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

July 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.

FORBIDDEN by Kimberley Griffiths Little, 2014


In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart. Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emma - College Student

FORBIDDEN is a mind-blowing read! First of all, this is the oldest setting for a historical fiction YA book (according to the Epic Read’s Age of YA timeline). I could tell that the author, Kimberley Griffiths Little, took so much time researching this time period. It was so impressive that she was able to make one believe, save for some details, that Jayden, the main character, was living in this real, magical, and dangerous world. Somehow, the author, Kimberley Griffiths Little, was able to make this book, which was completely clean, into a down-right steamy book. It was a really fun experience, though, because many things in today’s standards, such as talking to a boy alone or holding hands, was viewed as very scandalous back then, so while reading that she only just touched his hand made me blush.

My only major frustration came from Jayden’s sister Leila. Oh my goodness! She never realizes what a shame she is becoming for her family. I cannot imagine what was going through her head. That being said, Kimberly is also a mastermind at getting into odd characters’ heads, Leila being one example. She has masterfully understood how these strange people think.

I had sort-of hoped that this was a standalone while reading it, just because she left it on such a cliff-hanger and I knew that was going to happen if it was a series. I al super excited to read the next book and very curious to see how Kimberly expands this ancient world she has reconstructed for her readers.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves Fantasy or Historical Fiction. It has amazing world building, romance, and dynamic characters, what isn't there to love.

Also, a huge shout out and thank you to Kimberly for giving me my copy of Forbidden! I cannot wait to read the next one! And merry belated Christmas!

You can see the Epic Read’s awesome timeline here: http://www.epicreads.com/blog/the-age...


Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild, but makes you feel like there is more
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: priestesses of Asherah, abusive arranged marriage

June 15, 2015

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Christin Terrill, 2013


Em is locked in a bare, cold cell with no comforts. Finn is in the cell next door. The Doctor is keeping them there until they tell him what he wants to know. Trouble is, what he wants to know hasn't happened yet. Em and Finn have a shared past, but no future unless they can find a way out. The present is torture - being kept apart, overhearing each other's anguish as the Doctor relentlessly seeks answers. There's no way back from here, to what they used to be, the world they used to know. Then Em finds a note in her cell which changes everything. It's from her future self and contains some simple but very clear instructions. Em must travel back in time to avert a tragedy that's about to unfold. Worse, she has to pursue and kill the boy she loves to change the future. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

I haven't seen two main characters that fit together as well as Em and Finn do in a long time. Both perfectly capable of standing independently, their love was simple and unselfish. The course of the story yanked out their inner selves and spread them out for public perusal as they struggle with the ethics of what they intend to do. They compliment each other in a team willing to lay aside petty wishes for themselves in search of a safe future. Em and the Finn of the future both carried a deep seated grittiness, courtesy of the nightmare the future is -- quite different from the average, and perhaps slightly spoiled in one case, teenagers they were in the beginning of their journey. I enjoyed the jagged juxtaposition presented as the past and future characters lived out their timelines, reacting the same events in drastically different ways, but still being the same person. Their interactions posed several heavy questions and deep thoughts on what gives a person their identity and ends justifying means. Overall, the characters were well thought out and relatable.

What an incredibly addictive read! The whole book takes place over the course of only a few days as events seamlessly snap into place in nonstop plot. I must say I wasn't expecting quite the explosion this book is. Usually I find time travel books to be unrealistic and disappointing (because really if someone has such a powerful tool how can their lives have any problems?). But nothing could be further from the truth with this one! I appreciated that Cristen Terrill doesn't focus too much on the technical aspect of why time travel is possible in her world, but rather turns the readers' attention to the character development and intricate plot unraveling before our eyes and uses the time travel machine as only an accessory to the larger story. That's not to say that time isn't involved: This story is made of time jumps with a whole new take on paradoxes and non-linear timelines and just enough logic to ring true.

Cristen Terrill has an almost brusque clearness to her writing that lends itself well to the brutal atmosphere of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS. The book displayed professional and experienced prose with enough flair that I will be looking out for future books.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild if Any
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Death, Corruption

Second review by Natalie

Love it. So much. I literally love it. I am so sad it's over.

This is time travel done by a freaken genius. It was, I just, the book, GO FREAKEN READ IT!

