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.

April 30, 2014

P.S. LONGER LETTER LATER and SNAIL MAIL NO MORE by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger, 1999

Best friends Elizabeth and Tara*Starr now live in different towns, but they continue their friendship through letters. Paula Danziger writes in Tara's voice, and Ann M. Martin in Elizabeth's, in this complex and emotionally rich novel about two friends coping with overwhelming change. (Goodreads)

Elizabeth and Tara*Starr are best friends living in totally different parts of the country. They used to write letters to each other, but now they're both addicted to e-mail. Now they can share their problems instantly . . . and lately they've needed to do that a lot. Elizabeth is getting used to her parents' separation and the way her family is spinning out of control. Tara*Starr is dealing with some serious sister issues, as well as the growing differences between her and Elizabeth. 
Will the distance tear their friendship apart forever? (Goodreads)

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

Elizabeth and Tara-Starr are complete opposites.  Elizabeth is cautious, practical, and responsible; Tara is the creative wild child daughter of hippie parents.  Of course, this does not stop them from being best friends.  When Tara moves away, the girls must continue their friendship through letters and e-mails.  Although miles apart, these faithful exchanges link them closer together during both good and bad times.

Ann M. Martin and the late Paula Danziger are powerhouses of children's and middle grade literature.  As the respective voices of Elizabeth and Tara, Martin and Danziger create distinctive and consistently entertaining, sympathetic characters.  Their struggles are different (Elizabeth's father loses his job and turns to alcohol, while Tara's "cool" parents suddenly decide to become responsible adults).  Yet, both girls complement one another in the right ways, supporting and caring for each other with every twist in their lives. Although their long-distance friendship is not without its hurdles, the girls feel realistic and refreshing in their honesty with and love for each other.

Both novels are epistolary: while P.S. LONGER LETTER LATER is told through letters, its sequel, SNAIL MAIL NO MORE, updates to e-mails. The discussions of technology date the latter novel, which was originally published in 2000, slightly: no one has a cell phone; texting was unheard of; and the girls routinely "practice" sending emails and instant messages.  However, the means of communication is never the focus--the content and stories are.  The authors are honest, but also sensitive, in how they treat the girls' problems.  Although the novels frankly discuss many difficult issues over the course of these girls' stories, the narrative is never didactic or heavy-handed.

These realistic fiction works are recommended for 4th-9th grade.  The letters are easy reads that make the books fly by; a wide age range will enjoy them both!

Market: Middle grade realistic fiction
Violence: None
Language: None
Sensuality: Light romance--kissing and middle-school dating
Adult Themes: Long-distance friendship, divorce, alcoholism

April 14, 2014

WILD ORCHID by Cameron Dokey, 2009

Wielding a sword as deftly as an embroidery needle, Mulan is unlike any other girl in China. When the emperor summons a great army, each family must send a male to fight. Tomboyish Mulan is determined to spare her aging father and bring her family honor, so she disguises herself and answers the call. But Mulan never expects to find a friend, let alone a soul mate, in the commander of her division, Prince Jian. For all of Mulan's courage with a bow and arrow, is she brave enough to share her true identity and feelings with Prince Jian? (Amazon)

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

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate shorter, well written books. They aren’t too long and I can read them in an afternoon and still accomplish something with my life. Big books still make my heart jump, but I love short books because I can wiggle them into an increasingly hectic life.

WILD ORCHID is one such shorter book. The Once Upon a Time book series (not the TV show which I also adore) is full of these gems. I’ll be honest up front: I am a complete and total sucker for a fairy tale retelling. I see a fairy tale retelling and I MUST have it/read it/whatever. I simply cannot help myself. Wild Orchid retells the Ballad of Mulan. Granted, that isn’t exactly a fairy tale- though this one does contain a prince, but I’ve always loved the story (and the Disney movie). There aren’t any ground-breaking plot twists, but it is a well told and beautiful story, showing a side of Mulan and the people she loves that I’ve never seen before. My favorite aspect is probably the relationship between Mulan and her father. It is incredibly touching and I teared up rather often while reading Wild Orchid.

So if you’re like me and life is like a runaway stallion and you just want to jump off for a little while and breathe- read Wild Orchid. It’s short and refreshing, and come on, it’s a fairy tale!

Market: My 13 year old sister read it and I’d extend the age all the way up to anyone who still reads fairy tales.
Language: None (or none that I remember)
Sensuality: None
Violence: Not extreme by any means

April 3, 2014


"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all? (Amazon)

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

A newspaper ad that reads "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" leads to a wild adventure for four children.  Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance, as the Mysterious Benedict Society, begin training in a special school under the watchful eye of Mr. Nicholas Benedict.  They must prepare to face Mr. Curtain, a super-villain who
plans to take over the world...but will four kids be powerful enough?

The first in a very successful series, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY values kid-power and intelligence in a manner reminiscent of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and Blue Balliett.  Teeming with puzzles and mystery, the book is part brain-teaser, part adventure novel.  The children are the heart and soul of the novel; each has a unique character, strengths, and weaknesses.  Children will enjoy choosing a

favorite, although each character has the opportunity to become a hero in this story filled with twists and turns.

Some readers may be daunted by the length of the novel (about 500 pages), but the plot is gripping enough to assuage such fears.  With easy and readable language, this series is likely to convert many non-readers!

Market: Middle grade fiction

Violence: Mild--mostly action/adventure-oriented chases, and the like.
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Adult Themes: friendships and family relationships, good vs. evil