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.

September 30, 2013

MIDNIGHT IN AUSTENLAND by Shannon Hale, 2012

Charlotte Kinder is in need of true escape when she heads from Ohio to Pembrook Park, a Jane Austen-themed retreat in the British countryside. But as it turns out, this vacation is no time to relax. Hearts are racing and stomachs fluttering in a tangle of intrigues-real and pretend, sinister and romantic-increasingly tough to sort out. It's midnight in Austenland, and Charlotte is about to prove herself a heroine worthy of Austen herself. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Brooke-Wife, Mother, Reader

If you liked Austenland, then I think you will like MIDNIGHT IN AUSTENLAND.  I was thinking this was going to be an Austenland romance for a new character, but essentially the same story. Yes, this has a woman going to Austenland for a vacation, and yes, she is looking for romance, but this book was much different than Austenland.  This book is a mystery!  I had no idea when I started it that it was going to have a mystery involved with the romance.  It was a nice little twist. 

One of the things I liked about the book was the main character Charlotte.  I identified with her insecurities.  I may not have the same situation as her, but her "inner thoughts" were thoughts I would have as well. 

There were a couple of points in the book where I thought, "this could end now, why isn't it ending?"  I have come across many books that end when the gentleman declares himself to the lady.  This book continued to work on tie ups with the mystery and other characters in the book.  And, I liked that it gave a bit of closure.  Part of me wished it would even go on further to tell us how everything worked out, maybe a year later, but alas, I'll have to dream that part up for myself.

I love Shannon Hale's writing.  She is so witty.  I found myself laughing out loud and then turning a page with heart pounding suspense.  And of course there is romance.  I love the way Shannon Hale describes the feelings within Charlotte, her confusion, excitement, and just letting go.

Market: Adult/Women’s Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild, Flirting, Kissing
Violence: Attempted murder described, Murder mentioned
Mature Themes: Infidelity, Divorce, Murder, Mention of homosexuality, Drug abuse

September 25, 2013

GOING VINTAGE by Lindsey Leavitt, 2013

When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend, Jeremy, is cheating on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off boys. She also swears off modern technology. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in 1962, Mallory decides to “go vintage” and return to a simpler time. She sets out to complete grandma’s list: run for pep club secretary, host a dinner party, sew a homecoming dress, find a steady, do something dangerous. But the list is trickier than it looks. And obviously finding a steady is out . . . no matter how good Oliver (Jeremy’s cousin) smells. But with the help of her sister, she’ll get it done. Somehow. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Brooke-Wife, Mother, Reader

Lindsey Leavitt has once again proven to me that cute, fun reads can also have depth.  

From the premise and the cover, I figured this would be a book I would like. It has a quirky girl trying to figure out who she is, teen romance-both good and bad, and the fun style of the early 1960's.

I have to admit that as a teenager, I wished that I could have been a teen in the 1950's when my mom was a teen.  I thought poodle skirts, bobby socks, and the big poufy dresses would be so much fun.  I liked the idea of soda fountains and sock hops and a young Elvis Presley.  I thought it would be such a great time to grow up, much like Mallory feels about 1962.

What I love about GOING VINTAGE and Lindsey Leavitt's stories (I've only read 2) is that within this fun backdrop the characters are dealing with real difficulties that many of us face day to day.  From the description one would think that Mallory's major challenge in this book is a boyfriend who cheats.  However, that is what starts this story, not what it is really about.  

For fun, Lindsey Leavitt has lists at the beginning of each chapter.  Loved the lists!  Loved the characters.  Loved the setting of Orange, CA.  I am not from CA, however, my parents grew up in Southern California and my husband is from Orange County and I have visited and heard about Southern California my entire life.  It was fun to read about some places that I have actually been.  (Although I realize that many people actually live there and will identify with the setting more, it was still fun for me.)

This was a great read that I would recommend to my teens.

Market: Teen/Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate, flirting, kissing, talk of premarital sex (no actual sex)
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Talk of premarital sex, Child out of wedlock

September 20, 2013

MICHAEL VEY by Richard Paul Evans, 2011

To everyone at Meridian High School, fourteen-year-old Michael Vey is nothing special, just the kid who has Tourette’s syndrome. But in truth, Michael is extremely special—he has electric powers. Michael thinks he is unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor has the same mysterious powers. With the help of Michael’s friend, Ostin, the three of them set out to discover how Michael and Taylor ended up with their abilities, and their investigation soon brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric teens—and through them, the world. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Valette M.

I must say, I was really looking forward to MICHAEL VEY. I'd been meaning to pick it up for a while, so when I got it as a gift I was bouncing off the ceiling. And I know they say don't judge a book by its cover, but come on. How can you not with a cover this awesome?

This book is about a boy, Michael, who can produce electric "Pulses", or really big shocks. When he discovers a girl, Taylor, in his hometown who has similar gifts, they (along with Michael's best friend and super genius Ostin) start a club called the Electroclan to discover where they came from.
As they dig deeper and deeper into the past, dangerous secrets are uncovered, leading the clan to a discovery that will turn their world upside down.

