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.

November 30, 2015

THE DRAGON'S TOOTH by N. D. Wilson, 2011

For two years, Cyrus and Antigone Smith have run a sagging roadside motel with their older brother, Daniel. Nothing ever seems to happen. Then a strange old man with bone tattoos arrives, demanding a specific room. Less than 24 hours later, the old man is dead. The motel has burned, and Daniel is missing. And Cyrus and Antigone are kneeling in a crowded hall, swearing an oath to an order of explorers who have long served as caretakers of the world's secrets, keepers of powerful relics from lost civilizations, and jailers to unkillable criminals who have terrorized the world for millennia. (Goodreads)

Emily, bibliophile and eternal student

When I first read this book, I thought it was good, and that I could stand to read it again, because admittedly I didn't feel that I had understood everything about it.

I am now convinced that this is one of those books that you go back to, year after year, that grow with you and teach you something different every time.

Also, it's a ripping good yarn.

There are so many things I love about this book that it's hard to pick just a few, but I'll try anyway.

First, the siblings, Daniel, Antigone, and Cyrus Smith. They needle each other. They argue and tease and terrify one another, but they stick together, and they undoubtedly love one another in a way that only siblings can.

Second, the story. Cyrus Smith is an impetuous 12-year-old boy who makes many mistakes, and makes things worse when he tries to fix them. He's given an ancient artifact by a man named Billy Bones - a shard of a dragon's tooth. Cyrus is thrust into a world where some myths still walk the earth and many nightmares are real. He and his sister Antigone must find their missing brother Daniel, and to do that they must complete a set of impossible tasks without allies, guidance, or assets, and survive the attacks of those who covet the dragon's tooth.

Of course, there are many other things that I love about these books - the descriptions, the names, the clever weaving of old myths and new imagination, to name just a few - but instead of wasting time reading this review, I urge you to go read THE DRAGON'S TOOTH.

Market: Middle Grade/Young Adult Fantasy
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Considerable, but not horribly graphic.
Mature Themes: death, involuntary parental absence, the true nature of good and evil.

November 23, 2015

THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson, 2010

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emily, bibliophile and eternal student

Epic. That's what I thought when I saw THE WAY OF KINGS on the shelf, mostly because of its proportions. It's what I thought when I started reading it, and realized that Brandon Sanderson had created a world that was alien to our own, and when I started to realize the scope of the story and the size of the cast of characters.

It's what I told everyone after I'd read it, because there's really not a better word to describe this book. The main characters have choices to make that will change the course of their world, Roshar, forever.

Theirs is a harsh world where storms that kill are a way of life; a place where plants move like animals, and animals, plants; where long-ago battles created the Shattered Plains, and princes now hunt its chasms for fiends with gems as hearts. Where slaves carry bridges and die on the arrows of creatures that sing as they kill - and their world is about to be shattered by the Last Desolation.

So yes, it may take 100 pages to understand all the terms Brandon Sanderson throws at you, but the tale told is more than worth it.

Market: Adult Fantasy 
Language: Invented swearwords
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Admittedly present, and somewhat graphic
Mature themes: Depression, death, regret, ethical discussions on self-defense and thievery.

November 16, 2015

FIREBIRD by Sharyn November, 2005

Firebirds is more than simply an anthology -- it is a celebration of wonderful writing. It gathers together sixteen original stories by some of today's finest writers of fantasy and science fiction. Together, they have won virtually every major prize -- from the National Book Award to the World Fantasy Award to the Newbery Medal -- and have made best-seller lists worldwide. The writers featured in Firebirds all share a connection to Firebird Books, an imprint that is dedicated to publishing the best fantasy and science fiction for teenage and adult readers. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emily, bibliophile and perpetual student

FIREBIRDS is an impressive collection; many of my favorite authors are featured, and their stories do not disappoint. 

"Cotillion" by Delia Sherman is an updated take on the ballad of Tam Lin - though still somewhat removed from the present, since it takes place in 1969.

Megan Whalen Turner's contribution, "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box", is an interesting twist on the idea of changelings. When the president of of the Elliotville Bank finds a baby in his new night deposit box, he determines that he's going to keep her. Of course, it's never quite that simple to adopt a baby, especially when she can't leave the bank . . .

