Monday, June 26, 2017

Your Guide to Summer Reading!


Summer reading season is finally here!

Today I'm kicking off my first official week of summer with a trip to visit my little brother. To give you a little background, my brother is in training to be a golf pro, which means that for his college program he spends most of his time on internships rather than on his actual college campus. This means that he's spent most of his college semesters in some of the most beautiful places in the country. Last year, my mother and I visited him on St. Simon's Island on the coast of Georgia for my spring break. This year, we're kicking off the start of summer with a trip to see him in the Hamptons. I am so looking forward to a few days of relaxation, sun, and of course, summer reads.
(P.S. If you've got the scoop on the Hamptons, send recommendations our way! This will be our first time visiting the area.)

While packing for the trip, I ran into that classic bookworm dilemma: which books to take with me?

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me ask for recommendations from the stack of potential beach reads I plucked from my own shelves. (You'll have to stay tuned to see which ones made it into my suitcase!) It took me a good half hour of deliberations before I stuffed three into my bag. Of course, I then also debated bringing my Kindle in case of a bookish emergency. (Tell me I'm not the only one?!)

All this to say that picking out a book -- whether it's for a day at the pool or a weeklong vacation -- can be a daunting task. Luckily, our friends at The Expert Editor have created a clever flowchart to help direct you to your next engaging read.

From savoring the classics to venturing into more modern literature, there's a recommendation for every type of bookworm. Check out the flowchart here and come back to tell me which book The Expert Editor recommends for your reading needs!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Jane Austen Project


If you're a follower of Modern Mrs. Darcy (I'm sure by now you can tell that I am an avid fan of Anne Bogel), then you may have glimpsed The Jane Austen Project on her summer reading guide for this year. I've said this before -- and I think it's important to be honest -- I am not a true Austenite. I've only read Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility and started to read Emma but found Emma herself to be, well...annoying. (I know, I know, she deserves a second chance.) I say this because I've had a couple readers reach out to ask if you needed to be a true fan of Jane Austen in order to enjoy this novel and the answer is certainly not. While there were references to all of Austen's works -- some that I didn't understand for lack of reading -- I felt that my reading experience was just as pleasant and that I understood the story perfectly.

 The adventure takes place in 1815, shortly before the death of Jane Austen from a mysterious and drawn-out illness. Rachel and Liam were selected for a mission -- to travel back in time, infiltrate the Austen's social circle, and return to the future with a missing Austen manuscript. Rachel and Liam pose as wealthy siblings, recently arrived from the West Indies. Both Rachel and Liam are Austenites, and while they are intent on completing their mission, life in the Regency era begins to grow on them. They struggle to navigate their genuine affection for their new friends and their questions about the cost of changing the past, and by proxy, the post-apocalyptic world to which they will return.

What I will say is that this novel started out a little slow for my taste. It wasn't until about eighty pages in that I started to feel the desire to read uninterrupted, as the first bit was really the setting up of the novel and the plot itself didn't get going until after that. I saw many readers who were uncomfortable with the level of sexuality in this book, but I wasn't bothered by it at all. In fact, I thought that the contrast between the strict prudence of the Regency era and our own social rules was interesting; it brought to light some of the feminist issues that Jane and her contemporaries dealt with in a world where men controlled every aspect of women's lives. I was interested in the character relationships as they changed throughout the book and had one or two moments where I felt my heart swell or shrink on behalf of a character. The time travel element was captivating as well -- it brought about big questions (the type that make your brain hurt) and I loved thinking about the implications of changing history, for better and for worse. This was a story that had me rooting for so many of its characters, and I have to admit that I wish there was a sequel in the works, as I would happily re-immerse myself for another adventure into the past.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Jane Austen Project
Author: Kathleen A. Flynn
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2017
Price: $10 on Amazon
ISBN: 0062651269
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Reading Hard Books in Trying Times

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."


- Charles William Eliot


Today we will attend the funeral of a child. Our team will hold each other close, as we've done for the past six days, as we remember our student and mourn his loss.

There are so many reasons why it's hard to be a teacher, and so many more reasons that make it hard to teach in a place where children are forced to grow up too quickly every day. Our students were not carefree from the start -- they lead hard lives, and while we teach them about history and science and mathematics, we know that there are some things that are more important for them to know -- that we love them, that our school is a safe space, and that they can come to us and we will celebrate their joy in good times and share their tears in hard times. We've seen some of them cross the threshold into an unforgiving adult reality this week.



I read Beartown by Fredrik Backman this week in anticipation of our author chat for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. I was wary of this book to begin with -- I had a rough idea of the storyline that it contained already and knew that it was a topic that I felt sensitive to from the start. There was no question of me reading it -- I trust Anne Bogel's recommendations with blind loyalty and know Backman to be both a prolific writer and an author that I revere -- but I knew that picking it up this week in particular meant that I was choosing to read a book about hard things in a hard season. 