There are 4.5 characters in this book. If that confuses you, don't feel ashamed, if it somehow makes sense to you, you are either incredibly smart or need to seek help immediately. The reason I say there are 4.5 is because there are the 3 main characters (Marina, James, and Finn), and then there are their future selves (again, story about time travel) who go by Em, James/Doctor, and, well, still Finn.

Marina, is our Main MC. She's a girl who has been hardcore in love with James since, well, since forever. Naturally, he doesn't exactly reciprocate it. James is Washington D.C.'s version of a Sherlock Holmes. Not in the mystery solving way, but his entire demeanor and such. I literally did imagine Benedict Cumberbatch as James. It was wonderful to say the least. Finn was the other boy, and I liked him, but I was just so focused on James because he was brilliant and I Am Sherlocked (you'll get that if you watch Sherlock).

Anyway, the plot. James was a genius, so he was able to build a working time machine, which, while he meant to do good, ended up wreaking havoc on the world. He didn't understand he needed to stop. He has Em and Finn in custody, interrogating them for information. Then, Em and Finn get a chance to go back in time to stop James before he builds the time machine, and that means to kill him. You switch narratives between Em and Marina, who are the same, just different times. So this may get confusing, but trust me, it's just because I'm attempting to explain it, Cristin Terrill does a superb job making it clear.

Then the ending came round. And, basically, I needed more. I NEED more.

I hear there's a sequel, but frankly, I don't know what can happen. but I know what I WANT and desperately NEED to occur. The sequel isn't happening. The author said she couldn't do it, and while I support her whatever choice she makes, I'm still SO sad.

Happy Reading!!!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild 
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Torture (not detailed), assassination attempts

June 8, 2015

ODDLY ENOUGH by Bruce Coville, 1994


Readers take a walk on the odd side with this fantasic collection of Burce Coville's best short stories--both classics and originals. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emily, bibliophile and perpetual student

This anthology of stories is indeed odd - chilling, hilarious, beautiful, and just plain weird. They range from the mock-horror story "Duffy's Jacket" to the horrifyingly twisted "Old Glory".

There's the story "With His Head Tucked Underneath His Arm", about a man wrongfully executed, and the transcendent "Homeward Bound", a story of transformation and forgiveness.

However, my two favorite stories from this anthology are the first and the last: "The Box" and "A Blaze of Glory".

"The Box" is about a boy named Michael, who is asked to take care of a box by an angel; he knows he's an angel because of the white wings he wears. And he never opens it, because the angel asked him not to. Of course, it's not nearly as easy to take care of the angel's box as Michael might have thought, but he tries his best anyway. It's a short little gem of a story, and I recommend it highly.

"A Blaze of Glory" is actually two stories - the tale of a man taking care of his terminally ill grandmother, and the story she tells him in her more lucid moments about an incident in her past that she had nearly forgotten - though those she touched have not forgotten her.

ODDLY ENOUGH proves that Bruce Coville's range of styles is huge, and also that he can write short stories (something that he admits he doesn't believe in the end note).

Market: Middle Grade fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild (in "The Language of Blood" and "The Passing of the Pack")
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: The true meaning of patriotism, the nature of love, sacrifice.

June 1, 2015

CINDERELLA'S DRESS by Shonna Slayton, 2014

Being a teen-ager during World War II is tough. Finding out you're the next keeper of the real Cinderella's dress is even tougher. Kate simply wants to create window displays at the department store where she's working, trying to help out with the war effort. But when long-lost relatives from Poland arrive with a steamer trunk they claim holds the Cinderella's dress, life gets complicated. Now, with a father missing in action, her new sweetheart shipped off to boot camp, and her great aunt losing her wits, Kate has to unravel the mystery before it's too late. After all, the descendants of the wicked stepsisters will stop at nothing to get what they think they deserve. (Goodreads)

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

Shonna Slayton has created a fun, escapist novel where many of my loves--historical fiction, fairy tales, and coming-of-age stories--intersect.  CINDERELLA'S DRESS revolves around Kate, a seventeen-year-old who uncovers magical family secrets.  Set during World War II, CINDERELLA'S DRESS has the hallmarks of a good historical fiction novel--with just a touch of magic.

