Friday, May 26, 2017

Children's Review: Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath

Obviously, the first thing that caught my eye with this book was the cover. I love to read middle grade fantasy-slash-adventure novels, so an image of two kids riding a giant pig (boar?) piqued my interest. Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath has a really creative premise, featuring the titular character, who has just moved from Illinois to London. When she gets there, a seemingly innocent act (fixing a faucet in her flat's bathroom) leads to her mother being kidnapped and her discovery that the sewers beneath London were built upon a system of magic rivers. Hyacinth's first priority is to rescue her mother, and along the way she comes across a cast of unique characters -- including the pictured magical, giant pig -- some of whom are more nefarious than they first appear to be. Hyacinth also discovers that she has a particularly important role in not only saving her mother, but also saving London, so along the way she learns more about her own family's history with the magic that flows beneath her new city.

I have to admit I struggled with this book a bit and wasn't sure that I was even going to finish it. I didn't really get invested in the story until around the 40% mark, and even after that I found myself with an apathetic attitude towards the plot. What I liked were the characters -- the very charming pig was my favorite -- but Hyacinth herself fell flat for me in terms of development and authenticity. I appreciated the creativity of the premise, but in the end the world-building felt discombobulated and the details were hard to track throughout the story. I wished there had been a bit more background or ground-laying in terms of the magical elements and without spoiling the ending, the resolution couldn't pull it together enough for me to recommend this book to my students or readers of the blog.

Bottom-Line Rating: 2/5 

Title: Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath
Author: Jacob Sager Weinstein
Publisher: Random House, 2017
ISBN: 0399553177
Format: Ebook
Source: Net Galley

Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reader Recommendations: Audiobooks

Are you a fan of audiobooks? If you had asked me a year ago, I would have replied with a shrug and a meh. I didn't like audiobooks because I felt like they didn't count -- like listening was a form of cheating. Obviously I abandoned that ridiculous notion, and I'm glad I did, because I'm now a huge fan of audiobook listening.

I didn't start listening to audiobooks regularly until last summer, when I decided to multitask and listen to a book while I set up my new classroom. I'm pretty picky when it comes to audiobook narrators, but what I discovered was that I love listening to a story while doing a mindless task like cleaning, cooking, or even exercising. (Sometimes, wanting to finish an audiobook actually spurs me to get out for a long walk or run -- there's a motivational tip for you!) It turns out that listening a book really is akin to reading it (at least as far as brain activity goes), so for me that second task needs to be a mindless one in order for me to immerse myself in the story and keep my attention on comprehension rather than letting my mind wander.

I've listened to a few really great titles in the past year (the one above - T.E. Kinsey's A Quiet Life in the Country -- being my favorite aside only from Rachel McAdam's reading of Anne of Green Gables), but I often felt that it was a matter of chance when trying to select my next audiobook, so I recently asked some bookish friends of mine to recommend audiobooks.

 My goal was to make a list for myself to listen to this year, but the response was so big that I came out with a list that will certainly take more than a year to tackle (I average about 2 audiobooks a month) and that I knew I had to share with readers of the blog, with the hope that we'll all be able to find our next favorite read!

I decided the list needed a more permanent spot on the blog, so you can easily find it by clicking the Audiobooks tab above. It's a growing list, so if you have a new recommendation to add, send me a message or leave a comment and I'll update it semi-regularly!

Thank you to all those on Instagram, readers of the blog who emailed me with recommendations, and my bookish friends from the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club who are always willing to share their favorite titles! I know my own list of audiobooks is now miles long, and I hope you can find something here to listen to and love too!