Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Have you ever avoided reading a book just because it's popular?

I'll admit, I do this all the time. 

I hadn't really noticed this about myself until I started to reflect on some of the books that I avoided for long periods of time and then loved, and to be honest, I couldn't really come up with a reason why I avoided them. Maybe it's too-high expectations, or maybe it's not wanting to go with the crowd, but In the past year I picked up a few fan-favorites, and though I think they've been reviewed enough to not warrant one of my own, I wanted to say a few words about each of them.

Anne of Green Gables is apparently a childhood favorite of just about everyone, and I've had it on my shelf since I was about ten years old. I never read it because I kept thinking it would be like Little Women, which I attempted to read at that age and found excruciatingly boring. I finally plucked it off my shelf to kick-off my summer reading (and fulfill my classics category) and I fell head over heels for it. I loved everything about this book -- the setting, the characters, the writing style. I don't often laugh out loud when reading a book, but this had me giggling at regular intervals. If you haven't yet read this, I absolutely recommend it. Since reading it over the summer, I've also listened to the latest audiobook version, narrated by Rachel McAdams. One word: amazing. Spoiler alert: you'll be seeing this pop up again next week on my top ten list. It's convinced me that I need to try more classics in 2017, including giving Little Women another chance.

Outlander was another one that I avoided for a good long time. I finished the first over the summer, sprinted to the bookstore, stood frowning at the shelves when I discovered that they didn't have the second, and then proceeded to text my bestie in all caps about the ending. Allie urged me to read this for months (she's on the third? fourth? already) and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. Ten pages in, my thoughts mostly consisted of scolding myself for not reading it sooner (seriously, what a waste) and obsession over its main characters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Word Worship {L.M. Montgomery}

"Look at that sea, girls -- all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."

 L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Just a reminder in a season of coveting that we are better off feeling grateful for the things that cannot be bought; among them, family, friends, and kindred spirits.

Happy Holidays

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

You know that feeling of wanting to read a quick, relatively cheerful, and enthralling book? I tend to feel that at the end of each November, after I've spent two to three months knee-deep in gothic literature. I love fall reading, but when December arrives I'm always in need of a breath of fresh air. Enter my new bookclub! Anne Bogel, our fearless (bookish) leader, chose Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader for our December book and it was the perfect antidote to all my fall reading.

I flew through this slim collection of essays in just a day or so and reveled in the bookish-ness of it. Like myself (and you, dear reader), Anne Fadiman has been a bookworm for her entire life. Unlike me, Anne reads the heavy stuff. She speaks of Chaucer and Dickens with ease and has such an intense love for the English language that reading her prose made me feel smarter by proxy. I love her enthusiasm for all things literature, and I remarked recently that her tone reminded me of a grown-up Anne Shirley (if you know Anne of Green Gables, then you know that's high praise).

Fadiman's essays range from thoughts on marrying her library with her husbands (a huge milestone), to her family's background in being grammar snobs, to her thoughts on "You-Are-There Reading," plagiarism, and the inheriting of libraries. I can't help but think this book would make a perfect stocking-stuffer for the bookworm in your life. It's one that I'll certainly return to throughout my reading life.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Author: Anne Fadiman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998
Price: $8 on Amazon
ISBN: 0374527229
Format: Paperback
Source: Amazon

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Currently Coveting {December}

Oh my goodness. I'm ashamed to say that it has been months since I posted a Currently Coveting list.
Not that I haven't been coveting -- and buying -- books in that time.

My most recent purchases have been this and this for my December book club reads, and I am so excited for our book club discussion at the end of this month.

I've recently started cooking almost all the meals in my family (I just headed up my very first Thanksgiving this year) and I've become really interested in how to use spices to flavor healthy, fresh food. Since I started eating mostly clean a few years ago, I have found spices to be my biggest resource in the kitchen. This exploration of the eight flavors that unite American cooking seems like a great way to learn more about the cultural history of the country, in addition to being a resource for great recipes.

I'm craving a good story about fascinating, intelligent women and this seems to be just the right fit. It just came out yesterday and tells the story of the women who worked as "human computers" for the Harvard Observatory. Those women went on to make significant contributions to astronomy. 

