2020

Why I’m Interested: True crime podcasts continue to be a big part of my entertainment life, and so I always like seeing books that take that idea and run with it. So I was, of course, very interested when I stumbled upon “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan on a ‘Fall Thrillers’ list. It follows Dee, an amateur podcast host whose show focuses on people who have gone missing, in hopes of getting information and attention that can lead to them being found. What her listeners don’t know is that she was a girl left behind in a notorious kidnapping case, where he childhood best friend was kidnapped before her eyes as hasn’t been seen since. Now, just as her podcast is getting more attention, another girl in her town is taken without a trace. Dee wants to help, but wants to keep her identity secret, and her own traumas under control. I’m sure it will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Book: “The Haunting of Beatrix Greene” by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter

Publication Date: October 28, 2020

Why I’m Interested: The Halloween season wouldn’t be complete without a ghost story or two, so look no further than “The Haunting of Beatrix Greene”, a joint effort by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. Beatrix Greene is a medium working during the first Spiritualist obsession in the 1800s. The only issue is that she’s a fraud who is just trying to make ends meet. When she’s invited to Ashbury Manor by noted scientist and skeptic James Walker, she is hesitant, but wants to make him eat his hat. James has his own motivations for wanting her to be there, potentially exposing her as a fraud not at the top of the list. But both of them are completely shocked when they and their companions find themselves in a very haunted house…. and in grave danger. What a way to top off the Halloween season!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Not Just Books: September 2020

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Lucifer” Season 5

After many Covid-related delays, the first half of “Lucifer” season 5 dropped in late August. I think it probably took me like two days to binge it? In most ways, it’s everything one would expect, which is both good and bad. The cast is, of course, still excellent and the show doesn’t hesitate to lean into the silliness of its own concept. However, the longer it has been on Netflix and the more it has dived into its own supernatural storylines, the aggressively episodic approach to much of its storytelling seems to feel more and more out of touch with where the show itself wants to go. Maybe part of that feeling has to do with the fact that season 5 has been split into two parts which further weakens the serialized elements that are present. I think the second half is set to come out sometime in early 2021, so we’ll see how that plays out. I’m still enjoying the heck out of this, either way.

Video Game: “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt”

Perhaps foolishly, I decided recently that I needed a new video game to immerse myself in. I’d already played through “Skyrim” a few times and with the sequel seemingly stuck in development for….forever, I turned to another super popular fantasy franchise. I still haven’t gotten around to watching the Netflix show for this game/book series, though my love of Henry Cavil is never-ending. So it will be interesting to play this game through and then compare it to that show whenever I do get around to it. I’m still barely into the main plot line, but I’m enjoying the familiar-feeling open world concept and so far the plot and dialogue have been interesting and engaging. I’m now mostly feeling guilty for starting this without my husband…

Movie: “The American President”

So, politics…yeah, they’ve been a thing. And whenever I feel like I’m beginning to become overwhelmed with pessimism regarding politics, my go-to is usually a re-watch of “The West Wing.” But at 7 seasons long, that’s quite the commitment, so this time around I turned instead to its predecessor and inspiration: “The American President.” Re-watching this movie, it’s so clear the connections between these two. Mostly, it’s the clever dialogue and the supremely idealistic imaging of what politics, and the White House in general, could be. The lovely romance at its heart is pretty swell, too.

Kate’s Picks

Movie: “Bill and Ted Face The Music”

I have been a huge, huge, HUGE “Bill and Ted” fan ever since I was about six years old and saw “Excellent Adventure” randomly. When I found out that they were going to make a third one with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter coming back to play their roles of Ted and Bill, I was ecstatic that I would finally be able to see a “Bill and Ted” movie in the theater!!…. And then COVID found another way to ruin something. But I went for the VOD option at my house, and my gosh, it was everything I needed. In this long awaited third film, Bill and Ted are now middle aged, and still haven’t written the song that is supposed to bring synchronicity to the universe. When Rufus’s daughter Kelly comes to tell them that they need to do it now, they start a new time traveling adventure… But along with that, their daughters Billie and Thea go on their OWN adventure through times in hopes of helping their dads. It’s sweet, it’s wholesome, it’s everything 2020 needs to make it a little gentler. And yes…. The Grim Reaper is back.

