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.

September 30, 2010

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, 2010

Before I FallSam Kingston is pretty, popular, and has a seemingly perfect boyfriend. But after a late-night party everything goes terribly wrong, and the life that she lived is gone forever. Or is it? At the start of Before I Fall, Sam is self-consumed and oblivious about the impact of her actions on others. But as she repeatedly experiences slightly altered versions of the hours leading up to her death—and her relationships with friends, family, and formerly overlooked classmates bloom, end, or shift—it’s impossible not to feel for the girl whose life ends too soon. Oliver’s adept teen dialogue and lively prose make for a fast, page-turning story in which the reader is every bit as emotionally invested as Sam. (Amazon Product Description)

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

This book is touted as being a mash up of Groundhog Day and Mean Girls, which I suppose it is, but that’s hardly doing it justice. (Not that I don’t love both of those movies.) This book explores two very interesting topics, on the one hand it’s a look at popularity from the inside: the struggle to achieve status, and what you have to do to hold onto it. It also takes us into the idea that every little thing we do has consequences that we cannot predict.
Sam Kingston, our heroine if she can be called such, is not unlikable. She’s pretty, popular, has a crush on her teacher, hardly speaks to her parents, is impatient with her little sister, is rude to her childhood friend who is not longer in the same clique as she is—she’s the quintessential popular teenager . . . but still not unlikable.
Because as the book unfolds, and as you read about Sam fighting for her life, you see her for what she is: flawed, beautiful, irritating, funny and real. You begin to understand why she does the things she does, even if she doesn’t completely understand it all herself. And as she becomes increasingly desperate to save not only herself but the others who are affected by her actions, you love Sam more and more, and you root for her from the bottom of your heart.
By the end of this book, I was literally curled up in a tense little ball on the couch, gritting my teeth with anxiety. Because Sam, as I’ve said, is not just fighting for her life, but the lives and futures of several of her peers. It was shocking and thought-provoking to see how everyone around Sam was affected, and how futile some of her attempts at fixing the situation are. Slip into a parking spot before the captain of the swim team, and BAM, she’s out of the next meet and doesn’t get a scholarship. Smile at someone, don’t smile at someone, wear boots instead of stilettos, all of it makes a difference.
It made me think about what I was doing with my own daily interactions: could I be nicer, should I have been on time for that meeting, what if I don’t mail that card today? I detest the phrase: It really makes you think . . . but I cannot deny it: this book really makes you think. And cry. And laugh. And then cry some more. Cathartic and inspiring!
Market: Young Adult
Language:  A little foul (teenager-moderate)
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence:  Mild
Mature Themes: death, suicide, depression, bullying, underage drinking and sexuality

Book formats:
Before I Fall (Hardcover)
Before I Fall (Kindle)

To learn more about the author, visit her website: Lauren Oliver

To learn more about the reviewer and her books, visit: Jessica Day George. Or her author page on Amazon, here.

MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS by Leila Sales, 2010

Mostly Good Girls
The higher you aim, the farther you fall…. It’s Violet’s junior year at the Westfield School. She thought she’d be focusing on getting straight As, editing the lit mag, and figuring out how to talk to boys without choking on her own saliva. Instead, she’s just trying to hold it together in the face of cutthroat academics, her crush’s new girlfriend, and the sense that things are going irreversibly wrong with her best friend, Katie. When Katie starts making choices that Violet can’t even begin to fathom, Violet has no idea how to set things right between them. Westfield girls are trained for success—but how can Violet keep her junior year from being one huge epic failure?
Review by Joy Peskin, Executive Editor at Viking Children's Books

When I was fourteen, my best friend got asked out on a date. Instead of being happy for her, I spent the evening in my closet crying. Until that moment, my friend and I were united in many things, including our datelessness. But suddenly everything was changing; suddenly she was changing from a permed, bookish, boyfriendless girl like me into, well, a permed, bookish, girl who went out on dates. Oh, if only there had been a book for me to read about what it’s like when your best friend turns into a person you don’t recognize anymore, a book like Leila Sales’ Mostly Good Girls, I might have felt better. Because in the end, don’t we often read books to know that someone else—even a fictional someone else—went through whatever crappy thing we are going through, and they lived through that crappy thing, thus we can, too?

Mostly Good Girls is the story of best friends Katie and Violet, told from Violet’s perspective. Katie and Violet attend an elite private school and they are both bright, motivated students. But Violet is the type of girl who has to work for every A, while good grades come effortlessly to Katie. This is just one of the things that begins to crack the perfect shell of KatieandViolet—Violet’s subtle yet simmering resentment of how easy things come to her other half.

