Friday, January 30, 2015

Word Worship {Arundhati Roy}

Happy Friday! My apologies for the slow pace of the blog these past two weeks, I've been settling in to my last semester of my undergraduate career, which is both exciting and a little scary! Setting a new routine for homework, studying, writing, etc. requires lots of planning and had me exhausted. Thank goodness for snow days, I loved our unexpected break this week! I have some fun content coming up so keep an eye out, new posts are coming next week! I decided to share my weekend inspiration early with you today in the form of this beautiful quote by Arundhati Roy.


"...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones that you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic."

- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things


This quote spoke volumes to me when I first read it in a literature class during my sophomore year of college. I stumbled upon it again recently and felt the same pull to it, but without the context of the story (which is brilliant, if you haven't read it yet), it instantly reminded me of my all-time favorite collection of texts. Can you guess what it is?

In my lifetime, the Great Story has been Harry Potter. I treasure my collection and love introducing it to the littles in my life. I've read the series enough times to ace the hardest quizzes and have dressed up for Halloween more than a few years in a row. I don't expect that I'll ever stop loving the culture of Harry Potter, and I know that my love for it will be something that I pass down to my own children. It sounds cliché, but this story raised my generation, acting as a common thread through the bookshelves of my peers. My copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is so worn that the cover threatens to fall off every time I open it. And despite my ability to practically recite the books line by line, I still devour the series every few years. For me, this Great Story is the most reliable source of literary comfort on my shelves-- no matter how much time passes the story will stay the same. That is greatly assuring to me, and to so many others.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Kingdom of Lies

{on Goodreads}
Kingdom of Lies is the first mystery in a series featuring Keen Dunliffe, a gruff Enlglish Inspector with an honest-cop complex. Dunliffe is going through a dull and somewhat depressing period in his life (recent divorce, stalled career, etc.) when he is assigned to a case that seems ordinary at first but soon requires him to confront more danger than he's used to in his small, quiet village. A woman attending a local academic conference is found naked, floating in the pond on the grounds of a wealthy aristocratic family's estate. At first, Dunliffe expects this to be an open-and-shut case of an accidental death due to drunken skinny-dipping. Then Dunliffe gets a call, asking him to cozy up to the victim's close friend, Jillie Waltham, an American academic who has an inkling that there's more to the case than she's been told. As Keen and Jillie work together in London to solve the mystery, their personal relationship becomes more complicated, the case becomes more dangerous, and they realize that its implications are far reaching, both in history and in scope.

I picked this up on a whim after the spine caught my eye on a library shelf. My book rut has been somewhat ongoing, and I was looking for a read that would pull me in, even if it meant picking a cheesy mystery. Though this book doesn't have great ratings on Goodreads (3.26/4 from 72 ratings), I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the next in the series. I wouldn't say I'm going to become an avid fan of the series, but there are a few choice reasons that I can say that I'll probably look for the next one: (1) Keen Dunliffe is a great character. I love that he's full of flaws. For me, he's a different take on the classic, over-confident type of cop character that one usually sees in this type of story. (2) I couldn't guess the ending, or the "who done it" for the life of me. It caught me totally off guard, and that's always a plus for me when it comes to mysteries.

Bottom Line Rating: 3/5

Title: Kingdom of Lies
Author: Lee Wood
Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2005
Price: {Not available directly from Amazon or B&N, I'd suggest the library}
ISBN: 0312340303
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #1 of 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Curating a Collection of Cookbooks

In the past year I've been building on my skills in the kitchen. I used to be only a baker (cupcakes are still my specialty), but I've really enjoyed learning how to make all sorts of dishes. When I picture my dream home, the first thing on my list is always a personal library. Recently I've also been daydreaming about a cute, cottage-type kitchen with a collection of eclectic, brightly-colored dishes, vases with fresh flowers, and my own little garden right in the backyard. I've become increasingly interested in making things from scratch, and I love that cooking is a hobby that you can share-- whether it's creating something together with a significant other or making a delicious delivery to your bestie.

Meal planning sounds daunting, but it's actually one of my favorite ways to prep for the week. Pinterest is always a great source for recipes and I have a few food blogs on hand that I love to browse when planning, but I've also been coveting more than a few cookbooks lately. Though I love indulging in treats just as much as anyone, my focus is mostly on choosing meals that are filling, vibrant, and healthy. Below you'll find some of the books that I want to have (eventually) in my kitchen.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman // This book was written by a woman who started out with no experience in the kitchen. She was daunted by the number of recipes out there on the web, never knowing how to pick the best one. Her recipes look amazing and I feel a total sense of connection over the no-experience thing. I would love to have this be a staple on my kitchen shelf.