"Max Mondrosch" is a sad little story from Lloyd Alexander about a man who just can't find a job, and how can they, when no one seems to notice him?

"Byndley", by Patricia A. McKillip, takes the wizard Reck on "Firebirds" is an impressive collection; many of my favorite authors are featured, and their stories do not disappoint. 

"Beauty", by Sherwood Smith, explores the idea of true beauty and how we perceive it.

Diana Wynne Jones' "Little Dot", is a cat story told from the perspective of the cat. Little Dot owns a wizard, and when he gets roped into fighting the fearsome Beast of Ettmoor, she knows she has to save him. With the help of all her friends and a hint from a mysterious (and probably magical) lady, she may just be able to defeat the Beast before it gets hold of her wizard.

Of course, there are many other wonderful stories in this book, including a short graphic novel about the Wild Hunt. I highly recommend it.

Market: Young Adult fantasy
Language: Mild to Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate (nothing too graphic, though)
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: abandonment, hopelessness, the true nature of beauty.

November 2, 2015

PERFECT LIES by Kiersten White, 2014

Annie and Fia are ready to fight back. The sisters have been manipulated and controlled by the Keane Foundation for years, trapped in a never ending battle for survival. Now they have found allies who can help them truly escape. After faking her own death, Annie has joined a group that is plotting to destroy the Foundation. And Fia is working with James Keane to bring his father down from the inside. But Annie's visions of the future can't show her who to trust in the present. And though James is Fia's first love, Fia knows he's hiding something. The sisters can rely only on each other - but that may not be enough to save them. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Annie and Fia are two desperately loyal sisters who would do anything to keep the other safe, even if it means they themselves get ripped apart. In this stunning sequel to Mind Games the coin is flipped -- Annie seemingly free but Fia trapped back at the school. However thick the web of intrigue binding Fia with the Keane's, the stronger prison is the one that she builds in her own mind as her choices gradually kill her. Keirsten White portrays this dance along the edge of madness masterfully, and the frenetic, terrified tone of her sections are haunting in first person. I could feel the fragile threads of her mind and was tied to my chair as they unraveled. Calm, caring, centered Annie creates a nice juxtaposition to her sister as she grows stronger and more self-assured. Before now, mostly in Fia's mind, she was portrayed as weaker somehow. After all, she is blind. Of course that doesn't stop her, and she takes the world head on. Both sisters were fascinating.

The twisting plot from Mind Games deepens with PERFECT LIES, though I felt like the focus was more on the characters, and understandably so. Mr. Keane, Jason, and Lerner are in it to win and they will do so unscrupulously, not caring for the lives they shred. And Fia's life has been shredded. She has been shredded and faces self-destruction as she struggles to make choices with no morals to guide her. Kill this person. Trap this person. It will all be worth it in the end if she can bring down the leader, right? She will protect Annie. I loved the closure the ending provided, almost bittersweet. And was great to read a book with a focus on sibling loyalty. Filled with shifting timelines, more thriller and edge than Mind Games, Perfect Lies is dramatic, concise, and sharp.

Kiersten White uses language beautifully to convey the stirring tale of two sisters who just want the madness to end. This tale is wrenching and darkly intense. Kiersten White continues to set the bar higher, and I look forward to what she gives us next.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate to heavy
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Depression, Loss

October 26, 2015

A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR by Makiia Lucier, 2014

For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country--that's how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode--and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can't ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can't help but wonder: when will her own luck run out? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek

I really love historical fiction coming-of-age stories, and A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR touches on a darkly fascinating moment in US (and world) history: the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.  To a contemporary reader, the flu is a sickness that is unpleasant, but might involve a couple of sick days on the couch before getting back to normal life.  The Spanish Influenza, however, was responsible for the deaths of between 50-100 million people in a two-year period.  A huge number of these victims were young and previously healthy, which made this disease even more threatening and unpredictable.

