Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Sisters of Versailles

{on Goodreads}

Before I begin to tell you how this book completely pulled me in and left me dreaming of life at Versailles, let's take a minute to appreciate that cover. A little mysterious, beautifully colorful, and perfect for displaying on your bookshelf. The Sisters of Versailles isn't just pretty on the outside though-- the story inside is captivating, enticing, and full of strong female characters. The Sisters of Versailles also just happens to be a true story: of the five Nesle girls-- sisters who grew up in the early 18th century. Four would become mistress to a king, causing scandalous shockwaves to rip the kingdom of France, the citizens of which believed their king to be a pious and faithful man. This historical fiction account puts the reader alongside the family as the Nesle sisters grow from innocent young girls to powerful figures behind the throne, and as King Louis XV's reign blossoms, we see the sisters' campaigns against the citizens, members of the court, and each other.

The book has a frame narrative from the perspective of Hortense, now an old woman, but once the most beautiful of the five sisters. The story that Hortense tells, of her four sisters and how they each became the mistress to the king of France, begins when the five girls were all young -- innocent of the ways of the court and eager to be included in its luxury. I liked that we got to glimpse each of the sisters before she discovered what the world was truly like, this made them relatable as they navigated their new positions at court and found influence in the king's bed. One by one, the sisters find their way to Versailles, and in each case, they catch they eye of King Louis XV, one of the most beloved kings of France. This is where the book had the potential to turn into a terrible romance, but Christie took the relationships between the sisters, and between each sister and King Louis XV, and shaped them in a way that made them more meaningful to the reader. 

Whether or not you like romance novels (I do not, by the way), you will fall for the romance in this book. As a reader, I found the triumphs and heartbreaks easy to connect with, and I came away with a unique sense of empathy for each of the sisters. The story comes to us through the perspective of each sister and through the sisters' correspondence, and Christie did an excellent job of giving each sister her own voice so that the authors of letters were immediately recognizable. The different relationships between the sisters -- from reverence to tension -- came to be an integral part of their motivations and actions at court, and I found those dynamics to be both interesting and not so different from sibling relationships in modern times. That the story is true only made it more compelling, and although I felt like there was a certain sense of finality at the end of this book (it could certainly stand alone), I am quite curious to find out what comes next in the trilogy. If you're a fan of Marie Antoinette, this period in historical fiction, or if you liked this book, I'd keep my eye out for this one when it hits bookstores tomorrow!

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Sisters of Versailles (Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy)
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria Books
Expected publication date: September 1, 2015
ISBN: 1501102966
Format: E-book
Source: Advanced Review Copy provided by Net Galley

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Children's Review: The Day the Mustache Took Over

{on Goodreads}

When I first saw the cover and premise for this book, I was so excited. Finally! A book for boys that's goofy, funny, and full of mischief. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I've been seeking suggestions for "boy" books to add to my classroom library collection, and I thought that this was going to be a winner for sure. However, after struggling to get through this book (honestly, I had to talk myself into finishing it!), I can say that it is full of mischief, but I didn't find it the least bit funny. I normally don't like to publish negative reviews on here (after all, it seems silly to tell you all about a book and advise you not to buy it) but I decided to share it for a few reasons: first, I want to be fully transparent, because I don't actually love every single book that I read (although I have to say I do love the majority), and second because if I were in a bookstore, I would definitely be motivated to buy this book for a young reader.

I connected with the premise because I've worked so many years as a nanny, and I find that caring for children is way more fun and easy when I can put on my silliest of hats (figuratively speaking) and let fun guide our way. In The Day the Mustache Took Over, which makes its debut on September 1st, twin boys Nathan and David are faced with yet another new nanny to take care of them. The boys are so terribly behaved that they've left a trail of nannies in their wake and their parents are out of options. That is, until Martin Healey Discount shows up at the door. Martin becomes the boys' new "manny," and though he puts on a stern face for their parents' sake, it turns out that Martin is more trouble than even the boys. In the end, he tricks the boys into doing their chores by pretending that they're defying their parents.

