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.

October 6, 2014

NOT IN THE SCRIPT by Amy Finnegan, 2014

Millions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma wonders if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships. Jake Elliott’s face is on magazine ads around the world, but his lucrative modeling deals were a poor substitute for what he had to leave behind. Now acting is offering Jake everything he wants: close proximity to home; an opportunity to finally start school; and plenty of time with the smart and irresistible Emma Taylor . . . if she would just give him a chance. When Jake takes Emma behind the scenes of his real life, she begins to see how genuine he is, but on-set relationships always end badly. Don’t they? (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Jessica Day George, NYT Bestselling Young Adult and Middle Grade Author

So. Much. Fun.

No. Seriously.

As many of you know, I am not big into romance, especially teen romance. It's just not my thing.

But I loved this book.

Let's face It: most of us secretly want to be famous. We watch TV and think, Her life must be so awesome. I want to get paid a bajillion dollars just to look pretty (and have a whole team of people to make me look pretty) and get free Prada handbags and shoes and have a gold-plated bathtub. We've all thought this, don't lie to me and say you haven't! But let's pause to think about WHY we know that Jay-z and Beyonce have a gold-plated tub: because of the tabloids. Because everywhere they go, they're followed by photographers and reporters. "Sources close to the couple reveal that they sleep on fur pillows and bathe in the tears of Mayan virgins." Who are these sources? Well, it might be a lie because that reporter couldn't dig up anything, but it also might be a trusted friend or family member who decided to sell the info to the press. Yowza.

And that's the world of NOT IN THE SCRIPT. Emma is a child star who's grown up in the spotlight. Every date she's been on has been publicized and analyzed. A quick trip to the grocery store for some celery causes speculation that she's starving herself with an all-celery diet, and she suspects that her best friend has sold some of her secrets to the tabloids. Jake is a model who is only in the business because his family needs the money. He's not used to being followed by paparazzi, or being careful about where he goes and who he talks to. So life is more than usually complicated for Jake and Emma, and everyone around them. Along with the usual pressures of school, family, and friends, they're working full time on a new TV show. The success of the show, and so the careers of hundreds of people in the cast and crew, rest in the four principal actors, all of whom are teens, and all of whom are being stalked by paparazzi who are hoping that they screw up and date the wrong person who get in an argument with a friend, the way normal teens do every day. But that's not acceptable when you're a star.

This book was so fun and fascinating! It was romantic without being insipid. No one grazed anyone's jaw with their thumb. Emma wasn't constantly manhandled by guys she just met, except for this one guy, who is known to be inappropriately handsy. (Those are my two pet peeves in romances. The jaw rubbing and the grabbing.) There was humor and drama in spades as well. Finnegan has been on the sets of a number of TV shows, because she has a family member who is an assistant director, and there's lots of great, insidery details. I normally don't fall for teen guys in YA books, because I am an old lady, but honestly . . . Jake . . . Oooohhh. I kept thinking of Flynn Ryder in Tangled: You leave me no choice! Here comes the smolder! (So much smolder! But not in a pretentious way!) And Emma was delightful, because she was so real. She's the kind of person I would like to be friends with: complex, interesting, and fun. I stayed up late reading, because I just had to know what was going to happen next.

Hilariously, I kind of knew, because I read the manuscript, but the finished book still kept me up!

Yes, I'm lucky enough to count Amy Finnegan as a friend! DRAGON SPEAR is dedicated to Amy because she inspired its plot, and she was my romance consultant on that book. (I'm not kidding. She had to mark in the margins of the manuscript where Creel and Luka should kiss, hug, or hold hands, because: not my thing.) I'm so excited for her first book!

And so very excited to tell you that, in all honesty and setting our friendship aside, it's REALLY, REALLY GOOD!

Market: YA romance
Violence: A brief fistfight
Language: None
Sensuality: Implications that a couple of characters are partiers, cheat on their girlfriends/boyfriends, nothing explicit.
Adult Themes: Identity, disability

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October 5, 2014

Celebrating the Castle Glower Series by Jessica Day George

Reviews (and babblings) by Kim Harris Thacker: mommy, writer, and Bookshop Talk host

Confession: I love secret passages. Not that I have any experience with them; I just love them on principle. In fact, if I ever have the opportunity to design my own home, you can bet that I’ll include at least one hidden doorway and a secret passageway or two.

