Friday, August 18, 2017

Author Interview: Dane Huckelbridge

Readers, I am so happy about today's post.

Remember this book?


If you've read it already, it's unlikely that you'll ever forget the story of Sophie and Barry. And if you haven't picked it up yet, now is the time!

Today I want to introduce you to the brilliant mind behind Castle of Water, a novel that just happens to be my favorite read from the summer (you can find my thoughts on it here). I know many of you have already read (or listened to) this novel and I have yet to hear feedback from a reader who hasn't fallen completely in love with it. This is a book that the reading community has embraced this summer, so you can imagine how excited I was when Dane Huckelbridge agreed to chat with us here on Top Shelf Text. I am so honored to be sharing this interview with you all today, and so glad to see all of you spreading the love for Dane's book!

Read on to learn more about Dane's life as an author and his inspiration for Castle of Water!

Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Good question! When I was growing up, I always enjoyed reading, and writing as well, although honestly, I never considered it as a realistic career path. I didn't know any writers, and it never occurred to me that it was something that a kid from Cleveland, Ohio could do for a living. But funny story—my senior year of college, I spent some time in the Cibao, in the Dominican Republic (still one of my favorite places in the world), and caught some sort of illness which the doctors couldn't figure out. I ended up going home to Ohio after graduation, because I was too sick to look for jobs, and while I was at home—feeling pretty awful, over all—I started going to the local library just to get out of the house. I think it was then that I really started to fall in love with literary fiction, and it was then that I decided I wanted to move to New York and try to make it as a writer. I bummed a ride with a friend who was headed that way, and I had my first short stories (which I was naive enough to think someone would actually want to publish) on a floppy disk in my suitcase. Granted, it would take another decade for me to publish my first book, and a few more years before I published my first novel, but that was how it began. Starting out in writing is really tough—and I'll be honest, it never gets easy—and I still have very mixed feelings about being a writer today. But if it's meaningful to you, and you stick with it, it can work out.

When did you decide to make the switch from non-fiction to fiction?

Funny you should ask, it actually was the other way around. I started out writing fiction, but quickly found, as I'm sure many aspiring writers do, that getting a novel published is not easy. At the time, I had just met the woman who would eventually become my wife over in France, she was considering moving to New York, and I realized I needed to get my act together, find my own apartment, and get something published. I did study history in college, and it is a passion of mine as well, so I tried my hand at writing historical non-fiction instead. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed it as well. So now I'm fortunate to write both fiction and non-fiction, which I think is a nice balance. One is more creative, the other is more analytic, and together, they keep me from going nuts.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process. Do you have any rituals or specific circumstances that have to be in place before you can write?

Hmmm. Well, as romantic as it would sound to say that I write in a café here in Paris, I actually prefer to write at home. All I really need is a desk and a computer (I never write longhand, which I suppose isn't very romantic either), and I usually like to have a cup of joe as well. Honestly—for me, anyway—there's nothing very interesting or crucial about the process itself. The final edits for Castle of Water I did in my underwear on an air mattress in an empty East Village apartment, because we were just about to move to Paris from New York and all of our stuff was packed. There certainly are elements to writing which are ethereal, ineffable, perhaps even magical, but the actual physical process is just like any other job. You gotta get out of bed, drag yourself to the desk, and start working.

Where did you get the inspiration for Castle of Water? How long did it take between the first seedling of an idea and the final product?

In hindsight, I think it came from three places, really. The title came to me the first time I was in Paris (almost six years ago). I was staying in the 10th, very close to Rue du Château-d'Eau, and I just loved the name. My French was awful at the time, and I translated it literally to mean "Castle of Water," not knowing that it actually meant "Water Tower." But I thought it was a beautiful name, and I remember thinking it would make a good title for a book.

As for the actual plot of the novel, it began first as a short story, about a man who gets stranded on a desert island with only a few pairs of contact lenses. A few pages in, however, I quickly realized it had the potential for a much bigger story—maybe even a novel. And it sort of just grew from there.

