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.

November 29, 2013

RUBY RED by Kerstin Gier, 2009

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon—the time traveler from a similarly gifted family. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Francesca - high school graduate and huge bookworm

I didn't really have any expectations for this book and I was really surprised on how much I liked it. It is about time traveling which is very interesting to me and it didn't get too confusing. 

I also liked the main character, Gwyneth. She was relatable and funny to me. And I also loved how her relationship with Gideon is like Pride & Prejudice. There weren't any parts that seemed slow and you have a hard time putting RUBY RED down.

This is the first book to a trilogy.

Market: Young Adult
Language: mild
Sensuality: there is kissing but nothing horrible
Violence: mild, there is a sword fight but nothing gory
Mature themes: time traveling, it might be a little hard for younger kids to understand

November 24, 2013

THE CLAIDI JOURNALS by Tanith Lee, 2000

Tanith Lee takes readers on a harrowing adventure from Claidi's young life in the House to her struggle to prove her love and honor in Wolf Queen. With a powerful voice and brave characters that match the creations of Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, Lee creates a heroine whose journey out of servant life -- and toward self-discovery, as she learns about the Towers' war and her own past in the third book -- will absorb and startle you from page one of Wolf Tower. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Laina, writer, bookworm, and British television addict

It is impossible to take any of the four books out of context and just review one because they all flow together. WOLF TOWER, WOLF STAR, WOLF QUEEN, and WOLF WING are the four books, and the copies I own actually has the first three books in one and I recently found the fourth at a book sale (hurray for book sales!)

Claidi’s story is told through her journal. As a writing style I’m actually not always a fan of that type of telling, but for Claidi’s story it was superb. Just as it is impossible to read one of the books (or review one), it is also impossible to explain the full breadth of Claidi’s story. Set in a beautiful, magical, and harsh world, it follows Claidi, a young girl who is far more important than she might realize. There is intrigue and malice from the Houses, games and betrayals and heartbreak and so many other things that make this story a fascinating journey. It is a fantasy tale of great quality. 

I’ve always liked original worlds, and everything about this story is original. The characters are varied and very often surprising, with twists coming and snatching me along for the ride. Claidi is a wonderful heroine with a bit of a rebellious streak that often gets her into trouble, but then helps her get out of it. I would definitely recommend you read her journal.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Mature Themes: manipulation, power, abandonment, loneliness, fear 

November 19, 2013

ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman, 2006

Fat Charlie Nancy's normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn't know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother. Now brother Spider's on his doorstep—about to make Fat Charlie's life more interesting . . . and a lot more dangerous. (Amazon)

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

I'm a sucker for fables and for witty writing, so I have no idea why it took me so long to get my hands on a copy of ANANSI BOYS! This is an excellent modern fable in the tradition of the West African Anansi tales, which generally feature Anansi as a spider. In ANANSI BOYS, however, "Spider" is one of two brothers who are the children of the god Anansi (who wears a green fedora and is great at karaoke). The other brother is Fat Charlie, who isn't really fat at all, but who gets into a fat heap of trouble when he accidentally summons Spider (of whose existence he was previously unaware) to his home in London. 

Spider wreaks havoc on Fat Charlie's life, but not because he's mean-spirited or, as Gaiman put it, "feckless, more that he had simply not been around they day they handed out feck" (LOVE the writing!). And so, using his godling powers, Spider convinces everyone--including Fat Charlie's fiancee--that he is Fat Charlie. But when Spider-as-Fat-Charlie accuses Fat Charlie's violent and cliche-happy boss of stealing from his own clients, Spider's presence becomes more than a bother to Fat Charlie--it becomes a threat to his very life. Fat Charlie's goose is cooked. He's up a creek. He's cruisin' for a bruisin'. He's--well, you get the idea. Good thing he has a bunch of old ladies who understand seances and the gods' ways to help him sort things out.

If you're fond of unforgettable characters, romance, and fast-paced (and slightly creepy) plots, you'll love ANANSI BOYS. But I warn you: You might find yourself feeling anxious any time you see a flock of birds headed in your direction...

Market: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Language: Some (mostly common British English curse words)
Sensuality: Some (nothing in great detail)
Violence: Moderate 
Mature Themes: Murder, family troubles, natural death, fraud, ghosts, revenge, torture...there are a lot of heavy themes, but I found the overall experience of the book to be a very positive one

November 14, 2013

ABOMINABLE SCIENCE!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, 2013

Throughout our history, humans have been captivated by mythic beasts and legendary creatures. Tales of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster are part of our collective experience. Now comes a book from two dedicated investigators that explores and elucidates the fascinating world of cryptozoology. Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Laura Madsen, veterinarian, mom and writer

ABOMINABLE SCIENCE! (with the exclamation point) was written by a skeptical science writer and a vertebrate paleontologist. They present a comprehensive, unbiased look at the field of cryptozoology and some of the most famous cryptids: Sasquatch, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, and Mokele Mbembe, the supposed “African brontosaurus.” The “abominable” term in the title refers both to the nickname for the Yeti, the “Abominable Snowman,” as well as to the occasionally abominable pseudoscience used to propel the hunt for cryptids.

In the process of presenting the history, legends, hoaxes, cultural milieu, and evidence for the existence of cryptids, the book also explains the scientific method, how scientists think, and the foibles of human perceptions and brains that make us so likely to believe weird things.

