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!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Newbery Project Update

I'm the type of person who is always taking on a new challenge, whether it's fitness, food, or book-related, I love working towards new goals. Which is why I'm really loving My Newbery Project, as it's helping me to refocus my children's literature brain on quality books that stand the test of time. I thought I'd update you on the progress I've made so far in 2017.



I love the characters in this book -- Claudia's sass and Jamie's imagination spurred me quickly through the story. This would be a great one for an elementary book club discussion.



Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This has been my favorite so far. I listened to it on audio and Woodson narrates it herself. It's a novel in verse so it's a quick read, but I would absolutely recommend it for both children and adults.



I really struggled with the first half of this book. It felt scattered and I was so disoriented that I considered putting it down and calling it a loss. So I took a few days off from it and came back with a firm goal of getting to the end. I'm so glad I did, because the ending made this book for me. I thought to myself, Oh, now I get it. I can't see myself recommending this to many students to read independently, but the lessons embedded within are so very important that I would love to lead a student book club in reading this. Now that I've reached the end I think I'd like to re-read it, just to have a clearer picture of the threads that Barnhill was weaving from the very beginning.



We read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and I loved it. That didn't surprise me though, because I'd read Jefferson's Sons before it and adored that one as well. Some of the best historical fiction in middle grade comes from Brubaker Bradley. I can't wait for the sequel to this one, coming out this August.



Not my favorite. This book dealt with tragedy in a way that felt shallow to me and in the end I felt really surprised that it even made it onto the honors list.

***

I'm currently working on crafting the list of Newbery titles I'd like to tackle this summer, so if you have a favorite that you think I absolutely must read ASAP, leave a comment or send me a message!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Piecing Me Together


I can no longer claim that I'm "not really a reader of young adult books" because 2017 has been a year of branching out, and I'm realizing that I really do like young adult books, even if I am a little picky in this category. Piecing Me Together is a young adult novel unlike any other that I've read, and I didn't just like it, I loved it. 

This contemporary fiction novel (just published in February) follows Jade, a high-school junior. She lives in a poor neighborhood in Portland with her strict and hard-working mother and her eccentric young uncle. Jade is constantly feeling like she's in between worlds -- she attends a small private school on scholarship, so her friends at home think she's privileged and her peers at school think she's a charity case. As Jade navigates high school, thoughts about the future, and friendships in both her worlds, she has to discover who she wants to be and how to stand up for herself. 

Before I tell you why I loved this book, I want to give a little background. I'm a teacher in an urban district, where many of my student's can related to Jade's struggles with hunger, money, and systematic racism. I saw a reflection of my students in Jade, which had me emotionally invested in her future from the very start of the book. Not only did I love that this book wasn't about romance -- instead, it was about identity (and not identity in relation to any male figures in Jade's life) -- but I also loved that it helped me to gain a better perspective into how my students might feel having a white, privileged teacher when they come from a completely different world. So much of the time, we assume that a teenage girl's priorities are all centered around boys, social media, and the like, but Watson's portrayal reminds us that teenagers are far more sophisticated than we might think- that they do think about social justice, about their futures, about who they want to be and what they want to contribute to the world.

I would love to see this book become a point of discussion for high schoolers (hello, summer reading assignment!) because Jade has to learn how to speak up for herself -- how to name incidents of racism in her life, how to ask others for the truth, and how to tell others what's most important to her. We read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club this month and I absolutely cannot wait to hear everyone's thoughts. One thing I'm trying to do in 2017 is read more literature from diverse authors with more diverse characters. If you have a recommendation, I'd love to hear it.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Piecing Me Together
Author: Renée Watson
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2017
Price: $10 on Amazon
ISBN: 1681191059
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library

Friday, May 12, 2017

Booklist: Grumpy (& Endearing) Old Men

I've noticed a trend in some of the books that I've loved in the past few years and it's something totally unexpected. I love well-written characters -- more than plot, more than style, characters are the reason that I read -- and I've found that some of my most loved characters in the past few years have all been grumpy old men.

Here's the archetype: a grumpy old man who knows exactly how he likes things done. Not room for new habits or hobbies, no tolerance for those who do things differently.

Normally, that wouldn't make for a very likable character. However, these men transform throughout the course of these stories. They discover new truths, find new things that they like, and become more endearing than irritating.

These stories remind me to be kind to others because they reveal how incredibly impactful that kindness can be. They reinforce compassion in the reader and remind us that life will continue to surprise us at every age.