Netflix Show: “Cobra Kai”

So I watched the first few episodes of “Cobra Kai” when it premiered on YouTube a few years ago, but couldn’t justify getting YouTube Red to finish out the series. Which pained me, because I loved the continuing stories of “Karate Kid” characters Johnny and Daniel. So when I found out that Netflix got the rights to it, I was ECSTATIC. “Cobra Kai”, as I’ve mentioned on here before, follows Johnny, the bully from “Karate Kid” whose life hasn’t really gone very far, and his journey to reopen the Cobra Kai karate studio, this time attracting misfits and weirdos. Daniel, the hero from the movies, is living a GREAT life now… but is stuck in the past. When they meet up again, old rivalries start up once more. What I love most about this show is William Zabka’s new take on Johnny, and showing how a lot of his worst characteristics are and were the result of serious childhood traumas and baggage. Plus, this show is wildly funny, and the new karate students, especially the sweetheart Miguel, are charming as hell.

TV Show: “The Vow”

Will I ever get enough NXIVM content? It seems that I won’t, because even though I’ve listened to podcasts and read books about the cult, I am now obsessed with the HBO docuseries about it. “The Vow” has actual footage from the likes of Keith Raniere and his creepy minions in action, and follows former members who had deep ties to the group until they started to realize that something was very, very wrong. The most interesting aspect of this is that the footage is something you wouldn’t expect from an expose like this, but the people who made it had been documenting the group and its members before everything hit the fan and Raniere, Alison Mack, Nancy Salzman, and others were arrested for sex trafficking. It’s super interesting being able to see these primary source interviews of some very manipulative and dangerous people.

Who Wrote It: Lesser-Known Titles from Favorite Authors

Many authors don’t come out the door swinging with a blockbuster book. And even when they do, over the course of their careers, there are usually some quieter novels that somehow seem to slip beneath the radar of the general reading public’s notice. So today we’re going to dig into those backlists and highlight some lesser-known titles from a few of our favorite authors!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Near Witch” by V.E. Schwab

Schwab seemed to come onto the scene around 2013 when her book “Vicious” first came out and took readers by storm. Since then she’s gone on to write a number of high profile works, including one of my favorite trilogies ever, the “Shades of Magic” series. But before that came this quiet, little fantasy novel originally published in 2011. In fact, it was so quiet that it was re-released in 2019 (after Schwab’s name had gained so much more buying power) with the hopes that it would garner more readership than it did in its first outing. It’s a lovely book, and as one of her earliest books, it’s easy to see the building blocks forming here for themes that she will dive more deeply into in coming books. It’s also a stand-alone, that rare and magical beast of fantasy fiction.

Book: “Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve already highlighted “Elantris” in previous lists, so while I do think that that book ranks as Sanderson’s most unknown title, I thought I’d go with another one that often gets overlooked in the huge list of titles this author’s produced. This is all subjective, of course, but I think that Sanderson first really came onto the epic fantasy scene with the release of “Mistborn,” published in 2006. So that makes this book, published in 2009, one of those strange cases where a book by an already-popular author seems to fall through the cracks. Mostly this is probably due to the stand-alone nature of the book when Sanderson was already beginning to make a name for himself as an epic fantasy series author. But this book is simply fantastic and probably has my favorite cover of all of his works. It features his usual strong female-characters and intricate magic system, this time based around color and music. It’s a delightful book and one definitely worth checking out for fans of Sanderson’s work or of epic fantasy in general.

Book: “Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier

Not only is Marillier one of my favorite authors ever, but she’s been consistently producing fantasy works for over twenty years now since her first book,”Daughter of the Forest,” came out in 1999. Over that period of time, her “Sevenwaters” books and their off-shoots have been by far her most popular and well-known titles. But she’s also quietly produced several stand-alone novels and duologys. Like her first book, “Heart’s Blood” is a fairytale re-telling. What’s more, it’s a “Beauty and the Beast” re-telling! My favorite! But among the many interwoven books that Marillier has produced over time, this one stands on its own and often gets left unnoticed. Which is such a shame given how beautiful a story it is. Plus, it has a very unique approach to re-imaging one of the most popular (and challenging!) fairytales out there. If you love “Beauty and the Beast,” or fairytale re-tellings in general, this is one to add to your TBR list!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “20th Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is becoming more and more popular thanks to adaptations of his works “Locke and Key” and “N0S4A2” being brought to the TV screen, but I think that one of his lesser known titles, and one of my favorites, is the short stories collection “20th Century Ghosts”. Hill runs a complete gamut in his storytelling her, from the legitimately disturbing “Best New Horror” (in which an editor for a horror anthology tries to meet the elusive author of a twisted story), to the bittersweet “Better Than Home” (the story of a relationship between a boy with special needs and his father), to the fascinating “Abraham’s Boys” (a spin off to “Dracula” where Van Helming moves to America and raises his two sons to be vampire hunters). This collections makes it easy to find a story of Hill’s that you can relate to and enjoy, and it also shows off his vast talent as an author with a deft ability to hop from genre to genre and give them all solid representation. If you are just discovering Hill now, you definitely need to read “20th Century Ghosts”.

