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.

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!

November 21, 2010

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman, 1998


StardustCatch a fallen star . . . Tristran Thorn promised to bring back a fallen star. So he sets out on a journey to fulfill the request of his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester—and stumbles into the enchanted realm that lies beyond the wall of his English country town. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman's most beloved tales, and the inspiration for the hit movie. (Amazon product description)

Review by Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

STARDUST, by Neil Gaiman (1999), is the inspiration for the movie of the same name, released in 2007. The movie is delightful, but as is generally the case with such things, the novel outshines the movie adaptation.

The novel opens with Dunstan Thorn, a young man living in the village of Wall. The town is named for the large stone wall that runs alongside, marking the boundary between mundane England and magical Faerie. Once every nine years the border is opened for a May Day festival. At the fair, Dunstan falls in love with a fairie slave girl and fathers a son, Tristran.

Seventeen years later, Tristan’s primary concern is gaining the hand of Victoria, the most beautiful girl in Wall. Victoria finds him dull and tries to get rid of him. She says she will only marry him if he brings her a star which has fallen on the other side of the wall. Tristran sets out across the boundary to recover the fallen star, but we learn that when a star falls in Fairie, it falls not as a lifeless lump of meteoric iron but as radiant young woman.

Tristran kidnaps the star, named Yvaine, and begins the return journey to England. The land of Fairie isn’t a rainbows-and-pixie-dust-and-pink-ponies sort of place. It is magical and mysterious, dark and dangerous, like the Fairie of Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL (in fact, she wrote a blurb for the cover of STARDUST). In Fairie there are predatory trees, “choleric gnomes of poor disposition,” ghosts and hobgoblins.

Along the way, Tristran and Yvaine are pursued by witches (for the heart of a star is a valuable commodity in witchcraft) and become entangled in the battle for succession to the throne of Stormhold. And, of course, they fall in love.

Mr. Gaiman’s writing is creative, lyrical and descriptive. For example, a description of a Fairie cat:

“The farm cat had three kittens: two black-and-white ones like herself, and a tiny kitten with a dusty blue sheen to her coat, and eyes that changed color depending on her mood, from green and gold to salmon, scarlet and vermillion.”

This would be a great novel with which to curl up on a rainy day. Although the novel is adult, I think it would also appeal to teens.

Market: Adult fiction (fantasy)
Sensuality: mild, in furtherance of the plot
Language: mild (a single “F” word)
Violence: moderate
Adult Themes: murder, sex, love, betrayal, fratricide, witchcraft

Book formats
Stardust (paperback)
Stardust (Kindle)

To learn more about the author, visit: Neil Gaiman

Extra Gush from Bookshop Talk: The movie based on this novel is different from the original story in many ways, but still awesome!

Stardust (Full Screen Edition) 
*A quick note: No, Bookshop Talk isn't getting paid to promote Neil Gaiman; it just so happens that in less than 2 months of being a book review site, we've had THREE of his books reviewed. He's obviously a common favorite of our little group of readers :)

November 19, 2010

BENEATH A MARBLE SKY by John Shors, 2004

Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love StoryIn 1632, the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, overwhelmed with grief over the death of his beloved wife, Mumatz Mahal, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. The story surrounding the construction of the Taj Mahal occurs, however, against a scrim of fratricidal war, murderous rebellion, unimaginable wealth, and, not least of all, religious fundamentalism ruthlessly opposing tolerance and coexistence between the disparate peoples in the empire. . . . Beneath a Marble Sky, narrated by Princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, recounts their story, and her own as well, a parallel tale of forbidden love enduring censure and extreme deprivations. Beneath a Marble Sky brims with action and intrigue befitting an epic era when, alongside continuous war, architecture and its attendant arts reached a pinnacle of perfection. (Amazon product description)

Review by Josi Kilpack, Culinary Mystery Author

I am no great scholar and the biggest reason for this is that I am lazy. Hand me a textbook about Middle Eastern history and watch my eyes roll back into my head. I have always learned history and culture best through stories. Give me people to read about; let me see the culture and the time through their trials and triumphs; paint a setting that allows me to feel the breeze on my skin and I am putty in your hands. Such it was when I picked up this book—a debut novel by John Shors.


The story centers around the epic building of the Taj Mahal, but of course, the building isn’t really the story. Instead, the story is that of Jahanara, daughter of the Emperors favored wife who becomes a political mastermind as the story unfolds. In the time and place in which Jahanara lives, women have no rights. They are instruments and bartering chips; servants and commodities. But she rises above these roles and proves her gender’s strenght through her intellect and maneuvering that preserves her nation. Forced to marry, she finds love with the architect of the Taj Mahal; a love that can not survive the time and position of it’s players. Or can it?

The characters are well written and do not steal so much of the show that the education of the culture is lost. The setting and time period of the story is very real and engrossing, but not at the sacrifice of plot. All in all I found the story fascinating, the characters relatable—despite so many differences between my world and theirs—and all of it well written.

My only complaint with the book is that there are a few scenes that were rather raw. While the plot point of such things (a sex scene or two, a marital rape, and other violence) was necessary to the story, I would have preferred a milder telling of it. I’m fairly sensitive to gratuitous sex and violence and felt this one went over the line a bit—but obviously not to the point of my putting the book down which often happens with such scenes. It’s not a book I would recommend to every reader I know, but for many readers the book is worth skimming those few pages.


Market: Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate with a few intense scenes
Violence: War and a rape
Mature Themes: history, Taj Mahal, women, love, arranged marriage, family, devotion, India


Book formats:
Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love Story (paperback)
Beneath a Marble Sky (hardcover)

To learn more about the author, visit: John Shors

To learn more about the reviewer and her culinary mystery series, visit: Josi Kilpack

November 16, 2010

The Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger, 2009 - 2010


A special series review by Jennifer Day Mattson, AP English Teacher

In a world over-saturated with supernatural romance novels, I love Gail Carriger and her Parasol Protectorate series! These books are so wildly inventive and enjoyable. The characters are all fully realized and believable and even minor characters are vital to the plot movement and atmosphere of the novel. The "steampunk" ethos, combining unusual technology with Victorian European setting, is seamless and intriguing. The romance is perfectly balanced with adventure and her sense of humor sings from every page. Read these books - they are phenomenal!

Soulless

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking. (Amazon product description)

Wow! This is a fun one. It reminded me of a mash-up between the Georgette Heyer/Marion Chesney and the Laurell K. Hamilton oeuvres. The setting involves proper Victorian British society folks whose culture has developed slightly differently because of the presence and acceptance of werewolves, vampires, and ghosts in their midst. I like how the Brits have accepted these supernaturals for the most part, while the Americans - because of their Puritan origins, of course - reject and hunt them. There are the usual gender conflicts and paradoxes - the ruler of the land is a woman (Queen Victoria), but the rest of the women of society aren't allowed to do much beyond be shown off at balls and soirees to catch an eligible husband. The main character is a woman, who has been "put on the shelf" before she even has a coming-out, because she has inherited dark skin, a prominent nose, and heavy brows from her Italian father which make her abhorrent to those of the fashion taste-makers. She also has the unfortunate habit of loving books and speaking her mind. The horror! She teams up with the head of the supernatural bureau, a werewolf, to solve the mysterious appearance of newly made vampires, and the disappearance of other vampires and werewolves. Of course, sleuthing and romancing ensue.

Changeless

Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate)
Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it. (Amazon product description)

Ahh, Gail Carriger, what have you done to me? I was initially nervous to read this book, because I enjoyed the first book so immensely that I always worry I will be let down. But, not so! There are new, intriguing characters to meet and an intriguing mystery to solve; a hat shop and a dirigible ride - yay! There are some excellent Lyall moments; some great Biffy and Lord Akeldama moments (one in the form of a delightful, cryptic message over the aetherograph-thingy); and Miss Hisselpenny and her atrocious hats, which makes me very happy.

Blameless

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate)
Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season. Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead. While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.  (Amazon product description)

I love Gail Carriger! Her stories are so well-crafted and creative and detailed, with phenomenal characters - even so-called "secondary characters" are multi-faceted, endearing and/or intriguing.

I hate Gail Carriger! It's not fair that someone could have the imagination to come up with the weird technological devices that would seem plausible in this steam-punky Victorian England. (And again: the characters are brilliant and amazing!) And along with her great imagination is her fantastic writing style and wit. I've read so many novels lately from series that started out fun and snarky and now seem forced and headache-inducing. These novels are just refreshing, fresh, and real.

The last novel, Changeless, ended on a very nail-bittingly intense cliff hanger and it almost killed me to wait until this one came out! But was it worth the wait! And although - small spoiler alert - this one didn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, I'm excited to note that a fourth one is on its way (unfortunately not coming out until next summer), and there are definitely some exciting loose ends that need to be tied up.


Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Bodices are ripped, there is plenty of kissing and petting, a couple of borderline graphic scenes, but this definitely isn't in the "smut" category.Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: marriage, then wondering if one should have gotten married. Supernatural elements.

Book formats:

November 15, 2010

10 Questions with Jessica Day George, featuring Gail Carriger

Interview by Jessica Day George

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate books are taking the literary world by storm . . . a saucy, steam-powered, tea-loving, firmly-corseted storm! And it's no surprise, really. With her books about Alexia Tarabotti, a soulless woman living in a very different vision of Victorian England, Carriger has created a brilliant new heroine, at once modern and very much a product of her times. And then she's given her a wonderful setting to play in, and a host of fabulous new characters to interact with. If you haven't tried SOULLESS, the first Parasol Protectorate book, you really should treat yourself.

But first, here's Ten Questions for Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series!

Jessica Day George: First off, the most important question: Darjeeling or Earl Grey?

Gail Carriger: If I have to pick? Darjeeling. But normally, neither. I prefer English Breakfast. I like my tea like I like my men: robust yet smooth and gentle, easy in the morning, and not too aggressive.

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)JDG: The Parasol Protectorate books are set in a delightfully complex alternate reality where vampires, werewolves, and steampunk technology all co-exist (though not necessarily peacefully).  Was there one great “Ah HA!” moment where you decided upon these elements, or was it a conscious effort to combine your favorite things?

GC: I like to say that my supernatural elements have steampunk consequences. I did want to have all the elements together in one world, but I also felt like they all went together since Victorian Gothic literature birthed the idea of both the supernatural and science fiction. The strange thing was as I did more research there were more and more ah-ha moments. Cravats, disguise neck marks . . . of course! The British army regimental system is based on werewolf pack dynamics . . . obviously. King Henry clearly broke with the church over the supernatural (the divorce thing was just a front). And if we have all these immortals mucking about in history, of course the first thing the Victorians are going to want to do is dissect them. Having the undead around gives new meaning to the word "vivisection." So technology is going to evolve differently. Lastly, if there are supernatural creatures running about there must be a scientific explanation. There simply must.

JDG: What are the release dates for the last two Parasol Protectorate books?

GC: Heartless is out July 1 and the last book, Timeless, is still undecided.

JDG: Do you have a new project (non-Parasol) in the works?  If yes, would care to give a hint?

GC: Yes and no for a four book series. And that's the hint.

JDG: What made you decide to be a writer?

GC: A healthy dose of insanity mixed with a reckless disregard for my own survival topped with ingrained escapist tendencies.

JDG: Describe your average writing day: Any rituals?  A set schedule or goal? Music, no music, snacks, etc.?

GC: With a project due and no day job (mine's intermittent) I write from 2 to 7 every weekday – with breaks for tea and sometimes chocolate. I have to hit 2000 words a day, no exceptions. No TV if I haven't made the goal, and I loose weekends if I'm down on my count. No music, I'm a dancer by training and if music is on, I want to dance to it, not write. The rest of the household, with the exception of the cat, is quite respectful. I have a closed-door policy. Which is to say: if the door to my office is closed my policy is to throw the nearest moveable object at anyone who disturbs me. They've learned. Even the cat.

JDG: If one found oneself in the position of having to accept a marriage proposal from a supernatural, would one do better to accept a vampire or a werewolf, in your opinion?

GC: Good question. I'd say it depends on your own personality. If you are asking me, specifically, I'd go for a Beta werewolf. I have my eye on Professor Lyall.

JDG: I read in another interview that you started out writing YA- do you have any inclination to write YA in the future, or do you feel that you’ve found your niche?

GC: I like Jane Yolen's policy on writing. I could imagine doing many things: non-fiction, MG, educational, hard SF, picture books, cookbooks. They are all likely to all have my signature light hearted flippancy. While I do love to write dark, I find I'm not very good at it.

JDG: Straitened circumstances have forced me to get rid of all domestic staff but one, which should I keep, the butler or my lady’s maid?

GC: "A woman who has no lady's maid has lost her self respect." (Gosford Park) Yet, a good butler knows so many things and can be so very useful outside of the necessities of toilette. Are you a single lady or in charge of a household? Is appearance important to you? I must say, that in the modern age I lament my lack of a lady's maid far more frequently than I do a butler. I loathe doing my own hair and I have many corsets.

JDG: And lastly: You are to be buried in Egyptian splendor, and must take with you everything you will need in the afterlife.  What five books will you take to entertain yourself in the hereafter?

GC: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce, By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey, and Taming the Forest King by Claudia J. Edwards - all subject to change without notice.

A big thank you to Gail Carriger for joining us on Bookshop Talk. You can learn more about her if you visit her website, here.

And to tell you a bit more about the awesome Parasol Protectorate books, we've asked Jenn Mattson to post reviews of the first three books in the series. Look for the reviews tomorrow!

November 14, 2010

BEAUTY by Robin McKinley, 1978

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the BeastThis much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father's financial ruin. The plot follows that of the renowned legend: Beauty selflessly agrees to inhabit the Beast's castle to spare her father's life. Beauty's gradual acceptance of the Beast and the couple's deepening trust and affection are amplified in novel form. Robin McKinley's writing has the flavor of another century, and Beauty heightens the authenticity as a reliable and competent narrator.
It was inevitable: we've gotten two reviews for the same book simultaneously!  But rather than turning one of them down, we decided to let not one, but two people tell you how much they loved this book!


Our first reviewer is Emily Sonderegger, Book Lover and Bon Vivant, and the second review comes from our own Jessica Day George, Reader, Writer, Raconteur!


Emily?  Tell us all about it!
  
I loved the beautiful simplicity of this story.  Robin McKinley didn't feel the need to get all weird with it and do lots of things that should never be done to classic stories. She just retold it in a powerful and moving way. Her characters LIVED and I felt immediate sympathy for them. I never liked how the sisters were pretty well rotten and the most selfish people in the original version, so I appreciated McKinley's twist on them. They were a lot more real to me this way. See, I've never really understood how people could actually *BE* that way, though I know it happens. I just don't know any of them. These sisters seemed a lot more real to me, based on my worldview.

I loved that Beauty didn't feel worthy of her nickname, even though she fit it nicely by the end. She kind of had to grow into it, which mirrors real life in my experience. I've always had kind of a hard time with heroines who are beautiful, poised, accomplished, and whatnot right from the beginning. Beauty had many wonderful qualities, but she wasn't the whole package right up front. That made me like her from the beginning. Even at the end, she still was shocked at what she saw in the mirror. She never took it as her due.

The setting was beautiful, and took me straight to Provincial France. I could smell the fields, see the woods, and feel the Provence breezes. I love when a story comes to life like that. The dialogue was appropriate to the time period and the region and the people behaved exactly as I'd have expected them to in that area of France.

Really, I could go on and on about this book and how much I liked it.  It definitely goes on the read over and over shelf.


And now Jessica, it's your turn!


This is a gorgeous book, so rich in description that I could smell the roses winding over the little cottage at the edge of the wood. McKinley’s writing is evocative without being overly flowery (pardon the pun). Her simple yet flowing style makes you feel as though Beauty is speaking directly to you, the reader, telling you her story. But she’s more than telling you. From the first paragraph you are drawn directly into the book. You know and understand Beauty, whose real name is Honour and who feels that her childhood nickname is becoming increasingly embarrassing as she becomes an gawky, less-than-beautiful young woman. Her sisters, Grace and Hope, truly are beautiful but more than that: kind and devoted to each other, Beauty, and their doting and careworn father.

McKinley first shows you the merchant’s house, emptied of furnishings by their loss of fortune. I will never forget the image of the sisters creeping through the house after the sale of nearly everything to pay their debts, holding each other tenderly and crying out at the discovery of each missing painting, each treasured piece of their lives now gone. Then comes a cottage, which soon will be encased in enormous roses as Beauty trades the adventure of living in the country as a poor man’s daughter to living in an enormous castle as the companion of a beast, all of these settings magnificent and real.

And what a castle! And what a beast! The moment I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, I remember telling my parents that they had stolen things from the McKinley book. There were no talking clocks or wardrobes, but in the book there are mysterious invisible servants, a giant library that contains all the books that were ever written—and some that haven’t been written yet. The friendship and burgeoning romance is handled at the perfect pace. You see them earn each other’s trust, then respect, then more, without tapping your foot with impatience, wondering when they will get on with it! And at the end you aren’t left thinking, “Now they’re in love? That was quick.”

Again and again, it’s the imagery that makes me swoon. The rattle of rose seeds pouring out of a wooden box. Velvet and silk gowns being pulled from saddlebags that couldn’t possibly hold more than a spare shirt. And Beauty being swarmed by the invisible servants and forced into a beautiful gown that gleams like a star—and has barely enough bodice to deserve the name! When she lets her hair down and it brushes against her skin, I could feel it . . . And that’s when I knew, truly knew, that I loved this book, and that I would read and reread this book until the cover disintegrated.

And I have!

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Uprooting, business failure, separation

Book Formats:
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (paperback)


To learn more about the author, visit: Robin McKinley

November 12, 2010

GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
The world will end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist. Put New York Times bestselling authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett together . . . and all Hell breaks loose. (Amazon product description)

Review by Jessica Day George, Young Adult & Middle Grade Author
To be fair, the full title is: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

This book will make you laugh until you cry and then it will take you hostage and force you to laugh some more. The drunken conversation between an angel and a demon about whether dolphins are mammals or fish is one of the ten funniest things in literature.
The other nine things on the list are also in this book.
The Apocalypse has never been funnier, nor has the Spanish Inquisition, with due respect to my boys from Monty Python. From the beginning list of characters, which includes Crowley: An Angel Who Didn’t So Much Fall As Saunter Vaguely Downwards, to the Earth’s horoscope, to the Other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it is purely impossible to pick one part that is your favorite, or the Funniest Thing Ever. As a teenager I think I may have actually been in love with Crowley, as an adult . . . no comment. The dialogue is sublime, the two writers’ styles are blended seamlessly together, the characters will become your imaginary friends, there are simply not enough words to describe how excellent this book is. All you can do is grab hold of the cover and hang on—much like you would have to grab hold and hang on if you were driving insanely fast in a 1928 Bentley that was on fire—
And if you read the book, you’ll know what that means!

Market: Adult Fiction
Sensuality: barely worth mentioning
Language: mild
Violence: mild
Mature Themes: The apocalypse!

Book formats:
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (paperback)
Good Omens CD (audio book)

To learn more about the authors visit: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

To learn more about the reviewer, and her fantasy novels, go to: Jessica Day George

November 9, 2010

CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare, 2010

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1)When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos. Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own (Amazon).

Review by Amy Finnegan



I read this book when I was getting tired of supernatural novels, but this was a very pleasant surprise. For one thing, the setting is Victorian England and the author does a good job planting her readers in the time period, but doesn't let the antiquated language, or the details of the furniture, carriages, and clothing interrupt the story.


This is first and foremost a character book, and the fact that these characters also have supernatural abilities comes second. I liked that. There is still quite a lot of action in the story, however, which pulls the story along with swift pacing.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1) shifted me from being a reluctant fan of "steampunk" to a reader who is willing to admit that I actually like this growing sub-genre. If you have yet to hear the term "steampunk," you're not alone. I would describe it as being a sort of a hybrid of historical fantasy and science fiction - the past and future meshing together for a big bang effect.


For instance, in this book, we have demon hunters going up against an army of clockwork creatures (basically robots). Other recent books of this nature include Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN, and Gail Carriager's SOULLESS. And the ultimate steampunk novel is a classic that almost everyone has heard of: THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells.


CLOCKWORK ANGEL is actually the first book in a prequel series to go along with the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS books by Cassandra Clare. So, do you need to read the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS novels first? In my opinion, no. In fact, I think this is Clare's best writing, so I would start with this book, and if you like the world it creates, move on to the other series while you wait for the sequel to this one.


Market: Young Adult

Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Lots of fighting, gory but not grotesque
Adult Themes: Death, kidnapping, dark magic, paranormal characters and elements