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.

December 28, 2015


Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, and Mary, Queen of Scots. What did they have in common? For a while they were crowned in gold, cosseted in silk, and flattered by courtiers. But in the end, they spent long nights in dark prison towers and were marched to the scaffold where they surrendered their heads to the executioner. And they are hardly alone in their undignified demises. Throughout history, royal women have had a distressing way of meeting bad ends—dying of starvation, being burned at the stake, or expiring in childbirth while trying desperately to produce an heir. From Cleopatra (suicide by asp), to Princess Caroline (suspiciously poisoned on her coronation day), there's a gory downside to being blue-blooded when you lack a Y chromosome. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Julie, children's literature enthusiast and pop culture geek

Kris Waldherr's nonfiction book DOOMED QUEENS is a dark, fun look into history.  Offering short chapters on 50 female royals, DOOMED QUEENS offers biographical and historical context before delving into the ghastly end of each monarch's rule.  From Cleopatra to Brunhilde, Mary Stuart to Alexandra Romanov, Waldherr covers a wide range of time and place.  Any fan of women's history will be sure to find a couple of chapters to peruse.

I finished this book in one day and have returned to it several times since.  Waldherr's writing is well-informed and superb, striking the right balance between wit and irreverence.  The humorous tone (the end of each chapter, for instance, offers a "cautionary moral" to the queen's story) provides a nice balance to the dark subject matter.  Quizzes, timelines, and symbolic graphics (a skull wearing a crown indicates, for example, that the queen suffered death by beheading) make the book simply fun to read.  More importantly, Waldherr has done her research: although each chapter, at two or three pages long, provides a simple overview of each woman's life and death, the source notes are thorough. While focusing on the macabre, DOOMED QUEENS can be a good starting point for anyone looking to learn more about famous (or infamous) women in history.

If you're interested in this book, be sure to get your hands on a material copy.  Half of the fun is the gorgeous book design.  It includes lavish illustrations of each subject, as well as graphics throughout the chapters.  According to other reviews I've read, not all of these details are available in e-book format.  Believe me, the reading experience will be worth your trip to the library or bookstore!

Market: Adult non-fiction
Violence: Explains the sticky ends that classify many of these queens as "doomed"--anything from beheading to death by paparazzi
Language: Clean
Sensuality: References to extramarital affairs
Adult themes: Royalty and ruling, power, death

December 21, 2015

THESE BROKEN STARS by Megan Spooner & Amie Kaufman, 2013

Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive -- alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

One look at that gorgeous cover and I was sold. And a few hours later, I'm happy to report that this story totally lives up to that dress.

From the get-go we have two dynamic characters (The only two characters for the majority of the book) that are completely opposite: Lilac, the society darling dripping with money and the necessary arrogance to keep fortune-hunters away, and Tarver, a man for rugged terrains and a recently returned war hero. I found Lilac very sympathetically and sweetly portrayed. Instead of loathing the rich girl with daddy issues, I loved her. She tried to get better, and recognized when it was better to bow to authority or dig in her heels all the way. She was level-headed, courageous, and blessedly whine-free. The authors took no short cuts with her character, and Tarver was no different. Unfortunately, so many young adult authors simply paste down a generic hunk for the love interest and call it good ('Can't you see the figure we just described for you? No wonder she falls in love with him!') playing off the tropes of YA to let the reader fill in the gaps.That may be fine for a fairytale, but the romance can never reach those desperately beautiful heights that make us squeal and nibble our nails. Thankfully, that was not this book. Tarver had his own detailed past, his own clear motives for choices and he did not exist solely through his feelings for Lilac. There was poetry and hunting and hiking through the woods. And there was plenty of squealing and nail nibbling. It was nice.