Grieving is a peculiar process, and I've seen it play out this week in many different forms. Grief is something that catches you unexpectedly, in odd moments. I find myself strongest when I'm with my students and weakest when I least expect it -- standing in line at the coffee shop, suddenly hearing a news story about the accident on the radio, on a walk when I pause to watch the sunrise.

Grieving is an uncomfortable process, and reading Beartown was an uncomfortable experience. Though the story that Backman writes contains plenty of tragedy, it's a story of survival, and as I read I realized I noticed more and more the threads that reach out into my current reality. 

In the end, I felt glad that I read the book. It helped me to acknowledge my grief. As a lifelong reader, I've frequently turned to books in hard seasons, but I've always chosen gentle reads. I've learned this week that reading a hard book in a hard season does not add to the solemness, but that the lessons embedded only help to start the healing process.

In the spirit of healing, I've returned to gentler reads for the next few days, and while I'm grateful to Beartown for its counsel, I feel lighter from the friendship that comes with reading a book that transports me from a hard season into another time and place.

***

How do you go about reading in hard seasons of life?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: Watch Me Disappear


Here's what you should know about my life (or the life of any teacher) in June: it is pure chaos. Between attempting to wrangle my children for the last 10 days of school, checking off all my end-of-year tasks, packing up my classroom, recycling all the things...I mean, you get it, right? 
It's insanity.

Thank goodness for a good book. Because although June is the least relaxing month of the year, it's one of my favorites for reading. I love the transition into summer reading lists, the chatter between friends about the books that you must get to this summer, and the light at the end of the tunnel that is my promise land -- reading, interrupted, on the beach for an entire day (or five).

All this to say that if you have a day of uninterrupted beach/reading time in your schedule this summer, I highly recommend that you bring along Watch Me Disappear. Not only is the cover design perfectly suited for summer reading -- the words on the page are sure to keep you captivated, as they did for me when I read this book cover-to-cover on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Watch Me Disappear tells the story of the Flanagan family. One year ago, Olive Flanagan's mother, Billie, disappeared while hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Though her body was never found, Olive and her father Jonathan mourn her loss. In that year of grief, Olive withdraws into herself while Jonathan writes a memoir of their perfect love story, aided by one too many afternoon drinks. As Jonathan battles the courts to get the official death certificate for his wife, Olive is not entirely convinced that her mother is dead. Her evidence? She's been having visions of her mother, and she's convinced they are really telepathic messages. Jonathan, worried about his child's mental well-being, takes a second look into Billie's disappearance, and soon comes to find that his wife wasn't exactly the saintly stay-at-home mom and doting wife that he describes in his memoir.

This book isn't ground-breaking in it's ideas, but it was certainly a page turner and one that fits so well into that category of dysfunctional family/psychological thriller. I would describe it as similar to Where'd You Go Bernadette but without the humor and with more of a psychological element. I don't want to say much more (you know, spoilers are hard to avoid with this genre), but I would most definitely recommend adding this to your summer reading list.

This title will be released on July 11, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Watch Me Disappear
Author: Janelle Brown
Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2017
ISBN: 0812989465
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!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Author Spotlight: Charlie Lovett

Today I want to share with you an author that I've been following for a few years and one that I highly recommend for all those TST readers who send me lovely messages about how our bookish tastes align. If you're a reader of historical fiction, a lover of old-favorites-turned-new, or a bibliophile who can't get enough of books about books, then Charlie Lovett is one author you'll want to put on your to-read list this summer.



If you're following Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, then you may have seen this title already (and if you've checked it off that list, then I would love to hear your thoughts). This one started a bit slowly for me, but once I got into the rhythm of the book I loved the story. The Lost Book of the Grail follows Arthur, a man firmly grounded in habit and reverent of the routines of the church but not a believer in God Himself. He's been a follower of grail lore for his entire life, and when a captivating American woman named Bethanny brings technology into the library of ancient manuscripts that he holds so dear, he must reconcile with Bethanny's new methods for historical conservation in order to save the church that he loves.



In this, we follow Sophie, an antiquarian bookseller and Austenite. She's drawn into a mystery surrounding her favorite author when an obscure text, Richard Mansfield's Little Book of Allegories, comes to light and brings with it questions about Jane Austen's legacy and the authorship of Pride & Prejudice. This is truly a story for book lover's and I gave it 5 stars when I read it back in 2014.



This was the first book I read by Lovett (and his debut novel) and it made it on to my Top Ten of 2013. Out of the three novels I've read by Lovett, this one remains my favorite. It follows a man named Peter, who arrives in Hay-on-Wye (the most famous row of bookshops in England and a spot I desperately want to visit) nine months after the death of his wife. He's relocated from North Carolina to England, hoping for a fresh start as he indulges his love for antiquarian texts. Peter is shocked,  however, when he opens an eighteenth-century text and finds a portrait that looks stunningly similar to his late wife. As Peter works to discover the origin of the portrait, his relationship with his wife is shown through flashbacks, and it was the love story between the two characters that really drew me in. 



This is the only one of Lovett's novels that I have not yet read, but I think I'll save it for the end of 2017 (for obvious reasons). 


