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.

February 27, 2013

LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudson

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren't any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how. Michelle Knudsen's disarming story, illustrated by the matchless Kevin Hawkes in an expressive timeless style, will win over even the most ardent of rule keepers. (Amazon)

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

Everybody knows that the library has certain rules: You must be quiet.  You must not run.  You must treat books with respect.  But one day, when a lion shows up to Miss Meriweather’s library, no one knows quite what to do.  As it turns out, the lion is very friendly, very quiet, and very suited to working in a library.  He becomes a regular, loved by all patrons.  However, one day, something terrible happens—and the lion is banished.  What will it take for Miss Meriweather  to get her favorite furry patron allowed back to the library?

With lovely text by Michelle Knudson and charming illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, LIBRARY LION captures the sense of universal love and respect for libraries.  Through an unlikely protagonist, children will learn that, while rules are important, sometimes they are meant to be broken.

Market: Picture Book
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Violence: none
Mature themes: none

February 22, 2013

EYES LIKE STARS by Lisa Mantchev, 2009

All her world’s a stage. Bertie Shakespeare Smith is not an actress, yet she lives in a theater. She’s not an orphan, but she has no parents. She knows every part, but she has no lines of her own. That is, until now. Welcome to the Théâtre Illuminata, where the actors of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Théâtre by The Book—an ancient and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family—and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Danielle, who even reads acknowledgments

Ah, the theatre, that magical place where we store word craft, music, whimsical fairies, swashbuckling pirates, airy spirits, and, well, Bertie.

I’ll admit, I had really silly reasons for picking up this book. It has the prettiest cover I’ve ever seen and I had just wrapped up my high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I was going through some pretty serious theatre withdrawal (and the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream are in this book!). However, after reading Bertie’s story I’ve come to a conclusion:

 I love this book.

I love this book a lot.

Bertie is a compelling character, desperate to prove herself to the Theatre Manager and earn her place in the Théâtre, while also trying to unravel the secrets of her past. Sure she might catch the stage on fire, drip hair dye on the stage floor, call for unscheduled scene changes, and tango in storage rooms, but it’s all part of what makes the reader root for her.

Then there’s Ariel, an air spirit from the Tempest, who wants nothing more than to be free and possibly Bertie. Pitted against him is Nate, a swashbuckling pirate from the cast of The Little Mermaid. He’s most likely the reason Bertie set the stage on fire in the first place, but I don’t think he knows that. Rounding out the list of Bertie’s helpers are four mischievous cake-loving fairies, Moth, Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Peaseblossom. It’s quite possible that the only reason Bertie hangs around them is because of her “innate inability to pee standing up” but I find them to be the most engaging of all the characters.

EYES LIKE STARS is a definite read for anyone who loves funny engaging humor, and doesn’t mind a smattering of grade school humor. I’ve lent it out to three friends and it always seems to take it’s time coming back to me.

Market: Young Adult
Language: None or almost none I certainly don’t remember any…
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild, mostly joking threats
Mature Themes: None

February 17, 2013

A VINTAGE AFFAIR by Isabel Wolff, 2009

Do fairytale dresses bring fairytale endings? Every dress has a history, so does Phoebe! Phoebe always dreamt of opening her own vintage dress shop. She imagined every detail, from the Vivienne Westwood bustiers hanging next to satin gowns, to sequinned cupcake dresses adorning the walls. At the launch of Village Vintage, Phoebe feels the tingle of excitement as customers snap up the fairytale dresses. Her dream has come true, but a secret from her past is casting a shadow over her new venture. Then one day she meets Therese, an elderly Frenchwoman with a collection to sell, apart from one piece that she won't part with ! As Therese tells the story of the little blue coat, Phoebe feels a profound connection with her own life, one that will help her heal the pain of her past and allow her to love again. (Goodreads)

Brooke—Wife, Mother, Reader

Clothes, I want to SEE these clothes! This touching story is filled with descriptions of vintage clothes. The main character owns a vintage clothing shop and I want to shop there myself. The clothes sound just lovely. My favorite part of this book is the characters. The characters are strong and yet flawed. Funny and quirky, yet filled with sadness. There are those you love and those you strongly dislike (shall we stay away from the word hate?).

