Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books I've Read in 2014 {November & December}

This is my last roundup for 2014 and I can't believe the year is already over! I've read so many great books this year and feel that I've even widened my scope a bit. Keep an eye out for a Top Ten post coming next week for more details on my favorite books from this year. From November and December, I can tell you that my favorite was The Glass Magician, which is no surprise if you read my review of the first book in the series. I also really enjoyed re-reading the first three books in A Series of Unfortunate Events and look forward to continuing with that series into the new year. 

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson
5 Stars
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
5 Stars
Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty
3 Stars
The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
5 Stars
City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte
4 Stars
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
5 Stars
The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory
4 Stars
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
5 Stars
The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
5 Stars
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
5 Stars

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: The Kingmaker's Daughter

{on Goodreads}
The Kingmaker's Daughter is the fourth book in the Cousin's War series by Philippa Gregory. It tells the story of the family of the Earl of Warwick, who was known as "The Kingmaker." The story focuses on his two daughters, Isabel and Anne, and their lifelong struggle to fulfill their father's wish--to have one of his daughters as Queen of England. Because their father had no male heirs, he used his two daughters as pawns in shaping the political sphere of England. The story is told through the perspective of Anne, who is just a child when the story begins. As her family's power is tested and her future called into question, Anne learns to navigate the dangerous court of the monarchy and begins to extend her own hand in achieving her father's ultimate goal. Though she is initially dazzled by the idea of holding the throne, Anne witnesses tragedy, betrayal, and death and finds herself more and more disenchanted with life at court. At a time when women were secretly wielding the power of their husbands, Anne had more to fear than just her husband's enemies-- she had her own enemies as well.

Philippa Gregory is the writer for historical fiction in this time period, but despite my love for the genre, this is the first book I've read by her. I picked it up on sale at Barnes & Noble, without realizing that it was the fourth in a series. This can be read independently of the series, but I do hope to find the rest of the series for a steal as well, as I think it's fascinating that this time period was so wrought with familial betrayal and opposition. Though women were not considered as powerful as men during this time, the women in this book were wielding the same-- if not more-- power than their husbands, and this is what made their characters the most intriguing throughout the story. I was especially interested in the story because I had recently read a news article about this archeological find, which had me even more interested in Anne's family history. I'd recommend this for any fans of the time period, as well as those who enjoy historical fiction works by similar authors such as Michelle Moran. I will say that although I enjoyed reading the story, it was one of those books where I was interested while reading but not hooked enough to make it a priority. I also wasn't a huge fan of the ending-- I prefer a happily ever after, though I recognize that that wish doesn't line up with the historical truth.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Kingmaker's Daughter
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Touchstone, 2012
Price: $18.89 on Amazon (I found for much cheaper in the bargain section at B&N)
ISBN: 978-1451626070
Format: Hardcover
Source: Barnes & Noble
Book # 52 of 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014


image via
I know that this is a literary blog, and therefore podcasts aren't really in my range of things to write about, but in a sense this series is similar to an audiobook, and I can't recommend it enough.

Let me back up for a second...

If you haven't already heard of Serial, it's a podcast series featured on This American Life. Its narrator, Sarah Koenig, has been following a murder case from 1999 for the past year. Over the course of the season, she's presented the evidence, spoken with witnesses, poured over documents and testimonies, visited the crime scene, reenacted the crime...everything that you think would tell her who actually committed the murder of a high school girl in Baltimore on a January afternoon in 1999. 

As she's recorded and released each episode of the podcast, new evidence has come to light-- even Koenig didn't know how the story would end when it was first released to the public. The result is a scintillating 12 episodes, the twelfth and final one having been released this past Thursday. You can listen to episodes on your phone (with a podcast application), on your tablet, or even on the website, where you can also view pictures and documents from the case.

I first heard about Serial from a fellow blogger, but as soon as I knew what it was, I began to see it everywhere. It's become somewhat of a phenomenon, and I now I am one of those people who has to tell everyone I know that they I put off listening to the first episode until after finals were over because I knew if I got hooked it would be bad news for my final essays. I am so glad that I waited, because (and this is somewhat embarrassing), I got so hooked that I listened to the first eleven episodes in one day. Oops? But really, it's that good.

I will warn, if you're the type of person who needs the ends of your mysteries to be tied up into a nice big bow, this might not be the story for you. I don't want to say much more, but if you're into mysteries and like true crime stories, this is one of the best, most baffling mysteries that I've ever heard.

Oh, and it would make a great conversation piece for your family gatherings over the holidays! I can't stop trading theories with fellow listeners...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Author Spotlight: Eva Ibbotson

Today I'm introducing a new series here on Top Shelf Text, and I think it's going to become a favorite of mine. I'm the type of reader who follows not just series, but also authors. Though I love being able to follow characters as they develop and face new challenges, I also love reading individual works by an author. As part of my Author Spotlight, I'll be highlighting some favorite authors- both children's and adult- and the works that I've enjoyed from them so far. 

