As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

July 19, 2014

INFERNO by Dan Brown, 2013

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Ems - who cannot read enough books

I don't even know where to start on this one. There are times when I think I have a book figured out and it turns out that I was on target completely. Then there are times when I'm sure I've got it all and I am blown completely out of the water by what the outcome really is.

This is one of those times.

I started out thinking that THIS TIME, I was going to outsmart Dan Brown and figure the whole thing out ahead of time. He has this nasty little tendency to spring things on readers that they don't ever see coming. I WAS NOT GOING TO BE THAT READER. I was in the know! I could SEE how things were going down! 

Alas, I now have to eat crow and admit that Dan Brown is still the master of the twist. Actually, I should probably grovel a little bit, because I was COCKY going into this one.

*writhes*

I AM A WORM! I AM NOT WORTHY!

Okay, I am done beating myself up for not outsmarting Dan Brown.

What do you need to know going into this book?

Nothing is as it seems. Not one, single thing. 

No one is who they say they are. Not one, single person.

INFERNO will suck you in, chew you up, and then spit you out at the end, and you'll feel like you just went fifty rounds on the Tilt-a-Whirl, all in true Dan Brown style.

I'm still a huge Robert Langdon fan and hope to see more books in the series down the road. For now, it looks like this might be the end. After all, our favorite professor is aging (nicely, I might add) and he can't always be the jet-setting, save the world type. He still kicks it though. Awesomely.

I'm just going to shut up now and let you go read it if you haven't. YOU SHOULD.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: depression, death, insanity, conspiracy

July 8, 2014

THE COLOSSUS RISES by Peter Lerangis, 2013


Jack McKinley is an ordinary kid with an extraordinary problem. In a few months, he’s going to die. Jack needs to find seven magic loculi that, when combined, have the power to cure him. One Problem. The loculi are the relics of a lost civilization and haven’t been seen in thousands of years. Because they’re hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Ems - who cannot read enough books

Wow.

That's pretty much how I was left feeling after this book. To say that it ends on a cliffhanger is a gross understatement. Luckily, it's one that has me jonesing for the next book in the series. Fall 2013 can't come soon enough!

I had a completely different experience with this book. I chose it as a classroom read aloud for my fourth graders. The trick to picking a good read aloud is to get one that's the start of a series and one that will capture the students and make them demand more. A good read aloud can spark a love of reading in reluctant readers and get your casual readers to jump into more books.

This one was PERFECT.

It was really fantastic to read THE COLOSSUS RISES out loud and see the reactions of my students. To say that they enjoyed it would also be a gross understatement. They really love being read to, but with this one, they were begging me to keep going. I think they'd have gone for an all-day read aloud if we'd been able to swing it. They laughed, they cried (for real!), they shouted, they jumped out of their chairs...perfect reactions to this book, in my opinion!

For me, I loved how Peter Lerangis pulled a genius move on us with the way he ended his chapters. Brilliant. It definitely keeps you coming back for more. They were absolutely perfect for ending as read alouds too, because my students were irate that we stopped! They just HAD to know more! A book that captures the interest of ten year olds like that is pretty darn awesome.

I loved the story, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he incorporated the ancient wonders. See, I'm a huge geek, and the ancient wonders are all over my geekish radar. I love learning more about them, and I've actually toyed with the idea of writing a series myself. Well, now I don't need to, because this book is the start of a fantastic series. I know I couldn't do the wonders any more justice.

It's fast-paced, very appropriate for tweens, fun, and with characters that you'll come to love. I'm definitely ordering the next book in the series, and I may just read this one aloud again. My students will definitely thank me for it.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: death, illness, kidnapping

July 3, 2014

Gab Bag: Reading YA Without the Y


By Guest Blogger & Author, M.K. Hutchins

It seems like every month or so, some big website publishes an article railing on Young Adult fiction. It’s too dark. It’s too frivolous. Why would adults want to read this? Don’t teenagers have, like, zits and cooties? Why would mature adults want zits and cooties? Sometimes YA is also framed as literary junk food. Your brain will get fat, the argument goes. And besides, only kids like cookies slathered in chocolate ice cream with salted caramel sauce. Right?

It always strikes me as a bit ridiculous. I’m a fan of good stories wherever I can find them (also a fan of salted caramel), and YA as a genre has a lot going toward creating gripping stories. The whole coming-of-age thing, so ubiquitous in YA, allows for huge amounts of character change and growth that can be highly satisfying to watch – like Dashti’s journey in Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. YA also tends to focus on one character’s viewpoint, pulling us inside that person’s head. When I turned the last page of Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall or Cracked by Eliza Crewe, I could still imagine the way Odilia or Meda would say something.