Are you tired of hearing me talk about Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series? I have been working my way through them since the summer. Shown above is the tenth in the series, which is on my to-read list for this weekend. I have been lucky so far in that my library was fully stocked with every volume in the series except this one, so when I went to snatch it from the shelf I was so disappointed to find that I would have to wait for a hold copy to come in. I'm telling you, this is one of the best series that I have ever (ever) read.

This has been recommended to me several times (most recently by my grandmother), and I've heard that it is lovely as an audiobook. It's in the same category as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I'm looking forward to picking it up soon.

Sadly, I haven't been reading much middle grade lately. Sometimes (okay, often) being in school all day makes me want to read only adult fiction when I get home. I'm hoping to reignite my love for children's lit this month. Penny Dreadful looks like a great place to start.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Book-Lover's Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time of year again (hooray!) and if you're anything like me, you're at least attempting to get your holiday list checked off without having to panic in mid-December. No worries, because I'm here to help. Below you'll find gift ideas (both books and bookish things) for all of the bookworms in your life. And while we'll all be celebrating around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, now is a great time to seek out these easy-peasy gifts. 

P.S. As always, I encourage you to shop local at your independent bookstore, however I understand that many readers -- including myself -- sometimes purchase books from big corporations such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In that case, I would encourage you to keep an eye out for steals & deals on Black Friday!

 For the Mystery Lover

For fans of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Louise Penny's Still Life is the perfect gift. This is the first in a (growing) series of twelve novels about the elegant Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and my current favorite series (currently working my way through the eighth).

Other ideas: The Charles Lenox Mysteries (review here) & The Veronica Speedwell series (review here)

For the Nonfiction Fanatic

Though I am not a huge fan of nonfiction, I have a few go-to recommendations. Empty Mansions always tops the list. Fascinating, mysterious, and great for any reader interested in stories of wealth and the gilded age in America. You can read my review of it here.

Other nonfiction titles that top my list: In the Heart of the Sea (review here) & these two happy reads

For the Dystopian Die-Hard

For grown-up fans of the genre, Drew Magary's The Postmortal is a little-known but excellent work of dystopian fiction. It's totally outside my wheelhouse but I flew through it and found it very impactful.

Other ideas: Station Eleven & one of my all-time favorite classics (not dystopian but similar tone)

For the Historical Fiction Devotee

I'll admit that my tendency within historical fiction leans towards the lighter side (I prefer it to be a fun escape rather than a serious historical exploration), so if you have a bookish friend with similar taste, I'd recommend any of Michelle Moran's books, including Madame Tussaud, Cleopatra's Daughter (review here), and The Heretic Queen

Other historical fiction finds: The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy & The Tudor Trilogy

For the Janeite 

For fans of Jane Austen, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a clever and intricate novel with a heroine that reminded me very much of Elizabeth Bennet.

Other ideas: The Flight of Gemma Hardy (based off of Jane Eyre) & The Austen Project series

For the Contemporary Fiction Fan

This book has been big in my reading circle (a book club pick from this summer), but I haven't seen much about it on other platforms. Its focus on past lives puts it somewhere on the line of supernatural fiction, but it's examination of society's approach to death and the afterlife and the relationship between parent and child anchors it firmly in the realm of contemporary fiction. In one word: contemplative.

Bookish Gifts (That aren't Books)

For the audiobook fan, a subscription to Audible or a favorite book.

Beautiful Book Collections

Penguin Clothbound Classics (love the whimsy!)

Customizable Harry Potter Sets (warning, expensive)

In Bloom Book Collection by Rifle Paper Co. (my personal favorite & on my wish list)


As always, if you're looking for a personal recommendation, feel free to contact me at I'm happy to help both gift lists and wish lists alike.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations (if you're in the U.S.), and see you back here next week for some more bookish talk!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A New (Online) Book Club!

Hello reading friends.

I have something to share with you today that has been a huge game-changer for me and my reading habits as of late.

If you've followed me for a while, you may already know how much I love Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is my favorite book blogger, but she also writes about life, personality tests, fun things around the web, and other things that make my heart happy.

