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.

December 30, 2010

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS by Dr. Seuss, 1957

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!The Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small, hates Who-ville's holiday celebrations, and plans to steal all the presents to prevent Christmas from coming. To his amazement, Christmas comes anyway, and the Grinch discovers the true meaning of the holiday. (Amazon product description)

Review by Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

I missed Christmas with this review but I figure it’s never a bad time to gush about THE GRINCH. I’ve loved this book since I was little; my mom used to read it to me, and now I’m reading it to my kids.

The story follows the Grinch, a nasty green creature with a heart “two sizes too small,” and his faithful dog, Max, in their adventures stealing Christmas d├ęcor and presents from the villagers of Who-ville. In the end, the Grinch realizes that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store” and that perhaps it “means a little bit more.” His heart grows three sizes, he brings back the gifts, carves the Whos’ Christmas roast beast, and they all live happily ever after. (Be honest—how many adults out there still refer to roast beef as “roast beast?” I’m raising my hand.)

It’s a marvelous story, an antidote to the commercialism of the holiday. Dr. Seuss’s writing is brilliant as always, as when the Grinch gets a “wonderful, awful idea.” Most writers would never consider stringing “wonderful” and “awful” together, but the result is perfect.

Book formats:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (hardcover)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Anniversary Edition: A 50th Anniversary Retrospective (special edition)

To learn more about this legendary author, visit: Dr. Seuss

Extra Gush: These movie versions are SO great!

Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Full Screen)   How the Grinch Stole Christmas

December 28, 2010

THE GRIMM LEGACY by Polly Shulman, 2010

The Grimm LegacyElizabeth has a new job at an unusual library— a lending library of objects, not books. In a secret room in the basement lies the Grimm Collection. That’s where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles. When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth embarks on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before she can be accused of the crime—or captured by the thief. Polly Shulman has created a contemporary fantasy with a fascinating setting and premise, starring an ordinary girl whose after-school job is far from ordinary— and leads to a world of excitement, romance and magical intrigue. (Amazon product description)

Review by Kim Thacker, writer and mommy

Ever wonder what you’d look like wearing Marie Antoinette’s wig?  Well, if your hometown had a library-esque “circulating material repository” like the one in Polly Shulman’s THE GRIMM LEGACY, you could try on the famous queen’s wig (Don’t worry--it’s not the one she was beheaded in!).

I fell in love with the plot of THE GRIMM LEGACY the minute I read the jacket flap.  This book does not disappoint.  Imagine working at a place that’s kinda like a library, but instead of checking out books, patrons can check out STUFF.  Cool concept!  Even cooler is the fact that the circulating material repository checks out magical items collected by the Grimm brothers when they were researching their fairy tales!  The Grimm Collection contains items such as the twelve dancing princesses’ shoes (some of them), Snow White’s wicked stepmother’s mirror (horrors!), and a bludgeon that unlocks locked doors.  Now, I love my public library, but I think I would flip for a circulating material repository like the one in THE GRIMM LEGACY! 

Now, a word about the writing in THE GRIMM LEGACY:

It’s wonderful.

I was very impressed by Shulman’s ability to satisfy the reader’s obvious questions without spending a lot of time on the nitty-gritty of how a circulating material repository would work.  The main character, like the reader, has questions, and the big ones are answered, but in answering the questions, Shulman doesn’t bog down or slow down the story.  Also, many Grimm tales are referenced throughout the book, and while I hadn’t heard of several of them, my lack of knowledge didn’t prevent me from understanding the book.

I would recommend this story to any young person who enjoys contemporary magical realism (Harry Potter is an example of contemporary magical realism--or magic that is somehow tied to our world rather than to an entirely made-up world).  I would also recommend this book to fans of fairy tales, of course!  Give THE GRIMM LEGACY a try if you’ve read and enjoyed Jessica Day George’s PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL, Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY, Jaclyn Dolamore’s MAGIC UNDER GLASSShannon Hale’s THE GOOSE GIRL, or, to step away from the fairy tales, Marianne Malone’s THE SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS, or E.L. Konigsburg’s FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER.