Makiia Lucier's A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR examines the courage it takes to be in the throes of unpredictable danger.  At the beginning of the novel, Cleo, a seventeen-year-old student, is unaware of her strengths and unsure of what the future holds for her.  When influenza appears in Portland, Oregon, Cleo decides to protect herself from the illness by remaining at home instead of her quarantined boarding school.  However, a newspaper ad seeking Red Cross nurses unexpectedly inspires her to help the sick and risk her own life in the process.  Throughout the novel, Cleo cares for patients, bonds with her fellow nurses, and strikes up a relationship with a young doctor.  I loved accompanying Cleo through her journey as she learns that, while her future may be undefined, her strength knows no bounds.

I also liked how A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR painted a vivid portrait of World War I-era America during the pandemic.  Small details--including the ever-present white masks meant to protect from the disease--inform readers about what it was like to live during this time.  Minor characters and plot threads are also very telling: for instance, one of Cleo's neighbors abandons his family for fear of contracting the flu.  This example provides a stark contrast to the heroic selflessness of the Red Cross nurses who risked illness (and worse) in order to help the sick.  For a riveting story based on a true national disaster, be sure to pick up A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR.

Market: YA fiction
Violence:  A character reflects on wartime violence 
Language: None
Sensuality: Chaste kissing.  Short discussions about contraception.  (These are not central to the plot, but rather give historical context about WWI-era medicine.  Margaret Sanger, the birth control advocate and nurse, and her ideas are a topic of discussion among Cleo and the nurses.)
Adult Themes: Sickness, death, loss/grief

October 19, 2015

THE WHISPERING SKULL by Jonathon Stroud, 2014

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn't made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood's investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George's curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

A snappy sequel to The Screaming Staircase, featuring our favorite crew of tough, yet refined, psychic agents who continue with enough zest to balance out the darker aspects of the story. Lucy, determined and utterly loyal to her ghost-hunting agency, is blissfully free of the pitt-falls action-inclined females typically trip over. And she works so smoothly with George and Lockwood it's an equal pleasure to see them fighting a ghost or drinking cocoa in their kitchen. We see their metals tested, literally, and watch their dynamic trio evolve. No stale characters here, just heroes with enough flair to survive a world like theirs.

After the climax of The Screaming Staircase, I was interested to see what THE WHISPERING SKULL had in mind: it's hard to top what happened there. After all, I thought, there's only so much you can do with ghosts before they lose their chill. I was wrong. This is a ghostish story set not to paralyze the reader but to send a pleasant shiver up the spine. And it certainly does, with the haunting of a vicious new specter set against the backdrop of an abandoned sanitarium. Don't read this book in the dark, and the grisly ghosts we meet ensure it's a bad choice while eating too. Mr. Stroud has excellently plotted an entirely new adventure with plenty of ghosts, enough sword-play and perfectly human villains to run your nails.

Set in an alternate history, Stroud's world rings disturbingly true to our own. The Problem (ghosts only started appearing 50 years ago) and its affects on society are so masterfully incorporated into the story the fact that restless spirits do appear feels completely natural. Looking for a series with depth to snag your interest? Well this is it! In short, this book was no less enjoyable than the first, and I can safely say Lockwood & Co. has earned it's place next to Stroud's also wonderful series, The Bartimeaus Trilogy.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild (The dismembering of ghosts)
Mature Themes: The spooky and the ethereal

October 12, 2015

IN THE SHADOWS by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo, 2014

Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch. Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

I've enjoyed all of Kiersten White's work, and though I'm not as familiar with Jim Di Bartolo, I believe I can say they showed their finest through IN THE SHADOWS.

The character work was masterful, particularly in the art portion of the book. Bartolo painted with such deft detail and powerful emotion that, to be cliche, the characters seemed to walk off the page. Both the text and the art story matched up seamlessly in their character portrayal with incredibly gorgeous hues and descriptions.

I'm not a fan of graphic novels, and, thankfully, this was not a graphic novel. The art has such class that each painting could feasibly stand on its own, with anguish, hope, happiness, and all the other tales of human life displayed in such striking scenes. Trust me, no interest is lost for the fact that the action is painted. I was equally pleased with the written story and found it to be heavy in intrigue, friendship, romance, and the supernatural. It is very emotional and well matched with the intensity of the art story.  And the beginning of the book, the text and art story seem to be generally unrelated. As things lead towards the finale, however, both tales spiral tighter and closer until they collide with a heart wrenching bang. No matter what twists you expect, this is a book that will demand to be reread from a different perspective as soon as it's finished.