Throughout the book, which is told in tasty, bite-sized chapters, Violet’s anxiety to do her best is palpable and relatable, as is her growing confusion with some of Katie’s choices. It takes a while for Violet to catch on, but she ultimately realizes that while she has been pushing herself so hard to accomplish everything on her Junior Year To-Do List (examples: #1. Get a perfect score on my PSATs. #6. Maybe become famous for something so that people everywhere will know and respect me?), Katie has been drifting off in another directly entirely.

Early in the book, Violet thinks, “Katie and I are similar in so many different ways that I sometimes forget we come from different backgrounds.” But by the book’s end, Violet realizes she and Katie aren’t really so similar after all, or anymore. When we have defined ourselves by our sameness to our friends, and those friends change, what does that do to our own identities? Can friendships based upon similarities still thrive despite—or because of—differences? Why do we strive so hard to succeed, and what, in the end, is the meaning of success? These are a few of the questions raised by Leila Sales’ funny, smart, thought-provoking debut novel.

Market: Young Adult Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: One scene of (completely not glamorous) teen drinking.

Book formats:
Mostly Good Girls (hardcover)
Mostly Good Girls (kindle)

To learn more about the author, go here: Leila Sales

Disclaimer from Joy: I know Leila Sales. Okay, let’s be completely honest: I know her pretty well. I see her every day. We work together. But that’s not why I wrote this review. I wrote it because Mostly Good Girls is an amazing book, and reading it made me very happy, and I want others to read it and experience that same happiness.

Interview with Author, SARA ZARR, National Book Award Finalist

Interviewed by Amy Finnegan

We're thrilled to welcome Sara Zarr to Bookshop Talk for our first ever interview! Sara is not only an extraordinary author, but also a super cool person. As for her novels . . . well, I'll let a few professional critics introduce those:

"[Zarr is a] master of show-not-tell....[a] subtle, beautifully-written novel." ((starred review) VOYA )

"Zarr's writing is remarkable." ((starred review) Booklist )

"Engrossing." ((starred review) Publishers Weekly )

Yep. See all those “starred reviews”? Sara is a what people call a Pretty Big Deal, and yet she still took time for an interview with a start-up review site. So after you read a bit about her here, be sure to check out her novels. You’ll be happy you did.

Here are a few questions we had for Sara:

Bookshop Talk: It’s hard enough to write about the life of a teen and make the story feel genuine, but you go beyond that and write about some pretty difficult subject matter: kidnapping, abuse, questioning one’s religious beliefs, family dysfunction . . . all of these topics can open an author up to both criticism and praise. Why do you feel it’s important to provide teens with literature containing more controversial topics?

Sara Zarr: When I'm writing, my mind is far away from audience or thinking in terms of "providing" something in my work. I start with characters or situations that I'm interested in exploring, and that seem like they'd make good books, and then it's a matter of paying attention to the stories and giving them what they need. After it's all over, I can think about audience a little more. To me, it's not about "controversial" or "clean." Teens deserve stories that respect the adolescent experience in all its complexity---sometimes it is good and beautiful, sometimes it's hard and ugly. There's a place for all kinds of stories. 

BT: Your first published novel, Story of a Girl, earned a National Book Award nomination—pretty amazing, especially for a debut author! And since then, you’ve had two additional novels receive rave reviews from critics and readers alike. What is your secret to writing about teen characters, and their unique challenges, so well?

SZ: Well, one, thank you, and two, I don't know if there is a secret. I think that part of it is I'm very in touch with my own inner life - not just remembering what it felt like to be 15, but what it feels like to be me, now. Self-knowledge is very helpful when you want to write complexly about human experience. If there is a secret, it's remembering that being an adult doesn't mean you have life figured out. If you approach writing from a standpoint of believing you have it figured out, it's going to be difficult to write authentically from the POV of a teen just starting to experience life beyond childhood.

BT: Can we expect another book from you in the near future?

SZ: I'm wrapping up the final revision on my next book right now, so that should be out around fall 2011. It doesn't have a title yet, which is driving me crazy!

BT: What are some of your all-time favorite books?

SZ: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (and lots of his books), Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons (and almost anything by Anne Tyler), Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, of course. The Secret Garden, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, almost everything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. To name a few!

A very big thank you to Sara Zarr for joining us on Bookshop Talk! And now you can check out her award-winning novels for yourself:

Story of a GirlWhen she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother's best friend - Deanna Lambert's teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions . . . she longs to escape a life defined by her past. With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, The Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption. (Amazon product description)

Story of a Girl (paperback)
Story of a Girl (kindle)

SweetheartsAs children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend. When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken. (Amazon product description)

Sweethearts (paperback)
Sweethearts (kindle)

Once Was LostSamara Taylor used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. As a pastor's kid, it's hard not to buy in to the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young girl in her small town is kidnapped, the local tragedy overlaps with Sam's personal one, and the already-worn thread of faith holding her together begins to unravel. (Amazon product description)

Once Was Lost (hardcover)
Once Was Lost (kindle)

You can also visit Sara at her website: Sara Zarr

Do you want to WIN a book by Sara Zarr? Check out the post on Bookshop Talk titled "Giveaway!"


Win a book by Sara Zarr!

                  Story of a Girl           Sweethearts           Once Was Lost

For a chance to win one of these three books:

Step 1) BECOME A FOLLOWER of Bookshop Talk via Facebook, Twitter, RSS, or Google Friend Connect (all of these links can be found on the right sidebar of this website, under "Stay Connected.")
Step 2) SEND an email to, and tell us which social media network you chose (you can choose all four if you want to). Make sure you include either your real name or a username so we can announce the winners.

Three winners will be drawn at random, and can choose whichever book they want most. We'll mail the book to the winners if they live in the Continental United States. If not, we'll buy them a digital Kindle copy.

The deadline to enter will be October 16th, 2010!

Best of luck!

EMMA by Jane Austen, 1815

EmmaAusten only completed six novels in her lifetime, of which five feature young women whose chances for making a good marriage depend greatly on financial issues, and whose prospects if they fail are rather grim. Emma is the exception: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." One may be tempted to wonder what Austen could possibly find to say about so fortunate a character. The answer is, quite a lot . . . The story revolves around a comedy of errors. (Amazon Review/Product Description)

Review by Amy Finnegan - writer, reader, housewife.

Of all the timeless novels Jane Austen wrote, EMMA is my favorite. Austen knew Emma Woodhouse wouldn't be an instantly sympathetic character - a girl who mostly seeks to do good, but usually on her own terms, and with the ultimate goal of looking incomparably clever in the eyes of her friends. But even though Emma is conceited, spoiled, and the worst matchmaker in history, she is still entirely lovable. I have yet to see another author pull that off with a main character as well as Austen does in this story.

Emma’s friend, Mr. Knightly, is my favorite of Austen’s male characters: he speaks his mind, but always with the best intentions, and he isn’t the least bit broody as so many other Regency era male characters tend to be. And when the love story truly starts to unfold . . . well, I’m a gonner, every time.

As a reader, I can’t help but cheer for Emma Woodhouse, while at the same time hope she trips on her own feet and face plants in the mud. And when Emma is at last humbled, her regret is so sincere and complete, it makes me ache for all wrongs to be resolved for our heroine.

One of the very rare gifts Austen had was creating a cast of characters that make you think, "I know someone just like this!" And here you're reading a story which takes place nearly 200 years ago. But who doesn't know someone like Miss Bates, a woman who goes on and on and on about a topic that no one else is the least bit interested in. And then there’s the excessive worrier, Mr. Woodhouse. Emma's father comes up with every excuse he can to convince those he loves that they should stay put in the only place they're sure to be safe - right next to him. Forever.

In my opinion, there are more twists and turns in EMMA than any of Austen’s other novels, leading one to guess again and again who will end up with whom. And I also think it’s the most humorous of her novels.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY are Austen's most famous works, but if you've never read EMMA, be sure to give this poor little rich girl a try!

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Classic Austen—marriage, marriage, and more marriage

Book formats:
Emma (Paperback)
Emma (Kindle) (it's $.99. Or you can download all of Austen's works for FREE on iTunes!)

Learn more about Jane Austen and her novels here.

Extra Gush: I can’t miss this opportunity to point out two excellent film adaptations of EMMA. For many years, I didn’t think anyone could touch the 1999 film with Gwyneth Paltrow, but the more I watch the 2010 BBC mini-series (with Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightly!), I believe they’ve topped it. Both versions are available through Netflix, or you can find them on Amazon by clicking the following icons:

Emma (2009)Emma

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls, 2005

The Glass Castle: A MemoirJeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family. . . . As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

Review by Josi Kilpack, Culinary Mystery Author

I tend to approach memoirs, especially traumatic-childhood memoirs, carefully. I don't like to have my emotions manipulated by stories that lack depth, or, on the other hand, are so shallowly self-applauding that the sole reason for the story seems to be the author seeking validation for all that they have suffered. Above all of those things, I have no interest in reading the gratuitous details of abusive situations. Therefore, I was cautious when I first started reading Glass Castle. I thought the title was a play on the cliché "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" but it wasn't, not at all. Instead, the title comes from a promise made by the author's father that one day they would stop living on the fringe of society, stop skipping out on their debts, stop hopping from place to place and living from binge to binge--one day they would be a real family and live in a glass castle.

