Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 12:30am

Have You Heard About... Armada

… the aliens attacking the Earth? It’s almost like a videogame! In fact, most people in Ernest Cline’s Armada think it is a videogame. The only people who believe that games are being used to train people to fight real aliens are paranoid weirdos … and the secret world-wide organization behind the training program. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!) That all changes when the first alien fighters reach the Earth. Now, it’s up to gamers around the globe to fight for real and protect their homes. Humanity must completely destroy the aliens or die trying! Those are the only options, right?

Ernest Cline follows up his bestselling Ready Player One with another exciting science-fiction novel about videogames. The action is as hot as teenage Zack Lightman’s temper, with epic battles both in school and in space. Every time Zack thinks he knows the truth about his world, more information comes to light, making him question everything he believes. I hope there will be a sequel to give us more answers (although I’m sure it will have more questions, too)!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 12:25am

Have You Heard About... World War Z

… the zombie novel that’s become one of the most noteworthy examples of recent horror fiction?

Many people are familiar with the 2013 film adaptation of World War Z, but if you haven’t read Max Brooks’ original novel, you’re missing out. World War Z presents itself as a work of nonfiction - a collection of interviews and stories from people who experienced (and lived through) the Zombie War. And although we know that the Zombie War is fictional, the political and military details make it very easy to be convinced otherwise.

I’ve heard this book billed as “darkly humorous,” but that label doesn’t fit my reading experience. I found this book to be scarily realistic, shocking, at times terrifying, and not at all what I’d consider the typical horror novel. The zombies are scary, but the collapse of human society and the political turmoil was even scarier, given the state of the world today. And as we hear about the war from political, economic, societal, and personal points of view, we get a multi-dimensional portrait of how the Zombie Apocalypse happened and how the world reacted.

This is probably one of the most well-received works of zombie literature, although it breaks from the traditional mold of staggering, brain-eating monsters. Great suggestion for fans of horror mixed with social commentary, or for readers (like me) who don’t typically go for monster stories.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 12:30am

Have You Heard About... The Magpie Lord

… the lord who loved a magician? KJ Charles starts off the excellent Charm of Magpies series* with The Magpie Lord. Lucien Vaudrey is the new Lord Crane, now that his (completely unlamented) father and brother are dead. However, he won’t have his new title for long if he can’t find a way to break the curse that killed them. Stephen Day is a powerful magician who feels honor-bound to help the new earl, despite a horrible history between their families. To make things worse, the original curse isn’t the only magical danger they’ll need to face together, and both men feel a very distracting and highly illegal attraction to one another.

This wonderful book has a little of everything – powerful magic, aristocrats being high and mighty, adventure, humor, and intense sexual tension. Honestly, my biggest complaint is that it’s too short! That’s partly because I desperately want more of these wonderful characters and partly because I think it would have benefited by filling in more of the backstory. Both problems are at least partially fixed by the later books in the series, although I don’t know if I’ll ever get enough of Lucien and Stephen.

KJ Charles’ writing is absolutely beautiful. She does equally well with horrific abuses of magic, snarky dialogue, evocative descriptions, and steamy sex. This book has scenes that had me snickering helplessly and some that had me fanning myself gently. I had a terrible time putting it down, and I’m tempted to re-read it now, because writing this review made me remember all the things I love about this book.

* Later books in the series include A Case of Possession and Flight of Magpies. If you’re like me and that isn’t enough for you, the author’s website has additional short stories about these characters.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 12:25am

Have You Heard About... Heartsick

… the female serial killer who gives Hannibal Lecter a run for his money? Chelsea Cain’s novel Heartsick follows Gretchen Lowell, who was one of the country’s most notorious serial killers until she turned herself in to the police. Detective Archie Sheridan spent ten years of his life hunting Gretchen, until she finally kidnapped him, subjected him to days of horrific torture, and then set him free when she turned herself in. But even though Gretchen is in prison, Archie can’t shake the disturbing hold she has over him. He visits her cell on a weekly basis, looking for information on the undiscovered bodies Gretchen left behind. But now there’s been another set of murders, and Archie, along with reporter Susan Ward, are drawn to Gretchen’s prison cell in the hopes she can help them catch a killer almost as evil as she is.

