Monday, October 16, 2017

New in Children's Lit: The Kid Lit Exchange Network

Read Review and Share with Kid Lit Exchange





Readers, today I want to introduce you to a network of readers that I am so proud to be a part of. Kid Lit Exchange launched over the summer and when I read about Kate's mission to put more children's lit into the hands of reviewers I was instantly on board. Members of the KLE network work to spread the love of kid lit by reviewing upcoming & recently released titles and the readers who are part of the network are so enthusiastic about children's literature that it makes my heart happy. Kate works so, so hard to make this network run smoothly (and simultaneously is a devoted mother, caretaker, wife, dog mom, and enthusiastic librarian) and I am so grateful for her brilliant ideas. When I launched the DBC, Kate and I had some long talks about how to integrate these new ventures into our already-busy lives, and she has been a wonderful source of wisdom and sanity for me throughout the process of building the DBC. I am so excited to have her and Laura here today to give you the full overview of the KLE!

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With over 140 members and growing, Kid Lit Exchange is a powerful network of librarians, teachers and parents getting the word out about great books for kids of all ages. The idea is simple: educators and parents share books with each other and give honest reviews on social media to help promote a love of reading.

Join us in a conversation with Kid Lit Exchange founder Kate Olson and Kid Lit Exchange Leadership Team member Laura Gardner - both school librarians and avid readers of kid lit!

Laura: Let’s start simple: How does Kid Lit Exchange work?

Kate: Okay! Here is the simplified version of the process: a book is shared with me from an author, publisher or another reviewer. I post it on our Instagram account (@kidlitexchange) showing the book cover and summary and sharing the genre. Reviewers in our network then request it on that post, and then the magic begins! The book is added to our gigantic Google Sheets database by our wonderful database team, and the book is then shipped to the first reviewer. The reviewer reads it, writes an honest and constructive review of at least 100 words and posts that review on Instagram and Goodreads (and maybe also their blog, Facebook, Amazon, etc). Then they look in the database for the next reviewer and mail it on. And repeat! This has gotten a LOT bigger now, with 5 additional book shippers added!


Laura: How did you come up with the idea for Kid Lit Exchange?

Kate: Honestly, this was one of those “pondering while making a snack for my daughter” ideas that was brought about after I requested to join a middle grade book/ARC sharing group on Twitter and was told there was no room available…….I had no idea what to do next, and was a little let down since I had so many ARCs of my own to share, so I decided to start my own that had no member limits! I also wanted it to include ALL of KidLit, since I am PK-12 school librarian and read widely in all of these age groups and genres. In addition, I wanted to help reviewers and readers who don’t have access on their own to galleys. (ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy, or galley -  a version of a book that is provided to reviewers prior to publication date. These copies can not be sold or added to library collections, so are perfect for sharing with additional reviewers to get more coverage for a book.)

Laura: I love how Kid Lit Exchange reviewers aren’t just librarians and classroom teachers. Can you share more about why you decided to open this up to parents, as well?

Kate: If you think about who has purchasing power for children’s book, I would rank them from librarian with MOST, and then parents! Teachers definitely have power, but not necessarily funds. Parents are the ones who actually buy books for their homes and are the gatekeepers for home libraries. What better profile, then, for book reviewers of this genre? In addition, some of our reviewers aren’t even parents, but are adults who are avid readers of YA titles. So many adults read and buy YA! Their voices matter too.

Laura: What are your goals with Kid Lit Exchange?

Kate: That’s a big question! And a question that I’m honestly still trying to answer myself. My original goal was to get ARCs into the hands of readers who normally aren’t able to get access to them AND get more reviews for kidlit titles. However, the goal is definitely expanding now! I would love for Kid Lit Exchange to become a go-to source for publishers and authors as they seek to gain honest and constructive reviews for their forthcoming titles as well as a platform for reviewers to share their reviews. We plan to feature a review for each title on our website to help reviewers gain exposure as well.

Laura: Kid Lit Exchange has only existed since early July 2017 and it’s already grown so rapidly with over 130 reviewers and 200+ reviews (and growing by the minute) ; what’s that been like?

