Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 12:45am

Have You Heard About... From a High Tower

… the long-haired woman living in an isolated tower in a German forest? Mercedes Lackey adapts another folktale for her Elemental Masters series* with From a High Tower. Giselle is very different from Rapunzel, however! She lives in the tower with Mother, the Earth Master who raised her from infancy and who is training Giselle in her own Air powers. The man who climbs up to meet Giselle is definitely not a love-struck prince. When Giselle is forced to leave her tower after Mother’s untimely death, she has to rely on her own strength and the surprising friends she makes in an American Wild West show.

As with most of the Elemental Masters books, From a High Tower is a stand-alone story. Rosamund von Schwartzwald appears as a side character, but reading her Blood Red first is definitely not necessary. I generally recommend the entire series, but new readers can start at any point. This book is a fun fantasy adventure story, set in Germany during the 1800s. Unlike most of the series, there is very little romance; instead the focus is on friendships and Giselle learning to be her own person. If you enjoy strong female characters, fantasy with a dose of humor and adventure, and a distinctive setting, give From a High Tower a try.

* Other books in the series include The Serpent’s Shadow, The Gates of Sleep, Phoenix and Ashes, The Wizard of London, Reserved for the Cat, Unnatural Issue, Home from the Sea, Steadfast, Blood Red, Elemental Magic: All New Tales of the Elemental Masters, and Elementary: All New Tales of the Elemental Masters.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 12:04am

Have You Heard About... Hilo

… the boy with super powers? I’m sure you’ve heard of lots of different ones, but none of them are like Judd Winick’s Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. DJ comes from a big family, and all of his siblings are amazing at something. DJ’s the kid in the middle, and he thinks he’s just sort of … boring. Then Hilo falls out of the sky, and DJ’s life becomes more exciting than he could ever imagine.

Unfortunately, the fall knocked out most of Hilo’s memories. Fortunately, he has almost endless energy and enthusiasm for everything around him. DJ helps him out, finding him food and clothes, taking him to school. (One advantage of a big, busy family is that it’s easy to hide an extra kid!) Hilo’s memory starts to come back, partly triggered by the things that followed him to Earth.

This great book is a hilarious, adrenaline-fueled rush from beginning to end. I can’t wait for book two (especially after that cliffhanger ending)!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 12:23am

Have You Heard About... The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

… the joys of fandom? Science fiction, fantasy, cosplay, gaming, comics, and much more – Sam Maggs covers it all in The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy. She gives a quick overview of everything from different types of fandoms, meeting other fans in real life and online, dealing with trolls, attending conventions, and being a feminist. Unfortunately, the book would have been bigger than the entire Harry Potter series if it included all of the great stuff about fandom and fangirls, so she also covers where to go for more. Plus, there are interviews with female authors, artists, actresses, and other famous fangirls.

This is a great book for fangirls (and guys!) of all ages and experience levels. I have been a geek my whole life and active in fandom for many years. In addition to lots of “Yes, this!” moments, I came away with some great new ideas and things to read, watch and do. (Let’s be honest, can you ever really have enough geeky goodness?) I’m looking forward to sharing this book with my nieces when they get a little older, too.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 12:27am

Have You Heard About... My Neighbor Seki

… the serious students in Japan? My Neighbor Seki, by Takuma Morishige, certainly turns that ideal on its ear! Rumi Yokoi is a diligent student who tries to focus on her teachers. However, she is constantly being distracted by Toshinari Seki, the boy at the next desk. He plays with toys, does magic tricks, and sets up elaborate works of art on his desk, but somehow, the teachers and other students never see what he is doing. Rumi can’t stop noticing, and she even gets pulled into Seki’s activities, imagining elaborate stories based around what he is doing.

The artwork in this manga is good, with particularly expressive faces and body language. However, the real treat is the surreal activities that Seki enjoys, and the stories Rumi makes up as she tries to make sense of what he is doing. On the one hand, Seki is constantly goofing off in class. On the other, he is making elaborate, delicate, and even beautiful things, all in the space of a single class. I’m looking forward to seeing what Takuma Morishige will have Seki (and Rumi) do next.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 12:35am

Have You Heard About... Shadowshaper

… the amazing people who can give strength to spirits through their artwork? In Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper, Sierra Santiago is a high school student looking forward to a relaxing summer with her friends and her art. It’s off to a great start when she finally gets up the courage to talk with Robbie, the cute Haitian boy who joined her school mid-year and is every bit as art-geeky as Sierra herself. Things take a turn for the weird though when a creepy dead guy shows up at a party looking for her. What is his connection to her abuelo, who is largely uncommunicative since his stroke several months ago? And why does Robbie seem to know so much about what is happening? Sierra will need to learn the truth about her heritage and who she can trust quickly if she’s going to survive.

This book is a great mix of coming-of-age and urban fantasy adventure. The reader learns about the secret world of art and magic with Sierra as she tries to find out what is happening to her beloved Bedford-Stuyvesant. Daniel Jose Older’s feelings about the neighborhood come through in his vivid descriptions of the people and places of Sierra’s world. Magic isn’t the only danger in an area tense with race relations and “just another shooting.” However, it also isn’t the only source of wonder when murals by local artists sprawl across buildings and the local salsa-thrasher band becomes a national hit. There’s a little something for everyone in this exciting, dynamic story.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 12:50am

Have You Heard About... Everybody Sleeps

… Fred’s to-do list? Who has time for sleep? While all of the animals, monsters, and other children snooze away, the title character of Everybody Sleeps (but not Fred) is too busy jumping, shouting, and more. Whether they’re in Fred’s room, the jungle, underwater, or an ant cafe, all the other characters in this great picture book just want to rest. Unfortunately, that’s hard to do when a certain someone is testing his horn collection and hunting for Sasquatch.

