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 28, 2013

THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass, 2012

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Natalie Gorna

I admit: what attracted me to THE SELECTION was its front cover.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t judge any book by its cover, but those gorgeous, fluffy blue dresses intrigued me.  I kept wondering what kind of story hid behind such an unusual look.  It’s almost like “Cinderella.” But there’s a catch: the plot’s set in a dystopian society with a new division of the classes, and its heroine is no Cinderella.  

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, renamed Illéa, America Singer is a musician working hard to support her family.  She also happens to be in love with a guy who’s beneath her “caste” level.  Then the event of a lifetime happens: the Selection, where thirty-five girls are chosen for a contest.  The prize: Prince Maxon and becoming Queen of Illéa.  America just wants to marry Aspen, but in a twist of fate, she is selected.  Now enduring a competition she never wanted to take part in, America discovers more than she ever dreamed possible.  Prince Maxon and Illéa are not all they seem on the surface, nor is the Selection.  And true love was never so hard to win as it is now.

I was rooting for America the moment I met her.  She is outspoken and strong, not to mention incredibly dedicated to her family.  And she is a wonderfully talented musician!  I didn’t really buy America's relationship with Aspen, but Kiera Cass had me hung over her words despite all the drama and love scenes between those two.  On the other hand, from the moment America has her first encounter with “stuffy” Prince Maxon, I couldn't help cheering for their friendship.  They have an awkward relationship at first, but the transition from less-than-eager friends to a solid friendship blossoming into romance was very sweet to experience, especially through America’s eyes.  The direct honesty between her and Maxon is rare in many romantic situations.  And honestly, Prince Maxon really is an adorable character, from his confusion over crying women to his gentleman-like manners and sincere courtesy.  He acts admirably toward all Selection girls, but his connection with America points toward the possibility of her being closer to winning the prize (and the ultimate romance) than she knows.  They make a great couple, and their dialogues are some of the most entertaining and tender in the entire novel.

It is interesting how “The Selection” so realistically creates a hypothetical scenario of what life could be like in the U.S.A. if the political world changed drastically in modern times.  Cass chooses a path from the crossroads of “cause and effect” and paints an almost surreal picture of how that old adage is so true: history always repeats itself.  America is the midst of a scene that is on the point of changing for better or worse, and I have a feeling she’ll be a major part of upcoming conflicts in Illéa.  I can’t wait until “The Elite” comes out next spring and America comes back to narrate more of her story with Prince Maxon!

Market: Young Adult fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate (touching and kissing, but no more than that)
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: dystopian, revolution, identity, relationships, prejudice

January 23, 2013

ENCHANTED by Alethea Kontis, 2012

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true. When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises. The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers? (Amazon)

Reviewed by Debz

Charming, Magical, Delightful, Enchanting! That just about sums up ENCHANTED. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite books. It’s the ultimate mash-up of almost every fairy tale you’ve ever heard of, and then some!

From the moment I opened the book I knew I was in for a real treat. I was more than right. It reminded me of exactly why I love fairy tale retellings. They breathe fresh air into beloved childhood classics in a way that makes them appealing now.

I think what I loved most were the characters. They stepped right off the page and into your heart. There were all the classic fairy tale stereotypes, and so many more. They each added their own layer of richness and depth to the story, intertwining their own stories with one another.

The writing swept me off my feet and carried me through the most breathtaking plot I ever laid eyes on. It was very smooth and flowed effortlessly. There were so many twists and turns that even I, being a fairy tale expert, couldn’t spot them all. It takes a true master to do that.

If you’ve ever read a fairy tale, or thought about reading one, or even if you’ve lived under a rock your whole life, you need to read this book! You won’t regret it!

And a Second Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile:

Having just read this book, all I can really say is that it's awesome. It's like all my mad fantasies of a world where fairy tales are real just got written out onto a page.

Sunday is the youngest child of a family with limited naming faculties. All of their daughters were named for days of the week - Monday, the oldest, down to Sunday. Sunday copes with being the most unremarkable of her siblings by writing down stories about them all: Her sister Thursday, the Pirate Queen, Monday and Tuesday, the twins who were the Life of the Party, except for Tuesday's tragic untimely end due to an unfortunate pair of red dancing slippers, Wednesday, the dreamy poet, who lives in what her family fondly calls the aerie, Friday, the kindhearted seamstress, who sews dresses for orphans, Saturday, the impatient, hardworking woodcutter who may have a Destiny, and her brothers, Jack, Peter, and Trix.

