Have You Heard
… the haunted house movie that was rated R just for being scary? Yep, that’s right. The Conjuring has no gore, no foul language, no objectionable content. It’s just that terrifying.
The story itself is not particularly unusual – a family moves into an old New England home, only to realize that the house is infested with malevolent, demonic spirits. The family calls upon Ed and Lorraine Warren, two renowned demonologists, to investigate and cleanse the house, but the demons aren’t leaving without a fight. To add an extra creepiness factor, the movie is based on the actual case files of the Warrens, who made a name for themselves in real life by investigating so-called paranormal phenomena, including the infamous Amityville Horror case. And intertwined with the main storyline is another real-life Warren investigation, this time involving a possessed doll that looks as though it just crawled up from the mouth of Hell.
The filmmakers make excellent use of camera angles and subtle Hitchcockian tricks, such as banging doors, unseen voices, and a pair of clapping hands that had me jumping out of my skin. In all my years of horror movie watching, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The build-up of suspense is masterful, the scares are genuine, and the terror lingers long after the movie ends. Believe me when I say that we will be hearing about this movie for a long time to come. And for anyone who appreciates the value of a genuine scare, The Conjuring is a must-see. It will scare the living daylights out of you.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the amazing, dangerous, and beautiful things you can do with the proper application of chemistry and physics? Mad Science 2, by Theodore Gray, collects short articles explaining the concepts behind more than thirty projects, including incinerating a diamond and cutting steel with bacon. This book covers everything from how carbide miner’s lamps worked to charging a cell phone using an apple and pennies.
Each article has a brief description of the experiment and the scientific principles involved, an overview of how it was done, several amazing photographs, and the warnings. They are very serious warnings because many of the projects displayed in this book are extremely dangerous. You, yes you, could do these experiments with the proper training (and/or supervision) and the right equipment. If you don’t have that, enlist the help of someone who does. While you’re working on that (or if you don’t mind getting your excitement second hand), read this book and pick out your favorite experiment — turning a frozen turkey into a fireball, sticking your hand in liquid nitrogen, creating a shower of sparks, freezing mercury…. There are so many cool things that it’s hard to pick one.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… the time-traveling serial killer from Chicago’s past?
The phrase that seems to draw most readers in to Lauren Beukes’s novel, The Shining Girls, is “time traveling serial killer,” which in my opinion, is pretty much all you need to know. Harper Curtis is a man from depression-era Chicago, who stumbles upon the House, which allows him to travel through time and kill these “shining” girls. He does not know these girls, or why they must be killed, but he does so anyway, leaving behind an object from his previous victim as a calling card of sorts. One of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survived, and several years later she enlists the help of a Chicago Sun Times sports reporter named Dan Velasquez to help her track the killer down.
The genre blending at work in this story blew my mind…besides being a serial killer suspense novel involving time travel, there are historical elements at work as well, since Harper travels through Chicago at multiple points in time, plus a smidgen of early 1990’s Chicago sports, since Kirby’s ally at the Sun Times covers the 1993 season for the Cubs. This unexpected blend kept me absolutely riveted.
As a main character, Kirby Mazrachi is a fantastically tough and determined heroine who uses her traumatic near-death experience as energy to keep searching for her would-be killer. I was particularly drawn to her witty, yet sarcastic demeanor - she came across as a strong, yet flawed character. Realistic without being melodramatic. As an adversary, Harper is a frightening villain. While I would have welcomed more of his back-story, his relentless pursuit of these women and his detached, cruel nature help transform him into a believable bad guy. Perhaps not the most dimensional, but certainly frightening.
The story itself jumps back and forth through time as easily as Harper, which admittedly made the first half of the book a bit difficult to follow. Not impossible, just something I had to make sure I paid attention to. But the method and the patterns began to emerge in the second half and suddenly everything started to make a little more sense. It’s definitely a clever plot device, and one that lends itself to another reading, just to pick up on the clues that I missed the first time around.
The book is not perfect, but it has its own unique charm that kept me spellbound. And it could make a good suggestion for anyone looking for something “different” to read, because I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the importance of consideration for others in our busy world? I just finished The Wisdom of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan. It’s one of our new books and an excellent choice if you are struggling with understanding compassion.
It is set up a little different than other books by the Dalai Lama in that it is very story like. By that I mean it isn’t purely didactic but reads like a novel with a main character who keeps injecting knowledge by his actions, words, and interchanges with other world leaders and many interesting people I never even heard of. Here is a “humble monk” as he calls himself who never proselytizes about Buddhism but imparts his worldly wisdom in a way that everyone can accept and enjoy.
Reviewed by Richard (staff)
… the school for carousel carving or Winchester hats? Take an armchair trip with the Discoveries … America. Tennessee DVD. Home to country singer Dolly Parton, you’ll visit Music City USA – Nashville, where only one talented singer makes an impression out of thousands who try each year. Most end up waiting tables or singing on the street. Of course no visit is complete unless you visit the Grand Ole Opry. Did you know that the Smokey-the-Bear type hats worn by most law-enforcement personal are made at the Winchester Hat Factory in Tennessee? It’s an interesting process to see different fibers blended together to make these hats.
Have you ever ridden on the carousel at the State Fair? You can actually attend a school to learn to carve these beautiful animals. Did you know that Tennessee has the largest freshwater pearl farm in America? This is a fascinating segment that shows how pearls are grown. You won’t want to miss the Mississippi Queen Riverboat ride. From Cincinnati to New Orleans, the overnight accommodations and food are to die for. You can pick up the trip from just about any place on the Mississippi River and go as far as you’d like. I’ve done this trip several times and done the short hops as well, and you always see something different. The Holladay Bluegrass & Fiddlers Jamboree is always fun and you meet a lot of interesting people.
