There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins

This fall, I’ve made a real effort to read more scary or creepy books, just to get in the spirit of things. Honestly, I really liked most of them, but so far I think my favorite is There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins. For an author whose previous work had been mostly light-hearted romances, this 2017 book was a bit of a departure. It tells the story of Hawaii-born Makani Young, who was transplanted to Osborne, Nebraska after a shocking incident in her junior year of high school. Now a senior, Makani is trying to focus on the future, especially a future involving Ollie, the mysterious loner with whom she shared a brief summer romance. Everything changes, however, when her classmates begin to die, brutally murdered in horribly personal ways. Makani, her two best friends, and her maybe-boyfriend must scramble to survive and expose the Osborne Slayer before it’s too late — and Makani finds herself forced to confront her darkest secrets along the way.

There’s a few reasons this book really stuck with me. First, the characters were thoughtfully diverse and believably well-rounded. For each character, the author gives you insight into their character, their talents and insecurities, and what kind of person they are, so you can’t help but empathize with them. This happens not only for the main characters, Makani and her friends, but for minor characters as well. In an extremely effective writing tactic for the genre, Perkins begins alternate chapters by focusing on a different one of Makani’s classmates, describing their thoughts and feelings as they go about their everyday routine, becoming increasingly uneasy as unusual things begin to happen around them until finally, the killer emerges, completing his terrifying work. I personally thought Perkins did an amazing job making the victims real and sympathetic to the reader in just enough pages to make their deaths devastating. At the same time, no character is simple. Reading it, I was left very aware of the complex inner life hiding in every individual, no matter how put-together or straightforward they appear. In the same way, no one is purely good or purely evil; Perkins explores the ways that circumstances, chance, stress, and other pressures bring out the darkness in different people.

Second, the writing style and strategy was simply fantastic. The structure and order of the chapters kept the suspense building, with bursts of action raising the stakes and advancing the story. What I really liked was the interludes where Makani and Ollie slowly got to know each other and developed their relationship. Since I’m not a huge romance reader, I appreciated that these interludes weren’t distracting from the overarching story, but provided both a respite from the terror and hope for a future beyond the Osborne Slayer. As romances go, this one was believable and sweet for me, with both parties mostly communicating well, confronting their demons, and making an effort to be there for each other in friendship and in romance.

In short, while this book rings true both in the slasher genre and the YA romance genre, it didn’t feel cookie-cutter or standard. For me, Perkins created a rich world in Osborne, where there was a lot more going on than just the Osborne Slayer. I fell in love with the characters, I got addicted to the action, and I was pleased with the ending. I definitely recommend this book to any newbie or veteran reader of thrillers and horror.

Change Your Habits: Reading for a New Year

I recently read a book I’ve been meaning to for a long time: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. If you haven’t already read this book, it’s an absorbing exploration of the science behind the habits that shape our individual lives, our companies, and our societies. The best part about it is, it’s written as a series of anecdotes about individuals, sports teams, companies, and groups that have changed their habits to improve their performance. Each section and chapter is engaging and readable, and builds on what came before it to craft a detailed picture of how habits work and how they can be changed. It explores neuroscience, psychology, belief, economics, and more, and it left me feeling like I had a good grasp on how habits work and how I could change mine.

Because we’re approaching a new year, you may be thinking about how you want to change your life and what you’d like to do better. My personal recommendation is that the first thing you do on that journey is read a book about habits and how they can change. If you’d like something more recent than The Power of Habit (published 2012), check out any of the great titles listed below.

 

 

 

Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg recommends you start small to make changes.

Habit Swap by Hugh G. Byrne focuses on mindfulness and self-control.

Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood draws on scientific research.

Healthy Habits Suck by Danya Lee-Bagley is a realistic guide to motivation.

Atomic Habits by James Clear highlights small behaviors that drive change.

Stick With It by Sean Young highlights how lasting change is made.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

I love when an unfamiliar book’s dust jacket describes it as a mashup of my favorite things, because in my experience this is a great way to find new books I’m likely to enjoy. In the case of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, it was described as “Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets War of the Worlds” – and that was it, I absolutely had to read it. It turns out my instinct was right! This is a great book, in large part because it has all the dry humor of both Harry Potter and Ghostbusters along with excitement and action of War of the Worlds. I saw elements of Kingsman in the mix as well – both feature the secret organization facing an unprecedented threat, and a mentor-rookie relationship that adds real pathos.

The book opens with a young woman finding herself in a rainy London park, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket which opens Dear You, which turns out to be from her body’s former occupant, explaining that her name is Myfanwy Alice Thomas, and she’s a supernatural secret agent being actively hunted by an unknown enemy. This new Myfanwy must take over her predecessor’s complicated life and discover who wants her gone, all without letting anyone know what’s happened to her. Luckily for her, her predecessor was an excellent administrator and left many detailed notes and letters telling her everything she needs to know – if only she can stay alive long enough to read them.

