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.

August 30, 2012


Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city is a thrill to Miri. She and her princess academy friends have been brought to Asland to help the future princess Britta prepare for her wedding. There, Miri also has a chance to attend school - at the Queen's Castle. But as Miri befriends students who seem sophisticated and exciting she also learns that they have some frightening plans. Torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends' ideas, between an old love and a new crush, and between her small mountain home and the bustling city, Miri looks to find her own way in this new place. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Julie, children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek

I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Shannon Hale's newest book, a sequel to the Newbery Honor book "Princess Academy."  At first, I feared a sequel would entail the same elements that those awful Disney film sequels do: a long-lost relative of the heroine who is either the new generation of hero or the new generation of villain, the unnecessary or unbelievable revenge of a previous villain, a sassy talking animal here to prove himself anew.  Of course, Shannon Hale has better things in store: I was amazed by the brilliance of this novel and may even like it better than its predecessor.

The novel chronicles the time leading up to Britta's wedding, at which the girls of Mt. Eskel will serve as ladies-in-waiting.  Peder joins them, reuniting some of the most beloved characters from the first book (including Frid!  I adore Frid!).  Meanwhile, Miri becomes a student at the Queen's Castle, where she meets the fascinating and alluring Timon, who shares the same ideals she does about education, politics, and philosophy.  What Miri soon learns is that unrest troubles Asland, creating whispers of a revolution.  Will she get caught up by her new role as scholar, fighting for her political ideals at any cost--including the safety of Britta?  Or will she be tethered to her prior loyalties to her friends from Mt. Eskel?

Shannon Hale's new book is a gem, beautifully written, fast-paced, and incredibly intelligent.  The political landscape of Asland and Danland harkens back to the turmoil-fraught times of the French Revolution, a clear inspiration for the novel.  Hale's careful incorporation of Enlightenment philosophy (particularly that of John Locke) and her allusions to French historical figures (the executed Queen--Marie Antoinette, anyone?) make "Palace of Stone" an excellent companion novel to any middle school or high school history course.  Her consistent return to one ethical dilemma marks Miri's progress throughout the novel, including the way she thinks about her place in the world, the value of her actions or inactions, and the far-reaching scope of her own abilities.  (The question: in the event of a fire, which would you choose to save: a priceless painting or the life of a convicted murderer?)  It is exciting to read a middle grade-YA novel in which these issues are examined so beautifully.

Aside from these factors, which make my inner lit-geek weep with happiness, the novel contains many secrets to be unlocked (including one about an undiscovered power of the linder stone) and moments of sparkling humor and romance.  Readers will be on the edge of their seats from the first couple of chapters through the satisfying resolution.  Shannon Hale continues to illustrate how much potential her Miri--named after a flower that turns to face the sun--has for growth and adventure.

A second review by Debz:

How can I find words to describe my adoration for this book? It was completely perfect! I fell in love with Shannon Hale’s writing in a whole new way. In so many ways it was almost better than Princess Academy. It was wonderful getting a chance to check up on my old friends from Mount Eskel. 

I didn’t think it to be possible for Shannon Hale to have improved upon Princess Academy, but I think guess anything is possible! She took off a year after Princess Academy left off, and this time sent the girls down from Mount Eskel, the see what life is like for the other Danlanders. 

The new setting was just as vibrant as Mount Eskel, but with a fresh new feeling about it. The reader was experiencing things for the first time along with Miri, and I loved that. Everything felt foreign, but quickly grew friendly and familiar. 

I think the reason this book was so amazing and powerful were the lessons it taught. Ethics and Revolution are the two big themes of this book, and they’re beautifully presented, without being overly political, and I thought they were handled masterfully. 

I personally consider this one a little bit more YA than MG because the characters are older and wiser, there are more complicated themes, and there’s a little bit of romance. That isn’t to say that it’s inappropriate at all, I just feel it would be more appreciated by an older reader. 

Market: Middle grade or lower YA
Language: none
Violence:  Moderate references, although not graphic: some intense action scenes and use of muskets/pistols in a revolutionary context.
Sensuality:  Mild (young love and romance)
Adult themes:  Political unrest and violence, ethical quandaries, social class hierarchies, higher education, identity

Book formats:

You can read Bookshop Talk's interview with the author, Shannon Hale, here!

August 25, 2012

PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale, 2005

Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Julie, Children's Lit. enthusiast and pop culture geek

“Princess Academy” by Shannon Hale is a Newbery Honor book that, despite its title, teaches its readers about far more important things than pink gowns, tiaras, and how to sweep a fine curtsey.  The novel’s main character is a young girl named Miri, who learns that she and the other girls from her community on Mount Eskel will be considered for marriage by the prince of Danland.  However, first they must go through rigorous training in education and etiquette from strict Mistress Olana at the Princess Academy.

The highlight of the novel is Hale’s main character, Miri, a strong girl with a formidable sense of justice that can often get her into trouble.  As she stands up for weaker girls at the Academy, Miri gains both friends and enemies, all at the expense of doing what she feels is right.  Readers will empathize with Miri’s ethical dilemmas and cheer for her victories in the face of adversity.  In addition to this, Miri’s struggles within the competition will fascinate: should she strive to win for the honor that a royal title will bestow upon her and her family?  Or should she return to the quarrying town where she was raised and use the knowledge she has gleaned from the academy to improve economic and social matters?  The premise will interest readers, but the strong plot and lovable characters will keep readers moving.

As always, Hale’s language is beautiful and lyrical.  Unexpected bits of humor made me laugh out loud, while action-packed scenes near the end gripped me and wouldn’t let go.  The beauty of this book lies in how complex and full it feels: it has something for everyone, no matter what age or gender the reader is. If you love it as much as I do, look forward to the sequel: “Palace of Stone.”

Market: Middle Grade fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild (first crush kinds of feelings)
Violence: Mild (Mostly discipline-oriented)
Mature Themes:  Social class, identity, marriage

Book formats:

You can read Bookshop Talk's interview with the author, Shannon Hale, here!

August 21, 2012

REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi, 2012

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship "Intrepid," flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It's a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship's Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn't be better... Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues' understanding of what the starship "Intrepid" really is...and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laura Madsen

I attended a reading by sci-fi author John Scalzi last year when he was promoting his novel FUZZY NATION. He asked if we, the audience, would like to hear the prologue from his work in progress. We all cheered. He swore us all to silence; we promised we wouldn’t reveal the novel’s name or concept until it was published. He then said he would read the chapter without disclosing the title; afterward he would have us guess the title. The prologue follows a young starship ensign on his first—and only—away mission on a foreign planet, during which he and the other young crew member are unceremoniously eaten by Borgovian Land Worms. The Captain and Science Officer momentarily regret the loss of their ensigns and then declare, “We need more crew.” After the reading, Mr. Scalzi asked the audience what the title ought to be and we all yelled, “REDSHIRTS!”

Do you remember in the classic STAR TREK television series when Kirk, Spock and Bones would beam down to a strange planet along with a nameless red-shirted ensign? In their subsequent adventures, they would disregard the prime directive, Kirk’s shirt would be ripped, Spock would raise an eyebrow, Bones would swear, “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor,” and the hapless, anonymous ensign would die horribly. But fortunately for the bridge officers, there was always another redshirt available for the next episode.

In REDSHIRTS, Mr. Scalzi explores this epidemic of redshirts dying on away missions. The novel’s subtitle reads, “They were expendable… until they started comparing notes.” The novel follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly posted to the starship Intrepid. He and his fellow junior crewmembers gather statistics and investigate the crew deaths which circle like vultures around five particular senior officers. They also notice that during dramatic moments, the ship’s inertial dampeners tend to fail so the crew can tumble artfully across the bridge, and a random piece of equipment can be expected to explode spectacularly to further the theatrical tension. They begin to suspect that they’re extras in a sci-fi television show—and a poorly written one at that.

John Scalzi is one of the funniest sci-fi authors around. Recommended for any fan of science fiction.

Market: Adult fiction (science fiction)
Language: quite a few “F” words
Violence: lots of it (exploding heads, punctured spleens, ice sharks, land worms)
Sensuality: referenced but not seen
Adult themes: death, conspiracy, self-sacrifice

Book formats:

August 17, 2012


History isn't always made by great armies colliding or by great civilizations rising or falling. Sometimes it's made when a chauffeur takes a wrong turn, a scientist forgets to clean up his lab, or a drunken soldier gets a bit rowdy. That's the kind of history you'll find in The Greatest Stories Never Told. This is history candy -- the good stuff. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Amy Finnegan - Writer, Reader, Bookshop Talk Host

I don’t fall in love with a lot of nonfiction books, but when I do, I really love them. Such is the case with The Greatest Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy. Each story is told in just two pages, with an average of only four paragraphs and a couple of photos, and yet I always finish each tale thinking “Holy cow, that’s so cool,” or “That is plain crazy!” or most often, with a simple, “Wow.”
I’d already heard bits and pieces of about half of the stories and was delighted to be reminded of the details. But even as often as I read history books (which is the majority of the nonfiction that I read), I was completely oblivious to several of them. Here are just a few teasers:
Do you remember that in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, one of the pirate leaders was a woman? Turns out, this detail was based on fact, and she was no ordinary pirate. Hsi Kai was the most successful pirate of all time, ruling the South China Sea “with an iron hand, terrorizing shipping, attacking seaside villages, and defeating every naval force sent to intercept her.” In the early 1800s, she commanded more than 1,000 ships with 50,000 pirates—more than twice the size of the famed Spanish Armada, and in a time when the U.S. Navy had just 5000 men. She retired undefeated, kept all of her loot, and lived peacefully to an old age.
Care to guess what happened to any of her pirates who took advantage of a female captive, even if the woman agreed to it? You’ll have to read that part for yourself.
Another fascinating tidbit: I grew up being told stories about the legendary Pony Express, when in reality, it was “an impractical, money-losing business that went bankrupt in little more than a year.” The notoriously dangerous enterprise was made obsolete almost immediately by the much less expensive, and instantaneous, telegraph. But at least it gave Buffalo Bill some good material for his Wild West shows.
Edwin Booth
To wrap this up, I’ll quote exactly from one of my favorite stories from this book:
“One of America’s most famous actors stood on a train platform in Jersey City. He was among a crowd of people about to get on board a train. As the crowd pressed forward to enter one of the coaches, the train unexpectedly started with a jolt, rolling a few feet before it stopped. The actor saw a young man lose his balance, and begin to fall helplessly between the platform and the moving car.
Thinking quickly, the actor reached down and grabbed the young fellow by the collar, pulling him to safety. The grateful young man recognized his celebrity savior, ‘whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.’
It is only later that the two men recognized the haunting irony.
Robert Todd Lincoln
The actor was Edwin Booth. His younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Lincoln the following spring. And the young man whose life he saved?
Robert Todd Lincoln—Abraham Lincoln’s son.”
As I said earlier, wow.

Read this book. It truly will “astonish” you.

Market: Nonfiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild/Moderate
Mature Themes: Nothing worse than the details told in high school history books

Book Formats:

August 12, 2012

DRAGONSWOOD by Janet Lee Carey, 2012

Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt, hoping to rid the island of half-fey maidens. Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft, forced to flee with her two best friends, or offered shelter by the handsome and enigmatic Garth Huntsman, a warden for Dragonswood. But Garth is the younger prince in disguise and Tess soon learns that her true father was fey, making them the center of an exciting, romantic adventure, and an ancient prophecy that will bring about peace between all three races - dragon, human, and fairy. (Amazon)

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

I enjoyed reading DRAGON'S KEEP years ago, and I always hoped that Janet Lee Carey would write another book that takes place in the wonderful, magical world she created. DRAGONSWOOD satisfied my yearning to know "what happens next," and left me excited for future Wilde Island books.

The characters in DRAGONSWOOD are terrific. A few of my favorite include: 

Tess. She is everything one would want in a heroine: She's fiesty, but also fearful. She's loyal, but she makes huge mistakes. She's brave, but she's heedless. In other words, she's utterly believable.

The witch hunter, Lady Adela. This woman is so scary! The tale is told throughout the kingdom that she was abducted by witches a few years before our story takes place, and was tortured. The witches cut the tendon in one of her ankles and also put out one of her eyes. After she was rescued, the fey gifted her with a glass eye that can, supposedly, help her to pick witches out of a crowd. Creepy. And what's even creepier is that you can't help but feel a little bit sorry for this villain! That's what makes a truly great villain, I think--someone who is not just purely villainous, but also human.
The Grey Knight. Who is he? Well, he accompanies Lady Adela on her witch hunts, but there's something more to his character--something I can't wait to learn more about in subsequent books!

The plot was fast-paced and satisfying. There was no lull in the mid-section, like there is in many fantasy novels, owing, perhaps, to the fact that even when Tess found safety for herself and her friends, that safety seemed under constant threat of shattering into a million nasty knives of scariness. Pretty cool.

The settings were terrific. The human world seemed like something out of early English history--all except for the part where the royal line contains dragon blood, which manifests itself in scaled limbs or golden eyes with slit pupils. They fey world was lush and suitably lecherous (nothing unsuitable for a young adult audience). The dragons were...awesome. Carey made them lovable and unpredictable at the same time, rather like a few cats I've known.

The epilogue was my favorite section of the book, since it tied up all the loose strings but also introduced tantalizing new ideas (which I hope Carey added for the sake of the next book).

I hope you'll read DRAGONSWOOD! While it was nice to have read DRAGON'S KEEP first, I don't think it's essential.

Market: Young Adult Fantasy
Language: None
Sensuality: Moderate (There are some allusions to one-night stands among the fey. No real details are given.)
Violence: Moderate (Tess is tortured, and there are plenty of weeping wounds.  Ugh.)
Mature Themes: trust, abandonment, identity, physical abuse, torture (witch hunts), romance, and lust (those darn fey again...)

August 7, 2012

DAISY (The Newport Ladies Book Club, Book #2) by Josi S. Kilpack, 2012

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. And no one knows that better than Daisy. Raising two kids as a divorced, single mom, Daisy has faced each and every one of the obstacles in her life with courage and determination. When, at age of forty-six, Daisy suddenly finds herself facing a very different future than the one she had planned--and an uncomfortable evaluation of the past she thought she understood--she realizes that there is still some growing up she needs to do. Looking for a distraction to escape the growing tension at home, Daisy joins the Newport Ladies Book Club, where she meets Paige, Athena, and Olivia--unlikely friends who offer encouragement and support when Daisy's perfectly crafted life is turned upside-down. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laura Madsen: mother, veterinarian and writer

This series is such a neat concept it makes me wonder why no one ever did it before. Four books, each told from the first-person point of view of a different woman in a group of friends, each written by a different accomplished author.  (The authors are friends as well as collaborators.) The first novel, OLIVIA, written by Julie Wright, told the story of one woman in a book group whose marriage is threatened by her husband’s feelings toward his grown children.

In DAISY, the title character is a 46-year-old mother of two. Her older daughter is pregnant with Daisy’s first grandchild, and her younger daughter is mere months from graduating high school. Daisy can’t wait for her role as mom to finish so she can move on to the next stage of her life: enjoying her freedom and traveling with her new husband. She joins the book club on a whim but grows close to the other women in the book group. The women from the book club prove lifesavers when Daisy becomes pregnant—something she thought impossible—and is pressured by her husband to terminate the pregnancy.

Josi Kilpack captures the deterioration of Daisy’s marriage with spooky accuracy. Some of the things that Daisy’s husband, Paul, says to her are exactly the things I heard from my ex: “You don’t want me to make a decision right now” and “I’m here, aren’t I?” (But I emerged from divorce into a better place, and Daisy will, too!)

My primary complaint about the series is that the stories happen concurrently. The reader of OLIVIA knows that Daisy will be facing an unexpected pregnancy and impending divorce, so some of the tension that could have been generated is lost. However, even though the reader knows the major plot points, the unique experiences of the title character make each story fresh. Daisy grapples with her Catholic beliefs, a rocky relationship with her mother, guilt over her behavior as a teenage mother, conflict with a coworker who desperately wants a child, and emotional distancing from her husband.

Daisy’s closest friend in the book group is Paige, a single Mormon mom and title character of the third novel, PAIGE, to be released in August. I’m looking to forward to reading her story.

Market: adult fiction (women's lit)
Violence: none
Language: none
Sensuality: minimal
Adult themes: divorce, pregnany/abortion/adoption decisions, religion

Book formats:

August 2, 2012

A STORM CALLED KATRINA by Myron Uhlberg and Colin Bootman, 2011

When Hurricane Katrina hits, Louis' dad leads the family into an unfamiliar, watery world of floating debris, lurking critters, and desperate neighbors. When Daddy fails to return from a scouting mission within the SuperDome, Louis knows he is no longer a baby. It's up to him to find Daddy--with the help of his prized cornet. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laura Madsen, Mom, Veterinarian, and Writer

Written by Myron Uhlberg and illustrated by Colin Bootman, this picture book tells the story of a young boy in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The boy, named Louis after the famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong, evacuates his home with his parents and his treasured trumpet. After wading through the flood waters and being denied a ride on a boat, Louis and his parents end up at the Superdome. Louis is threatened by grown men for his water bottle, and he and his mom get separated from his dad. Louis plays his trumpet in a ray of sunlight streaming through the broken dome roof, enabling his dad to find them. After reuniting, the family returns home.

The story is very powerful. Louis’s emotions are raw in his first-person narration, as in this passage:

The murky brown water rose so high Daddy had to climb up on the porch boat with Mama and me. That was when my broom hit a pile of clothes. Mama covered my eyes. “Don’t look, Baby,” she said. But I couldn’t help looking.

Although this is a picture book, it is not for younger children. Because of the story’s heavy themes, it is probably most appropriate for kids in elementary school. I read it aloud to my six- and eight-year-old kids, and choked up several times while reading.

Market: children’s picture book
Violence: implied
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Adult themes: natural disaster, death, breakdown of society’s rules after a disaster

Book formats: