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.

August 31, 2015

THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith, 2011


Four minutes changes everything. Hadley Sullivan 17 misses her flight at JFK airport, is late to her father's second wedding in London with never-met stepmother. Hadley meets the perfect boy. Oliver is British, sits in her row. A long night on the plane passes in a blink, but the two lose track in arrival chaos. Can fate bring them together again? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Hadley Sullivan is a, perhaps, perfectly average teenage girl -- plodding through life and dealing with baggage from her parents' divorce. But far from her hardships callusing her, they deepen her feeling and we can see just how thoroughly she lives life. With such a smoothly formed character, even her rash actions take on motivation and hence are realistic and empathetic. And, of course, her counterpart, Oliver, is everything a girl could wish for: funny, smart, caring, confident, and ever so cute. Though I would have liked his back story and it's repercussions in his live explored a bit more, his solid character is evident in his charming dialogue with Hadley (several giggly moments there). As characters, both can easily stand on their own merits, but together they make a definite re-read.

The story begins and resolves over the course of a single day. When looked at from a distance that's a whirlwind romance -- how could anything made that quickly even have the appearance of being real? But we don't see the whole romance. We only see the main characters' first, second, and third encounters, and the plot almost takes on the whimsical feel of the Disney short Paperman. Seemingly by mere chance, two perfectly suited people meet and refuse to let their meeting slip away into the depths of time. Set against a vibrant;y written backdrop of first an airport and then London, the characters develop a strong friendship while struggling with the pulls that real life has on them. This beginning of their relationship is grounded so firmly, that though we leave them at a dance, with no promises made, we can rest assured that their romance will last far into the foreseeable future, if not forever (That's what I'm going with).

The language of the tale fits the content perfectly -- relaxed and genuine -- with a witty narrator to convey longing, exhilaration, insecurity, and sureness with a few carefully placed words. We get to experience Hadley's full range of emotion and identify with her on an entirely new level. The descriptions are creative, original, and definitely have their own taste. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of picking THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY yet, I highly recommend it to satisfy you well-written romance cravings. Overall, a very sweet, clean, satisfying read.

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

August 24, 2015

ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME by Julie Berry, 2013


Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

To be blunt, I love this book. I love the characters. I love how with the barest of descriptions, they rise up to take a vivid place in my mind. They are never officially introduced to the reader, but give the impression of simply existing -- their lives progressed before the book begins and will continue to do so when the cover closes. But we are lucky to catch a short glimpse of them in their struggles against the world. Judith is a battered and ostracized young woman, but far from letting her troubles beat her, she grows stronger -- both before the book begins and during it. Though not loud in her defiance of society, a core of steel runs through her. And Lucas! (Love interest) Mostly referred to as 'you' through Judith's first person perspective, the reader meets him as an old friend, faults and all. His transformation may not be as dramatic as Judith's, but it changes his future just as much.

Judith's past still holds her present in a death grip. And though the events that shatter her life happen months before the book begins, they still cast their dark shadow over every choice Judith makes. Though plenty high on the action/intensity scale, I felt like the focus of the book was almost solely on Judith's journey to reclaiming her life. And it was masterfully done. With only snippets of her past displayed at the beginning, the flashbacks wind closer and closer as events in real time speed up, spiraling towards the climax. And when it comes, suddenly all the pieces fall together, and it's immediately evident how much deeper the story is. This book absolutely receives the Could Not Put Down award.

I've only had the pleasure of reading on other of Julie Berry's books, but I found her storytelling to have a timeless flowing feel. ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME raises the bar considerably more. With poignant characters and a tale that tackles heavy issues with tact, Julie Berry presents a gorgeously crafted story. This book has glided it's way onto my reread list, and quite possibly my re-reread list. This is one heart wrenching read you will not want to miss.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Abuse, disfigurement, death

August 17, 2015

IGNITE by Sarah B. Larson, 2014


Alexa remains by the newly crowned King Damian’s side as his guard, ever committed to helping him rebuild Antion and reclaim the hope of Antion's people, despite continuing to harbor a secret love for him. However, when another threat to Damian and his kingdom emerges, and blame is cast on their newly forged allies from Blevon, Alexa knows things are not what they seem. With the fate of her nation hanging in the balance once again, will Alexa be able to protect her king and uncover the true enemy -- before it's too late?
(Goodreads)


Reviewed by Natalie

Let me start this review off by pointing something vital out:
I HATED Lady Vera. I visualized throttling her every page since I discovered her literary existence.

Right, just needed to get that off of my chest.