While the premise was of interest to me, the biggest problem for me in reading this book was the writing style. I could not follow anything that was going on, and I felt like the dialogue was so fast and disconnected that nothing made sense. It almost felt like I was hyped up on sugar while reading it (if that makes sense) because everything was disjointed and the whole premise turned from funny to outrageous in the space of the first chapter. Though I understood why the parents played minor roles, I also felt like their lack of discipline and boundaries for the boys was completely unrealistic, and I felt unsure about how the message in this book would translate to young readers. Would they find it funny? Would they try to follow the footsteps of Nathan, David, and their crazy manny? The latter possibility had me flinching from the trouble that could ensue in real life. From a teacher perspective, at times the language that was employed by the manny character could also have been out of reach for some young readers-- the character used unusual vocabulary in order to convey silliness, but I could see some of the language being inaccessible for some audiences. Though I certainly wouldn't stop a young reader from picking up this book of their own volition (after all, what they're reading is less important than the fact that they are reading), I won't be buying this for my classroom library and I don't see myself recommending it to parents.

Bottom-Line Rating: 1/5

Title: The Day the Mustache Took Over
Author: Alan Katz
Illustrator: Kris Easler
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Expected Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Price: $13.99
ISBN: 1619635585
Format: E-book
Source: Advanced Reader Copy provided by 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!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Instagram Updates & Weekend Reading

Hello lovelies!

I would say happy weekend, but lately my weekends have been packed with 8-hour classes, so it's not exactly feeling like the weekend around here. It's our last weekend of summer classes, however, so I am ready to celebrate with some time at home next week, where my plans mostly consist of hours upon hours at the beach with a book in hand. Sounds perfect, right?

In the meantime, I thought I'd leave you with some updates from my Instagram, as well as some fun bookish links from around the web!

I've been making a list of both adult and children's classics that I'd like to tackle in 2016. So far, it includes Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Have a recommendation for me? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail!
Lately, my Kindle has become my best friend. I love the ease of slipping it into my purse or book bag, and my favorite feature is that it can predict how long it will take me to read a book based on my reading speed. I've been working with publishers via Net Galley to read a lot of books in anticipation of the fall publishing season and most of them are in the form of e-books. You can read my reviews of just a few of them hereherehere, and here.
My grandparents sent me a big box of antique books and I have been relishing in sorting through them. This is one of my favorites, a beautifully maintained edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've put it on my list of books to read in October. I'm still figuring out how to properly catalog the books but I love how much history each of them holds!
I went to a book sale last month and scored a huge stack of books for my classroom library. As soon as I plunked them down on the counter, the cashier laughed and asked if I was a teacher. "Not yet!" I said with a grin. (The same thing happened when I raided Target's dollar section for back-to-school supplies.) I'm still collecting books for students of all ages (I could be teaching anywhere from 1st to 8th grade!), so if you're interested in donating, please send me an e-mail at!
Speaking of back-to-school, not only will I be student teaching in fourth grade this year, I'll also be in classes on campus! This is the textbook for my most-anticipated class, and I'm sure you can guess why. If you're a teacher or someone who just loves children's lit, I highly recommend this text. It has list upon list of the best works in children's lit and I have been thumbing through it non-stop. I expect that it will inspire more than a few blog posts this year!

Finally, I'll leave you with a few fun links from around the web for your weekend reading pleasure! And, if you're currently reading something that's worth sharing, leave a comment below!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: A Curious Beginning

{on Goodreads}
A Curious Beginning is the first in a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, who just happens to have made it onto my ever-growing list of favorite cheeky heroines. In this, we are introduced not to a demure and proper young lady, rather, we are met with a woman who is outspoken, highly intelligent, and audacious. That is, she is outrageously out of place for the tight-lipped and easily shocked society of London in the late 19th century. Though I do enjoy reading more traditional historical fiction, Veronica hooked me with her fearlessness; she had no problem causing a scandal and was easy to connect with as she navigated society's expectations and her own desires. Veronica is a lepidopterist, a collector of butterflies, and known by her clients as a lady unafraid to travel to the most dangerous of places to secure the rarest specimens.