In addition to writing fabulous reviews, Anne also hosts my favorite podcast (she's obviously very talented), What Should I Read Next?, where she asks ordinary bookworms to share three of their favorite books, one book that they hate, and what they've been reading lately. She then digs through her extraordinary wealth of bookish knowledge to recommend three new reads for her guests.

Anne recently launched a new book club for readers of her site to come together and discuss all things books together. I was first debating whether or not to join the book club (it costs $10 a month), but I bit the bullet when I saw that November's book club pick was Rebecca, I knew I wouldn't be able to resist.

What I love about the book club is that not only does Anne pick a new book each month and set up forums for discussions, she actually selects a "flight" of books to accompany each month's read. That way, if you've read the book already (I read Rebecca over the summer), you have two other books that pair well with it to continue discussion of similar themes.

There's also space to talk about general book-related topics, share recommendations, etc. Essentially, it's everything you've ever wanted in a book club (ahem, people actually reading the book!!) but it's convenient if you're in a season of life where that in-person book club isn't going to happen.

I love being able to take a peek at the discussion threads during my lunch break or at night before I hop into bed with my own reading.

I find that since I've joined the book club, I feel more excited about my reading because I know I have people to discuss it with. That connection is meaningful to me, especially because I don't have a huge circle of fellow bookworms in my personal life.

My current read for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club!

If you're looking for an extra space to discuss the books that you love, consider joining the book club!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

If you liked that, read this!

If you liked:

Read this:

If you're a fan of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, I highly recommend Helen Russell's The Year of Living Danishly. I just finished reading the latter over the weekend and thought it was so good that I carried it with me and (not exaggerating) pulled it out at every opportunity to spout facts about the Danish way of living to anyone within a five foot radius. 

I loved The Happiness Project when I read it two years ago and found it really helpful in reflecting on and improving my own happiness scale, and I've been drawn to any and all books that promise further revelations about personal happiness. I haven't yet read Rubin's second book, Better than Before, but it is on my list for vacation reading (hopefully) before the new year. There are two things that draw me to nonfiction writing: interesting facts (see above) and self-improvement tips. The Year of Living Danishly has both, while also convincing me that I need to move to Denmark at the earliest opportunity. I got this recommendation from my favorite podcast (hosted by my favorite blogger) and am so glad I picked it up. Highly recommended for those readers who are currently staring down the barrel of a long, cold, dark winter, as Russell writes about winter blues and how the Danes combat them because (spoiler alert) they spend months in near-constant darkness and still come out #1 on the worldwide happiness scale. Now that is impressive, and just another reason why living like the Danes is big on my goals list.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Book to Movie Experience

My family loves to watch movies, but only my mom and I really enjoy going to the theater. We've been reading a lot of the same books recently (mostly, I toss a book onto her nightstand and demand that she reads it now so I have someone to talk to about it), and it just so happens that two of our semi-recent reads have been released as movies in the past week.

I'm a big believer in the book-before-movie formula. It practically kills me every time I hear someone say that they've seen the Harry Potter movies so they don't need to read the book.

You can imagine the frustration.
(I hope.)

Our two most recent trips to the theater have really highlighted how that experience of reading a book and then going to see the movie version can go well or can be... disappointing.

More on this below:


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was most recently featured on Top Shelf Text as a great October read. I first read it back in 2011 when it had just been published and really enjoyed it but didn't keep up with news of the series. I just picked up the second this year (on my TBR list this month) but decided I needed to re-read the first installment before reading the second. I managed to get it done just in time for the movie release. My mom had also just finished it a few days before me, so we went in with fresh memories of the book and high expectations.

Womp, womp.

Disclaimer: I love Tim Burton films. I think he's great and that his style works well with the world that Ransom Riggs has built. But I was really disappointed in this adaptation. It was nothing like the book (they even switched around characters -- so strange and confusing) and they added elements that had no place in the book. The end of the movie got really cheesy and I left the theater rolling my eyes.

Mostly, I was disappointed because I had high hopes. I thought that since the series has such a strong following with both teenage and adult readers that the standard for the adaptation would be along the same level as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.

The Verdict: 
If you're a fan of the book, this movie is only worth seeing if you have the expectation that it is not grounded in the original story.


