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.

July 30, 2014

AMELIA'S NOTEBOOK by Marissa Moss, 2006

When Amelia's mom givs her a journal for her ninth birthday, Amelia has a place to share her truest feelings at last! (Amazon)

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

Nine-year-old Amelia becomes the author of her own life.  In her notebook, she details her most private thoughts with words, stories and drawings.  In this story, the first of a series, Amelia struggles with moving to a new city and school, dealing with her obnoxious older sister, and missing her best friend.

On a recent trip to the bookstore, I was thrilled to see that Marissa Moss's Amelia series had been re-released.  A staple of my childhood (in the late 1990s/early 2000s, which, granted, wasn't too long ago), Amelia's notebooks spoke to my soul.  I loved to draw, and I loved to write anything--letters, stories, or diary entries.  Amelia's Notebook became an inspiration that sparked a lifelong love for creativity, stories, and self-expression.

The best part is that the books are sheer fun.  Amelia's voice is strong and unique, but also realistic: these qualities especially surface as Amelia feuds with Cleo, her purple-toenailed older sister, and lets her imagination wander and soar.  Each notebook entry, written in Amelia's own handwriting and accompanied by detailed illustrations, make each page a joy to pour over.  These books definitely lend themselves to multiple readings, as readers will notice new drawings or captions they may have missed the first time.

In a world that values technology and instant communication, this notebook is a refreshing examination of a young girl's private world. Give a copy of AMELIA'S NOTEBOOK to your creative reader who would rather have a paintbrush than a cell phone in her hand.

Market: children's fiction
Violence: none
Language: none
Sensuality: none
Adult Themes: Sibling relationships, school, coming-of-age

July 25, 2014

TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912

The original story that started it all. Movie and TV versions have changed many aspects of the story. Here is the original. The novel tells the story of John Clayton, born in the western coastal jungles of equatorial Africa to a marooned couple from England, John and Alice (Rutherford) Clayton, Lord and Lady Greystoke. Adopted as an infant by the she-ape Kala after his parents died (his father is killed by the savage king ape Kerchak), Clayton is named "Tarzan" ("White Skin" in the ape language) and raised in ignorance of his human heritage. (Amazon)

Reviewed by L. Danielle

When a mutiny forces the young Lord and Lady Greystoke to be abandoned on a lonely and unfamiliar part of Africa the two try to make the best of the situation- even though Lady Greystoke is about to give birth to her firstborn child. The two build a home on the beach and things begin to go well for them. As anyone who has seen the Disney movie knows their bliss is short-lived (though not in the fashion of the movie).
Kala, an ape who has recently lost her child in a gruesome way (again, not at all like the movie) stumbles across the infant Tarzan and takes him as her own. This causes an uproar among the apes, but eventually things are settled and the apes begin to forget that Tarzan was ever anything but a part of their family. This includes Tublat, Kala’s mate, who finds his hairless white offspring an embarrassment and frequently tries to make Tarzan’s life miserable and treats him as an outcast.

Due to his mistreatment by the other apes, Tarzan frequently finds himself striking out on his own and eventually comes across the house his biological family had once resided in. There, Tarzan discovers his father’s books and eventually teaches himself to read. He spends many hours poring through his father’s collection and becomes quite proficient in the task by the time the young Jane Porter finds herself marooned along the same shoreline.

TARZAN OF THE APES is absolutely nothing like the Disney movie I grew up with, but I found myself oddly obsessed with it. It’s an undeniably gritty and violent book with a death occurring in the very first pages. Tarzan gets into a number of scrapes, fighting a large white gorilla on the beach outside of his parent’s cabin. He butts heads with Kerchek, leader of the apes, a number of times before usurping him to become leader of the tribe. There is an undeniable racist tone throughout the book (it was published in the early 20th century) as Tarzan takes pleasure in harassing the local African tribes (lynching several of them to avenge the death of his most-loved ape).

Naturally, I can’t recommend this book to everyone; it certainly has its hard to digest moments, and a bittersweet ending (which the sequel takes upon itself to fix). Jane is not the intellectual young woman excited by her father’s research, but a scared and danger-prone damsel in distress, constantly in need of saving. Tarzan is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve motored my way through the majority of the series my first semester of college, and I can’t help but be oddly fascinated by it. I know this isn’t the sort of thing that gets reviewed on this site much, but I couldn’t stop myself from penning this review. I like this book.

Market: Adults
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Heavy
Mature Themes: Racism is prevalent, character deaths, don’t pick up this book lightly

July 19, 2014

INFERNO by Dan Brown, 2013

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Ems - who cannot read enough books

I don't even know where to start on this one. There are times when I think I have a book figured out and it turns out that I was on target completely. Then there are times when I'm sure I've got it all and I am blown completely out of the water by what the outcome really is.

This is one of those times.

I started out thinking that THIS TIME, I was going to outsmart Dan Brown and figure the whole thing out ahead of time. He has this nasty little tendency to spring things on readers that they don't ever see coming. I WAS NOT GOING TO BE THAT READER. I was in the know! I could SEE how things were going down! 

Alas, I now have to eat crow and admit that Dan Brown is still the master of the twist. Actually, I should probably grovel a little bit, because I was COCKY going into this one.



Okay, I am done beating myself up for not outsmarting Dan Brown.

What do you need to know going into this book?

Nothing is as it seems. Not one, single thing. 

No one is who they say they are. Not one, single person.