This is the only one on this list that I haven't yet read, but it's on my summer reading list and I have no doubt it belongs on this list too.

Beautiful cover aside, I gave this four stars on Goodreads back in 2013. I still haven't gotten to it's parallel novel but I've heard great reviews from those who loved Harold and his unique quest in the name of friendship.

I listened to this on audio this year and loved both the narrator and Arthur Pepper himself. Highly recommended.

One of my favorite reads of 2017 so far. I adore Ove. (And not to be missed -- the equally curmudgeonly Britt-Marie.)

***

Have a book you could add to this list? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: The Long Run


I wouldn't necessarily call myself a runner. Sure, I enjoy running, but if we're being honest, it's hard and requires a lot of mental energy for me, so it's not always my go-to option for exercise. In the past year or so, I've only gone on a handful of runs, but after reading The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, I've felt inspired to lace up my sneakers and take another shot at being a "runner."  
Here's the thing about this book: it's not a typical sports memoir. Catriona Menzies-Pike is not a famous athlete. She's run a handful of marathons and many, many half-marathons, but when you put her running accomplishments in perspective, she's pretty much on par with any other ordinary person who also happens to run marathons.

What makes this memoir interesting is not that it's about running, but that it's written from a feminist perspective. Within the first chapter, I realized that this was one of the most well-written memoirs I've read, and by the time Menzies-Pike mentioned her PhD in Literature, I could tell that she was a voracious reader, and someone of extraordinary intelligence. She not only writes about her own life experiences -- a plane crash that left her orphaned, a downward spiral shortly after, and her discovery that running helped to heal her -- but also writes about the history of women in running. 

I learned so much about the discrimination of women in this sport (starting in the time of Ancient Greece and continuing well into the 1960's) and the stories of individual women who dared to run alongside male athletes. One of the most interesting (and disturbing) facts that I learned? Women were often told to avoid running because it would threaten their fertility. Women runners who entered races were often scolded for their selfishness, race organizers certain that to run a marathon was to sacrifice a future as a mother. Now, of course, we know that a woman can be both an athlete and a mother, so it seems absurd to think that this was a huge reason behind the discrimination. There are some spots where I felt the history (or the focus on sexism) was a little drawn out and sluggish, but in the end I came away from this book feeling inspired to run and to encourage the women in my life to pursue dreams that may feel impossible. Her story is proof that dedication bears fruit and I loved her overall message that no matter your size, speed, or distance, when you set out on a run, you are a runner.

This title will be released on May 23, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion
Author: Catriona Menzies-Pike
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group, 2017
ISBN: 1524759449
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here


Fredrik Backman is quickly climbing the ranks of favorite authors for me. I adore Backman's characters. They're flawed, genuine, and totally out of touch with society, but their experiences in the world and the way they react to them are what makes these stories so charming to read. If you listened to my featured episode of What Should I Read Next?, then you know that characters are a big element of fiction for me and Britt-Marie Was Here did not disappoint.

Like Ove (Backman's most famous character), Britt-Marie could definitely be described as prickly. Britt-Marie has well established notions on just about every topic -- how people should style their hair, what time is most appropriate to eat dinner, and what brand of window cleaner is the best. Her story begins in the unemployment office, where she's seeking a job for the first time in many years. She's offered a short-term job as the caretaker of a run-down recreation facility in a town that's given up on itself. When she arrives, she discovers that that though the job requires little effort, there's another (more important) role for her to play in the community. This story is full of personality and encourages readers to reflect on their relationships to their own communities and the people who need them most.

Long story short, I loved this book and I hope that you will too.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Britt-Marie Was Here
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books, 2016
Price: $16 on Amazon
ISBN: 1501142534
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library

P.S. I just ordered Backman's latest novel for summer reading and I can't wait to dive in.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

5 Tricks to Double Your Reading Volume


In years past, I haven't put a premium on the number of books that I read in a single year. In general, I read between 50-70 books a year but in 2017 I've changed some of my reading habits and those changes have helped me to double my average number of reads per month. I can't promise my pace will stay the same for the whole of 2017, but I'm really loving that I've gotten through so many of the books on my TBR list for the year already. Wanting to reach that quota (10 books per month) has actually encouraged me to think about how I can fit more reading hours into my life and has led me to think about some habits (ahem, technology) that I could cut back on in favor of more reading.

Here are my tricks for reading more this year.

