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.

June 30, 2014

DRIFT by M.K. Hutchins, 2014

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister's wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get. (Amazon)

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

M.K. Hutchins is a long-time friend of Bookshop Talk. She has submitted a number of reviews to us over the years, and her comments are always insightful. So when we heard that her debut novel, DRIFT, was coming out in June of this year, we knew we had to get our hands on a copy! And friends, DRIFT did not disappoint.

As a lover of YA fantasy novels, I really appreciate it when an author is a skillful world-builder. I especially love it when the author is so skillful, in fact, that I forget he or she has had a hand in the creation of the setting at all. I want the setting and the plot to feel natural and plausible, even when the events that take place in the story are utterly impossible. Ms. Hutchins is this kind of writer.

The author’s note at the end of the book explains that Ms. Hutchins studied as an archaeologist and linguist in college. The details you would expect from someone who has excavated in foreign lands and spent a great deal of time in studying world cultures abound in DRIFT, from the origins mythology (which draws from the Classic Maya and Aztec understandings of the cosmos and the physical positioning of the underworld, earth, and sky) to the descriptions of the sea monsters, called nagas (which appear in Hindu mythology). The cultural belief in DRIFT that the poor must marry and have children, who will provide them with free labor and support them in their old age, feels true-to-life, too. This is no surprise, since this is the belief and lifestyle in many parts of the real world, today.

All in all, what I loved most about this book were the rich details and the believable world building. But I also loved the characters. At first, the main character, Tenjat, is not very likable. He ridicules Jesso, the man who took him and his sister in when they arrived, alone, on his island—and all because Jesso has many children and even has the gall to be proud of his large family. But, like the best heroes, Tenjat learns that he doesn’t know everything. By the end of the book, his understanding of Jesso’s choices changes to the point where he knows he must advocate a new cultural understanding of families, or the turtle upon which he and the other characters in the story live, will die. Tenjat’s not the only great character, though: his sister, Eflet, and his friends, Avi, Gyr, and Daef, are also wonderful. I’d love to see them in their own novels!

DRIFT is great, folks. It’s fresh and totally unique. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to stay up late at night in order to read and read and read—because you won’t be able to put it down, once you get started.

Stay tuned, Bookshop Talk friends, for an upcoming guest post from M.K. Hutchins, the author of DRIFT!

Market: YA (12 and up)
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild (some reference to sexual activity, though nothing immediate)
Violence: Moderate (nothing too brutal, but there are a few battles, a reference to a past torture scene, and a threat of torture)
Mature Themes: cultural prejudice, starvation, poverty, death, torture, forbidden romance

June 29, 2014


Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily are spending the summer at their great-aunt Mehitabel's house on faraway Lonely Island. There, in a cave hidden high above the ocean, they discover a fabulous creature: a glittering three-headed golden dragon with a kind heart, an unpredictable temper, and a memory that spans 20,000 years. Rebecca Rupp explores what three children from the present learn from the past - and from an unlikely but wise and generous friend. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Emily, an avid bibliophile.

THE DRAGON OF THE LONELY ISLAND is one of the most awesome summer adventure novels I read when I was a kid. It's about three siblings, Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily, who go to the private island of their mysterious Aunt Mehitabel, because their mother is a novelist and needs a quiet place to write.

Soon after they get there, they go out to hike the only mountain on the island - Drake's Hill, where they discover a marvelous secret - they're not alone on the island. In a cave filled with a spicy foreign scent, there sleeps a dragon.

The dragon, roused from its sleep, tells them that its name is Fafnyr, and that it is a tridrake, a dragon with three heads. The one who wakes, the green-eyed dragon, tells them a story of ancient China, then sends them on their way.

Soon, they discover more of the clues that their Aunt Mehitabel has left for them. In the end, they receive stories from each of the dragon's personalities, and their Aunt tells them that it is their turn to care for the dragon and keep its secret safe.

While the story is simple enough, Rebecca Rupp creates charming characters and a really lovely setting. The Dragon of Lonely Island is a good read for anyone who wants a quiet story with a well-structured plot.

Market: Children's Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: None
Mature Themes: None that I can remember

June 24, 2014

THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING by Laura Gallego Garcia, 2005

Walid was a model prince: handsome, intelligent, skilled in the arts of warfare and poetry. But the kingdom boasted one greater poet than he, and out of jealousy Walid cursed the man to create an impossible work of art: a carpet showing the history of the entire human race. The poet died weaving it. Men went mad seeing it. And when it is stolen, Walid discovers his life's quest: to recover the carpet and earn forgiveness for his mistakes. Inspired by the story of a real king of pre-Muslim Arabia, LEGEND is a magical fantasy, a meditation on destiny, and an utterly thrilling adventure. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Emily, avid bibliophile

Do you ever pick a book up simply because the title is so perfect that you have to see what's inside of it? I admit that I do this on occasion. And this book is one that I did not regret. 

