Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 1:48am

Have You Heard About... Princeless

… the princess who rescued herself? The graphic novel Princeless brings us the story of Adrienne, second-youngest of the seven daughters of King and Queen Ash. Her father locked her in a tower with a mystical guardian, just like he did with her older sisters. However, Adrienne isn’t interested in waiting to be rescued by some man she will be forced to marry. Instead, she befriends her dragon, leaves the tower, and goes to free her sisters with the help of the dwarf blacksmith Bedelia.

Writer Jeremy Whitley gives us stories full of adventure and humor as Adrienne goes to take on the world with far more bravery and chutzpah than skill (or sense, on occasion). The slightly-cartoony styles of artists M. Goodwin and Emily Martin work well with the over-the-top action and fantasy magic. This is a fun series with strong female characters with very different interests and personalities. Book two introduces Adrienne’s oldest sister, who has a very different perspective on her captivity.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - 1:39am

Have You Heard About... The Burn Palace

… the small Rhode Island town where a newborn baby was kidnapped and replaced with a gigantic snake? Talk about starting off your book with an attention-grabbing premise.

This marks the beginning of Stephen Dobyns’ newest novel, The Burn Palace, as well as the beginning of bizarre events that start happening all over town. Coyotes are out roaming the streets. Strange deaths seem to be linked with local witches and Satanists. And in the midst of this murder and seemingly-paranormal mayhem is a police force who is desperately trying to make sense of the seemingly-disjointed occurrences. In other words, it’s a strong mix of small-town horror and police procedural, with a little bit of experimental writing thrown in.

The small New England town setting, the gradual increase in horror and suspense, and the colorful characters all reminded me very strongly of the Horrormeister himself, Stephen King. And apparently he thought very highly of The Burn Palace as well, because he offered up this little gem: “It is, simply put, the embodiment of why we read stories, and why the novel will always be a better bang for the entertainment buck than movies or TV. Great story, great prose. You can’t ask for more than this book gives.” Well said. And I can’t wait to start suggesting this novel to the Stephen King fans who frequent the library!

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - 1:19am

Have You Heard About... This is a Moose

… the majestic moose, drinking from lakes, eating leaves, and dreaming of being an astronaut? In This is a Moose, a crew is filming a documentary on moose in the wild. Unfortunately, the director has a very specific idea of what moose do in the wild, and it does not include flying to the moon! The director gets more and more frustrated when the moose (and everyone around him) refuse to do what the director wants, until he forced to realize how unreasonable his expectations really are.

Author Richard T. Morris and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld teamed up to bring us a great children’s book about stereotypes and prejudice. The story gets very silly as more and more animals are shown outside their “natural” roles. The illustrations include wonderful background details and several hints to the eventual outcome. Check out this funny picture book with a gentle message!

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 1:21am

Have You Heard About... The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

… the ten year old girl who solves a murder before the police do? C. Alan Bradley’s cozy mystery novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, introduces us to Flavia de Luce, one of the most precocious and inventive heroines in recent literary memory.

This was my first foray into the world of cozy mysteries, and Flavia, the book’s ten-year-old narrator and amateur sleuth, won me over from the first page. She has more spunk and personality than all of the other characters combined, and with her keen mind and penchant for chemistry and poisons, she is the perfect person to investigate the murder of a mysterious man in her family’s cucumber patch.

Since the story takes place in a sheltered, rural English town, Flavia has the freedom to travel all over the county with her trusted bike, Gladys, in order to solve the mystery. Her travels take her to the town library, an all-boys academy where her father and the murdered man were classmates, and to the jailhouse, where she visits her father who is being held under suspicion of murder.

Flavia’s voice really makes this story what it is, with her vivid imagination and her dry and surprising humor. The mystery itself was interesting enough (well plotted, but no big twists or surprises), but Flavia made me keep coming back for more. If the world had more ten-year-old girls like her, it would be a much more interesting place.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

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)