Have You Heard

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)

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)