Clean Slate: A Cookbook and Guide: Reset Your Health, Detox Your Body, and Feel Your Best by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living // If you ask me, Martha can do no wrong. I absolute covet my issue of Martha Stewart Living when it comes in the mail each month, and I love that this book is full of recipes that are beautiful, healthy, and sure to leave you feeling great.
It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes that Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow // Every recipe in this collection looks delicious and is made with whole foods. And if eating that food gives me a glow that's equal to even ten percent of Gwyneth's? I'm in. 
Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar // If you're not totally sold by the photograph on the cover of this cookbook, I can't help you. Everything in this book looks so yummy and is a lighter take on the Italian food that we all crave.
One Pot: 120+ Easy Meals from Your Skillet, Slow Cooker, Crockpot, and More by the Editors at Martha Stewart Living // I love the idea of cooking an entire meal in just one pot, because dishes are my least favorite part of my new favorite hobby. Besides, these recipes also come from Martha Stewart, and we all know that means they have to be really good.
Meatless: More than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes by the Editors at Martha Stewart Living // I'm not a vegetarian, but my diet tends to lean in that direction, especially when I'm in charge of cooking dinner. I have a weird aversion to cooking meat, so unless someone is doing that part for me, I'll choose a recipe that's vegetarian. Hence why I feel the need to have an extensive collection of recipes without meat in them. 
The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger // One of my favorite gifts that I received for Christmas this year is my new bread machine. So far, I've tried out a rosemary bread recipe (amazing) and a buttermilk loaf recipe (incredible). I'm smitten with making my own breads because it ensures that there are less preservatives in the food that I eat, plus the smell of it baking in the oven is amazing and makes the kitchen feel more homey. I'm definitely interested in having a go-to cookbook for different delicious bread recipes.
The Baker's Four Seasons by Marcy Goldman // Everything in moderation, including delicious homemade desserts. I love that this book gives recipes by the season, so you can take advantage of farmer's market finds (my favorite) and always use the freshest ingredients possible. 
Hand Made Baking: Recipes to Warm the Heart by Kamran Siddiqi // This book will be a sure go-to when you need to impress your friends with your baking talents. It has classic, indulgent, delicious recipes and an incredibly high rating on Goodreads.

I love that these books can double as great gifts for your favorite cook! I have received a number of cookbooks in past years for special occasions and love that they are functional as well as beautiful. I mean, food photography gets me every time. I also always keep an eye out for cookbooks at library sales, as you can get them for around $1!

P.S. While you're waiting for your new cookbooks to arrive in the mail, get your healthy on with a new recipe!  How about a hearty soup? Soups and fresh breads are my favorites right now-- they keep me warm and happy in this chilly weather, and are a great way to sneak extra veggies into your meal.

I recently made this Lentil Spinach Soup and let me tell was amazingI added a side of fresh farmhouse bread, made with my new bread machine. It instantly earned a top spot on my favorite recipes list. 

Do you have a favorite cookbook? Share below! I'm always looking for more to add to my wish list.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Looking for a Challenge in 2015?

As I mentioned last week, I will not be setting any reading resolutions for this year. I've already combed through my bookshelves and pulled out a few books that I've always had on my list (for example, this one, this one, and this one) but never felt that I could get done quickly enough to keep up with my normal reading pace. However, that's not to say that I'm not looking for inspiration when it comes to curating my to-read list each month. In browsing through some of my favorite blogs and websites, I've noticed that one common resolution is to read more. My personal anti-resolution may be to read less (or should I say, to focus on the quality rather than quantity of my choices), but if you are looking for some inspiration to help you read more, I've rounded up a few fun challenges from around the web to help get you started.

The Gilmore Girls Challenge

{image via}
I've seen this list in a couple places, but Buzzfeed has an article listing all of the books that Rory read  throughout the seasons. I've seen a few episodes of the show here and there, but never consistently watched it. I could tell from those few episodes, though, that Rory is a character after my own heart.

I mean...
{image via}
Amen to that.

26 Books with Bringing Up Burns

I love the idea behind this challenge, which is a list that helps you find books to read without telling you exactly what to read (sometimes that kind of list can feel like a syllabus). Some examples from the challenge are: a book with a color in the title, a book with a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe, and a book with a great first line. It's a creative way to find 26 books for your to read list, and I think checking off that list throughout the year would be so fun and such a great way to get your friends talking about reading. You can follow the pre-made list here, or you could even make a list of your own! 