 At the start of the story, Veronica is left with a choice to make after the death of her beloved aunt: accept the suitable match presented by concerned members of her town, or take off on a new adventure? It's not hard to guess which one frightens Veronica more, but just as she's about to flee town, danger comes to her. She is rescued from an abductor by a kind old Baron, who claims to know the secrets of her past and promises to tell her in good time. The Baron deposits her with a friend, and from there Veronica embarks on an adventure greater than any of her most far-flung travels. She is forced to throw in her lot with an unlikely companion-- a reclusive man by the name of Stoker-- and while the two of them work to unveil the plot against Veronica they also must face truths about themselves and the secrets of both their pasts-- all while being chased by more than one potentially dangerous opponent! What I loved most about Veronica through the whole process of solving the mystery was her calm and collected manner. I loved the way that Stoker and Veronica played off each other, and boy was there some tension simmering there throughout the story.

Not only were Veronica and Stoker both excellently crafted, but the other characters in the story were excellent as well, each character unique in revealing that there's more behind the mask of polite society than one might think. I'm always drawn to female-led historical fiction, and often the mystery aspect is of second concern to me, but I have to say that when the mystery is finally unveiled, my reaction was one of total surprise. I did not see that coming! And I loved the way that it was resolved, leaving me anxious for the next in the series! In fact, I was so wound up after finishing the book that I tweeted at the author, Deanna Raybourn (whose twitter is actually hilarious -- I can see how her humor translated into Veronica's personality) and she replied that she's turning in the manuscript for the second installment at the end of this month! I will be anxiously awaiting news on that one. In the meantime, though, if you're a fan of brazen heroines and fast-paced mysteries, pick up A Curious Beginning, which will make its debut on September 1st!

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: NAL/Penguin, 2015
Expected Publication Date: September 1, 2015
ISBN: 0451476018
Format: E-Book
Source: Advanced Review Copy provided by Net Galley

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Children's Review: The Mister Max Trilogy

This review is going to be a little out of the ordinary, because today I am here to rave about more than one book. Today, I want to tell you about my new favorite middle grade trilogy!

It seems like middle grade books all have the same start: our main character is just another ordinary kid, until something extraordinary happens and forces him/her into a wild and unpredictable world. That's pretty much what happens to our main character in this trilogy too. Max finds himself alone in the world when a planned trip to India with his parents goes awry and he is left to stand at the docks, wondering where his parents have disappeared to and how he's going to live on his own. Thankfully, Max isn't entirely alone, as his grandmother just happens to live right next door. She offers to take him in, but Max suddenly realizes that this is an opportunity to become independent (never mind the fact that he's only twelve years old). While Max and his grandmother work to uncover the mystery of where Max's parents went, he establishes his own business. It just so happens that Max is quite good at disguising himself, and he's so resourceful in helping the townspeople to solve their problems  that he soon transforms into Mister Max, mysterious Solutioneer. Max uses the vast array of costumes from his parents' theatrical company, and while he solves many mysteries, his identity stays successfully hidden. 

In the first two novels, Max establishes his business as a Solutioneer and forges friendships with some unlikely characters (another great element of middle grade fiction). Though these books follow the typical middle grade plot, I felt myself drawn in by Voigt's style. Specifically, I loved the way that she described Max's unusual eyes. For every character introduced, Voigt gave a beautiful description of the strange color of Max's eyes from that character's point of view. I thought that this was a rather unique strategy in conveying Max's mysteriousness and it resulted in some of the strongest imagery that I've come across in my middle grade reading. I just loved the way that Voigt used descriptive and figurative language and I felt like I was reading a book that could quickly become a favorite for both adults and children. There is nothing childish about the way that Voigt writes. I wanted to share a few favorite quotes from the first two books that demonstrate Voigt's talent:

"The Baroness's mouth worked but no more words came out, the ones she wanted to utter being so huge and hard that they couldn't make their way up her throat, as if those words were bricks or stones or chunks of wood."  (The Book of Lost Things p.166 )
"She shrugged, and grimaced. She had a wide, flexible mouth, good for grimacing and grinning, and probably sneering, too." (The Book of Lost Things, p. 186) 
"The idea floated to the surface of his mind like a photograph appearing in developing liquid, a clear image where just seconds ago there had been blankness." (The Book of Lost Things, p. 356). 
"Do you fear danger?" she asked. "Yes!" answered Max Starling, before either of his other two roles could silence him, and then he laughed. "I'm afraid I do. But I can forgive my fear, even if I can't approve of it, or want to be in its company." (The Book of Secrets, p. 329) 

Can you tell why I think this could be the kind of book that teaches a young reader to love the written word?  