When she meets Grumble, a talking frog who used to be a man, she is therefore not very surprised. When he one day disappears, her heart is broken, but she is kept busy with preparations for the newly returned prince's ball, and her Fairy Godmother (also her Aunt) Joy has come to teach her to control her stories, which make things come true.

This book is wonderful. It melds multiple fairy tales seamlessly together into something new, something that might even be called . . . magical.

Also, the prince has some seriously amazing friends. I'm just sayin'.

Market: Young Adult Fantasy
Language: Implied, but never really written out.
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: I can't really think of any terrible ones . . .

January 18, 2013

LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead, 2012

When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer's first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? (Goodreads)

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

I am a huge fan of Rebecca Stead’s previous book, the Newbery Award winner “When You Reach Me,” and eagerly anticipated this book for months.  While, when compared to "When You Reach Me," "Liar & Spy" isn't as high-concept and, therefore, carefully structured, it was still worth the wait.

LIAR & SPY is narrated by Georges (the ‘s’ is silent), a seventh-grade boy who has just moved from his childhood home to a new apartment due to his father’s recent unemployment.  Grappling with the move, his mother’s long work shifts at the hospital, and a group of bullies at school, Georges has more on his plate than the average seventh grader can handle.  But when he meets his new neighbor Safer, a self-appointed spy from an eccentric family, Georges is thrown into a world of secrets, lies, and espionage.  When the spying begins to go too far, Georges must ask himself how far he’ll go to keep his only friend.

Like she did with “When You Reach Me,” Rebecca Stead incorporates strong, likable characters, a gripping plot, and the equal parts humor and bittersweetness of growing up.  Stead has a particular sense of current problems facing middle graders, particularly the issue of bullying.  She paints a sympathetic portrait of Georges who, as he tries to shake off a couple of “middle school jerks,” truly struggles with the effect that constant teasing has on his present.  Kids will identify with Georges—and cheer him on to his plan for a resolution.

Another highlight is the character Safer, an intriguing homeschooler who loves birds and drinks coffee from a flask.  When Safer takes Georges under his wing, they develop both a fascinating friendship and a student-teacher dynamic.  But as the novel continues, readers will begin to question whether Safer is all that he seems—as well as which character is the “liar” and which is the “spy.”

Fast-paced, thoughtful, and funny in parts, “Liar & Spy” is an excellent novel with an end twist that shouldn’t be missed!

Market:  Middle-grade fiction
Violence:  None
Language:  Mild (1-2 instances during bullying scenes)
Sensuality:  None
Adult themes:  Unemployment, bullying, family illness

January 13, 2013

STARTERS by Lissa Price

"Readers who have been waiting for a worthy successor to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games will find it here. Dystopian sci-fi at its best, Starters is a terrific series kickoff with a didn't-see-that-coming conclusion that will leave readers on the edges of their seats . . .” raves the Los Angeles Times. In the future, teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. One girl discovers her renter plans to do more than party--her body will commit murder, if her mind can't stop it.  (Amazon)

Reviewed by Debz

STARTERS is a refreshing story to be added to the giant shelf of dystopian fiction. The setting was creepy, the characters were real, and the plot was thrilling; everything you need to make up a good science fiction story.

The world building was great, but I wish there’d been more history on the Spores War and Prime Destinations. I like the idea of all the adults being wiped out by a virus (not in real life, of course), and seeing the after-effects of that. It’s kind of hard to believe that all these old people would be perfectly fine with renting out the bodies of children now that their parents are gone. Should I be worried about the sanity of old people?

Callie was such a realistic character, who I could relate to. As a big sister, I could understand what she was thinking and feeling about her brother. I don’t know if I’d go as extreme as selling my body to keep my family safe, but I’d give almost anything for them. All the supporting characters are very strong and convincing in their roles.