Make a Monthly "To Read" List

I didn't think I was going to be the type of person to do this -- I make enough lists in every other aspect of my life -- but because I work with publishers to review books before they are published, I am often working with reading deadlines. In the last week of each month, I make a list of books that I need to read in the next month. Generally, my lists are 5-8 books long, which leaves me with a little wiggle room at the end of the month to choose a book or two that I've had waiting on my nightstand but hasn't been a priority.

Get on Board with Audiobooks

I'll admit, I had a hard time getting into audiobooks. The tricky part for me is in the narrator -- I am super picky and the littlest thing can put me off from a story.

 I've found that I particularly enjoy British narrators (because who doesn't love listening to a British accent) and I like narrators who aren't too dramatic with their expression but at least have subtle differences for each character's voice. Soon I'll be sharing audiobook recommendations both from myself and from followers on Instagram so stay tuned for that! (And if you have a recommendation, feel free to leave it in the comments section below!)

Find Time to Read in the Margins

This is one of my biggest tricks, and it's inspired by a quote from Lemony Snicket (the mysterious author behind one of my favorite children's series). "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." Amen. I always make sure to have a book (or my Kindle) in my purse, and that has made a world of difference. Most days I'm just traveling from home to work and back so I don't actually pull my book out until bedtime, but when I unexpectedly find myself with wait time I can pull out my book and actually make progress on it. Not to mention that it keeps me from mindlessly scrolling on my phone -- a habit that I'm trying to break. 

Join a Book Club - Or Find a Bookish Friend!

In the past six months, I've done both of the above. I've discovered a few colleagues that are fellow bookworms, re-connected with an old friend over good books, and been active in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. The book club itself has me reading 2-4 books per month and I love to pass them on to my colleagues for further discussion. In addition to that, my mom is also a big reader and often gets to read my new books before I do. I love when she can preview a book for me (our tastes are often in sync) and tell me whether it's worth the read or not. I've also had a few people reach out to me via Instagram or e-mail and I love having conversations about books through those channels too!

Don't love it? Abandon it!

I try not to do this with my advanced copies (I won't give a review if I haven't finished it), but with books of my own choosing, I stick with a general guideline: if I'm 100 pages in and I find myself dragging, then I'll put it down. That doesn't mean that I'm never going to read it, but it does mean that now is not the right time. I used to have qualms about abandoning books but over time I've realized that with so many books and so little time, it's not worth it to read something that you don't like.

***

How do you fit reading time into your life?
Have any tricks of your own to suggest?
 Leave a comment below!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Caraval


If you're seeing this book here for the first time, prepare yourself to see a whole lot more of it. Caraval is this year's Hunger Games meets The Night Circus, and it's wonderfully done. Though it's touted as a young adult (YA) book -- and certainly has some of the elements that make for a popular young adult novel -- I think this one will appeal to wider audiences and especially those readers who enjoy mystery and magic wrapped in dangerous circumstances.

Scarlett and Donatella Dragna are sisters, daughters to a wealthy and abusive man and captives in their own island home. When they were little, their grandmother told them the story of Caraval, a fantastical event happening only once a year, a traveling game come to life. All Scarlett ever wanted was to see the show, protect her sister from their father's beatings, and somehow get the two of them off the island to a better life. For years, Scarlett wrote to Legend, the Game Master, pleading with him to bring Caraval to their island, and for years she received no response. Until, just weeks before she is set to marry, three tickets arrive to this year's Caraval.

What I loved about this book: the sumptuousness of it. There was sensory detail in every paragraph, and I particularly loved the way that Garber described Scarlett as experiencing emotions as colors. Also captivating was the way that Garber set up the world of Caraval -- it's only a game, and players are constantly reminded of its illusory nature, but it's disorienting all the same and difficult to tell who can be trusted. That also makes the romantic relationships rather tenuous, as you can never tell if someone is acting genuinely or simply acting while inside the game. 

Caraval is the first in a duology, but there's no information yet on the second book's release. This first book has already been all over Instagram, but I predict you'll see more of it because the movie rights were snapped up even before the novel was published. Highly recommended for fans of the fantasy genre, and especially to those who enjoy a reading experience that keeps you guessing.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron 2017
ISBN: 1250095255
Format: Hardcover
Source: Amazon

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Pirate Hunters


I'm sure many readers can relate -- sometimes, a book catches your eye and finds its way into your hands immediately because you just know you need to read that book right now, while other times a book can catch your eye but has to wait patiently for you to rediscover it. With Pirate Hunters, the latter is true for me. This book first stood out to me as I perused titles for my June Currently Coveting post...last year.