Book: “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin

While these days most people associate George R.R. Martin as the guy who created (and has neglected to finish) “A Song of Ice and Fire”. This probably means you think high fantasy when you hear his name. But did you know that he wrote a story about a vampire on a steamboat traveling down the Mississippi River? It’s true! “Fevre Dream” was actually the first thing of Martin’s that I read, and it took me years to actually make the connection between these two very different works. In the mid 19th Century, a riverboat captain named Abner Marsh is approached by a wealthy mysterious man named York. York wants Marsh to take him down the Mississippi, though he isn’t very forthcoming as to why. Marsh, needing the money, takes the job… And then finds himself a travel companion to someone who may not be human. If you like vampire stories and Martin’s other works, give this one a shot!

Book: “The Running Man” by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

This one may be a bit of a cheat, but too often have I been talking about the movie “The Running Man” with someone only to blow their minds that not only is it based on a book, it’s based on a book by Stephen King (writing as his old alias Richard Bachman). While it’s true that the movie and the book are pretty different in plot and tone, the basic premise is the same: in the first quarter of the 21st century, the U.S. has become a dystopian nightmare in which poverty, strife, and fascism have run rampant, and the most powerful man in America is the host of the show “The Running Man”. On this show people have to evade people who are trying to kill them. In the novel Ben Richards signs up in hopes of winning the prize to support his wife and baby, and has to stay alive long enough to collect. It’s dystopian angst to be sure, but it’s pulse pounding and suspenseful, and was one of the books that King got to push beyond expectations.

What are some of your favorite books that aren’t as well known by authors you love? Let us know in the comments!

Highlights: September 2020

The summer heat and humidity is slowly fading away, and the days are starting to get a little shorter. It was a very strange, somewhat lost summer that we experienced here in Minnesota, though we’re trying to get some final summer-y outdoor activities in before the cold and the pandemic sends us back inside. But along with those last summer activities, we also have books that we are looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

36253130._sy475_Book: “A Dance with Fate” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I really enjoyed the first book in Marillier’s new trilogy, “The Harp of Kings.” While I didn’t find the mystery itself super compelling, I was very intrigued by the new set of characters it introduced, mainly Liobhan and Dau. Judging by the book description, it seems that most of this story will be devoted to these two as well, which is fine by me. I’m curious whether we’ll see anymore of Brocc after the events of the last book, as it did seem that there were some mysteries left open-ended on his side. Either way, I’m always down for a new Marillier title, so I can’t wait to dive into this one!

45044785Book: “The Silvered Serpents” by Roshani Chokshi

Publication Date: September 22, 2020

Why I’m Interested: On the other end of the spectrum, I was not overly thrilled with the first book in Chokshi’s series, “The Guilded Wolves.” I’m definitely in the minority with this author as I’ve struggled in some way or another with all of the books by her I’ve read. But, again, the characters that were introduced were more compelling than the ones I’d found in her other stories, so I thought it was worth continuing on. Plus, the events at the end of the last book were pretty dramatic. Maybe too dramatic… *side-eyes this book for unnecessary angst potential*

50548197._sy475_Book: “A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Naomi Novik. Unequivocally. Completely. Utterly. So I was over the moon when I spotted this book on Edelweiss and instantly put out a request for it. The book description is somewhat vague…something about a dangerous, magical school and a main character who has some type of destructive abilities and a talent for not making friends? It’s also been hyped as a darker “Harry Potter,” which, could either be totally awesome or…worrying. But Novik hasn’t lead me wrong so far, so I’m going to place my bets on totally awesome. Can’t wait to find out!