My favorite character was by far Ostin. I fell in love with him from the beginning as he dealt with social awkwardness and spouted random facts. As to the rest of the characters- there were a few spots where it was hard to tell who was talking, but other than that they were fairly well-developed.

The plot was fun and exciting, if a bit predictable.  I appreciated the emphasis on friendship and that Michael and his friends were able to overcome their challenges because they stuck together. It was a catchy, younger read, but still worth checking out.

Richard Evens has an engaging style that allows the narrative to tell itself. Because of the more laid-back narration, there were places where the story seemed to hold still, but overall it was smooth-sailing.

Market: Junior Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Death

September 16, 2013

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor, 2006

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss? parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts. (Amazon)

Reviewed by L. Danielle

So, I thought Tim Burton had made Alice in Wonderland stand on its head, but that was before I read THE LOOKING GLASS WARS.

Alyss heart the seven year old princess of Wonderland is a precocious young girl quite in the habit of using her magical gifts- her imagination- for her own amusement. Of course, no one would mind so much if she didn’t find it amusing to harass the palace staff and cause cakes to fall out of the sky. The queen fears that Alyss may not to take to the White Imagination used to fuel the queendom (Wonderland has always been ruled by a queen) and may tend towards Black Imagination- the very kind of Imagination that caused Redd Heart, the queen’s elder sister, to lose her rightful place as queen and instead find herself banished to the Chessboard Desert.

However, the queen finds herself with much bigger worries than her young daughter’s propensity towards childish tricks when Redd Heart makes an unexpected appearance at the little princess’s birthday party. The palace is thrown into chaos as war breaks out on all sides with the Wonderlanders woefully unprepared for the onslaught of violence. Hatter Madigan, the queen’s body guard and perhaps the coolest mind in the melee, is given just one job: protect the princess.
Running from the Cat, Redd’s nine-lived assassin, Hatter and Alyss find themselves in the Pool of Tears (which no one has ever come back from alive). The Pool acts as a portal between worlds and when Alyss finds her way out she is deposited on the unforgiving streets of London while Hatter finds himself in Paris.

Many events take place from there; Hatter attempts to find the princess by travelling the world one hat shop at a time, and Alyss is eventually taken off the streets and into the Liddell home where she is renamed Alice Liddell. The princess (and perhaps Wonderland’s only hope of salvation) though eventually coming to love her adopted family feels isolated because no one believes her stories of where she is from, and she’s lost her ability to Imagine.

The story follows Alyss as she befriends and is betrayed by the author Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), is forced to grow up in one world and rescue another, and convince her best friend that maybe going on a psychopathic rampage against his own mortal enemy isn’t necessarily in anybody’s best interest.

Overall, I loved this book. It had great characters and provided a fantastic new twist to one of the most classic works of literature to grace a bookshelf. It grabbed me from page one and I coasted easily through the entire trilogy. Also, there are some light steampunk elements that add just the right hint of geekiness to the novel.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None that I recall, but there may have been a small amount.
Sensuality: None
Violence: Um, yeah, there’s definitely that what with all the wars and assassins and everything, but it’s never gory.
Mature Themes: None

September 9, 2013


There was a terrible mistake - Wayside School was built with one classroom on top of another, thirty stories high (The builder said he was sorry.) Maybe that's why all kinds of funny things happened at Wayside-especially on the thirteenth floor. (Goodreads)

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

Wayside School was a mistake: the builder accidentally made a school consisting of 30 rooms on top of one another, instead of next to each other.  Because of this strange origin, Wayside School has always been a little odd.  In this book, the first of a trilogy, Louis Sachar tells 30 short stories about the classroom on the thirtieth floor.

Although Louis Sachar is best known for his Newbery Winner, Holes, the WAYSIDE SCHOOL books have become somewhat of a cult classic since the first book's publication in 1985.  And for good reason--these books are absurd, creative, and completely hilarious.  Each chapter revolves around a distinct character within the Wayside universe.  Examples
include Bebe, an artist with a mischievous saboteur of a younger brother; Todd, a student who always manages to get sent home early on the kindergarten bus; and Miss Zarves, a teacher who may or may not exist.

Of course, Sachar also enjoys a dark twist on this concept. For instance, the first chapter revolves around Mrs. Gorf, a teacher who hates kids and can turn them into apples by wiggling her ears and sticking out her tongue.  Sachar is Roald-Dahl-esque in his presentation of adults: they are either evil or a bumbling combination of well-meaning, misguided, or simply clueless.  However, the recurring character of Louis the yard teacher, like the author himself, is always on the side of the children.  This role makes him a
redeeming ally for parents who may be reluctant to expose their children to the more frightening adult figures in the series.