It’s this very obsession with concealed spaces that leads me to absolutely adore Jessica Day George’s best-selling “Castle Glower” series, the third book of which comes out tomorrow, October 7th! And to help you all to prepare for this awesome event, I would like to share my reviews of the first two books in the series (an introduction to the third book, THURSDAYS WITH THE CROWN, will follow the reviews):

Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one—other than Celie, that is—takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it's up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle's never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom. This delightful book from a fan—and bookseller—favorite kicks off a brand-new series sure to become a modern classic. (Goodreads)

This is such a marvelous book, by such a marvelous author. Jessica’s books are always utterly gobble-worthy...but there’s just something particularly wonderful about this first title in the Castle Glower series. Maybe it’s the setting...

The Land of Sleyne sounds picturesque, with its mountains and bowl-shaped valleys, but it’s the castle that serves as the home for Sleyne’s king (Glower the Seventy-Ninth) and his family that thrills me. After all, what child (or young-hearted adult, for that matter) doesn’t long for secret passages and magic? The layout of Castle Glower is in a constant state of flux, so it’s like one gargantuan maze of secret passages, built through magic. Now that is my idea of a fantastic setting—a castle that can alter its form at will. And yes, I said at will, because Castle Glower has a will. The castle is a key character in TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, and come to think of it, maybe it’s the array of characters that has me gushing over this book.

The castle is like a human in so many ways, even suffering from boredom! When the doldrums strike, Castle Glower “stretches,” resulting in an added turret here, a room there, and sometimes even a whole new wing. This seems rather whimsical of the castle, but don’t be fooled. Castle Glower is not a character to be trifled with. Those who visit the castle had better mind their Ps and Qs, or they could end up like the Ambassador of Bendeswe, who found himself walled into his bedroom once the castle found out he was a spy.

Another character to love is Princess Celie, who is spunky, courageous, and smart. She also possesses an atlas of the changing castle, and it is for this reason, perhaps, that the castle pays special attention to Celie’s needs, even growing escape routes when she needs them...and boy, does she need them! This is a girl who attracts adventure, for sure.

There are also lots of other wonderful characters in TUESDAYS, such as the handsome Pogue Parry, the odd-but-loveable Prince Lulath of Grath (and his doggies), the spine-tinglingly evil Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, and, of course, Celie’s family. I love the relationships between Celie and her siblings, in particular. Her older brother, Rolf, is the second son of the king and queen, but the castle “chose” him to be King Glower’s heir by moving his suite of rooms next to the Throne Room. Celie’s older sister, Lilah, is capable and a bit bossy, but she proves her worth many times over in TUESDAYS. Celie’s oldest brother, Bran, was sent to a college for wizards after the castle kept furnishing his rooms with books and astrolabes. It is, in fact, on the journey to witness Bran’s graduation that Celie’s parents (who sound like the best king and queen ever) are ambushed and...well, you’ll just have to read the book if you want to know what happens to them and to Celie and her siblings as a result.

I do love the setting and the characters in TUESDAYS, but there is so much more to love, too! Jessica’s writing is rich and vivid. The story moves quickly; there is never a dull moment. Every element of the book works with every other element, creating a tight adventure story that any reader will enjoy.

Strange things are afoot in Castle Glower: new rooms, corridors, and even stables keep arriving, even when they aren't needed. Celie's brother Bran, the new Royal Wizard, has his hands full cataloguing an entire storeroom full of exotic and highly dangerous weapons, while Celie has her hands full . . . raising the creature that hatches from a giant egg she finds! Will they be able to find out what's making the Castle behave this way in time? (Goodreads)

Princess Celie is no stranger to trouble. In the first book in the Castle Glower series, entitled TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, she unearthed a plot to destroy her family and take over the kingdom, and this second book of the Castle Glower series begins with Celie taking on the raising of a griffin she names Rufus! But WEDNESDAYS IN THE TOWER isn’t just the story of a princess with an odd pet; it’s a mystery!

The tower where Rufus hatches is revealed to Celie not on a Tuesday, as is the norm, but on a Wednesday. So right away, Celie knows something is amiss with Castle Glower. Combine Rufus’s appearance with that of a strange room full of mysterious—and possibly cursed—weaponry, the Holiday Dining Hall (which isn’t due to arrive), and stables that are the wrong size to be of any use, and you have not just a mystery, but a mystery that gets to the heart of where Castle Glower comes from and how it ended up in the kingdom of Sleyne.

This second book in the Castle Glower series brings back many of my favorite characters, including three that get a little more page-time, this time around: Bran (the Royal Wizard and Celie’s oldest brother), Pogue Parry (the local blacksmith and village heartthrob), and Prince Lulath of Grath (and his little doggies). Bran really comes into his own as a wizard, in this book; the reader learns that, just as we suspected from TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, Pogue Parry is much more than a handsome face; and Prince Lulath isn’t always the epitome of the term, “foppish fellow.”

