Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 1:27am

Have You Heard About... Darth Vader's children

… the best father in a galaxy far, far away? Jeffrey Brown shows what a great father Darth Vader could have been in two great books of cartoons.

In Darth Vader and Son, the big guy is joined by young Luke. The two play together, go shopping (“This isn’t the toy you’re looking for…”), have Force-powered tickle fights, and bond like other fathers and sons. There are some awkward points, like when Luke interrupts his father during important meetings with the Emperor or plays in the trash compactor, but Vader is a good father, and the two obviously love each other very much.

Leia is the focus of Vader’s Little Princess. For many of the cartoons, she is a teenager, with the typical problems of clothes, school, and dating. Darth Vader teaches her to drive, disapproves of her friends, and puts up with her moods. Despite rebelling against her father’s authority and dating Han Solo, Leia obviously loves her dad.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 1:01am

Have You Heard About... Stiff

… the fascinating and hilarious history of the human cadaver? That sentence probably wouldn’t exist in normal conversation, if it weren’t for Mary Roach’s amazing and laugh-out-loud funny book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Using her investigative reporter skills, Mary Roach looks at the fascinating and slightly disgusting history of human cadavers - how they’ve been used throughout history, how they’re used today, and what sorts of medical advances have been made possible through cadaver research.

Each chapter is split into different topics, including “Life After Death: On Human Decay and What Can Be Done About It,” “Holy Cadaver: The Crucifixion Experiments,” and “Eat Me: Medicinal Cannibalism and the Case of the Human Dumplings.” I really liked this set-up, because it made it easy to divide up my reading sessions (e. g. “I’ll just read to the end of the cannibalism chapter”), and it felt like I was discovering something new every time I started another section. (A note of warning though: the chapters on human decay and cannibalism are NOT chapters you want to read during mealtime. I learned this the hard way.)

I have a lot of respect for nonfiction authors who can write entertaining, accessible books, and Mary Roach is at the top of that list. Her humor is pervasive throughout the entire book, which isn’t something you’d expect from a book about dead people…even her footnotes were laugh-out-loud funny. But her humor never veers into disrespectful territory, and she always maintains a curious, almost awestruck reverence for her subject matter. I dare anyone to put this book down and say they were bored with it.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 1:59am

Have You Heard About... Let Them Talk

… the irascible doctor who also sings the blues? Hugh Laurie may be better known for his acting, including his role as Dr. House, but his skills as a singer and musician are on display with Let Them Talk. For a white British man, Laurie does exceptionally well with the blues.  In the liner notes, he attributes his success to sheer love of the music.

That love shines through in this CD, together with an impressive skill. The fifteen songs display a wide variety of styles. Laurie pays tribute to the great masters of blues but puts his own mark on each piece. His version of “Swanee River” is one of the most upbeat I have ever heard, and it works surprisingly well. Whether you like the blues, enjoy a different take on some popular music, or just want to hear Dr. House sing, give this CD a try.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 1:56am

Have You Heard About... OCD, the Dude, and Me

… the high school senior who can’t fit in at her alternative school? This sounds like the plot of just about every young adult novel ever written, but stick with me – Lauren Vaughn’s OCD, the Dude, and Me isn’t an ordinary misfit novel. Danielle has frizzy red hair, a plus-size body, a sarcastic attitude, and (as the title indicates) clinically diagnosed OCD, which makes for an extremely difficult social life. As she navigates through her final year of high school, she writes a series of self-aware and highly personal essays for her English class, which lands her a series of appointments with the school psychologist and enrollment in a “social skills” class for other teenage misfits. Danielle is determined to keep everyone at arm’s length, but when she meets Daniel, another social outcast who is obsessed with The Big Lebowski, she finds herself warming to her witty and unusual new friend.

This book was fantastic. I picked it up initially because I wanted to see how the author dealt with the concept of teenagers and mental illness. Much to my delight, she treated the subject with dignity, accuracy, and compassion.