Not only is this book funny and action-packed, the characters are widely diverse and supremely entertaining. The huge variety of supernatural powers that they display is staggeringly imaginative, and the personalities are compelling as well. I personally love that the main character, Myfanwy, remains confident, humorous, and decisive despite the fact that she’s lost her memory and is scrambling to get up to speed with the dangerous world she now inhabits. Whether or not her sanguine attitude is realistic, it makes for a much easier read than if she was dripping with angst and insecurity- and I find it somewhat inspiring! If only we could all feel confident that even if the worst should come, we can figure out whatever comes our way, and laugh about it. She also has a real knack for making friends, especially with the other strong women around her, which only increases the hilarity and inspiration. If you love Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Kingsman, Doctor Who, Independence Day, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I definitely recommend you try this book — and its sequel, Stiletto.

Hidden Database Gems: Reference Solutions

If you don’t spend much time scrolling through the research tools on our library website, you might not know about all the amazing online databases you have access to with your library card. The list includes encyclopedias, newspaper archives, genealogy resources, children’s encyclopedias, and much more! One specific hidden gem you might not know about is Data Axle Reference Solutions (previously known as ReferenceUSA).

Reference Solutions acts primarily as a business database, allowing you to look up established and new businesses by name, executives, location, or phone number. However, it also includes searches for individuals, health care providers, and job postings. It’s a very useful database for finding contact info or addresses, especially for people or businesses.

To try out Reference Solutions, go to our website, then under Research Tools, click on Online Resources. Scroll to the “D”s and you’ll find Data Axle: Reference Solutions.

You’ll probably be asked to log in with your library card. The front page when you log in looks like this:

Here you can choose to search for an individual, a business, a job, or a health care provider. When you hover over a category, words appear underneath saying “Search” or “More Information”. If you click on “Search”, it takes you to the default search page, which includes an Advanced Search on a second tab (circled).

You can put in as much information as you want, narrowing down by location and a name, and then click Search.  The search results will look like this:

For such a useful database, it’s pretty easy to use and gets you some fast information. One caveat: not every person or business is recorded in this database, so results aren’t guaranteed. Also, in the case of corporations, you may get several phone numbers or separate entries for regional offices. You can see where a business falls in the corporation by clicking on “Corp Tree” in the far right column.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Love Hank and John Green? Devoured An Absolutely Remarkable Thing? Worried about our society? Then boy, do I have a book for you: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green! A fresh installment in the saga of April May and her friends shows us a world after first contact with an alien intelligence, bitterly divided over the aliens, their intentions, and what it means (and should mean) to be human. This is, like its predecessor, a timely book perfectly plugged into the realities of online communication, internet fame, and the deep ideological divides in our nation and our world. (Psst – no idea what I’m talking about? Check out our previous blog post about the first book.)

SPOILERS AHEAD: Maya, Andy, and Miranda are all processing their grief over April’s disappearance (or death, depending on who you ask) differently. Maya refuses to accept April is gone and chases conspiracies and mysteries trying to find her. Andy has stepped into April’s fame and struggles to feel worthy of the task. And Miranda, returning to her research, recklessly joins a suspicious scientific venture to protect April’s legacy. Meanwhile, as tensions rise between the bitterly divided camps of pro- and anti- alien (and anti-April, honestly), an intelligence beyond their comprehension continues to meddle in their reality, with intentions unknown…

This book really made me think, and debate with myself how I feel about it. I like that it’s written in short, addictive chapters that rotate between April’s friends’ point of view. Downside: all three of her friends are on different, very exciting paths, and it can be hard to switch back and forth between them and remember what’s going on. I also like that it picks up not long after the events at the end of the first book and continues the story in a believable way, creating cohesion and continuity between the two books. Downside: too much continuity! It’s been a long time since I read the first one and I no longer remember all the important details this book is referencing.

However, the characters are brimming with wry, self-deprecating humor, relatable 20-something angst, and deep thoughts about humanity, identity, and fame. Overall, this book rings with truth, and for me seems to hold up a mirror to our society, showing us the good and the bad about the path we’re on.

Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons

Full disclosure: I was never a huge zombie fan. I’m usually too squeamish for intense gore, for one thing, and I get caught up in thinking about the person a zombie used to be, which only makes it harder to see the zombie gruesomely killed. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched more intense shows and movies like Jurassic Park, Torchwood, and Supernatural, which have helped me sort through both those issues and appreciate the action and heroism, so I’ve gotten… let’s say “lukewarm” about zombies and undead media.

