Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - 1:42am

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 - 1:03am

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 - 1:30am

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 - 1:39am

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 - 1:01am

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 - 1:49am

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 - 1:50am

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 - 1:30am

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 - 1:25am

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 - 1:30am

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)