Kate’s Picks

49127515Book: “Don’t Look For Me” by Wendy Walker

Publication Date: September 15, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I greatly enjoyed Wendy Walker’s previous novel “The Night Before”, and because of that I was very interested to see what she would come up with next. A missing woman, a daughter who is on the case, and the possibility that the wife and mother just walked away from her life due to guilt? I’m in! There isn’t much in terms of plot description, which no doubt means that Walker wants to keep things close to the vest as she has twists and turns in store. Regardless, Molly Clarke is a wife and mother who stopped in a small down on the way home, and never returned. While a note was found saying that she was running away from her guilt, her daughter isn’t so sure. And when a tip comes through that places her mother getting into a stranger’s car, she goes to investigate. Walker has delivered some intriguing thrills before, so “Don’t Look For Me” has some promise to do so again.

49246963Book: “Night of the Mannequins” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Given that I slept on this creepy and talented horror author Stephen Graham Jones until the book “The Only Good Indians”, I feel like I have some catching up to do. So I am excited to dive into a new horror novella that involves a potentially killer mannequin! Who doesn’t like the idea of a haunted doll story, especially ones that promise to have some tweaks upon the subgenre? Sawyer and his friends love playing practical jokes, and decide to pull one on their friend Shana, involving the use of an old mannequin named Manny they found when they were younger. But Sawyer soon realizes that Manny isn’t any old mannequin, and begins to believe that Manny wants them all dead once one of his friends is killed in a strange way. It’s up to Sawyer to save the people around him… But at what cost? This sounds like it will be a quick horror read just in time for the Halloween season!

49397758Book: “Grown” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publication Date: September 15, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Given that Tiffany D. Jackson is one of my favorite YA authors writing right now, I of course was supremely excited to hear that she had a new book coming out. And “Grown” sounds like it’s going to be a dark and difficult thriller that talks about some very relevant social issues regarding race, sexual assault, gender, and misogynoir. Enchanted is a teenager who has dreams of becoming a singer, and at an audition she meets the famous R and B star Korey Fields. Korey tells her that she has supreme talent, and that he wants to make her a star. Enchanted jumps at the chance, and when he starts to romance the underage girl she believes that they are falling in love… until Korey’s abusive and controlling side comes out, and he starts to control her every move. There are clear real life inspirations here, and while it’s almost assuredly going to be a hard read, I know that Jackson is going to bring lots of illumination to these difficult subjects.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Faster Than a Reading Bullet: A DC Characters Book List

While some may think that this is a reference to the much, uh, chattered about “Snyder Cut” of “Justice League,” it’s more due to the fact that 1) We are both DC fans and thought that they, too deserved a list of books, and 2) ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET TO SEE “Wonder Woman: 1984”!?!?!?! The heroes, heroines (and yes, villains) of the DC Comics universe have been around for a long time, and if we thought that while they, too, wait for their time to come back into the spotlight, we could recommend some books that a few of them may enjoy!

Wonder Woman: “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Like Diana, in Spooner’s take on the Robin Hood legend, Maid Marian must face what it means to be a hero in a world that’s not ready to see women in this light. Unlike Wonder Woman, however, Marian doesn’t have any super strengths, other than some skill with a bow. So instead of operating in the light, she must take on the name and persona of the recently deceased Robin of Locksley. Her story is one of bravery in the face of those who would tell her to stay in her place and that of a woman working to carve out her own space in a time and place that sees only one future for her, much like Wonder Woman’s own story.

Superman: “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien

This may seem like an odd choice, pairing up a more “sci fi” hero with the most traditional fantasy series out there…but stick with me. One of Superman’s defining characteristics is his strong sense of moral obligation to his self-appointed role as protector of Earth. He’s by no means forced to do it and, largely, suffers from taking on this burden more than he possibly gains. But he does it because he knows that only he can do it and thus feels that he must do it. In this way, he’s a perfect match for many of the reluctant heroes found in the LOTR series. Most, if not all, of the members of the Fellowship join because they feel that it is the only way forward and they are the only ones who can take on their particular role. Frodo just wants to go back to the Shire. Aragorn has no interest in his kingly heritage. But they, like the others, see a void that only they can fill and so they sacrifice their own wants for the greater good. Pretty Superman-like, huh?

Joker: “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

Who wants to see the world burn and feel justified in his belief that, removed from any societal pressure, humanity would break down into chaos?? Joker would! This classic tale of a group of boys stranded on an island who, over time, slowly lose sight of their own humanity is the perfect pairing for a villain who revels in trying to prove Batman wrong in his faith in the good at the heart of humanity and Gotham. The book description itself lists it as a novel about “the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.” You can’t get any more Joker than that.

