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.

February 15, 2016


Lady Hyegyong's memoirs, which recount the chilling murder of her husband by his father, is one of the best known and most popular classics of Korean literature. From 1795 until 1805 Lady Hyegyong composed this masterpiece, which depicts a court life whose drama and pathos is of Shakespearean proportions. Presented in its social, cultural, and historical contexts, this complete English translation opens a door into a world teeming with conflicting passions, political intrigue, and the daily preoccupations of a deeply intelligent and articulate woman. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Megan Hutchins, writer

I was thrilled to stumble across THE MEMOIRS OF LADY HYEGYONG -- trying to read about Korean history in English before the Korean War has left me with precious little besides Wikipedia to look at. I fully expected it to be interesting, which it was. But Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs also proved to be one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever read.

Lady Hyegyong, despite being a Crown Princess, led a truly terrifying life. Her father-in-law, King Yeongjo, locked her husband, Crown Prince Sado, in a rice chest when the latter was twenty-seven and left him there to die. Her husband was severely mentally ill and was determined to be a threat to the dynasty.

The first three memoirs only nod to this horrific event, as speaking about it was forbidden. The mandated silence allowed for all manner of rumors and ill-fated political maneuverings that left Lady Hyegyong’s maternal family in ruins -- including the execution of her uncle and brother. By the last memoir, Lady Hyegyong’s grandson has ascended to the throne. She doesn’t want him to be mislead by the rumors that have churned through the palace for the past four decades, and finally lays down the events that led to her husband’s death.

The first three memoirs are poignant. But the last memoir reframed and changed everything I thought I’d known about her life. Perhaps most powerfully, Lady Hyegyong doesn’t give every last detail. Her understatements chilled me. She talks about her panic and horror at seeing her first severed head -- an unfortunate victim of her husband’s. The text leaves no doubt that there were many more, but she never gives such detail again. Many events she glosses over as simply being too painful to speak of.

Lady Hyegyong presents these events with complexity, blaming neither her father-in-law nor her husband, but speaking of a hundred unfortunate events that allowed her husband to become so violent, and so unchecked in his illness. It’s haunting and utterly tragic. When I finished, I told my husband he had to go read it because I desperately needed someone to talk to about these unforgettable memoirs.

Lady Hyegyong’s writing is clear, beautiful, and easily accessible. I am deeply thankful to the translator, JaHyun Kim Haboush, for his amazing work in making these available in English.

Market: Nonfiction
Language: None
Sensuality: See below
Violence: See below
Mature Themes: Everything. Murder, rape, executions, severe mental illness, politics, abuse, depression, attempted suicide, death. As noted in the review, this isn’t a text that dramatizes graphic details. So “violence” is either very low (the memoirs aren’t any more gory than my review of it) or very high (it deals extensively with the repercussions of violent acts).

February 8, 2016


There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. (Goodreads)

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

THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE is part murder mystery, part friendship tale, and part love letter to Victorian-era novels--but it is all entertaining!  At St. Etheldreda's School for Girls in 1890, murder most foul threatens to change the lives of the young women who attend the institution.  When their headmistress and her brother are poisoned, the girls--Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Pocked Louise, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, and Dour Elinor--must hide the crime or risk being separated forever.  As they take great pains to cover up the crime, they also must find their guardian's murderer, who is still at large and ready to strike again.

Julie Berry's novel is expertly written and wickedly funny.  The style of writing is old-fashioned, yet accessible, and drenched with dark humor--think Lemony Snicket or Lois Lowry's THE WILLOUGHBYS.  In the very first chapter, for instance, Headmistress Constance Plackett and her brother Alduous Godding drop dead at the dinner table--and the schoolgirls are instantly terrified that their poor cooking skills did the adults in.  When the doorbell rings, revealing the dinner guests for Alduous's birthday party, the girls panic--and then get creative.  The scenes that follow are the perfect mixture of humor and whodunnit as the girls try to discover the real reason behind the deaths.

Aside from the caper itself, my favorite part of THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD was certainly its cast of characters.  Although it boasts seven protagonists, each girl gets a chance to shine and feels fully fleshed out, despite the seemingly one-dimensional monikers.  For instance, while Stout Alice begins as the pudgy, plain girl of the group, she becomes a standout character. She flourishes as an actress, attracts a suitor, and plays an important role in preventing outsiders from learning about the murders.  Other memorable characters include Dour Elinor and Disgraceful Mary Jane, who are obsessed with death and boys, respectively, and provide many of the comic one-liners that readers will enjoy.