Kate: It has been CRAZY! Crazy good, but pretty overwhelming! It started as a casual little thing and then totally blew up. I have definitely learned a lot of lessons about working with a force of volunteers (people are VERY quick to sign up, but not always very excited about follow-through) and that delegation is imperative for growth. Thanks to Madeleine from Top Shelf Text for reminding me of that! If I let it, running KLE could quickly become a full-time job…..but of course it can’t be since I already have one of those! Oh, and KLE is an unpaid hobby that actually COSTS me a ton of money. I do it because I am passionate about the project, but can not let it overwhelm my life. That’s where the leadership team comes in to help!

Laura: Well I for one love reviewing for Kid Lit Exchange; it’s a fun way to get early access to new books, meet fabulous IG reading friends and spread the word about awesome books for kids! Thank you so much for starting it!




Kate Olson is a PK-12 librarian in a small rural school district in Wisconsin, as well as a reviewer for School Library Journal and founder of Kid Lit Exchange. She lives on the top of a giant hill in the middle of nowhere with her husband, 3 feisty children, and dogs named Max and Booker. She can be found on her blog The Loud Library Lady and on Instagram as @theloudlibrarylady and Twitter as @theloud_library.

Laura Gardner, a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media, is Teacher Librarian at a large middle school in Massachusetts and reviews books for School Library Journal and Kid Lit Exchange. She lives near the coast of Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. Laura was awarded the School Library Journal (SLJ) School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award in 2016. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @LibrarianMsG.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reader Recommendations with Lisa Snead

Hey, readers!

Today I have another round of Reader Recommendations for you from a fellow bookworm. Lisa also inhabits the bookstagram world as @imlisaann and blogs over at Lisa Ann Reads. I'm really excited about her picks today because I haven't read a single one of them yet!


Lisa, tell us a little about yourself!

I'm an Austin, Texas transplant from the East Coast, Red Sox fan, disability rights attorney, wannabe yogi, and enthusiastic dog mom. I can almost always be found with a book in my hand. My go-to books are usually LitFic, WWII fiction, or narrative non-fiction, though I'll read almost anything. Bonus points for well-done magical realism.

Our bookish tastes totally align. Tell us some of your favorites!




Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I love this book because every time I read it I find something new. There's the obvious appeal for sci-fi fans since the book follows children training for a galactic battle against an alien species coming to take over earth. Even outside of this, however, the book raises important questions of what it means to harm one person to save the many, the necessity (or not) of telling the truth to those impacted by it, and even what it means to be a child growing up in a time of war. I love that this book is being taught in the local high school curriculum here. While Ender's Game is full of buggers and blasters, don't let the word "aliens" turn you off. I'm not usually an alien fan and very picky about sci-fi, but Ender's Game is a book with cross-genre and cross-gender appeal--the aliens are just the tool to set the stage for the larger questions Card is raising. (If you absolutely love sci-fi, the rest of the series is worth a read, particularly Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead, but otherwise, I'd just stick to Ender's Game).



The March Trilogy by John Lewis

Before you judge me, this trilogy is literally the only graphic novels I can remember reading since the days of reading Archie and Jughead while waiting for my mom to finish paying for groceries. Representative John Lewis is perhaps best known for his leadership during the Civil Rights Movement, including marching with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama. March is the story of his early life and his life in the movement, culminating in that march. Interspersed within the flashback of his life are scenes from the inauguration of President Obama. Y'all--I never thought a comic book could make me cry, but here we are. I'm tearing up again just thinking about it. The novels are inspiring and more easily accessible than his actual autobiography--Walking With the Wind (which I also recommend). They're also sobering to read as current events seem more and more to remind me that this work isn't done. These are best savored--it would be easy to speed through them, but I found I got the most out of them when I made a point to read them slowly over several days.



You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

This recently-published memoir recounts Alexie's memories of his mother and the larger impact she had on him, his family, and the reservation where Alexie grew up. The memoir is told as an amalgam of essays and poems, with parts of the poems sung as First Nation chants. I highly recommend the audiobook--there are times Alexie is chuckling while reading, others where he can barely speak through tears. He also sings the chants he's interwoven into the poetry. This book made me laugh, tear up, and get angry at the treatment of First Nation peoples in this country.