And lastly, I'd say quite a bit of the inspiration came from my relationship with my wife. She had just moved to New York from Paris when I started writing it, and we—as two very different people—were trying to make a life together, in a tiny little East Village apartment. It was very challenging at first, and we both had to adapt and make compromises to make things work. And lucky for us, after a few very rough months, they did work. We got married a couple years after that, and then we moved back to France. Being in a relationship always requires empathy and understanding, though, and there are always going to be difficult periods. But I think our first year together, and that process of trying to understand one another (and truly falling in love, for that matter), did provide quite a bit of material for the book.

Many, many readers are currently reading and loving Castle of Water. (It has a 4.5/5 rating on Amazon and a 4.3/5 rating on Goodreads -- that's rare!) Can you describe for us the feeling of receiving such high praise from readers?

Well, I have to say, anytime someone takes the time to read something I've written, I'm honored and very appreciative, because I know free time is scarce these days. And if they like it, and make the effort to communicate that, even more so. Writing is a pretty solitary endeavor—you spend a lot of time working without actually connecting with other people or receiving any positive feedback. So when readers are willing to connect in that way, it really means a lot.

You currently live in Paris with your wife. Was she (the original Sophie) the inspiration for Sophie's character in Castle of Water?

You won't be able to see it, but I am indeed blushing as I write this. Yes, my wife was and is the inspiration for the Sophie character. And I did feel obliged to let her read the manuscript before it went into printing to get her approval, which was extremely stressful, as I was worried she might not like it. Fortunately, she loved it, although she did have quite a few corrections and comments regarding my portrayal of a French girl from the south, not to mention my very mistake-prone French.

That being said, though, there are some profound differences as well, and the Sophie character is an individual in her own right. But yes, I would be lying if I said there wasn't a strong resemblance.

Living in Paris sounds like every writer's dream. Can you tell us your favorite thing about living there? And what do you miss most about the midwest?

As one might pick up from the book, I do love Paris, and for me, being able to live here is a dream come true—as was living in New York City. But there are always some downsides as well, and being far from home in a foreign country does pose challenges. Not being able to see friends and family as much as one would like is of course an obstacle, and simply being a foreigner—or I suppose even "immigrant" might be the right word, because that's what I technically am—can sometimes be tough. My French has gotten a lot better, but I miss being able to make jokes and obscure cultural references in my own language. And while I love French culture and being a part of it, there is something I miss in the mannerisms and banter of the Midwest. It's fun to have a glass of armagnac with Jean-Luc, but it will never be quite like grabbing a beer with one of my buddies from back home. But overall, I feel very fortunate. I can't complain about a thing. And the food is dynamite—I've never eaten so much cheese in all my life.

For the readers who have already picked up and fallen in love with your first novel, can you tell us about your next novel?

Well, I have a couple novels in the works, and I'm honestly not sure which one I'd like to do next, as I like them both. One is set in Cleveland, and the other in New York. I'll have to get back to you on that!

If you could give any advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Oh, geez. I suppose you have the obvious platitudes like "stick with it" or "never give up," but even those somehow don't convey the immensity of the challenges (and heartache) that come with this profession. And I also think many writers today are reluctant to communicate that, as if that admitting that this is a long and messy and heartbreaking process somehow diminishes their "brand."

So instead I'll say this: when I began my first attempt at a novel fifteen years ago, I didn't know what the tab key was. Every time I started a paragraph, instead of hitting the tab key, I hit the space bar ten to fifteen times. Then, at the end, I had to go back and even out all the paragraph indentations so they didn't look funny. It took me hours. Maybe even days.

So in short, if a goofball from Ohio who doesn't even know what the tab key is can write a novel, anyone can. But, at the risk of sounding platitudinous, you do have to stick with it.

We love to share recommendations here on Top Shelf Text. Can you tell us three books you've read and loved that you'd recommend to other readers?

West with the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham about her days as a bush pilot in the 1940s is an old favorite of mine, as is Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian, although it is a more challenging read. I'm a sucker for Cheever, and I just finished Bullet Park, which I really enjoyed. And for something more contemporary, I thought the Spurious Trilogy by Lars Iyer was hilarious.

***

Thanks Dane, for sharing such great answers to our questions! I know I can't be the only reader already impatient for the release of your next novel.