Batman: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

Batman has gone through many interpretations, versions, adaptations, and characterizations since his debut as a superhero for DC. But we must remember that before he was known for being a brooding vigilante or a playboy millionaire, he was known as the world’s greatest detective. Which is why a nice noire would undoubtedly appeal to him, and where else can one turn but to Dashiell Hammett’s classic “The Maltese Falcon”. This story serves as the introduction of hard boiled private eye Sam Spade, and is one of the go tos for old school noire mystery love. Like Batman, Spade searches for the truth relentlessly, gets caught up in his darker feelings, and has a weakness for the bad girls that he meets while on assignment. There’s no doubt in my mind that Batman would at least find this book relatable, if not entertaining.

Lois Lane: “Ten Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly

Lois Lane, intrepid reporter and super-heroine in perhaps a more subtle way (as searching for truth in journalism is pretty darn heroic!), would have so many things to love about “Ten Days in a Mad-House”. For one, Nellie Bly was one of the first really well known woman journalists in this country, doing her work during the Victorian Era. “Ten Days in a Mad-House” would also appeal to Lois because it’s the story of Bly going undercover, pretending to be ‘insane’ so she would be committed to a mental institution so she could investigate claims of abuse and neglect of the inmates. Lois is known for being fearless, and I’m sure that she would love seeing the process and the work of a pioneer in her field.

Harley Quinn: “Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls” by Carrie Goldberg

Much like Batman, Harley Quinn has gone through a number of changes, though hers have been comparatively fast. While she used to be Joker’s codependent (and much abused) lady ‘love’, now she has found herself more independent, though still off the wall and a bit nutty. That said, the girl has a Ph.D in psychiatry, so with her own personal experiences and her love of the human mind, “Nobody’s Victim” would certainly be right up her alley. Carrie Goldberg is a victim’s rights attorney who targets serial harassers, violent exes, rapists, trolls, and stalkers, getting the kind of justice that her clients seek in hopes of preventing further victimization in the future. Her work has put her in dicey situations, but she’s tough as nails and doesn’t take crap from anyone while she confronts misogyny and abuse. Harley has had her own emancipation from this kind of thing as of late, and I think that she would love this book because of that.

There are so many other DC heroes and villains that we haven’t talked about. What books do you think some of them would like? Let us know in the comments!

 

Beach (Backyard?) Reads: Summer 2020

Back for 2020, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” (responsibly for a pandemic of course!) but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. Or maybe staycations this year. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

36524503._sy475_Fantasy Title: “The Bone Houses” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This book took me completely by surprise last fall and ended up making my “Top 10” list for the year easily. I also feel like it went largely unnoticed by most fantasy fans. For whatever reason, the hype train seemed to have missed it, and that’s a huge shame! This book is everything I look for in my YA fantasy titles. An excellent leading lady. A humorous side kick (this time in the form of an undead goat). A great romantic lead. And a fantasy tale that verges on a fairytale retelling, this time pulling themes from “The Black Cauldron.” And, of course, per the rules of this lists, it’s a stand-alone title that is completely and utterly satisfying to read all on its own. Not going to lie, I’ve been pretty much online stalking the author ever since to see when/if she’s coming out with something new soon! You’ll be sure to hear about it when I do!

13138635Science Fiction Title: “These Broken Stars” by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Man, that cover really dates this book. I mean, it’s not even ten years old (it came out in 2013), but the whole “ballroom gown” cover art for YA titles is definitely a thing of the past. While this book is technically the first in a trilogy, each book in this series tells a complete story of its own and each features a new set of characters, even if familiar faces pop up now and then in the later books. This, being the first book, definitely reads as a stand-alone. It also falls on the romantic side of science fiction and is that rare YA unicorn: a science fiction title written for young adults. It’s pretty much a survival story, as well, when our two leading characters find themselves crashed landed on a strange new world and have no one but each other to depend on. It’s been a while since I read this (and I wasn’t a fan of the sequel when I got to it and never read the third one due to that failure), but I definitely remember enjoying it, and I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

51318896._sx318_sy475_

Mystery Title: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

I read this one just this last spring, but it’s really stuck with me since as an exciting new beginning to a historical mystery series. Yes, yes, it’s the beginning of a series. But many mystery novels that I read are, but most can still be read individually, and this one definitely fits that bill with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Those who follow this blog know that I was pretty disappointed by the last Veronica Speedwell book to come out, so that made it all the more exciting to find a new lady sleuth. Lily Adler is a very different heroine than Veronica Speedwell. She’s a recent widow, for one things, which puts any romance plotline firmly on the backburner. She’s also a more quiet, introspective detective ala Sherlock Holmes than very flashy and bold. I really enjoyed the mystery itself, and she collects an interesting assortment of sidekicks along the way. One of whom is named Serena, so bonus!