The book also discusses a peculiar overlap between cryptozoology and creationism: apparently the “Young Earth” creationists (i.e., people who believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago) feel that to discover a living, breathing plesiosaur (Nessie) or sauropod (Mokele Mbembe) would disprove evolution in one fell swoop. Huh? Coelacanths, sharks, horseshoes crabs, cycads and ginkgos have all been around since before the dinosaurs but all their continued existence “proves” is that they are supremely adapted to their respective ecological niches. (Incidentally, one creationist-funded expedition to Africa in 2001 allegedly discovered “evidence” of Bigfoot and UFO’s, but, alas, no sauropod dinosaur.)

I am a zoologist, and personally I think it would be really cool if a Sasquatch or a plesiosaur were discovered. I’d volunteer to scientifically examine and autopsy the critter. But, the evidence for any of these cryptids is pretty slim. Although there are numerous sightings every year, Loxton and Prothero show how people, especially people primed by watching monster movies and reading about cryptids, can be fooled by their senses and imagine a mythical creature where none exists (the phenomenon is termed “expectant attention”). In addition, the authors explain that “we run into the Law of Large Numbers: given large enough numbers, very unlikely things become inevitable. The Law of Large Numbers guarantees that one-in-a-million miracles happen 295 times a day in America.” This means that even if it’s only a one-in-a-million chance that a person could mistake a group of swimming sea lions for a sea serpent (and it’s probably much better odds than that), if a million people look at sea lions on the coast, at least one will swear that he sees a sea serpent.

Recommended for anyone interested in cryptozoology or science in general, or anyone concerned about the lack of critical thinking and scientific literacy in our society.

Market: nonfiction
Violence: none
Language: none
Sensuality: none

Adult themes: evolution vs. creationism

November 9, 2013

BORN OF ILLUSION by Teri Brown, 2013

The book introduces Anna Van Housen, a young woman living in Jazz Age New York, who may be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician who ever lived—Harry Houdini. Anna certainly has his talent. She is an expert illusionist. What no one knows is Anna actually has supernatural gifts. Then a young man discovers Anna’s abilities and introduces her to members of a secret society, who are eager to study her powers and help her learn the truth about herself. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Francesca Matern: college student by day, bookworm by night

I loved this! The summary intrigued me because I am so fascinated by magicians but the book isn't just about magicians. Anna is a wonderful character who is independent and is very intelligent. She has a complicated relationship with her mother because although she loves her, her mother can be quite selfish. And I actually kind of liked that. It made the book stand out more because as much as I love good mother daughter relationships, this made it more interesting. Anna is also a good character because she realizes when she had made a mistake and owns up to it and she isn't whiny.

There is also a great romance with Cole who is a sweet, quiet and loyal guy. Anna also makes a friend who was really funny to me. She was kinda naive but at the same time she was smart and I love her uncle because he is part of the mafia. There is a mystery in the book which makes it even better! If you get a chance to read this book you won't regret it. It will have a sequel so if you love it you can look forward to that.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild and they aren't horrible swear words
Sensuality: The worst is kissing
Violence: Mild. Anna gets beaten up in the book a couple of times but nothing horribly gory
Mature themes: illegitimacy is talked about, seances, kidnapping, mafia is talked about, lying

November 4, 2013

SOMETHING ROTTEN by Alan Gratz, 2007

Something is rotten in Denmark, Tennessee, and it is not just the polluted Copenhagen River. Hamilton Prince's father has been murdered, according to a hidden video message. Horatio Wilkes, Hamilton's best friend, is visiting the Prince mansion when the video turns up. The guys need to find the killer before he strikes again. But it won't be easy. Suspects are plentiful. The question is motive, and Horatio Wilkes is just the kind of guy who can find things like that out. Doesn't matter that he's only a junior in high school. (Amazon)

Review by Laura Madsen, veterinarian, mom and writer.

I grabbed SOMETHING ROTTEN as part of a one-dollar-to-fill-a-bag book sale at my library and I’m glad I did. I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and it’s definitely worth reading.

Have you read or seen Shakespeare’s HAMLET? It’s always been one of my favorite of his works: murder and mayhem and everyone dead at the end. Alan Gratz takes the general plotline and characters from Shakespeare, but puts them in modern Tennessee and makes them uniquely his own.

The novel is told in the first-person by Horatio Wilkes, loyal friend of Hamilton Prince, the heir to the Elsinore Paper Plant fortune. Something is rotten in Denmark, Tennessee, where the Elsinore plant is spewing toxic gunk into the Copenhagen River. Hamilton has been broody and depressed since the death of his father, Rex, and his mother Trudy’s abrupt remarriage to Rex’s brother, Claude. As the story begins, two of Rex’s guards show Hamilton and Horatio a security video of Rex, looking pale and, well, ghostlike before his death, accusing Claude of murder.

Horatio sets out to solve the mystery of Rex’s death, clean up the river, and save Hamilton and Olivia (a smart, modern, non-insane Ophelia). The Denmark community theatre is putting on the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which provides the perfect opportunity for Horatio and Hamilton to catch the murderer.

The gang’s all here from HAMLET, but with modern sensibilities and vices. Hamilton’s a hard-drinking private school teen, Olivia is an environmentalist trying to stop the pollution of the river, and Roscoe Grant and Gilbert Stern are a couple of abrasive, videogame-playing hicks straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard. Alan Gratz also adds a few new memorable characters.

If you like Shakespeare or mysteries, this is a fun, quick YA read.

Market: young adult mystery
Violence: moderate but not graphic
Language: mild
Sensuality: mild
Adult themes: murder, betrayal, alcohol abuse