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.

May 29, 2011

THE DARK CITY by Catherine Fisher, 2011

The Dark City #1 (Relic Master)Welcome to Anara, a world mysteriously crumbling to devastation, where nothing is what it seems: Ancient relics emit technologically advanced powers, members of the old Order are hunted by the governing Watch yet revered by the people, and the great energy that connects all seems to also be destroying all. The only hope for the world lies in Galen, a man of the old Order and a Keeper of relics, and his sixteen-year-old apprentice, Raffi. They know of a secret relic with great power that has been hidden for centuries. As they search for it, they will be tested beyond their limits. For there are monsters-some human, some not-that also want the relic's power and will stop at nothing to get it. (Amazon)

Review by Laura Madsen, Veterinarian and Writer

I was excited to get an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of this novel. While I’ll read nearly any genre, fantasy is my first love. THE DARK CITY is the first in a series of four books to be released this summer; it will be followed by THE LOST HEIRESS in June, THE HIDDEN CORONET in July, and THE MARGRAVE in August. Wow, impressive marketing campaign!

The novel is categorized as young adult fantasy, although I’m actually not sure why it was designated YA. It could just as easily be shelved with adult fantasy. The main character’s age is never stated, but from context could be anywhere from fifteen to twenty.

The novel provides an excellent example for aspiring novelists learning the lesson of How To Write A First Chapter. We learn within the first few pages that this is a fantasy set somewhere other than our world (“The seven moons were all in the sky at once”); that the main character has magical abilities (“He let his third eye open and made tiny purple filaments of light spray from the central moon…”); that the main character has a personal conflict with his mentor (“It was no use talking to Galen”); that the characters belong to the Order of keepers and are being pursued by the Watch; and that the Order is concerned with technological relics (“They found a relic, as they were plowing. A tube. When you touch it, it hums. Small green lights move inside it”).

Raffael (Raffi) Morel is a young man apprenticed to Galen Harn, a cynical old man with wounded leg and damaged mind. They are keepers, member of a magical order dedicated to protecting the relics of a previous civilization. The Makers left behind cities, buildings, and technological equipment. The Order of keepers has been outlawed, with many keepers murdered and much knowledge lost.

Raffi and Galen travel to Tasceron, the abandoned city of the Makers. They are joined by a girl, Carys Arrin. Carys tells Raffi and Galen that she is tracking her abducted father, but the reader knows she is a member of the Watch, the governmental agency which hunts the keepers. Carys joins the others on their journey, and comes to question the beliefs of the Watch.

Tasceron is like the evil twin of Oz City: creepy, decrepit, and lawless. The city is cloaked in smoke from fires that have been burning deep underneath for decades. In the gloom hide Watch patrols—and worse monsters.

Looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Market: Young Adult (fantasy)
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Violence: moderate
Mature Themes: murder, betrayal, deceit

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Catherine Fisher

May 27, 2011

INTERVIEW with Newbery Honor Winning Author, SHANNON HALE!

Interviewed by Kim Harris Thacker, Bookshop Talk Host

I was first introduced to Shannon Hale’s books by my children’s literature professor in college.  She claimed THE GOOSE GIRL was one of the best young adult novels ever written, so I knew I had to find a copy.

Or two.

Or three.

Actually, I think the most copies of THE GOOSE GIRL I’ve ever had in my possession at one time is four.  You see, I have one gorgeous hardback copy to stare at in admiration, one paperback copy to take writing notes in, and generally at least one copy on hand to give away to friends or random strangers. 

The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)Happily, THE GOOSE GIRL isn’t the only novel Shannon has written that I adore.  But it was my first, and for that reason, it holds a special place in my heart.

Here’s more about the illustrious Shannon Hale, from her website:

Shannon Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of six young adult novels, including the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, two award-winning books for adults, and the upcoming Midnight in Austenland (Jan. 2012). She co-wrote the hit graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge and its sequel with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah.

You can learn more about Shannon by clicking on these links:

On to the interview!

  The Goose Girl (Books of Bayern)Enna Burning (Books of Bayern)  River Secrets (The Books of Bayern)      Forest Born (Books of Bayern) 

Kim Harris Thacker:  THE GOOSE GIRL, which is the first installment in The Books of Bayern series, features a young woman named Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, or Ani, as protagonist.  While THE GOOSE GIRL is Ani’s story, the reader is also introduced to such wonderful characters as Enna and Razo.  These two characters are the protagonists of other books in the Bayern series. Enna’s book is ENNA BURNING, and Razo’s book is RIVER SECRETS.  The fourth book in the series, FOREST BORN, is about Razo’s younger sister, Rin.  When you first wrote THE GOOSE GIRL, did you imagine Enna, Razo, and Rin would star in their own books?

Shannon Hale:  Never! I have a hard time thinking in series. I'm completely in the story I'm telling. Recently I started what I intended to be a trilogy, but now it's just turned into one long book because I guess that's just the way I think. It's always a surprise and a delight when another character pipes up, Hey, what about me?!

KHT:  Each of your Books of Bayern features a young woman who discovers she can “speak,” in a way, with nature.  If you could have such an ability, what would yours be?

SH:  Wind. I'm a total geek and I sit in the wind and imagine what it's saying to me. Of course I do that with trees too and animals. I mean, I USED to do that, when I was young and innocent. I'm much too mature to do that now, I swear. Well, maybe just sometimes... I wish I had people-speaking, but only if I didn't go evil. Nevermind, I don't want people-speaking. That sounds too exhausting. Wind is nicer. 

Austenland: A NovelKHT:  AUSTENLAND is an essential read for anyone who adores Jane Austen, but especially for any woman who appreciates Colin Firth’s performance of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  And now you’ve written a sequel to AUSTENLAND called MIDNIGHT IN AUSTENLAND (released January 2012).  Does that mean you’ve discovered a BBC Austen hero portrayal that is even more wonderful than the Firth/Darcy?  Can you tell us a bit more about what to expect from MIDNIGHT IN AUSTENLAND?

SH:  Yay! I love this book and this world and am having so much fun with it right now. I used a different narrator in Austenland, which allowed me to make it a comedy, which is a treat for me. Midnight in Austenland is about Charlotte, a completely new woman vacationing at Pembrook Park. Some of the characters from Austenland are still there, but there are several new ones. It's heavily influenced by Northanger Abbey.

Rapunzel's Revenge  Calamity Jack

KHT:  All of your books but two (RIVER SECRETS and CALAMITY JACK, the second graphic novel you have written with your husband) feature a female protagonist.  How is writing a story with a male protagonist different from writing a story with a female protagonist?  Did you do anything special, like literally walk a mile in your husband’s shoes in preparation to write these books where males are the main characters?

SH:  My husband wears a size 15. I can't take a step in his shoes without them falling off. Well, they're not so much shoes as boats. Houseboats maybe. You know, I never thought I'd write from the POV of a boy because I'm a girl and I didn't want to get it wrong. But I knew Razo and Jack so well by the time I got to their books that there wasn't any fear. My husband is always a helpful male voice too. 

Book of a Thousand DaysKHT:  Your novels are filled with well-developed characters, from the courageous Dashti in BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, to the inebriated Sir Templeton in AUSTENLAND.  These characters are so real, they breathe!  I imagine they have to eat, too.  So my next question is, if you could invite one of your characters to supper at your house, which one would you invite, and why?  Also, which would you be sure not to invite, and why?

SH:  Thank you! Aren't you sweet? I do love Dashti. I'd like to be Dashti. I want Becky Jack from The Actor and the Housewife as a next door neighbor. I want a friend as fierce and loyal as Enna. I totally get Miri from Princess Academy as if she were myself. But to come to dinner, hands down, it'd be Razo. I'd better prepare a lot of food. It'd be fun to feed him though. He's such an appreciative eater. Sometimes I'm a little grumpy that I don't get to actually be friends with Razo. Selia is not welcome in my home. She's just so oily I'd want to take a bath after, and what an energy sucker. 

Princess AcademyKHT:  In your Newbery honor-winning novel, THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, a group of girls, whose ages range from twelve to seventeen, are sent from their homes on Mount Eskel to live and study at a nearby academy that has been set up specifically to give these rural girls training in how to be princesses.  At the princess academy, the girls are taught many skills by their teacher, Tutor Olana.  If you were Tutor Shannon, and there were a Writer’s Academy for young people ages twelve to seventeen, what would be the single most important thing you would teach there?

SH:  You know, I never get used to the "Newbery honor" part. Still gives me chills. And that's an interesting question that I've never been asked before, which doesn't happen often! I actually have a secret goal to one day have a writer's academy for girls of that age. A week-long camp that includes writing workshops alongside other topics of interest to writers and helpful life and communication skills. I attended something like that (only not for writers) when I was a teen and it was so helpful. I have young kids, so it's not going to happen in the next 5 years at least. But the talent of being able to communicate--to listen and to express yourself--is so valuable and so neglected, I would do a session on that for sure.

KHT:  Will you please give us a short list of your all-time favorite novels?

SH:  I can't! There are so many I love for many different reasons, and too many writer friends I'm afraid I'd neglect. But here are three that I've reread in the past year: The Westing Game, Northanger Abbey, and The Thief

Thank you, Shannon, for taking the time to visit with us today!

May 24, 2011

LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, 2001

Love That DogNewbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, a funny, sweet, original short novel written in free verse, introduces us to an endearingly unassuming, straight-talking boy who discovers the powers and pleasures of poetry. Against his will. After all, "boys don't write poetry. Girls do." What does he say of the famous poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? "I think Mr. Robert Frost / has a little / too / much / time / on his / hands." As his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, introduces the canon to the class, however, he starts to see the light. Poetry is not so bad, it's not just for girls, and it's not even that hard to write. . . . Jack's reverence for the poem ultimately leads to meeting the poet himself, an experience he will never forget. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Emily, mother and aspiring writer

For me, this is the sole book that falls under the category “Books I have read at the bookstore in one standing (no, not one sitting but one standing)”. I was in college, perusing the university’s bookstore shelves, when I first picked up Love That Dog. I thought I’d read the first page or two but I became so wrapped up in the story that I stood there with my ergonomically ridiculous one-strapped backpack, ignoring the knot below my right shoulder blade and falling in love with the main character, Jack. Confession: I cried. I bought the book and then leant it to a friend who must have loved it just as much because I never saw it again.

Love That Dog follows young Jack’s hate-to-love experience with poetry. Initially resistant to a genre that is both boring and clearly for girls, he comes to appreciate it with the help o William Blake, Walter Dean Myers, Robert Frost, and the astute teacher who is inflicting the poetry upon him. Through his writing he slowly unfolds his love for the four-footed companion for whom the book derives its title, and what ultimately happened to this dear friend.

It’s a poetry book designed for those who shy away from poetry. It reads quickly (even if you’re standing with a messenger bag pulling you down) and the protagonist is endearing. Newbery medal-winner Sharon Creech repeatedly demonstrates her ability to create young characters that are unique yet relatable, and deep yet entertaining. Those who love other works by Creech or have ever loved a dog will enjoy it. Whether you read it sitting or standing, I suggest you have a box of Kleenexes on hand.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: Mild (I’d say none but of course it has language! It’s a book!)
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Poetry, animals

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Sharon Creech