32618152._sy475_Historical Fiction Title: “The Phantom Tree”

This is one of those historical fiction titles that definitely includes time travel, so it all borders on fantasy. But the historical fiction aspect of it is by far the predominant and other than the fact that time travel exists, it doesn’t stray much further into the realms of impossibility. The story follows Alison Bannister after she discovers a rare painting depicting a woman who is a historical mystery. But the woman in the painting, Jane Seymour, holds much closer ties to Alison than anyone would suspect, and in tracking down what happened to this woman, Alison begins to put together more puzzle pieces about her own life. The story features chapters from both Alison’s and Jane’s perspective, and the way the two’s story weaves together is both beautiful and tragic. It’s a lovey historical fiction title that is a great choice for a stand-alone read on a hot summer day.

Kate’s Picks

13129925Horror Title: “Horrorstör” by Grady Hendrix

This was my first experience with Grady Hendrix, and right away I knew that it was going to be super wacky! The book is designed like an Ikea Catalog, which told me everything I needed to know about Hendrix as an author. And “Horrorstör” is a great introduction to Hendrix’s work if you haven’t picked it up already. At the Orsk Furniture store, strange things are happening. Items are being destroyed overnight and no one knows what is happening. Amy, who works there any hates her job, is offered six hundred dollars to stay over night along with a few other employees, to keep an eye on things. But instead of vandals, they find some pretty angry spirits are at play. It has its scares, but it’s also a fun hoot as only Hendrix can deliver!

36388243._sy475_Thriller Title: “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman

I couldn’t pass up the chance to pick a book that takes place on a literal beach! Though this one might make you think twice about searching for oceanic buried treasure… Erin and Mark are a married couple who go on a luxurious honeymoon in Bora Bora, hoping for romance and pampering. But after a tropical storm runs through, they find a mysterious bag in the ocean… and it’s filled with a lot of money. Seeing an opportunity, they decide to keep the money, as there are no markings as to who it belongs to. But an owner it does have, and that owner will do almost anything to get it back. This apropos setting and thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat!

45754737Graphic Novel Title: “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame

You want something sweet, and perhaps a little melancholy? A story about relationships between brothers, between lovers, between parents and children? A story with an adorable little girl and a delightful Canadian and a slightly neurotic single father? Then you definitely need to pick up “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame! It follows the story of Yaichi, a single dad living in Tokyo, whose twin brother Ryoji has been out of touch with the rest of the family after being ostracized for being gay. When Mike Flanagan, a Canadian gay man, arrives on Yaichi’s doorstep to tell him that he is Ryoji’s widower, Yaichi’s world starts to change. You may need a tissue or two for this book, but it is lovely and adorable. I should note that it is manga and reads back to front and right to left, but it’s easy to get the hang of. And don’t let that stop you from reading this charming book.

44153387Non-Fiction Title: “The Feather Thief” by Kirk Wallace Johnson

I figured that for my non-fiction selection I should stick to a topic that is super interesting and intriguing, but isn’t steeped in blood, gore, and violence. So instead we look to a true heist story! In 2009 an American citizen strolled into the Tring Museum outside of London, and stole a number of rare bird feather specimens because he wanted to turn them into fly ties for salmon fishing. He then basically faded into thin air. Years later Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about this story, and immediately wanted to know what happened next. So he did his own investigation into it, and what he found out was staggering and strange. So if you want a true crime story that isn’t going to upset you but will still totally take you to the criminal mindset, “The Feather Thief” may be a good choice to read on a hot summer day by the backyard kiddie pool.

What books are you hoping to read this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Books with Memorable Dads

Our timing is a bit off, but we have a joint review we want to post next Monday, so…Happy early Father’s Day! And since we did a post highlighting books with memorable moms, it is only right that we create similar list of books with notable fathers! We both have great husbands who we’ve seen turn  into great dads over the last year, so we’re excited for this theme. Again, however, our list will include memorable father figures, so some may be good while other…not.