Slayton creates new mythology that will fascinate any Cinderella fan.  According to her long-lost Polish relatives, Kate is a direct descendent of the real Cinderella.  As a "keeper of the dress," Kate must keep Cinderella's gown, locked in a trunk for safekeeping, out of harm's way.  Kate soon learns that the descendents of Cinderella's stepsisters are nearby--and they want to get their hands on the dress and the magic it contains.

The magic surrounding Cinderella's dress is intriguing, but I would have been happy enough reading about Kate herself, a teenager in the 1940s.  World War II is one of my favorite time periods in US history to read about, and Kate's perspective of life from the home front is educational and charming.  With her father, brother, and love interest all away at war, the weight of the war bears down hard on Kate.  She channels a lot of her energy into working at a department store, where she hopes to create window displays, silvers of brightness during dark times.  I particularly enjoyed these parts, which revealed some insight into the beautiful fashions of the time.

The only thing I didn't like about CINDERELLA'S DRESS: the ending arrived too quickly and conveniently, leaving some loose threads.  After I finished, I researched Shonna Slayton and her upcoming projects, and I learned that a sequel--CINDERELLA'S SHOES--will be published in the fall of 2015.  Already excited to continue Kate's story, I've added CINDERELLA'S SHOES to my never-ending "To Be Read" list.

Market: YA fiction
Violence:  None
Language:  None
Sensuality:  Mild romance between sweethearts!
Adult Themes: War and its effects, family ancestry

May 25, 2015

WRITER TO WRITER: FROM THINK TO INK by Gail Carson Levine, 2014


Have you ever wanted to captivate readers with a great opening, create spectacular and fantastical creatures, make up an entire country, realize a dastardly villain, write an epic love story, or make your characters leap off the page? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Gail Carson Levine can help you achieve your goals. (Goodreads)

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

Gail Carson Levine's WRITER TO WRITER is a fascinating and useful guide for writers of all ages.  Particularly useful for writers of children's or YA works, "Writer to Writer" is divided into chapters dedicated to the burning questions authors have regarding how to craft their own works. Can't figure out how to make your main character jump alive from the page?  Do you start your writing strong, then venture into a foggy and uncertain end?  Are you simply not sure where to begin?  "Writer to Writer," a companion to Levine's previous guide "Writing Magic," can help to answer these questions and many more.

As a part-time teacher of writing (and, of course, children's literature enthusiast), I really enjoyed reading about Levine's own process and insight into writing and publishing.  Her advice is practical, clear, and insightful--as well as fun to read, due to her humor and easygoing writer's voice.  She approaches example works (including her own) with a helpful analytical approach that emphasizes the importance of reading, writing, and critiquing in order to become a better writer.  Ultimately, Levine strives to prepare writers for an audience, the exciting and scary real people who might one day read your work and post about it on a blog like Bookshop Talk.

That all sounds very dry (maybe it's the teacher in me), so on to the fun parts: Levine provides several examples of writing that will inspire you to read and write.  Further, she includes tons and tons of writing prompts throughout each chapter that will make you want to stop and create.  She even ventures into the subjects of poetry and blogging as outlets of self-expression.  Her advice at the end of every chapter is the same: "Have fun, and save what you write!"  Here, she emphasizes that, while writing can be a serious craft and career, it is also a really fun activity, and her own sense of fun and playfulness permeates the work.

This guide is meant to encourage and inspire writers everywhere, and it is the perfect read for anyone who is interested in writing for middle-grade or young adult readers.  Once you read it, check out Levine's personal blog for more: www.gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com.

Market: Middle Grade or YA nonfiction "how to"--although the advice is practical for writers of all ages!
Violence: None
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Adult Themes: None, although considers both the analytical and business sides of writing as a craft

May 18, 2015

THE SILVER BOWL by Diane Stanley, 2011

Unwanted at home, Molly goes to work for the king of Westria as a humble scullery maid. She arrives at the castle with no education, no manners, and a very disturbing secret: She sees visions, and those visions always come true. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Jaina, who spends most of her time reviewing books at Read Till Dawn

After my third or fourth reread, I've decided that THE SILVER BOWL officially goes on my all-time favorites list. It's got everything I love - magic, royalty, danger, and subtle humor - without falling into any of the tired cliches that characterize most books that involve royalty and magic. In fact, Molly, the kitchen girl, is the MC - not the cute royal prince she rescues. I love seeing her roll her eyes at the prince's clueless-ness in the real world when they're hiding - like, "gee, sure, give them your royal brooch in gratitude for helping you. I'm sure no one will think they stole it if they try to sell it for, you know, actual money to replace all the food and medicine they just used on you." Okay, she didn't phrase it like that - like I said, the humor is subtle - that's just my paraphrase.

