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.

December 29, 2012

LEGEND by Marie Lu, 2012

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Pica, avid bookworm

Often, the cover of a book doesn't quite tell the whole story (says the blogger who has a feature called “Judge A Book by its Cover"). The cover of LEGEND, by Marie Lu, unlike many of the covers adorning young adult books today, offers more of an insight into what the story brings. It is not cluttered, but what is there makes an impact. It is stark but memorable, and in its own way, it is beautiful. In a year chock-full of wonderful dystopians, Legend manages to stand out in its own unique way.

The strength of Legend comes from its characters. Too often in new dystopians, the characters, especially the supporting characters are neglected in favor of the excitement of the action and twists and turns of plot. In Legend, both Day and June were fully fleshed out, and every character was three-dimensional. They were people, rather than background introduced in order to fill in the space between point A and point B. Even Metias, who is murdered near the beginning of the book (that's not a spoiler; it's in the summary), is a fully fleshed out character. In fact, not only would both Day and June pass Small Review's incredibly useful (what would main character do) test with flying colors, Metias would pass the test. Thomas, Metias's best friend and June's friend and protector, would pass. Tess, the girl who scavenges the streets with Day, would pass. I felt like I knew every character. The story has plenty of action, but it is not overly action-packed. Marie Lu did an excellent job of balancing the different parts of the story.

I loved the swtiching points of view between Day and June. In the beginning, each is so convinced of the other's villainy, and each thinks he or she is in the right. And as the story develops, it is clear that they are both true heroes, and they are able to discover the other's heroism. Each character's chapters have their own font and color, so there is never a chance of confusion. Even without the coloring and font, there is little chance of confusion, as each character has their own unique voice. And each character has their own perspective on the story, so the reader gets to experience two sides of the same story, with all the biases and experiences that each character brings to it, up until the end, when they realize they're on the same side.

One of the ways Legend stood out from the rest was the path it chose to take regarding plot. Many dystopians out there repeat the same themes and plot points. Legend did not stick to the traditional path of dystopians. It had an original and intriguing plot, and I never quite knew what was going to happen next. Another unique feature was the Legend actually used the setting of once-America as part of the story rather than just using it as a place to put the story. I really appreciated the way Marie Lu incorporated the history we know about rather than purely making up her own, with no knowledge from before the big whatever that destroyed civilization as we knew it.

Although part of a trilogy, Legend works (really well!) as a standalone. I actually didn't know it was part of a trilogy until after I finished it. The ending is not a cliffhanger, but will leave you begging for more because the story was just so good.

One of the best dystopians out there. Highly recommended.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild to None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Dystopian government, murder, betrayal

December 24, 2012

The “Anne of Green Gables” Series by L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery

Everyone's favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over. (Goodreads synopsis of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES)

Reviewed by Sarah Hofhine

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is a masterpiece of character.  Firstly is Anne herself.  Who wouldn’t love a redheaded orphan who breaks slates over boys heads and insists upon proper spelling of her name even in moments of life-changing stakes?  She’s feisty and imaginative and impulsive and loving.  She lives in a world of dreams and imaginations.  She creates beautiful little fancies about everything in her world; trees, houses, ponds, people she sees.  She gets into ‘scrapes’ (love that word!) all the time.  In Anne L.M. Montgomery has created a character so rich and charismatic that I feel I know her; she must really, truly exist in some universe somewhere.  I envy her ‘bosom friend’ Diana – I want to be Anne’s best friend.

The other characters in the series are equally compelling.  Marilla and Matthew, the couple to whom Anne is mistakenly sent, are vivid and loveable.  Marilla is as brusque and stiff as Matthew is shy and loving.  Neighbor Rachel Lynde is a hard-working, upright matriarch with an almost omniscient knowledge of everyone in the community and their doings.   And then there is the most dreamy of all heroes, Gilbert Blythe.  *Swoon.*
L.M. Montgomery wrote a total of 9 books about Anne and her family, 8 of which were published during her lifetime. The ninth, “The Blythes Are Quoted,” was finished shortly before her death and published in 2009.  I have not yet read the newly published work but I highly recommend reading the entire series; Anne’s children are as captivating as she is. 
Anne of Green Gables is a literary gem, a true classic not to be missed.