Each chapter is very short and can serve as a standalone story. However, it is essential to read them in order, as characters and details appear and reappear throughout the stories.  If you and/or your children enjoy Sachar's unique brand of absurdist humor, be sure to check out the other two books in the series: Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger.  Two more companion books, brain teasers called Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, also exist, but may be difficult to find in print.  Check for them online if the stories pique your child's interest!

Market: Children's fiction (I'd say 2nd-5th grade)
Violence: None
Language: Some creative, elementary-school-style insults, but pretty tame overall
Sensuality: None
Adult Themes: Frightening teachers, some bullying behaviors, like name-calling

September 5, 2013

REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier, 1938

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past ther beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten... her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca... for the secrets of Manderley. (Amazon)

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

When the young, unnamed narrator of Rebecca meets Maxim de Winter, theirs is a whirlwind romance.  When the second Mrs. de Winter returns to her new home on the Cornish coast, however, she realizes that the house still mourns for Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.  As the second Mrs. de Winter fights for her rightful place as head of household, she
worries that she may never extricate herself from Rebecca's shadow. 

Although I grew up on a steady diet of libraries and Wishbone, I'd never heard of REBECCA until my freshman year of high school.  When my teacher announced that we were to begin reading it, many students, especially the boys, balked at thought of reading what they thought was some romance novel.  Even the novel's cover was covered in roses
and fanciful script, missing only a portrait of Fabio to make the stereotype complete.  Less than 100 pages in, however, we were all hooked on the mystery surrounding Rebecca and her strange hold over Maxim's household.

The Gothic romance begins famously, introducing the reader to the mystery-shrouded setting of Manderley, the de Winter home:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me [. . .] There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace.  Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand."

The bittersweet language frames Manderley, almost its own character, and sustains this intense beauty and mystery throughout the novel. The heavy description flows easily, placing the reader in the narrator's, the second Mrs. de Winter's, shoes as she remembers Manderley.  The novel seamlessly integrates this retrospective voice with the narrator's origin story, which depicts a naive, timid woman
who is in no way prepared to be Maxim's wife.  Although her lack of confidence frustrated many of my classmates, her insecurity is understandable, especially when examined in the context of beautiful, vivacious Rebecca.

The main villain of the story is Mrs. Danvers, a sinister housekeeper who always adored the previous Mrs. de Winter.  Her presence is quiet, but grim, as she, along with Rebecca's cousin, Jack, seeks to sabotage and undermine the narrator at every turn.  Readers will love to hate these characters, but they are essential in keeping readers on their
toes.  After all, who, exactly, holds the essential information to unlock Manderley's past?

Years later, I still love the novel, although the surprise ending has worn off, and truly believe that Daphne du Maurier has written an underrated classic.  Each page brims full of eerie foreboding in the vein of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, du Maurier's novel (and her short story, "The Birds") even inspired the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, to adapt her works for the silver screen.  But, a caveat to any film buffs out there: read Rebecca first to savor the bite that the movie version lacks.

Market: Adult fiction, gothic romance, classic
Violence: At least 2 crimes occur, but not graphically
Language: Mild, only a couple of instances as I recall
Sensuality: A couple of allusions to affairs
Adult Themes: Marriage, death, social class, identity/confidence 

September 2, 2013

IF I BUILT A HOUSE by Chris Van Dusen, 2012

The much-anticipated follow-up to the E. B. White Award-winning picture book If I Built a Car. In If I Built a Car, imaginative Jack dreamed up a whimsical fantasy ride that could do just about anything. Now he's back and ready to build the house of his dreams, complete with a racetrack, flying room, and gigantic slide. Jack's limitless creativity and infectious enthusiasm will inspire budding young inventors to imagine their own fantastical designs. Chris Van Dusen's vibrant illustrations marry retro appeal with futuristic style as he, once again, gives readers a delightfully rhyming text that absolutely begs to be read aloud. (Amazon)

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

Like many other kids, Jack loves to build miniature houses using a variety of materials such as Legos, Lincoln Logs, and blocks. But he doesn’t stop there; Jack also creates complex blueprints for his unique abodes, incorporating into his sketches designs for those elements that transform a house into a home fit for a king—or an imaginative kid. 

Jack's most recent plan, which he shares with his mother, reveals, among other architectural gems, a racetrack room, an anti-gravity room, and a flyable, jet-powered playroom. Jack’s plan also shows the inventions he dreams will fill his home and make daily life that much easier on everyone. Such inventions include a robotic kitchen that cooks all kinds of food and tidies up afterward and a bathroom that cleans a person in much the same way that an automatic carwash scours a car. 

Anyone—but especially those readers who possess a great imagination and a fondness for fun—will love Jack’s architectural style, which comes to life through this book’s retro-inspired illustrations and tight rhymes. IF I BUILT A HOUSE will charm readers, parents, and librarians again and again, likely leading them to creating their own designs for unique homes. Even the end papers, which are covered in blueprint-style illustrations, are worthy of study.