Okay, characters. As I already wrote, Meg is awesome. She's smart, and clever, but not in that really cloying cliche way. She's a bit of a wild-child in the first few chapters, but we quickly watch her flash forward about ten years. Even though she's wild, as soon as she goes to work at the castle (at age seven) she catches on to the fact that she has to do anything people ask, and not get into any trouble, if she wants to keep her post. Her stubbornness is not a tool to show that she's a flawed character (but secretly not, because stubbornness just shows strength of character!). It's a part of her personality, but a part that she knows how to deny when she needs to.

Meg also has this mysterious ability to sense the future, which isn't explained much in this book (the author delves a lot more into that in the second and third books, both of which are good but not quite as good as this one). I love how she's not going crazy with excitement about her powers: she actually sees them as a curse, not a blessing, and is deathly afraid of her visions through not only this book but actually most of the entire trilogy. She fears the burden that has been placed onto her.

Tobias is Meg's best friend, and a great character in his own right. A bit more cookie-cutter, he has all the usual side-kick bits: loyal, funny, smart, helps the MC catch her bearings in a new place (in this case the castle), and has a sad back-story to boot. However, you can't help but like Tobias. He's just so nice!

The prince doesn't actually get a huge amount of screen time in this book, because Molly the servant girl doesn't really get to interact much with Alaric the prince in the first half of the book, and then later he's pretty wounded and spends quite a bit of time unconscious. However, the bits that you do see give the bare outline of a compelling character. From the moment Meg (shamelessly eavesdropping) overhears him arguing with his parents as a child, you know that he's not going to be a cookie-cutter prince. Later, I love how strong he is. He still even keeps a bit of his humor! I won't go into it more than that, for fear of spoilers.

I can't really think of anything else to say, besides "read this book!" Like I said above, this is one of my all-time favorite books, and I recently bought it so I could cherish it forever. If it looks at all interesting to you, then you'll probably love it!

Market: Middle Grade/Young Adult 
Language: None/Very mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Moderate (minor characters die by various mishaps including animal attacks, none of which are described in gratuitous detail)
Mature Themes: Dealing with the death of loved ones

May 5, 2015

DON'T PUT LIPSTICK ON THE CAT by Kersten Campbell

As a parent, sometimes you just have to laugh. The challenges of raising children can be daunting, so humor goes a long way towards smoothing out the rough times. Enjoy these funny, frank, and true stories from the front lines of parenthood. Don't Put Lipstick on the Cat is a perfect gift for moms, dads, neighbors, and friends. (Amazon)

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

As I prepare to write this book review, the song, “I Love to Laugh,” from Disney’s Mary Poppins, runs through my head:

I love to laugh
Loud and long and clear.
I love to laugh
It’s getting worse ev’ry year!
The more I laugh,
The more I fill with glee.
And the more the glee,
The more I’m a merrier me!

Don’t Put Lipstick on the Cat: Humorous Tales of Motherhood, by Kersten Campbell, filled me with absolute glee. It has been a long time since I’ve read such a humorous book! I generally steer clear of books (and movies) that are touted as “comedies,” because I find that many of them are funny at the expense of others—which isn’t the kind of humor that strikes me as funny at all. But in Don’t Put Lipstick on the Cat, the author follows what I think of as the Golden Rule of Comedy—“Portray others as you would have others portray you”—in that she pokes fun at herself and at all the trouble she gets into in her efforts to follow the original Golden Rule. The Campbell in Don’t Put Lipstick on the Cat is a big-hearted, well-meaning, slightly devious mom who I would enjoy chatting with over Ramen Brûlée (Don’t ask—just read Chapter 11.). Of course, we would be interrupted by regular catastrophe, but what mom isn’t? Perhaps it’s the very notion that somebody out there has as many mishaps as me that makes me appreciate this book so much...