P.S. You can follow Dane on Instagram @huckelbridge , on Twitter @huckelbridge, and via his website at http://danehuckelbridge.com/

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Wishtree (with Kid Lit Exchange)

Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this text from the Kid Lit Exchange network, provided by the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

Katherine Applegate is one author that middle grade readers adore, and for good reason. She brought us The One and Only Ivan, a Newbery Award Winner in 2017 and one of my top three children's books of 2015. She also made a wonderful Newbery Medal Speech that had me teary and inspired to share great literature with my students. Wishtree is Applegate's newest novel for middle grade readers, and it's one you'll see on just about every teacher's wish list for school this year.

 The novel is told from the perspective of a Red oak tree -- a wishtree, to be exact. This tree, aptly named Red, begins by telling readers that most people don't know that trees can talk -- and that if they weren't introverts, they'd have quite a lot to say. Red's roots are firmly planted, and every year on the first of May, the locals come to hang their wishes on her branches. Some wishes are silly, some are serious. Red doesn't have the power to grant any of these wishes, but still, it's a tradition that she cherishes.

Being a tree, Red spends a lot of her time quietly observing the people and animals around her. Across from her sits two houses, and when a new neighbor moves in, Red is surprised to find that the family's child, a little girl named Samara, comes to her right away to make her wish -- that she could have a friend. Samara's family is Muslim, and while Red sees that the divide between cultures and religions is pointless, the people in the neighborhood aren't as wise. Normally, Red wouldn't take action -- it goes against nature's rules to speak to humans, but after a hateful incident leaves her new neighbor with hurt feelings and fear, Red knows that something must be done.

Readers, I fear I'm in the minority today. I found myself feeling slightly disappointed in this novel, but before I tell you why, I want to tell you that this is still a good novel. It's worth reading, and it's worth recommending to children. I fear that I'm disappointed because my expectations were so high -- that I hoped for the same, powerful reading experience as I had with The One and Only Ivan.

Here's what I loved about the book: the message. Islamophobia, prejudice, and hate should not be welcome in the places where we live and learn. True neighbors welcome each other, and I was genuinely touched by the kind gesture of one character in this book. For that reason, I'll put Wishtree on my shelves this year, with the hope that it will inspire some students to speak more kindly, be understanding, and show empathy with their actions.

What I didn't love was the plot. Or the characters. Aside from the moment that left me teary, I thought the characters fell awfully flat. Compared to the depth of previous characters that Applegate has brought to life, these ones just didn't convince me to feel invested. And the big moment? It happened too fast. There was a lot of talking and barely and action, so I felt that the best part came and went too quickly. It took me almost an entire week to read this book, a sign (for me) that it just didn't have my attention in the way that I'd hoped. As a story, I feel it has less to offer than Applegate's other works. However, as a message, I feel that it's incredibly timely and important for both children and adults to hear.

This title will be released on September 26, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 3/5


Title: Wishtree
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, 2017
ISBN: 1250043220
Format: Paperback
Source: Kid Lit Exchange

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty


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

Fair warning to those of you who have not yet read Truly, Madly, Guilty and may want to do so in the future. This review does contain spoilers, and is speaking more to the many, many readers who reached out to me while I was in the process of reading with their own thoughts about Liane Moriarty in general and this novel in particular.

I'll start with a quick re-cap of the events that led to this uniquely-formatted review. Truly, Madly, Guilty was the first novel that I've read by Liane Moriarty. I hadn't read her work before because although I'm not a picky reader in general, I am extremely picky about contemporary fiction novels (although, there have been a few I've read this year and absolutely loved) and I always thought of Moriarty's books as belonging to the "chick lit" category.

I knew, however, that Moriarty has a huge following of readers who adore her work, so when the opportunity came to read this I went into it with an open mind.

I posted a quick update when I was 230 pages into the book, to ask readers they too had felt that the events between the introductory hint that something had gone very wrong and big reveal were a bit drawn out.

And wow, you all had a lot to say about this.

Mostly, you said that this was not your favorite of her books. Actually, I think about 99% of you had that response. Collectively, however, you do highly recommend What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies, so when I do have space on my TBR again, I'll try picking up one of those for another shot at joining the Liane Moriarty fan club.