This novel is an excellent choice for anyone who is comfortable laughing at the darkly Dickensian elements of life.

Market: Middle grade fiction
Violence:  None aside from references to the central murders.  However, the girls' comic-but-clumsy attempts to keep the murders hidden might frighten or disturb younger readers. 
Language: None.
Sensuality: Oblique references to adult relationships, especially by Disgraceful Mary Jane
Adult Themes: Death, murder/crime

Second review by Rosalyn E.

Julie Berry's newest novel, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, is nothing like her previous, All the Truth that's In Me (excepting a historical setting)--which may be a good thing. As moving as that book was, I found this one utterly delightful. It mixes so many of the things I love: a good mystery, Victorian manners, clever girl heroines, and humor. 

The seven students at Prickwillow Place, Mrs. Plackett's boarding school for young ladies, are horrified one night at Sunday dinner when their mistress and her ne'er-do-well brother suddenly drop dead at the table of apparent poison. Instead of doing the expected thing--notify the police--the girls decide (at the suggestion of Smooth Kitty) to bury the bodies in the garden and keep up the pretense of their existence so that they don't have to return to their various unhappy home situations. From this point, of course, a wild romp ensues, beginning almost at once when the  neighborhood descends for the surprise birthday party Mrs. Plackett planned for her brother. As the girls try to maintain the façade that their mistress still exists, keep house, negotiate suitors (the older girls appear to be 16-17ish), and solve a mystery, the plot continues to escalate. The premise is wildly implausible, but Berry executes it with such panache that I didn't mind at all.

While some reviewers have complained about the adjectives preceding the girls' names, I found them funny (and a fairly Victorian touch). Smooth Kitty is the clear leader, but I also loved Stout Alice, who was stout of both form and heart, Pocked Louise (a clever young scientist)--even Dour Elinor, with her fascination for all things macabre, had her charm.

The dialogue was witty, the characters interesting (if not always likeable), the situations funny, the bits of romance sweet, and the writing clever. Overall, a terrific middle grade novel. I'm not honestly sure how this appeals to the target 10-14 year old demographic, but I loved it.

Market: Middle-grade/YA (marketed as MG, but several of the characters are YA
Language: mild
Sensuality: mild
Violence: moderate--it does deal with murder, after all
Mature Themes: murder, death by poison

February 1, 2016

SNOW LIKE ASHES by Sarah Raasch, 2014

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since. Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Natalie

Sara Raasch, I may be in love with you. SNOW LIKE ASHES, aka So Like Amazing, is a beautiful book to behold.

I honestly don't know how to express my love for this book without completely undermining it's brilliance. It moved so fast and it was heaped with action that I was just left sitting on the couch with my eyes glazed over while an immensely satisfied grin played across my face. Yup, I went into a book-coma. It was that good.

Meira and the other seven people of her camp, one of which who is the future king of Winter, are what's left of the free Winterians. The others have all been thrown into work camps in the kingdom of Spring by Angra, the evil overlord (not is official title, but basically). Meira and the others have their hearts set on freeing their people, and to do so, they must regain Winter's Royal Conduit. Every kingdom has their own conduit, an item filled with magical properties that only the ruler of that kingdom can use for the benefit of their people. But naturally, Angra broke it in half and has one part of it lying around his neck. Good luck getting that without dying. I'd say more, but that would cut into your time of driving to the nearest bookstore, buying this novel, and dropping to the floor in front of the cash register and reading it then and there. There's just so much that happens in this book, so much adventure, that you need to get on this horse now.

Before this review ends though, I thought I'd touch base with the triangular love occurring in this book. Lemme tell you, I was in the shower debating with myself after having finished this book. Both boys are beautiful and swoon worthy. I know which one I would choose, at least as far as book one goes, but honestly, I have no qualms with this love triangle. It wasn't even overbearing to the story, you could see it forming, there were hints, but it didn't make me annoyed. It made me intrigued. Course, I only really debated it when I wasn't scaling buildings, uncovering conspiracies, and breaking out of cages with Meira, the marvelous protagonist of this novel. So don't that let scare you away from this book, because there's so much more to it then two swoon inducing boys that you shouldn't complain about having to read about.

