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.

June 28, 2011

ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY by Sydney Taylor, 1951

All-Of-A-Kind Family (All-Of-A-Kind Family (Pb))Meet the All-of-a-Kind  Family -- Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie -- who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century. Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama's front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa's shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all! (Amazon)
Review by Debbie, who has one sister and one brother

All-of-a-Kind Family is the first of a series that was one of my favorites when I was little. Actually, it is still one of my favorites. Like Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Betsy-Tacy, even Ramona Quimby, this is a series that brings you into the everyday life of a family. There are no dragons to be slain, no governments to be overthrown, no worlds to be saved – just regular fears to be conquered, misunderstandings to be sorted through, and sisters to support through hard times. Don’t get me wrong; I like the other kinds of books too, but sometimes I want something more quiet and comforting. Oh, and the illustrations by Mary Stevens are fantastic.

There are five sisters (and eventually one brother) in this all-of-a-kind family. (It has only just occurred to me that I don’t know the family’s last name.) Ella is the responsible eldest with a gift for music, Henny is the mischievous one with natural curls her sisters envy, Sarah is the quiet middle child, Charlotte is the imaginative sister, and Gertie is the baby until Baby Charlie is born. It’s the 1910s, and the girls live with their parents in a small apartment in a Jewish neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York City. For several years, most of what I knew about Jewish holidays, especially the ones that weren’t Passover or Hannukah, I learned from these books.

Sydney Taylor makes not only holidays but everyday events fun to read about. In this book, she even makes dusting fun. Understandably, the sisters don’t like the dusting-the-front-room chore. But one day, Mama hides 12 buttons in the room, and you go with Sarah through the room, looking under tables, in the woodwork, inside knickknacks for the buttons, and you are as delighted as she is as she finds each one.

Another of my favorite chapters is when Charlotte and Gertie spend their after-lunch pennies on candy and crackers, which they stealthily sneak into their bed so they can eat them later without Mama knowing. That night, Charlotte makes up games to play to determine how each piece should be eaten. I wish I’d thought of that when my sister and I were little! Although my mother would not have appreciated it so much.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature themes: None to speak of

Book formats:
Amazon is out of stock, but I found several ebay listings for this book, and they are cheap "Buy it Now" prices, and many with free shipping!
(and there are many more . . . )

June 25, 2011

THE FAIRY’S MISTAKE by Gail Carson Levine, 1999

The Fairy's Mistake (Princess Tales)In The Fairy's Mistake, two very different sisters have two very different encounters with the fairy Ethelinda. Rosella is kind and helpful. Her reward: Jewels and gems tumble out of her mouth whenever she speaks. Myrtle is rude and spiteful. Her punishment: Bugs and vipers slither out of her mouth. The fairy Ethelinda feels she's meted out justice just right--until she discovers Rosella has been locked up by a greedy prince and Myrtle is having the time of her life! (Amazon)

Review by Emily, bibliophile and high school student

The Fairy's Mistake is a book that provoked much thought in me. It is a retelling of the fairy tale "Toads and Diamonds." Quite a good one at that.

So you know how the kind sister got as a reward rich jewels that fell from her lips? Well . . . in this retelling, the author explores the idea that, perhaps, jewels are not terribly soft on the throat and mouth. Also, the evil sister gets whatever she wants because of the curse that toads and vile creatures fall from her mouth. I think this shows great ingenuity, even though her character is not quite what one could wish. Also, the prince turns out not to be exactly what he seems. And the poor fairy who began this whole mess ends up scarred for life.

But the main protagonist, the unfortunate Rosella, turns out to be clever enough to turn the whole situation around for herself, which I think is pretty cool. And her sister, Myrtle (which is an awesome name for a villain, really,) ends up with her share of happiness as well, although the fairy probably wishes otherwise.

And the other stories in the series are all awesome too. They make sense of slightly senseless fairy tales, but with an obvious love of the stories. There's nothing earth-shaking about these tales, but they're fun and quick to read, and really, I love them.

Market: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None/Mild
Violence: Only against insects
Mature Themes: Fairness?

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Gail Carson Levine

AND . . . we are VERY EXCITED to announce that the fabulous Gail Carson Levine has agreed to be INTERVIEWED on Bookshop Talk!! Yahoo!!!! We can hardly wait!

June 24, 2011

PRINCESS OF GLASS by Jessica Day George, 2010

Princess of GlassHoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program. She travels abroad hoping to find better political alliances and perhaps a marriage. But thanks to a vengeful fairy, Poppy's happily ever after gets complicated. This companion to Princess of the Midnight Ball will delight readers with action and romance. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Shelby N, bookworm extraordinaire

This is a beautiful book! Roughly based on 'Cinderella', the main character of this book is a secondary character in one of the Authors previous books. Princess Poppy of Westfalin is sent away to Breton as a part of royal exchange program (for the royals of marrying age). There she meets the Danelaw Prince, Christian. With an enchanted Prince, a to-good-to-be-true Godmother, a soot-covered maid, and, yes, glass slippers, will Poppy ever have her happily ever after?

I love this book because it has something for everyone. Into magic? There is a Fairy Godmother. Is action your thing? There are plenty of action scenes. Do you want romance? There is just enough romance so that those who crave it will be happy, and little enough that those who don't won't be bogged down. You can also relate to the characters, which I believe creates a strong and captivating plot. The author did a wonderful job of creating scenes and locations that the reader can see, but also does not spend so much time in this that the reader becomes bored.

This book is a must on my bookshelf, and one I have read over and over again. The author has written many other YA books, and all of them are wonderful. Although this book is marketed under YA, it could be read by middle school children. It beautiful, easy to read, and portrays strong characters and plot. Not to mention the cover art is gorgeous! That is why I can firmly say that Jessica Day George is one of my favorite authors.

Market: (Young Adult Fiction)
Language: (Mild)
Sensuality: (Mild)
Violence: (Mild)
Mature Themes: (Love, death)

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Jessica Day George

June 20, 2011

EAST by Edith Pattou, 2003

EastRose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Shelby N, bookworm extraordinaire

This is a wonderful book. With approximately four hundred and ninety four pages, I finished it in one day! It is a retelling of 'East of the Sun, West of the Moon'. The main character, falsely named Ebba Rose, agrees to go with a talking white bear, or Isbjorn, in return for the health of her sister and wealth for her family. Every night she is joined in bed by a stranger. After discovering that the stranger is none other than the is the Isbjorn, turned human by night, the Troll Queen come, and takes him away. Rose searches for him, using the clue he gave her: East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Along her journey, she discovers her feelings for the Isbjorn, and realizes her adventure has just begun.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is wonderfully written, in several different point of views. It is separated into four ''books". One thing I loved about it is that after Rose and the Isbjorn escape the troll palace, the book still goes on for several chapters. The book is not over, even when the original tale is. The plot is amazing, and, even though it is a retelling, it truly feels like the original tale, that the author took and made her own.

I would recommend this book to fans of Jessica Day George’s, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, lovers of fantasy, or adventure, or mystery, or romance. This is a great book for every one, whether you are a teen or an adult. I will probably read this several times, and still love it!

Market: YA
Language: None
Sensuality: EXTREMELY Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Dark Magic

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Edith Pattou

June 18, 2011

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, by Dan Wells, 2009

I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver Books)John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential. He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation. Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means. (Amazon)

Review by Steve Diamond, host of Elitist Book Reviews

Dan Wells has crafted something extraordinary with his first novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER.

John Wayne Cleaver is the protagonist of the book, and as you find out very early on, he isn't your average teenager. His troubles go much deeper than most, and are much more serious. You see, he worries that he might become a serial killer. He has all the tendencies of a sociopath, and he is very aware of how dangerous they are.

John is obsessed with serial killers (he even writes reports on them in school)--how could he not be considering his tendencies, and the fact that he is named John Wayne Cleaver (though his mother swears she didn't name him after the serial killer John Wayne Gacy). John, a boy in high school who also works at his family mortuary, begins to notice a strange pattern in the murders that are taking place in his small town. His personal investigation of the murders puts him in a unique position to expose the killer, and also puts him in danger of losing himself to his inner sociopath.

What is so awesome about I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, is that it doesn't seem to follow the typical public's view of "horror." It seems like people are hell-bent on assuming that horror is synonymous with hack-and-slash and blood-and-gore. Guess what? That's garbage, and Wells proves it in this amazing novel--the first in a trilogy--that the old-school flavor of horror built on suspense and character development is the way horror should be written and enjoyed.

Wells’ writing is clever, and extremely well done. There are moments where the novel seems YA, and others where is straight-up Horror/Supernatural Horror. It is this accessible blend that really made this book excellent, and made it stand out.

When I read this novel, I somehow managed to feel pleasantly disturbed, amused, horrified, terrified, and awed. How often can one book evoke that range of emotions, and make you pleased about all of them? I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER does just that, and more.

This is not just a clone of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels.  It is even better than the Dexter novels because you can get behind John Cleaver as a character, plus we get some fantastic supernatural elements as the novel progresses.

Mr. Monster (John Cleaver Books)Don't be afraid to pick up this novel. Indulge your “inner demon,” if you will. This will be one of those novels that you will find impossible to put down, and when you’ve finished, you will want to recommend it to everyone you know.  Then you’ll immediately want the sequel—MR. MONSTER—a novel that is even better than this one!

Market: Horror, Young Adult, Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Scenes depicting the embalming process, a monster murdering people, a kid who has some seriously messed-up thoughts…yeah there’s some violence, and it’s thematically perfect and creepy
Mature Themes: The main character is obsessed with serial killers, and he has some pretty freaky thoughts about going that route himself

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Dan Wells

June 15, 2011

Villains . . . Characters we LOVE to HATE!

By Kim Thacker, Bookshop Talk Host

protagonist is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.” An antagonist is “a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.”

Protagonists vary from book to book as widely as people vary from household to household.  J.K. Rowling’s protagonist, Harry Potter, is a boy wizard who defeats the truly evil Lord Voldemort. Jane Austen’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is a gentile young woman who finds love with the person she least expects.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Antagonists vary in their characters and modes of operation, too.  As mentioned above, Lord Voldemort actively opposes Harry Potter.  But who or what is Elizabeth Bennet’s antagonist?

Literary critic and author Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch said that there are seven basic types of conflicts in novels (and, therefore, seven types of antagonists):

Man vs. Self: The protagonist and the antagonist are the same person— perhaps someone who is struggling with an addiction.

Man vs. Man: The protagonist and the antagonist are both human (or at least similar creatures)—Harry Potter vs. Lord Voldemort is an example of this kind of conflict.

Pride And PrejudiceMan vs. Society: The protagonist’s adversary is society itself.  For example, consider the story of a young woman who is born with a physical deformity in an era when deformities were seen as signs that the afflicted persons were in league with the devil. The protagonist’s enemies fear her, despise her, and mistreat her because of superstition.  While a certain person may embody this superstition and actively oppose the young woman as the antagonist in the story (Man vs. Man), the antagonist can also be seen as society itself, because the antagonist was indoctrinated by his culture. Let’s get back to figuring out who Elizabeth Bennet’s adversary is in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Mr. Bingley’s sisters are certainly awful, and then there’s Mr. Wickham.  But what about the fact that Elizabeth, her mother, and her sisters will be homeless once her father dies (remember, her family estate is “entailed”)?  Money and situation drive Mr. Bingley’s sisters and Mr. Wickham to act evilly.  Money and situation in society cause problems for Miss Elizabeth.  Her antagonist is, likely, her own society.

Man vs. Nature: The antagonist is something from nature.  Think of disaster stories, or mountain-climber stories.  I love it when an author writes about a storm, for example, and uses descriptions that make it seem like the storm is alive and actively opposing the protagonist.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text (Oxford World's Classics)Man vs. Machine/Technology: Mary Shelley’s novel, FRANKENSTEIN, is the classic example of this kind of conflict.  However, is Dr. Frankenstein truly the protagonist?  Can you think of any other books where the conflict is Man vs. Machine/Technology?

The Lightning Thief (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)Man vs. Destiny: In Rick Riordan’s first Percy Jackson novel, THE LIGHTNING THIEF, Percy learns that he is the son of a mortal woman and the god Poseidon. Because of this, he is being sought out by evil mythological creatures who want to kill him before he can train to become a worthy foe. Certainly, there are human/immortal antagonists in this story, but it is also a story of a boy who discovers his origins, fights against his destiny, and finally embraces it.  Perhaps this could be a Man vs. Self conflict, too.
While I’m very interested in story conflict of all kinds and in antagonists of all kinds, I’m particularly interested in villainous people who personify a character’s worst fears.  Not a lighthearted subject, but an interesting one.  Let’s go back to the Harry Potter example.

Lord Voldemort is a terrifying foe–particularly terrifying to Harry, because Harry worries that he is too much like Lord Voldemort.  Harry fears that he and the Dark Lord share too many similarities.  For a while, Harry is as afraid of himself as he is of Voldemort.  This makes for a wonderfully believable and terrifying antagonist.

But there are other great villains in the Harry Potter novels.  

Consider also the horrid Dolores Umbridge.  She pretends to be sweet and motherly, which makes her purely terrifying.  Then there’s Rita Skeeter–a woman who is so absorbed in her own success that even if she causes untrue rumors to circulate about others, she doesn’t care.  She’s annoying, like a mosquito.  Buzzing, like a mosquito.  And how about the Dursleys? They’re awful, but their hold over Harry lessens the more he learns about himself and about the power of magic.  Shall we consider Draco Malfoy?  As much as we despise him, we begin to feel sorry for him when we learn what kind of family he has.  Of course, we still don’t like him, but he’s not pure evil, like Voldemort or even Umbridge.

Who are your “favorite” villains?  Why do they work so well for you? 

June 12, 2011

THE SQUIRE’S TALES SERIES by Gerald Morris, 1998-2010

The Squire's Tale (The Squire's Tales)Growing up an orphan in an isolated cottage in the woods, young Terence never expected much adventure. But upon the arrival of Gawain, his life takes a surprising turn. Gawain is destined to become one of the most famous knights of the Round Table. Terence becomes Gawain's squire and leaves his secluded life for one of adventure in King Arthur's court. In no time Terence is plunged into the exciting world of kings, wizards, knights, wars, magic spells, dwarfs, damsels in distress, and enchanters. As he adjusts to his new life, he proves to be not only an able squire but also a keen observer of the absurdities around him. His duties take him on a quest with Gawain and on a journey of his own, to solve the mystery of his parentage. Filled with rapier-sharp wit, jousting jocularity, and chuckleheaded knights, this is King Arthur's court as never before experienced. (Amazon)

Review by Emily, high school student and bibliophile

Once in a while, I come across a series that has it all: comedy, drama, fresh viewpoint, cool characters . . . this series is one of those. It's also one of the best retellings of the Arthurian Cycle that I've ever come across.

Terence lives a simple life in the forest. He is cared for by a hermit until one day, he comes across a knight-to-be, Gawain, who asks him for supper and also directions. Terence ends up leaving the hermit's hut to be Gawain's squire.

Much hilarity ensues as Gawain gets knighted by King Arthur for braining a recreant knight with a cooking pot. Soon, they leave on a quest. This is the beginning of the ten-books series that chronicles Terence and Gawain's battles, quests, and screw-ups.

Gerald Morris tells the story of King Arthur through the eyes of many minor characters. Sir Dinadan, brother to the ill-fated Tristan, Gaheris, the clumsy brother of Gareth and Gawain, as well as (of course,) Terence, who is more than he seems.

Even the end of Camelot is dealt with. Although tragic, it is written well and many of the inconsistencies are made more clear. There is still hope in the end, even though all was lost for Camelot.

In all, it is an enjoyable series, with much humor and wit and also some wonderful battles. Sir Wozzle's fight was one of the best moments in the series, and there is a serious discussion in The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf about the word cleft (or cloven, or cleaved, or cleaven, or maybe it was cloved?) that left me in tears of laughter.

Market: Young Adult Fiction
Language: Mild (There are references to donkeys. In Latin.)
Sensuality: Mild (Also, some reference to courtly love.)
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Adultery, death, love, forgiveness, hope, stupidity.

Book formats:
Book 1 Paperback
Book 2 Paperback

To learn more about the author, visit: Gerald Morris

June 10, 2011

THE DARK LORD OF DERKHOLM by Diana Wynne Jones, 1998

Dark Lord of DerkholmMr. Chesney operates Pilgrim Parties, a tour group that takes paying participants into an outer realm where the inhabitants play frightening and foreboding roles. The time has come to end the staged madness . . . but can it really be stopped? Master storyteller Diana Wynne Jones serves up twists and turns, introduces Querida, Derk, Blade, and Shona and a remarkable cast of wizards, soldiers, kings, dragons, and griffins, and mixes in a lively dash of humor. With all the ingredients of high fantasy, this unforgettable novel will delight fans old and new. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Megan Hutchins

Sorry. There's no evil cloak-wearing tyrants here -- just a soulless CEO. The titular Dark Lord is actually a kind-hearted, animal-loving family man named Derk. Once a year, CEO Mr. Chesney, who owns Derk's magical world, forces everyone to put on "Pilgrim Parties", a faux adventure for tourists from our world. Being the dark lord for Mr. Chesney is a horrible job -- redecorating your house into a lair of evil, pretending to die once a week for pilgrims -- and this year it's Derk's turn.

Diana Wynne Jones' fantasy world is familiar, yet with a twist of its own. Derk is more scientist than wizard, and his sentient griffon children (along with the two human ones) play a large role in the book. She digs deep into the premise, showing how the Pilgrim Parties cripple Derk's world and how Mr. Chesney uses the Pilgrim Parties for extra profit (the armies of the Dark Lord are full of dangerous, drugged criminals governments paid him to off, for example).

I still smile when I think about the premise of this book. It's an exciting, fun fantasy novel that turns any number of tropes on their head -- a great read for anyone who loves fantasy.

Market: Young Adult/Adult Fiction (I've seen it classified both ways; the writing feels YA, but the main character is a middle-aged man)
Language: None-Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild-Moderate
Mature Themes: Tyranny, commercialism, capitol punishment

Book formats:

June 7, 2011

THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton, 2010

The Distant Hours: A NovelA long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WW II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. (Amazon) 

Review by Emily Sonderegger, Book Addict

The Distant Hours came highly recommended by a friend, and she was right. It was a delicious feast of imagery and words. The world that Kate Morton created at Milderhurst Castle was brilliant. It was vivid. It was so real.

I loved how the past and present were woven together seamlessly. In some cases, it's easy to get lost in that, but it wasn't here. I felt like it melded beautifully and worked to create a fantastic story. I couldn't get enough.

In fact, I read this book last year, and needed a reread to really digest everything. The second time around, I picked up on some very subtle nuances that really brought things together for me. I found one of my very most favorite lines from a book EVER on my second time through:

"Ancient walls sing the distant hours."

Doesn't that just make you want to swoon?! It does me. Such a fantastic phrase, and one that conjures images of moldering old castles surrounded by moors and full of secrets that one could never get to the bottom of.

I loved the characters, even the ones I felt like I needed to hate. They weren't two-dimensional at all. They lived, they loved, they literally rose off the pages and danced around the room with me. Even Percy, who I literally wanted to slap silly. I *got* her. I began to understand her need for complete control and her desire to hold things together. See, Percy was always the strong one, the one everyone turned to. She HAD to do what she did. She just had to.

And dear Saffy. To have her heart broken time and again through various means and to never turn bitter and mean. To rise up all the more loving and kind. WOW. And poor Saffy. Her story completely broke my heart, especially at the end.

Oh, and Juniper! Mustn't forget Juniper. Poor dear. I ached for her, I really did. But what a true hero.

I loved traveling the path of redemption with Edie and her mother. I LOVED watching that relationship change and grow. I loved trying to figure out where they'd go next.

The book spoke to me. No, scratch that. It SANG to me. It was beautiful. It was amazing. It has become an old friend, whom I will always treasure.

In fact, for me, it was so good it made me incoherent. Thank you, Kate Morton, for writing such a pivotal piece.

Market: Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate (mostly implied)
Mature Themes: emotional disorders, war, desertion

Book formats:

To learn more about this author, visit: Kate Morton