CHARACTERS


Vid and Oliver were really the only characters that I genuinely liked while reading. Having a character that I connect with or admire is pretty important to me when reading contemporary fiction and Vid's character especially made me smile as I read. Because so much of this genre is dysfunctional, I have a really hard time with books that are all about everyone's issues, and Vid's character provided some comic relief to combat that, while Oliver was just genuinely a nice person.

Tiffany's character didn't feel substantial at all. Sure, she may have had one of the more well-developed backstories, but her present day personality almost didn't exist. I had a similar reaction to Sam -- sure, he is in the middle of a crisis, but all we saw of that was a few incidences of him acting out. In the end, I was apathetic towards him.

Clementine was the least likable character to me. She came off as selfish -- not because she didn't want to donate her eggs, but because she constantly weighed everything in terms of how much kindness was owed. It didn't seem like she was capable of being kind for kindness' sake.

Erika was the character that I found most dynamic. Though she had a whole host of issues, I actually had empathy for her because Moriarty provided us with insight into her childhood and therefore the reasons why she has such a unique personality. Her mother was a fascinating character as well. Had this been a story instead focused on Erika, Oliver, and her mother (with the others as minor characters), I probably would have found it a lot more compelling.


PLOT


For the first three hundred pages, I wondered what we were working towards. This portion was too heavy on mentioning the "bad thing" but didn't actually do enough character building, leaving hints, etc. I just felt really annoyed with the characters (Why is everyone moping around? I wondered) and was hoping that the big reveal would be proportionate to the waiting period. (Hint, when we finally got to page 300 and found out that Ruby was, in fact, okay -- that's where I decided that it in fact was not proportionate.)

I don't think that the reaction of the characters was appropriate for one reason, and I do want to let readers know that I am not yet a parent -- so while I am quite frequently responsible for other people's children, I don't have my own. Being a parent makes feelings about these types of situations more complicated and therefore more likely to be a point that people have big feelings about in discussions. I didn't think the big event was equal to the reaction because the attention was focused on blaming the social relationship. To me, the message came across that parents shouldn't ever be social at the risk that their children will get hurt. Parents are human beings. Parents deserve to have social time, and hobbies, and their own personalities that aren't entirely wrapped up in their children. For the parents to feel disgusted with themselves for having fun was not something that I felt was appropriate.

It was in the last one hundred pages or so that this story felt somewhat redeemed for me. Most of that had to do with how the consequences played out for Erika and Oliver. I was glad to see Erika letting go of responsibility for her mother -- I thought that was the first thing she needed to let go in order to move on to a life in which she didn't constantly fear turning into her mother. And I was glad to see that Oliver and Erika compromised on the baby situation. I would have been sad for Oliver had the issue been tabled altogether. Of course, nothing really needed fixing when it came to Vid and Tiffany, but with Sam and Clementine, I just wasn't that glad for them. I wasn't invested enough (or truthfully, didn't have enough empathy) to hope that they managed to work out their marriage problems post-ending.


SETTING

Sometimes I love when the setting becomes a character in itself. With the regular jumps between the day of the party and two months later, I didn't actually realize that the constant barrage of rain was symbolic for the terrible funk that all the characters were in until after I finished. I understand that the final day, the first sunny day in two months, was perhaps meant to be aligned with a feeling of closure and a brighter future for all. I get the aim there, but I don't love it. I'm not sure it added any feeling for me, especially because I didn't even notice it at the time.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?


 I want to say that I didn't dislike this book. Overall, I think this is a good book to read as a palate cleanser. I read it pretty quickly (in just about two days), and after a much more heavy, emotional read. So I appreciated having something lighter (even if the subject matter wasn't actually light at all) in between more serious books. I'd give it somewhere between 2-3 stars (out of five), which means that I had the kind of reading experience where I enjoyed parts of it but in the end, didn't feel it was just the right book for me. I do, however, think that Big Little Lies looks like one that would be of more interest to me, and I found The Husband's Secret in a stack of books that I already own, so you can expect one of those to make it onto my reading list soon!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Castle of Water

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

Before we begin, I'll just say this:

Please read this book.

If you trust me, and trust that I will not lead you astray, then please put Castle of Water on hold at the library. Or go right now to your preferred book-buying destination and secure yourself a copy, because this book is going on my top ten list this year and it deserves to be in the hands of more readers.