All in all, it was amazing, brilliant, beautiful, and any other adjective that's synonymous to those.

High-five Sara Raasch, high-five.


Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Mild (just angst really)
Violence: Moderate (battles and such)
Mature Themes: Nothing really mature

January 25, 2016

NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes, 2010

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane--Katrina--fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. (Goodreads)

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

I'm writing this review at the end of February, as Black History Month draws to a close.  Throughout the month, I've seen several lists and blog posts that feature wonderful children's books celebrating black history.  One book that has been wrongfully missing from these lists is NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

NINTH WARD can be classified as historical fiction, although the history it presents may be recent in the minds of older readers.  The story takes place during the onset of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana's Ninth Ward.  Readers see the disaster through the eyes of the narrator, twelve-year-old Lanesha as she struggles to survive the flood.  Although Lanesha doesn't have much, she has her friend TaShon, her guardian Mama Ya Ya, and the ghostly apparition of her deceased mother to remind her of the strength she has.

Lanesha is one of my favorite recently-discovered characters.  She narrates her own story with beautiful, spare prose that sheds a light into her as a person: she loves math, vocabulary, and learning, and she hopes to be an architect one day.  Although she has an "uptown family" consisting of relatives that want nothing to do with her, she forms her own sense of community among her friends and guardians in Ninth Ward.  Her gift of sight, which allows her to see and speak with ghosts, gives her a special understanding of the place she was born into, including its rich past and current social and political problems.  Her voice is mature and interesting, and I enjoyed reading what felt like a very honest and balanced account of what life was like for young victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Although Black History Month is confined to February, it is important to continue reading about and celebrating these stories throughout the course of the year.  NINTH WARD is a gripping story of survival and hope featuring a fantastic main character, but it also provides an important glimpse into recent history, an event from which many people are still recovering.

Market: Middle grade/YA fiction
Violence: References to gang-related violence in protagonist's neighborhood.  One character is hurt by bullies.
Language: Mild insults, bullying language
Sensuality: None
Adult themes: Natural disasters, poverty, loss and grief

January 18, 2016

THE KISS OF A STRANGER by Sarah M. Eden, 2008

When Crispin, Lord Cavratt, thoroughly and scandalously kisses a serving woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But he couldn't be more mistaken, the maid is not only a lady of birth, she's the niece of a very large, exceptionally angry gentleman, who claims Crispin has compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle. (Goodreads) 

Reviewed by Brooke – Wife, Mother, Reader

This is a bit of a "Cinderella" story (my favorite by the way).  Catherine lives in a horrible situation.  She is a lady, but under the cruel rule of her uncle.  Crispin, a gentleman, kisses Catherine, thinking it harmless.  Crispin being the gentleman that he is, agrees to marry Catherine when her uncle insists.  The marriage saves Catherine from her situation with her uncle, but now she is married to a stranger.

THE KISS OF A STRANGER has a bad guy, a really good bad guy.  The Uncle fills this role well.  Crispin is a wonderful hero.  He has good morals.  He may at times not know what’s right, but he wants to be the true good guy.  Catherine is a damsel in distress.  Crispin saves her like the Prince saves Cinderella from the Wicked Stepmother.   Although Catherine is shy, she and Crispin have some really fun banter.  Catherine comes out of her shell when she is not under the rule of her uncle.  I like the dynamic between these two characters.  One of my favorite characters (besides the hero and heroine), is Crispin's sister, Lizzie.  She is a wonderful supporting character, loving and kind when Catherine needs a friend.  Another favorite minor character is Philip Jonquil.  He is such a good character that the author has written a book with him as the main character.  He is witty and adds humor to the book.

Sarah M. Eden writes lovely historical romances and I recommend her books if you like clean romance.

Market: Adult Clean Historical Fiction
Language: None
Sensuality: Mild, Kissing
Violence: None
Mature Themes: Mild, Bullying by Uncle

January 11, 2016

THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE by Jonathon Stroud, 2013

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Valette M.