Eva Ibbotson was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. I loved her writing, and when I first decided to start collecting children's literature in anticipation of becoming a teacher, she was one of the first authors that I put on my list. Since then, I've been keeping an eye out for books by her at library sales and secondhand bookstores. Ibbotson's stories are exactly what I want my future students to read; she had this incredible talent to write tales that are whimsical but that concern serious themes, so in a discussion about one of her books you might jump from describing your favorite character- a witch, a ghost, a mermaid- to issues that occur in family relationships. She was able to get ideas across that are easy for her readers to understand and then connect to real-world contexts.

A little about Eva Ibbotson, from her Goodreads author profile:

"Eva Ibbotson (born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner, 1925, Vienna, Austria) was a British novelist specializing in romance and children's fantasy. Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1925. When Hitler came into power, Ibbotson's family moved to England. She attended Bedford College, graduating in 1945; Cambridge University from 1946-47; and the University of Durham, from which she graduated with a diploma in education in 1965. Ibbotson had intended to be a physiologist, but was put off by the amount of animal testing that she would have to do. Instead, she married and raised a family, returning to school to become a teacher in the 1960's. Ibbotson was widowed with three sons and a daughter.
She won the NestlĂ© Smarties Book Prize for Journey to the River Sea, and has been a runner up for many of major awards for British children's literature. The books are imaginative and humorous, and most of them feature magical creatures and places, despite the fact that she disliked thinking about the supernatural, and created the characters because she wanted to decrease her readers' fear of such things. Some of the books, particularly Journey to the River Sea, also reflect Ibbotson's love of nature. Ibbotson wrote this book in honor of her husband (who had died just before she wrote it), a former naturalist. The book had been in her head for years before she actually wrote it. Ibbotson said she dislikes "financial greed and a lust for power" and often creates antagonists in her books who have these characteristics." 
I'm definitely biased, but I love when children's authors have experience with teaching. Here are a few books of hers that are recommended for readers in the 8-12 age range:

Which Witch?
The Secret of Platform 13
Island of the Aunts
The Great Ghost Rescue
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle
These six are ones that I've read and enjoyed. Visit her author profile to find even more books for this age range!

And, a bonus! If you're interested in young adult literature or have a teenager at home, Eva Ibbotson is a talented writer for more than just young readers:

A Song for Summer
This is one that I loved and have kept in storage with my favorite books from childhood. I haven't read any of her other YA books, but I'm sure they're in keeping with her excellent writing and worth checking out. 

P.S. Have a favorite author that you think other readers would love? Send me an email at!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Must Read: Under the Banner of Heaven

Do you ever have one of those moments where you just can't find the right book to read? I've been in a reading rut the past two weeks, skipping from book to book and never feeling like I can settle into just one story. These moments tend to happen for me at the end of the semester, and I usually attribute it to having too much on my mind. The other part of it is that I'm one of those people who gets so wrapped up in a book that I'll sacrifice everything else to get to that last page, and that's not something that I can afford to do as we finish up the last week of classes and head into the final exams period.

My solution so far has been to take three or four books with me when I get into bed and skip around until I figure out which one fits my mood best. I've also been indulging in more magazines and news stories- particularly from Time and BBC. (This article is one of my favorites that I've read this week.)

I was feeling kind of blah about my reading choices until I decided to pick up an old favorite, and found that it was the perfect choice for this week.

{on Goodreads}
When I was still in high school, Krakauer's most famous book was Into the Wild, which I didn't find particularly captivating, but out of all the books I've read by him, Under the Banner of Heaven is the best. It's on the top five favorites list for not only myself, but also my father and brother, and though they usually have similar tastes in nonfiction, it's rare for the three of us to come to such a strong agreement on a single book or author.

The story begins with a murder of a woman and her infant daughter at the hands of her fundamentalist (and deranged) mormon brother-in-law. The murder is the thread that weaves the whole book together, but Krakauer really brings front the history of the Mormon religion. I've been interested in reading about Mormonism since I first did a lengthy report on the founding of it back in eighth grade. What's fascinating to me is that despite its infant state, it's one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and is considered by some as the "American religion" not only because of its vast following here but also because it states that the Garden of Eden was actually right here in North America. The mainstream Mormon religion is harmless- orderly to the point of perfection, actually- but it's the various fundamentalist sects that it has sprouted that are of interest to Krakauer in this account. Learning about their different ideas on faith and about their radical actions to achieve a spot in the Celestial Kingdom is like reading a tale from another world, but it's all true and it's happening right here in the United States. 

My favorite part about reading this book is that it gives me great conversational pieces. Just last night, my roommate and I chatted about one particularly intriguing sect over dinner, which was a nice break from our recent stream of discussions about grades, graduate school, and other things that are frying our brains. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to just about any reader, but for non-fiction lovers it's a must-read. If you're looking for a last minute gift this season, wrap it up in a bow and say that it comes highly recommended. And if you have a nonfiction book that you can't stop talking about, I'd love to hear any recommendations for my own must-read list!

{P.S. I'll be taking a break from the blog until after my final papers have been submitted, so check back mid-month to find more content here on Top Shelf Text! If you don't want to miss it when the blog comes back, just enter your email on the right-hand column to subscribe!}