It begins in the desert, with a prince who has been blessed with everything. His talents are multiplied seemingly without effort, and the only thing that he still lacks is a standing as a poet. 

His father, uneasy at his son's eagerness to gain such an honor, agrees nevertheless to hold a poetry competition, which the prince enters eagerly. His poem is perfect - but the prize does not go to him, for there is someone else whose poetry is so sublime that the hearing of it gives the audience to wonder: who is the unnamed poet? 

The prince, overcome with wounded pride and the painful realization that this poet, revealed as a simple carpet-maker, has outdone him effortlessly, gives the man two impossible tasks before he can return to his family. Hammad must first organize the entire collection of the library, then make the most wonderful carpet ever created. He accomplishes both, at the cost of his sanity and his life.

The rest of the story deals with the consequences of the prince's prideful actions, and ends where it began - in the desert. 

It is a haunting story about the consequences that surround actions, and the possibilities for redemption that are placed in the prince's path. LEGEND is not a tragedy, but a commentary on the danger of arrogance and the necessity of humility in a land filled with unsettling insights into the human soul.
Market: Young Adult Fiction
Language: Beautiful. No swearing that I recall
Sensuality: None that I remember
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: Responsibility for actions, pride

June 19, 2014

SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo, 2013

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for long. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Ems - who lays full claim to the Darkling

*musing* How do you write a review of what is essentially the perfect book? I'm still not sure, but I imagine it might involve word vomit and maybe some made up words. 

Reading this book was like going to the dentist and letting him have at it without any Novocaine. Before anyone jumps in with horrified gasps, let me explain: this is the kind of book that rips you to shreds and doesn't apologize while doing it. It destroys you and doesn't even try to put you back together. 
And somehow, that's ALL RIGHT. I can't explain it. I LIKED being torn into pieces. I LOVED  being so completely and utterly broken. It means that the book did its job. Brilliantly, I might add. 
Leigh Bardugo just has this way with words that makes you beg to be ruined and then ruined some more. I was an emotional wreck after reading Siege and Storm. More so than with any other book I've read in recent memory, and there have been some doozies (Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph stand out as other emotional roller coasters). The difference with the others was that they ended on a high note and with such hope.  
I felt no hope at the end of SIEGE AND STORM. None. 
Why then, am I giving this book my highest rating and wishing that there were more stars in the universe to award it? Why am I calling it 'the best book of the year' and my new very most favorite book? 
Because I don't think we were SUPPOSED to feel hope at the end of this book. I believe we were supposed to be devastated and ruined and broken and annihilated and in little teensy pieces. 
Because I think we can relate better to Alina that way. We can understand a bit of what she's going through and where she's been and where she's going. We start to know why she's so devastated at the end and what she's lost. We can feel a tiny bit of empathy for her because we've been demolished as well. The world she's living in starts to make a little more sense once we understand to a small degree the range of emotions she's going through. 
Then there's the Darkling. THE DARKLING! I'm a little hooked obsessed madly in love drawn to him. There's something SO attractive about the ultimate bad boy. This guy really IS. He's got the history to back it up. The thing I find so appealing about him is that there's something in him that makes me believe he's looking to be redeemed. 
What. The. Heck.
I know, I know. Hear me out though. 
Sure, he's totally power-hungry and wants to control Ravka and the entire world. I get that. BUT, he seeks out the one person who can theoretically stop him and makes her MORE POWERFUL. He essentially GIVES her the power to stop him. In my mind, he's begging her to make him more than just the resident bad guy. 
At any rate, that's what I'm sticking to.
If you really must know, I love every single aspect of this book. Love, love, love. There aren't enough stars in the universe to express that really, though that sounds quite suspiciously like I've been dabbling in hyperbole. It's NOT. I think this might be my new very most favorite book EVER. Truly. I am dying a little bit inside that I don't have the final book yet.
Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderately Heavy
Mature Themes: betrayal abdandonement

June 14, 2014

THOR'S WEDDING DAY by Bruce Coville, 2005

What could possibly make Thor--the massive and mighty god of thunder and protector of all his people--put on a bridal gown? It all begins when the source of Thor's power, his beloved hammer, is stolen. The plan to get it back requires that he dress in fancy finery and be packed off to marry the king of the giants. Luckily, Thialfi, the goat boy, comes along. Working behind the scenes, Thialfi just might save the day . . . which is only fair, because it's his fault the hammer was stolen in the first place. (Amazon)

Reviewed by L. Danielle

THOR'S WEDDING DAY is told from the perspective of Thialfi- a boy being punished for his sins by becoming the keeper of Thor’s goats. Thialfi’s main goal in life is to shovel goat dung and not get into any further trouble with the god of thunder until there’s no more dung to shovel (kind of a hard task seeing as the goats keep getting resurrected after they die).