I happened upon it again in a bookstore last week and when I saw it I yelled out, "I've been meaning to read this book!" It went into my stack right then and there (and it didn't hurt that it was on the bargain shelf). I don't reach for nonfiction books often, so when I find one with a premise that interests me, I always want to give it a fair shot so I can (hopefully) recommend it to you!

Thankfully, Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship turned out to be just as enthralling as the title suggests. I love stories of treasure hunting and I was really caught up in the idea that this book told the story of a real life treasure hunt with all of the suspense of a great movie! Pirate Hunters tells the story of John Chatterton and John Mattera, two men who made it their mission to discover a lost Spanish galleon ship that had supposedly sunk off shore of the Dominican Republic. The story behind it takes place in the late 1700's, when a respectable captain-turned-fearsome-pirate named Joseph Bannister had an epic battle with the Royal Navy. In the end, Bannister torched and sunk his own ship, named the Golden Fleece, and both the legend of his pirate career and the ship's treasure were lost to history.

Chatterton and Mattera had both made their names in the diving/treasure hunting business long before this expedition, and reading about their backgrounds and what led them both to this incredibly long and hard search for the Golden Fleece made the stakes feel so real. These men both sacrificed so much of their lives for the chance at discovering this treasure -- failure was not an option that they wanted to consider. Of course, there were plenty of obstacles, both relating to the actual search for the treasure and in terms of funding the trip, dealing with the minimal amenities available in the Dominican Republic, and the long distance relationships that they struggled to maintain. What I loved most about reading this book was the dedication to the discovery -- the personal motivations for both men kept me engaged and wanting to see that their hard work rewarded.

This is a book worth reading, even for those who don't normally read nonfiction. The elements of treasure, history, suspense, danger, and putting-it-all-on-the-line were what drew me in and kept me reading until the very end. Kurson's also written another book featuring Chatterton, Shadow Divers, which I'll be putting on my to-read list.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
Author: Robert Kurson
Publisher: Random House, 2015
Price: $11 on Amazon
ISBN: 0812973693
Format: Hardcover

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The Radium Girls


I've been so lucky with the books I've read this year. I already have a bunch of contenders for top ten of 2017 -- and it's only April! I'm not a big non-fiction reader, so it's high praise to say that The Radium Girls is on the short list for best reads of 2017. The Radium Girls is, essentially, the story of a great injustice. I'll freely admit that I had no knowledge of the history behind this book before reading, but now that I know better I can't stop relaying the story to anyone willing to listen.

Incredibly well-researched, and told with a narrative tilt that makes for a captivating read, The Radium Girls tells the story of the women who worked in radium-dial factories across the U.S. during World War I and beyond, carefully painting much-needed military clock faces with a luminous paint made from radium. In that time period, radium was being hailed as a miracle element. It's tumor-blasting powers had recently been discovered, and medical professionals and marketing firms were taking advantage of the public's newfound obsession with its health benefits. The military held contracts with these dial-painting factories so that they could ensure their soldiers and pilots could read their clock faces, as the radium-laced paint shone brightly in the dark. That luminous paint earned these women the nickname "the shining girls," and along with it an elevated status in society. It turns out that working in the radium-dial factories was one of the best jobs that a woman could have in that time -- it paid well, there were social benefits, and there didn't appear to be any downsides. That is, until the girls started to get very sick.

Here's my disclaimer for this book: if you have a sensitive disposition, this might not be for you. The descriptions of the girls' suffering was pretty detailed and graphic. I was chatting with my boss about the history behind the book one day and when I finished relaying just a few of those graphic details he asked me why in the wold I wanted to read about that (valid question, I'll admit) and I replied that it was like watching a train wreck -- terrible, but I couldn't look away.

I might have had a sort of fascination with the medical decline of the girls while reading, but what really kept me interested was the girls' quest for justice. I won't give away the big parts of the story, but I will say that if you have an interest in social justice, this is the book for you. These women were faced with incredible pain, deceptive doctors, greedy corporations -- and yet, they kept fighting for their rights. It's largely thanks to them that we have protections against occupational hazards, because while their jobs were touted as the best out there, their work actually poisoned them. Highly recommended (even for those who don't usually read non-fiction like myself), and absolutely a good pick for a book club read, The Radium Girls is one book that you'll want to put on your to-read list this year.