Lucy Carlyle makes a plucky and determined heroine -- she has to be to continue to face down ghosts night after night. She is adventurous, yet moderately levelheaded and makes a nice support of a team consisting of Lockwood (who prefers to charge in guns -- ahem -- rapiers blazing) and George, who's perhaps a little bit too reserved. The chemistry in the team was very entertaining, consisting of the rough bumps and snappishness of a family but also the fierce  loyalty and general camaraderie. They worked together well, almost mesmerizingly so in a battle scene. And yet they weren't infallible, and there were times when their age bled through, serving to put things in perspective and up the ante.

THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE starts out with quite a kick. The reader is thrown directly into the action with no info dump needed to get a hold of the dramatic and intricate, perhaps far more so than currently seen, world. Ghost hunting, though always carrying an intrinsic fear, was never so intense. The stakes upped. And then they upped again. And right when the plot was tying up, it didn't. So to those of you who've missed the feel of biting your nails, this one's for you. Though it could be considered a 'ghost' book, Jonathan Stroud has broken all the tropes of the genre to bring us a swashbuckling, plot-hole free narrative that just gets better and better.

The Bartimeaus Trilogy is one of my favorite series by far. The magic system and depth of the alternate history blew my mind. I can safely say that Lockwood and Co is well on its way to attaining the same. Again set in an alternate London, this time the people are coping with The Problem, a serious rash of hauntings. Reality melds smoothly with paranormal activity, in the newest book from Jonathan Stroud, and also the newest book on my favorites list.

Market: Young Adult
Language: Mild if any
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild (Dismembering of ghosts, etc)
Mature Themes: The Spooky and the ethereal

January 4, 2016

LOVE, AUBREY by Suzanne LaFleur, 2009

A tragic accident has turned eleven-year-old Aubrey’s world upside down. Starting a new life all alone, Aubrey has everything she thinks she needs: SpaghettiOs and Sammy, her new pet fish. She cannot talk about what happened to her. Writing letters is the only thing that feels right to Aubrey, even if no one ever reads them. With the aid of her loving grandmother and new friends, Aubrey learns that she is not alone, and gradually, she finds the words to express feelings that once seemed impossible to describe. The healing powers of friendship, love, and memory help Aubrey take her first steps toward the future. (Goodreads)

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

Gosh, I love LOVE, AUBREY so much. And oh, how it makes me cry! I have read many sad fictional books, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (honestly, so many people die in that book!) to books about the Titanic and the last Romanovs, but most of them can't bring me to tears. They can make me really, really sad, it's true, but they can't make me actually cry. This book, though, gets the waterworks flowing in the first three chapters and never lets them stop. And this may sound miserable, but it's actually wonderful.

You see, this is a story of pain and grief and abandonment, but it's also the story of love and friendship and strength at the worst of times. It is the story of Aubrey, whose father and sister died in a car accident. Her mother was so incredibly consumed with grief she ran away from home a few months after the funeral, leaving Aubrey behind to take care of herself. The story is told in first person past tense, which worked well for the story by providing a compelling contrasts with the first person present flashback scenes in which Aubrey remembers life before the car accident. Instead of an info-dump at the beginning of the story we gradually find out the events of Aubrey's past as she is forced to remember them, which (you guessed it!) provides haunting snapshots throughout the story of how much Aubrey has lost.

The saddest parts of the narrative, however, are probably the letters Aubrey writes. At the beginning of the book she writes letters to her sister's imaginary friend Jilly as a way to sort of indirectly talk to a piece of her sister. As she begins to come to grips with everything that has happened to her, she starts to write more directly to her mother, father, and sister, telling them what she wishes she could say to them in person. She signs each letter "Love, Aubrey," which is the source of the title.

This is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite books. It's heart-wrenching, but it's also realistic and  heartwarming. Aubrey has had the unthinkable happen to her family, and she responds the way any real person would - through denial, through tears, and through shutting down at any reminder of what has happened. But as the story goes along, she learns to cope and to forgive and to live her new life with her grandmother and best friend/neighbor Bridget.

This is an amazing book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. But please, know what you are getting into. This is not a light or easy read, and if you don't want to read a book that will make you cry, then don't pick this one up. But know that it does not just toy with the emotions: it is sad because terrible, tragic things happen in life, and sometimes you have to cry about them.

Market: Middle Grade
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild/Moderate (Aubrey has flashbacks to the car accident that killed her father and sister)
Mature Themes: Dealing with the realities of death and parental abandonment