Market:  Young Adult
Language:  None
Sensuality:  Mild (a sweet kiss or two)
Violence:  Mild (adventure peril)
Mature Themes: (racial prejudice is VERY lightly touched on)

Book formats:
The Grimm Legacy (hardcover)
The Grimm Legacy (e-book)

To learn more about the author visit: Polly Shulman

December 21, 2010

TOOTH AND CLAW by Jo Walton, 2003

Tooth and Claw
Here is a tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, a son who goes to court for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father’s deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband. Here is what sounds for all the world like an enjoyable Victorian novel, perhaps by Anthony Trollope…except that everyone in the story is a dragon, red in tooth and claw.


Review by Jessica Day George, Young Adult and Middle Grade Fantasy Author

People keep referring to this novel as "Jane Austen with dragons" which is misleading . . . it's not Jane Austen, it's Anthony Trollope, as Walton says in the acknowledgements. The difference? Well, for those of you who haven't read Trollope (myself included) this is a Victorian novel, not Regency. In fact, I thought the whole time that it had strong shades of Charles Dickens in it.

Family strife, extreme stress on rank and duty, wives giving up their personal preferences in order to support their husbands . . . it's all there. Only these are dragons. Dragons, talking about the suitability of this or that marriage, issues with their estate, as they feast on raw meat in a dining room that has blood gutters cut into the floor. Dragons, wearing respectable hats with little veils and turning down social engagements because they are in mourning.

It's genius, it's hilarious, it's moving, it's a true feat on the part of the author! Despite their physical and social differences from anything I'd encountered before, the characters were still endearing, or irritating, or angering. I was rooting for the young, nearly dowerless sisters to make good matches, pulling for Avan to successfully sue his brother-in-law for taking too much of his father's legacy . . . of course, that legacy was how much of his father the brother-in-law ATE.

The contrast between the staid respectability of the dragons and the fact that they ate their dead, and sometimes the living who were too weak, could have become ridiculous, but instead it made it all the more poignant. These are dragons, "red in tooth and claw", and yet they've backed themselves into a trap with their extreme manners and social mores. This is a truly gripping read, and I recommend it for anyone, whether or not you like "dragon books" or Jane Austen. Or Anthony Trollope (whose books I am now eager to try).

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild, mostly in discussion and relating to reputation (one of the dragons is a “fallen woman”).
Violence: Tearing apart raw meat at dinner, eating the dead and weaklings
Mature Themes: Cannibalism. Female reputations. Death during childbirth, er, egg-laying. Servants’ rights.

Book formats:
Tooth and Claw (hardcover)
Tooth and Claw (paperback)


To learn more about the author, visit: Jo Walton

December 17, 2010

THE SHEEN ON THE SILK by Anne Perry, 2010

The Sheen on the Silk: A NovelArriving in the ancient Byzantine city in the year 1273, Anna Zarides has only one mission: to prove the innocence of her twin brother, Justinian, who has been exiled to the desert for conspiring to kill Bessarion, a nobleman . . . Trying to clear her brother’s name, Anna learns more about Justinian’s life and reputation—including his peculiar ties to Bessarion’s beautiful widow and his possible role in a plot to overthrow the emperor. This leaves Anna with more questions than answer, and time is running out. For an even greater threat lies on the horizon: Another Crusade to capture the Holy Land is brewing, and leaders in Rome and Venice have set their sights on Constantinople for what is sure to be a brutal invasion. Anna’s discoveries draw her inextricably closer to the dangers of the emperor’s treacherous court—where it seems that no one is exactly who he or she appears to be.

Review by Rachel Birch, Secret Chef

This historical fiction takes place in Byzantium in the the 13th century.  It is a story of a city trying to recover after the 1204 invasion that essentially destroyed the entire city emotionally, religiously and physically.  The story begins with a young female physician who disguises herself as a Eunech so that she may descover why her brother has been banished to exile.

Her journey is dramatic, heart rending, and so engaging that you will have a hard time setting the book down.  I became lost in the exotically sophisticated story Perry weaves in this far gone place.

