Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 2:03am

Have You Heard About... Wickedly Dangerous

… Baba Yagas? They may have their roots in Russian folklore, but these witches are perfectly comfortable in the present-day United States. More than a name, “Baba Yaga” is now a title shared by several women around the world, including Barbara Yager, the heroine of Deborah Blake’s Wickedly Dangerous*. She may live in an Airstream RV rather than a hut with chicken legs, but she’s still a powerful magic user who doesn’t suffer fools lightly.

Ms Blake writes an excellent modern-day fantasy/romance/mystery blend. Both Barbara and her gentleman of interest have complex histories that make them (and their mistakes) believable. Their romance mixes well with the magical action and mystery as they have to work together to find out who has been kidnapping local children. The author even manages to work in some environmental activism without getting overwhelming. Everything ties up neatly at the end, with future books in the series focusing on Baba Yagas in other areas.

* The series continues with Wickedly Wonderful.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - 2:03am

Have You Heard About... The Snowman

… the serial killer who leaves behind snowmen as a calling card?

The mystery behind Jo Nesbo’s novel, The Snowman, is pretty standard: police investigator Harry Hole stumbles across a series of gruesome murders and disappearances. Two things stand out about these crimes: the women all disappeared on the first snowfall of the year, spanning multiple decades, and there was a snowman present at each of the crime scenes. (Seriously, I had no idea a snowman could be so creepy.)

Harry Hole is a very flawed protagonist with self-destructive tendencies and a stubborn streak a mile wide, but he also has a rugged independence and a strong sense of justice, which comes in handy when everyone else has written off the case. He’s not exactly a likeable character, but he’s certainly compelling, and I found myself rooting heartily for him by the end of the novel.

Pacing is steady, and there are a lot of red herrings throughout, which I liked because it kept me from guessing what was going to happen next. And by the time the real solution presented itself, I was turning pages so fast I thought sparks would fly out from under my fingers. The story just seemed to become even more compelling the farther in I got.

Like most Nordic fiction, The Snowman is dark, bleak, and atmospheric, and with some top-notch writing to boot. I’m not generally a fan of mystery series, and I’ve never considered myself a fan of Nordic fiction, but this is a series I definitely plan on following.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 2:25am

Have You Heard About... Nocturne

… the creatures that roam the night? No, not supernatural horrors, Nocturne: Creatures of the Night features real nocturnal animals. Traer Scott has put together a beautiful book with photographs of mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and more. The selection ranges all over the world, from animals that are familiar to us in the Midwestern US (like raccoons and opossums) to those we have probably only seen in zoos or books (like snow leopards and capybaras).

The animals are shown against completely black backgrounds, emphasizing their connection with the night and making them absolutely stunning. Each animal’s entry includes a paragraph about it — where it lives, whether it is endangered, and other interesting facts. A few of the animals are technically crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) rather than nocturnal, and some are becoming nocturnal due to pressures from humans, but that doesn’t detract from the theme of the book or its beauty. The introduction and appendixes include some additional information about how the artist got the photos and about the effects humans are having on nocturnal animals.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 2:05am

Have You Heard About... Mother, Mother

… the mother who makes Norma Bates look like a kind and gentle soul? Koren Zailckas’ stunning psychological thriller, Mother, Mother, revolves around Josephine Hurst, mother to three children and wife to a brilliant tech guru. On the outside, the family looks perfect. But within a short amount of time, Josephine’s older daughter runs away, her younger daughter turns to drugs and is eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital, and her only son has recently been diagnosed with autism and epilepsy. Josephine does everything in her power to keep her family’s image intact, but a visit from Child Protective Services threatens Josephine and her family’s secrets.

Josephine is never presented as anything other than a manipulative, narcissistic sociopath, but somehow, I always found myself surprised at how cruelly Josephine would control the other members of her family. When her oldest daughter, Rose, becomes pregnant, Josephine is horrified and tells her daughter that she will ruin her image as well as the family’s image if she goes through with the pregnancy, essentially driving Rose towards an abortion that she doesn’t really want. But several weeks after the abortion– well, without going into too much detail, let’s just say that Rose understands that Josephine will never forgive her for becoming pregnant in the first place.

I picked up this book expecting an interesting psychological thriller, but what I got was a psychological thriller that knocked my figurative socks off. The poisonous motherly love depicted in Mother, Mother rivaled the twisted marriage in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which a month ago I would have said was impossible. But I was staggered by the time I closed this book and my immediate impulse was to flip it over and read it all over again. I can offer no higher praise than that.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 2:33am

Have You Heard About... The Underground Girls of Kabul

… bacha posh, the practice of raising a daughter as a son in some parts of Afghanistan?  Jenny Nordberg does an incredible job of introducing the reader to this in The Underground Girls of Kabul.  Until recently, almost nothing was known of bacha posh in western Europe and the United States, but it has a long history in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East.  It isn’t common, but many people know a family or know someone who knows a family who are raising a daughter as a son — bacha posh in Dari or alakaana in Pashto.

Ms Nordberg interviewed many parents, children, and teenagers and adults who used to be bacha posh.  They have many different reasons for changing a daughter into a son.  A son can run errands, bring in money to support the family, and protect his sisters.  A son gives his family and his mother status, a place in the community.  A woman who has only daughters may even raise one as a son to encourage her body to bring forth a real son next time.

In order to explain why and how families choose to have a bacha posh, Ms Nordberg covers a lot of the history and culture of Afghanistan and its many ethnic groups.  How can someone understand the difference between having a son or a daughter without understanding the gender roles of both children and adults?  To understand those roles, we also have to understand some of the historic, economic, and cultural reasons behind those roles.  Ms Nordberg does a beautiful job of explaining that, but she also helps us understand the people, the individuals involved — a woman who is afraid that she will lose her place within her family (possibly her entire community) if she only has daughters, a child who wants to be a girl but whose family can’t live without the income from her job as a boy, a teenager who was raised as a boy and is trying to resist becoming a woman, a mother who was bacha posh and wants one of her children to have that freedom herself, and many others.

Ms Nordberg’s fascinating introduction to bacha posh also helps us learn more about the incredible, intricate culture from which they come.


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 2:28am

Have You Heard About... Help for the Haunted

… the mysterious death of two renowned demonologists? With a premise like that, I instantly knew I had to read Help for the Haunted by John Searles, and boy, was I ever impressed. When it comes to “well-written” stories, whatever that vague term may mean, Help for the Haunted surpassed my wildest expectations.

The story follows Sylvie Mason, who is trying to come to grips with the sudden murder of her parents – two self-proclaimed demonologists who give lectures and assist spiritually-afflicted people. Sylvie is now under the care of her older sister, Rose, who proves to be a misguided and neglectful legal guardian with a secret she is determined to keep from Sylvie.

The story is firmly centered around the death of the Masons, with chapters alternating between the events leading up to their death and the secrets and the mysteries left behind in the wake of their murder. This seems to be a common narrative technique in modern psychological thrillers, where the story is told from either two points of view or two time periods until the very end, when everything comes crashing together in the final climax. It’s an effective device, and it pretty much ensures that the reader will be helpless to stop turning the pages.

In addition, Sylvie is one of the best young protagonists I’ve read about in a long time. She comes across as intelligent, determined, and genuinely affected by her parents’ death and the stigma surrounding her entire family without being melodramatic, whiny, or any of the other character flaws that plague teenage protagonists.

Although this book didn’t have as much of the supernatural elements as I would have preferred, I was thrilled to find another psychological suspense novel to add to my growing collection of fantastic titles. This one is a must read.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 2:46am

Have You Heard About... The Mutts Diaries

… the sweet, silly, touching, and all-around adorable adventures of adopted cats and dogs? Patrick McDonnell has been writing the Mutts comic strip for many years now. One of his most recent collections is The Mutts Diaries. Rather than having all of the strips from a set period of time, this book gives us a selection of strips highlighting different characters. A few have multi-strip storylines, but the overall effect is more snapshots that give an overview of the character.

Of course, the stars of Mutts — Mooch and Earl — are the first two characters covered. However, lesser-known animals are also included to good effect, like Sour Puss, the crab, the guard dog, and several others. The humans show up in some strips, but like usual, they are not the focus. The various animals are clearly the stars of this show.

If you’re familiar with Mr. McDonnell’s lovely comic, The Mutts Diaries is a lovely chance to look back at some older strips. If you aren’t already reading it, this book is a great way to get to know the characters, general tone, and common themes. Either way, I can’t recommend it enough!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 2:28am

Have You Heard About... Bittersweet

… the summer’s perfect beach novel? Summer may be several months away, but Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is definitely still worth a read.

Mabel is a Plain Jane college student who rooms with the gorgeous Ginevra Winslow. At first, Mabel believes that Ginevra only tolerates her presence, but then she suddenly invites Mabel up to her family’s private estate in Vermont for the summer. Delighted, Mabel wants nothing more than to be accepted by this beautiful group of people, until she starts uncovering dark secrets about the family.

All of the characters are deeply flawed, some of them bordering on unlikable…. Mabel is insecure as an outsider trying to escape her own horrible family life, Ginevra is spoiled and haughty, the Winslow parents are imperious and demanding, and the rest of the family comes across as greedy, and in some cases hopelessly sheltered. But they’re all COMPELLING characters, and I couldn’t help but keep turning the pages.

In my mind, this is the perfect summer novel: suspenseful, beautifully written, glamorous, gossipy, and ominous. The story describes an almost impossibly wealthy family from an outsider’s point of view, and I loved the thrill of “peeking behind the curtain” into the secret life of the Winslow family.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - 2:41am

Have You Heard About... Lock in

… Haden’s syndrome, which prevents sufferers from making any voluntary movements, while leaving them fully conscious? This horrific condition is one of the key elements in John Scalzi’s Lock in. However, this is far from a horror novel. Technological advances designed to help people with Haden’s have given them access to a virtual reality called the Agora and to mechanical bodies called “threeps” that let them interact with the physical world. There are even a few people, “Integrators,” with the ability to let Hadens share their bodies when they need a more personal approach.

Lock in has horror aspects and plenty of science fiction, but at its heart, this is a mystery novel. A man is found dead in a Washington, DC, hotel room with a live Integrator who doesn’t remember what happened. New FBI agent Chris Shane (a Haden working through a threep) is assigned the case with Leslie Vann, an experienced agent and former Integrator. Their job is made more difficult because a new bill slashing federal funding to benefit Hadens is about to go into effect, and hundreds of people are flooding into the city to protest against it. More murders involving Hadens and Integrators follow, and Shane and Vann will need to work fast to find the people responsible before they end up on the list of victims.

John Scalzi is an excellent writer, adeptly blending humor, adventure, and suspense. Give this book a try!


Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 2:51am

Have You Heard About... My Planet

Mary Roach’s short essays that were published in Reader’s Digest for several years? I’m quite familiar with her hilarious science writing, but these Reader’s Digest articles were a big surprise for me. And even though My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places doesn’t have the sophistication or the subject matter of her previous novels, I managed to LOL through this entire collection of Roach’s fabulous reflections on domestic life.

I’ve heard a couple of reviewers refer to this as bathroom reading - short essays designed to be read in the span of a few minutes - and that’s probably the best way to approach this book. Trying to read large chunks of the book can be a little exhausting, especially when you realize just how many essays are included, but two or three provides a perfectly sized dose of her trademark humor. Such as:

“Like any normal couple, we refused to accept each other’s differences and did whatever we could to annoy the other person.”


“A family is a collection of people who share the same genes but cannot agree on a place to pull over for lunch.”


“Not long ago, a mysterious Christmas card dropped through our mail slot. The envelope was addressed to a man named Raoul, who, I was relatively certain, did not live with us.”

Quite frankly, I don’t really care what Mary Roach writes. She’s just too darn funny for her own good.


Reviewed by Katie (staff)