52 Books with Popsugar

This challenge is the same idea as the one above, only with a book for each week of the year. Normally, this is the type of challenge that I would take on to keep me reading consistently. Some of the ideas on the list are: a book that your mom loves, a book more than 100 years old, and a book you can finish in a day. I think it would be extra fun to tackle this list with a few of your friends, then see the variety of titles that you all come up with for each item on the list!

46 Brilliant Short Novels

{image via}
Not into reading heavy tomes? I totally get that. This list of short but captivating reads is sure to keep you interested. I like offsetting each big book that I read with something light-- either in subject or in length, so I'll definitely be making use of this list throughout the year. You could use this as your whole goal for the year or even as a challenge to actually read each of these in one day.

5 Books with a Friend Challenge

Not into the idea of being tied to a big list of books? How about pledging to get through five books this year with a close friend? Take some recommendations from the bookworms in your life, browse the library shelves, peruse Oprah's recommendations, set up an account on Goodreads (and then friend me! My username is Madeleine Riley) or just shop your own shelves for books that you've already read and loved, or those books you bought but never got around to. 

Do you have a book that you read and loved this year? Any favorites that you just can't stop recommending to others? Share it in the comments below!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Inspired: Mac Barnett {TED Talk}

When I posted about my latest obsession, I received some great feedback from my readers that led me to think it might be fun to expand the content of Top Shelf Text just a bit this year. (Don't worry, my primary focus is still everything & anything book-related.) I recently took one my state licensure exams for teaching, and as part of my studying I had to learn about online literacy. It's becoming more common for teachers to integrate the internet into their classrooms in the interest of teaching children how to use the internet to inspire their own learning. That led me to reflect, how do I use the web to inspire my own learning? One of the first things that came to mind were TED talks. Hearing experts talk about their passions is so energizing, and often I can find links between my college courses and the things I learn from watching the talks. I love that you can hear about pretty much any topic-- from neuroscience, to astronomy, to marine biology, and of course, education. The education and psychology topics are always my favorite (no surprise there), and I love that they can start great conversations about really important issues. One of my goals for this year is to surround myself with inspiration-- whether it be favorite quotes, beautiful artwork, or enthusiastic role models. Each Saturday, I'll be sharing something on Top Shelf Text that has me inspired, in the hope that it may compel you to feel the same way! 

For my first Inspired post, I'm sharing this talk, which is currently my favorite. I listened to it at the gym last week and it had me laughing out loud (which in turn made me the target of some raised eyebrows from fellow gym-goers...oops!). Not surprisingly, it has to do with books, and it left me feeling so enthused about the power of the imagination and our ability to make everyday life just a little more magical.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015 Reading Resolutions

Last year I set three separate challenges for myself that made up my Reading Resolutions for 2014. I'm sure you can guess what happened... (hint, it's typical for many resolutions). Yes, I completely failed to complete two of my challenges, despite the fact that I had the blog to hold me accountable! I only completed my classics challenge, which I think was a great catalyst for getting myself more interested in classic literature. I loved treating those books not as famous works on a syllabus, but more as books that were just beautifully written and universally loved. I plan on reading more classic books this year, and expanding my reach into some more children's classics as well. I was super proud of myself for reading four classics, but I didn't read one American history book or two memoirs as planned. Instead of feeling guilty, reflecting on that failure just made me shrug my shoulders.

I love to read, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I read every single day of the year, but at times those challenges were a little nagging voice in the back of my head. I'm approaching my last semester of my undergraduate career, and with a full course load and a rather big project in the works, I'm working to mitigate some of the pressure that I put on myself in other areas of my life. Reading is often my escape from the more stressful aspects of real life, so instead of adding pressure by increasing the number of goals and deadlines that I have to meet, I'm simply not setting any resolutions for this year.

I will not be setting a reading challenge on Goodreads, nor will I be setting one on here. When I pledged to read 60 books (as I did for 2014), I often thought about that goal while choosing my next read, and sometimes this led me to choose books that I know I'll get through quickly, rather than the tomes that have been on my reading list for forever. This may seem silly, but so many of the readers on Goodreads tackle insanely long reading lists (I've seen readers complete a 1,000 book challenge in a year...ain't nobody got time for that!) and I can feel like my own reading list is inadequate when compared to those lists.