Highly recommended to anyone needing an adventure in a foreign place.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Moderate

Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: War, death

Book formats:
The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel (hardcover - out now)
The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel (paperback - released January, 2011)
The Sheen on the Silk: A Novel (Kindle)

To learn more about the author, visit: Anne Perry

December 14, 2010

JEMIMA J: A NOVEL ABOUT UGLY DUCKLINGS AND SWANS by Jane Green, 2000

Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans
Jemima Jones is overweight. About 98 pounds overweight. Treated like a maid by her thin social-climbing roommates, and lorded over by the beautiful Geraldine (less talented but better paid) at the Kilburn Herald, Jemima's only consolation is food. Add to this her passion for her charming, sexy, and unobtainable colleague Ben, and Jemima knows her life is in need of a serious change. When she meets Brad, an eligible California hunk, over the Internet, Jemima has the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself--as JJ, the slim, beautiful, gym-obsessed glamour girl of her dreams. But when her long-distance Romeo demands that they meet, she must conquer her food addiction to become the bone-thin model of her e-mails-- no small feat. This is just the beginning of Jemima's transformation, a process that takes her through enormous physical and emotional change and halfway around the globe. First published in the UK to great fanfare, Jemimna J spent nine weeks on the bestseller lists. Jane Green's brilliant wit, warm sense of humor and honesty ensure that her success will continue--on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by Jessica Day George, Young Adult and Middle Grade author

Dear heavens, I love this book. It makes me want to simultaneously eat ice cream and run on a treadmill!

I picked up a copy at a used book sale after several Borders co-workers (yep, I used to be a book-shelving-monkey!) recommended it to me, and at first I will at admit that I was skeptical. For one thing, after buying the book I discovered that they also recommended serial romances with cowboys on the cover. And for another, the book seemed a bit dated, and just a tad predictable. She’s just discovering the internet, and chat rooms—Sooo 1995! (This was circa 2002.) And as soon as I read the premise of an overweight woman meeting a hot guy online, I instantly thought: Ah! She’ll send him a picture of her hot, thin friend, and hilarity will ensue! I was picturing a sort of reversed Cyrano de Bergerac, with her hiring the hot friend to play her on dates and et cetera. But no! Green surprised me!

When the online suitor asks for a picture, Jemima’s hot, thin friend (who is very nice, might I add, and cheers for her all the way, another surprise) takes Jemima’s picture to a photographer and has him photoshop her thin . . . which leads them to discover that Jemima is pretty underneath that extra weight. So Jemima makes the admirable goal of looking like that very picture . . . and hilarity ensues. Not to mention romance! Drama! A few cathartic tears! And one ENORMOUS twist. Well, two really.

This is a fun book. A feel-good book. An I-want-to-lie-in-the-bath-and-relax book. I took it to the hospital when I had my first baby, as something light and soothing to reread during labor. It’s British, which adds an element of delight (for me anyway) in the dialogue, and in the culture shock when Jemima journeys from her crap London suburb to the California beach for her meeting with Online Hottie. So if you’re sick, in labor, feeling blue . . . let Jemima J. take your mind off things!


Market: Adult Fiction

Sensuality: brief and not too graphic, some talk of sex
Language: some, there might be an F-word, mostly of the deity variety
Violence: none
Mature themes: Sexuality

Book formats:
Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans (paperback)

To learn more about the author, visit: Jane Green

December 9, 2010

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett, 1989

The Pillars of the EarthFrom #1 New York Times bestselling author Ken Follett comes this spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England. The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known-and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.


Review by Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett is one of the most memorable novels I’ve read. Mr. Follett recently won the ThrillerMaster award from the International Thriller Writers association, prompting me to reread the novel. (PILLARS is historical fiction, but Mr. Follett has written a number of thrillers.)

I first read PILLARS seven years ago on a trip to England. At the time, I knew nothing of the plot and hadn’t heard of the author. I only picked it because it was the fattest book on the shelf (the paperback is nearly a thousand pages) and I thought it would last me through the two-week trip. Once I started reading I was entranced. As we toured the great cathedrals of Ely, Salisbury, York and Westminster, the novel came to life for me.

The first line is a great hook: “The small boys came early to the hanging.” (Not a novel for the faint of heart; it was a violent time in history, after all.)

The novel is a historical fiction spanning several decades in the twelfth century. The primary protagonist is Tom, a stonemason who dreams of building a cathedral. Accompanied by his family he walks across southern England in search of a job. They are impoverished and starving when his wife dies in childbirth; Tom abandons the baby knowing that he cannot feed it.

Other plot lines follow Philip, a monk who becomes prior of Kingsbridge monastery and begins to build a new cathedral; Jonathan, the baby whom Tom abandoned; Ellen, a beautiful outlaw woman who cursed the churchmen who wrongfully executed her lover; Ellen’s peculiar son, Jack; Waleran, an ambitious abbot; William, a vicious young noble; and Aliena, penniless daughter of a deposed earl. Their stories are set against a tumultuous background of the massive cathedral construction project; the mystery of the unjust hanging of Jack’s father years before; and the bloody civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the throne of England.

