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