I read The Girl on the Train back in April while visiting my brother for Spring Break and the suspense was so high that I managed to finish it in an afternoon (and get a bad sunburn in the process). This week I went to the premier show at our local movie theater, which was completely sold out and packed with women (seriously, there were only 3 men) who had all read the book and were ready to see how the movie measured up.

When the credits rolled and the groups of friends started chatting as we walked out, there was a general consensus that the movie was very close to the book and also really well done. It was extremely suspenseful and the acting was very intense. Even knowing the twist didn't help to ease that uncomfortable feeling that comes with knowing something bad is about to happen. I thought that Emily Blunt was really great at portraying such an unreliable narrator. 

The Verdict:
Highly recommended, whether or not you've read the book.


What's your favorite book to movie adaptation? Which has disappointed you the most?


Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

6 More Great October Reads

You probably don't need me to reiterate the fact that I love fall, but I'll say it again anyways.

I am head over heels for this season.

First of all, that crazy heat has left us. It was a pretty hot and dry summer here in New England, so I am relishing the cool breeze.

Second, everything is pumpkin flavored (I'm a fan), leaves are crunchy and beautiful, and Halloween is just around the corner. Fall is also my favorite season for reading, because it's still warm enough to read outside, but you can elect to cozy up with a sweater or blanket. 

If you're looking for a good book to start off your autumn reading list, seek no further! You can find 10 great October reads in my original post, plus a few more reads below!

Conversion by Katherine Howe // I rarely read young adult fiction, but I sought this out at the library because it's by one of my favorite local authors. Seriously, if you like books that are well suited for this time of year, start with her The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. This one follows a group of teenage girls who attend a prestigious private school on the North Shore of Boston. When a mystery illness breaks out among the students, the events become strangely reminiscent of The Crucible and the Salem Witch Trials that inspired the play. Since I'm currently teaching in Salem (yes, that Salem), I loved that local connection and trying to solve the mystery of what was really going on with the students.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier // This is a classic work of gothic fiction, but I only recently picked it up because it's been recommended for those who enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, one of my all-time favorites. It's the story of a young woman who lives a tedious life as a companion to an obnoxious American woman. They're on holiday in Italy when the narrator (who, strangely enough, is never named) meets a gentleman widower. She's whisked away to his gorgeous estate, and there finds herself haunted by the ghost of his late wife, Rebecca. This one doesn't have a huge scare factor, but there's an excellent twist and a general, creepy sensation throughout.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry // I read this over the summer, but I felt while reading that it would make a great autumn read. Brunonia Barry is another local author whose work I adore. This one is about a young woman recently returned to her hometown (you guessed it, Salem). There's a strange element of magic woven throughout the plot in the form of lace reading, which was (and is) a real trade that some practice as a form of fortune telling. I don't want to give anything away, but as I read I couldn't help but think something wasn't quite right with the story as it was presented. All I can say is that the final pages had me yelling, "Wait, what?!?!?" I always love a good twist.

The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston // I read this last fall and loved it. You can read my full review here.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs // I read this years ago when it first came out, but I'm going to attempt to rapidly re-read it before seeing the movie (opening September 30th). I would say that peculiar is a particularly fitting word for this book, as the title suggests. It features strange, antique photographs (which the author collected before coming up with the storyline), an alternate universe, children with supernatural gifts, and a nightmarish evil force. All great components for an autumn read, wouldn't you say? 


Stay tuned next week for a list of the books that I'm coveting for myself in October!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Teacher Talk: Community Read Alouds

Hi there!

Today I want to introduce a new series here on Top Shelf Text: Teacher Talk! These posts will be more education-oriented than my typical children's literature posts, but they are also aimed at parents who want to bring more educational material into their homes!

I want to kick off the series with a list of books that I'm using to set the tone in my classroom this year. As teachers, we want to encourage our students to work together as a community of leaders, learners, and friends. Many of these books will help to facilitate discussions about how best to treat others, to treat ourselves (positive self talk!) and to life each other up in the face of challenges. I think the true aim of all teachers is to help make the world a better place, and to me doing that starts with modeling those behaviors (be the change you wish to see) and using literature to show students how to do the same.