The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Not to brag too much but I have a pretty uncanny ability to predict twists in TV shows and books--it kind of annoys my boyfriend. With that said, I completely missed the twist in this book the first time I read it. The story follows a social worker as she recovers from an assault and becomes entangled with trying to discover how one of her clients became homeless, all within a world where The Great Gatsby is not a work of fiction, but rather historical fact. I couldn't put this book down and still pick it up at least once a year for a re-read. (Significant trigger warning for sexual assault.)

• • •

Thank you Lisa for sharing these great reads with us! I've bumped at least one of these titles onto my must-read-soon list!

See any favorites above? Have a recommendation for Lisa based on these picks? Let us know!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Rules of Magic (& Giveaway!)

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

I get so excited for the fall reading season each year that I tend to start my fall reads pretty early. As soon as we had our first signs of fall in September, I picked up The Rules of Magic, which I'd been looking forward to since reading Practical Magic earlier in the month. Both of these titles were on my Spooktober Reads list last week, but I want to talk a little bit more about why this series has quickly become my number one recommendation for fall.


Practical Magic and Rules of Magic both tell the story of the Owens family, whose ancestry dates back to one of the original Salem witches. The story is more magical realism than fantasy -- everything about our current world remains the same, but with an added touch of magic and mystery.

In The Rules of Magic, we get the story of The Aunts, the two women who raised Sally and Gillian in Practical Magic. We learn about their childhoods, more about the origins of the Owens' curse, and about the tragic times when the two women dared to fall in love. 


I love to read books about witches, and I have a feeling that my preference for this type of story is based in where I was raised -- in a small town right next to Salem, Massachusetts. We have great history in our town -- both related to the Salem Witch Trials and related to the colonial era in general -- but I've always loved the culture related to being a witch. 

One of my favorite spots in town is a little pond named Redd's pond, named after Wilmot Redd, one of the convicted Salem Witches. She died by hanging in 1692 at the height of the hysteria, and her memorial marker is located in this very graveyard where I went to snap some photos of this book.

I love being immersed in the world of the Owens family, with all of its eccentricity and ethereal boundaries between our world and the supernatural. The Rules of Magic is, in my opinion, even better than Practical Magic, but I do recommend reading it only after you've read the first. It may be a prequel, but the story in Practical Magic lays the groundwork for this newest release. I can only hope that we'll see another book featuring the Owens sometime in the future!

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Rules of Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1501137476
Format: Hardcover
Source: Simon & Schuster

Giveaway with Simon & Schuster

Giveaway CLOSED!

Congratulations to Amy Collins, Tricia, Chelsea Diane, Pam, and Christine Wells!

Please get in touch with me at topshelftext@gmail.com with your full name and mailing address!

• • •

There are some lovely, fabulous people working behind the scenes at Simon & Schuster, and they've generously partnered with me to give away FIVE copies of this book to TST readers!

Rules of Entry

In the spirit of Autumnal celebration, leave a comment below telling me the best Halloween costume you've ever worn!

Mine had to have been the year my grandmother made me a beautiful pink silk princess gown, complete with a fur hemline. I adored it. (I have always been princess-obsessed.)
Shoutout to my Nonna for her awesome sewing skills & creativity!

U.S. Entries Only, Valid through Friday, October 13th at 7pm EST.

Friday, October 6, 2017

How to Read More in Your Busiest Seasons with Kate Lane

Hey Readers!

Today I'm introducing you to one of my favorite new bookstagram friends. Kate makes me laugh daily in her Instagram stories, has great reading taste, and is an overall cheery and wonderful human. I'm so glad to have her here to talk about how to read more in busy seasons of life.

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Hi, book friends! My name is Kate, and I’m the reader behind @katereadsbooks_! I’m a graduate student pursuing my Masters in Counseling in my hometown of Birmingham, AL! Oh, and I am also a TOTAL bookworm!

Since staring my bookstagram account, I have received endless questions on how I find the time to fit reading into my already busy schedule (commuting back and forth to grad school, running around like a crazy person at my internship, studying for qualifying exams, etc). BUT, obviously, I’m not the only book addict who is busy! Life can be crazy and sometimes finding time to read is difficult, and may even feel impossible during some seasons of life. Today, I wanted to share a few tips that I've picked up along the way that I hope will help and encourage you to read more in spite of your already full schedule. (Also, pre-apologies for my excessive use of words in caps, but I NEED you to feel my emphasis.)