Market: Children’s Literature
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Abandonment, abuse, death, war (later books in the series).  All handled very tastefully.

December 19, 2012

A CURSE DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce, 2008

Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Pica, avid bookworm

A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD was the perfect historical fantasy. Although historical fantasy is a genre I enjoy, it's not one I read much of, and this one incorporated so many elements that I enjoyed. The story begins just after the death of Charlotte's father, leaving Charlotte and her sister Rosie to take over responsibility for the family mill, called Stirwaters. Although they do their best, whispers of a curse on Stirwaters begin to circulate as, through bad luck, everything seems to be coming apart.

It started out a little slow, but as I found out later, the slow beginning was just what the story needed in order to build up the tension of the later parts. Charlotte's world is based very firmly in a historical setting, and the magic is introduced so slowly that it doesn't seem to intrude upon the real world. Bunce takes the beginning to set up the world and really let the reader meet the characters and understand them before introducing the fantastical elements.

The setting for A Curse Dark as gold is highly historical, taking place on the cusp of the industrial revolution, and the characters fit right into the world. Bunce writes her characters wonderfully. I felt as if I knew everyone in Shearing (the town), and even the villain was a shade of gray (albeit a darker shade). The characters stay with you, almost as if they glide out of the book and follow you noiselessly around.

Charlotte, as the main character, was most developed of all. I could almost hear her voice in my head, and she passed Small Review's WWMCD (What Would Main Character Do) test nearly every time. Although Charlotte's stubbornness was a little frustrating to read of at times, I grew to love her character - and everyone around her. I even found sympathy for a few characters I was not expecting to care about in the least. But with Charlotte especially, I felt like I knew her so well that I could easily be her friend outside of the book.

And Randall was wonderful. He's the kind of character one might dismiss, but is really holding the story together. Without Randall, Charlotte would have fallen apart, as she herself admits. He is so unassuming and obviously loves Charlotte so much. It was a pleasant surprise to see how fond I'd grown of him.

The plot of A Curse Dark as Gold was surprisingly complex. I was expecting a straightforward retelling in a historical setting, and I got so much more than that. The story stands on its own far beyond the tale it's based on. All of the subplots that, although intriguing, seem unconnected come together to create a complex and tightly woven story (pun not intended) that all fits together in unexpected ways.

Overall Thoughts:
Surprising and wonderful. The historical element adds an extra layer of richness, and the characters are strong and real. I'd happily read this again, and I've added it to my list of wonderful fairy tale retellings.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild to None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Revenge, the supernatural

December 15, 2012

THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2012

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well. As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Debz

THE FALSE PRINCESS was better than perfect. Everything about it was fantastic. I cannot give it enough praise—but I think I can try.

For one thing, Sage was pretty awesome. He was so clever, and rather attractive as well. I could read scene after scene of Sage’s inner monologue, and be satisfied. Another thing I loved about him was how he remained firm in his ways, not letting anyone else tell him what to do. That takes guts!

The pacing was perfect. Nothing moved too quickly, but there was always an air of mystery and suspense about the place. Even after everything was revealed, there was still much to be discovered, and found myself surprised every so often. 

And the little romance going on was so sweet. I was so glad to finally see a slow, calm romance instead of all the steamy, fast-paced romance that you see everywhere! 

This is something everybody needs to read. It can appeal to fans of all kinds of books, and I hope it does!

A second review by Pica, avid bookworm

I loved The False Prince. It had all the elements of my favorite books: fully fleshed out and fantastic characters, intricate plans, and just a hint of fantasy. Sage was practically a reincarnation of one of my favorite characters of all time, Gen from The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. He had the same irreverent attitude and quick wit along with a healthy disrespect of authority and sharp temper. Also like Gen, he always had a plan up his sleeve and a secret that even the reader doesn’t know about. I loved him. It was like reading my favorite story in a whole new way.

