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.

March 29, 2012

THE TWELVE KINGDOMS, by Fuyumi Ono, 1991-2010

For high-schooler Yoko Nakajima, life has been fairly ordinary--that is until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells Yoko they must return to their kingdom. Once confronted by this mysterious being and whisked away to an unearthly realm, Yoko is left with only a magical sword; a gem; and a million questions about her destiny, the world she's trapped in, and the world she desperately wants to return to. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, high school student and bibliophile   

I confess: I read the third book first, thinking it was the beginning of the series. I was hooked. In fact, I loved it so much that my friends, tired of hearing about how wonderful these books were, broke down and read them. After they were done, I do believe that they may have become slightly obsessed as well. 
The stories aren't in any particular order, and can be read non-chronologically. They have the flavor of an Eastern fairy tale, with kirin and demons, legends and myths, and especially amazing talking animals. Originally written in Japanese, they retain the reserve and calm contemplation that the culture is known for, as well as the fierce ethics and a penchant for oddness. Truly, they are unique books, and lovely.

They are also widely different in size. One is 300 pages, while another weighs in at 650. The complexity of the plots varies as well, but all of the stories have, at some point, a twist that changes everything. Which I love. I love twisty plots!

But the thing that I love the most about these books is the characters. Oh, the characters. They are clever and stupid, good-hearted and chillingly evil, humorous and chivalrous, and I love them all. Even the evil ones. They make me care about them, because despite their day-and-night differences, they are fascinating.

So. They are wonderful books, and you should read them. Because good books deserve to be read - over and over until the spines wear out, and the pages grow thin, and you can practically quote whole sections by heart. Which, uh, may have happened to these books, because I love them so very much.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Some, but not, as I recall, terribly terrible
Sensuality: Mild to none
Violence: Rather a lot, actually, but not terribly gory.
Mature themes: Abandonment, family issues, and . . . that's about it.

Book formats:

March 26, 2012

THE TRUTH ABOUT SPARROWS, by Marion Hale, 2004

Sadie Wynn doesn't want a new life; her old one suits her just fine. But times are hard in drought-plagued Missouri, and Daddy thinks they'll be better off in Texas. Sadie hates this strange new place, where even children must work at the cannery to help make ends meet and people are rude to her disabled father. Yet when trouble comes, it is the kindness of these new neighbors that helps the family make it through. And no one helps more than Dollie, a red-headed chatterbox of a girl who just might become a good friend - if Sadie gives her half a chance. (Goodreads)

Review by Sarah - Book Addict

Sometimes, a book comes into your life at just the right moment. 

The Truth About Sparrows is the story of a girl named Sadie Wynn whose family moves from Missouri to Texas during the great depression.  Sadie’s a bit of a spit-fire, and her grit gets her through tough times, but she struggles to have the kind of compassion and charity she sees in her momma.  After her family’s move she meets a homeless old man who makes an indelible impression on her, and that encounter sticks with her as she as she tries to come to grips with her changed life and navigate the emotional pitfalls of adolescence. 

I love books with strong young heroines; in some ways this books reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, in other ways of the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels  or Caddie Woodlawn.  Sadie is strong and spunky but imperfect.  I can really relate to her.  But I think what struck me most was the hopeful tone of the book. 

If you’re lonely in a new place…read this book.  If you’re worried about the economy or how to make ends meet…read this book. And it you don’t fit in either of the aforementioned categories but love great ‘girl’ fiction, read this book.

Market: middle grades
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None (that I recall)
Mature Themes: hunger, poverty, homelessness, disability, childbirth (but I’d let my first grade daughter read it or listen to it)

Book formats:

March 23, 2012

DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos, 2011

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is the story of an incredible two months for a boy named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation adventure are suddenly ruined when he is grounded by his feuding parents for what seems like forever. But escape comes where Jack least expects it, once he begins helping an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore—a chore involving the newly dead, molten wax, twisted promises, Girl Scout cookies, underage driving, lessons from history, obituaries, Hells Angels, and countless bloody noses. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers crack up at the most shocking things in a depiction of growing up in an off-kilter world where the characters are as unpredictable and over-the-top as they come. (Jack Gantos's website)

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

Oh my giggles, this book was funny and totally deserving of the Newbery Medal, which it won back in January of this year. Honestly, I laughed out loud several times. I also gagged, because there were bloody noses. Lots of them. Lots and lots. Rather, it's one nose that's bleeding, but it's often bleeding. Maybe I should say "nose bleeds." That clarifies things a bit, but it also sounds a little pretentious, and DEAD END IN NORVELT is anything but pretentious! It's gory and gross and absolutely ridiculous. It's also rather educational. I mean, amid the chortles and gags, I also learned quite a lot of random history.
But I can't let you think that this book is just funny and slightly educational. It's so well written. Gantos is dead-on with the main character's voice. He's completely believable. I also loved all the other characters, all of whom were really wacko and really loveable.

Read this book for the giggles, the history, and because it truly is, as humor columnist and author Dave Barry said, "A brilliant book."

Do you know what else is fantastic? Jack Gantos has helps for teachers and librarians available on his website, too. Click here for the teacher's guide for DEAD END IN NORVELT.

*Note:  If you're a fan of Richard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning and honor-winning novels, A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and A YEAR DOWN YONDER, you definitely need to give DEAD END IN NORVELT a try!

MARKET: MG Historical Fiction
LANGUAGE: mild (frequent use of a "fake" swear word)
VIOLENCE: extremely mild (some discussion of past wars; lots of bloody noses, but they're never caused by violence)
SENSUALITY: mild (mention of a sweet crush--that's it)
MATURE THEMES: death, less-than-ideal finances, post-war trauma, difficulties within families

Book formats:

March 20, 2012

KON-TIKI, by Thor Heyerdahl, 1949

"Am going to cross Pacific on a wooden raft to support a theory that the South Sea islands were peopled from Peru. Will you come? —Reply at once." That is how six brave and inquisitive men came to seek a dangerous path to test a scientific theory. On a primitive raft made of forty-foot balsa logs and named "Kon-Tiki" in honor of a legendary sun king, Heyerdahl and five companions deliberately risked their lives to show that the ancient Peruvians could have made the 4,300-mile voyage to the Polynesian islands on a similar craft. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by: Laina, a bookworm

Let me just say this, I am scared stiff of open water where I cant see what is underneath me. Sharks terrify me and I don't like seafood. But for some reason Kon-Tiki made me want to go sail the Pacific Ocean on a raft and eat glowing plankton like oatmeal. Even my mother was a little shocked when I declared my intentions to be a nautical explorer. I haven't gone sailing yet, but this book let me see the Ocean. I saw the wildness and beauty through the eyes of the daring Mr. Heyerdahl.

Kon-Tiki is a true story. Thor Heyerdahl (great name huh? cant imagine him as a little kid) led the voyage. He set out to prove a theory he had about how people reached Polynesia. People claimed that a balsa wood raft, which natives would have used, couldn't possible stay afloat long enough to reach land. Mr. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that the people of Polynesia had actually come from South America. So what would any normal person do to test a theory? Well Thor Heyerdahl would go make himself a nice little balsa wood raft and try to do what he claimed the Polynesians had done.
Mr. Heyerdahl sailed with five other men. I think it's funny that he made sure he chose men who didn't know each other previously. He knew that after spending a lot of time together in close quarters, one's temper could be, well, short.

Mr. Heyerdahl planned carefully, and he had to go through a lot to even get his raft and start sailing. Half the journey was getting started on the journey itself. I loved this book because of its rich description of the Pacific Ocean. It was so wild and beautiful. The raft was silent because it was moved only with a sail. One gets a much closer view of nature when one is quiet. The men on the Kon-Tiki expedition came into very close contact with Ocean life. Sharks came close enough to touch. There were fish that stayed with them during the whole watery voyage.

Thor Heyerdahl tells the story of his adventure beautifully. It is almost poetic at points and always gripping. A small part of me knew they were going to make it, but there was still the tingling of fear when large sea creatures got close and fierce storms battered their helpless raft. There was a wistful longing to go sailing, with nothing around but open Ocean as far as the eye can see, when I finished this book. So deep down inside, a little part of me longs for the Ocean, for freedom to  sail into the horizon and never look back.

Market: anywhere from early teens to adults, a documentary
Language: I don't recall any
Sensuality: none
Violence: none
Themes: exploration, adventure, the Ocean

Book formats:

March 19, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, 2008

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one girl and one boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has also resolved to outwit the creators of the games. To do that she will have to be the last person standing at the end of the deadly ordeal, and that will take every ounce of strength and cunning she has. (Amazon)

(This is a repost of a previously reviewed book, because if you haven't already read this book - all three of you out there - do it quick, before you watch the movie! It will only take you a day, believe me!)

Review by Amy Finnegan, Writer, reader, Bookshop Talk host
Imagine two dozen gladiators—brutal killers, merely for the sake of entertainment—being selected to star in the reality show "Survivor." But forget voting your competition off the island; this contest of wit, strength, and endurance isn't over until just one heart is beating.

This is The Hunger Games. Or at least this is what The Hunger Games would be at its finest, according to its producers. Instead, a national audience is forced to watch perhaps eight or so of the contestants, who have trained all their lives for this "honor," slaughter the other sixteen, who were chosen from a mandatory raffle to be easy prey. Some of them are as young as twelve. None are older than eighteen.

But only after the bloodbath do the Games really begin.

Had I read this introduction on the back of a book, there is no way I would have spent $17 on it. I wouldn't have even bought it with a half-price coupon. The premise is just too horrifying. But because of so many others telling me the novel would be well worth my time to read, I did, and simply put: The Hunger Games is one of the best novels I've read in several years.

Why, you ask? Brilliant plot, excellent writing, and a clever, highly-likable protagonist. And for you fans of a good romance . . . when one will eventually have to take the other's life, think of the complications. This definitely isn't your typical love story, but it's a great one.

The target audience is young adult (ages 12-18), and I think a good majority of twelve year olds are mature enough to read it. But I would encourage a parent to read it first before their child that young picks it up. You'll enjoy the read yourself even if you decide your child should wait a year of two longer. However, I don't think many younger than fifteen or so will really see the depth of the story—the subtle hints woven into it about how savage our entertainment tastes have become, and where they may end up if our humanity isn't kept in check. The author never says this, but the message is clear on nearly every page.

As far as content for younger readers, there isn't a single curse word in the entire book. Not one. In my opinion, that is the mark of a really competent writer. Even in life and death situations, Collins doesn't lean on easy crutches to portray the emotions of her characters. And I don't want to give too much away about the romance, but there wasn't a single line even in the most intimate of scenes that I wouldn't let my own tween/teen daughters read.

The violence is definitely there, but gore is kept to a minimum. Remember what The Hunger Games is all about, however, because the rules are real: kill or be killed. And children do indeed die. I think it's fair to relate the violence level to that of the last three books in the Harry Potter series. But there are fewer emotional strings attached to most who die in The Hunger Games, so it isn't quite as traumatic.

Honestly, compared to the shocking material I often find in novels written for an audience as young as twelve, questionable content in The Hunger Games is really quite mild. I recommend it for just about anyone in the target audience range, and the novel is easily sophisticated enough for most adults. In fact, I rarely read books even half this riveting off the adult shelves.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate (but keep in mind the description of the violence above)
Mature Themes: survival, hunting, corrupt government, death

Book formats:

March 17, 2012

THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL, by Sylvia Engdahl, 1971

Elana, a newly graduated agent of the Federation Anthropological Service, is sent to observe Toris, a Youngling planet poised on the brink of nuclear war. Her primary directive is merely to observe. She cannot reveal her alien origin or interfere in any way with the planet's natural course of evolution. But does this mean she must stand by and watch as an entire world drives itself to destruction? The endangered planet's only hope is Elana, who must choose between siding with a renegade agent or stopping him at any cost. (Goodreads)

Review by Valette M.

Mind-blowing book! 

Elana is such a gorgeous character for me because I can really look up to her. She was everything and more the hero is meant to be. In a few situations, she would have been completely justified in lashing out at others, but she always went for the greater good, and she didn't come across as snooty at all! Though Elana was much older in this book, I could still see the personality that I so loved in The Enchantress From the Stars. Randil and Kari were very well defined and interesting. It was possible to understand where they were coming from, and how their experiences had shaped them.

Can I just say, it took every last ounce of will in my being not to skip ahead and read the end! Riveting from the very first pages, The Far Side of Evilis pure Sci-Fi while still exploring the contours of an oppressed society. Several unexpected twist and turns. To be cliche,I was on the edge of my seat till the last pages! I do wish the ending had been a little stronger, but it tied things up quite nicely while still leaving the reader room for imagination.

This book posed so many philosophical questions that kept my mind working for some time after I finished. It reads more towards an older audience than The Enchantress From the Stars, but could possibly be classified as YA. The Far Side of Evil is written as a diary, in a style that left the future unknown. I loved it!

Book formats:

March 14, 2012

BLACK AND BLUE MAGIC, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, 1966

You'd think that someone with a name like Harry Houdini Marco would be deft and skillful, but Harry could only occasionally catch even an easy fly ball without making some dumb error. On top of that, most of his friends' families were moving to the suburbs. It would have been a long, dreary summer, but then a Mr. Mazeeck showed up and turned out to be more than he seemed. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by: Laina, a bookworm

I read this book years ago. I got it from a tiny library in a little town. I still remember it as a little splash of color among all the books a younger me read. It is a story that appeals to the desire in us to fly. That little wish that our ordinary little life could be just a little bit magical.

The story is about an ordinary, lonely little boy named Harry Houdini Marco who faces a long boring summer. Until he meets Mr. Mazeeck who isn't all he appears to be. Mr. Mazeeck gives Harry a bottle of oil that he says will give Harry wings. The oil actually works and Harry has two big feathery wings sprouting from his shoulder blades. The rest of the book is about his first flight, as he practices every night with his wings, his monkey incident, being mistaken for an angel, and all the other little things that happen when you have wings.

Who hasn't dreamed of flying? This is a book about that dream and that wish being granted. We all feel a little sad when the magic runs out and we are ordinary again. But we will have dreams about flying for the rest of our lives. So even though it has been a long time since I read this book, I still remember it. It is just a story that sticks with you even after you are 'grown up' and think you are above books for 'younger' children.    

Market: Children's Fiction, but who says adults cant sneak read it?
Language: None that I recall
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Themes: Flying, magic, life and growing up

Book formats:

March 11, 2012


Elana, a member of an interstellar civilization on a mission to a medieval planet, becomes the key to a dangerous plan to turn back an invasion. How can she help the Andrecians, who still believe in magic and superstition, without revealing her own alien powers? At the same time, Georyn, the son of an Andrecian woodcutter, knows only that there is a dragon in the enchanted forest, and he must defeat it. He sees Elana as the Enchantress from the Stars who has come to test him. (Goodreads)

Review by Valette M.

I thought the cover was beautiful, though unassuming, but after reading the blurb above, you see why I had to follow my hunch and pick up this book. Turned out, my hunch was completely right! This isn't really the type of book you rave about (however I may rave--as that is what I do with books )it's more the variety that leaves you thinking and makes a lasting impression.
The characters were well thought through. And though I felt Elana (main character) acted a little young for her age, by the end I could see clearly how she'd matured to view life in a better way. Georyn came through as the slightly wide-eyed innocent he was meant to be. And the interactions between them felt utterly natural.

And what a wonder-full/mysterious plot! An interesting mix between Sci-Fi and Fantasy that Sylvia Engdahl pulled off marvelously! It was a cohesive story that represented a section in Elana's life. And I recognized that this was only a very small portion of something much bigger. The fate of a world did rest on her shoulders, but it was refreshing to read a story about growing better and fighting for what is right, even in the little things.

Switching between first-person POW with Elana and a classic rendition of Georyn's side of things, it was quite enjoyable to discover how they each viewed different phenomena--such as the giant machine that Georyn sees as a horrendous, fire-breathing dragon. Pushing Elana through difficulties she'd never before considered, and showing how those choices apply to life in general, was extremely thought-provoking and gave more hope for the future.

Book formats:

March 9, 2012

Take That, Antiques Roadshow!

By Kim Harris Thacker: writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host
I like finding first edition novels, particularly when they’re worth a lot of money.  At least, I think I like it.  Rather, I would like it, I’m certain, if it ever happened to me, which it hasn’t.
I wish I could find a first edition of a really famous, valuable novel.  Something like Ernest Hemmingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS (which, according to Alibris, is worth about $20,000), or Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK ($40,000) or Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE ($60,000).  Heck, I’d take George Eliot’s DANIEL DERONDA (a cool $1,000), if anyone was giving it away.  Hang on a minute!  I have DANIEL DERONDA! Too bad it’s not a first edition, and too, too bad it’s in terrible shape.
But wait!  Is it really worthless?  Nay, friends, for it contains a thrilling mystery.  First, my book:

 Sorry for the photo quality, but really, the book’s in bad shape anyway. . .  Now, open the front cover, and you see this:

If my name you
wish to see
Look on pg

A riddley, mystery kind of thing!  Yay!  Now, the message on page 103:

My name is [arrow pointing to the title of the book]
Look on 603

And on page 603:

Look on 738
On page 738 (the last page of the book):

 Ha! Ha!
Crazy now don’t you
know any better did you
have a good chase.

Why, yes, Daniel, you doll, I did have a good chase!  Thank you very much for making my seemingly worthless copy of DANIEL DERONDA a beloved treasure!  I salute you!
DANIEL DERONDA isn’t my only old book that isn’t worth money but is worth loving.  I also own an 1893 edition of THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (a relative of mine, believe it or not!):

 Now, robbers, please believe me when I say that it ain’t worth a penny, and neither is DANIEL–well, maybe they’re worth a penny each….I’m just sayin’, no break-ins, please. This particular copy of Longfellow's poems is inscribed in the front cover with what looks like a fountain-penned message:

To my dear Sam
Sheldon -

Mother - 
Dec 23 - 

Isn’t that a wonderful message, and isn’t her writing gorgeous?  But that’s not the only great thing contained within these dusty pages:

Here we have portraits of many well-known poets, cut from a newspaper (left to right, top to bottom):  Bryant (William Cullen), Longfellow (Henry Wadsworth), Scott (Sir Walter), Lowell (James Russell), Whittier (John Greenleaf), Tennyson (Lord Alfred), and Browning (Robert).
I flipped the clippings over, and realized that the reverse side show snippets from some old “society pages”!  Listen to this:
The first large society event of the week
will be the charity card party given by
Mrs. George Richardson, Mrs. W.W.
Grissim and Mrs. Stephen B. Ives.
These three ladies are active workers in
the Little Sisters’ Infant Shelter, and are as-
suming the responsibility of this affair as their
part toward the swelling of the fund.  It will
be conducted on the order of a private card
party.  Friends will be together and every-
thing will be congenial.  The women will be
in evening dress.  AS many people do not play
cards, spectators’ tickets can be purchased
from the three ladies I just mentioned.  It will
be an interesting sight to watch the players
from the balcony, and no doubt the place will
be crowded.

What a fun mystery!  Who was this person who clipped poets’ portraits from the reverse side of society pages?  Was it Sam Sheldon?  Or was it his mother?
Well, my friends, I guess I’ll conclude this Gab Bag post by saying that all those people who go onto Antiques Roadshow and discover that the old book they’ve been using to prop up the uneven kitchen table leg is actually worth several million dollars can just go cry in their new Armani hankies (does Armani make hankies?), because they don’t have old books that are as cool as mine.
If you could have a first edition of any book, what would it be?  Would you choose it because you love the story, or would you choose it for its monetary value?