Through no fault of his own (or at least, no fault he’s willing to admit to) Thor’s hammer has gone missing- stolen by a giant- and Asgard is in a right tizzy over the whole affair. The giant, Thrym, is more than willing to return Thor’s hammer if only he can convince the lovely (though admittedly hot headed) goddess Freya to become his bride.

Freya is less than enthused by the prospect and makes sure everyone knows. Realizing there’s no talking (or forcing) her into it, Thor holds a meeting with the other gods to decide what to do. Loki, Thor’s ever helpful brother, has a solution: Send Thor in Freya’s place. The solution is met with much approval (Freya is more than willing to lend the thunder god a corset) and the rest of the story follows Thor, Loki, and Thialfi’s attempts at regaining the hammer from the den of the giants (without revealing the true identity of Thrym’s bride-to-be.)

Overall, it’s a cute story that introduces young readers to a smidge of Norse mythology (sure to be at least a little intriguing due to the rise of certain superheroes). Coville keeps it classy with good natured humor and a fun premise sure to give younger audience’s fits of giggles. I recommend it for ages 8-12 (though I myself am a college student…)

Market: Elementary- Middle School
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Freya throws some things and Thor does mention eating his goats (he politely brings them back to life the next morning)
Mature Themes: None

June 11, 2014


To Kill a Mockingbird—the twentieth century's most widely read American novel—has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite her book's perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee, has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles J. Shields brings to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters—Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout. (Amazon)

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

In this comprehensive biography, Charles J. Shields hopes to reveal the woman behind America's most beloved book.

I loved reading MOCKINGBIRD, which delves into letters, news articles, interviews, etc. to paint a portrait of such a mysterious writer.  Shields writes with enormous respect for Harper Lee and her wishes for privacy, but his insights gave me a greater sense of who Harper Lee is, what her life is like, and the meaning of To Kill a Mockingbird among it all.

The entire book is extremely detailed, well-researched, and readable. Some of the most interesting and important parts include: Nelle's friendship with Truman Capote; her upbringing and school life that ultimately influenced her novel; her relationships with Gregory Peck, her sister Alice and father A.C.; and the author's (sometimes successful) attempts to contact her throughout the years.  I hung on
every word, even when the author fleshed out in great detail the family histories of others, Capote's In Cold Blood, and other anecdotes. He did such an excellent job of characterizing Nelle as intelligent, warm, and thoughtful, but fiercely protective of her privacy and her world.

Shields, importantly, sheds some insight as to why Nelle never wrote another book. Not only did she dislike the public attention and pressure of writing following the tremendous success of Mockingbird, but she had already given so much in her first novel. A love story, Mockingbird was for her father, her family, her town, her beliefs, the South. A novel that encompasses all of these meaningful things at once cannot be easily replicated, and I think it took Nelle years to come
to peace with this. As she said herself: "People who have made peace with themselves are the people I most admire in the world."

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time, and I read it every summer.  This biography was the perfect companion to my summer reading, as it allowed me the chance to linger in Maycomb for a little while longer.

Market: Nonfiction (adult, but appropriate for many ages)
Violence: None
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Adult Themes: Coming of age, literary success, Southern heritage

June 4, 2014

EVE GREEN by Susan Fletcher, 2004

After her young mother's sudden death eight-year-old Eve is sent to live with her grandparents in rural Wales. In this unfamiliar world, she is told stories about her relatives but is forbidden to ask about her father, an Irish thief who abandoned her mother. When an older girl in town disappears, Eve is drawn into the longstanding secrets and suspicions of her town. A rare page turner, Eve Green is a dramatic story about a grievous error of judgment. (Amazon)

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

The list of books that have truly, truly moved and haunted me is small- off the top of my head I can only think of two, and Eve Green is one of them. It was Susan Fletcher’s first novel and I’ve always liked first novels- it’s the first time your inked voice is out there in the world.

EVE GREEN is rather memoir style- told by Eve as she is waiting for her baby to be born. She thinks back and remembers the death of her mother and how to she came to a small town in Wales. There is an abduction and mystery and death and fears, all told in some of the most gorgeous and lyrical language I have ever read. It is profound and haunting and beautiful, a book that I read slowly, savoring every word.

My favorite aspect are the details and memories that Eve has. Susan Fletcher writes the smallest little things into extraordinary vignettes. I don’t know how to explain them- they are just something you have to read for yourself. This story makes me feel like windswept hills, flowers, tea, and tears- if I had to try to explain how it is. It is a truly beautiful redemptive and coming of age story, told by an author I can’t wait to read more of when I have the chance.

Market: Mature young adults and upward
Language: I don’t vividly remember that there was any
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: death, abduction, possible rape, false accusations