The writing is evocative, as in: “The gloomy interior smelled of old dirt and corruption..  And “A variety of unfamiliar smells pricked her nostrils, acrid and yeasty, sulfurous and smoky, woody and rotten.” And “A chill December morning dawned with rags and tatters of mist hanging on the trees like poor people’s washing.”

You’ll be engrossed by the intertwining stories and learn a bit about medieval ecclesiastic architecture as well.

Market: Adult fiction (historical fiction)
Sensuality: explicit
Language: moderate
Violence: explicit
Adult Themes: execution, sex, death, murder, religion, treachery, rape

Book formats:
The Pillars of the Earth (paperback)
The Pillars of the Earth (Kindle)

To learn more about the author, visit Ken Follett

December 5, 2010

Jessica Day George is WILD ABOUT HARRY . . . And Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny . . .

By Jessica Day George, Young Adult and Middle Grade Fantasy Author


I first discovered Harry Potter shortly before Chamber of Secrets came out. I was working at a bookstore, and Sorcerer’s Stone had been on the NYT Bestseller list for an incredible amount of time, and this is the adult list, mind you. This aroused my curiosity, and I thought, in the spirit of Good Bookselling, that I would give it a go and thus be able to talk knowledgeably about the book with my co-workers and customers. The cover was so pretty I decided to buy my copy, and I thought it would at least look cool sitting on my shelves even if it wasn’t very good.

Then I cracked it open, and read about Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall meeting up on Privet Drive, and Hagrid arriving on a flying motorcycle carrying The Boy Who Lived, and that was it for me . . . there simply was no turning back.

I instantly fell in love with Harry, looking out at the world from the cupboard under the stairs with a combination of dry humor and resignation. I fell in love with Mr. Dursley, who had no neck, and his wife, who had twice the usual amount.

When Hagrid showed up again, I was beside myself with glee, and when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express I was jumping up and down, chanting, “Make friends, make friends, make friends!” I didn’t care if Harry learned a single spell at Hogwarts, I wanted him to have friends, to have fun, to have a life, because I loved little Harry, and felt a motherly tenderness for this little orphan.

And Ron? What a great best friend! Funny, awkward, knowledgeable about the wizarding world without being obnoxious about it, and with an enormous family ready and waiting to take Harry under their wing. (I cry every time I think about Mrs. Weasley and Bill coming to visit Harry during the tournament in Goblet of Fire. Is there anything more awesome than that?)

And once Harry and Ron made peace with know-it-all Hermione . . . well, Rowling had herself the most perfect trio of friends to grace the pages of children’s literature.

Harry is a man of action. You tell him there’s danger, and he turns and faces it dead on, at a run, even. He’s smart and talented, but not perfect. He’s lacking the background of someone born in a wizarding family, and he’s willing (like most students) to blow off studying in favor of fun. He’s serious when the situation calls for it, mourning his losses without being depressing.

Ron is more laid back, more cautious, but also more creative. He turns things over in his mind more than Harry, and worries about the consequences. But he’s also loyal, intelligent, and strong in many ways.

Hermione isn’t so much the brains of the operation as the book smarts. The most cautious, but she’s also a walking encyclopedia. She plans better and prepares better, but her hesitancy is sometimes trouble when they need to think (and move) fast.

Together, the three friends complement one another’s strengths perfectly, but I loved how often they disagreed, broke up, made up and misunderstood one another. They are human, and more tellingly, teenagers. They learn to trust one another more as the books go on, they develop their own strengths and understand one another better. Their friendship was real and believable, and the core of the books.

But the books aren’t just about Harry, Ron, and Hermione! There is a cast of hundreds supporting them, wizards, Muggles, and animals, good and evil and in-between. And there are no throwaway characters here, in fact, even people whose names are dropped casually, or who appear for just a single scene are, essentially scene-stealers.

Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth? Mentioned in one of the earliest books, plays a brief yet important role in a later book. (I bet you can even remember what shape his Patronus takes!) Stan Shunpike? Kreacher? Part of the fun lies in Rowling’s very creative names, both invited and from classical sources, which gives clues about a person’s character. Cassandra Trelawney. Remus Lupin. Sirius Black.