This title will be released on May 2, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
Author: Kate Moore
Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2017
ISBN: 149264935X
Format: E-book
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!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: The Witchfinder's Sister


Normally, I wouldn't be reading a witch-centered tale at this point in the year; I prefer to read this type of story in the fall, when the crunching leaves and cool wind outside put me in the mood. I couldn't wait, however, to get my hands on this new release from a freshman author, if only to see if I should recommend it for this year's great October reads list. The Witchfinder's Sister is a tale of witch-hunting in 17th century England, a time in which the slightest betrayal of propriety could mark a woman as under the influence of the devil.

The story follows Alice Hopkins, a woman who is forced to move from London back to her hometown of Manningtree after the death of her husband. Alice arrives, hoping that her fractured relationship with her brother can be healed as she will be forced to rely on his hospitality for the foreseeable future. Matthew accepts Alice into his home but he has undergone a change since the siblings had last seen each other. He has grown into a serious man, extremely private and outwardly judgmental of those who do not follow the Bible's teachings. Alice soon realizes that Matthew is doing more than just judging others -- he is taking careful notes, preparing himself for a venerable witch-hunt. 

For a debut novel, this was very well written. The details were obviously well-researched, and I had no trouble putting myself into the setting of this book. For me, it's weakness was in the plot. I felt that it was awfully drawn out, and I found my interest waning until I hit the 70% mark -- that's when I started to feel invested in the story. The pace makes sense considering the setting -- there wasn't much sudden action back in the 1640's -- but some of the most interesting history behind the book didn't come in until that last 30%, and I found myself wishing that our protagonist could have spent less time pacing her room and more time in the action. My second qualm was in the character of Alice, as she was always deferential and even when she tried to stand up to the men in her life, she never actually followed through. Historically, her behavior makes sense, as she wouldn't have had many options when it came to supporting herself, but her character felt weak to me and I found myself disappointed in her tendency towards hiding away rather than standing up for herself and others. 

I found the history behind the story really interesting -- Matthew Hopkins was a real figure in history, a man responsible for the death of over a hundred women whom he accused and persecuted for witchcraft. This all happened before the infamous trials in Salem and yet it's not nearly as well known. I live next to Salem (and teach there, too) and though I had heard of the trials in England I had no knowledge of the scope of Hopkin's impact. For those interested in this period of history, I would recommend this story even with my dislike for its protagonist. To me, this feels like a book that wasn't quite right for me as a reader but has the potential to be a favorite for others.

This title will be released on April 25, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 3/5

Title: The Witchfinder's Sister
Author: Beth Underdown
Publisher: Ballatine Books
ISBN: 0399179143
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress


I've said it before and I'll say it again: without the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, I would never have picked up this book. The same is true for almost all of the books we've read, and yet I thoroughly enjoy reading every single title that Anne Bogel chooses for us. (I'm telling you, she's my book guru.)

We read The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress for our April selection and when I sat down to read the first few pages, I did not expect that I would end up reading the novel cover-to-cover. But that's what happened. The quote from USA Today on the cover of my copy says "A genuinely surprising whodunit." and I have to say that I completely agree. 

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress follows three women (surprise) in 1930's New York City. One, the neglected wife of a social-climbing judge, another his reluctant mistress, and the third his hard-working maid. Of course, in the 1930's, women were often still controlled by the men in their lives. For these three women, that much is true. Even the maid, who has an adoring husband, is under the thumb of both her employers and the mobster who granted her a favor. Their carefully-constructed lives hang in the balance when the social climbing judge goes missing and suspicion is cast on every character.

I won't say anything further about the plot, but this book stood out to me for two reasons: the characters (rich, sassy, and female-driven are all pluses in my book) and the depth and layers of this mystery really surprised me. Even without the mystery component, I think I would have enjoyed this as a historical fiction novel, but that added element of suspense really raised the story to a new level. I was constantly surprised by the deception that was revealed, and I cannot claim to have guessed the culprit (though I'll admit, I almost never guess the culprit). Since reading The Great Gatsby, I haven't read much historical fiction set in this time period and I loved the detail, the sumptuousness, and of course, the ceaseless scandal. 

I'd recommend this to book clubs especially (I can't wait for our discussion at the end of this month), and for summer reading lists too. There's just something about reading a good mystery by the pool, and this is one that won't disappoint. I've already put Lawhon's Flight of Dreams on my personal summer reading list.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Publisher: Anchor, 2014
ISBN: 0345805968
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Library

Friday, April 7, 2017

My Newbery Project


One of my lifetime goals as a reader is to tackle the Newbery Medal Award Winners and Honor Books list. I recently went back through the archives of the American Library Association (ALA) to see how many of the books I've actually read. As it turns out, that number is not nearly as high as I thought.