INFERNO will suck you in, chew you up, and then spit you out at the end, and you'll feel like you just went fifty rounds on the Tilt-a-Whirl, all in true Dan Brown style.

I'm still a huge Robert Langdon fan and hope to see more books in the series down the road. For now, it looks like this might be the end. After all, our favorite professor is aging (nicely, I might add) and he can't always be the jet-setting, save the world type. He still kicks it though. Awesomely.

I'm just going to shut up now and let you go read it if you haven't. YOU SHOULD.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: depression, death, insanity, conspiracy

July 8, 2014

THE COLOSSUS RISES by Peter Lerangis, 2013

Jack McKinley is an ordinary kid with an extraordinary problem. In a few months, he’s going to die. Jack needs to find seven magic loculi that, when combined, have the power to cure him. One Problem. The loculi are the relics of a lost civilization and haven’t been seen in thousands of years. Because they’re hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Ems - who cannot read enough books


That's pretty much how I was left feeling after this book. To say that it ends on a cliffhanger is a gross understatement. Luckily, it's one that has me jonesing for the next book in the series. Fall 2013 can't come soon enough!

I had a completely different experience with this book. I chose it as a classroom read aloud for my fourth graders. The trick to picking a good read aloud is to get one that's the start of a series and one that will capture the students and make them demand more. A good read aloud can spark a love of reading in reluctant readers and get your casual readers to jump into more books.

This one was PERFECT.

It was really fantastic to read THE COLOSSUS RISES out loud and see the reactions of my students. To say that they enjoyed it would also be a gross understatement. They really love being read to, but with this one, they were begging me to keep going. I think they'd have gone for an all-day read aloud if we'd been able to swing it. They laughed, they cried (for real!), they shouted, they jumped out of their chairs...perfect reactions to this book, in my opinion!

For me, I loved how Peter Lerangis pulled a genius move on us with the way he ended his chapters. Brilliant. It definitely keeps you coming back for more. They were absolutely perfect for ending as read alouds too, because my students were irate that we stopped! They just HAD to know more! A book that captures the interest of ten year olds like that is pretty darn awesome.

I loved the story, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he incorporated the ancient wonders. See, I'm a huge geek, and the ancient wonders are all over my geekish radar. I love learning more about them, and I've actually toyed with the idea of writing a series myself. Well, now I don't need to, because this book is the start of a fantastic series. I know I couldn't do the wonders any more justice.

It's fast-paced, very appropriate for tweens, fun, and with characters that you'll come to love. I'm definitely ordering the next book in the series, and I may just read this one aloud again. My students will definitely thank me for it.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: Mild
Sensuality: None
Violence: Moderate
Mature Themes: death, illness, kidnapping

July 3, 2014

Gab Bag: Reading YA Without the Y

By Guest Blogger & Author, M.K. Hutchins

It seems like every month or so, some big website publishes an article railing on Young Adult fiction. It’s too dark. It’s too frivolous. Why would adults want to read this? Don’t teenagers have, like, zits and cooties? Why would mature adults want zits and cooties? Sometimes YA is also framed as literary junk food. Your brain will get fat, the argument goes. And besides, only kids like cookies slathered in chocolate ice cream with salted caramel sauce. Right?

It always strikes me as a bit ridiculous. I’m a fan of good stories wherever I can find them (also a fan of salted caramel), and YA as a genre has a lot going toward creating gripping stories. The whole coming-of-age thing, so ubiquitous in YA, allows for huge amounts of character change and growth that can be highly satisfying to watch – like Dashti’s journey in Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. YA also tends to focus on one character’s viewpoint, pulling us inside that person’s head. When I turned the last page of Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall or Cracked by Eliza Crewe, I could still imagine the way Odilia or Meda would say something.

A younger audience also means the reader isn’t expected to indulge an author in long passages of irrelevant navel-gazing. The pacing tends to be tight – it actually reminds me a lot of short fiction (which I also love, but that’s another topic). Teenage years often seem filled with angst and melodrama, and YA accordingly doesn’t shy away from big plots with big stakes that make for immediately captivating situations. Both Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me and Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst had me biting my nails from the first pages. Yes, I stayed up too late at night to finish those books. Contemporary fiction is a hard sell for me, but even when I step in that direction, novels like Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt still deliver high-stakes situations. What could be more important, after all, than deciding who you’re going to be and reclaiming your identity? Even though Going Vintage doesn’t touch anything more spectacular than a bad break-up, what happened felt as important as a march through Mordor.

In giving me big situations, YA often tells stories that stick with me and make me think. After finishing Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, I remember looking at the green lawn and bushes outside my apartment complex. Non-edible, decorative plants carpeted the ground. At that moment, I realized I live in the Capitol.

Boundaries between genres are also looser in YA, which means we can have books like Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Part sci-fi, part fairytale retelling, with a dash of Star Wars-esque magic, it’s a mash-up that wouldn’t conveniently fit on any adult bookshelf. And, really, haven’t you always needed to read about a cyborg Cinderella?

Sometimes I see people defend YA by pointing out the books that are most like adult fiction, or the most serious books. I just want to point to all of it. The serious, the funny, the dramatic, the thoughtful. There are so many different things going on in YA, I have a hard time imagining anyone hating all of it.

And I’m sure my particular reading tastes have skipped over swaths of YA, too. Whether you’re a young adult or not, what are your favorite parts of the YA genre? Favorite books? I’m always looking for something great to read.