IGNITE was such a fast and fun read. I read it until 2 am (yup, one of those books) and picked it up first thing when I woke up. I practically slept with it, I didn't wanna put if down.

It starts out with Alexa being her typical stubborn self, convincing herself that she isn't good enough for Damian (can somebody say dramatic much??) and thus crushing Damian's heart in the process. I just kept seeing him turn these big beautiful blue (3 alliteration points to me) puppy dog eyes on her (not that he did, he put up his mask of indifference, but a girl can dream).

Then Damian is attacked (for reals this time, not something he staged). But, right before the assassination attempt went off, Lady Vera Crack Head (probably not her last name) walked into the room and charmed the hair off of everyones' head except for Alexa's (and someone else...maybe...maybe not...you find out for yourself, stop making me do everything for you xD).

All you really need to know are these key things. Take note. Grab that pen behind your ear and jot this down:
Jax is the cutest little boy.
Damian has the biggest heart...and blue eyes....and muscles (what?).
Alexa can kick some serious behind.
Rylan may be jealous because of reasons.
Tanoori has a crush (But who you ask? Some dude *shrugs*).
Eljin likes picnics...except when he doesn't (show up, that is).
Vera, though she is a ginger like me, is forcing it. Quite literally.
Rafe, I don't know who you are, but I will find you, and I will kill you.


The only thing I didn't like about this book was what I've been WISHING to happen since Defy. Can you guess? Lemme tell you, close your eyes, and picture this. Damian and Alexa face off in a sword fight. It may sound weird, but I'd really enjoy that. I think I may get my wish in the next book ;)

Happy Reading!!!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild (More so tension with WANTING things to happen, but stubborn people....)
Violence: Mild (Sword fights basically.  Blood will be spilled)
Mature Themes: There are people killing, manipulating, and kidnapping people.

August 10, 2015

BLACKMOORE by Julianne Donaldson, 2013


Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Kate was a determined, stubborn, wild heroine, and I loved her. A good heroine has weaknesses, but usually there are only a few, if not just one, surrounded by infinite piles of loveability. But Kate has many, many weaknesses. So much so that when I started reading BLACKMOORE I wasn't sure if I would like her. She's easily angered, she cries a lot, she has a lot of emotional turmoil to work through. Usually any one of these would make me toss down a book in disgust, but Kate is not the usual heroine. Rather than detract from her or bring her across as a petty, foolish girl, these weakness only highlighted her strengths and the growth she had over the course of the book. I'm still not sure I could ever be bosom friends with her, but as a character, I love her! Though she doesn't think so, she is strong and won't let anyone trample on her dreams. Sometimes I wanted to throttle her, but for the most part I was cheering for her whole-heartedly.  So rarely do romance heroines have the depth to look beyond their current circumstances and become the person they want to be. Seriously, phenomenal! On the other hand, I couldn't really make sense of Henry. He had his shining moments, but at others he seemed stereotypical. He was almost too perfect. Of course, I'm only being so picky because of the very high-caliber this book set. The book easily gets five-stars. And after all that pickiness, I can honestly say that Henry is completely swoon-worthy and utterly sweet and totally a gentleman. And there are all sorts of hidden gems in the supporting characters, but I'll leave those to you.

I was wondering where Julianne Donaldson would go with this. My thin mind could not imagine anything left uncovered after Edenbrooke. Suffice it to say I was dead wrong. Kate comes from a totally different family situation than we experienced in Edenbrooke. We get to see her deal with a less than supporting mother and the dissolving of friendships. But besides all that, I felt the main plot was Kate's journey to freedom as she batters herself against her multiple cages. It was beautiful! I wanted to cry for her and laugh for her and scream at her. Not to mention, that her romance with Henry did not take the easy way out. There was none of the ridiculous mis-understandings or the unfaithfulness that modern romances are built on. And the ending! Though I did think it felt a bit rushed and abrupt, I loved how Kate did not sell herself short! Julianne Donaldson hit it on the head when she realized that for a romance to mean something, her characters have to hold a worth of their own beyond the relationship.

After Edenbrook and Blackmoore I think Julianne Donaldson could start releasing dishwasher manuals and I would love every minute of them. The regency period, and the romance genre in general, have never been particular favorites of mine. It's a difficult combination to get right--one missed step and the whole story is a failure. But Blackmoore embodied all the strength of the genre without any of the pitfalls. I am adding Blackmoore to my favorites shelf, and have hopes for future Julianne Donaldson works getting the same treatment. Over all? If you're looking for "A Proper Romance" look no further!

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

August 3, 2015

MAGNOLIA by Kristi Cook, 2014

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived. Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emma - College Student

MAGNOLIA is one of the cutest books I have read in a long time! I do not read too many contempories, normally just enough to counter balance the darker fantasies and dystopians. It was a very quick read; once I got to about 20% of the way through, I could not put it down. I stayed up until 4 a.m. just to finish it, it was so good. Another fun thing about this book is that it takes place in the South, which I find so charming and filled with warm feelings, and it was incredibly amusing reading the accents in my head.

While the overall plot was pretty predictable, it did have some twists and turns that still made it interesting. The characters were dynamic, romance was adorable, and the bonds that were formed were enviable.  The story was basically the antithesis of Romeo and Juliet, so instead of feuding families and star-crossed lovers, it was star-crossed families and children who could not stand each other. Even though this book is definitely what I would call a “fluff book,” it still had serious undertones and dealt with genuine issues that can arise in life.

Magnolia is a wonderfully heart-warming book that I recommend no matter what genre you normally read. If you like books that leave a smile on your face, read this book!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: None
Mature Themes: death, hurricane, tumors

July 31, 2015

THIS ROUGH MAGIC by Mary Stewart, 1964

When Lucy's sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected - but all surrounded in mystery - throws Lucy's life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death - as well as romance - supplant the former tranquillity. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Penny Blubaugh - Young Adult Author and Librarian

When Lucy Waring arrives in Corfu to visit her sister all she wants to do is relax and forget about the play with her first major role.  The play that’s just folded under her.  But on her first day she’s almost hit by a bullet as someone shoots at a tame dolphin in the sea.  The son of her sister’s housekeeper is drowned.  A local fisherman goes missing.  And then she meets Sir Julian Gale, renter of the Castello on her sister and brother-in-law’s property.  He’s a leading light of the English theatre who’s disappeared in his own way by retiring from the stage. Suddenly everything begins to click into place when it seems that Max Gale, Sir Julian’s son, is mixed up in all the mayhem.  But is he on the right side or the wrong one? 

First published in 1964, this is one of the books I go back to time and time again.  The setting of Corfu is vivid.  The contrast between the island’s orange trees and pines, its blinding heat and blue, blue water, its serene beauty and the story’s underlying violence make a wonderful read.  Lucy’s relationship with Sir Julian – that of a minor actress meeting her idol and clicking with him as they bond over Shakespeare’s Tempest – is charming.  Her relationship with his son is classic magnetic attraction that both try to ignore as they’re pushed together again and again by Sir Julian’s presence.  And the dark work of a series of coincidences that soon point to a murderer who will stop at nothing is violence layered onto a respite of sun and sea.

Peppered with quotes from Shakespeare’s play and washed in colors of blue and gold, midnight and early mornings, THIS ROUGH MAGIC is a true gothic romance.

Market: YA and Adult                                                                      Language: Mild
Sensuality: Not overt, but nicely sexy
Violence: Lots of it but most is off the page
Themes: Romance, theatre, politics of the 60s

July 27, 2015

THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas, 2012

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught. Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emma - College Student

THRONE OF GLASS took me a long time to get into, hence why it took me so long to read. Though once I finally got into it, I was hooked and could not put it down. It is beautifully written, if not the most beautifully written book I have ever read. There are so many twists and turns, it was impossible for me to fully predict what was going to happen. This book is also filled to the brim with dynamic characters, the standout obviously being Celaena, who never ceases to surprise and is the epitome of a strong female character. The author, Sarah J. Maas, painted her scenes so magnificently that I was immediately able to picture the settings perfectly. I was also really excited to the map in the beginning of the book, I definitely utilized it; I should have tabbed it I looked at it so much.

I only had one minor complaint, it was SO difficult to pronounce everything. Thankfully, there was a guide for how to pronounce most of the confusing names, but it would have been a lot more helpful had it been in the beginning so that one could have known that it was there.

Also, it has quite a bit of gore, it was not too gruesome and it wasn’t extraneous, but it was a bit on the dark side.