I read quite a bit of children's literature, but when making this list to feature here on Top Shelf Text, I realized that I really haven't read many of these acclaimed books. As an educator and a children's literature fanatic, I want to be both a reader and an advocate of quality children's literature. Which means that I need to step up my game and get to it.

I'm posting the list of winners here (on the bar above, click My Newbery Project to find the page) for a quick reference guide for myself and for other readers who might want to follow along as I tackle this (rather long list). Because the full list of winners from 1922-Present features so. many. titles., I am starting with a shortened version featuring the award winners & honor books from the 1970's up to now. For each year 2017-1970, you'll find the title and author, and for those I've crossed off my to-read list, you'll also find the year in which I read the book.

Many of these books are ones that I read as a child, but in many cases I don't remember more than a few details about the books. I want to tackle the full list now as an adult, so that I can make better recommendations to both my students and readers of my blog. I won't be reviewing all of them, but I may post an occasional update with some thoughts as I continue to check off titles on the list.

How long will this project take me? Years. That's for sure. Will I ever check off every single title? I hope so, but who knows. Above my desk I have a framed print that says "The joy is in the journey," and that's the attitude I'm choosing to have when it comes to this project.

***

Have you ever completed a reading challenge? Tell me about it!



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: Duels & Deception


Austenites, I have one for you today! Let's start with my disclaimer: I cannot, by any means, call myself an Austenite. I've only finished two Austen novels (I know, I know -- I'm hoping to remedy that this year) but I adored both of them and find Austen's quick wit to make for the most humorous of reads. Cindy Anstey continues the Austen tradition with Duels & Deception, her latest novel, which releases on April 11th. You won't be surprised to hear that the cover caught my attention first -- I'm always drawn to typography -- but Anstey's strong female protagonist (an obvious homage to Jane Austen) is what hooked me on the story. 

Duels & Deception gives us a clever heroine in Lydia Whitfield, heiress to a rather large fortune and outspoken source of reason when it comes to controlling the family estate. Since her father's death, Lydia has had a firm hand in the dealings of Whitfield Hall, and when we meet her, has employed the help of a solicitor's clerk in further securing her own future and that of the estate. Despite her rather unusual desire to control her own future and fortune (she is a woman, after all), the solicitor's clerk finds Lydia simply irresistible. It helps that he also happens to be charming, educated, understanding, and also a member of the peerage. Though Lydia had called upon him to draw up her marriage contract, she suddenly finds herself in a predicament of emotions vs. logical thinking. Before the feelings between Miss Whitfield and this clerk can grow too deep, Lydia is kidnapped and both her reputation and her carefully-laid future plans are endangered. Fortunately, she's not really the damsel-in-distress type. What ensues is a humorous, suspenseful, and yes, romantic adventure. 

Things I loved: the characters were intelligent, developed, and personality shone through on each page. The plot was interesting -- though really, I was paying more attention to the tension between our two main characters than the kidnapping -- and I was surprised by the reveal (an added bonus). I'm also one of those readers that loves to learn the facts behind historical fiction novels, and that curiosity was satisfied with an extra section in the back detailing some of the traditions and societal expectations of the Regency era. I believe that this book is being marketed in the young adult fiction category, but I would recommend it to Jane fans of all ages. Anstey's first book, Love, Lies, and Spies is not one that I've read yet but looks equally charming. My only complaint is that Duels & Deceptions is a stand-alone novel, and I would love to revisit these characters again in another story.

This title will be released on April 11, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5 Stars

Title: Duels & Deceptions
Author: Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads, 2017
Price: Pre-order for only $8.00 (paperback)
ISBN: 125011909
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley


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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Reader Recommendations

I am so excited to share these recommendations with you today. I mentioned in my 2017 Reading Resolutions  that I'd like to read more children's literature this year, not for the sake of my job but for the simple love of it. Today's reader recommendations come from a childhood friend of mine who grew up to be a bookseller and expert in children's literature (ahem, dream job!).

Amanda is currently the Lead Children's Bookseller at our nearby Barnes & Noble, where she's privy to all of the insider knowledge when it comes to new releases in children's lit. She also recently completed an internship with Candlewick Press, a Boston-based publishing company that puts out really wonderful books each season. Amanda is an avid reader of a whole range of children's lit -- everything from board books to YA -- and she has some great recommendations to share today. Don't just take these into account for the littles in your life -- try picking up one for your own reading pleasure!