If that's not enough to get it on your TBR, let me tell you a little about it (but not too much because -- it's one of those books).

This novel follows Sophie, a french architect who was on the way to the second leg of her honeymoon with her new husband, and Barry, an American and former investment banker who quit his job to follow in the footsteps of his favorite artist. Sophie and Barry meet on the tarmac of a small airport in Tahiti, and neither thinks anything of it -- they are acquaintances, bound for the same small island. But when the plane goes down, they are the only survivors, and they must learn how to live on a tiny, unmarked island in the middle of the South Pacific.

I want to tell you that I have terrible anxiety when it comes to flying, and I was worried this story would be hard to read because of it, but that wasn't a factor for me at all. I also want you to know that even though this novel tells us the story of two people in an awful and morbid situation, it has so much humor and eloquence and it made me both cry and laugh as I read.

As soon as I turned the final page, I leapt up from my chair, walked around the house making noises and all kinds of exclamations (I have a friend who was visiting at the time and had to witness this), and then promptly sat down to email Dane Huckelbridge, the author, to thank him for putting this in my hands and to tell him that it gave me all the feelings.

Trust me on this one, friends. I have received many, many messages already from readers who took my advice and loved it just as much. I hope you join us.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Castle of Water
Author: Dane Huckelbridge
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017
Price: $15 on Amazon
ISBN: 125009822X
Format: Hardcover
Source: Author Submission

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Author Interview: Janelle Brown {& Giveaway!}

Readers, today I have something so fun to share with you. Have you ever read a book with such a great twist -- a book that obviously took much planning and plotting, and wondered how the author did it? I wonder this all the time. I wonder, too, what it's like to be an author -- to have a job where your career is based upon your own imagination (as a blogger, my work is based off the imagination of others and as a teacher, there's no shortage of imagination in my students). Today, readers, we have a guest here on TST to give us an inside peek at what it's like to be an author. 

Janelle Brown is the author of All We Ever Wanted Was EverythingThis Is Where We Live, and most recently, one of this summer's most popular thrillers -- Watch Me Disappear. If you haven't already read Watch Me Disappear, you can read my review here

(Hint, I really enjoyed it. I sent Janelle this emoji --> 😱  in response to the twist. Sometimes, emojis are the best way to show your feelings for a book.)

AND readers, just yesterday, it was announced that Watch Me Disappear is going to be made into a movie. So I'll say it again -- you definitely want to read this book.



Janelle was kind enough to agree to answer some of my questions and we've teamed up to giveaway one signed copy of Watch Me Disappear from Janelle's personal stash! Read on for a peek into Janelle's author life and a chance to win the book!

Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you know you wanted to be
a writer when you were a child? 

I did! I’ve been a huge bookworm since the moment I could read; and as a little kid I
used to write and illustrate my own books. (Talking animals were heavily featured.) At
one point in first grade, my teacher made the offhand comment to me, “You should be
an author when you grow up.” I took that suggestion and ran with it, and never looked
back.

Although I spent my twenties working in journalism (I had staff writer positions at Wired
and Salon.com), I always knew that someday I wanted to really try to make a go of
writing fiction. So I took the fairly radical move of quitting my great journalism job in
2002, and went freelance in order to have time to start working on a novel. I took a
bunch of fiction-writing workshops; wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote ad
nauseum, and by 2007 I’d finished my first book, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you have any special
rituals or circumstances that you need to be in place before you can write?

You know, there are writers that are totally ritual- and schedule-based, and then there’s
me. My only real ritual is a) coffee and b) reading over the previous days writing before I
start on fresh pages. Plus, embarrassingly, c) a fair amount of procrastination on the
Internet.

I have two young children and so my writing day is fairly circumscribed by their school
hours; but I try to go into my office every day to work. (I helped found a co-working
space for writers in Los Angeles, and about 20 of us work out of it.) But other than that,
I’m not a terribly disciplined writer. I always marvel when I read about those authors who
disable the Internet and then diligently produce 2000 words every single day because I
am so not that kind of author.