There is no way I can possibly praise the book enough. It begins excitingly, and only gets better from there. Nielsen gives just enough information to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and it is so much fun to unravel the many mysteries entwined and surrounding each other. Of course no one is as they seem (I wouldn't enjoy it nearly so much if they were).

The plot does not move quickly, but it never seems to drag. It is the perfect pace, and keeps the reader turning pages as quickly as if it were an action-packed thriller.

All of the characters were fantastic, especially as the reader is able to see many sides of each. It is not possible to call even the supporting characters flat. Readers will be eager to uncover the secrets of each character.

Overall Thoughts:
A superb read. Sage alone makes The False Prince fantastic, but all of the other elements - the exciting plot, amazing characters, and the secrets hiding everyone's true intentions - raise it to the next level. Highly recommended.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: Very Mild
Violence:  Moderate
Mature Themes: (Deceit, Death, War, Treason)

December 14, 2012

THEFT OF SWORDS (Riyria Revelations 1 & 2) by Michael J. Sullivan, 2011

Independent thieves Royce Melborn and his partner Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles-until they are hired to pilfer a prized sword. What appears to be a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king! Sentenced to death, they have only one way out, but they soon find themselves trapped in a scheme far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom. Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman unravel an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know? (Amazon)

Reviewed by Kate, book aficionado 

At first I wasn't sure if I'd be up to the challenge of a high fantasy novel that is twice the size of my normal reading (my average 300-350 pages). But I was in for a surprise of the good kind. I found that the book was an omnibus of the two prior published novels (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) now reissued in this edition by Orbit. I was also afraid that the fantasy jargon may overtake me, and it would be like learning a whole new language again. But the author, Mike J. Sullivan, had actually planned his novel series out altogether. This had made the writing in a way palatable for "noobs" to this certain fantasy genre. He used prior fantasy tropes many know about, and crafted a sturdy world structure around them (like a dwarf). He also created a colorful mythos for this world. And the story made the politics understandable for some of the readers who know very little of it. We see how these books together span a larger conspiracy faced with the novel's Nyphron Church and the past empire. Also the author is slowly revealing the main Riyria characters' pasts in the books (which I have my own thoughts and guesses on). My only qualm was the sense of desolation I felt at the end of the Avempartha story for the incidents with Thrace, Theron, and Fanen (still it was probably necessary). Overall, it was done exceptionally well so far. I'm now in anticipation to read of what may come about in Rise of Empire (Omnibus #2).

Market: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy Sword and Sorcery
Language: Mild (Don't even recall anything)
Sensuality: Moderate (Prostitutes appear but nothing happens on-screen there, and a girl is saved from rape)
Violence: Moderate to Explicit (Mostly sword fights, but the beast in the second part stacks up the village body count)
Mature Themes: Violence, Thievery, Betrayal, Murder, Death, Religious viewpoints, and Persecution of elves and magic

December 9, 2012

WINTERSMITH by Terry Pratchett, 2006

Tiffany Aching is a trainee witch — now working for the seriously scary Miss Treason. But when Tiffany witnesses the Dark Dance — the crossover from summer to winter — she does what no one has ever done before and leaps into the dance. Into the oldest story there ever is. And draws the attention of the Wintersmith himself. As Tiffany-shaped snowflakes hammer down on the land, can Tiffany deal with the consequences of her actions? Even with the help of Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle — the fightin’, thievin’ pictsies who are prepared to lay down their lives for their “big wee hag.” (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Pica, avid bookworm

WINTERSMITH was, most of all, a fun read. It was funny throughout, made me laugh out loud, had great characters, and was exactly was I was looking for. I had a great time returning to this book and I really enjoyed reading it.

If you haven't read the first two Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky), you will likely miss out on a few of the jokes and a lot of the references, but it's not too difficult to pick up the story just from Wintersmith. It works as a stand-alone, but when you finish, you'll be looking for more of Tiffany's adventures. The first time I read Wintersmith, I thought it was a standalone and I had no trouble with it at all.

All of the characters are wonderful and unique, from Tiffany to Miss Treason, and from Granny Weatherwax to the Wintersmith himself. Although it's much easier to appreciate all the quirks of each character and how developed they all were if you'd read the previous books, again, it is not at all necessary. Everyone is plenty fun in Wintersmith alone.