Let’s talk some more about Sirius Black, shall we? **MAJOR SPOILER ALERT** Still hoping they’d pull him back out of that whatever-it-was. Yep. Because not only was he, well, awesome (He could turn into a giant dog! He could simultaneously reassure his godson and plan terrible, terrible revenge on Pettigrew!), but he was also the closest thing Harry had to a father, before he was ripped away from him. And that’s a theme of the books which was both heartbreaking and yet necessary: whenever Harry would find a father figure to look up to, to learn from, they would be taken from him.

It’s a measure of how great her characters are that J. K. Rowling can make us cry when something horrible happens to them, not just because we will miss them, but also because of the impact on the other characters. With Sirius, I cried for myself and for Harry. Dobby, myself and Harry. Lupin? Tonks, Teddy, Dumbledore, I cried for Harry, for myself . . . and you get the picture.

And just as good as Rowling’s good guys are the bad guys. Lord Voldemort? The ultimate in evil, killing indiscriminately, cheating death, possibly insane . . . and with loads of back story that explain exactly how he got that way.

Dolores Umbridge is one of my favorite bad guys ever, and she’s an interesting case indeed. She is horribly evil, permanently scarring the children under her care, racist, and greedy for power . . . and not working for Voldemort.

Umbridge truly believes that she is right, and everyone else is wrong, which makes her absolutely terrifying. Umbridge isn’t the only person whose actions are more gray than black or white, either. Rowling has said that she feels deeply sorry for Dudley, whose horrible parents have ruined him, and I feel the same way for Draco Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy’s parents tried to force him to become a Death Eater. To kill people, beginning with Dumbledore. What kind of poisonous childhood did he have?! Good gravy, people! I started out hating Draco, with all his sneering, and his pointy little face, but by Order of the Phoenix I was starting think, How much of this is him, and how much is his father? Because Draco, like all of Rowling’s characters, was a many-layered creation, just like a real person. Because how could we hate him, if he wasn’t real? How could we feel badly for him?

We couldn’t.

We couldn’t love Harry, and Ron, and Hermione, if they weren’t real. We couldn’t laugh with them, cry with them and for them, cheer for them, if they weren’t real.

But they are real.

Neville Longbottom is as real a person as anyone I went to school with at my Muggle high school. So are Fred and George, Tonks, Luna, and all the others. By the time the books were over, I knew them better than some of my friends from high school, in fact. They were and are my friends, my family . . .

And my heroes.


Photo credit: Bookshop Talk obtained all photos for this post from The Leaky Cauldron

December 2, 2010

TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander, 1963

Time Cat (Puffin Modern Classic) (Puffin Modern Classics)Gareth's definitely not an ordinary cat. For one thing, he can talk. For another, he's got the power to travel through time - 'Anywhere, any time, any country, any century,' Gareth tells Jason. And in the wink of a very special cat's eye, they're off. From ancient Egypt to Japan, the land of young Leonardo da Vinci to the town of a woman accused of witchcraft, Jason and Gareth are whisked from place to place and friend to foe. Full of fun, excitement, and a good dose of history, here's a fantastic tale that grabs the imagination and takes it far and wide, on the adventure of not one but nine amazing lifetimes. (Amazon product description)


Review by Emily, high school student and bibliophile

I love this book so much, and I am sure that I cannot write a review that does it justice. But I will certainly try, since it's been one of my favorite books since I read it at the age of eight.

This is a book about a cat. A regular, ordinary cat, who just happens to have nine lives. Not in the ordinary sense, however. These lives are scattered throughout history, from ancient Egypt to Peru to the Isle of Man, where sea cats are considered extraordinarily good luck for a fisherman.

The cat's name is Gareth. His boy is called Jason, and Jason believes that his cat can do anything in the world. He's right, almost.

This book has an interesting format: There are nine stories, all of which are about different periods in history, at different places in the world. Jason and Gareth go sightseeing, as it were, to these places. It is obvious that Jason is only a bystander. After all, Gareth is a cat, and no one could be more important than that. As they travel, Jason learns much, about cats and about people.