In a nutshell, I’m either “feeling it” and am totally inspired and know what I want to write
next -- in which case, I’ll often wake up at 4 a.m. raring to go and will write thousands of
words by lunchtime -- or else I’m unclear on where the book needs to go next. When the
latter is happening, I’ll sometimes go weeks at a time in which I barely get anything on
the page (but get a *lot* of posts up on social media.)

Where do you source your story ideas? Where did the idea for Watch Me
Disappear come from?

It’s really difficult for me to pinpoint where, exactly, each book idea comes from. Usually
it’s a long gestation process, with a lot of disparate inspirations – things I’ve read,
stories I’ve heard, people I’ve met that interest me as characters – slowly weaving
together until I suddenly “see” a story forming in my mind. Quite often, too, I’ll start with
what I think is an idea; and then as I start writing, the story will evolve until it becomes
something quite different.

I can say that one of the sources of inspirations for Watch Me Disappear was my
husband, Greg, who has temporal lobe epilepsy and has experienced these curious
audio-visual sensory seizures since he was a kid. That always fascinated me – that he
could see and hear and experience things that I couldn’t, that his brain could completely
alter his perception of reality. And then I watched the terrific movie “Take Shelter” –
about a man experiencing apocalyptic hallucinations who can’t decide if he’s crazy or
psychic – and it all wove together into the kernel of an idea about a teenage girl who is
seeing surreal things that she doesn’t quite understand. In other words, the story all
started with Olive’s visions/hallucinations, and it grew from there.

Watch Me Disappear has one of those endings that leaves readers with wide
eyes and open mouths. I think I actually yelled out loud at the very end. Without
spoiling it for future readers, can you tell us how you go about plotting a thriller?
Is there a method to writing such a good twist?

Oddly, I didn’t even realize I was writing a suspense novel until I got about a third of the
way into a first draft; I’d never written in this genre before and I had just imagined that I
was writing a domestic drama like my last two books, but with a mysterious element (ie:
Olive’s visions.). And then I had an epiphany one day that I was actually writing a
mystery; at which point I had to go back and tear the entire book apart and really think
about what that meant. I’ve always written very plot-driven books, but I knew that with a
mystery, action had to tick at certain moments, the plot had to twist at certain times to
keep a reader’s interest, and there had to be a sustained level of anticipation and
surprise.

That’s when I started seriously plotting the story – thinking about what needed to
happen, and when, and why. I put together some pretty elaborate timelines and a lot of
chapter-by-chapter character breakdowns (i.e. Jonathan and Olive’s emotional states
had to evolve with each new revelation about Billie; which then of course would effect
what actions they would take next.)

As for the ending – it changed three times during the course of writing the book. I had
two other ending ideas that just weren’t as effective; and each time I changed the
ending I had to tear the entire book apart again in order to rebuild towards the new
ending. But when I finally figured out what the proper final twist was, I knew I’d nailed it.
I wish I could explain some clear “method” for this but really it was just intuition -- plus
trying to think about what the obvious twists might be, and eliminate those out of hand.
I also have a terrific editor, with a good eye for mystery, whose insights I was able to
use to help shape a satisfying ending.

Tell us a little bit about your reading life. How does reading for pleasure fit into
your life when writing and reading are both part of your job?

I’m a voracious reader – generally a book or two a week. I keep a massive list of books
on hold at the library, throwing on anything that I hear about that sounds interesting. I
read mostly contemporary literary fiction, though occasionally I’ll hit up a nonfiction
book, or do a deep dive into older (20th century, mostly) fiction. Books either go on the
list because a reviewer I respect recommended a book, or enough people I know have
been talking about it, or my book club is going to be discussing it, or one of my friends
wrote it (which is always fun!).

In general, I almost always find reading a pleasure – it’s my favorite thing to do, so it
never really feels like “work.” I did find myself reading a lot of suspense novels while
working on this book, because I wanted to immerse myself in the genre and really study
how other authors assembled a satisfying mystery. But I’ve always had a real love for
well-written suspense novels (see: Megan Abbott, Sarah Waters, Gillian Flynn, Kate
Atkinson) so this was no hardship.

I find myself reading my favorite books twice – once for the sheer pleasure of reading
the story, another time to think about the author’s craft.