1. Always have a book with you.  

We’ve already established that life is crazy, but you NEVER know when some downtime may present itself. Be ready by always carrying a book with you! I know that I’m definitely more inclined to waste time on social media during those free minutes, but I ALWAYS feel more productive when I spend that time reading rather than scrolling!




2. Audiobooks, audiobooks, audiobooks.

You may not have endless time to sit down and read, so wouldn't it be nice to be able to read WHILE doing other tasks?! HELLO, AUDIOBOOKS! You know what you can do while you listen to an audiobook? Pretty much anything: drive, do laundry, cook, go for a run, go for a walk (more my style), get your nails done, clean your house, etc. Look at all this available reading time I just found for you!!! Audiobooks are the perfect way to find time to fit more books into your busy schedule. (Ps use your local library card to download audiobooks on apps like Hoopla and Overdrive!)




3. Put your phone up while reading.

If my phone is anywhere near me when I’m reading, I WILL get distracted, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who’s like this… So getting rid of that distraction will open up more focused reading time! I have started to leave my phone in another room when I’m reading. This tip doesn't really create MORE time to read, but it does help you to better devote the little time you do have to actually reading!




4. Read books you LOVE.

I’m a firm believer that we find time for the things we love. If you’re super engrossed in a book, and can't wait to find out what happens next, you’ll have no problem watching less TV to finish it! Reading books you love, and putting down books you don't enjoy will help keep you far away from a reading slump that could SERIOUSLY kill your reading life! When people tell me they don't like reading, I tell them that they’re just not reading the right books for them! Find books you truly love, even if it’s in a genre you wouldn't have expected, and you will read more than you think possible. Promise.

And now for my last and absolute favorite tip…




5. Completely ignore all your work, and spend most of your time reading.

Now, this tip is one that I’m pretty fond of, and utilize often. I only WISH I were kidding!! This was meant to be funny, and make you laugh, but honestly, sometimes this is how I get reading done! I completely ignore everything and choose to read a book instead. Sometimes it’s needed (#selfcare), and sometimes it’s a total avoidance method. BUT, it is a real way that I find time to read in my busy life.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bookish Buys: Capsule Books Subscription (with Coupon!)

Bookworms, I want to introduce you to the one subscription box that I'm actually loving this season. Capsule Books just launched over the summer and I connected instantly with the idea behind it. Capsule Books launched this subscription with an intense focus on the feelings that books evoke as we read them. Each season, readers can select a box featuring one of three emotions. Inside each box are three books meant to stir that very emotion within the reader, along with a handwritten letter, blank stationary card for sending snail mail and sharing a love of books, and a fun bookish item.


When Capsule Books first started their rep search over the summer, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the promotion for the box. There are a lot of bookish subscription boxes out there, but I had never felt compelled to try one because I wasn't interested in acquiring more stuff. Since we've moved, I've been really conscious of bringing new items into our new space -- asking myself if the item has a long term purpose or serves us in making our little apartment feel like home. Ordering a box that comes with a lot of things that will sit unused didn't appeal to me. Obviously, though, books are exempt from that line of questioning, so a box that offered only books was right up my alley.

As a rep for the company, I had the opportunity to pick out a box that resonated with me. In the fall season, there are three different feelings to choose from:

Mono No Aware

From the Capsule Books website:

Mono no aware translates literally to “the pathos of things” or “a sensitivity to ephemera.” It is a Japanese term for the wistfulness felt because of the passing of time. There is no word like this in English. It’s melancholy tinged with beauty, especially aesthetics in nature: the passing of time marked by seasons, the changing of the leaves, the melting of snow.

Each of the books in this box take place in Japan.

Flâner

From the Capsule Books website:

Flâner literally means “to stroll idly,” without any goal or destination in mind. While the word itself is a verb and not so much a feeling, there’s a certain beauty in strolling along the streets leisurely. It is this feeling we feel when we decide one day to just walk around, and look at the people and the buildings and find the beauty in details we so often miss. It is this feeling Francophiles spend their whole lives chasing.

Each of the books in this box take place in France.

Toska

From the Capsule Books website:

Nabokov can describe it better than we ever could. “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

Each of the books in this box were written by Russian authors.