A younger audience also means the reader isn’t expected to indulge an author in long passages of irrelevant navel-gazing. The pacing tends to be tight – it actually reminds me a lot of short fiction (which I also love, but that’s another topic). Teenage years often seem filled with angst and melodrama, and YA accordingly doesn’t shy away from big plots with big stakes that make for immediately captivating situations. Both Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me and Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst had me biting my nails from the first pages. Yes, I stayed up too late at night to finish those books. Contemporary fiction is a hard sell for me, but even when I step in that direction, novels like Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt still deliver high-stakes situations. What could be more important, after all, than deciding who you’re going to be and reclaiming your identity? Even though Going Vintage doesn’t touch anything more spectacular than a bad break-up, what happened felt as important as a march through Mordor.

In giving me big situations, YA often tells stories that stick with me and make me think. After finishing Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, I remember looking at the green lawn and bushes outside my apartment complex. Non-edible, decorative plants carpeted the ground. At that moment, I realized I live in the Capitol.

Boundaries between genres are also looser in YA, which means we can have books like Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Part sci-fi, part fairytale retelling, with a dash of Star Wars-esque magic, it’s a mash-up that wouldn’t conveniently fit on any adult bookshelf. And, really, haven’t you always needed to read about a cyborg Cinderella?

Sometimes I see people defend YA by pointing out the books that are most like adult fiction, or the most serious books. I just want to point to all of it. The serious, the funny, the dramatic, the thoughtful. There are so many different things going on in YA, I have a hard time imagining anyone hating all of it.

And I’m sure my particular reading tastes have skipped over swaths of YA, too. Whether you’re a young adult or not, what are your favorite parts of the YA genre? Favorite books? I’m always looking for something great to read.





June 30, 2014

DRIFT by M.K. Hutchins, 2014

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister's wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Kim Harris Thacker:  mommy, writer, and Bookshop Talk host

M.K. Hutchins is a long-time friend of Bookshop Talk. She has submitted a number of reviews to us over the years, and her comments are always insightful. So when we heard that her debut novel, DRIFT, was coming out in June of this year, we knew we had to get our hands on a copy! And friends, DRIFT did not disappoint.

As a lover of YA fantasy novels, I really appreciate it when an author is a skillful world-builder. I especially love it when the author is so skillful, in fact, that I forget he or she has had a hand in the creation of the setting at all. I want the setting and the plot to feel natural and plausible, even when the events that take place in the story are utterly impossible. Ms. Hutchins is this kind of writer.

The author’s note at the end of the book explains that Ms. Hutchins studied as an archaeologist and linguist in college. The details you would expect from someone who has excavated in foreign lands and spent a great deal of time in studying world cultures abound in DRIFT, from the origins mythology (which draws from the Classic Maya and Aztec understandings of the cosmos and the physical positioning of the underworld, earth, and sky) to the descriptions of the sea monsters, called nagas (which appear in Hindu mythology). The cultural belief in DRIFT that the poor must marry and have children, who will provide them with free labor and support them in their old age, feels true-to-life, too. This is no surprise, since this is the belief and lifestyle in many parts of the real world, today.

All in all, what I loved most about this book were the rich details and the believable world building. But I also loved the characters. At first, the main character, Tenjat, is not very likable. He ridicules Jesso, the man who took him and his sister in when they arrived, alone, on his island—and all because Jesso has many children and even has the gall to be proud of his large family. But, like the best heroes, Tenjat learns that he doesn’t know everything. By the end of the book, his understanding of Jesso’s choices changes to the point where he knows he must advocate a new cultural understanding of families, or the turtle upon which he and the other characters in the story live, will die. Tenjat’s not the only great character, though: his sister, Eflet, and his friends, Avi, Gyr, and Daef, are also wonderful. I’d love to see them in their own novels!

DRIFT is great, folks. It’s fresh and totally unique. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to stay up late at night in order to read and read and read—because you won’t be able to put it down, once you get started.

Stay tuned, Bookshop Talk friends, for an upcoming guest post from M.K. Hutchins, the author of DRIFT!

Market: YA (12 and up)
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild (some reference to sexual activity, though nothing immediate)
Violence: Moderate (nothing too brutal, but there are a few battles, a reference to a past torture scene, and a threat of torture)
Mature Themes: cultural prejudice, starvation, poverty, death, torture, forbidden romance