Danielle is one of the most relatable young adult heroines I’ve read about in a long time. She’s not a wilting-flower-damsel-in-distress-love-obsessed-gloomy teenager girl who happens to be the most desirable person in the history of forever. She’s a complex, confused, frustrated teen who is constricted by the traditional expectations set by her teacher and her family, and she reminded me a lot of myself in high school. In fact, there were a couple places in the book when I had to put the book down because of how strong my emotional reaction was.

Ultimately, the message of the book is hope – hope of finding new friends, hope of finding a place to belong, and hope of overcoming adversity. This is a novel I will happily recommend to male and female readers of all ages, because this story really does transcend gender and age boundaries. And you don’t even have to be a fan of The Big Lebowski to enjoy it!


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 1:45am

Have You Heard About... A Natural History of Dragons

… the shocking lady scientist? In A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan tells the tale of another world, with different countries and animals from ours. Isabella, Lady Trent, is writing her memoirs, starting with her childhood fascination with dragons and progressing through her first opportunity to join an expedition with her husband. The world-building works smoothly through the memoir format to show a culture very similar to Britain during the Victorian Era. Isabella is a minor noble, but fortunately for the reader, she is not very good at being a proper lady. After a particularly wild incident, she is forced to tame her ways for what she later calls her “grey years.” In time, she is lucky enough to find a husband who is very accepting of her scientific interests and fascination with dragons. This is the first in what I hope will become a series of books about her grand travels and adventures.

Marie Brennan does an excellent job telling the story of a highly-intelligent and curious woman who is ahead of her time. Isabella faces great dangers and heartaches, but she also experiences great joy. She is unflinching in sharing the truth about her early years and experiences on an expedition, taking the reader back to a time when brave men left their civilized homes to explore strange lands and bring back new knowledge and beasts for the glory of their empire. This is an elegantly-written book from the point of view of an extraordinary woman. The addition of illustrations from her notebooks adds to the experience and helps the reader visualize the animals, people, and setting.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 1:41am

Have You Heard About... Bossypants

… the awesomeness that is Tina Fey? Before I read Bossypants, I knew Tina Fey as the Sarah Palin impersonator from Saturday Night Live, the math teacher from Mean Girls, and that one character from 30 Rock… and that was it. Now, after Bossypants, I can add her to my list of super-awesome modern women ready to kick butt, take names, and take over the world.

This isn’t so much a memoir as it is a collection of humorous essays, although the stories do have a fairly linear chronology. She talks about being an awkward teenager, a slightly less awkward adult, her near-fatal honeymoon, her struggles as a female comedian, and her life as a mother who eats food straight off the floor.

But beneath the laughs there’s also a powerful message about being a woman in a male-dominated society. No preaching, no agenda – just a straightforward opinion from a woman who’s made a career out of being straightforward. Plus, she also offers straightforward opinions on breastfeeding, Photoshop, and Italian Rum Cake. What’s not to love?

This is a story of a woman with dreams. Dreams of being a comedian on TV, and dreams of being chased through the airport by her middle school gym teacher. Both of those dreams came true.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 1:00am

Have You Heard About... Steadfast

… the elemental magicians who work with creatures of earth, air, fire and water? Mercedes Lackey has written a new novel in this world, Steadfast.* Katie Langford thought that her abilities were limited to acrobatics and dance until her parents died. Without them to protect her, others in the circus that was their home start to take advantage of Katie. When she flees her abusive husband, she is guided to a seaside resort where her acrobatic abilities make her the perfect assistant for Lionel Hawkins, a stage magician in a music hall. Very quickly, she learns that some of his magic is real, done with the help of sylphs and other air elementals, rather than sleight of hand. Together with Jack Prescott, a fire magician, Lionel starts to teach Katie how to handle her own magical powers. All is going well, until the unthinkable happens.

The Elemental Masters novels are very good historical fantasies, with ties to folk tales and a strong helping of romance. (The title of this book is a hint to its tale; another is the fact that Jack is a veteran of the Boer Wars who is missing part of one leg.) Steadfast is set in England during the late 1800s, with a rare look at the lives of performers in music halls during the time period. It features a number of strong female characters who overcome the restrictions society places on them. The characters and settings are lushly detailed, the adventure is fast-paced, and the romance is sweet and subtle.