I debated between the Mono No Aware and Flâner capsules, but ultimately decided to go with the Flâner because although I spoke French for many years (I'm now incredibly rusty), I've never actually been to the country and haven't read many novels that take place there. When the little blue box arrived I was curious to see whether I would recognize any of the titles. Though one of the books is by Earnest Hemingway and therefore one that I had heard of (but not yet read!), the other two hadn't been on my radar at all. I loved the handwritten note that accompanied them, which recommended reading the novels in chronological order. I also loved that it came with a cute Penguin Co. corner bookmark, which I put to use right away and have been transferring from book to book as I read.

• • •

The box is relatively expensive at $50 for one season, but if you calculate the price of buying three paperback novels, it actually comes quite close. Plus, you get the added bonus of a fun surprise and (what feels like) a personalized service. When you buy more than one season at a time, you save a little on the cost overall.

I think the box would make a great gift for a bookish friend, and if you're a first time customer, you can use the code TST15 for 15% off from now through November 30th.


• • •

Capsule Books expanded my reading life this fall and prompted me to read some more classic and "high literature" -- in other words, those fancy literary fiction books that don't usually pique my interest.

Have you tried a subscription book box? Which one of the Capsule Books emotions most resonates with you?




Monday, October 2, 2017

Spooktober Reads

Happy Spooktober, Readers!



October is one of the best months of the year for readers who, like me, enjoy books with a haunting, gothic tone. In previous years, I've published booklists featuring great October reads. You can see those here and here. This year, I decided to put together another list of books that embody that Autumnal chill.

Note:
* indicates that Top Shelf Text received a physical title from the publisher. All opinions are my own!

• • •


See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt* // A fictional account of the Lizzie Borden murders and one that will definitely give you chills. I knew nothing about this infamous case before reading. This novel tells what happened after the bodies were discovered. Warning: it's a little bit gruesome and not for squeamish readers.


Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber* // If you're a fan of true crime podcasts like Serial, you'll want to add this to your list. A podcast features a closed case, questioning whether the verdict actually reflected the truth, but this time the story is told from the perspective of the family at the center of the crime. In addition to being a suspenseful story, this one also gave me pause and prompted me to wonder how the people on the other side of true crime podcasts feel about the sensationalized attention.


The Lying Game by Ruth Ware* // This is one that I haven't picked up yet, but when I read  The Woman in Cabin 10, I was totally sucked in to the twists and turns and I'm expecting the same from this one.


The River at Night by Erica Ferencik* // Another one that I'll be reading this season. This one follows a group of friends trying to survive the Maine wilderness after a whitewater rafting accident. Fun fact: when we were seniors in high school, I coordinated a trip to the Penobscot River in Maine for whitewater rafting. The water levels were unusually high that season, every single one of our boats flipped, and I vowed it would be my last time rafting. I'm expecting this one to bring back some memories!


Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore* // From Goodreads: "A magically inspiring tale of a man who is reincarnated through many lifetimes so that he can be with his one true love: Death herself." I just recently received this one in the mail and I'm really looking forward to diving in. (Plus, that cover.)


Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan* // This was one of my favorite thriller reads over the summer. It's intense, literary, and totally twisty. You can read my review here.


The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg // This is a good pick if you're not into gruesome stories. You can read my review of it here, but I'll say it's just slightly creepy, but also so imaginative.


A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas // Earlier this year I recommended this series if you're a fan of Deanna Raybourn. I love the fall feel of this novel -- and the second one (just recently released) is even better than the first! (And yes, you do need to read them in order.)


Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman // I don't know how I had never even heard of this novel until this year. It may be 20+ years old, but I loved the story of the Owens family. Highly recommended if you like tales of witches -- this one is more magical realism than fantasy, but so, so, good.


The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman* // And if you loved Practical Magic, you'll love this prequel, which is coming out next week. (Stay tuned for a giveaway here!) I thought this one was even better than its predecessor, but both are 100% worth reading.


Caraval by Stephanie Garber // If you liked The Night Circus, I'd recommend this one. It's young adult and not the most sophisticated, but I loved the magical elements, the world building, and I'm already impatient for the second in the series.


In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters // I read this one a few years ago, but it's perfect for this time of year. If you like stories about the spirit realm, you'll enjoy this one. It takes place in 1918, when America has fallen to its knees in the heat of the Spanish Influenza and a raging war. 


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman // This is another one that's good if you're not a fan of gruesome tales. It's hard to describe the story itself, but if you like Neil Gaiman or are wanting to read his work for the first time, I'd recommend this one.


