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.

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

August 31, 2015


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?

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 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, 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