* The stories set in the world of the elemental masters stand alone, although some characters appear in more than one book. Works in this collection 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 and Elemental Magic: All New Tales of the Elemental Masters.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 1:52am

Have You Heard About... Joyland

… the mystery surrounding the 1970’s carnival circuit? Stephen King departs from his usual horror-novel fare with Joyland – a mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age story that is sure to be at the top of everyone’s summer reading list.

Devin Jones comes to work at Joyland during the summer of 1973, where he falls in love with the carny lifestyle. A good portion of the story recounts his day-to-day routine in rich, nostalgic detail, but there are two main story threads that tie everything together: the legacy of a vicious murder that haunts the Tunnel of Terror and the fate of a dying child that Devin meets at the end of the summer. To give away more of the plot would mean giving away too much of the story, and at just under 300 pages, story is at a premium.

I’ll be honest – when I first heard about Joyland, I expected a much more horrific story…in my head, I was picturing a John Wayne Gacy-type of mystery, with a murderer who poses as a carnival clown. But this is a fantastic novel for people who still expect Stephen King to only write horror. The mystery is well-plotted, the ghost story is subtle yet haunting (pun partially intended!), and the coming-of-age story is as well written as anything King has ever published. And it’s an extremely fast read…I read the majority of it in 24 hours on the last leg of a family road trip.

Stephen King may be the King of Horror, but the publishing world really needs to alter this perception… Joyland proves that Stephen King should really be considered the King of Storytelling.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 1:28am

Have You Heard About... Paleofantasy

… the theory that because humans evolved for life in the Paleolithic Period, we should shape our modern lives around that? According to proponents of these theories, our DNA was shaped by what we ate, how we moved, our family lives, and more for hundreds of thousands of years. If we eat, move, and raise children like we did then, we will be happier, healthier, and more in tune with the dictates of our genes. Marlene Zuk does an excellent job of examining those theories and debunking many of them in Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live.

Professor Zuk covers genetics, anthropology, evolution, and more with a straightforward writing style that helps lay people understand the science behind both the claims and her refutation of them. While our genes were shaped by life in the Paleolithic Period, they were also shaped by the millions of years of life before that time and by the thousands of years since. Also, our environment changed as different groups of humans spread throughout the world, so there is no single time and place where we were perfectly situated for the world around us. New discoveries in archeology, anthropology, and primate research suggest that past assumptions about life in the past are not completely true as well. Check out this book if you’re interested in science and the history of humans, or just curious about the latest craze based on what’s “natural” for mankind.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 1:24am

Have You Heard About... Paper Towns

… Quentin Jacobsen’s journey to find love? John Green’s novel, Paper Towns, takes a common young adult theme (boy searches for girl) and turns it into a quirky, poignant, and hilarious mystery. The story is told from the perspective of Quentin Jacobsen, a high school senior in the last few weeks before graduation. One night, Margo Roth Spiegelman, the supremely adventurous girl Quentin has loved from afar, climbs into his window ninja-style and pulls him along to help her get revenge on several of her friends. (The quest itself is ingenious, involving a dead fish in the backseat of a car and some carefully placed Nair.)

After their all-nighter ends, Margo disappears, leaving a small trail of clues behind her. In his desperation to understand the enigma that is Margo, Quentin sets out after her with his best friends in tow. But as he moves down the disconnected path that Margo has set out for him, Quentin realizes that Margo is not the girl he knew.

Paper Towns was my first John Green novel, and it really has a lot to offer. The mystery itself is very well done without falling into the slightly cheesy trap of the teenager playing the amateur sleuth. And the writing is sharp and witty– I found myself literally laughing out loud, particularly when Margo and Quentin exact satisfying revenge on their classmates in the middle of the night.

This is one of those rare books that appeals to teens and adults, and it’s a welcome change from the plethora of apocalyptic and paranormal tales saturating the market.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)