Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Quick

{on Goodreads}
As children, James and Charlotte were close companions, but an incident in their youth and the separation from James's days at boarding school left their relationship to grow distant. Now James is living in London, exploring the city from the perspective of a young writer and discovering companionship in unexpected places; that is, until the day he disappears. Charlotte, living on a small estate in the country, feels compelled to venture into the intimidating landscape that is London to find out what's happened to her brother. When she arrives, she finds an impossible change has taken place and realizes that the world is far bigger (and scarier) than she ever thought. The shocking discoveries she makes bring her together with an unlikely group of heroes and form into a most dangerous and uncommon path, one that she pursues to make things right for the sake of her family.

You may recognize this cover from my currently coveting feature for July. I put myself on the library's waiting list for this book and was thrilled when my turn arrived quickly. I have been on a Victorian-era kick lately (it's one of my favorite time periods) and I was craving another dark and brooding story with plenty of plot twists. What I didn't realize about the story and would like to emphasize here is that the supernatural element plays quite an important role. I hadn't expected that, but ended up really liking the book anyway for many different reasons. The author's style is sophisticated without being pretentious, and the characters are quiet in their strength. I was impressed that this is the author's first published novel, and look forward to seeing more from her in the future. I'd recommend this to readers who like a quiet thrill and the slow, winding plot that is the mark of this era in historical fiction. Amazon suggests it for fans of The Historian and I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Quick
Author: Lauren Owen 
Publisher: Random House, 2014
Price: Varying, usually in the $20 range
ISBN: 0812993276
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #29 of 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Feedback, please!

Hi readers! Today I'm looking for a favor from you. It's been just about seven months since I started this little blog, and I've so enjoyed connecting with other readers over that time period. I love that books are the perfect conversation piece, and because of Top Shelf Text, I've met some really interesting people and discovered new things about old friends. Settling in with a good book and a cup of tea on the couch is quite literally my happy place, and I like knowing that the same is true for other people! 

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about my personal mission for Top Shelf Text, which is simply to create a space in which people can find new reads and enjoy talking about all things literature-related. Evaluating the future directions for this blog is on my to-do list before the school year starts back up and I would so appreciate your feedback about your experience here on Top Shelf Text.

I've created a survey with some questions that will help me get to know you, my readers, as well as help me understand what it is that you like about the blog. There's a space for comments and questions too, and I welcome any and all suggestions that you have for me. I am so grateful for the support I've had so far from friends, family, and strangers alike, and look forward to growing Top Shelf Text into something that I love contributing to for years to come.


{P.S. It's anonymous, so please express yourself freely!}

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: A Beautiful Blue Death

{on Goodreads}
Charles Lenox is a wealthy aristocrat in Victorian London, and though he genuinely enjoys the leisures of his class, he differs from his peers in one aspect: he's also an amateur detective. In a take on the Sherlock Holmes formula, Finch brings us a detective whose talents far surpass the local police and who relishes in the chase of London murderers. When a maid in an acquaintance's household is found poisoned, Lenox takes the case-- not only to find closure for the girl's fiancée, but also to appease his closest friend, the widow Lady Jane Grey. As Lenox's primary suspect becomes a victim, he finds that he must carefully navigate the aristocratic and political circles that comprise his highly influential suspect pool and that he must solve the case quickly as he finds himself threatened and in danger.

I've had this book on my to-read list since March, and finally decided to seek it out at the library. I was craving a good mystery and can't say that I was disappointed. This is a good read for those who like to follow characters through a series, as it really laid the groundwork for the development of character relationships in future books. I took a liking to Lenox and his solitary, quiet ways, and liked that there is just a hint of a potential love story worked into the plot. As for the mystery aspect, I was unable to guess the culprit, so the surprise was definitely there at the end. Personally, I'm drawn to Victorian-era settings, but the biggest draw for me was the comparison to Sherlock Holmes. I'd recommend this to fans of old-fashioned mysteries (though it was quite subdued, nothing like an Agatha Christie). As a bonus, the second in the series looks especially good and I can't wait to follow along.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: A Beautiful Blue Death
Author: Charles Finch
Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2007
Price: $10.60 (on Amazon)
ISBN: 0312359772
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #28 of 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

3 Truths About Classic Literature

I felt that it was about time for some transparency on the subject of classic literature. Mark Twain once said that classics are books we praise and don't read, and I'm as guilty as anyone for living up to that truth. I love literature- and being a reader is a huge part of my identity, but I'm not an English major and I'm not an expert. I just love to read, and I love the freedom to choose what I read. 