I'm making 2015 my year to read whatever I want. I'm excited to tackle some of the thickest, most difficult books on my reading list, without being concerned about how long it takes me to read them. I started off the year by choosing a book that I love and one that I've never "had time" to read before, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and eliminating the idea of a resolution has me feeling like I've taken a long, deep breath of fresh air.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Top Ten of Twenty-Fourteen

Happy New Year and welcome to my Top Ten of 2014 roundup! I rang in 2015 with two of my favorite littles-- we celebrated with movie marathons, homemade pizza nights, and lots of bedtime stories (the best way to start a new year, if you ask me). The first of the year also marked my one year anniversary as the author of Top Shelf Text! I'll be chatting about that and reflecting on the past year early next week, but for now let me say thank you. Thank you to all of the readers who have followed me since the start, who have been patient when final exams and real life took precedence over the blog, and who have given me feedback. Needless to say, I love having conversations about literature with all of you!

I read a total of 56 books in 2014, and I loved most of them, so picking just ten to top my list was a tricky task, but without further ado, here are some of my favorite books from this year (in no particular order)...

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle // If you've been a reader of Top Shelf Text for any amount of time, you'll know that I love books with strong female characters. Add that to a historical setting in which men ruled? Just perfect, if you ask me. I read a few historical fiction novels that were of similar vein to this story over the past year, and this was my favorite by far. You can read my review here. I'll be adding Freemantle's second novel to my list of books to read in 2015-- she'll definitely be on my list of authors to follow in historical fiction. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple // If you haven't read this book yet, you are missing out. Besides the fact that it has the best cover design ever, it was a hilarious story and if I could sum up the moral in one word, it would be...relax. Great for bookclubs, for vacations, for any day of the year. You can read me gush about it more here.

Bossypants by Tina Fey // This was the first year I tried out audiobooks with the Audible app. The monthly subscription was a little too pricey for me to keep up with, but I loved listening to this book. I'm a fan of Tina Fey in any setting (sidenote: have you seen This is Where I Leave You yet? If not, put that on your list-- she kills it.) and listening to her narrate her own hilarious memories made the book even better. I had already read the book, but this was so good I listened to it twice.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough // I'd recommend this book to any parent, teacher, or anyone interested in children and education. This was the first that I read outside of a syllabus, and although it was slower-moving for me than a normal book (we all know I'm not one for nonfiction reads), I found it to be thought-provoking; sometimes  I agreed wholeheartedly, sometimes I found myself shaking my head, but either way I found it was a great conversation base. 

Euphoria by Lily King // I loved how complicated the relationships in this book were. It was an easy, fast, and completely enthralling read. You can read my review of it here.

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg // A standout from this year. Whimsical, eccentric, and the characters are just charming. I also loved the second in the trilogy and have the third pre-ordered for its release in July of this year. You can read about my adoration for this series here.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness // Bittersweet, because as much as I loved reading this book, it marked the end of one of my new favorite trilogies. I may just have to re-read the whole thing this year.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald // This was my year for classics to have second chances, and although last year this book was one that I wish I liked more, I tried it for my classics challenge this year and read it in a whole new light. A changed perspective can really have an impact on my interpretation of a book. I'll be looking to read other books by Fitzgerald this year.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen // No one was more surprised than me when I got hooked by this book. I've been an avid reader my whole life, and I admitted last year that I felt a little embarrassed that I had never finished a novel by Jane Austen. I ended up loving this story and hope to read at least one more Austen novel this year. 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer // This is one of those rare favorites in that every time I read it, it gets even better. You know a book is good when it pulls you out of a book rut, and when it connects readers who rarely enjoy the same books. It's just plain fascinating.

Bonus! My Top Two Children's Picks

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Series) by Maryrose Wood // I've only read the first three books in the series so far, but this is one of the best children's series that I have ever read. Ever. You can read my reviews here: one & two. I'll continue to review the entire series as I read it, so keep an eye out for a review of the third one soon. I've been waiting to buy the fourth because I wanted to find it in paperback (anyone else obsessive about having an entire series in paperback or hardcover but never a mix of the two?? It just looks wrong on my shelf), and the fifth will be released this year.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart // I read this series for the second time last year and loved it even more than the first time I read it. You can read my reviews of the first  and second, and trust me that the rest of the series is just as good. I love these books because they're quirky, and because the characters are each intelligent in a unique way, which I think is important for young readers to see modeled in characters that they admire. 

Thanks for following along with me this year-- I can't wait to see what 2015 holds! If you want to see a complete list of the books that I read this year, you can find them below: 

...And tell me, what was your favorite read from 2014?