That said, it was still an unusual choice for me to read Girls Save The World in This One by Ash Parsons. This recently-published YA horror novel is narrated by June, a high school senior attending Zombiecon with her best friends. She’s been saving up for this all summer, and is excited to revel in the convention celebrating all things zombies. At first, she’s mainly worried about seeing all the panels and actors she wants to, not to mention graduation, future plans, growing apart with her friends, and whether she’s really as cool as they say she is. But then, the con is thrown into chaos when a virus outbreak launches the real zombie apocalypse, and June and her friends are in a real fight for survival. I was mixed going into this book: while I enjoy fandom, I don’t enjoy the crowds, chaos, and costs of conventions, and I still don’t love the idea of the zombie apocalypse. But I do love girl power and stories where friendship is front and center.

Despite my misgivings, this book did not disappoint me. For one thing, it was helpful to hear June’s take on zombies: they’re not malicious, just hungry and following their instincts, like sharks. But more than that, the diversity is realistic, the friendship is strong, the enthusiasm is contagious, and the examination of ethics and larger issues at play is extremely thoughtful.  As I had hoped, this book was filled with empowerment, celebration of differences and friendship, and pulse-pounding action. I definitely felt, even as someone who’s not a zombie aficionado, that this book was a fresh and fitting addition to the canon of zombie literature. My only real issue with it was that the book’s focus on friendship and empowerment means that (spoiler alert) there’s never a great explanation of how and why the zombie / virus outbreak happens or how it’s going to be resolved. I can’t decide whether or not it’s just added realism: a teenager might not care WHY the crisis happened, as long as it’s over.

If you love feminist takes on classic stories, if you’re looking for a celebration of zombies, or if you have a tight-knit squad that would have your back even if the world was ending, I definitely recommend reading this book.

The Glorious Multimedia World of RPGs

Today, I’m going to share with you one of my deepest regrets: I’ve always wanted to play tabletop games, especially roleplaying (RPG) games like Dungeons and Dragons, but I’ve never had enough interested friends to learn how. I still hold out hope it could happen for me someday, but in the meantime, I’m happy to report there are lots of other ways to experience the RPG world, including podcasts, video games, and of course, books. Primarily, I want to share with you my favorite podcasts and video games that will give you the RPG experience even if you’re flying solo like me.

The arguably most famous – and wildly enjoyable – podcast about Dungeons and Dragons is The Adventure Zone made by the McElroy family. It’s available on a variety of free podcasting platforms including Podcast Addict. The formula is simple: a father and his sons sit down to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons together, recording it in real time so you can follow along with their campaign. The result is hilarious and addictive, and it gives you a real insight into how typical tabletop roleplaying games work. It’s so popular, in fact, that it now has its own graphic novel series!

The Glass Cannon is another option. This podcast is based on the Pathfinder roleplaying game, and is one of several put out by the Glass Cannon network. Like The Adventure Zone, it strives to give the listener an immersive gameplay experience, enjoyable for players and non-players alike. Unlike the Adventure Zone, it has an ensemble cast of various comedians, voice actors, and gaming nerds to flesh out the story and the characters. This podcast is also available on Podcast Addict, among other platforms.

As far as video games go, I personally strongly recommend trying Cat Quest and Cat Quest II for Nintendo Switch. As a self-declared newbie gamer, I appreciated the clear gameplay and intuitive controls as well as the frankly adorable graphics. In the second game (the one I’ve tried), you play as one or both of a cat and dog pair who are dethroned kings trying to regain their rightful places. Just like in role playing games like D&D, these two go on a series of quests to reach that goal, gaining supplies and abilities along the way. It presents enough challenge to be interesting but still manages to be relaxing.

If cute and cuddly’s not your thing, you might enjoy other RPG games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or the online World of Warcraft. These games lean heavier into the more typical fantasy world of elves, dwarves, dragons, and dangerous, bloody quests. In the case of Elder Scrolls, you play as a prophesied hero with a unique gift, which uniquely places you to deal with dragons returning to the realm.

Live Long and Evolve by Mohamed A.F. Noor

I am a big science fiction fan. I love books and shows that imagine alternatives and futures for humanity rife with intriguing possibilities and ingenious improvements. My journey into this subset of geekdom has included shows and books like Doctor Who, Star Wars, and of course, Star Trek. In troubled times like these, Star Trek is a particularly appealing franchise for me because of its positive vision of the future: humanity grows out of violence and bigotry, embraces science and diplomacy, and goes forth to understand and befriend the galaxy. Together with a whole host of interesting galactic neighbors, Star Trek’s humanity builds a diverse and cooperative society committed to exploration and discovery. It’s an amazingly attractive vision, but sometimes it begs the question: just how likely is this utopia?

