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 30, 2013

THE BOGGART by Susan Cooper, 1993

When Emily and Jess Volnik's family inherits a remote, crumbling Scottish castle, they also inherit the Boggart -- an invisible, mischievous spirit who's been playing tricks on residents of Castle Keep for generations. Then the Boggart is trapped in a rolltop desk and inadvertently shipped to the Volniks' home in Toronto, where nothing will ever be the same -- for the Volniks or the Boggart. In a world that doesn't believe in magic, the Boggart's pranks wreak havoc. And even the newfound joys of peanut butter and pizza and fudge sauce eventually wear thin for the Boggart. He wants to go home -- but his only hope lies in a risky and daring blend of modern technology and ancient magic. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile

Oh, THE BOGGART. The Boggart is a mischievous little spirit who likes to play tricks on people. When the master of Castle Keep, the MacDevon, dies, some very distant relatives of his inherit the castle and its inhabitant. Of course, they don't know about the tricksy little creature at first. No, the Volniks only know about the castle. The trouble that comes after is only because they don't know about the Boggart and his ways.
You see, he falls asleep in one of the only things they take back home from the castle: a rolltop desk. And when he wakes up, he's in Canada, very, very far from the only home he's ever known.
 Confused, but willing to play tricks on his new people, the Boggart causes endless trouble as he encounters TV, ice cream, traffic lights, cars, hockey, and computers. But when at last it is time for the Boggart to go home, he will surely be missed by the Volnik family. He is an endearing, though troublesome, apparition, and one that does not like to be forgotten.
One of my favorite scenes is when the Boggart follows one of the Volnik children to the theater where their father works. Of course he has no idea that they are only involved in a play, and when a Scottish lord dies, he remembers another such occurence, and playing with the lights, causes everyone in the theater to be in awe of the amazing effects that he creates with the lighting and sound boards. Poor Boggart, he misses the MacDevon, who enjoyed the invisible trickster's company for all the years that he lived in Castle Keep.
It is a story about loss, but the Boggart's lightheartedness about everything makes it a deeply enjoyable story for anyone to read.

Market: Middle Grade Fantasy
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Loss, abandonment

March 25, 2013

A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET by Madeleine L’Engle, 1978

In this companion volume to A Wrinkle in Time (Newbery Award sinner) and A Wind in the Door, fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace and the unicorn Gaudior undertake a perilous journey through time in a desperate attempt to stop the destruction of the world by the mad dictator Madog Branzillo. They are not alone in their quest. Charles Wallace's sister, Meg - grown and expecting her first child, but still able to enter her brother's thoughts and emotions by "kything" - goes with him in spirit. But in overcoming the challenges, Charles Wallace must face the ultimate test of his faith and will, as he is sent within four people from another time, there to search for a way to avert the tragedy threatening them all. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile

Honestly, the first time I read this, it was for the cover. The old cover, the one with the magnificent flying pegasus front and center. I was at the time obsessed with unicorns. And I didn't understand the story a bit, but I loved Gaudior even so. I think that was in first or second grade.
A few years later, I read the story again, and understood it better, and loved it more, even though the paperback that my mother owned had had the cover ripped off because of excessive use. I got another copy, with a less lovely cover, and read it again. This time I knew a little more about the story, and some of the themes that I hadn't gotten at all started showing up. Instead of reading it solely for Gaudior's appearances between chapters, I started reading it for Charles Wallace and Meg, because something was going on, and it was a great, grand thing that they were doing.
Then I read it again, after reading the rest of the series, and things that had made no sense before suddenly did. The reason that Meg and Charles Wallace were hardly fazed by their grand adventures came clear, for one thing. And the tessering that they kept talking about, I knew what it was and what they had done it for. And the kything, too. And I understood a little more of why Meg and Charles Wallace and the twins were needed to keep the Ecthroi from the world. It is because humans must make their own choices, and some make good ones and some make bad, and no one makes right or wrong choices all the time. But we can still try to be better than we were before, if we only have the chance. That is the reason why Charles Wallace risks so much, is so brave, becomes so strong. It is because he believes that those choices are worth protecting.
A while ago, I was looking around in a used book store, and found the book with its old cover, the one that show Gaudior leaping out of the reach of some terrible creatures who are trying to drag him down.
I may read it again soon. I'll probably keep finding things to love about A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET. Indeed, my favorite books are always the ones that I can read over and over and still find unexpected layers in.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Love, good vs. evil, forgiveness