This time around I paid much more attention to the character of the Wintersmith. I had never found him all that interesting before, just another character in the story, but now he stands out to me as one of the most interesting characters. He spends much of the story trying to find out what makes someone human, as he is trying to become human himself, as to catch Tiffany's affections (It's kind of a long story - you just have to read the book).

I also liked the parts where Tiffany helped Miss Treason and Nanny Ogg with their "witchcraft" in the villages they took care of. The witches, rather than doing fancy magic *ahem*Annagramma*ahem* were in charge of taking care of people, and helping out where help was needed. Another of my new favorite scenes was when Tiffany and Nanny Ogg went to visit the man with all the traps for death. I'm not even sure why I like it so much, but it's the one I keep thinking back on.

And of course, no review would be complete without mention of out favorite Wee Free Men. The Feegles are the source of much amusement and are as funny as ever on the reread. Wintersmith, as with the other Tiffany Aching books, begins with a Feegle Glossary, adjusted for those of a delicate disposition, which includes such entries as "Boggin': To be desperate, as in 'I'm boggin' for a cup of tea,'" "Cack yer kecks: Er, to put it delicately... to be very, very frightened. As it were," and "Ships: Wooly things that eat grass and go baa. Easily confused with the other kind." Happily, Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie, Billy Bigchin, and the whole Feegle gang play quite a large part in Wintersmith.

And so, just for fun, the one quote I remembered as my absolute favorite from the last time I read Wintersmith:

And so the Feegles sailed home. Apart from Billy Bigchin they couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but that minor problem was dwarfed by the major problem, which was that they didn't bother with the idea of singing at the same pitch, or speed, or even with the same words. Also, minor fights soon broke out, as always happened even when Feegles were having fun, and so the sound that echoed among the rocks as the log sped toward the lip of the waterfall went something like: "Rowaarghgently boat ouchgentlydoon boat boat boatiddley boat stream boatlymerrily boatargh... CRIVEN" (Pratchett 371-372)

Overall Thoughts:
Wintersmith was lots of fun, with plenty of humor, and great characters to keep the story moving. I am looking forward to rereading the first two Tiffany Aching books.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild to None
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild

December 4, 2012

RENEGADE MAGIC by Stephanie Burgis (Book 2 in the “Kat, Incorrigible” Series)

Nowhere in England is safe from the mischief and magic of Kat Stephenson: Her eldest sister has finally wed, but when a scandalous accusation threatens the marriage prospects of Kat’s second sister, Angeline, Stepmama swiftly whisks the family away to Bath in an attempt to outrun the gossip and betroth Angeline to a respectable suitor. Meanwhile, Kat’s utter lack of ladylike propriety has prompted the powerful Lord Ravenscroft to expel her from the magical Order of Guardians—before her training has even begun! Anger and exile aside, Kat knows something is not quite right about Lord Ravenscroft. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Debz

Such a wonderful sequel to the fully original Kat, Incorrigible. After the fiasco that happens at sister Elissa’s wedding, Kat and her family take a trip to Bath. There Kat discovers that the Roman Baths are more than what they seem, with a magical and dangerous secret waiting to be uncovered. While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first, I still found it utterly delightful and charming. The characters were lots of fun to read. The old and new ones alike were such fun to read about. For some reason my favorite characters in these books are the stuffy old ladies who have nothing better to do than criticize Kat for all her misdeeds. 

I enjoy being in Kat’s world so much. The writing is descriptive and pleasant. It painted a clear image in my mind’s eye. Along with an exciting storyline, there’s a history lesson tucked beneath it. There’s much to learn about the Roman Bath’s, as well as just ordinary life in Regency England (though Kat’s life is far from ordinary!)

I strongly recommend Kat, Incorrigible to just about anyone, and once you’ve fallen in love with it, give RENEGADE MAGIC a try! You won’t be disappointed!

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: Extremely Mild (among secondary characters)
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Witchcraft? This is a pretty mild book