And I also often read during the day when I’m feeling “stuck” at work – sometimes, just
reading a few pages of a great book is enough to start feeling inspired again.

We love to share recommendations here on Top Shelf Text. Can you
recommend to us 3 books that you've loved?

Hmmm… So hard to know where to start!

Arbitrarily, I’m going to pick out some non-suspense books I’ve loved over the last year:

That’s eight, but once I get going I can’t narrow it down to just three!

***

Thank you so much Janelle, for chatting with TST readers!

Readers, I also asked (because I know you're probably wondering too), what Janelle is working on now. She said it's a little early to share any details, but we can expect another suspenseful story from her in the future. I'm sure you could guess this, but my response was an enthusiastic sign me up

***

Giveaway

One TST reader will win a hardcover, signed copy of Janelle's newest release, Watch Me Disappear

Open to U.S. AND Canada!

TO EARN ONE ENTRY:

Comment below with your recommendation for a novel with a great twist.

TO EARN ONE BONUS ENTRY:

Like the photo of Watch Me Disappear on Instagram.

Follow @topshelftext and @janellebrownie.

TO EARN A SECOND BONUS ENTRY:

Repost my Instagram photo on your stories or feed and tag me!

Giveaway closes on Saturday, August 12th at 9pm EST.

Winner will be announced on Sunday, August 13th!

GOOD LUCK!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: Hook's Tale

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

Here's one thing I love about being a teacher: the constant sense of nostalgia. When I see a student come in with Nancy Drew in hand for the first time, or can chat with another about our shared love for Disney princesses (and for Belle in particular), it makes my heart happy. Childhood is a precious season of life, and my theory is that when we can return to that season through books, we experience a state of contentment. When the team at Scribner books sent me this title, I just knew that it would be a return to a world that I loved as a young reader. I am so excited to share it with you all today because this story had me completely charmed.

Hook's Tale is a new take on an old villain -- a redemption story, if you will, and written for the adults who wish they could go back to experience the world of Neverland all over again. It's written from the first-person perspective of Captain Hook himself, who left behind an extensive diary detailing the real story behind the events that were terribly skewed by the writer whom Hook refers to only as "that Scotsman." In it, we meet Hook as a young boy -- back then, he went by his given name, James Cook, and learn about the sorry circumstances of his teenage years. 

Appearances are made by some of the major players in Peter Pan, including Tiger Lily, Peter, Wendy, and (my favorite character), Smee. I absolutely loved how Pielmeier (the "editor" of Hook's diaries), took these beloved characters and this world and turned them completely upside down. A lot of what made this reading experience fun was seeing the characters and scenes pop up in unexpected ways, and even though there was a great deal of sorrow in Hook's life, this was one of those books that I hugged (yes, literally) after finishing. If you're a fan of the original, you might want to add this to your list. (And just a warning, for those who might want to pass it along to younger readers. This is most certainly a tale for adults. Not recommended for anyone under the YA age bracket, despite it's nostalgic tendencies.)

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Hook's Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself
Author: John Leonard Pielmeier
Publisher: Scribner Books, 2017
Price: $17 on Amazon
ISBN: 1501161059
Format: Hardcover
Source: Scribner Books

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Emma in the Night

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

If you haven't yet noticed, I love a good thriller in the summer. There's something about a compulsive page-turner of a novel that keeps you glued to your beach chair and in another state of mind. I love that feeling, and if you're looking to replicate it, then I highly recommend reading Emma in the Night. This is one thriller -- with a deliciously satisfying twist -- that I'll be raving about all year long. 

Emma in the Night is the story of two missing sisters, fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Both girls vanished one night without a single clue left behind. Three years later, Cass returns, and her story is one of kidnapping, manipulation, and isolation. Dr. Abby Winter, a forensic psychiatrist, is immediately called to assist with the case. Dr. Winter was involved with the original disappearance of the girls, and was haunted by the questions left behind. She's eager to get a second chance at observing the complicated and dysfunctional family that so fascinated her three years ago.

As Cass's reveals the details of an island where the girls where held captive, where she believes Emma still lives (and is waiting to be rescued), Abby has a feeling that something isn't quite right about her story. And thus begins her investigation into the real crime.

