Have You Heard

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)

Post date: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 12:01am

Have You Heard About... Shutter Island

… the suspicious rumors circulating around an isolated mental asylum? This forms the premise of Dennis Lehane’s classic work, Shutter Island. Two US Marshalls are sent to Shutter Island in order to investigate an escaped prisoner from a mental asylum for the criminally insane, but their investigation indicates that there is something far stranger at work here. Is it experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs? Are the patients all being used as test subjects? Or is it something else entirely?

The best part of the novel for me was the plot twist at the end of the book. I had an idea of where the story was going (even though I haven’t seen the movie yet), but it was still extremely satisfying to see it play out. And there’s quite a bit of ambiguity left over at the end, leaving me to wonder what actually happened.

Even if you’ve already seen the movie, give Shutter Island (or any of Lehane’s other novels) a try. His plots are complex, his characters are vivid, and his writing is gritty and precise – a great suggestion for fans of dark, psychological mysteries. I wish I had discovered Dennis Lehane sooner.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - 12:49am

Have You Heard About... Harriet the Invincible

… the beautiful princess who suffers under a dreadful curse? At her christening, the princess is cursed to prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep on her twelfth birthday. You may think this story sounds familiar, but this version was written by Ursula Vernon, who looks at things … differently. Harriet the Invincible realizes that, if the curse is going to strike on her twelfth birthday, nothing can hurt her until then. This discovery spells the end of her deportment lessons and the beginning of her adventures.

Harriet is wonderfully funny, oddly practical, and as the Crone of the Blighted Waste says, “a singularly bloody-minded little thug.” She is far better at swinging a sword than she is at looking ethereal and sighing. If you like your princesses pink, sparkly, and tough as nails, check out the Hamster Princess series!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - 12:50am

Have You Heard About... Relic

… how creepy museums can be after hours? Now just imagine there’s a monster stalking the basement halls of the museum, and you’ve got the premise for Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s spine-chilling novel, Relic.

The New York Museum of Natural History is set to unveil a huge exhibit with a prestigious gala, despite the fact that several guests and staff members have been viciously mauled by an unknown creature that seems to be living in the basement of the museum. Several employees and police officers have asked that the gala be postponed and the museum closed until they are able to stop the killings, but museum administration refuses. It doesn’t take a skilled reader to figure out that this is a horrifically bad idea.   

Part creature-feature, part scientific adventure thriller, this novel rivals Michael Crichton at his absolute best, which is high praise coming from someone who spent a good chunk of her teenage years devouring every Crichton novel she could get her hands on. There’s just enough scientific detail to make the story plausible, and plenty of genuine creepiness throughout the entire story to keep the pages turning. Pure entertainment from first page to last!


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

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)