I found myself moving further on the edge of my seat as the story progressed. There was lots of action and mystery that kept things going. I liked that I couldn’t solve everything before the main characters. I had a lot of speculations, but they all turned out to be wrong (which never happens!)

I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat. I can hardly wait for Enders to come out this fall (hurray for no waiting until 2013)!

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Moderate to Heavy
Mature Themes: (body-image, renting out bodies, war, ethics)

January 8, 2013

THORNYHOLD by Mary Stewart, 1988

During Gilly Ramsey's lonely childhood, the occasional brief visits of her mother's cousin were a delight, seeming like visits of a fairy godmother. Years later, when Gilly inherits Thornyhold, her house, she discovers that her cousin, with her still room and herbalist practices-and her undoubted powers-had long been known to the locals as a witch. She is approached by neighbors, some innocent, some not so innocent, but all assuming that she, too, is a witch, and a possible addition to the local coven. Gilly finds there is some truth in this, for she discovers that she can call on a kind of power in difficult moments. This wonderful novel from bestselling author Mary Stewart is delicate in its perception of a young woman's falling in love, delightful in its portrayal of the English countryside, and skilled in its creation of a world full of magic. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Rachel Birch

This novel is so fun because just by the way Mary Stewart uses words the book feels old and the story rolls along and engages the reader in a life journey with the main character.  The beginning of the book begins when Gilly Ramsey is a young girl and you see her parents and her adolescent life through her eyes.  There is a conflict of ideaology between her parents but she knows they love each other.  Gilly's aged cousin, Geillis, has a different influences into her life through a paid-for private school and a unique perspective on life.

The plot progresses as Gilly's becomes older and her cousin Geillis dies.  Gilly then moves into her deceased cousins home.  She loves the home but begins to discover that her cousin wasn't just odd but a rumored witch.  Through the quirkiness of the new home, the intrusive neighbors (who also have their hands in country witchcraft), and a dawning romance, Stewart picks the reader up and slowly takes readers to a different time, place, and mindset. 

I highly recommend THORNYHOLD because the story is so tangible that the after glow is warm, fun and convinced me to try some more of Mary Stewarts literary works.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Reference to witchcraft

January 3, 2013

INSTEAD OF THREE WISHES by Megan Whalen Turner, 1995

A leprechaun is sighted in small-town New Hampshire. A city boy becomes a hero in prehistoric Sweden. An elf prince tries to reward a girl who wishes he'd just leave her alone. In these and other delightful stories, magical adventure appears in the most unexpected places. Instead of Three Wishes is a captivating collection of witty and sparkling fantasy stories from the Newbery Honor author of The Thief. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile.

One day this summer, I was looking through the children's section of a used book store when I saw INSTEAD OF THREE WISHES. I almost couldn't believe it - I was so excited that I told everyone that I met that day that I'd gotten it. Possibly I scared some people with my enthusiasm, because I love this book so, so much.
Of all of the stories that it contains, I think that I love the title story the most. But there is such a great variety in this anthology: there's a ghost story, a horror story, a time-traveling story and several that are simply indescribable. I think that my mom's favorite story is the tale of Leroy Roachbane, the intrepid explorer of ancient Sweden, who exterminates a plague of epic proportions. Then there's The Nightmare, which terrifying in its own unique way, because the Nightmare is passed on only to those who ask for it. It's hard to believe that such a small story could be so chilling, but it truly is one of the scariest things I've ever read. And of course, the story of the baker king, who is perhaps more clever than the minister Orvis really bargained for.
And Instead of Three Wishes. It is a hilariously urban fairy tale, in which the Fairy Queen's son, Mechemel, is stuck in an island of traffic, and a kind young girl called Selene helps him across the street. He offers her three wishes, grumpily, but she refuses them, perhaps scared by his scowl. Or rather, she tells him to send whatever he thinks she'd want, because she certainly can't think of three wishes on the spot like that. So he sends them along later - and she refuses them, politely. As she points out, the palace was lovely, but she wouldn't be able to pay the heating bill in the winter, and what would the neighbors think? Selene is eminently sensible. Frustrated, Mechemel turns to his mother for advice. And the end of the story . . . well, you'll have to read it to find out!

Market: Middle Grade Fantasy
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Very little
Mature Themes: . . .