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.

April 14, 2014

WILD ORCHID by Cameron Dokey, 2009


Wielding a sword as deftly as an embroidery needle, Mulan is unlike any other girl in China. When the emperor summons a great army, each family must send a male to fight. Tomboyish Mulan is determined to spare her aging father and bring her family honor, so she disguises herself and answers the call. But Mulan never expects to find a friend, let alone a soul mate, in the commander of her division, Prince Jian. For all of Mulan's courage with a bow and arrow, is she brave enough to share her true identity and feelings with Prince Jian? (Amazon)

Reviewed by Laina, writer, bookworm, and British television addict

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate shorter, well written books. They aren’t too long and I can read them in an afternoon and still accomplish something with my life. Big books still make my heart jump, but I love short books because I can wiggle them into an increasingly hectic life.

WILD ORCHID is one such shorter book. The Once Upon a Time book series (not the TV show which I also adore) is full of these gems. I’ll be honest up front: I am a complete and total sucker for a fairy tale retelling. I see a fairy tale retelling and I MUST have it/read it/whatever. I simply cannot help myself. Wild Orchid retells the Ballad of Mulan. Granted, that isn’t exactly a fairy tale- though this one does contain a prince, but I’ve always loved the story (and the Disney movie). There aren’t any ground-breaking plot twists, but it is a well told and beautiful story, showing a side of Mulan and the people she loves that I’ve never seen before. My favorite aspect is probably the relationship between Mulan and her father. It is incredibly touching and I teared up rather often while reading Wild Orchid.

So if you’re like me and life is like a runaway stallion and you just want to jump off for a little while and breathe- read Wild Orchid. It’s short and refreshing, and come on, it’s a fairy tale!

Market: My 13 year old sister read it and I’d extend the age all the way up to anyone who still reads fairy tales.
Language: None (or none that I remember)
Sensuality: None
Violence: Not extreme by any means

April 3, 2014

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2008


"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all? (Amazon)

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

A newspaper ad that reads "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" leads to a wild adventure for four children.  Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance, as the Mysterious Benedict Society, begin training in a special school under the watchful eye of Mr. Nicholas Benedict.  They must prepare to face Mr. Curtain, a super-villain who
plans to take over the world...but will four kids be powerful enough?

The first in a very successful series, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY values kid-power and intelligence in a manner reminiscent of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and Blue Balliett.  Teeming with puzzles and mystery, the book is part brain-teaser, part adventure novel.  The children are the heart and soul of the novel; each has a unique character, strengths, and weaknesses.  Children will enjoy choosing a

favorite, although each character has the opportunity to become a hero in this story filled with twists and turns.

Some readers may be daunted by the length of the novel (about 500 pages), but the plot is gripping enough to assuage such fears.  With easy and readable language, this series is likely to convert many non-readers!


Market: Middle grade fiction

Violence: Mild--mostly action/adventure-oriented chases, and the like.
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Adult Themes: friendships and family relationships, good vs. evil

March 27, 2014

AWAKEN by Meg Cabot, 2013


Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera knew by accepting the love of John Hayden, she'd be forced to live forever in the one place she's always dreaded most: the Underworld. The sacrifice seemed worth it, though, because it meant she could be with the boy she loves. But now her happiness -- and safety -- are threatened, all because the Furies have discovered that John has broken one of their strictest rules: He revived a human soul. If the balance between life and death isn't fixed, both the Underworld and Pierce's home back on earth will be wiped away. But there's only one way to restore order. Someone has to die. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Ems - who cannot read enough books

I've been a fan of this series from the beginning. I loved Pierce's sassiness and John's earnest love. I loved them together and I even liked them apart. Together is better, of course, but this was a case where they didn't annoy me when they weren't together.

The final book in the series, AWAKEN, was exactly what I needed to finish it up. Full of action, mortal peril, plenty of snark, sweet loveyness, and some fun new characters. I don't always approve of adding new characters to the last book, but in this case, they work. They help advance the story instead of feeling like they're just there as an afterthought or a nod to old Aunt Martha who was once promised a character named after her.

There were times in this book when I wasn't sure if things were actually going to work out. I mean, I knew deep down that they would, because hello, who wants a sad ending to their love story?! I just wasn't sure how on earth it was going to work out. I was pleased with the resolution and how it all turned out.

Overall, a great series and one that I'll come back to. I do love my mythology!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: death

March 22, 2014

THE GREEN AND THE GRAY by Timothy Zahn, 2004


For seventy-five years the Greens and the Grays have lived quietly among us in the shadows of New York, alien refugees from a war of attrition that utterly destroyed the rest of their kind. Passing as everyday citizens, yet with powers and technologies unknown to humanity, each group has long believed that they are all that remain of their old world and their terrible conflict. But now, to their mutual surprise, they have found each other, and the old hatreds and fears have once again risen to the surface. And each side is preparing again for war. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Emily, avid bibliophile

THE GREEN AND THE GRAY is one of my favorite books by Timothy Zahn. Set in New York City, sometime after September 11, it begins with a couple walking home from a play. They're arguing about it when a man accosts them and leads them to a dark alley, where they find, to their total surprise, a girl, who the man insists they protect.

Melantha Green is terribly afraid - and her fears turn out to be justified. Her family is willing to sacrifice her for peace with their enemies, the Grays.

Roger and Caroline Whittier are both unsettled by the strange behavior of the girl they've brought home. First Melantha vanishes for one night, then her pursuers seemingly fly through the air. The mysteries grow deeper and more complex with every turn, and the young couple struggles to understand the alien culture that they have been thrust into.

Meanwhile, relations between the Greens and the Grays worsen, and war threatens to break out in the streets of New York. And the only ones who can stop it are in hiding.

This is a wonderful story, with plenty of mystery to go around - a good read for those who like complex tales with plenty of action and adventure. Also, I really liked the surprising truth about the origins of the Green and the Gray.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Mild/None
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Revenge, forgiveness

March 17, 2014

STORYTELLER: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF ROALD DAHL by Donald Sturrock, 2010


In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children’s literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year.  Granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate’s extraordinary archives Donald Sturrock draws on a wealth of previously unpublished materials that informed Dahl’s writing and his life. Storyteller is an intimate portrait of an intensely private man hindered by physical pain and haunted by family tragedy, and a timely reexamination of Dahl’s long and complex literary career. (Amazon)


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

Most readers have had some exposure to the works of Roald Dahl. Whether you wore out your dog-eared copy of Matilda, covered your eyes during the scariest scenes in The Witches, or munched on those colorful Nerds candies, you have Mr. Dahl to thank.

If you want to learn more about the legendary Dahl, Donald Sturrock's comprehensive biography is the one to read.  At nearly 600 pages, this authorized tome incorporates letters, interviews, and even the contents of Dahl's writing drawers from his hut at the Gipsy House. Sturrock delves into Dahl's childhood, his past as a wartime spy and his relationships, including his marriage to Academy-Award-winning actress Patricia Neal.  If the "authorized" label gives you pause, give Sturrock, who knew Dahl during the author's lifetime, the benefit of the doubt.  Sturrock clearly admires Dahl and his work; however, this admiration does not stop Sturrock from presenting the negative aspects of Dahl's personality. Ultimately, anecdotes and observations present Dahl as a complex man: a gruff, difficult, unsentimental man of enormous talent, who also possessed the imagination and positivity of a child.  And perhaps--a man who saw his own life story as fluid and subjective.

The most interesting parts to me, as a lover of children's literature, placed Dahl's works within an autobiographical context.  The biography details Dahl's tragedies, including deaths (of his mother and daughter, especially), his wife's stroke, and his son's accident. Sturrock's insight into these events' effect on Dahl's stories is particularly interesting--and creates more sympathy for this complex man.  Dahl's interactions with children as detailed in the text also
build sympathy.  (One highlight is Dahl's letter to a young Keith Olbermann.  Don't miss it!)

If you expect STORYTELLER to fulfill a childhood expectation of Dahl as Mr. Rogers with a typewriter, you are misguided.  However, adults will enjoy this examination of Dahl's fascinating life.  Just keep in mind that anyone who could create Willy Wonka, the Trunchbull, and the BFG could not be without just a hint of darkness mingling with that magic.

Market: Biography, Adult nonfiction
Violence: None
Language: Moderate--the guy had a pretty foul mouth
Sensuality: Nothing too explicit, but some sexual slang and references to Dahl's personal life, the sexual content in his adult works, etc.
Adult Themes: Family tragedy, war, sexuality

March 12, 2014

PRINCESS FURBALL by Charlotte Huck, 1994


Once upon a time a cruel King decided to betroth his motherless daughter to an Ogre in exchange for fifty wagons filled with silver. When the Princess learns what her father has done, she is horrified. But she is as clever as she is beautiful. Quickly, the Princess devises a plan to escape and, relying on her own spunk and good sense, ultimately marries the man she chooses for herself. (Amazon)


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


When a young princess learns she is to be married off to an ogre, she demands four things before she agrees to the union: a gown as golden as the sun, one as silver as the moon, a third as glittering as the stars, and a coat made from the skins of 1000 animals.  When her father meets these demands, the princess runs off to make her own fate.

I recently found a copy of PRINCESS FURBALL among my old books.  Its cover was creased and soft, its pages hopelessly yellow and falling apart.  It had definitely seen better days, but it was like discovering an old friend.  This "Cinderella" variation was probably the first fairy tale retelling I loved, but it certainly wouldn't be the last!

There are many factors that contribute to this enchanting story: a princess who yearns to make her own happy ending, the glorious watercolor illustrations that give the story a medieval feel, and the tiny details that make the story a delight to enjoy over and over. Children will love the pictures, and, if they're anything like me, might need a couple of spare copies.

Market: Children's picture book
Violence: none
Language: none
Sensuality: Happily-ever-after love, of course!
Adult Themes: Arranged marriage, royalty, ogres (that counts, doesn't it?)