Archie is the epitome of a damaged hero, with his Stockholm-Syndrome relationship and his new addiction to pain medication. But despite that, he’s an extremely relatable character who somehow manages to keep going despite the overwhelming obstacles placed in his way. And I have to admit, I was not impressed by the idea of a female serial killer when I started this book, but holy cow, was I wrong. Gretchen Lowell is one of the most genuinely terrifying villains I’ve come across in a long time. I won’t go into the grisly details, but suffice it to say that this is one of the most intense serial killer stories I’ve ever read. Prepare for lots of graphic torture, murder descriptions, and psychological manipulation.

The comparisons to Silence of the Lambs are obvious (and warranted), but Heartsick really manages to stand on its own. If you enjoy psychological suspense and serial killer horror, this is by far one of the best.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 12:37am

Have You Heard About... The Imitation Game

… one of the fathers of modern computer science? Alan Turing is the subject of the movie The Imitation Game, with a focus on his work on cryptanalysis and computing machines during World War II. Turing’s work was pivotal in decoding German messages and helped the Allies win the war. He also did groundbreaking work with mathematics and artificial intelligence.

This movie is an excellent drama, weaving together scenes from Turing’s childhood, his work during WWII, and his eventual conviction for homosexuality in the 1950s. The use of actual footage from the war is very effective in emphasizing the stress felt by the team working at the Government Code & Cypher School, trying to crack the German Enigma machine. The actors, including both Benedict Cumberbatch as adult Alan Turing and Alex Lawther as school-age Alan Turing, did an excellent job of bringing the characters to life.

It is important to note that The Imitation Game is a fictionalized account of Alan Turing’s life. This is a dramatic movie, not a biography or documentary. However, I hope that watching this exciting film will encourage more people to learn about the real Alan Turing, early computer science, and the work done at Bletchley Park. If not, you’ll have a couple of very enjoyable hours with an excellent movie.

Also, watch the two deleted scenes!  They’re short, and they help make sense of a couple of things.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Tags: drama, DVD, review
Post date: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 12:02am

Have You Heard About... The Alienist

… the unknown assailant brutally murdering young cross-dressing male prostitutes in 19th century New York City? In Caleb Carr’s disturbing historical mystery, The Alienist, the NYPD is determined to look the other way when it comes to these murders, but Teddy Roosevelt (yep, that Teddy Roosevelt), the progressive new police superintendent, puts together a team of investigators to apply cutting-edge forensic and psychological strategies to find out who this killer is and why he behaves the way he does. Problem is, psychology is still met with much superstition and misunderstanding, and the entire case draws a lot of resistance from outside forces.

I don’t typically read historical fiction, but this dark, gritty, atmospheric, and gruesome murder mystery is fantastic. The setting is extraordinarily detailed, but it blends so seamlessly with the rest of the story that it never weighs it down. And the historical forensic details give the police procedural an entirely different feel. Plus, if you’re like me and appreciate a disturbing story with emotional resonance, this one can’t be beat. The chills here are genuine.

And as an added bonus, Sara Howard, one of the primary characters and investigators, is portrayed as a spunky, fearless, independent, and compassionate woman who’s not afraid to challenge the social norms of the day. I loved the entire novel, but Sara’s character transformed the story into something special.

I was not expecting to find so much to love in one novel, but this one was truly exceptional. Suspense and crime buffs need to add this to their lists, and historical fiction fans looking for a darker story will undoubtedly appreciate this one as well.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 12:06am

Have You Heard About... The Stranger Beside Me

… the true crime author who was friends with one of America’s most infamous serial killers? Ann Rule, the queen of true crime, made a name for herself with The Stranger Beside Me, which told the story of Ted Bundy and her personal relationship with him, both before, during, and after his terrifying killing sprees.

I read horror novels like they’re going out of style and I devour twisted psychological suspense stories, but I have the strongest reactions to true crime accounts. I guess that’s not surprising, since these events actually happened, but The Stranger Beside Me scared the living daylights out of me.

Ann Rule’s account of her relationship with Bundy is straightforward but still manages to delve into the emotional aspects of the case, both in terms of her friendship with Bundy and in terms of his many female victims. The crime scenes are stomach-turning and graphic, which juxtaposes horrifically with Bundy’s suave, charismatic demeanor. Simply put, this book is terrifying and still gives me chills when I think about it. And if you find yourself reading a newer edition of this book, the extra chapters, epilogues, and forewords show just how far Ted Bundy’s infamy has spread through American culture…25 years after his execution, we’re still talking about him.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 12:13am

Have You Heard About... The Passage

… the terrifyingly realistic vampire apocalypse that destroyed 98% of the world? It’s a bit misleading to refer to Justin Cronin’s epic novel, The Passage, as a vampire novel, since these are not like any vampires I’ve read about before. In fact, this novel is really like nothing else I’ve read before either.