Really, there isn't much more to say. It's brilliantly written. Those who are fond of cats will probably love this book for the fact that Lloyd Alexander loves them too. It shows in the way he portrays them. The writing is both hilarious and thoughtful, and the characters are unique. Basically, every time I go back and read this book, it shows me something new.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: Mild to None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild to Moderate
Mature Themes: Growing up


Book formats:
Time Cat (Puffin Modern Classic) (Puffin Modern Classics) (paperback)
Time Cat: The Remarkable Journeys of Jason and Gareth (hardcover)

To learn more about the author's books, visit: Lloyd Alexander

November 30, 2010

MATCHED by Ally Condie, 2010

Matched
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Review by Amy Finnegan, writer, reader, housewife

MATCHED was released just today, but if you don't get a copy quickly, you're going to be sorry when everyone starts talking about this very unique story. So hurry, run to a bookstore or grab your Kindle!

MATCHED is a dystopian tale (a society many years in the future), but don’t think of it as similar to THE HUNGER GAMES, because other than having strong female leads, they have very little in common. Where THE HUNGER GAMES has an earthy feel and revolves around violence, MATCHED takes place in such a clean, “perfect” world, that I almost felt like the pages were printed on stainless steel. The world feels sterile . . . safe.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that there’s a cost for all this perfection: free will. Among other startling benefits, the Society chooses what you will eat for all three, well-balanced, meals. They choose your vocation based on data they’ve gathered on you since you were a child. And according to their definitions of compatibility, they also Match you with a spouse who you have usually never met. Even more disturbing, they send you on your way to the grave before your body becomes a nuisance (to the Society, that is). Yes, even one’s death is decided according to gathered data, and proven statistics.

Not cool, right? As a reader, you see this from the beginning of the book, and you’re just dying for the main character, Cassia, to get a clue. But she’s been raised in the Society and knows nothing else. In fact, she is really quite pleased with her neat, organized life. Her parents were Matched by the society, and they’re happy together, so what could possibly go wrong for Cassia? And even when she’s Matched herself, she feels that she couldn’t have been luckier! The Society really does know best.

Then love steps in, that dastardly emotion that has started nearly as many wars as religion has, and is notorious for leading both men and women to make selfish, and even deadly decisions. Love, that traitorous thing that makes the world spin ‘round.

Except for in the Society, where there is absolutely no room for it.

Ally Condie tells this story with such skilled ease that I truly started to feel like this wasn’t such a bad way to live. Then slowly, along with Cassia, I began to rebel against her suffocating parameters. There were so many eye-opening moments for me that it’s hard to pick just one, but this book made me think over and over again about how dangerous “censorship” could become.

Even as strongly as I agree that some books, video games, movies, music, or whatever, shouldn’t be thrust into the hands of their too-young intended audience, where should we stop? Who gets to decide what material is suitable, and what material is not? It was a chilling question that I forced myself to answer while reading MATCHED because of the Society’s quest for a non-violent, perfectly behaved populous.

For example, the Society only allows 100 songs, 100 poems, 100 History Lessons, etc., to be enjoyed by the public. The Society has destroyed everything else. There is a part in the book where Cassia, after reading the one saved poem by Henry David Thoreau, wonders if Thoreau wrote anything else. Her next thought is “If he did, it is gone now.” Talk about a gut-punch. That really shook me up.

What amazed me the most about this novel was that I never felt preached to, and even with such compelling, thought-provoking writing, the story never felt heavy, and certainly not dry. There is plenty of tension, romantic and otherwise, to drive this story forward. Feeling like I’d actually been enlightened was just a bonus.

MATCHED is a brilliant concept, blessed with exceptional writing! I can hardly wait until Book Two!

 
Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Politics, censorship, family obligation, marriage

Book formats:
Matched (hardcover)
Matched (Kindle)


To learn more about the author, visit: Ally Condie

November 27, 2010

THE CATER STREET HANGMAN by Anne Perry, 2000


The Cater Street Hangman: The First Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel (Mortalis)
While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself couriously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder. (Amazon product description)

Review by Rachel Birch, Secret Chef

I am a sucker for mysteries, and Anne Perry is a master mystery writer.  As you read, you are sure that you have solved it and then she proves you wrong.  I did not know "who done it" until the very last page. 

This novel is the first book in the Charlotte and Inspector Pitt series (they are all awesome).  Charlotte is a single young woman who is slowly becoming a spinster.  In her mother's opinion, Charlotte is far to opinionated and brash. 

This book tells the story of a seriel murderer in London and the terror that Jack the Ripper might be returning.  Through Inspector Pitts ingenious problem solving and Charlottes mid-level social contacts they strive to stop the fervour in 19th century London.

Market: Adult Fiction Mystery
Language: None
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: 18-19th Century Policework so kinda Moderate
Mature Themes: Death, Murder

Book formats:
The Cater Street Hangman: The First Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel (Mortalis) (paperback)

To learn more about the author, visit: Anne Perry

November 25, 2010

THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt, 2008

The Underneath
A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath . . . as long as they stay in the Underneath. Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten's one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. (Amazon product description)

Review by Shaunda Wenger, Writer

My 10 yo son is a reluctant reader. Very bright, but also a typcial boy who is struggling with growing into all things "cool."

Yesterday, we were relaxing, resting, after a long day of skiing. I was trying to entice him into Kathi Appelt's The Underneath, and read the first few lines to him.

He rolled his eyes and told me he liked very few books, but said he did like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and said I should read the series, and that it wouldn't take me long to do so.

So, I told him I would, and then a few minutes later, started reading aloud from The Underneath (call me persistent, and maybe also a cheater, because I had skipped ahead a few chapters, and had deliberately picked out a few lines where things started getting scary....well, not Stephen King scary....but there was definitely a hint of horror to come, perhaps some fantasy, and mystery).

His ears perked. He scooted next to me to read the text. Then, he made me go back and start at the beginning.

After a few chapters, I put the book down to get dinner ready. He picked it up, and started reading on his own. Later, I had to pry the book away to get him to eat. Then after watching a family movie, (Pirates of the Carribean 2), he had his nose back in the book again even though it was after 10pm....

This book is not written in Diary of a Wimpy kid style. It is literary. It's almost poetic. But it has an amazing voice. One that definitely connected with my son, which is so cool.

This is the second "long" novel I've gotten my son interested in reading, after he had initially said, "no," (the other was The City of Ember). Yes, he was judging the books by their covers and length, and thought there was no way he'd want to read them. But all it took was five minutes of reading aloud, five minutes of mother-son time, and he was hooked. Now I'm in the situation of having to read to catch up to him, so we can continue to read aloud together.

The Underneath is a great read-aloud--mainly because it is so beautifully and flawlessly written. I highly recommend it, particulary if you can share it with a reluctant reader--open their world of books to something they normally wouldn't choose for themselves, or even, something you normally wouldn't choose for them. The chapters are short and switch from character to character, which keeps it interesting and relatively fast-paced.

This whole experience has made me question what "makes" a reluctant reader. Do kids fall into this category themselves? Do we hold that label over them? Do they hang on to it?

Or, are they willing to eventually let go? And if so, how will they do it?

(Here's an article by author John Green that tackles adult expectations vs teen preferences, where he too, was surprised by what teens liked.)

I'm not even sure my son knows what reluctant reader means, or if he even knows the term exists. I haven't ever said, "You're a reluctant reader." But I have lived with the frustrations of dealing with a child who doesn't really want to read much, besides nonfiction and his favorite sports magazine. Thank heavens he's beginning to open his eyes to other things, namely longer works, which require some thought, attention, and commitment.

And thank heavens, I took a chance with The Underneath. The result was completely unexpected, but so much appreciated.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None that I remember
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild abuse, but I think it's handled well
Mature Themes: Death and abandonment, but i think it's handled beautifully

Book formats:
The Underneath (hardcover)
The Underneath (paperback)

To learn more about the author visit: Kathi Appelt

November 23, 2010

Rebecca Garcia, on Growing up with HARRY POTTER

Guest Blogger, Rebecca Garcia, Student at NYU

Oh! Harry Potter.

If you know me for more than 2 hours, I’m sure you’ll figure out that I am manically obsessed with Harry Potter. Two teachers in two different schools called me “Mrs. Harry Potter.” When I heard the title of the 6th book, I ran around my house screaming with joy. The summer book seven of Harry Potter came out, I read nothing but Harry Potter that summer. I sometimes feel like I eat and breathe Harry Potter. Upon buying my copy of the final book, I nearly fainted with the excitement of it all. Needless to say, Harry Potter is very much loved in my world.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1)
I remember when I first saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was the new kid in town. I was kind of like the city slicker that just moved into a backwoods town, or at least, this is how I saw myself when I moved to Lawrence, MA and their very backwards school system. My teacher, Mrs. Gallo was obsessed with Harry Potter. She read us a chapter a day and had the first three books displayed on a table on her desk like they were venerated and holy objects. Harry Potter was the hear-all end-all for this woman. In this climate how could I avoid Harry Potter? You see . . . I could not. I was taken into the spell very early on in the fall of 1999 and I have yet to be disenchanted. It was love at first read, love at second read, and 11 years later, the magic is still going strong. 