The plot is fascinating as well. I was quickly drawn in to the mystery of both Phoebe and Mrs. Bell's past mistakes. They both have hidden the truth from others as well as partly from themselves. As the mystery unfolds, I am more and more interested in what is going to happen. There is romance and heartbreak in this story as well. There are a couple of sex scenes that I could have done without. I don't think they were necessary to the story. I admit I am disappointed that they were there and that is why this story got 4 stars instead of more. I read another review that said this would make a great movie. If enough beautiful, vintage clothes could be found, then I agree. I think it would be visually stunning. Just leave the sex scenes out.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: 2-3 sexual scenes, moderate
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Holocaust

February 12, 2013

BRIAR ROSE by Jane Yolen, 1988

Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma's stories about Briar Rose. But a promise Rebecca makes to her dying grandmother will lead her on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma's astonishing claim: I am Briar Rose. A journey that will lead her to unspeakable brutality and horror. But also to redemption and hope. (Amazon)

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

Jane Yolen’s BRIAR ROSE retells the fairy tale of “Sleeping Beauty” in the unlikeliest of ways.  Ever since she was a child, twenty-two year old Gemma was fascinated by her grandmother’s own version of “Sleeping Beauty.”  When her grandmother passes away, her last words are as cryptic as they are stunning: “I am Briar Rose.”  This revelation sends Gemma on a journey to Poland, where she is determined to learn about how her grandmother survived a concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Yolen expertly weaves elements of a classic fairy tale with one of the darkest, most frightening times in history.  “Sleeping Beauty” eventually falls to the backdrop of this war story, a tale of loss, fear, and ultimately survival; yet, “Sleeping Beauty” is what also ties these scenes together.  Gemma’s research and travel to discover the truth behind her grandmother feel like attempts to solve a mystery hidden deep within history—and readers will be thrilled to accompany her the entire way.  A real page turner, with beautiful language and a richly complex story of flashbacks and present day attempts to understand the past, “Briar Rose” is a bittersweet story readers won’t soon forget.

Market: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Language: Mild
Violence: Depicts the stark reality of WWII and the Holocaust, can be graphic for young readers
Sensuality:  Moderate, including discussions of homosexual characters
Adult Themes:  Death, war, grief, the Holocaust

February 7, 2013

WONDER R.J. Palacio, 2012

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse. August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances? (Goodreads)

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

R.J. Palacio’s novel WONDER narrates from multiple perspectives the experience of fifth-grader Auggie as he enters public school for the first time.  It would seem to be a commonplace story except for one thing: Auggie was born with severe facial deformities that frighten his classmates, making him fodder for bullies.

Compelling and believable in its rich detail, “Wonder” encourages readers to walk a mile in Auggie’s shoes.  Palacio sympathetically relays Auggie’s complex desire to be accepted for who he is, while allowing others to understand his condition fully.  In addition to Auggie, the novel is told from different perspectives, including that of Auggie’s protective sister, his sympathetic classmate, and his sometimes-friend.  These perspectives serve both as a narrative device to provide the reader with missing pieces of information and an exercise in examining different characters’ points of view.  Each voice unique, this narrative style adds so much more richness to the story.

Although “Wonder” is a lengthy novel that details many events in Auggie’s school year, I finished the story in about a day and a half.  I became unbelievably invested in his life, cheering him on during his victories and crying for him as he struggled against bullies.  I feel that the timely subject matter, the authenticity of Auggie’s voice, and themes of friendship and resilience make “Wonder” a potential award-winner.

Market:  Middle Grade Fiction
Language:  Mild
Sensuality:  None
Violence:  Mild
Mature Themes:  Bullying     

February 2, 2013

STEAMPUNK! edited by Kelly Link, 2011

Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and recraft a world of automatons, ornate clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that nevels were. Scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve dastardly crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Settings range across Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. (Goodreads)

1 Some Fortunate Future Day by Cassandra Clare
2 The Last Ride of the Glory Girls by Libba Bray
3 Clockwork Fagin by Cory Doctorow
4 Seven Days Beset by Demons by Shawn Cheng
5 Hand in Glove by Ysabeau S. Wilce
6 The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor by Delia Sherman
7 Gethsemane by Elizabeth Knox
8 The Summer People by Kelly Link
9 Peace in Our Time by Garth Nix
10 Nowhere Fast by Christopher Rowe
11 Finishing School by Kathleen Jennings
12 Steam Girl by Dylan Horrocks
13 Everything Amiable and Obliging by Holly Black
14 The Oracle Engine by M.T. Anderson

Reviewed by Kate Mergener (Book Aficionado)

This Steampunk inspired anthology held many unique and interesting views of creative worlds and inventions. Many of them centered around steam power, clockwork, and even a little magic. Why even one held a certain rivalry of steam versus diesel power. Many of the tales were solid stand-alones that fit well (each easily 4 stars or more). Still, a few stories were a bit shaky as to their development details (concerning the inventions' workings). These few also may have had rather odd or abrupt endings that left me either perplexed or slightly jaded (that is of course my personal bias). Perhaps just in those cases, the story could have been pushed to a longer format to tie up these odds and ends (some actually would make for better novels). Overall, it's a great example of the ingenuity by living beings to either perfect or destroy their fantasy worlds.

Market: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Anthology, Steampunk, Historical Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild, some romance tales
Violence: Moderate, some machines exploding
Mature Themes: Violence and anarchy