Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 12:48am

Have You Heard About... Otherbound

… the Dunelands and Alinean Islands in the Gray Sea? Neither has anyone else in Nolan’s world, but he can’t get away from them. Every time he closes his eyes — to sleep, to rest, even just to blink — he is transported from his own life in Arizona to that of Amara, a slave on another world. Nolan has no control over what Amara does or sees or thinks, but he shares her thoughts, sees through her eyes, and feels all of her pain and pleasure. He would do anything to be free of her, and she doesn’t even know that he exists.

This is the story of Corinne Duyvis’ Otherbound — two teenagers trapped together, neither with full control of their lives. Seeing two worlds is constantly distracting for Nolan, and when Amara is scared or hurt, it can be impossible for him not to be distracted by her world. Nolan’s family thinks he has a rare form of epilepsy, and his parents are doing everything they can to find the treatments that will help control his “seizures.”

Amara is a slave in service to the deposed princess, fleeing for their lives from the mages who want to kill her. Amara is forced to take on every punishment the princess might otherwise suffer because her own magic allows her to heal from almost any injury. Finally, one of the medications helps Nolan get some control over his connection to Amara, and they start to learn more about the mages of her world and the power that binds them together.

This is a fascinating fantasy adventure story with two teens caught up in circumstances (almost) beyond their control.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 12:33am

Have You Heard About... The Winter People

… the haunted woods in the middle of Vermont? West Hall, Vermont, was the home of the mysterious Sara Harrison Shea, who was found dead just months after the tragic death of her beloved daughter, Gertie. Sara’s presence lives on as a local legend, but the legend suddenly becomes more real when nineteen-year-old Ruthie discovers Sara’s diary under the floorboards of her house.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is billed as an atmospheric historical ghost story, although this label is a teensy bit misleading if you’re expecting a traditional ghost story. In this novel, the “ghosts” are actually known as “sleepers” - people who have been brought back from the dead. (Like a less intense version of Pet Sematary.) And like Pet Sematary, The Winter People examines themes of love, grief, and why, in the words of Stephen King, “sometimes dead is better.”

But the atmosphere is undeniable (New England town, haunted woods, etc.), and the author does a fantastic job of establishing an ominous tone that slowly builds and builds over the course of the story. (The first comparison that came to mind was The Blair Witch Project and how they establish a quiet sense of dread by piecing together the legend of the witch in the haunted woods.) If you’re looking for a deliciously spooky novel to read on a dark night, this should be at the top of the list.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 12:59am

Have You Heard About... The Shadow Hero

… the Green Turtle, hero of Chinatown? His origin story is the focus of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero. As the son of Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century, Hank never really wanted to be a superhero. He enjoys working with his father in the family grocery store in Chinatown and always assumed that he would take over when his father died (many years in the future). That all changes when his mother is rescued from a bank robber by the Anchor of Justice. From that day forward, she dreams of her son becoming a superhero. Hank is a dutiful son, so he does his best. After a very rocky start, he eventually becomes the Green Turtle, possibly the first Asian American superhero.

This wryly funny graphic novel is set in California, shortly before World War II. Almost as interesting as the Green Turtle’s origin, however, is the origin of the story. The Green Turtle was also a character in a brief series of comics in the 1940s, put out by a little-known publisher called Rural Home. Because the hero’s face is almost never shown in full and the creator was Asian American, some people speculate that the Green Turtle was also Asian American but that the publisher refused to have a superhero who wasn’t white. In the original comics, every attempt to give the Green Turtle’s backstory gets interrupted, so Yang and Liew decided to give him one and bring back a little piece of Asian American comic book history.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 12:42am

Have You Heard About... The Troop

… the horror novel that scared the living daylights out of Stephen King?

When I first read the author blurbs for The Troop by Nick Cutter, I wasn’t convinced that this book was as twisted and disgusting as everyone made it out to be.

Boy, was I wrong.

The reviews are legitimate. This is a horrifically disturbing, gruesome, shocking novel, like a death-defying roller coaster that you will only ride if someone dares you to. There’s not much to discuss in terms of plot, since the initial premise gives you a good idea of what’s about to transpire. A small group of fourteen-year-old scouts on an isolated weekend retreat. A man harboring a fatally destructive tapeworm inside his body. The man stumbles upon the group during their weekend outing…I think you can figure out where the story goes from there.

What amazed me about this book was how it rose above the stereotypical gross-out horror novel. In a gross-out novel, everything feels wooden and gratuitous, and after a while even the most die-hard reader can start to feel numbed and jaded. The Troop, however, combines complex characters with precise, evocative language and a shockingly realistic premise. Think Cabin Fever meets Lord of the Flies, if you remove the campy humor and increase the intensity tenfold.

I know there aren’t many readers who will want to stomach a book like this, but for seasoned horror fans, this is Grade-A terror at its finest. If you think you’ve got what it takes, go ahead and try reading The Troop. Go on. I dare you.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 12:18am

Have You Heard About... The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

… the wonders of the human brain? Sam Kean brings us another great nonfiction book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery. While scientists can learn a lot about most of our bodies by studying other animals, some aspects of the human brain (and mind) are unique. For the most part, ethical researchers can’t just go poking around in someone’s skull to see what happens. So how did scientists learn what parts of the brain control speech, memory, emotion, and everything else that makes us who we are? They looked at the brains of people who had problems (injuries, illnesses, and so on) to see what was different from healthy brains.

As in his previous books, Sam Kean does an excellent job of making a very complex subject understandable. He moves from the basics of how neurons communicate with one another to the way neurons are grouped together and the ways different parts of the brain affect different things. Mr. Kean helps the reader relate to the incredible details of neuroscience by filling his book with the stories of the patients and scientists involved. From two of the earliest neurosurgeons investigating the brain of French king Henri II after he was injured in a joust to a pair of conjoined twins born in 2006 with a shared skull and linked brains, the study of the human brain is filled with fascinating people.

