Have You Heard

Post date: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 1:07am

Have You Heard About... Monster on the Hill

… the horrible beast that rampages through the town regularly, causing moderate property damage and making people to flee to safe hiding spots? With its fangs and horns and fearsome roar, our monster is undoubtedly the most amazing you have ever seen. For a limited time, you can also buy souvenir rubble, posters, and ice cream treats. Don’t leave town until you’ve been terrified by our Monster on the Hill!

Author and illustrator Rob Harrell does a wonderful job with this graphic novel. If a town’s monster is important to its tourist trade and social standing, what happens when the local monster gets depressed and just doesn’t feel like frighting the good fright any more? For one thing, disappointment is palpable in the streets of Stoker-on-Avon. (It makes the newspaper headlines, so it must be true.) For another, the city council gets desperate enough to send the local man of science to cure the monster, fortunately with a little unplanned assistance.

Monster on the Hill is a wonderfully fun, silly story with some sound advice for people who have gotten into a slump. Read it when you’re feeling blue and try some of the techniques that help the monster of Stoker-on-Avon get back into top form. (You should probably skip the trepanning though.)

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

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Post date: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 1:48am

Have You Heard About... Thirteen Reasons Why

… the high school girl who held her tormentors responsible for her suicide? In Jay Asher’s critically acclaimed teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, Clay Jensen wakes up to find a set of cassette tapes on his front door from Hannah Baker, his classmate and long-time crush who killed herself two weeks previously. The tapes promise to detail the reasons why she killed herself, and they promise to name the people who led her to her decision. When a person received the tapes, that meant they played a role in Hannah’s death.

The story itself is told from Clay’s point of view as he listens to the tapes, but the text alternates from Clay to Hannah’s voice on the cassette tapes. And because of how Hannah has constructed her story, the reader is at the mercy of her narration. We can’t fast forward or skip ahead. We are drawn, little by little, into Hannah’s world.

After reading this book, I instantly understood why this has been such a noteworthy title in the world of young adult fiction. Besides being an unstoppable page turner, this is a very, very realistic and heart-wrenching story about how one person’s actions can have lasting repercussions. I have to admit, as a high school outcast, I related very strongly to the book. It brought back long-buried memories and realizations of how strongly I was affected by the people I went to school with. Obviously, my life did not end tragically like Hannah’s, but her experiences touched a nerve in me.

Teens will likely have an easier time relating to this story than adults, but as an adult, I can honestly say that the novel did its job. It drew me in, horrified me with stories of intentional and unintentional manipulation, and made me think about my own experiences. This is a powerful, yet universal story that should be required reading for every teenager.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Tags: book, fiction, review, teen
Post date: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 1:34am

Have You Heard About... My Dog

… the humor surrounding man’s best friend? Matthew Inman takes a lovingly funny look at canines in My Dog: The Paradox. Dogs are ridiculously brave around dangerous things and fearful of things that can hurt them. They apologize if you accidentally trip over them. They’re as happy to see you return home when you’ve been gone for four minutes or four hours.

Inman brings his quirky art and irreverent humor to focus on dogs. He obviously loves them, despite admitting their flaws (poop features prominently in this book). Truthfully, though, who wouldn’t love “an explosive paradox composed of fur, teeth, and enthusiasm.” More than a funny book, this is an ode to dogs, noble and silly.

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 1:40am

Have You Heard About... Dad is Fat

… why it’s a bad idea to raise five kids in a New York City apartment? Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan, is pretty much what we expect when we read something written by a comedian - short, humorous vignettes about a certain topic that could very likely have been pulled from the person’s stand-up routine…or in Gaffigan’s case, actually HAVE been pulled from his routine. But this doesn’t work against the book, mainly because I really, really like Jim Gaffigan!

I had to read this book in short segments, because his stories of trying to get his five wriggling children out the door with all of their clothes on made ME exhausted, and I don’t even have kids. If his main intent was to accurately convey his trials and tribulations as a parent, he succeeded ten times over. (For example, answering unanswerable questions, like “Why are you a stand-up chameleon?” or “Why don’t dogs get the chicken pops?”)

And occasionally, he does break form and talk about something serious and relevant, like the tendency of strangers to ask insensitive questions about the number of children a couple may or may not have. “I don’t mean to get up on a diaper box,” he says, “but individual liberties are all-important in this country…except when it comes to the number of children you have or don’t have.” A refreshing change of pace. But lest you worry that fatherhood is making him serious, Jim goes right back to comedy. “I say we just live and let live. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave enough to have five kids.” Point taken. But I don’t plan on having five children anytime soon.

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 1:52am

Have You Heard About... Helen & Troy's Epic Road Quest

… the great teen road trip? Two teens set out together the summer before they start college, finding themselves along the way. Troy is the perfect guy — handsome, smart, athletic, friendly with everyone, and a genuinely nice guy. Helen is also smart and athletic, although rather shy. They both get along well with their parents and siblings, and they work together at Magic Burger. Together, they’re taking the ride of their lives in Troy’s father’s electric-blue Ford convertible. However, this is A. Lee Martinez, so there a few differences between Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest and the usual teen road trip novel. For one thing, they’re on the trip because of a geas placed on them by a rather unpleasant deity who was summoned by their boss. For another, Helen has fur and horns – your basic minotaur.

Martinez does a spectacular job of mixing his signature off-beat, occasionally-dark humor with a coming-of-age story. On their trip, Helen and Troy face challenges ranging from an orc motorcycle gang and dragons to the fates and their own doubts. They must complete the quest or die trying, but thousands of innocent people may die if they succeed. Will they make it to the end? Will they sacrifice themselves for the greater good? Can any challenge be harder than admitting their feelings for one another? As an agent from the National Questing Bureau says, “A quest without mystery is like a wolverine wearing a carnation.”

 

Reviewed by Fran (staff)

Post date: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 1:06am

Have You Heard About... Faithful Place

… the dysfunctional families living in the Irish neighborhood of Faithful Place? Faithful Place by Tana French was a reread for me, and I continue to be amazed at how well her mysteries hold up against multiple readings. Faithful Place follows the story of Frank Mackey (a secondary character from French’s second book, The Likeness). As a teenager, Frank had made plans to run away from Faithful Place with his girlfriend Rosie and start a new life over in England. But the night they were supposed to disappear together, Rosie never showed up and Frank left for England on his own, believing that Rosie had had second thoughts. He left his dysfunctional family behind and hasn’t returned home in over twenty years.

Fast-forward to the present day. One of Frank’s family members comes across evidence that suggests that Rosie might have been killed the night she failed to show up and Frank finds himself drawn back to Faithful Place, whether he likes it or not.

The main storyline follows the mystery of what happened to Rosie Daly, but the true appeal of the book lies in the characters and their relationships. Each character is so complex and so carefully created, that it felt like I was reading about real people. It didn’t even matter that I knew the ending to the story on my second reading…Tana French’s writing has a magic about it that makes her stories come alive and breathe. Plus, she creates one of the most realistic and powerful love stories I’ve read in a long time.

As with the rest of her mysteries, the story is very dark, full of family secrets, revenge, loyalty, betrayal, and complex, flawed characters. I’ve reviewed and recommended all of Tana French’s novels by this point, and Faithful Place is no exception. Her stories keep getting better and better, and I will continue to devour them until her next book is published. It’s not soon enough for me!

 

Reviewed by Katie (staff)

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)