I could go on and on about the style. The art in combination with the text was an entirely new experience and was quite exhilarating. This unique story of love and loss and struggle all brilliantly portrayed by two talented creators was beautiful. I will absolutely be researching more of Jim Di Bartolo's work and continuing to keep an eye out for Kiersten White's future books.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild if any
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: None

October 5, 2015

THE FIRST YEAR (THE BLACK MAGE #1) by Rachel E. Carter, 2014

For 15-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a warrior and leave the boring confines of her lowborn life behind. Set to enroll in the School of Knighthood on the eve of her next birthday, plans suddenly shift when her twin brother discovers powers. Hoping that hers will soon follow, she enrolls with Alex at the Academy instead -the realm's most notorious war school for those with magic. Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Every "first-year" is given a trial year to prove their worth -and no amount of hard work and drive will guarantee them a spot. It seems like everyone is rooting for her to fail -and first and foremost among them Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived. When an accidental encounter leads Ryiah and Darren to an unlikely friendship, she is convinced nothing good will come of it. But the lines become blurred when she begins to improve -and soon she is a key competitor for the faction of Combat... Still, nothing is ever as it seems -and when the world comes crashing down around her, Ry is forced to place faith in the one thing she can believe in -herself. Will it be enough? (Goodreads)

Review by Natalie
*rubs hands together*
Let's begin, shall we?

THE FIRST YEAR starts out fast and continues that pacing for the remainder of the book, which I appreciate immensely. I started it and before I knew it I was 60 pages in with a crazed look of sleep deprivation on my face, but did that make me go to sleep? Nope, I had too much anticipation to keep reading. Which carried through into the school day where my Nook's battery died and killed a part of my soul in the process. Thank God for rechargeable batteries.


Ryiah and her twin Alex set out to attend the Academy, a school for mages. Before you can really "attend" the school though, you have to pass the first year where they pick 15 students from a group of, well, more than 15 students.
I love the way the author used the concept of magic and mages. I thought it was original and her writing was extremely believable because WHEW, the way the teachers worked the students at the Academy made my heart beat fast and feel as if I had just run their workout course. It was brutal. The workouts were crazy, and it didn't help that Darren had to go and piss me off time and time again. Darren. I wanna talk about Darren.YOU probably want me to talk about Darren. Fine, I will. What can I say? I'm a people pleaser. ;)

That is, after I talk about Ryiah (mwauhahaha got you didn't I?)

Ryiah, the main character, is great. She's completely hot headed and gets herself into all kinds of crap, but she's endearingly rash. And I loved that the author never cut her a break. Nothing came easy to Ryiah, making her work for everything. And when I say everything I mean everything. She had GREAT character growth, it was completely realistic. I can't wait to see her in the next book. It's gon' be good!

Now we can talk about Darren. You're welcome.

Darren is the younger son of the King of Jerar, the non-heir as he's sometimes referred to. How to describe this boy?
*taps chin in deep thought*
He's broody. (Aren't all the good ones, though)
He's a prince. (Therefore capable of fulfilling your(my) Kate Middleton dreams)
He's freaken powerful. See that charred tree over there? Yup, he smoked that. Cuz he's powerful. A prodigy to be exact. True story.
He's....he's... frustrating . So wishy washy in his feelings. But, like I said, aren't all the good ones. And Ryiah certainly didn't help with her impulsiveness to certain situations. (What situations you ask? Entertaining ones. And get your mind out of the gutter, not that kind. Well, not ALL that kind)

But yeah, I like Darren. He pissed me off. But he's a cutie underneath it all, I can tell. (*taps head* I'm psychic)

My only problem with this book was the world building. I understand that the story was set solely at the Academy and we'll probably get to learn the world in the sequels, but I don't know anything about Jerar outside of the Academy.