The colorful art by Josh Schneider perfectly matches his light-hearted text. Little jokes in the background will help liven up re-reading this great bedtime book. Some are obviously aimed at adults, too. (I didn’t notice the Spinal Tap reference until the second or third time through.) This is a fun book that will help keep kids and parents entertained when they’re stuck on the S. S. Insomnia.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - 12:42am

Have You Heard About... The Clockwork Dagger

… the Lady’s Tree, source of great healing power? Decades of war and mismanagement have given Caskentia a ruined economy, a population riddled with disease and injury, and a desperate need for medicians. Octavia Leander is a young medician with strong ties to the Lady and great healing abilities. She wants to do what she can to help the sick and injured of her homeland, but word has spread of her power. More than one group would like to control Octavia’s abilities, and someone has decided that if they can’t have her, no one will.

In The Clockwork Dagger*, Beth Cato gives us a vivid world of steampunk fantasy. Airships, mechanical replacement limbs, and biological constructs contrast with grinding poverty and rampant illness. Octavia’s world is also filled with espionage and intrigue – agents from different factions, and new friends and acquaintances who all have secrets of their own. The Clockwork Dagger is filled with glorious, over-the-top adventures, and it’s only the beginning.

* The second Clockwork Dagger novel is The Clockwork Crown.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - 12:03am

Have You Heard About... Everything under the Heavens

… the glories of the Silk Road? Dana Stabenow takes us back in time and around the world to 14th century Asia with Everything under the Heavens, the first book in the Silk and Song series. Wu Johanna, granddaughter of Marco Polo, grows up in a grand family of Chinese merchants. She is allowed to be wild and free, traveling great distances with her parents and learning to be a skilled trader. However, all of her experience with the world doesn’t prepare Johanna for the betrayal she receives from her father’s second wife after his death. The young woman flees to the Silk Road, where she finds the power of her father’s reputation, deep loyalties, and further betrayals.

Dana Stabenow brings ancient China to life in this book. Her vibrant descriptions show us jewels and spices, camels and horses, people of many different cultures and attitudes. She also shows us the dangers from both nature and mankind, deep passions and casual cruelty. It’s easy to get caught up in the life of Wu Johanna as she grows and matures, fighting to make her own place in a world where her gender and mixed race frequently work against her.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 12:30am

Have You Heard About... The Soul of an Octopus

… the amazing, alien creatures that live in the ocean? While many people are afraid of octopuses, Sy Montgomery shows us their beauty and intelligence in The Soul of an Octopus. She got to know several of these incredible animals, forming close bonds both with them and with the staff and volunteers at the New England Aquarium.

Octopuses are very different from humans. Their boneless bodies can squeeze into and through incredibly small spaces. Their skin is covered in specialized cells that allow them to change color very quickly for camouflage, warning off other animals and even communication. The suction cups on their arms are sensitive to chemicals, so they can taste whatever they touch. However, octopuses are also intelligent, creative and talented at solving puzzles – traits that are very familiar to humans.

These characteristics make them simultaneously very alien and very relatable to us, allowing octopuses to form connections with humans, recognizing them by both sight and touch. An octopus who hides from strangers will come to the surface of its tank when someone it knows approaches, even spending time touching and interacting with familiar people while eating. It may also treat different people differently – touching one more gently and tugging at another’s arms, or dousing certain people with water. They are fascinating animals, and Sy Montgomery does an excellent job of showing us more about their world.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 12:39am

Have You Heard About... Roller Girl

… the thrills (and spills) of roller derby? Astrid hadn’t until her mom took Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, out for an Evening of Cultural Enlightenment. As an ECE, roller derby is a vast improvement over the opera and the modern art gallery. Now that Astrid has seen the excitement, she’s determined to become a Roller Girl herself, in this great book by Victoria Jamieson. Astrid even has the perfect opportunity with the junior roller derby camp! She isn’t a great skater, but she’s positive that Nicole will help her. They’re best friends, so of course Nicole is going to camp, too. They do everything together! Don’t they?

This is a great book about following your dreams, even when they’re hard and painful. Astrid assumes that she’ll be great at roller derby because she loves it. She runs headfirst into a hard dose of reality (not to mention the floor) on her first day of camp. Roller Girl is also about growing up and growing apart from your friends. Astrid and Nicole have done everything together for years, but Nicole loves ballet the way Astrid loves roller derby. Doing different things and making new friends drives a wedge between them.

Victoria Jamieson does a great job with Astrid! She’s a very realistic girl, with all of the charms and flaws that entails. Nicole, Astrid’s mom, and many of the other secondary characters are also fully realized people with their own personalities. Astrid and her friends (and even her mom) learn and grow over the course of the book. Whether you’re a roller derby fan like Astrid, a ballet enthusiast like Nicole, or your own person with your own style, give this book a try!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)