The Discoveries …America series is 51 DVDs, each about one hour long, of all of the states (plus Washington, DC) and the famous and not-so-famous things to see and do in each state. They will give you lots of things to learn or ideas to incorporate into your next vacation.
Reviewed by Terry (staff)
… Sheryl Sandberg’s sensational and controversial book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead? This book, which takes a look at modern-day perceptions and expectations of women in the work place, has sparked a lot of heated debates about politics and feminism. But what is the book actually about?
The main point of the book is that women are still significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, and that today’s group of working women need to empower themselves to take risks, challenge themselves, and pursue their goals with passion and enthusiasm. Sandberg also talks about how modern women struggle under the impossible standard of perfection known as “having it all” – a career, a family, a supportive relationship, and a clean house, among other things. However, instead of arguing that women can only focus on their career or their family, Sandburg pushes for equality between men and women in terms of child care and domestic duties.
There have been a lot of counterarguments towards Sandberg’s book, but regardless of where your viewpoints stand, Sandberg’s book absolutely succeeds in reviving a long dormant conversation about the perspective of working women, and what we as women can do to help ourselves. As a way to get women thinking critically about their place in the working world and what they can do to empower themselves, this book is a great kick-starter. It got me thinking about risks I was and wasn’t taking, and how I could challenge myself so that it would pay off later in my career.
Regardless of your political views, this book is an excellent jumping-off point for a larger conversation. Does Sandberg’s argument have merit? You’ll have to read the book and find out for yourself.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the horrible beast that rampages through the town regularly, causing moderate property damage and making people to flee to safe hiding spots? With its fangs and horns and fearsome roar, our monster is undoubtedly the most amazing you have ever seen. For a limited time, you can also buy souvenir rubble, posters, and ice cream treats. Don’t leave town until you’ve been terrified by our Monster on the Hill!
Author and illustrator Rob Harrell does a wonderful job with this graphic novel. If a town’s monster is important to its tourist trade and social standing, what happens when the local monster gets depressed and just doesn’t feel like frighting the good fright any more? For one thing, disappointment is palpable in the streets of Stoker-on-Avon. (It makes the newspaper headlines, so it must be true.) For another, the city council gets desperate enough to send the local man of science to cure the monster, fortunately with a little unplanned assistance.
Monster on the Hill is a wonderfully fun, silly story with some sound advice for people who have gotten into a slump. Read it when you’re feeling blue and try some of the techniques that help the monster of Stoker-on-Avon get back into top form. (You should probably skip the trepanning though.)
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… the high school girl who held her tormentors responsible for her suicide? In Jay Asher’s critically acclaimed teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, Clay Jensen wakes up to find a set of cassette tapes on his front door from Hannah Baker, his classmate and long-time crush who killed herself two weeks previously. The tapes promise to detail the reasons why she killed herself, and they promise to name the people who led her to her decision. When a person received the tapes, that meant they played a role in Hannah’s death.
The story itself is told from Clay’s point of view as he listens to the tapes, but the text alternates from Clay to Hannah’s voice on the cassette tapes. And because of how Hannah has constructed her story, the reader is at the mercy of her narration. We can’t fast forward or skip ahead. We are drawn, little by little, into Hannah’s world.
After reading this book, I instantly understood why this has been such a noteworthy title in the world of young adult fiction. Besides being an unstoppable page turner, this is a very, very realistic and heart-wrenching story about how one person’s actions can have lasting repercussions. I have to admit, as a high school outcast, I related very strongly to the book. It brought back long-buried memories and realizations of how strongly I was affected by the people I went to school with. Obviously, my life did not end tragically like Hannah’s, but her experiences touched a nerve in me.
Teens will likely have an easier time relating to this story than adults, but as an adult, I can honestly say that the novel did its job. It drew me in, horrified me with stories of intentional and unintentional manipulation, and made me think about my own experiences. This is a powerful, yet universal story that should be required reading for every teenager.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)
… the humor surrounding man’s best friend? Matthew Inman takes a lovingly funny look at canines in My Dog: The Paradox. Dogs are ridiculously brave around dangerous things and fearful of things that can hurt them. They apologize if you accidentally trip over them. They’re as happy to see you return home when you’ve been gone for four minutes or four hours.
Inman brings his quirky art and irreverent humor to focus on dogs. He obviously loves them, despite admitting their flaws (poop features prominently in this book). Truthfully, though, who wouldn’t love “an explosive paradox composed of fur, teeth, and enthusiasm.” More than a funny book, this is an ode to dogs, noble and silly.
Reviewed by Fran (staff)
… why it’s a bad idea to raise five kids in a New York City apartment? Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan, is pretty much what we expect when we read something written by a comedian - short, humorous vignettes about a certain topic that could very likely have been pulled from the person’s stand-up routine…or in Gaffigan’s case, actually HAVE been pulled from his routine. But this doesn’t work against the book, mainly because I really, really like Jim Gaffigan!
I had to read this book in short segments, because his stories of trying to get his five wriggling children out the door with all of their clothes on made ME exhausted, and I don’t even have kids. If his main intent was to accurately convey his trials and tribulations as a parent, he succeeded ten times over. (For example, answering unanswerable questions, like “Why are you a stand-up chameleon?” or “Why don’t dogs get the chicken pops?”)
And occasionally, he does break form and talk about something serious and relevant, like the tendency of strangers to ask insensitive questions about the number of children a couple may or may not have. “I don’t mean to get up on a diaper box,” he says, “but individual liberties are all-important in this country…except when it comes to the number of children you have or don’t have.” A refreshing change of pace. But lest you worry that fatherhood is making him serious, Jim goes right back to comedy. “I say we just live and let live. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave enough to have five kids.” Point taken. But I don’t plan on having five children anytime soon.
Reviewed by Katie (staff)