March 19, 2013

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt, 2011

Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Meredith, Librarian

When you work with young people, sometimes you experience burnout. You get annoyed by their loudness, their bad attitudes, their immaturity. Then a book like this comes along and reminds you why you wanted to work with kids in the first place. Because every kid deserves a chance (or two, or three), and every kid deserves to have a least one grownup in their life who believes in them and wants the best for them. When you read the story of Doug Swieteck and the lives he touches and the people who help him, you'll be inspired to be that grownup for every kid you meet. It doesn't hurt that it's also funny as heck and deeply moving. Highly recommended.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild-8th graders in love!
Violence: Moderate. Several of the characters have served in Vietnam,
but that violence is off page. The main character has an abusive
Mature Themes: Abuse, war

March 14, 2013

THE HOMEWARD BOUNDERS by Diana Wynne Jones, 1981

When Jamie unwittingly discovers the sinister, dark-cloaked Them playing games with humans' lives, he is cast out to the boundaries of the worlds. Clinging to Their promise that if he can get Home he is free, he becomes an unwilling Random Factor in Their deadly, eternal game. Jamie travels alone until he teams up with Helen and Joris, determined to beat Them at Their own game. But Theirrules don't allow Homeward Bounders to work together. (Goodreads)

Review by Emily, basically a bibliophile

I love HOMEWARD BOUNDERS so much. I've only read it twice, but it had a great impact on me. Kind of like a brick falling on my head, actually. I was reading along, and then - bam! - I was in love with the whole thing: Jamie, the main character, his strange (and I do mean strange) friends, his story, and the odd way that the whole thing seems to be somewhat true, even though it's firmly fantastic.
So. The story is told somewhat backwards. Jamie is telling his story into a machine that records his words as he speaks them. He begins with his normal, ordinary life, everything that he can remember. Then, in his very own wry, cynical voice, he begins to tell the tale of his extraordinary adventures, and how he came to be talking into a recording machine in a place that is shrinking as he speaks. He tells the stories of The Flying Dutchman and his hapless crew, Prometheus, the mad Wandering Jew, and his friends. He gradually realizes - but I can't tell you, because the ending is just too perfect, and I can't possibly spoil it.

Jamie is at the moment my favorite character. He's just a boy, really, but he's so much older and wearier than his appearance would suggest by the end of the book. And he's so hopelessly hopeful, despite all that happens to him.
It was a story that I cried over, in the end, but also that I laughed with, because some of the characters are so impossible and awesome and legendary and fallible - and I loved them all, in all their oddity. It is one of the books that I truly love, and I love Jamie most of all.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Very little
Mature Themes: Growing up

March 9, 2013

BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu, 2011

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it's up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind. (Amazon)

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

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Anne Ursu’s stunning novel BREADCRUMBS tells the story of Hazel and Jack, two best friends who used to do everything together.  One day, Jack stops talking to Hazel, and—just like that—their friendship stops.  As Hazel struggles, a loner in her new school, trying to figure out what went wrong, she soon stumbles upon an unlikely explanation: an ice queen has taken Jack’s heart captive, and only Hazel can bring her former best friend back.

“Breadcrumbs” is equal parts realism and fantasy, appealing to children who like either or both.  While children will sympathize with Hazel’s friendship woes, her bully troubles, and her absent father, they will also delight in her journey into a mystical wood.  There, she meets enchanting and mysterious figures—a woodsman, a lost little girl, etc.—who, along with her courage and hunger for friendship, help her to continue her quest.  Lyrical language, a strong propensity for detail, and an understanding of high fantasy push this novel into moments of stark, sad beauty that is growing up.  One of my favorite passages is this quote by the uncle of Hazel’s new friend:  “I believe that the world isn't always we can see...I believe there are secrets in the woods.  And I believe that goodness wins out...So, if someone's changed overnight--by witch curse or poison apple or were-turtle--you have to show them what's good.  You show them love.  That works a surprising amount of the time.  And if that doesn't save them, they're not worth saving."

I would recommend this novel to anyone with a strong love of books, fantasy, and fiction.  A child who understands imagination as a means of both escape and re-entrance into reality will find Hazel’s story to be comforting and captivating.  While some children may balk at the muted ending, it offers a fantastic opportunity for discussion and prediction as to what they expect to happen next in the saga of Jack and Hazel.

Market: Middle Grade Fiction
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Violence: mild
Mature Themes: Bullying, depression, absent parents, identity/adoption (mixed heritage)

March 4, 2013

MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco X. Stork, 2009

Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear--part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify--and he's always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom in order to experience "the real world." There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face -- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Meredith, Librarian

There are few literary characters I love as much as I love Marcelo. I routinely wanted to climb into the book and give him a hug, then protect him from all the evil in the world. But the best thing about Marcelo is that he always does the right thing. He doesn't need to be protected. He sees terrible stuff all around, and he becomes stronger and more awesome than ever.  MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD is kind of heartbreaking as he learns just how terrible the real world can be, but it's amazing anyway and ultimately hopeful.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Moderate-Marcelo has at least one foul-mouthed coworker
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Adultery (implied), blackmail, injustice