Happy Reading!!!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: One slight rape attempt, but it was over before anything could happen

September 28, 2015

SPLITTING AN ORDER by Ted Kooser, 2014

Pulitzer Prize winner and best selling poet Ted Kooser calls attention to the intimacies of life through commonplace objects and occurrences: an elderly couple sharing a sandwich is a study in transcendent love, while a tattered packet of spinach seeds calls forth innate human potential. This long-awaited collection from the former U.S. Poet Laureate—ten years in the making—is rich with quiet and profound magnificence. (Goodreads)

Julie, children's literature enthusiast and pop culture geek

For even the most avid reader, the word "poetry" might evoke shudders and horrible memories of deciphering rhyme schemes and interpreting hazy symbols.  But poetry can be a lot more accessible than readers might think.  When the focus is on beautiful language, used to immortalize everyday events, poetry is a lot more palatable and, dare I say, even a thrill to read.  One of my favorite recent works is SPLITTING AN ORDER by Ted Kooser, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States.

SPLITTING AN ORDER succeeds in the way it takes seemingly small, mundane events--and makes them beautiful.  Kooser is a master of language, and he uses it as a tool to take the average and make it evocative.  For example, in "Two Men on an Errand," a normal man transforms into "a balloon of a man . .  . with some of the life let out of him" who "sags" in a car repair shop's waiting room, although his fists, "white boulders, alabaster," show hints of remaining strength.  Here, Kooser shows that condensed language can still tell--or at least, suggest--a fantastic story.  The poems' titles hint at the variety of subjects and inspirations: "At Arby's, At Noon," "110th Birthday," "The Woman Whose Husband Was Dying," and "Painting the Barn," among others.  Each one can be quickly devoured and easily digested, but I recommend slow, thorough savoring.

My favorite piece in SPLITTING AN ORDER is not actually a poem, but a short essay called "Small Rooms in Time."  In this piece, Kooser reflects on a crime, the murder of a fifteen-year-old boy in a house where Kooser himself had previously lived.  What follows is a moving, honest examination of violence intruding upon safety, as well as nostalgia's lasting influence throughout periods of change.  The combination of these two ideas results in a jarring, emotional piece in which Kooser urges us to "think about the way in which the rooms we inhabit, if only for a time, become unchanging places within us, complete with detail.

Check out SPLITTING AN ORDER for a short, but satisfying read.  Kooser's works always help remind me why I love language.

Market: Adult poetry--appropriate for YA too
Violence:  Aside from the crime in the essay referenced above, none
Language:  Appropriate and beautiful
Sensuality:  Moments of romance, nothing overtly sensual
Adult Themes:  Love, aging

September 21, 2015

THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab, 2013

The dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead, called 'Histories', rest in the Archive. Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a tool for staying alive. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Ooo, where to start on these delicious characters? Mackenzie, or Mac, Bishop is the heir to a great and powerful legacy left by her beloved grandfather. Mac has been a Keeper, a highly skilled hunter of the histories that wake up, since she was young, and she considers herself very good at what she does. Her blunt, determined attitude and her almost complete lack of angst made her a very appealing character. In juxtaposition we have Wes, the goth, charismatic and strangely intriguing boy from who knows how many blocks over. Where Mac was silent and held her thoughts private, Wes went out with his personality on full display. But he too has experiences that have weathered him, and I look forward to exploring his depth in future books.

I feel like this book could be classified as a 'ghost' book, but I hesitate to label it as such. It's not about spirits, and, technically speaking, the histories stored, though they appear human, are not the humans who have passed on. But this compelling world and the situations created certainly leave no room to put the book down. While Mac grapples with the grief of losing her brother and struggles to hold her desolate family together, her world inside the narrows, collecting and returning the lost histories gradually falls apart. As the mysteries in her world and the eerie inbetween of the Narrows collide, she must decide whom she can trust and which friends to hold closer. Schwab skillfully weaves foreboding into a story rife with inner and outer turmoil, not to mention playing with the psychological aspect of being shelved after you're dead. The plot twists were not as twisty as I feel they were meant to be (In other words, I guessed them. And if I guessed them . . .), but they were still exciting and made for a very good story.

If I had to pick the one thing I liked best about THE ARCHIVED it would be the unsettling, uncanny atmosphere Schwab created in the Narrows. It sent shivers up my spine and nothing too creepy even happened there! And on a final note, Schwab is very good at pacing. The plot reveals weren't particularly dramatic, but she drew them out just enough for the intensity to build and played them soon enough that no scenes felt stalled. Overall I found it a very original and enjoyable read.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild if any
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Death

September 14, 2015

OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys, 2013

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Once in a while a great book comes along that makes everything afterward seem watered-down and flimsy. And so I scramble frantically for another good book until I am so desperate for story that I begin to settle for lesser literature. A poor book is now okay. And an okay book is suddenly good. Once in a while I will dream of the great book I read and wonder if there will every be anything like it again. Then suddenly, out of the blue, a really good book, perhaps not great, but one that comes close to touching reality in ways most books don't, falls into my lap and slams things into perspective. And suddenly I realize I've been reading tosh this entire time.

Jo was layered and insightful with depth and dreams and a good bit of practicality. I loved the determination she displayed in fighting for her dreams. She understood they were far above her and pretty much impossible, but that didn't keep her from trying her hardest. This story is Jo's; however, it is also Patrick's and Willie's and Jesse's and many, many other characters'. Everyone Jo encounters is written with such flavor that they continue to exist after their part in Jo's life is over. We follow Jo's story line, but she is not the only main character.

Though not set out as an action novel, this book has plenty of rough and tumble in a totally plausible way for Jo's world. Don't expect full on flash and fire gun fights. Do expect hold-ups, death threats, blackmails, betrayal, etc. I did feel that the ending was fairly rushed and didn't provide the closure I was looking for, but regardless, this was Historical Fiction at its finest. Jo's struggle to break free from the web of the Big Easy explores corrupted people on all levels of society and good people on all levels of society.

Ruta Sepetys has mastered the art of storytelling by detail. With a sidelong mention of an object, she can call to mind a new understanding of the situation. OUT OF THE EASY displays considerable knowledge of the culture and circumstances present in New Orleans in the 1950's. This is a well textured tale that feels strikingly realistic.

Market: Young Adult or Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild to Moderate
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Prostitution (she lives as a maid in a brothel), Corruption, Criminal Underworld

September 7, 2015

CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst, 2013

Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

The main character has amnesia. Yep. This means she had no background to build her up or give us a sense of who she is. And she is brilliant! Sarah Beth Durst did not take the easy way out in forming Eve. Breaking through the now cliché kick-butt, sassy, heroine mold, Eve starts the book as a confused, quiet character. As the story unfolds however, her core of iron is revealed. She is strong and smart, not wasting time on disbelief when something is on the line. She takes help when help is needed, she gives it too. (On a side note, it was refreshing to have a character that was nice, not just to the people she liked, but as a general rule, caring of others. This almost seems frowned upon in YA. Anyone know why?) She's a character to root for even though, at first, the reader has no idea which side she comes from. Or if she's even human. Or even real. However impressed I was by Eve, the villain impressed me more. Introduced and developed only vaguely through Eve's flashbacks and comments, he is terrifying, yet understandable. Though he only appears in person towards the end of the book, his actions and words are so descriptive of who he is that he gained depth with very little face time. Such a disturbingly twisted man does not deserve sympathy, yet its' garnered nonetheless.

This was another one of those books that gets the badge of being read straight through. The plot itself unfolded in the form of a knot with just as many seemingly unrelated strands– starting in the middle and slowly being picked apart until the whole tale was clear. As Eve experiences deeply haunting visions, we begin to get a sense that we know nothing at all. And we don't. But the story proceeds with tantalizing hints and gradually zooms out to get the big picture. Eve experiences flashes of amnesia, or memory resets. She comes to herself with no memory of the weeks or months she's lived between. The uncertainty and fear keeps the reader in a very shaky place and then buffets them too and fro with Eve. I had no idea how things would conclude in one book, without selling short. It defied expectations. (Which, come on, this is Sarah Beth Durst so expectations were already pretty high to begin with.) It ended with a satisfactory umph, but left much more to explore.

CONJURED was darker and more gruesome than I usually read (or would want to read again), bordering on the macabre. But the writing itself was beautiful with glittering descriptions and elegant language. It flowed smoothly, not straining, not presumptuous. It was unlike Sarah Beth Durst's other books in overall feel, and proves just how versatile we can expect her writing to be. She is absolutely getting added to the list of Authors to Watch For.

Market: Young Adults
Language: Mild if any
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate to heavy
Mature Themes: Corruption