I do have a habit of sticking to just a few genres, but for my reading resolutions this year I've been branching out and challenging myself to find enjoyable books that are outside of my comfort zone. Part of that challenge was to read four classics. I expected it to be easy, after all, aren't all classics great? I've only finished two so far, but I can say that I'm finding this resolution of mine to be…difficult, to say the least. Here's what I've learned about the classics so far:

They're not all great. // Classic literature is a category made up of all genres, so not all of them are going to be appealing to every reader. I put The Time Machine on my list, even though I know that I'm not a science-fiction reader. And guess what? It didn't appeal to me. I appreciate that it was the beginning of a genre, but I lost interest.

Sometimes, they don't turn out as expected. // After my failure to delve into H.G.Wells, I picked up Jane Eyre, expecting it to quickly become my favorite classic ever. Wrong. I love the books that I've read that are based off of this story, but I didn't love the original. There wasn't enough going on and I really only got wrapped up in a few key moments.


Children's classics count too. // Maybe I'm biased because of my obvious love for all things children's lit, but I would much rather dive into a children's classic than an adult classic. These stories are ones that practically raised older generations (the same way that Harry Potter has raised our generation) but they've lost a lot of their appeal because young readers see them as too challenging. I'd love to see a revival of children reading Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, both of which have now made it onto my to-read list.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Children's Review: The Great Unexpected

{on Goodreads}


Naomi has experienced more than her fair share of tragedy. Her mother passed away from a disease and her father died as a result of a dog attack that also left Naomi's arm mangled. After the accident, Naomi was taken in by an older couple who raised her as their own, and in their care she's grown to love her surroundings, even her talkative and at times, overwhelmingly dramatic, best friend,
Lizzie. One day, Naomi and Lizzie witness a strange boy fall from a tree. He has no idea where he is, and speaks in an unfamiliar accent, but Naomi is instantly drawn to him. The unusual boy holds a mysterious connection to her own caregivers, and both Naomi and Lizzie's lives will soon change drastically because of it.

Sharon Creech was one of my favorite authors when I started reading chapter books in elementary school. She writes fantastic stories with twists and turns that are always surprising, and on top of that, manages to write about real issues in a way that doesn't scare off her young readers. This book was full of tragic pasts, but the language and dialogue was so poignant and the characters so resilient that it was easy to fall in love with the little town and all of it's quirky residents and strange secrets. The one drawback of the story is that it is dialogue-driven, so there is little action to pull in young readers who have trouble keeping their attention on slowly-winding plots. Despite that, I would recommend this to any young reader, and love the idea of it as a book club choice, as it would prompt excellent discussions about family and belief in the extraordinary.

Recommended for ages 8-12 (grades 3-7)
Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Great Unexpected
Author: Sharon Creech
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2012
Price: $14 (on Amazon)
ISBN: 0061892327
Source: Public Library
Format: Hardcover

Friday, July 11, 2014

Update: Books I've Read in 2014 {May & June}

In putting together this list, I'm already getting a sneak peak of how my 2014 reading challenge will pan out. It's interesting to see how many books I read during breaks versus exam time at school. The number of books I read each month fluctuates, but in the end I really hope to achieve my goal of 60 books this year. Below you'll find my most recent reads from May and June. My favorites from this list? Wildflower Hill and The Goldfinch.

Here's a little guideline for how I decide (out of 5) the number of stars to give a book:
5 stars: Amazing. Perfect. Enthralling. Highly recommend it!
4 stars: It isn't a masterpiece, but I sure liked it!
3 stars: I wouldn't re-read it, but still liked it.
2 stars: Not at the top of my list. Maybe skip this one.(...Or don't! You never know what you may like).
1 star: It probably took considerable effort for me not to throw this at a wall. Who knows, maybe I did throw it at the wall. 



{on Goodreads}
4 Stars
(A great pick for summer reading!)
Read My Review
3 Stars

Read My Review
5 Stars
Read My Review
2 Stars


{on Goodreads}
4 Stars


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reader Recommendation : The Devil's Highway

As part of a new series here on Top Shelf Text, I'll be occasionally posting reader recommendations from the other avid readers in my life.  There's nothing better than a conversation about great books, and lately I've had a few of my readers give me great recommendations. If you're interested in sharing a reader recommendation, send me a quick e-mail at topshelftext@gmail.com to find out more details!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our first reader recommendation comes from my dad (you may remember him from this post) who spotted a book that interested him way back in February and decided to give it a shot. He finished the book a while ago, but brought it up again considering all that has been going on in the news over the past two weeks. If you've been following the story of child immigrants and the border crisis, this book should be on your to-read list-- I've bumped it up to the top of mine!

{on Goodreads}

The Devil's Highway: A True Story written by Luis Alberto Urrea provides a unique and relevant perspective on the perils of illegal border crossing between Mexico and the US in the Arizona desert.  This is an account of 26 men that pay relatively big money to unknowingly risk their lives in search of better prospects across the border.  Their hired guides, or coyotes, lead them on a wandering death march through the desert and ultimately it falls upon the US Border Patrol to attempt to rescue and then prosecute the handful of survivors.  The parallels between this story and current events in Texas makes this a compelling read and provides insight into the US border policy that, as this author would have it, does little to reduce illegal immigration and actually contributes to immigrant deaths.  I rate this book a 5 on the relevance scale.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Currently Coveting {July}

One of the best places to find book recommendations (in my opinion) is from Oprah Magazine. I love how much effort they put into their book recommendations, and am constantly adding new titles to my to-read list when I peruse the website or flip through the magazine. If you're looking for a really good run-down on the best books to read this summer, pick up the July issue-- it's full of great reads. I've picked out just a few from O's list, each of which happen to be on just about every other summer reading list out there. Bring on the beach reads!

{on Goodreads}

Lay it on my Heart by Angela Pneuman // Charmaine is 13 years old when her prophet-father is committed to an asylum, leaving her and her mother to live in a trailer on a riverbank in Kentucky. I've read that the characters are unique and incredibly well-crafted, and that this is a coming-of-age tale that you don't want to miss. (P.S. This is Pneuman's debut novel...impressive for how much acclaim it's already received!)



{on Goodreads}

The Quick by Lauren Owen // Hot off the press (published on June 17th), this novel was already named one of The Top 10 Literary Fiction Books of the Season by Publishers Weekly (a great list in-and-of itself). It's a supernatural Gothic thriller (perfect for rainy summer days) set in Victorian London and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.



{on Goodreads}

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak // You may recognize this author from another medium-- Novak is one of the actors/writers/directors of The Office. He can now add beloved author to his list of accomplishments, as this book of short stories has been making literary critics laugh out loud since it's debut. Definitely on my want-list!
What's on your summer reading list? Leave a recommendation below!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

The Fourth of July is the biggest community-wide celebration in my little coastal town every year. Marblehead was founded way back in 1629, and is well known for its role in the American Revolution. As such, this town loves to celebrate its history with colonial reenactments, a three-day long arts festival, live music performances, and of course, fireworks. Not just any fireworks, though, the best fireworks. 

The show begins with the harbor illumination:
{via}

And then, this:
{via}
 Our town really shines when it comes to its history, and I love that children here get to have such a personal learning experience. I wanted to find some literature that can help explain the details, so that young readers realize how truly inspiring the American Revolution can be.

I've come up with a short booklist of informational texts that help give children the full picture. What were people like back then? What did they wear? Why was the idea of a revolution so important to them? When they rallied together and cried, "Liberty or death!", what did they really mean? 

{on Goodreads}
Liberty or Death: The American Revolution, 1763-1783 by Betsy Maestro
{on Goodreads}
If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore

If You Were There in 1776 by Barbara Brenner

These texts will give children an introduction to reading non-fiction and historical books, and will hopefully help to spark their interest in the history of our country since 1776.

Enjoy the long weekend!



P.S. You may remember my bestie Allie from our Memorial Day collaboration back in May. Allie's blog, The Little Prince Project, inspires me to bring more American history and civics into my reading and I'm sure will be a great resource for me when I curate lesson plans for my future classes. Today she's featuring a lovely list of things to do on Independence Day to make the holiday a more educational and more mindful experience. She even managed to sneak in a book recommendation for adults! I encourage everyone to check out her post and explore her blog a bit!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Update: Books I've Read {March & April}

This monthly update feature is meant to give you a chance to peruse my (virtual) bookshelf and see what I've been reading each month. Below you'll find my reads from March and April of this year. My hope is that you may discover a new book for your to-read list! From these months, I'd most recommend Bossypants and Where'd You Go, Bernadette, both of which made me laugh!

Here's a little guideline for how I decide (out of 5) the number of stars to give a book:
5 stars: Amazing. Perfect. Enthralling. Highly recommend it!
4 stars: It isn't a masterpiece, but I sure liked it!
3 stars: I wouldn't re-read it, but still liked it.
2 stars: Not at the top of my list. Maybe skip this one.(...or don't! You never know what you may like).
1 star: It probably took considerable effort for me not to throw this at a wall. Who knows, maybe I did throw it at the wall. 

{on Goodreads}
3 Stars
(Not amazing, but good enough for me to buy the next in the series!)
Read My Review
5 Stars
{on Goodreads}
3 Stars
Note: Not for the faint of heart...this book was enthralling at times, but also really disturbing.

{on Goodreads}
5 Stars
(This was an audio version of the book, but I read the book a few years ago and loved both versions!)

{on Goodreads}
2 Stars