The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack* // I just finished this one last week and it was a great escapist read for me. It follows a woman named Semele who's called to evaluate a rare collection of antique artifacts. Within the collection, she finds an incredibly rare manuscript written by a fortune teller in the time of Cleopatra. The fortune teller's writing is inexplicably tied to Semele, and soon Semele finds herself in danger. If you're a fan of past/present narratives and books like The DaVinci Code, I think you'll like this one.


Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao // I read this over the summer and just picked up the second in the series (just released last month). It has elements of mystery, the supernatural, and a Victorian setting that I just love.

• • •

What are you reading (or recommending) this month?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Newbery Project Update


Today I'm giving you a quick update on the Newbery Award & Honoree titles I've read and listened to recently!

If you're new to TST and don't yet know about my Newbery Project, you can read about it here. My goal is to read all of the Newbery books -- including both award-winners and honorees, and to check them off the list as I go. You can see the list at any time by clicking the My Newbery Project tab on the TST homepage.

I had every intention of making great headway with these books over the summer but I ended up only reading four titles since my last update! In October, I'm hoping to pick out a few that fit my fall reading mood, such as Neil Gaiman's Coraline. If you head over to my Instagram page today, you can help me decide which Newbery book to read next! I've selected four titles for readers to choose from -- I would love to hear your vote!


Savvy by Ingrid Law // I read this early in the summer and loved it. It wasn't necessarily a unique premise -- a child waiting to reach the age when she'd inherit her own magical power -- but the cast of characters was so fun and the adventure kept me turning pages. I love the quirky world that Law has built, and I'm hoping to read the next two in the series soon!


Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage // Again, this cast of characters totally captured my heart. I absolutely loved this story. It features characters with real social issues such as abandonment, domestic abuse, etc. but doesn't make them the central issue in the book. In it, our main character is an amateur detective for her tiny hometown, the setting of which had me totally charmed. I would definitely recommend this to middle grade readers. My friend Sara, who writes about books over at Meaningful Madness, kindly sent me the next two in the series, so I can't wait to continue the adventures with this crew!


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman // If you're looking for a fun, spooky story to listen to with your kids this fall (or to listen to for yourself), I would highly recommend the audiobook version of The Graveyard Book. It's read by Gaiman himself and wonderfully done. One of the best audiobooks I've listened to, in fact. The story features a human boy who lives in a graveyard among the spirits who took him in as an infant. There are nefarious villains, themes of identity, and Gaiman does an excellent job of voicing the different characters.


Princess Academy by Shannon Hale // This was my least favorite book that I've read for my Newbery Project so far, which is disappointing because I had especially high hopes for it. I listened to it on audiobook and though it started off on an interesting note, the majority of it felt like the plot was dragging, the characters weren't very interesting, and the overall impression I got from it was that it felt a little desperate. More than once, I questioned how this book even ended up on the Newbery List. I've had a few readers tell me that Hale's other books are worth checking out, so I'll pick up another one eventually, but I'm not feeling too motivated after this experience.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reader Recommendations with Amy Powers

Readers, today we have another round of recommendations from a fellow bookworm! Amy Powers is here to tell us about five of her very favorite books. Amy is one of my lovely, in-real-life friends, a fellow educator, and the only person I know who can finish a book in two hours. (Seriously, she devours books.) Amy and I worked together last year, and while I'm now in a new district and missing her everyday, we love staying connected through our shared love of books!

• • •


Amy, tell us a little about yourself!

I teach fourth and fifth grade in an urban district north of Boston, MA. I'm voracious in my reading life and could literally read ten books a week, given the free time! I love the outdoors and history. I'm completely unorganized but in a lovable way. (Madeleine can attest to this, having been my co-worker last year.) I love books from every genre except self help because I'm still in denial about all my faults (just kidding, I'm fully aware of my faults). Other than that, I'm a divorced mom of two who is currently trying to navigate the tsunami-like waters of teenagedom. Oh, and I love all things bookish and literary.

Share with us some of your favorite titles!



Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott

First up, when I was a little girl growing up in Middleton, Ma, we had the luxury of having a big, beautiful mischief- enticing lilac bush in our front yard. I spent a couple of years playing hide and seek and having mud-pie parties with my twin sister under its perfectly purple boughs. So when I was a teenager and I encountered Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs one day in my father's old book collection, I was taken by the fact that someone else must've loved lilacs and found them as nostalgic as I did and still do. Ms. Alcott didn't let me down. Under the Lilacs is a charming novel of two circus runaways, Ben and Sancho, that one day cause mischief during a tea party that two sisters are having under the lilacs in their garden. (Can you see the parallel here for me?) The characters include Ben, Sancho, Bab, Betty, Miss Celia and Thorny as well as a few other memorable souls. In essence, Ben discovers that families/important relationships can form from the simplest of occurrences. Sweet Serendipity! I love everything about this novel. The characters, the settings, the proper language from generations ago... It makes my mind go straight back to the sweet scent of lilacs and mud-pies lingering in the air. This is a great book for readers that love old-fashioned stories, nostalgia and underdogs. I've seen it categorized as both a young adult novel and adult fiction. I think it bridges the gap for both. It's proven elusive to purchase in book form, which I still am attempting to do. I was able to download it digitally, however, and I continue to go back to it when I need comfort or a walk down memory lane.



Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Shifting gears completely, my second recommendation is a novel by Mark Mathabane entitled, Kaffir Boy. I'm not sure any other novel that I've ever read moved me the way this one did. I first read this in high school 20 some odd years ago. The feelings that this book wrenched from my very soul have stayed with me all these years. This is the devastatingly hopeful true story of a black youth's struggle to find his way in South Africa during the age of Apartheid. It's Mr. Mathabane's autobiographical account of his pursuit of life. Although I can't remember on which page my tears started to flow, I know that they continued throughout the book and well after. This is an intense read that evokes powerful feelings my friends. It also provided an education regarding the horrific regime that dominated South Africa. I will forever be moved by Mr. Mathabane's tenacity in finding hope, happiness and courage in such despair. (Yes. I'm actually tearing up while writing this.)



The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I've got another tear-inducing treat that honestly made me jump out of bed in the middle of the night and yell, "WHHHAAATT????!!!!" The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, shocked me a little bit. This fictional account of a dog breeding family is so moving and left me with a bit of a hole to fill in my soul. It may have affected me so much because I am always rooting for the unsung heroes, the underdog, the characters that get treated as subhuman by those that feel they are superior... I'm not sure, but I was rooting so much for the main character, Edgar, that I actually got a lump in my throat. I also didn't realize, until the twisty end, that I had subtly gotten so absorbed by the masterful storytelling and characters. It's a novel sure to get you trying to think of a way to save the underdog!


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

One of my favorite novels in the history of history is Ruta Sepetys' Salt to the Sea. This story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I have no idea how Ruta Sepetys does this, but she's a master at it. The story of WWII refugees finding one another and trying to survive the Russian advance is mind- bogglingly fascinating. Not only does this book grip you with it's characters, it pushes you right into the fold of one of the most unknown human tragedies of the war. I had never even heard of the sinking of the German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, when I began reading. Since I love history, the magnitude of this event should have been at least a blip on my historical radar and yet I knew nothing. I love the fact that four characters' stories came together in such a beautiful way. Ruta Sepetys took me on a roller coaster of emotions with this one! And I thank her for enlightening me on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, while telling such a compelling story. This book is categorized as a young adult novel, however, I really feel that it will appeal to all adult, historical non-fiction audiences as well. You HAVE to read this book!!! I know you'll love it and then you will want to call everyone you know and tell them to read it too! (I did! )


My next recommendation is a little less emotional but just as gripping to my historical self. Manhunt by James Swanson is one of my must reads if you love all things history and Abraham Lincoln. This is the story of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln. It follows the trail of Booth as he escapes from the Ford Theatre and makes his way south. This novel read like a movie and shines a light on the fascinating details that unfolded in the 12 day hunt for Lincoln's killer. It was mind-blowing to learn new information about both Lincoln's assassination and his assassin. I was taken aback by how many people were actually involved and Booth's network of political sympathizers. I couldn't put this book down. This novel of the background of one of the most important events in Americas' history was riveting! It was so well written that I went and further researched different people mentioned in the book. (I know, I'm a nerd) But this novel seriously had it all.

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Have you read any of these books? Have any read-alike recommendations? Tell us below!