Throne of Glass truly is a very special gem in the book world. There were so many exceptional moments Maas created, from the characters themselves, to the minor details that she explored that many authors don’t take the time to do. If you are any sort of a fantasy fan, you should definitely read this book. It is the perfect example of what a high fantasy YA novel should be; from the complex characters, the magic, the royalty danger, romance, it has it all. I have a feeling that his series will easily become one of my favorites.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderate+
Mature Themes: death, abuse, enslavement, evil magic

July 20, 2015

NOTES FROM A BLUE BIKE by Tsh Oxenrider, 2014


The popular blogger and founder of the internationally recognized "Simple Mom" online community tells the story of her family's ongoing quest to live more simply, fully, and intentionally. Part memoir, part travelogue, part practical guide, "Notes from a Blue Bike "takes you from a hillside in Kosovo to a Turkish high-rise to the congested city of Austin to a small town in Oregon. It chronicles schooling quandaries and dinnertime dilemmas, as well as entrepreneurial adventures and family excursions via plane, train, automobile, and blue cruiser bike. (Goodreads)
Reviewed by Griperang
I kept seeing NOTES FROM A BLUE BIKE on the internet but never really looked to see what it was about, in fact I kind of kept ignoring everywhere I saw it. Well one day it caught my attention again and without knowing what it was about I decided to check it out and read it. When I got it I thought oh this sounds interesting. I was sitting in the doctor's office waiting on my husband and dove right in, it grabbed me from page one and I did not want to put it down. Now I started looking more at the cover and the praise for the book and realized that Hey I follow this blog, no wonder I kept seeing so much about the book - duh. Well let me tell you the blog, theartofsimple.net and I encourage you to check it out. To me Tsh and her husband are an inspiration, I applaud them for the way they live. I really enjoyed reading about the travels the family has done and would love it if I could read even more about their time in Turkey. Tsh gives some very good examples on ways to live simply and really makes you stop and think about the things  you do in your own life. She also has included some questions at the end of the book to make you think a little more.
Another thing that I like about Tsh is that she admits sometimes she makes mistakes and has to change things as she goes - liking deciding where her children are schooled (home vs public vs private). I encourage everyone to pick up this book and give it a whirl as I do not think you will be disappointed. I will even tell you that this is one of the best books I have read all year. Tsh has written a couple of other books as well that I plan to check out.
Market: Nonfiction/Memoir
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: None

July 13, 2015

THE LOST by Sarah Beth Durst, 2014


It was only meant to be a brief detour. But then Lauren finds herself trapped in a town called Lost on the edge of a desert, filled with things abandoned, broken and thrown away. And when she tries to escape, impassable dust storms and something unexplainable lead her back to Lost again and again. The residents she meets there tell her she's going to have to figure out just what she's missing--and what she's running from--before she can leave. So now Lauren's on a new search for a purpose and a destiny. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be found... (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

As far as heroines go, Lauren Chase is nothing special: no prophecy about her future, no strange powers since birth. And because of this, she is incredibly relatable. I fell in love with her as she struggles to come to terms with her new world and the mother she's losing. Her motivations ring true and she feels real, clever and sturdy, with no moping about but a matter-of-fact view on life. But, however fantastic she may be as the lead, the character that takes the cake for me is Peter (the Finder in Lost who rescues lost people from the death grip of the void). With cat-like grace and a somewhat mischievous streak to him, it's entrancing to read about him. I agree with Lauren completely when she describes him as a grown up Peter-Pan. He pops in and out of scenes perfectly representing what a man of that past would be, but does it so well that he sweeps all the stereotypes away and practically reaches the status of archetype. If he was the only good thing in the book, I would still gobble up the sequels. Thankfully the entire book is quite good.

It is a very rare author that can take a simple idea -- say, a place where all lost things go -- and flesh it out into such a thoroughly satisfying mix of thriller, romance, and self-discovery. Right from the beginning, Durst's delicious prose paints a disturbingly hypnotic view of a town that exists apart from time, where all lost things go. And all lost people. People who have lost their way in life do not make for a very stable citizenry. Feral dogs roam the streets in packs and bands of ragged scavenger children armed with knives comb through frequent junk piles in a world built on the barter system, all surrounded by a dust storm called the Void that sucks the hope from those that enter until they become nothing more than dust themselves. No one and nothing can leave Lost until they find whatever it is they have lost. But even then, the Missing Man is the only one who can send them home. He refuses to help Lauren, and disappears. Struggling to simply survive, Lauren is forced to face her own despair head on to discover what she's lost. And the Void creeps steadily closer. In this well-brewed tale the stakes never stop rising. THE LOST will rip your heart out and stomp on it every which way. Thank goodness it's the start of a series! And you'd better bet I'll be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the next one.

Sarah Beth Durst is very good at what she does. Her rich descriptions and hearty characters bring the story alive with such oomph it will leave you gasping. I tried, goodness knows how I tried, to read this book slowly, to savor every mesmerizing word, but it ended far too quickly. A strong start to a very promising series. Stunning. Transfixing. Captivating.

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

July 6, 2015

THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE by Shallee McArthur, 2014

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically-enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend. Anyone could be next. Which is why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims that they’ve not only met, but that Gena knows who the thief is. The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things— or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast. Because Gena’s life is unhappening around her. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Rosalyn E.


Shallee McArthur's debut novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE,
 is a phenomenal book. Well written, fast-paced, intriguing characters, but best of all, a smart world view. 

In this near-future society, a group of people with genetically modified memories (the Mementi) have formed their own colony, which is slowly being infiltrated by regular people (Populace). Genesis Lee is Mementi, and stories all of her memories in beads. She's pretty content with her life, hanging out with friends and practicing her dance, until her best friend's memories are stolen by the Link thief who is terrorizing the Mementi population. When Gena runs into a cute Populace boy who claims to know her, but who she doesn't remember, things get serious. Because Gena has never forgotten anything. Ever. But to stop the thief, she's going to need his help.

I thought the book had a nice balance of Gena's own internal conflicts with forgetting and the external tension rising between the Mementi and Populace. The story had some cool twists, but my favorite parts were the relationships. I liked how things were complicated: her relationship with Kalan and other Populace, her relationship with her best friend (who's forgotten the last two years of their relationship), and with her family. And I was so impressed with how smart the book was--I've done some research in memory studies (mostly in terms of collective memory, rather than physiological memory), and it was clear to me that McArthur knows her stuff. 

A great read for fans of light sci-fi.


Market: YA
Language: mild
Sensuality: mild
Violence: moderate--some physical violence and death as part of an uprising
Mature Themes: memory loss, anxiety, rebellion

June 22, 2015

THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGONSLAYER OF TRONDHEIM and PRAIRIE FIRE by E.K. Johnston, 2014

THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGONSLAYER OF TRONDHEIM:

Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen! (Amazon)

PRAERIE FIRE:

Every dragon slayer owes the Oil Watch a period of service, and young Owen was no exception. What made him different was that he did not enlist alone. His two closest friends stood with him shoulder to shoulder. Steeled by success and hope, the three were confident in their plan. But the arc of history is long and hardened by dragon fire. Try as they might, Owen and his friends could not twist it to their will. Not all the way. Not all together. The sequel to the critically acclaimed The Story of Owen. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Jessica Day George: author and Bookshop Talk host

I was attracted to the first book, The Story of Owen, because I thought it was set in Trondheim, Norway. I thought nothing could be better than a Norwegian dragonslayer! Then I realized that it was Trondheim, Canada. Huh. Well, still, dragons! I figured that the motto of the book, for me, would be, “Come for the Norwegian setting, stay for the dragons!” But it actually turned out to be, “Come for the dragons, stay for Siobhan and Owen, and everyone else in this book because they are your new best friends and you love them all.”

So. Much. Love.

Love for Owen, dragonslayer-in-training, and his family of dragonslayers and blacksmiths, who are trying to bring back the glory days of independent dragonslayers, before it became political. And how do they decide to do this? By pairing Owen up with a bard, Siobhan, for whom I also have …

So. Much. Love. Siobhan is a prodigy who hears musical accompaniment to every minute of her life. Siobhan, who pairs up people (in her head and her compositions) with the instrument that most suits them, is the narrator of these books because she is the bard, and so she tells the stories. Stories about Owen. About Owen’s family. About her family, and their town. Stories about dragonslaying and music and history, all of which are fascinating because this is an alternate world in which Michigan is a ravaged dragon-infested wasteland. In which Joan of Arc was a dragonslayer, and so was Vlad the Impaler, and the Beatles were the first musicians to become popular without singing about dragons. It’s a fascinating world, culturally, politically, historically. Commercial airlines are unheard of, and travel is limited, because any large machines attracts, you know, dragons. Not only has Johnston done a tremendous amount of world-building, but she’s also come up with at least a dozen fascinating dragon breeds, and I loved every minute of it.

I finished the first one and immediately had to pre-order the second, Prairie Fire, which just came out in March. The Story of Owen was on several Best of 2014 lists, and short-listed for a couple of awards, and I expect the same for Prairie Fire. Not only do the books have a great premise, but they’re beautifully written and chockfull of humor, family and political drama . . . and tragedy. The ending of THE STORY OF OWEN had me sniffling, but I was full on sobbing by the end of PRAIRIE FIRE.

Market: YA
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Dragonslaying.
Mature themes: Death. Politics. Owen is raised by his Aunt Lottie and her wife, Hannah. Dealing with life-altering injuries.