I never knew crossing fields and forests and mountains could be so exciting! (Let's be honest. There are some parts of Lord of the Rings that are just...meh.) But mix with that the bite in Lilac and Tarver's interactions, Lilac's character arc as she experiences a world she never dreamed existed, and -- to top it all off -- ghostly apparitions that may be telling the future. Or maybe Lilac's just going mad. Science fiction smashed into romance, creating an intricate whirl-wind of a tale.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading anything by Meagan Spooner and can only looking forward to reading more from Amie Kaufman, but THESE BROKEN STARS was a satisfying read with a solid difference in the styles between to the two point-of-views. It was easy to tell what character was narrating, and the present tense was a good fit.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild to Moderate
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: None

December 14, 2015


From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Jaina, who spends most of her time reviewing books at Read Till Dawn

Wow, what a book!

As a long-time Princess Bride enthusiast, I absolutely loved reading this behind the scenes look at filming the movie. I mean, Elwes literally lost consciousness when filming the scene where Count Ruben knocks him out! And Andre the giant fell into a drink-induced sleep on the floor of a posh hotel the night of the first read-through! And Elwes had only two months of training for the famous duel - half of which he spent with a broken toe!

These are just a few of the many, many tidbits about the film scattered throughout AS YOU WISH. I am now dying to re-watch the movie. I mean, I always want to re-watch it, but now I really really want to because I know what was going on behind the scenes, and even inside their heads as they were acting the scene. Like how they took six takes to film the Kiss That Surpassed Them All, just because Elwes and Wright kept saying "no, I think we need to try again! *giggle*" Or how Wally Shawn was incredibly nervous while filming the battle of wits, because he'd heard he was the third pick for Vizzini and he honestly thought Rob Reiner was going to tell him he was fired for not being good enough at the part. It's tragic, really, that he was so miserable and insecure in the part while he did such an amazing job with it.

It's obvious that the movie is very close to Elwes' heart, and that he had a lot of fun filming it. I never really considered what it must have been like for the actors who brought the now-iconic film to life, and I certainly never really realized how hard Elwes and Mandy Mantinkin worked for the famous duel scene. While a cynical part of me wonders if there was more drama going on during the filming than Elwes might like to depict in his rosy picture of life on set, I sincerely hope I'm wrong. After all, The Princess Bride is a one-of-a-time movie experience. Why couldn't its filming be just as special?

All in all, a wonderfully informative book that provides all the juicy insider details about the behind-the-scenes for arguably the best movie ever made, told from the point of view of our darling Wesley and filled with short inserts by everyone from Rob Reiner to Billy Crystal. If you're a fan of The Princess Bride, then this is definitely the book for you!

Market: Nonfiction
Language: None that I can remember
Sensuality: None
Violence: None

Mature Themes: Mild (Andre the giant's heavy drinking habits are mentioned a few times, but he is never roaringly drunk

December 7, 2015

DEEP SECRET by Diana Wynne Jones, 1997

Rupert Venables is a Magid. It's a Magid's job to oversee what goes on in the vast Multiverse. Actually, Rupert is really only a junior Magid. But he's got a king-sized problem. Rupert's territory includes Earth and the Empire of Korfyros. When his mentor dies Rupert must find a replacement. But there are hundreds of candidates. How is he supposed to choose? And interviewing each one could take forever. Unless...What if he could round them all up in one place? Simple!  (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Emily, bibliophile and eternal student

DEEP SECRET is a tangled tale. Of course, it's told by Diana Wynne Jones, and that is a pretty normal state for her stories to be in, which is part of why I love them so much.
Besides all the crazy magical stuff happening behind the scenes, so to speak, this story is essentially about a convention at which half of the participants or so are there for reasons entirely related to the crazy magical stuff - and they don't even know it. Still, a fan convention is probably about the only place that you would be able to walk a wounded centaur down the hall without any comments other than how real he looked, and not have people calling security.

I think my very favorite part of the book, though, is the description of Nick, who is not a morning person. When I read it, I was shrieking with laughter. I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe. It's not so much what he does and says as people's reactions to his state of shambling zombie activity.

In any case, I highly recommend Diana Wynne Jones's books, and Deep Secret in particular.

Market: Young Adult Fantasy
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild
Violence: Mild to moderate
Mature Themes: War, responsibility