The novel starts in the time just before the outbreak, when two government agents are sent to track down a young girl named Amy who is a crucial part of a dangerous government experiment. When the experiment goes horribly wrong, one of the agents is able to move Amy to safety, but he is powerless to stop the destruction unleashed on the world. As the years pass and society attempts to rebuild itself, Amy remains ageless and alone…until she is united with a small group of people who believe that the secret to their survival lies deep in the Colorado mountains – where the apocalypse began.

It took me almost six months to finish this book, not because I was bored with the story, but because there was almost too much story for me to process at once. The scope of The Passage is enormous, spanning almost 800 pages and over 100 years in the story world, and it requires a strong commitment to see it through. But trust me: it is worth the effort. This wasn’t just an ordinary book. This was a rich and complex reading EXPERIENCE. The detail that went into this story is mind-blowing, but I never had a hard time keeping the characters or the plotline straight.

And for those readers who appreciate a good cliff-hanger, just wait until the very end of the book…the last sentence will have you yelling, “Are you kidding me?!” But in a good way, because then you’ll be committed to reading the second book in the trilogy. I haven’t started on that one yet, but I hope it’s as rewarding as The Passage.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 12:37am

Have You Heard About... Dead Ice

… the horrors that humans inflict on zombies? The latest of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake* books, Dead Ice, takes a bit of a twist by making zombies the victims. Unfortunately, these zombies aren’t mindless corpses – they’re fully aware women, trapped in their dead bodies by people who are using them to make pornography.

You’ll find more than horror in Dead Ice, however. The Anita Blake series has always had a little of everything – horror, mystery, romance, adventure, fantasy, erotica, and more – but in my opinion, this book does a particularly good job of bringing all of those aspects together. It’s a long book (over 550 pages), but in addition to the zombie pornography investigation with the FBI, Anita is dealing with an overly-lifelike zombie of her own creation, politics within the vampire and shape shifter communities, her polyamorous relationships, and mediating problems between the various people who work for Jean-Claude.

This isn’t the best starting point for this series, although Ms Hamilton does a good job of giving the basic information necessary to keep up with all of the long-standing story arcs. Really, in a series that has been running for more than twenty books, it would be hard to write a good starting point that didn’t bore the long-time fans. If you like cross-genre stories with plenty of LGBTQ characters and as much relationship building (and maintenance) as action, dive in and give Dead Ice a try!

* Other books in this series include Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, Circus of the Damned, The Lunatic Cafe, Bloody Bones, The Killing Dance, Burnt Offerings, Blue Moon, Obsidian Butterfly, Narcissus in Chains, Cerulean Sins, Incubus Dreams, Micah, Danse Macabre, The Harlequin, Blood Noir, Skin Trade, Flirt (novella), Bullet, Hit List, Kiss the Dead, Beauty (eBook only), Dancing (eBook only), Affliction, and Jason (novella), as well as some stories in Strange Candy.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 12:11am

Have You Heard About... Wilder Mind

… Mumford and Sons’ new, edgier sound? If you’re like me, you were probably drawn to their brand of foot-stomping, banjo-heavy folk rock from a few years ago, so it’s no surprise that fans were shocked when Mumford & Sons announced Wilder Mind, a new, banjo-less album for 2015. I was apprehensive at first, but after listening to Wilder Mind obsessively since its release, I have to say I’m totally on board with this new Mumford sound.

The banjos have been replaced by electric guitars, synthesizers, and heavy drums, creating a darker, simmering sound that showcases a restraint not often heard on their other two albums. Tracks like “Tompkins Square Park” and “Ditmas” may not have the heart-swelling vocals of “Little Lion Man” or “I Will Wait,” but the understated melodies, coupled with Marcus Mumford’s controlled rasp, create a complex, brooding sound that lingers long after the song finishes.

But at its heart, Wilder Mind is driven by the same passion that has fueled all of Mumford and Sons’ other music. “Snake Eyes” builds from a slow burning melody to a head-banging finish, and Marcus Mumford’s anguished howl is at its prime in “The Wolf,” a hard-edged rock anthem guaranteed to make you dance in your seat. Mumford and Sons may have traded their vests and flannel shirts for leather jackets and black jeans, but I have to say – this album rocks. Old Mumford, new Mumford, I honestly don’t care. As long as they keep making music, I’ll listen to anything they record.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Tags: CD, review, rock music