If you have ever wondered how you think or how your memory works or what makes you you, you’re not alone. To be honest, scientists still don’t have all of the answers. However, this book will help you understand the progress that has been made in figuring out the human brain.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 12:30am

Have You Heard About... Bird Box

… the horror novel that preys upon our fear of the unknown?

Okay, a lot of horror novels are based around the idea that we are most afraid of what we can’t see, but Bird Box by Josh Malerman takes this idea to the extreme. According to news reports, there is something outside that is driving ordinary people to acts of extreme violence and suicide. The main theory is that these people are driven mad just by looking at whatever’s out there, but the only people who know what’s lurking outside are dead. Everyone else stays closed up in their houses, only braving the outdoors if they are securely blindfolded. And even then, something could be watching them. Something could be standing behind them, trying to follow them back in the house. NO ONE KNOWS.

Lured by the possibility of a safe, secure location twenty miles away, Malorie and her four-year-old children embark on a perilous journey downriver. They must remain blindfolded the entire time, but they must stay alert because the things that drove people to madness are still there, waiting in the woods.

The ENTIRE story is built around uncertainty, and since the characters are literally and metaphorically blind to what’s outside, the horror is created through noises, sounds, and little hints of unease. Technically, this would be considered apocalyptic horror, but the true genius lies in how the horror is created. And talk about a page turner…I literally finished this book in two hours.

The best horror is often simple and understated, and Bird Box is a masterful example.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - 12:30am

Have You Heard About... Half-Off Ragnarok

… the family of cryptozoologists and some-time monster hunters? With Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid* series shifts focus to Verity’s brother Alexander Price. Officially, he’s working in the reptile house at the Columbus Zoo as a visiting specialist, trying to decide what to do about his interest in beautiful Australian Shelby Tanner who works with big cats. Unofficially, he is researching the wild fricken (feathered frog) population to find out how much longer it can stay hidden from normal humans and trying to keep his not-quite-girlfriend from learning about the cryptozoological side of his life. That second part becomes a lot more difficult when something or someone starts turning people to stone at the zoo.

Half-Off Ragnarok is a fun modern-day fantasy with plenty of action and romance. Although it is the third in a series, the shift in focal character means that you can start reading here without losing too much of the plot (although I highly recommend the previous books, too). Seanan McGuire’s attention to detail brings to life even minor characters, and she goes well beyond basic Greco-Roman mythology to bring in cryptids from around the world. Her quirky humor and believable blend of realism and the bizarre are also in full force, with characters that include an adorable miniature griffin and Alex’s assistant at the zoo, a Pliny’s gorgon who hides her snaky hair until elaborate wigs.

* Previous books in the series are Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special. Seanan McGuire also writes horror novels as Mira Grant.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - 12:36am

Have You Heard About... I Remember You

… the book that’s part compelling Scandinavian crime thriller, part creepy-as-hell ghost story?

In I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, it feels like you’re reading two completely separate story lines. The first follows a group of three friends who travel to the isolated town of Hesteyri to renovate an old house. Problem is, the house seems to be haunted. The second follows Freyr, a psychologist, who is brought into a compelling mystery that somehow connects with the disappearance of his son three years ago. But as the book progresses, the two plot lines begin to converge until they are inextricably woven together at the very end.

Even though this novel isn’t considered pure horror, it’s still one of the creepiest ghost stories I’ve ever read. The buildup of suspense is done very gradually (odd odors, wet footprints, creaking floors), but holy cow, is it ever effective. One night when I was in the middle of reading the book, I had to consciously force myself to turn the lights off because I was afraid of what was waiting just around the door frame. It’s been awhile since I’ve been spooked like that after reading a horror novel. And no gore. These are honest-to-God scares.

I spent several late nights with this novel, but it was worth every moment of sleep deprivation. Great suggestion for fans of Nordic suspense, good mysteries, or haunting ghost stories.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 12:23am

Have You Heard About... The Cat with Seven Names

… the cat who brought together a neighborhood? In The Cat with Seven Names, Tony Johnston and Christine Davenier introduce us to a very social cat. He seems to be a stray as he goes to different houses and apartments begging for food. At each place, he is welcomed into people’s lives, but he doesn’t stay. He always comes back though, working his way into people’s hearts and earning a new name at each stop. Even though they all live close to one another, none of the cat’s new friends know the others until a near disaster brings them all together.

This is a sweet story about making connections with the people around you. Retirees and children, immigrants and long-time residents, well-to-do and homeless — they all feel isolated in some ways. The cat brings a little joy to their lives and also helps them connect with the other people around them.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 12:59am

Have You Heard About... Hyperbole and a Half

… the blogging sensation that has been turned into a best-selling book? When I heard that Allie Brosh was publishing a print version of her award winning blog, Hyperbole and a Half, I quite literally jumped for joy. I don’t usually keep up with blogs, but her expressive cartooning and poignant topics make for an utterly hilarious combination.

I read through the book cover-to-cover, but some of my favorite chapters included “Why I’ll Never Be an Adult,” “The Party” (a re-enactment of the time she tried to convince her mom to let her go to a birthday party while doped up on Novocain), and “Depression Part 1 & 2” (a surprisingly relatable explanation of how depression affects people). Her stories range from inane to serious, but they are always told with a healthy dose of humor. In fact, after reading about many of her experiences, I’m starting to wonder if we are actually twins separated at birth. Her stories are that relatable.

If you’re looking for honest laughs and thought provoking insight, Hyperbole and a Half is superb.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)