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