***

It should come as no surprise that Lovett himself is an avid collector of rare books, and was once in the business of antiquarian bookselling himself. His characters are flawed and lovely, and I will continue to be a devoted fan of his as long as he continues to write novels that are geared toward his fellow bibliophiles. I've heard that he is at work on his next novel but there are no details yet as to when that will be published.

If you're also a fan of Lovett, leave a comment below or send me a message! I would love to discuss favorites with you.

P.S. Interested in more books about books? Read my collection of titles read & recommended by readers here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Children's Review: Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravedigger's Club


I am a fan of all-things Sherlock Holmes, so anytime I hear about a new spinoff of my favorite detective series I am guaranteed to give it a try. Artie Conan Doyle and The Gravedigger's Club is the first in a new series that I'm looking forward to following. The mystery stars a young Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the original Sherlock Holmes) as he solves mysteries around his hometown in Edinburgh. In this first adventure, Artie and his best friend Hamilton are exploring a local graveyard late at night when they spot a ghostly woman and the paw prints of a gigantic hound. Soon, they're on a quest to discover the mystery behind the two sightings, as well as the culprit of several robberies carried out by a mysterious society known as The Gravedigger's Club.

I loved that this book carried elements of some of the tales of Sherlock and Watson -- the idea being that these events in Artie's life would later influence his storytelling -- and I also loved how the story was steeped in historical detail. Though the mystery is the main focus of the plot, this also featured a theme of friendship, particularly as it relates to the hero-sidekick relationship that we see in this type of story. Recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy detective stories (and potentially a great summer reading pick)!

This title will be released on June 15, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Artie Conan Doyle and The Gravedigger's Club
Author: Robert J. Harris
Publisher: Kelpies, 2017
ISBN: 1782503536
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!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: Whispers Beyond the Veil


At this point, you already know that I love historical fiction, and especially novels with strong female protagonists. There were many periods in history (most periods, actually), when women were expected to be coy, meek, and generally silent in all things. I love to experience stories in which women do not meet those expectations -- and Jessica Estevao's Whispers Beyond the Veil is one of those stories. This novel takes place at the very end of the 19th century, at a seaside resort town in Maine. Ruby Proulx is a victim of her father's crimes. Since childhood, he has carted her from town to town, selling his "medical miracles" and forcing her to take part in his schemes. When one of his miracle demonstrations goes horribly wrong, Ruby is forced to flee. Ruby finds herself traveling to the seaside town of Old Orchard, Maine, where her Aunt Honoria is opening a new hotel geared towards believers in the spiritual realm. 

Ruby is welcomed by her aunt, and is grateful to take up a role in running the hotel but before the season can truly begin, tragedy strikes. Not only is the hotel's future and Honoria's reputation in danger, but Ruby fears her past role in her father's schemes will catch up to her. She takes it upon herself to investigate the crime. The Spiritualists' beliefs in otherworldly powers and an ghostly realm were in contrast with the Victorian propriety expected of the characters. I certainly enjoyed the mystery element too, and the book reminded me of Cat Winter's In the Shadow of Blackbirds and Deanna Raybourn's A Curious Beginning (review here). Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of the supernatural. This novel is the first in a series that I'll certainly be following in the future. 

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Whispers Beyond the Veil (A Change of Fortune Mystery #1)
Author: Jessica Estevao
Publisher: Berkley, 2016
Price: $10 on Amazon
ISBN: 04255281604
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library

Friday, May 26, 2017

Children's Review: Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath



Obviously, the first thing that caught my eye with this book was the cover. I love to read middle grade fantasy-slash-adventure novels, so an image of two kids riding a giant pig (boar?) piqued my interest. Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath has a really creative premise, featuring the titular character, who has just moved from Illinois to London. When she gets there, a seemingly innocent act (fixing a faucet in her flat's bathroom) leads to her mother being kidnapped and her discovery that the sewers beneath London were built upon a system of magic rivers. Hyacinth's first priority is to rescue her mother, and along the way she comes across a cast of unique characters -- including the pictured magical, giant pig -- some of whom are more nefarious than they first appear to be. Hyacinth also discovers that she has a particularly important role in not only saving her mother, but also saving London, so along the way she learns more about her own family's history with the magic that flows beneath her new city.

I have to admit I struggled with this book a bit and wasn't sure that I was even going to finish it. I didn't really get invested in the story until around the 40% mark, and even after that I found myself with an apathetic attitude towards the plot. What I liked were the characters -- the very charming pig was my favorite -- but Hyacinth herself fell flat for me in terms of development and authenticity. I appreciated the creativity of the premise, but in the end the world-building felt discombobulated and the details were hard to track throughout the story. I wished there had been a bit more background or ground-laying in terms of the magical elements and without spoiling the ending, the resolution couldn't pull it together enough for me to recommend this book to my students or readers of the blog.

Bottom-Line Rating: 2/5 

Title: Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath
Author: Jacob Sager Weinstein
Publisher: Random House, 2017
ISBN: 0399553177
Format: Ebook
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!

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