In The Book of Kings, the third (and final) installment of the Mister Max trilogy, Max sets off to find his parents. Max is uniquely gifted in crafting situations so that the people involved feel as though they've arrived at realizations and decisions all on their own, when really he has been carefully and strategically putting the puzzle pieces into place. In The Book of Kings, which will make its debut on September 8th, Max finds out that his parents have been taken to a tiny South American country called Andesia. There, they've been forced to play the role of king and queen under the scrutiny of a mutinous and menacing military general. Max and his grandmother intend to arrive in Andesia disguised as...well, that's the problem. They can't decide on a pair of roles that would explain there arrival without arousing suspicion. Though Max doesn't like the idea of arriving in Andesia with a group of people, eventually he concedes that the best plan includes the band of characters he's picked up along the way, all of whom feel more like family than friends. The group sets off to Andesia and there engages in a risky improvisation with the "king" of Andesia, who is of course Max's father and who needs rescuing. Along the way there are shifty characters, intrigue, mystery, and lots of guesses to be made by the reader. I can honestly say that I did not correctly predict the villain in this story, and I was genuinely in suspense as I waited to see if Max would achieve success in his rescue mission, or if his penchant for disguise would be uncovered and his plans ruined. Again, Voigt's style is just fantastic and I drank in her writing with all of the fervor that I could. I felt myself wanting to get to the end but drawing out the reading experience so that I could let the language simmer. I would definitely recommend this for readers who don't need a lot of fast action to hold their attention; though the bulk of the action occurred in this third installment, it was more of a slow and stealthy action than anything else. I think that Voigt's writing would capture the interest of readers who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society, as there are some riddle and puzzle aspects to the plot (although this book is less whimsical than that series). Though this book marks the end of the trilogy, there seemed to be a hint of a story yet to come, and I have to say if Voigt ever chose to continue Max's story I would be first in line to read it. 

Also, I just need to say a quick word about the illustrations in this book. They are fantastically detailed. I loved that my advanced copy had sneak peeks of the unfinished art and I cannot wait to see the final product. Bruno has real talent for making Voigt's characters come to life in his illustrations.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5 

Want to buy the first in this series? 

Want to buy the second in this series?

Title: The Book of Kings (Mister Max #3)
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Expected Publication Date: September 8, 2015
ISBN: 0307976890
Format: E-Book
Source: Advanced Reader Copy provided by Net Galley

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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Favorite Female Characters

One aspect of the "bookstagram" community (i.e. those who have Instagram accounts dedicated to books) that I've really enjoyed since bringing Top Shelf Text to Instagram has been the "tags" that go around. People are really creative in coming up with unique tags that prompt you to show off your book collection in new ways. Essentially, you get tagged by another account, which then challenges you to take a picture of specific books. For example, I've participated in tags to show the 20th book on my shelfa book with a unique cover page, and to show a rainbow of books. One of the tags that I recently participated in was for your pick of top five female characters, and boy was it tough to decide.

Here are the #topfivefemalecharacters that I shared on Instagram (in no particular order):

1. Miss Penelope Lumley, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

" Miss Penelope Lumley's day, it was universally understood that there is nothing like a nice cup of tea to settle one's nerves in the aftermath of an adventure-- a practice many would find well worth reviving." - The Hidden Gallery

2. Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

"Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can." 

3. Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones

"I am the blood of the dragon. Do not presume to teach me lessons." - A Dance with Dragons

4. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter

"I've learned all our course books by heart, of course." -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

5. Madeline, Madeline

"To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said 'Pooh-Pooh.'"


Disclaimer: I cherish these characters, but it's hard for me to say that they are absolute top five in all of the books that I've ever read. Because let's be honest, that's a lot of books, and five isn't a big number. I can think of a bunch more character that I truly admire (a post for another day, perhaps?), and I love that we, as readers, can draw inspiration from characters of all ages in all different seasons of our lives.

Do you have a few favorite female characters?


P.S. I'll be taking next week off from the blog while I finish up two of my summer courses (it feels like finals right now), so check back the following week for some new reviews. I have been reading up a storm and can't wait to share with you all!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Currently Coveting {August}

Can you believe that the summer is almost over?

At the moment, I'm knee deep in several courses that will continue throughout the month. Let's just say, my graduate program is keeping me very busy. Reading has been such a good escape from the frenzy of assignments, and I have a huge stack of books (for both children and adults) to get through in the next few months-- all of which I'm hoping will earn 5-star ratings.
In the meantime, I've come up with a few books that I'm coveting. I'm on a book-buying ban for the month of August, so I may have to join the holds list at the library for a few of these.

Rather than giving you a single sentence about each of my picks, I've decided to include the Goodreads' descriptions for each book so that you can get a better idea of what they're all about, so without further ado, here are the books I'm coveting this month:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George // I love books about books (and books about people who also love books), and this one looks like it will not disappoint!

 From Goodreads: “There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

The Rocks: A Novel by Peter Nichols // I'm not usually a contemporary reader, but this one drew me in with its comparisons to Romeo & Juliet, and with its enviable Mediterranean setting.

From Goodreads: Set against dramatic Mediterranean Sea views and lush olive groves, The Rocks opens with a confrontation and a secret: What was the mysterious, catastrophic event that drove two honeymooners apart so suddenly and absolutely in 1948 that they never spoke again despite living on the same island for sixty more years? And how did their history shape the Romeo and Juliet–like romance of their (unrelated) children decades later? 
Centered around a popular seaside resort club and its community, The Rocks is a double love story that begins with a mystery, then moves backward in time, era by era, to unravel what really happened decades earlier.
Peter Nichols writes with a pervading, soulful wisdom and self-knowing humor, and captures perfectly this world of glamorous, complicated, misbehaving types with all their sophisticated flaws and genuine longing. The result is a bittersweet, intelligent, and romantic novel about how powerful the perceived truth can be—as a bond, and as a barrier—even if it’s not really the whole story; and how one misunderstanding can echo irreparably through decades.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins // Supernatural beings + cults + mystery, sounds gripping, right? 

From Goodreads: Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for. 
After all, she was a normal American herself, once. 
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.  
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power. 
Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.  
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.  
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.  
But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley // That cover. Can you guess how this one landed on my list?

From Goodreads: 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

The Abominable by Dan Simmons // I read Dan Simmons' The Terror and I designated it as a book that pulled me out of my comfort zone in 2013. The sheer size of that book had me reading it for quite a few weeks, but I loved his style. His writing really is spine-chilling.

From Goodreads: A thrilling tale of high-altitude death and survival set on the snowy summits of Mount Everest, from the bestselling author of The Terror.
It's 1924 and the race to summit the world's highest mountain has been brought to a terrified pause by the shocking disappearance of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine high on the shoulder of Mt. Everest. By the following year, three climbers -- a British poet and veteran of the Great War, a young French Chamonix guide, and an idealistic young American -- find a way to take their shot at the top. They arrange funding from the grieving Lady Bromley, whose son also disappeared on Mt. Everest in 1924. Young Bromley must be dead, but his mother refuses to believe it and pays the trio to bring him home. 
Deep in Tibet and high on Everest, the three climbers -- joined by the missing boy's female cousin -- find themselves being pursued through the night by someone . . . or something. This nightmare becomes a matter of life and death at 28,000 feet - but what is pursuing them? And what is the truth behind the 1924 disappearances on Everest? As they fight their way to the top of the world, the friends uncover a secret far more abominable than any mythical creature could ever be. A pulse-pounding story of adventure and suspense, The Abominable is Dan Simmons at his spine-chilling best.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Happy Reading!

P.S. Today's the day! If you were looking forward to snagging a copy of the first in the Galaxy Pirates trilogy (for middle grade readers) or the first two books in the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, you're in luck because all three books are being released today! You can find links to purchase them in my reviews.