I won't say anything else, but this book was full of suspense, dysfunction, and a couple moments that gave me the chills. I am so glad I got the chance to read it this summer -- highly recommended for book clubs looking for a thriller read this year, and for fans of the genre.

This title will be released on August 8, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Emma in the Night
Author: Wendy Walker
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2017
ISBN: 1250141435
Format: Ebook / Hardcover
Source: Net Galley / St. Martin's Press

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Girl in Snow Review & Giveaway!

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

When I first picked up Girl in Snow, I was expecting another quick thriller to add to the stack that I've flown through and raved about this summer. What I found, however, was not the heart-stopping, twisty novel that I've come to expect from the genre, but an astounding observation of human flaw. This is not a novel that had me anxiously awaiting the big twist (though there was somewhat of a twist involved), rather I found myself fascinated by Kukafka's treatise on human obsession.

Before I dive in, I should tell you that I loved the first half of this book, and it was in the second half that I realized it really hadn't been marketed correctly. I generally think of thrillers as the type of book that has you turning pages as fast as possible, but this novel had me soaking up the story in a different way. The novel is written from three perspectives: Russ, a cop with a hollow marriage, Jade, a bruised and resentful social outsider, and Cameron, the strange boy whose father committed the town's most scandalous crime. All three perspectives tell the story of the aftermath of the murder of. Lucinda Hayes. Lucinda was a popular high-schooler who was found murdered at the elementary school playground. It's a small town, and there are no witnesses and a long list of suspects. Instead of an investigation into the crime, however, we get more of a glimpse into the ruins of our three narrators' personal lives, and how Lucinda's death created further cracks in their relationships with others.

I mentioned that this is a novel about obsession. Russ is obsessed with his former partner, Jade with her former best friend, and Cameron with Lucinda. The level of obsession in this book is unhealthy -- in the way that the characters feel uncomfortable in their own skin, I started to feel uneasy as the obsession grew to increasingly disturbing levels. Despite it being an uncomfortable reading experience, I think that was Kukafka's aim here. I think she means for her readers to feel the same discomfort that her characters face, and if I'm right, then her ability to translate feelings across the page is superb. The only thing that I didn't love about this story was the plot -- the twist fell a little flat for me, but then again I was so disoriented from being inside the characters' heads that the twist didn't actually feel all that important to the book. The first thing that I always want in a book is a character to admire -- I didn't find that here. Nor did I find the plot to be a driving force, so under normal circumstances that might have led me to give it a lower rating, but the prose in this book was brilliant. Brilliant. It was one of those books that had me stopping to admire turns of phrase. 

The reading experience itself reminded me of how I felt when reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, during which I loved the style of writing -- it was prosaic -- but was so uncomfortable with the story itself (if you've read it, you can probably guess which part of the story I'm talking about) that I ended up with mixed emotions about the book as a whole. For a while I struggled to give this novel a rating because I felt divided on the concept of plot vs. prose. It was in talking to other readers that I realized this isn't actually a thriller -- not the type that I've come to expect, at least. I can see the reading experience being completely different for each reader, depending on your fascination (or ability to watch) characters descend into their own neuroses. The impact of this novel will drive me to read whatever Kukafka comes out with next, and I want to mention here that this is her debut. At twenty-four years old (we are the same age), I am somewhat in awe of her ability to write.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5


Giveaway!

The lovely team at Simon & Schuster has offered to giveaway FIVE copies of Girl in Snow and Girl in Snow(globes) to readers of Top Shelf Text!

To earn ONE ENTRY:

Go to @topshelftext on Instagram and click on same picture as the one shown above.

Follow @topshelftext @simonbooks.

Tag two friends in the comments and tell me one book you're dying to read before summer ends.

To earn ONE BONUS ENTRY:

Post this picture in your Instagram stories and tag @topshelftext.

Giveaway open until Friday, August 4th at 9pm EST. 

Winners will be randomly chosen and announced on Saturday, August 5th.

Good luck!


Title: Girl in Snow
Author: Danya Kukafka
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2017
Price: $19 on Amazon
ISBN: 1501144375
Format: Ebook / Hardcover
Source: Net Galley / Simon & Schuster