I don’t know why I got so attached to Harry Potter. I went through a tough time at school and at home during my later childhood and most of my teen years. My one thing to do was read and who wouldn’t want to discover that they were really a magical person, that there was secretly a school waiting for them where they could perform amazing feats?

At the point where Harry Potter was introduced to me, it never occurred to me to say no to such a book, and thus my love for fantasy was born. When I moved back to New York City, I was still in love with Harry Potter. It was like I was a Harry Potter Evangelist. By the end of the 5th grade, I had convinced another teacher and at least two of my friends that they should read Harry Potter. I loved my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, obtained for 5 dollars because of my teacher’s discount and read to the point where the cover wore off. The cover had to be duct taped on so that it would stay. This book was read to the point where it was in tatters and the pages were falling out. My older sister, who is as big of a reader as I am, read it also. 

At some point, my mom realized that Harry Potter was flying on a broomstick. Thus, my mother joined the hordes of evangelicals telling everyone that Harry Potter was “Of the Devil.” This . . . clearly put a cramp in my Harry Potter reading style. I think one of the worst days in my ten year old life was the day my mom told me I needed to throw away my beloved Harry Potter. Visions of me dumping my poor book in a trash receptacle on the corner filled my heart with crippling sorrow. There were even times when my book bag was searched. I warned all my teachers that if they cared, they would never tell my mom I was reading Harry Potter in school. I read it in libraries. I would hide myself in the bathroom and take 4 hour “baths” where I really was sitting on the rim of my bathtub, with my feet in hot water reading my beloved Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)When Goblet of Fire came out, I was fast becoming friends with one of the librarians at my local branch. She promised me she would lend me the book (which I then read 4 times in a row). I will never forget the moment my parents discovered me reading it. I was scared out of my mind when my dad insisted that I stop reading (I was up to page 503) and then demanded that I describe what happened in the book. I still admire my own ability to talk about Harry Potter without saying the word “magic” once.

The 5th book of Harry Potter stands out in my mind as one of my first tastes of freedom. When I bought this book, I was allowed to venture to Barnes and Noble by myself to buy the book. I was riding the subway without a parent or a sibling . . . a very big deal for me at the tender age of 14.  The 6th book is one I managed to convince my mother (who was quoting Bible Verses at me the whole way . . .) to come buy it with me at midnight.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)When I bought the 7th book, there just seemed to be some kind of major Finality TO MY CHILDHOOD with the publishing of this book.

I’ve been known as a lover of Harry Potter for 11 years now. That’s more than half my life at this point. A game I like to play is that I’ll have someone read a few sentences from the Harry Potter books to me, and I’ll try to guess what chapter they’re in. I can guess the correct chapter with about 95 percent accuracy.

I love Harry Potter. Always have, and I always will. It saved me from dreariness, it also gave me one of my best friends in life (who I met because I questioned her about reading Harry Potter). I will always remember the first three Harry Potters on stands on a table like holy and venerated objects. I will remember sitting on the edge of a bathtub, reading Harry Potter. I will remember sneaking chapters of Harry Potter during class with my book under the table when I should have been reading school work. I will forever remember the delight of my soul upon opening a brand new Harry Potter that I have not read. I will always remember leaning to one side while my friend Dominga leaned to the other as we sat and read Harry Potter in different parts of the book.


So Viva La Harry Potter. Perhaps no other book series will ever live up to it. Perhaps no other author will ever warm my soul in the same way.

That’s okay. I’ll just keep rereading Harry Potter anyway.



A NOTE FROM BOOKSHOP TALK: Over the next month or so, we're going to have a weekly guest blogger talk about different aspects of the Harry Potter series. We would LOVE it if you would leave your own thoughts on the series by using the comment feature on this blog :) We're sure that there are at least a few of you out there who like Harry Potter as much as we do!