Without further ado, here are six children's books that you should add to your list:



Hair by Leslie Patricelli


I promise that you cannot read this book without smiling. With one-word sentences on each page, this simple story showcases a baby wearing only a diaper, and discusses the dilemma of a single hair growing atop the baby's head that needs to be cut. What makes this adorable story so special is the combination of text and illustration. The baby's facial expressions show a huge smile, fearful blushing cheeks, and a happy tear. There are bold, colorful backgrounds and sound-effects in the text. The fact that there is just one hair that grows and grows makes me chuckle every time I flip through the pages. It's by far the cutest board book I have ever seen. (Well, this and all of Leslie Patricelli's collection.)




While interning at Candlewick, our hottest new product was A Child of Books (or as I am used to hearing it referred as, ACOB). It made the cover of the Fall/Winter 2016 catalogue, it received 3 starred reviews (that's really good -- most books don't even get a single star), and a teacher's guide was created for it (you can find that here). You have to trust me; ACOB lives up to its hype. 

Oliver Jeffers, who wrote The Day the Crayons Quit, teams up with artist Sam Winston to created a masterpiece. Original text from classic stories such as Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and Frankenstein (to name a few) are used as the physical illustrations. The words are spaced out, bolded, shrunk, and arranged to make art. The plot involves a girl who sails across a sea of words to find a boy and take him on an adventure to discover reading and imagination. I have read this book more times than I would care to admit, and every time I notice something different in the illustrations. If you are an avid book reader, teacher, artist, or just want to pick up a new book, please read this one.




Journey, Quest, and Return by Aaron Becker (The Journey Trilogy)


Journey will forever be my favorite wordless picture book. Wordless, you might ask? Yes, there are zero words in this book and in the entire trilogy. Aaron Becker used to be an architect, and utilizes his constructing skills to create an intricate and imaginative fantasyland that tells a story without the need for text. 

Stuck in her room with her family members all-consumed with electronic devoices (relatable, right?), the main character takes a red marker, draws a door on her bedroom wall, and takes off on an adventure. The sequel, Quest, involves the girl meeting a boy with a purple marker (hello Harold and the Purple Crayon), and how they gather all the colors of the kingdom that have been lost over time. Return involves the girl's father entering the fantasyland and saving the colors that have been stolen by an evil character. Teamwork, adventure, and of course, imagination, are all pleasantly apparent in this stunning picture book.



The Princess in Black (series) by Shannon Hale


This book is perfect for the beginning reader who is in-between an "I Can Read" and a full text chapter book. This series has short chapters, larger printed words, and colorful illustrations. As a Barnes & Noble Children's Bookseller, I can say that this is one of the only early chapter books out there with colorful illustrations; all the rest are strictly black and white. This is also one of my most commonly recommended books for children 5-8 years old (although older or younger readers may enjoy it too!).


What makes this book special in my eyes is the empowerment of girls to be both a pretty princess in pink who drinks tea, and a badass princess in black who fights crime. She does not have to choose between her two identities; she is able to be both. Princess Magnolia is an inspirational female character any young girl can look up to. I'm a huge fan!


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness


Embrace the amount of tears you will shed for this emotionally charged magnificent YA read. Told from the prospective of 13-year-old Connor living in England, this story centers on his relationship with his mother who is dying of cancer. During this tumultuous time, Connor is visited by a monster every night at 12:07. This monster tells Connor three stories, and then it is up to Connor to tell the fourth story as it is happening in real life. Siobhan Dowd who originally started writing this story died prematurely from cancer. Patrick Ness stepped in to finish the novel.


A Monster Calls plows through the exterior appearance of Connor and into his innermost thoughts and emotions. Connor is true to his feelings and I respect him as a main character during all of the tough times. The black and white illustrations throughout the novel really place the book over the edge. They allow the reader a glimpse into the fantasy realms of Connor's nightmares, but remain imprecise so that the reader still has room to picture the story in their own head.



Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner


As you can tell I love to read books that make me feel. If I express some sort of emotion such as laughter, crying (sobbing), amazement, or admiration, I know it's a good book. Phantom Limbs is one of those stories that made me feel empathy for each of the characters that I have nothing in common with, but could somehow relate to perfectly.

The narrator is Otis, a teenage boy whose best friend/swimming coach (Dara) is a one-armed girl who was once a swimming prodigy. Dara is a couple years older than Otis, and is the tough-as-nails person otis needs after his childhood girlfriend, Meg, suddenly moves away. Otis seems able to move on from his past until Meg returns to town three years later. There are changes in both Meg and Otis, and once secrets of the past are revealed, both characters have to decide what they truly want from one another and how much they are able to forgive.

Although my summary focuses on Otis and Meg, Dara is the character that stuck with me the most after finishing the book. She questions her career, her sanity, her sexuality, and is incredible brave in times of distress. The characters read as real, authentic people, and I applaud Paula Garner for her debut novel. 

***

Thank you, Amanda, for putting together this list for us! I can't wait to tackle this stack of books!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What Should I Read Next?


Hi friends!

Yesterday was a big day around here! I was featured as a guest on Anne Bogel's podcast, What Should I Read Next?, which just happens to be my favorite podcast and one that I listen to every single week without fail. It was a dream and a joy to share my favorite (and not-so-favorite) books with Anne, who has been my book guru since the first day that I discovered her blog

You can read more about my love for this podcast here.


You can listen to the episode right on your computer here.

If you have an iphone, you can download the episode right on the podcast app on your phone. Just look for episode 72: Embarrassing Bookworm Confessions (and yes, that title was a result of me making embarrassing confessions about my worst bookish habit). 

If you don't yet follow along on Instagram, you can find me @topshelftext and Anne @annebogel and @whatshouldireadnext.

If you have a recommendation for me, you can leave it in the comments of the podcast episode or in the comments section here!

Happy listening!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: The Enemies of Versailles


If you know me in real life, you may have recently heard me raving about this historical fiction trilogy, of which the final installment was released just yesterday. The Enemies of Versailles continues the story of King Louis XV's reign through the lens of his last mistress. With this last look at the many women behind his throne, Sally Christie once again completely captivated me and had me dreaming of life at Versailles. If you're interested in starting from the beginning (I highly recommend it -- every detail is worth reading), you can find my review of the first here and the second here

This series is one of those that managed to transport me -- while reading, there was little to distract me from the delicious details, incredible scandal, and suspense of the court of King Louis XV. In this third installment, Christie examines the last period of Louis XV's reign from the perspective of his final mistress, a woman named Jeanne Bécu. Jeanne eventually becomes the Comtesse du Barry, but her origins are far from noble. Early on in life, Jeanne was recruited to be a prostitute for wealthy men. Jeanne's charm and flirtatious manner win her the attention of friends to the king, and eventually she finds herself with an apartment in Versailles and the object of the king's adoration. 

There was a pretty stark difference between the Comtesse du Barry and the woman that came before her, the intimidating and powerful Marquise de Pompadour. (For more details on her, read the second book.) Jeanne was far more frivolous in nature, and therefore not as interested in controlling the throne, but she did have a significant adversary in the king's eldest daughter. The novel switches back and forth between the perspective of the mistress and the daughter, and that is what made it so interesting. The stark contrast between the pious, spinster daughter and the bold, flirtatious mistress highlighted the dissonance of Versailles -- a court that tried desperately to uphold tradition but was known for its outrageous parties and rampant infidelity. I also loved that this novel gave the reader a different perspective on the reign of Marie Antoinette and the decline of the nobility due to the revolution. 

Christie manages to make this reading experience one that's both entirely educational -- the scope of her research is clear -- and marked by heart-pounding scenes of suspense and scandal. I adore this series and predict that any historical fiction lover would not be able to resist this story after reading the first few pages.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Enemies of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles #3)
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria, 2017
ISBN: 1501103024
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

If You Liked That, Read This!

If you liked...

and...


...read this!


If you liked Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (review here) or The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig (review here), you'll likely enjoy The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes.

Let's be real, this novel belongs in a whole category of women's fiction with these same elements, so if you're a fan of this general formula, then I'd recommend this novel for you. We're talking dual perspectives from past and present, family secrets, and female protagonists. Other novels that come to mind include The Seven Sisters (review here) and A Bridge Across the Ocean (review here). I just recently picked up The Girl You Left Behind for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and found that contains the same elements as some of my favorite historical fiction picks. The Girl You Left Behind mainly follows two women: Liv, a grieving widow in present day London, and Sophie, a woman living in northern France during the first World War. What links them is a painting of Sophie, which after 85 years has made its way into Liv's home. Years later, Liv finds herself involved in a high-tension art restitution case, which compels her to dig deep into the history of both the painting and the life of its subject. I didn't find Liv's character as likable as I had hoped, but overall the book was interesting and had a twist that surprised me and left me feeling satisfied with the story. I gave it four out of five stars and would even recommend it as a spring/summer read when you're looking for something interesting and easy to follow.