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.

September 12, 2014

OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys, 2013

It's 1950 and the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie Moraine wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test. (Amazon)

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

OUT OF THE EASY chronicles the life of seventeen-year-old Josie in 1950s New Orleans.  Saddled with the reputation of a prostitute's daughter, Josie yearns for a better life.  However, when a murder occurs, Josie is embroiled in a police investigation that will challenge her morals and allegiances.

Out of the Easy instantly pulls you into the seedy underbelly of New Orleans, where secrets abound and characters are as full and rich as a bowl of gumbo.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)  The main character, Josie, is mature, interesting, and tough-as-nails.  You can't help but root for her as she does anything she can not to end up like her mother.  The supporting characters are just as fascinating.  Two to look out for include:  Cokie, the cab driver with a heart of gold, who wants the best for Josie, and Willie, the brothel madam, who is sassy, unexpectedly likable, and more of a mother figure than Josie's ever had.  The characters carry the plot effortlessly, keeping you company as the mystery of another character's death unravels.

After reading Sepetys's first novel, Between Shades of Gray, I was worried Out of the Easy wouldn't compare.  However, Sepetys proves with her second novel that she is a master of YA historical fiction. It is almost not worth comparing the two novels, because the settings and characters are so different.  Sepetys's novels are like time machines: she can effortlessly recreate any historical time period and make you believe you were there.  If you love historical fiction novels and aren't afraid of a little grit, be sure to pick this one up.

Market: YA historical fiction
Violence: Allusions to crime (the central murder, gang activity, the protagonist carries a gun, etc.)
Language: Mild--mostly cruel barbs from Josie's mother
Sensuality: The novel's main setting is a brothel, so the sexual
undertones and innuendos are pretty unavoidable.  However, nothing is too explicit for the age group, and Josie's determination to rise about this lifestyle overrides any possible glamorization of prostitution.
Adult Themes: Identity/family struggle, poverty, prostitution, education, murder

September 7, 2014

FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER by Ellen Meister, 2013

When it comes to movie reviews, critic Violet Epps is a powerhouse voice. But that's only because she's learned to channel her literary hero, Dorothy Parker, the most celebrated and scathing wit of the 20th century. If only Violet could summon that kind of courage in her personal life. Determined to defeat her social anxiety, Violet visits the Algonquin Hotel where Dorothy Parker and so many other famous writers of the 1920s traded barbs. But she gets more than she bargained for when Dorothy Parker's feisty spirit rematerializes from an ancient guestbook and hitches a ride onto her life. (Amazon)

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

Famous critic Violet Epps may be able to skewer movies with scathing wit, but in real life, she is a timid mouse.  Juggling a deadbeat boyfriend, a custody case involving her teenage niece, and rivals at work, Violet feels like she will crumble under the pressure of it all. One day, at the Algonquin Hotel, Violet accidentally summons the ghost of her hero, writer and humorist Dorothy Parker.  When the delightfully-acerbic Mrs. Parker refuses to leave, Violet realizes that this spirit may be able to help her find the courage she needs.

When I first heard about this novel, I was hesitant. Recreating Dorothy Parker, mistress of the verbal hand  grenade?  Could it be done?  Well, Ellen Meister's creation is about as true a representation of Dorothy Parker as can be.  The novel is alive with zingers and one liners, some invented, and some attributed to the great Mrs. Parker.  Meister's imagination runs wild with the kind of trouble Parker might get into in the 21st century.  There is never a dull moment in the book, and laughs abound.

The plot itself is interesting and, while reminiscent of many "chick lit" or romantic comedy works, gives the opportunity to add depth to Parker's character.  Violet's teenage niece, a young girl reeling after her parents' sudden deaths in a car accident, relates to Parker's lifelong struggle with grief and depression.  Here, Meister is able to present a different side to a historical figure who is so often known only for her smart-aleck remarks.  Of course, these aspects of the novel also make Violet's struggle all the more real and relatable--but Mrs. Parker is certainly always the star of the novel.

Written with incredible love for its namesake, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER is a wonderful novel for Parker's fans and those who have yet to discover her.  Meister's storytelling and sparkling language would have made Dottie proud.

Market: Adult fiction
Violence: none
Language: moderate (a couple of f-bombs, used in a light/joking context)
Sensuality: moderate (1-2 intimate scenes, but nothing explicit)
Adult Themes: romantic relationships, alcoholism, death and grief

September 1, 2014

FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund, 2012

Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart. Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Brooke-Wife, Mother, Reader

Jane Austen's Persuasion set in a post apocalyptic society.  Fascinating. Really this was a surprise for me (meaning I liked it more than I thought I would). There were the familiar elements of Persuasion, but also so much more.  

The setting was almost a character on its own.  So many of the circumstances of the story revolved around the setting.  Elliot, the heroine of the story, was tied to her farm, keeping it running, trying to keep her family and the workers alive.  

The ages of the characters were very young.  It was hard for me to picture these teenagers dealing with all of this, but that is part of the post-apocalyptic society.

The post-apocalyptic rules and regulations created much of the conflict in the story.  When do you follow the rules?  When do you do what you believe is right, if that goes against those rules?

FOR THE DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS was a book about decision making and the consequences that follow, good or bad.  

Luckily, with the base of Jane Austen's Persuasion, there was at least some sense of there being a happy ending.  And, as much as this is a love story, it had little physical romance in it.  

Market: Teen/Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Growing up fast