Consider the delightful beginning of Chapter Six, “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Six Kids in a Tub”:

When you are a mother in charge of a family, every day is fraught with perilous dilemmas and burning questions that only you, through your amazing wit and marvelous ingenuity have the wisdom to solve. You, as a mother, are required to crack mysteries and solve riddles that are so tough, so astounding, and so mind boggling, they would catapult even the most exceptional detective mind into everlasting lunacy. No amateur mind could solve riddles such as these startling questions you face every day: How did your husband’s underwear get in the freezer? Who stuck spaghetti all over the cat? What happened to the Thanksgiving turkey that was sitting on the table a few minutes ago? If your son didn’t go to the bathroom in the potty, where did he go to the bathroom? And last but not least, how in the world can you get ten children bathed, brushed, and ready for church in less than ten minutes? This was the burning question facing me during a visit to my sister-in-law’s house after we woke up late one Sunday morning.

“What are we going to do?” screeched my sister-in-law Sue, cracking her knuckles and pacing in front of the clock. “I’ve only got one bathroom.”

My sister-in-law is your basic nervous person. This is unfortunate because I am allergic to nervous people. The allergic reaction I have doesn’t make me sneeze, it makes me suddenly calm, as if nothing in the world matters, especially not being late for church. The more nervous my sister-in-law became, the slower my heart beat until I had to check my breathing to make sure I was still alive.

“Don’t worry,” I said with confidence. “I’ve got the perfect solution. Let’s do a cousin bath assembly line.”

I won’t continue to quote the chapter. Suffice it to say that things do not go according to plan (A seventh character may suddenly join the six kids in the tub, and its name starts and ends with p.).

Um.

Let’s talk about the writing nitty-gritty, shall we?

Campbell’s writing is wonderfully wry and also highly visual. The events in each vignette are described so vividly that the reader is immediately drawn into the story, as if he or she is actually a nosy neighbor who was disturbed by the commotion next door and so decided to pop in to make sure everything was okay—and then decided to pop right back out again, because while things were obviously not okay, no one was in immediate mortal danger.

Although Don’t Put Lipstick on the Cat is based on Campbell’s real-life experiences, she uses made-up names for each of her characters. This not only protects the identities of the (ahem) innocent, but it also allows Campbell to get at the personalities of her characters without making extensive explanations for their behavior. “Scoot,” for example, has a knack for scooting out of the trouble his antics frequently get him into.

Another thing worth noting: The Library of Congress Cataloging In-Publication Data lists this book’s topics as “Families—Humor,” and “Mormon Families—Humor,” but the hilarity that ensues in each chapter of the book is something that everyone can relate to—particularly if the reader has ever tried to run a self-propelled lawn mower or has had a kid in violin lessons, that is. The vignettes are reminiscent of those found in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, by Jean Kerr and Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. They celebrate family life and motherhood and would make the perfect gift for Mother’s Day—which is only a week away! It’s available in paperback or in a Kindle edition.

Market: adult humor, memoir, creative nonfiction (suitable for any age, though more suited for adults)
Language: none
Sensuality: the parents kiss
Violence: a rampaging lawn mower takes a bite out of a cherry tree
Mature Themes: none

May 4, 2015

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, 2014


One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them. Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave. Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Jessica Day George: author and Bookshop Talk host

This is a perfect novel. A masterpiece. I’m quite hard pressed to tell you anything else about it, except that you should read it. All of you. Any of you. It doesn’t matter what kind of book you normally like, if you like good writing, you will like this.

No, you’ll love it. You’ll love the characters both in spite of, and because of, their flaws. You’ll love the various settings, and the various timelines: past, present, and future. STATION ELEVEN is, quite simply, perfect. The characters, the shifts in time, the different plotlines, all come together in the end to form one perfect tapestry, a tapestry that tells a heartbreaking story of humanity that will stay with you long after you close the book.

Market: Adult fiction, but I highly recommend it for older teens as well.
Language: Some, including the f-word, but it’s not ubiquitous or gratuitous.
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Adult themes: death (mostly from a pandemic, not graphic), adultery (happens “off-screen”), a religious cult.