One way of tackling this question is through Mohamed Noor’s Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Evolution, Genetics, and Life On Other Worlds. This deceptively slim volume is packed with accessible explanations of how genetics, biology, and evolutionary processes work, and it carefully examines examples from across the Star Trek film and television canon. Specifically, Noor examines definitions and origins of life, DNA, reproduction, and various evolutionary processes including natural selection and genetic drift.

What I liked about this book was that it represents good scientific process, a fan’s devotion to the Star Trek franchise, AND an accessible translation of complicated concepts. Each of the six chapters is laid out like a scientific paper: it has an introduction, separate labeled sections on subtopics, and closing thoughts. Not only is this structure good scientific practice, it also makes the topics clearer for non-scientists to understand. In the same way, each topic and concept is explained in clear terms and helpful analogies to be understandable to the layman. Moreover, the author doesn’t lose sight of Star Trek as he explains complicated biology concepts; each chapter and subsection is peppered with references from Star Trek: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Discovery, and Enterprise.

Predictably, while the author’s love for the franchise is evident, it’s also necessary to explain that the shows often get biological concepts wrong and use terms incorrectly or in misleading ways. I appreciated how gently these errors were pointed out, and that the author also took time to applaud what the various shows got right about scientific concepts. I also thought it was helpful that the reader isn’t obligated to have the entire Star Trek canon memorized; examples are given enough context to understand what is happening in the relevant scenes.

I would definitely recommend this book for lifelong learners interested in biology (or Star Trek), for Star Trek fans who want to know how close the shows get to reality, and for anyone who likes to wonder about humanity’s past and future existence. My only caveat: while this book is a good way to learn about basic scientific ideas, the concepts are still fairly complicated and can require a bit of focus to really grasp.

Recently Added: Quarantine Music

I think it’s safe to say the last few months have changed a lot of plans. Countless goals and dreams and ways of thinking have been forced to adapt, be revised, or be put to rest. One way, both beautiful and bittersweet, that these changes are expressed is through the art we create. Taylor Swift is a good example of what can be created in these unusual circumstances, but there are several other cases of creative projects altered by pandemic that are worth looking at. All the albums listed have recently been ordered for the library and will be available soon.

how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX is an album that was created in a truly unique way, unlikely to have arisen except in the context of self-isolation. The artist announced (where else?) on a Zoom call  that she would be making an album in self-isolation and that she would use only the tools at her fingertips to create the music, album art, everything.  Moreover, she worked collaboratively with her fans to get feedback on tracks, album art, and more. The result has been highly acclaimed by critics and fans.

In A Dream by Troye Sivan is the artist’s third album, following 2018’s Bloom. According to Sivan, this album represents an emotional rollercoaster, where emotions and feelings are shockingly fresh. Similar to Taylor Swift’s journey with Folklore, this album was made while Sivan was in lockdown in Melbourne, and it was facilitated by the boredom and isolation of the experience. Songs were created day by day and it was an unexpected realization to find that an entire album had materialized.

Here On Earth by Tim McGraw, in contrast to previous examples, was planned and recorded before the pandemic, but was unmistakably altered by it. The tour originally planned to accompany the release had to be canceled, and according to an interview with Rolling Stone, McGraw had to reexamine the record in light of the pandemic to see how its emotional impact had been changed. Some tracks, including I Called Mama, were found to have unexpected emotional weight.

ALICIA by Alicia Keys was also planned ahead of time, but struck a timely chord with its themes. Critics said the album struck a balance between hope and despair, and Keys herself said the album showed the value of introspection – something we’ve all had more time to do lately, right? The album was scheduled for release in March, but was delayed by the pandemic until September. In the meantime, various virtual performances allowed Keys to debut songs from the album ahead of its release, including the iHeart Living Room Concert for America.

Enola Holmes: Page and Screen

If watching Stranger Things made you a fan of  Millie Bobby Brown, if you love rebellious female heroines, or if you devour all things Sherlock Holmes, then Enola Holmes may be the character for you. A film adaptation centered on Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’ younger sister is now available on Netflix, so there’s no better time to discover the mystery book series by Nancy Springer.

The series is six books in all, starting with The Case of the Missing Marquess, first published in 2006. As in the recent film, the book’s action starts when Enola discovers her mother is missing. It’s up to her to travel to London and find her, while solving a few other mysteries and avoiding her older brothers at the same time.

I am excited about this series and its film adaptation for a number of reasons. Nancy Springer wrote some of my most favorite books when I was younger, full of fascinating, sympathetic characters, plenty of action and humor, and covering a wide range of genres and situations. Secondly, I am a self-confessed Anglophile, and I love the Sherlock Holmes character and universe. Throw in a spunky, clever, determined heroine, and I am 100% on board. The fact that the Enola character is played in the film by Millie Bobby Brown, whom I love in Stranger Things, is just a bonus. If you like mysteries, historical fiction, and comparing books to their film adaptations, I definitely recommend you check out the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer.