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.

October 29, 2012

GRAVE MERCY by R. L. LaFevers, 2012

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Pica, avid bookworm

GRAVE MERCY was absolutely fantastic. It's a bit different from what the summary would suggest, and I'm really glad I read Small Review's review before I began the book, since it gave me much more accurate expectations. Not to say that I had to lower my expectations, but the plot is far more centered around political intrigue and the various machinations of the different characters. Yet even though I didn't get a rollicking action plot, I adored the story I ended up with.

Ismae is a fantastic character. She is a strong person, but with just enough weakness to steal your heart. For all her awesome assassin skills, she is struggling to find her place. She is so eager to get out there and start killing people (as is the reader), but she is forced to keep up her pretense as Duval's mistress in order to root out the secrets of the palace.

Even though Ismae is an assassin, there is not a lot of action, and not a lot of assassinations. I think Ismae kills around four people, total, in all 550 pages. There are a few people whom she helps to die, but she doesn't actually assassinate them herself. But if you were expecting lots of action and Katsa-like awesomeness, prepare to change your expectations or be disappointed.

At this point, some of you may be thinking, "This doesn't sound like a very interesting book. No action? No killing?" never fear. I could barely tear my eyes away from the pages. The story flew by. I didn't ever feel like I was reading a 500+ page book. I was too engrossed in the story. I finished the entire book in two days, largely because I practically refused to put it down. Even though Ismae is not killing everyone off or using her awesome convent training, there is <em>so much</em> going on.

The majority of the story takes place in the court of Anne of Brittany. Every single character has some plot to carry out or some scheme they are trying to keep secret. Ismae has her hands full figuring them all out, while at the same time, trying to fulfill her mission from the convent. All the complex politics were really fun to read about, and as Robin LaFevers writes in her author's note (some slight spoilers), they are all true. In reality, there was actually even more going on, but she trimmed some of the characters and plots because it was getting to be just too much, and the book ended up at nearly 550 pages regardless.

Part of what kept me so interested was the superb world building. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, much of what is in the book is completely true. LaFevers certainly did her research, and it shows in the execution. I totally felt like I was there, at the convent, in the court; anywhere Ismae went, I was instantly transported.

And then, finally, there is Duval. I'm spoiling it now: Ismae falls in love with Duval by the end of the book. But I loved the super-slow, hate-to-love romance. Duval is a wonderful character, love interest of not, and he was Ismae's perfect counterpart. I loved the scenes they were in together (which, I suppose, is nearly the whole book), because they worked together so well.

The other characters were great as well: no cardboard cutouts to be seen. I couldn't always get into the heads of the side characters, but I was fascinated with how they played this complex game.

Overall Thoughts:
Quite a spectacular book. There are so many layers upon layers, and lots of different political schemes. Although the action is limited, I was enthralled by the unfolding plots and Ismae's character development. Highly recommended.

Age Recommendation:
I almost never put an age warning at the end of my reviews, but I think this book needs it. This is definitely not a book for younger teens. There is nothing too explicit, but there are many adult themes and references, and the book is written for a mature audience. I would recommend for 16+.

Market: Adult Fiction, Older Young Adult
Language: Mild: There was not enough to be memorable, but there may have been a few instances of swearing.
Sensuality:  Moderate+ : Ismae pretends to be Duval's mistress in order to get into the court; there is one sexual act, not described in detail; there is much talk of sensuality.
Violence: Moderate: Ismae is an assassin, and does kill people, but the violence never gets too heavy.
Mature Themes: Assassination, Sensuality, Court Intrigue, War

October 24, 2012


Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Pica, avid bookworm

Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, so the spelling of all names are my best guess, and not necessarily the same spelling as found in the text.

THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM was so much fun, and the narration on the audiobook made it even more so. I loved the narrator, and the voices he used were perfect. Even though I thought a few of them were a little silly at the beginning, now I can't imagine them any other way. During the day, when I wasn't listening to the book, I often found myself randomly thinking in Gustav's voice, or Duncan's.

The story seems silly and fun - which it totally is - but there are also so many parts that are so clever. So many of the minor happenings at the beginning come back in the middle and at the end as important parts. For instance, in chapter 2 (or maybe 3), Gustav fights a troll. This encounter is very funny on its own, but it gets even better when Gustav and Fredric run into the troll again later in the story.

The only thing I wish I could have added to the audiobook was the wonderful illustrations. I looked up many of the illustrations after I finished listening to the book, and they work perfectly with the story. I will likely borrow a copy of The Hero's Guide from the library so I can flip through for the pictures, but I may end up rereading the whole thing, since I liked it so much.

I love these characters. They are all so much fun. I will try to explain them, but its hard to get the full effect before you've heard Duncan shouting, "Woohoo! Wild card!"

All of the other characters were just as great. Lila, Liam's sister, was one of my favorite characters, and I identified most with her. Zaubeera was also lots of fun to read about (or listen about in my case). Every character was fun and unique, and each added something to the story. Even Troll, the troll, became important in the end. Some other character highlights were Deeb Robber, the bandit king; all four princesses; the giant; and the bounty hunter.

The book is chock full of wit and humor, and had me laughing out loud repeatedly (often in public, while wearing headphones. I got some odd stares). Every character gets his share of clever lines, and I was having so much fun listening, at some points I didn't even care much where the story was going, as long as I could listen to these characters some more.

Another aspect I liked was how the narrator talked directly to the reader, voicing the thoughts that are actually going through your head. My favorite quote (as I remember it) is, "Liam opened the door and walked into The Stumpy Boarhound. But you knew that already, because you read the prologue." This was a particularly memorable moment for me, because right before this quote, I had been telling my friend about the story, and I had just said, "...and of course he's going to go in, because it said so in the prologue." Even when I was less than a minute into the audiobook, I was laughing at: "Charming isn't a name. It's an adjective."

It's quite obvious at this point that I loved this book. I plan to listen to it again. The narration is wonderful, the story is fantastic, the characters are great - I have absolutely no complaints. A wonderful MG for both boys and girls, and certainly a book I recommend to readers of all ages.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild

October 19, 2012

HALF-MINUTE HORRORS edited by Susan Rich, 2009

How scared can you get in only 30 seconds? Dare to find out! Dive into the shortest, scariest, spine-tinglers, hair-raisers, and eye-poppers ever created. These instant thrills come from astounding talents, including Lemony Snicket, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, R.L. Stine, Holly Black, Brett Helquist, and many more. You’ll never look at your closest door, your cat, your sock drawer, or even yourself in the mirror the same way again. (Goodreads)

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

HALF-MINUTE HORRORS is a compendium of short stories, poems, and illustrations that can, as the title suggests, chill your bones in 30 seconds or less.  Edited by Susan Rich, the collection boasts such authors as Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, R.L. Stein, and Gail Carson Levine, ensuring a variety of scares and spooks for any kid.

For kids, “Half Minute Horrors” covers nearly every base of scariness: aliens, monsters under the bed, talking animals, ghosts, and shapeshifting.  Each story is extremely entertaining, and while some are more effective in their creepiness than others, the ones that succeed are worth the money.  Kids who love scary stories will eat this collection up, particularly due to the stories’ short lengths, which can satisfy any attention span.  For younger or more squeamish children, glance over the stories first!

“Half Minute Horrors” is the perfect book for autumn as children begin to get excited for Halloween.  You can read it at Halloween parties, savor a story per night to keep the anticipation for the holiday high, or devour it in one sitting.  Remember to keep a flashlight handy for an extra ghoulish effect.

Market: Middle Grade fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes:  Imagination-induced frights (ghosts, monsters, etc.)

October 14, 2012

AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton, 2012

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead. Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Jessica Day George, Young Adult and Middle Grade Author

This book solidly cemented my status as Raving Jo Walton Fan.  I loved TOOTH AND CLAW with a passion that was almost unseemly.  But I hesitated to try another of her books.  What if TOOTH AND CLAW was a one time deal?  And her other books aren’t about talking dragons with Victorian morals wearing tiny hats, which was one of the main selling points for that book, in my opinion.  But I should have realized that what made that book so great wasn’t the dragons or the Victorian morals or the hats, it was the fact that Walton was a writer of amazing skill and delicacy.  Her new book, AMONG OTHERS came to my attention at its release, and I put it on my insanely long to-read shelf on Goodreads, and didn’t think that much about it.  Until AMONG OTHERS started to win all the awards.  Like the Hugo.  And the Nebula.  And be nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic award.  Those are the big guns for fantasy books, and this book was sweeping them up, just like TOOTH AND CLAW did.  So I bumped AMONG OTHERS to the top of my list . . . and I was not disappointed.

This, children, is what a perfect novel looks like.  A fairy story, a coming-of-age story, and a love letter to the classic sci fi and fantasy that Walton grew up on, this book was so gorgeous I could hardly bear to put it down.  I want to embroider whole chunks of it on linen and hang them on the wall.  Through the character of Mor, Walton shares beautiful thoughts about books, libraries, wonder, growing up, childhood, and magic.  It has the perfect mix of characters that you love, and those you love to hate.  And Mor is such a delight: wise in many ways, naive in others, and her enthusiasm for books charmed me and made me feel nostalgic for my early reading days as well. It's absolutely a must-read for anyone who has ever loved reading, especially (but not exclusively) SF/fantasy books.

Market: Adult, older teens
Language: None
Sensuality: Some discussion of sexuality, a makeout session at a party.
Violence: Mild, although Mor has been injured in a car accident that claimed another life.
Mature Scenes: Witchcraft, death, dysfunctional families, class snobbery, bullying, same sex attraction.

October 9, 2012


Filled with humor, adventure, and imagination, these seven short stories go from the lighthearted to the bizarre. From a teenager who drives a museum curator to mummify him for signing Phantom Snake (an anagram of his name) all over his exhibits, to a boy who's dared to visit the tomb of a vampire at midnight only to discover that the vampire boy he meets has a mother who nags just like his own, the eerie and chilling settings and characters will captivate readers. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile

This anthology is typical of Brian Jacques' works - funny, clever, and spine-tingling, and also sometimes strange.

There's a story about an unfortunate graffiti artist's fate when he messes with the wrong museum attendant. I read this one late at night one summer years ago, and stayed under the covers watching every shadow for the old man I was sure would come get me for scribbling on my bunk boards the day before.
The story about how vampire's mothers are perhaps not so very different in their nagging than a rebellious teen's own mother, which was amusing but also strangely chilling -
The tale of a girl with split personalities, who steals something that cannot be stolen, from an old lady whose story intertwines with a tragedy of epic proportions -
The hilarious adventures of Henry Mawdsley, the world's greatest liar, who dares to lie to Old Nick himself, and also to the Angel Gabriel -
A story that could almost be called a fairy tale, about a girl named Bridgey, her ducks, her mean old Uncle Sully, and a strange creature named the Grimblett, who lives beneath the water of her pond -
A haunting story about the ghost of a boy named Gilly Bodkin, who only wanted some sweets -
And the strange tale of what happens when the descendant of a school's founder is bullied by the older kids in school.
You should read them.
You'll find yourself fascinated.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Very little
Mature Themes: Bullying, lying

October 4, 2012

EDENBROOKE: A PROPER ROMANCE by Julianne Donaldson, 2012

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will she be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Brooke—Wife, Mother, Reader

This truly is "A Proper Romance". I loved Edenbrooke. It had the feel of a Jane Austen book, but was easier to read. Marianne, the heroine of this book, is courageous, clumsy, innocent, loyal... so many things. I loved her. Philip, the hero of the book, is dashingly handsome, funny, insightful, and flirtatious. I loved him. Put these two wonderful characters together in a beautiful setting, with an attack by a highwayman, heartache and romance and you have A Proper Romance.

Market: Regency Romance, clean
Language: None
Sensuality: Regency flirting, very clean
Violence: Attack on the coach by a highwayman, mild
Mature themes: None