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.

January 29, 2012

PARANORMALCY and SUPERNATURALLY, by Kiersten White, 2010, 2011

Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie’s always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she's falling for a shape-shifter, and she's the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal. Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures. So much for normal. (Goodreads)

Review by Amy Finnegan — Writer, Reader, Bookshop Talk Host

On the cover of my copy of this book there's a blurb that says, “The most refreshing paranormal debut of the year.” Refreshing is exactly the word that best describes PARANORMALCY.

And the second best word? FUN!

In a literal sea of paranormal novels for young adults right now (yes, I do think someone could create a literal SEA with them), this particular story should definitely float to the top and be snatched up by over-swooned, vampire-weary readers.

Are there vampires in this book? Yes, a few, who are “bagged and tagged” by our spunky, clever heroine, Evie, who works for what is called the “International Paranormal Containment Agency.” Evie has the unique ability to see though a paranormal’s glamour, which has made her—from a very young age—highly valuable to the IPCA.

But when a mysterious paranormal, Lend, breaks into IPCA’s headquarters, Evie discovers that the agency may be more policy-driven than genuinely concerned for the welfare of both paranormals and humans.

And the biggest question of all: Which of these categories, exactly, does Evie herself fit into?

She’s about to find out with the help of her rhinestone studded pink taser—who she affectionately refers to as Tasey—and some butt-kicking, high-heeled boots.

It’s easy to compare PARANORMALCY to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But perhaps a more accurate description is Hello Kitty, with claws.

(That might be my best ever one line pitch! lol)


Reviewed by Emily (Ems)

I'm pretty sure that words can't begin to describe how much I love this series. From the second I picked up Paranormalcy, I was hooked. It's only been some serious budget issues that have prevented me from running downtown and buying my own copies. (which, rest assured, I WILL do as soon as the afore mentioned budget issues are resolved-I simply MUST own these books.) I suppose there's always the worry that the second book in a series will be the Empire Strikes Back of the bunch. No worries here. Supernaturally delivers another slam dunk for Kiersten White. (Also, I love Empire Strikes Back. Don't get me wrong there.) It's seriously awesome.

Evie is still supercool, still a girly tomboy (which my pal Yume said, so she gets credit for that), still carries Tasey around (though not as frequently as she did while working for IPCA), and she's still madly in love with Lend, who totally remains hot. Evie is the kind of girl that I'd hang out with in real life.

She finally gets some answers in this book, and while she may not like what she hears, at least she knows, right? The cool thing is what she does with those answers. Because really, it's not what I expected.

White is still rocking the plotlines, still poking fun of the paranormal formula (In Which Evie Gets A Locker!!!), and doing it brilliantly. Also, I think I've said brilliantly quite a lot. It's just the best word I can think of right now for this book. I love Kiersten White's writing style. Her wit literally leaps off the page at you. There were moments when I laughed out loud. I love that she substitutes 'bleep' for swear words. I love that she writes like normal people talk. Really, these are some of the best books I've ever read.

Plus: COVER LOVE. A lot of it. Seriously a lot of it. All of that combines to make me completely Incoherent!

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: lying

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January 26, 2012

THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, by Christopher Booker, 2004

This book at last provides a comprehensive answer to the age-old riddle of whether there are only a small number of 'basic stories' in the world. Using a wealth of examples, from ancient myths and folk tales, via the plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, it shows that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling. But this is only the prelude to an investigation into how and why we are 'programmed' to imagine stories in these ways, and how they relate to the inmost patterns of human psychology. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, high school student and bibliophile

So I picked this one up randomly off the library shelf one day, and my first thought was, "What a tome!"
Naturally, I brought it home with me. I never can resist big books. They draw me like magnets. And this is one big book, at over 700 pages.
This book is about stories. About why we tell them, and how certain things must happen within those stories to give the reader (or watcher, or listener) satisfaction and closure. The author has obviously thoroughly researched; he cites literally hundreds of stories: plays, operas, epics, books, movies . . . and he shows how each is unique, and yet so very similar to others of its genre.
The seven basic plots are as follows: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. He goes through each, and its variations, and shows what has to happen for that story to be fulfilled - or turned on its head. It's fascinating how many very different stories have the very same bones, really. He begins with a striking example: the movie Jaws and the epic Beowulf. When he breaks it down, they're scarily similar. Yet, he insists, it is not because someone decided to copy the story, it is because we all think in terms of stories, and our human nature draws us back to these archetypal plots through the vast reaches of time.
In the end, I loved this book because it's an invaluable resource. It made me think, and although at times difficult to wade through, it really did make for some wonderful reading.

Market: Adult Nonfiction
Language: Mild to none
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature themes: dark inversions of stories

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January 23, 2012

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near - misses end with the French kiss Anna - and readers - have long awaited? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Christina Wilson, librarian, who can often be heard saying "You should read this book and let me tell you why..."

Imagine you’re about to begin your senior year of high school with all your friends, when your dad announces you have to go to boarding school in Paris. 

Well that’s Anna Oliphant’s life.  Anna’s famous novelist father decides his daughter needs a more “respectable” education and sends Anna, without considering her opinion, to a boarding school in Paris. At first Anna is livid; she has to leave her loyal best friend, her perfect job, and her “about-to-be” boy friend to move across the Atlantic  just so her dad can feel more cultured?!

Anna’s anger starts to fade, however, as she quickly makes friends with Meredith, the girl next door.  Meredith introduces Anna to her group of friends, including Etienne St. Claire- gorgeous Etienne St. Claire.  St. Claire, as everyone calls him, is perfect and absolutely irresistible. Plus he’s a true international; born in the U.S., grew up in England, and lives in Paris (His accent is, of course, crush-worthy).    St. Claire’s only flaw?  He’s completely taken. But Anna might be too if things work out back home.

Anna’s year in Paris is full of friendship issues, romantic drama, tons of near-misses and frustration.  Who, if anyone, will Anna get her French kiss from?

Honestly? I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about Anna and the French Kiss.  I don’t care what anyone says, I’m a sucker for chick-lit and this one might just be one of my favorite chick-lit novels of all time.  Stephanie Perkins’ writing is just plain good.  I work with teenagers (albeit younger teens than Anna and her friends), but I know how they talk and the dialogue in Anna and the French Kiss is a pretty darn good match. It can be hard to write in a realistic teenage voice and not come out sounding artificial, but Perkins manages it well.

I also think the relationships in this novel are very realistic.  The way Anna and her friends often (mostly) don’t actually address the real issue of specific situations until it’s too late is so true to real life (teen or adult).  I felt like I was reliving conversations with my friends back when I was in high school.  Also, the mixed feelings Anna has towards her own family are sound; she stresses how much her dad makes her crazy, but also strives to defend him when she really gets down to it; normal emotions for anyone.

Oh and the romantic tension!  Holy junk!  The relationship between Anna and –?– (no spoilers) grows  and builds so slowly, but surely that I turned into a version of my 15-year-old self; so many misunderstandings, awkwardness and sweet moments all mixed together!   Le sigh…

I think Anna and the French Kiss is appropriate for older middle schooler readers and above.  There is some language  (i.e. the realistic teenage dialogue) but its very minimal.  If you enjoy chick-lit, romance and Paris (!!!) you’ll definitely  love Anna and the French Kiss as much as I did!

I can’t wait to read more of Perkins’ books.

Now,  who wants to pay for me to move to Paris?!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate (mostly just discussed rather than done lets say)
Violence: None
Mature Themes: (emotional abuse, discussed teen sexuality)

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January 20, 2012

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, by Deborah Harkness, 2011

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

Dr. Diana Bishop is a visiting scholar at Oxford. As a historian of science, her research focuses on sixteenth-century alchemists. She spends her days in the university library, translating ancient illuminated manuscripts. She’s also a witch, descended from a powerful family burned in Salem, but avoids using any magic. One day she calls a rare manuscript from the stacks and recognizes its magic but quickly sends it back. The entire paranormal community starts hounding her, and she learns that the manuscript has been thought lost for over a century. Allegedly the manuscript reveals the origins of the four races on this planet: magical witches; cool, ageless, predatory vampires; artistic, mad daemons; and blissfully unaware humans.

One paranormal creature who is drawn to her is Dr. Matthew Clairmont: brilliant scientist, wine connoisseur, and gorgeous vampire. They fight over library space and bicker their way into falling in love. He does what he can to protect her, but fellow witches and vampires close in, intent on probing Diana’s magical abilities and her connection to the lost manuscript.

The story is exciting, with twists and turns, violence and romance. Deborah Harkness, a historian herself, successfully weaves together alchemy, witchcraft, evolution, mitochondrial DNA, wolf behavior, mythology, religion and history. The settings are beautifully described, from the libraries and boathouses of Oxford to the magical Bishop home in New England, and the descriptions of tea, wine, and English breakfasts (piled high with toast, eggs, sausage and fried tomatoes) are crave-inducing.

Most of the chapters are written in first person, from Diana’s point of view, but a few chapters are in third person, following other characters, primarily Matthew. Normally, when authors switch between first- and third-person it drives me nuts, but in this case I loved the story and characters so much that I am willing to overlook the point of view changes!

My only complaint is that the novel is the first of a trilogy so I must wait to find out what happens next.

Market: Adult fiction (paranormal)
Language: mild
Sensuality: moderate
Violence: explicit
Adult themes: betrayal, murder, torture, sex, kidnapping

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January 18, 2012

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater, 2011

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.  At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host

THE SCORPIO RACES is my new favorite book. The End.
Okay, not really. I have loads to say about this amazing, thrilling, perfect (yes, I just wrote perfect) book. But I’m having a heck of a time figuring out how I want to say it. I’ve had ideas for this review rattling around inside my skull for weeks–ever since I started the book (I’ll explain why it took me so long to read it, I promise)–but everything I write seems trite and silly…perhaps because THE SCORPIO RACES was so stinkin’ awesome. And perfect.
First of all, the “water horses” spoken of in the Goodreads synopsis above (which is the same as that which is found on the book's jacket-flap) aren’t the dinosaur-like creatures of the Loch Ness variety, nor are they wee seahorses. They are horses, but more. They are deadly, bloodthirsty capaill uisce (pronounced capple ishka), many of which leave their briny homes to set hoof on Thisby island every November. The details of the capaill uisce’s underwater survival–and whether or not they become sea serpents or a cross between sea serpents and horses or something like that when they’re not on land–is left to the reader’s imagination, which I appreciated. While the water horses certainly look like horses on land, there is something too wild and somewhat slithery about them, too.

About Puck, who is one of the two point-of-view characters (the other is Sean): I rooted so hard for her, and not just during the actual Scorpio Races. She is courageous, but at the same time, she’s scared to pieces.  She's scared of running out of food, scared of riding in the Scorpio Races, scared of capaill uisce, scared of Sean Kendrick (until she wants to kiss him--he is utterly swoon-worthy, in a wears-the-same-dirty-barn-coat-every-day-and-never-smiles kind of way), scared of what will happen to her and her little brother, Finn, when their older brother, Gabe, leaves them alone on the island while he works on the mainland (they’re orphans)....She’s such a complex character! One thing I loved about her was how much she loves Thisby. I love my hometown in the same way she loves hers–flaws and all–and I really related to her. I also related to her because of her relationship to her brothers. I have only one brother, while Puck has two, but that complex sibling bond was so well-portrayed.

More about the characters:  Each character in this book, no matter how minor a part he/she plays, has a story of his/her own. And that’s the way it should be. Every person we encounter throughout any given day has a story. The way people talk, the things they say (and don’t say)–it’s all a part of who they are. In too many books, minor characters function only as placeholders. Not in THE SCORPIO WARS. From quiet Finn and broken Gabe to Peg Gratton, the wife of the Skarmouth butcher (whom every man on Thisby loves because she could “cut [his] heart out neat”), every character is alive and an essential part of the story. The island just wouldn’t be the same without their rich personalities and backstories. Don’t get me wrong–Stiefvater doesn’t spend a lot of time on the backstories of characters who aren’t front-and-center…it’s just that every single word in this book means something, and if a man requests “butter, milk, and salt” when a woman asks him if he would like sugar or milk in his tea, you know there’s meaning behind it.

One more thing about characters:  The animals are characters, too. And they’re every bit as multifaceted as the human characters. While I was tempted to see them as the villains in the story, they’re not. They may be bloodthirsty, but they’re not half as bloodthirsty as the real villain. He’s a bad, bad man.
Now let’s talk about the setting:  I was certain that I would be able to open my atlas and find tiny Thisby island somewhere off the western coast of Scotland…or maybe, if that wasn’t right, I would find it east of Ireland. But it’s a fantasy location! Coulda fooled me. This book, while certainly a fantasy novel, reads more like historical fiction with a bit of fantasy tossed in. Though I couldn’t tell you for sure when, in history, it takes place. Maybe 1930, maybe 1950. Because the location was a remote island, I figured they were a little “backward,” just as my hometown was–and still is, in many ways–a little behind the times. So that made it hard to pinpoint a date for this story. Can I tell you, I loved the fact that I wasn’t sure where Thisby was or when the story was taking place? It gave it a real timeless quality.
Speaking of “timelessness,” did I mention that I think this will become a classic in young adult literature? Because I think it will. I think it will earn crazy amounts of awards. It has already received such high praise, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and the School Library Journal. My favorite review was from The New York Times:
[Stiefvater] not only steps out of the young adult fantasy box with “The Scorpio Races” but crushes it with pounding hooves. . . . If “The Scorpio Races” sounds like nothing you’ve ever read, that’s because it is.
Click here to read more of these rave reviews, and to read about Stiefvater’s experience with writing THE SCORPIO RACES. There’s also a terrific book trailer, created by Stiefvater, who is a musician and an artist, to boot!
Finally, let me just explain why it took me such a long time to read this book, since I said at the beginning of this review that I would do that:  I first became excited to read THE SCORPIO RACES back when a friend told me about it. I hadn’t read Stiefvater’s popular Wolves of Mercy Falls series–I’m not usually interested in paranormal romance–but this book…this book about water horses…sounded good! So I asked my husband to buy me a copy for Christmas. And then people started blogging like mad about THE SCORPIO RACES, and I hadn’t read it yet, and it took all my willpower not to dig through the bedroom closet, looking for my present. And then Christmas morning finally came, and I got my book. Hooray!
I started reading it a few days after Christmas (after my husband had gone back to work)…and I knew it was going to be one of those reading experiences that doesn’t happen very often. Like, maybe a handful of times in a person’s life. In other words, I knew this was going to be crazy-good. So I decided to take it veeeeeeeery sloooooooowly. I wanted the story to last and last! But finally, after two weeks of slow reading, sprinkled with lots of pit-stops for tea and chocolate, I finished. And the ending was so perfect that I sobbed and sobbed. It rocked.
Let me offer proof, in the form of the first line of the book:
It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Go out and buy a copy of this amazing book, friends! You won’t be sorry!
Market: Young Adult, Fantasy
Language: moderate (a few swear words and a crude reference or two to characters' sexual activity)
Sensuality: moderate (moderate in that sexual activity is talked about by a few characters, but absolutely nothing happens "on stage"--except for some much-required kissing, though it's very sweet)
Violence: moderate to explicit (quite bloody and intense)
Adult themes: poverty, class distinction, violence, women's rights, family relationships, death of family members

Book formats:

January 17, 2012


Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer. Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze. Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one. (Goodreads)

Review by Megan Hutchins

When I heard about this book, I was excited.  Modern military and magic?  Sounded like a blast.  This book delivered on that.  The inclusion of helicopters versus giant monster birds was enough to get my approval.

But the worldbuilding was more intricate than the air battles I signed up for.  The author carefully painted how we'd react as a society to magic "reawakening" -- politics, religion, economics.  The novel focused on the military, but the tastes of other issues were tantalizing. The reactions were realistically diverse across the globe.  Some nations rejected all magic. Some incorporated it into their labor force.  Others -- like the United States -- restricted magic to military service.  Any person who manifested in magic won an automatic, lifetime draft.

Oddly enough, when the missiles and magic cleared, I realized Control Point is, at its core, a character novel.  The main character, Britton, manifests in a rare magical school and finds himself forced to examine the politics around magic as politics beat him up.  The various factions make convincing arguments.  No straw men here.  Little by little, Britton discovers his new world, decides what the moral high ground is, and steps up.  In that way, I think this book will appeal to fans of old fashioned dystopians.

Except, dystopian novels usually have a clear answer.  Big Brother is bad.  End of story. Britton's call is not so easy.  I'm skirting around spoilers, but I'm still not sure he made the right choice -- there's another one that might have succeeded as well.  Even if he did pick the rightpath, it's not going to be an easy one.  I'm intensely curious to see how things play out in the next book.

As a side note, I got to talk to the author.  He took a lot of care to craft solid female characters in a novel filled with guns and special ops and wanted to know if that came across for me.  I've read a number of books where the women sound like angry teenage boys crammed into skimpy blouses, but not this one.  It was refreshing to read an action book where women weren't relegated to hard-core cold killers or love interests.  I'm resisting the urge to gush about the fascinating Sarah Downer.  Thoroughly enjoyable book -- but do check the content table.  It made me think, but it's not for every audience.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Military grade.
Sensuality: Mild, except note the foul language, and check Mature Themes.
Violence: Like the Hunger Games times three.  Maybe four.  Occasionally disturbing.
Mature Themes: Death, military action, abuse, civil rights, discrimination

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January 15, 2012


Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage. . . . We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism.  (Amazon)

Review by Jessica Day George - Young Adult & Middle Grade Writer

Don’t normally like nonfiction?  Not really that interested in the lives of presidential assassins? 

Doesn’t matter.

Sarah Vowell (a popular commentator on NPR and the voice of Violet in PIXAR’s THE INCREDIBLES), is not only a fount of strange American history, but she is also a fabulous and sublimely humorous writer.  She takes you on a wild ride through America to search down the origins and stories of everyone who ever shot a president . . . and boy howdy are some of their stories odd!  She ties it all together beautifully, organically moving from one episode to the next, and physically visiting the sites specific to the different assassins, including the Oneida Ceramics Factory, which was founded by a 19th century sex cult—No, REALLY!  She defies the elements and her own fear of boats and dying to take a ship out to the former island prison were one of the Lincoln conspirators was incarcerated.  She visits the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, where she almost makes the tour guide cry by pointing out that she is part Cherokee.  In short, she leaves no stone unturned in her search for facts, ALL the facts, mind you, about anyone who ever shot a United States president!  She frequently drags along her twin sister and young nephew, as well as various friends, and when she doesn’t, she has a tendency to hilariously overshare with other hapless tourists and tour guides.  I have read this book a couple of times, and every time my face and stomach hurt from laughing, I have tears streaming down my face, but at the same time I feel so much smarter.

Like all Vowell’s books (and all are good, might I add) it is available as an audiobook, read by the author.  Since she is primarily a radio personality you can be sure that the audiobook is amazing.  I have only listened to snippets of this one, but my husband and sister have both listened to it and loved it.  So if you’re an audiobook or NPR fan, I would recommend that you experience the book this way.  Vowell’s voice is distinctive, and she brings the whole thing hilariously to life.  If you, like me, are not an audiobook person, then the paper copy will do you just fine.  Her writing is excellent, her research is impeccable, and the book is an absolute gem.  I think it’s my favorite of hers, but it’s really hard to say.  But if you’ve never read a book by Sarah Vowell, this is the best one to start with, but that’s just my opinion!

Market: adult nonfiction (but perfectly suitable for teens)
Violence: It’s about assassinations, but nothing graphic that you wouldn’t find in a textbook.
Language: mild
Sensuality: One of the assassins was briefly involved in the Oneida group, practitioners of “free love.”  However, it’s not described graphically- in fact, she uses the same euphemisms the group themselves used, hilariously.
Adult themes: Assassination, free love, murder, betrayal of one’s country- It’s American history, folks!

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