6969Book: “Emma” by Jane Austen

I’m in the middle of my reviews for this book for my “Year with Jane Austen” re-read, and it’s really reminding me how much of a figure Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father, plays in the story. (Plus, I featured Mrs. Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” in the last post, and what’s a good list without some shoe-horned Jane Austen book wedged in??) But Mr. Woodhouse is truly a great father figure. While he’s eccentric and needy, it’s also clear that he loves Emma more than anything. Emma herself declares early in the book that there’s not a wife alive who has a better position in her own than she does with her father. And even in the end, Emma is prepared to put her own marriage with Mr. Knightley on hold indefinitely because she knows that her father needs her more. But, luckily for all, Mr. Knightley decides to move in with them instead, making for a nice, little happy ending for all!

38619Book/Series: “Kate Daniels” series by Illona Andrews

I can’t spoil the series for you, but I will say that the Kate Daniels series does include a fairly notable father who plays an important role in the series. He doesn’t actually show up for several books in, but he’s referenced pretty often and only grows in importance as the series progresses. This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series, and it’s also complete, which is another bonus for anyone looking for something to jump into without needing to worry about being strung along by prolonged publishing schedules. Kate Daniels starts out as your fairly typical, badass urban fantasy heroine. But she goes through several evolutions throughout the series and is a completely different character, in many ways, by the end of the series. It also features a romance, of course, but luckily that never takes over the story or overshadows Kate’s on compelling journey.

11588 Book: “The Shining” by Stephen King

And now time for some not great examples of fatherhood: Jack Torrance. The book is pretty different than the famous movie featuring Jack Nicholson, but it’s also the same in as far as the father’s role goes. After taking a remote job as a winter caretaker for an old hotel, Jack and his family soon begin to feel just how isolated they truly are. And what once felt like a beautiful retreat, suddenly begins to feel like something more. Each, in their own way, will be touched by the powers growing around the Overlook Hotel. But Jack especially doesn’t handle things well and won’t be winning any “father of the year” awards any time soon. But he’s definitely notable, and one of the most famous fathers in literature.

6288._sy475_Book: “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

We’re going to be staying in a darker place for this book, but unlike Jack, the father in “The Road” is a man who protects his son at all costs in the wake of an unspecified extinction event. After the world has turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a man and his son are trying to make their way South in hopes of finding safety. Along the way they face harsh conditions, cannibals, violence, and a tragic past. “The Road” is not for the faint of heart, as the bleakness and disturbing imagery is all encompassing. But the relationship between father and son is deep and incredibly emotional as a man tries to keep his son safe on their journey. Definitely bring a box of tissues with you to this book. Just because Oprah picked it for her book club, that doesn’t mean it’s going to go easy on you. But the love a father has for his son is a constant shining light.

2657Book: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

While it’s true that the longevity of “To Kill A Mockingbird” may not be as long as we used to think in terms of how it approaches racism, one theme that still holds true is fatherhood. Atticus Finch is the single father to precocious Scout and serious Jem, and he instills patience, hard work, and tolerance into his two children. He tries to shield them from the ills of the world, but is also realistic enough that when he needs to have hard talks with his kids he is game to do so. And while he is a bit of a white savior when it comes to the African American community in the book, one aspect that still holds up is how he encourages understanding when it comes to recluse neighbor Boo Radley. Plus, raising two children on his own as a working widower during the Great Depression was never going to be easy. but Atticus does it, and raises two empathetic and curious individuals. Truly a simple but powerful depiction of fatherhood.

32075671._sy475_Book: “The Hate U Give”

While this book mostly centers on teenage girl turned activist Starr Carter, she is shaped and supported by her two parents, especially her father Maverick. When Starr witnesses a policeman shoot her unarmed friend Khalil, she is traumatized, and then begins to speak out more and more about what she saw, even when people on multiple fronts want to silence her. Maverick supports Starr in whatever she wants to do, and has also become a supportive and well respected member of his community through his own activism and role as an organizer. He not only supports the children he has with his wife, but the son he had when he was a younger man and making not very good choices. Maverick is driven and filled with pride for all of his children, and instills them with pride in their Black identities and their neighborhood. But he always prioritizes his children and their safety, especially and tensions surrounding the murder and his daughter begin to roil.

Who are some of your favorite fathers from literature? Let us know in the comments!