Talking Points: compassion, kindness, being an active bystander
Essential Questions: If we decided to make our school and our world a better place, what kinds of things could we do? What would make you feel happy to come to school each day?

Talking Points: creativity, teamwork
Essential Question: What does this book teach us about working together? What would happen if everyone approached new challenges in the same exact way?

Talking Points: manners, kind/unkind behaviors
Essential Questions: What was the difference between the rude cakes and the giant cyclopses? Which one would you rather be friends with, and why?

Talking Points: teamwork, pursuing personal interests, second chances
Essential Questions: Did Iggy give up when he was told that there was no place for architecture in second grade? What happened when Miss Greer kept an open mind?

Talking points: acts of kindness, community
Essential Questions: What acts of kindness could we do in this classroom and in our school community?

Talking Points: manners, individual differences
Essential Questions: How can we use the ideas from Do Unto Otters to write our classroom rules?

I'll be using many of these books over the course of our first two weeks and then at regular intervals throughout the year to keep my students thinking about what kind of actions make for a positive classroom culture.

I want to also add that, because I am a substantially separate special education teacher, the stigma that we try to prevent in schools is often directed at my students. Some of them look different from their typically developing peers, and some look the same but act differently. Teaching children (both in school and at home) to treat everyone with kindness has become increasingly important to me as I teach in a classroom of students who really need extra TLC. I hope that encouraging parents and other teachers to use literature to teach kindness in the classroom will help to make our world just a little bit safer for all children.

Do you have a book that you'd like to add to this list? Comment below! I'm always looking to grow my collection!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lately at the Library

There are few things I love more than going to the library. I love the way that the library feels. It's quiet, but it's almost as if you can hear the rustling of pages, of stories waiting to be read. I love thinking about how many characters and worlds exist in such a small space.

The library is a place where I sometimes go to recharge. Most of the time I run in and out to return books and to pick up holds, but about once a week I like to go in just to wander. A lot of the time I come out with way more books than I could possibly read in the amount of time I'm allowed to keep them, but I like having the choice when I get home.

I wanted to share what kind of books have caught my eye lately during my wanderings. I tend to always get about 10 picture books to browse and take with me to school for the kids to read, but I also usually end up with a relatively tall stack of pleasure reads. 

I know that the fall doesn't really begin for another month or so, but I've been drawn to fall reads on recent trips. That can only mean that my favorite season is approaching -- but I'll refrain from talking about it for another week or so!

Here's what ended up in my stack on a recent trip to my local public library -- I've included Goodreads links below -- check out the full description if the cover catches your eye (like it did mine)!

Conversion by Katherine Howe // Young Adult, by a favorite (local) author. An elite prep school, allusions to The Crucible, and of course a local setting. Oh, and that witch-y feeling, which you know is my favorite to read in the fall.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid // I've since decided that it would probably be a literary crime to read this before I've read the original (Austen) version. It caught my eye because it's part of The Austen Project series, in which contemporary writers modernize Jane's original works. It'll go back to the library unread -- for now. You can consider the original to be at the top of my classics list for now.

The Nautical Chart by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte // I've read this author before in high school (I highly recommend his The Fencing Master), and really loved his style. Plus, this has sunken ships, and you can always count on my interest in a treasure hunting-type of tale.

The Cruelest Month (Inspector Gamache #3) by Louise Penny // I just started reading this mystery series this summer thanks to the recommendation of Anne Bogel, and I love it. This is the third, which I just finished today -- in my opinion, it was the best of the series so far. I'll be posting more about the series after I've read a few more.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier // Another recommendation from Anne Bogel, for readers who loved The Thirteenth Tale (one of my all-time favorite gothic books). I can't wait to dive into this, if not to relive that subtle, creepy-crawling feeling that comes with gothic fiction.

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart // Forensics + history + archaeology + suspense. Need I say more? This is totally in my wheelhouse. Plus, the main investigator is a woman, somewhat unusual in mystery novels and definitely to my liking.


I will add a disclaimer here that although this particular batch is a little grim-looking, my children's picks are usually rather bright and cheery. Balance, right?

What's caught your eye at the library lately?

Happy Reading!