The glass castle never came to be, but it took many years and a lot of very painful experiences for the children in this story, the author included, to realize that their parents, while good and, in their way, loving people, were not whole. Mental illness, alcohol abuse, poor choices, and what I would call low moral character, ruled the lives of the children of these two broken people, forcing them to grow up in chaos that was not of their making. The story follows the chronological memories of Jeanette Walls as she is forced to live the consequences of her parent's lives and, in the process, learn about a world of which her family occupies a very strange and frightening corner.

The story is remarkable in the up-close view we get of severe dysfunction, but I was struck by the accepting and forgiving voice of the author. She has much to be angry about; many things to resent, and though she is aware those things, and likely worked through much of it before she wrote the book, I admire her love for her parents which comes out from the story. It doesn't absolve them of their poor choices, just attempts to frame it within the sphere of their imperfection. I admire the journey of forgiveness Walls has made, and I admire her telling the truth without sensationalizing details of abuse and mistreatment. The story would easily lend itself to anger and gratuitousness, but she chose against that and, in the process, allowed me to trust her to be sharing a story rather than simply selling one. I appreciated that very much.

Beyond the fascinating story of her life that plays out within the pages of the book, Walls is a wonderful writer. The words played together smoothly, with great depth and cadence. I was not at any time pulled out of the story due to poor writing or lack of ability in telling such a poignant series of events. I put down the book feeling fulfilled as both a writer and a reader (not an easy balance; as testified by how many books I do not finish due to my inability to turn off my internal editor). I was also left with gratitude for the childhood I was given by my own parents, and glad to know that my children will never wonder whether they will still live in this house tomorrow morning. I found the journey through Walls past to be one of learning and edification, a chance to reflect both on the life I live and the lives I encounter. It was a journey worth taking, and I highly recommend it.

Market: Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild to Moderate (domestic)
Mature themes: Poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, child neglect, mental illness

Book Formats:
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Paperback)
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)

To learn more about the author go here: Jeannette Walls

To learn more about the reviewer and her culinary mystery novels, go here: Josi Kilpack.

FEVER 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2002

Fever 1793
During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather. Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen. But then the fever breaks out. Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie's world upside down. At her feverish mother's insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease. (Amazon Product Description)

Review by Gabby, High School Student

I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. For whatever reason I’ve never been able to really enjoy or connect with a historical fiction. This was not the case with Fever 1793.

I did not know anything about the Yellow Fever epidemic that took place in Philadelphia in 1793. This book sure did open my eyes. I was thoroughly entertained and learned quite a bit about this major event in American history. But the nice thing about this book was that I wasn't bored learning about the history. The facts of the past are woven very well into this story.

Mattie was a fantastic character. She was very real to me. She was relatable, strong, and determined. Throughout the book I felt it was as if I was being sucked into the story and seeing things as Mattie saw them. Mattie starts out as a busy teenage girl working for her mother and having a crush on the local painter’s assistant but her world is quickly turned upside down as the fever quickly devastates the city. You couldn’t help but feel for Mattie and her pain as she went through these terrible events. But my favorite thing about Mattie is the hope and joy she brings into the story.

Mattie’s story is a scary, sad, and wonderful one. Fever 1793 is a definite must read.

Market: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Death

Book formats:
Fever 1793 (paperback)

To learn more about the author, click here: Laurie Halse Anderson

September 29, 2010

At Bookshop Talk, it's All About the Love . . .

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.

There are so many great books in the world! New releases usually get all the glory at bookstores, but our mission at Bookshop Talk is to not only tell you about current reads that we love, but to introduce you to little known or all-but-forgotten literary gems, and to remind you why "classics" have been on the shelves for hundreds of years, their stories still applicable . . . timeless.

Our reviewers will come from as many different walks of literary life as we can manage to recruit them: child, teen, and adult readers, educators, librarians, booksellers, authors, agents, editors, publishers. We'll consider reviews from anyone, and books from almost every genre and with nearly every storyline (please click on the the "contact" book at the top of the website, and read our review policy).

If you want to be notified when we post a new review or interview, please subscribe via the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS links on the right sidebar. And the Google "follow" button is a great way to let us know you're out there and enjoying the content.

Thanks for joining us!