Of course, I can’t name favorite characters without mentioning Celie. She wins me over more with each of the Castle Glower books. In WEDNESDAYS, she is resourceful, brave, and sympathetic to those who find themselves in a situation where it feels as if they have no choice but to do what everyone else tells them to do. In short, Celie is my kind of heroine: the kind that makes hard choices. And I can’t wait to see what happens to her now that she—wait a minute! I can’t give away the ending of this book! Just know unlike TUESDAYS, which resolves at the end (for the most part—there are those tantalizing threads that Jessica Day George so lovingly tugs through this series from book to book), WEDNESDAYS ends with a cliffhanger! So if you haven’t read it yet, save yourself some time and buy THURSDAYS, at the same time that you buy WEDNESDAYS, because you’re going to want it, immediately! And if you have already read WEDNESDAYS, then you’re just like me: eagerly anticipating the release of THURSDAYS on October 7th!


Castle Glower has been acting weird, so it’s no surprise when two towers transport Celie and her siblings to an unknown land. When they realize that no one from home is coming to get them, the kids – along with Celie’s pet griffin Rufus – set out through the forest to figure out where they are and what’s happened to their beloved Castle. Instead, they discover two wizards and an entire lost people, the oldest inhabitants of Castle Glower. And it seems they may know more of the Castle’s secrets than Celie. But do they know how to get her back home? (Goodreads)


Market: MG fantasy
Language: none
Violence: in both books: a few minor injuries; in TUESDAYS: Celie’s life is in danger, and her parents and brother are attacked and their fate is unknown (also, some of the guards who were with her parents are brother are killed)
Sensuality: mild flirting
Adult themes: duplicity, politics

*Read my 2011 interview with author Jessica Day George (who also happens to be one of the hosts of Bookshop Talk along with myself and author Amy Finnegan) here.

October 1, 2014

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson, 2014

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Jessica Day George, NYT Bestselling Middle Grade and Young Adult Author

I was at BEA, leaving the “speed dating” event where tables of librarians and booksellers are given ARCs of upcoming books, and the authors make the rounds and have three minutes to tell each table about their book. Apparently I was in the same room with Jandy Nelson at this time, but I didn’t know her name then.  Now that I’ve read I’ll Give You The Sun, I’m kind of afraid to run into her, because I might start hyperventilating and then cry all over her.  So, anyway, as I was leaving the event I was eyeing some of the books that had been discarded, picking up a few things for myself. I saw this book, and said to my publicist, “That’s a fun cover.” The librarian who had just put it down, said, “You haven’t read this book?” I said, “No, I’ve never heard of it.” She thrust this into my hands! “You should take this! Take it!” I told her that she should keep it, and it she said that she already had a copy, and had already read it, and it was amazing. She was putting this copy back because she wanted to spread the love. She had such an intense expression I was both intrigued and taken aback.

A couple of months later it comes to my attention that I’m hearing more and more about this book. That people are bemoaning that they didn’t fight the crowds at BEA hard enough to get a copy, and I’m wondering if I should feel guilty because I have this coveted book and haven’t read it yet. So at last I crack it open to find . . . a dreamy artistic boy being bullied by two jocks. And I’ll admit it: I thought, Ugh, really? That's what this is about? Another book about bullying? (Yes, bullying it terrible. But I just wasn't in the mood, okay?) I forged ahead, though, and by page three I was hooked because of the way the dreamy artistic boy (Noah) described things. His twin sister Jude's hair like snakes trying to strangle him. Colors oozing from walls, people’s words changing color and taking shape depending on if they’re lying or telling the truth . . . his internal monologue is a series of wild, brilliant paintings.

And then there’s Jude. Jude sees ghosts, specifically family ghosts. Their grandmother follows her around, giving her advice on boys and fashion and life. A vengeful ghost destroys Jude’s art projects and you wonder if they’re both crazy, except the art is really being destroyed by outside forces, and others can sense it. This is the finest use of magical realism I’ve ever encountered in a YA novel.

The book is told in alternating points of view, jumping between Noah at thirteen and Jude at sixteen, until their two stories finally collide. I read this book in one day because I simply couldn’t stop. I was not only worried about the characters, but I wanted to know what had split their two narratives, and if they would ever come back together. I was so caught up in their lives that I later felt sad that I had read it so fast, because I wanted to spend more time with Noah and Jude and ghost grandma and everyone else.

It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous book and I want to see it showered with all the accolades and awards.

Market: YA contemporary
Language: Though not pervasive, there are some swear words including the F-word, and insults including homosexual slurs.
Violence: A boy is roughed up by bullies, the occasional punch or fistfight
Sensuality: A heterosexual sex scene (though it is not intended to be titillating and is not graphic), homosexual kissing.
Adult themes: homosexuality, adultery, bullying, depression