Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Children's Review: The Night Parade

I tend to lean towards European literature, so when an opportunity to read Katheryn Tanquary's The Night Parade popped up, I thought I'd better indulge in a new culture. I'm so glad I did because The Night Parade was among my favorite children's books read this year. The story follows Saki, a typical thirteen year-old girl who's forced to accompany her family on a trip to visit her grandmother for Obon, a three-day festival in which families honor the spirits of their ancestors. That's the first thing that I love about this book: it highlights and celebrates Japanese culture in such an interesting way. Tanquary wove the culture into the book so seamlessly that the reader can follow Saki's journey as she moves from resenting the antiquated traditions to celebrating the unique way in which the small village has remained true to its culture, all while learning an incredible amount about Japanese family structures and traditions. 

Saki carelessly (and accidentally) invites a maleficent spirit into her world with the opening ceremony on the first night of Obon. For each night of the festival, she ventures into the spirit world in an attempt to lift the curse. While she navigates the rules of this strange new world, she is guided by a series of spirits. During the day, Saki must also navigate the social scene in her grandmother's small village-- this is where Tanquary does an excellent job of capturing the young teen mindset and writing from that perspective. Saki's encounters with the other children her age force her to reflect on her friendships at home in Tokyo. From the lessons she learns in both the real and spirit world, Saki has a change of heart and finds herself more in touch with her family and her heritage. I loved the resolution of the book and found that the lessons hidden within were ones that young readers could identify with and reflect on after reading. The spiritual elements of this book place it under the fantasy category, but I felt that it was an unconventional type of fantasy. The connection with the Japanese folklore reminded me a lot of the films by Hayao Miyazaki, so if you've enjoyed those films I suggest picking up this book after it's publication on January 5th!

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Night Parade
Author: Kathryn Tanquary
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Price: Pre-order from Amazon for $12.98
Format: e-ARC
Source: Netgalley
Expected Publication Date: January 5, 2016

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!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Books and Beverages, The Shoppe

Hi all, and happy holidays!
No matter how you choose to celebrate, I hope that you've found this season to be full of love and gratitude. I am feeling extra grateful for my family and that we've had time to all hang out before my brother and I are off again (him, on another golf adventure in Georgia, and me, for my last semester of grad school)!

Since we're approaching New Years Eve, I'm inevitably thinking about how to improve my habits in the new year. One of my goals for 2016 is to be better about planning blog content, and thanks to Books and Beverages, The Shoppe, I'm feeling extra prepared.

Let me introduce you to The Book Blogger's Planner.

Gorgeous, isn't it? You can get your own here!
 Jamie, the blogger and genius behind the design, was kind enough to send me one of her new planners (just launched this month!) and I have been obsessing over it. Want to hear me rave about it? Keep reading.

First things first, the planner was made in collaboration with May Designs, my favorite company of all time. I gifted their notebooks to all of my friends for Christmas, and I'm known to hoard them for myself (I can see four from where I'm sitting, no joke). It's the perfect size for tucking into your purse, and the cover is this gorgeous canvas that really holds up well to wear over time.

Inside the planner you'll find a few features:

- Blank, two-page spreads for writing in the months. My only complaint is that these cover only six months (which seems to go by in a flash), but I'm sure six months from now I'll be happy to snag a fresh planner.

- This weekly spread is great for keeping track of posts (in my case, it actually covers more than one week's worth of content), and also for jotting notes or a to-do list to keep things in check.

- A spot to write down all of the books that you read (I keep track of mine on Goodreads but I think I'll track my 2016 reads in here as well).

- And last but not least, a place to jot down all of your favorite quotes! This has to be my favorite feature. 

Obviously if you're a fellow book blogger, you need this planner in you're life. And if you're not a blogger, but you have one in your life, then you obviously need to buy it for him/her. 

Oh, and really quickly, let me point you to the other products you can find in The Shoppe, because whether or not you're a blogger, if you're a bookworm there's something for you too! Find all the products below (and a few more) here!

iPad covers (for iPad Mini & iPad Air)

For the Love of Literature Postcards (so adorable, I'm framing mine!)

Bookmarks! I'm partial to C.S. Lewis's "Do not dare not to dare."

These items were received c/o Books and Beverages, The Shoppe, in exchange for celebrating the launch of The Shoppe. All opinions are my own (and I promise, I really do love them)!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review: The Brontë Plot

If you're a frequent reader of Top Shelf Text you know that I'm partial to books about books. I had seen press for The Brontë Plot and even though I haven't read more than one of the infamous Brontë works, I knew instantly that it was a book that I'd want to read. 

I loved the premise: Lucy is a dealer in rare books, working for a prolific interior designer. She loves his mentorship and the life that she's built, but she's been dishonest in building his book business, a trait she thinks comes from her con-man (and perpetually absent) father. In the beginning of the story, Lucy meets James, a handsome and wealthy customer who buys one of her rare books. Their flirtation grows into a serious relationship, until the day that James confronts Lucy with her fraudulent deeds. Their relationship has fallen apart when James's grandmother, Helen, invites Lucy on an unusual sort of "business" trip. She whisks Lucy off to London as her buyer and invites Lucy to witness her last great adventure, on which she hopes to make amends for her own guilty secrets. As the two women venture through London, Lucy works to make amends for her own mistakes. 

The story is at times, frustrating -- particularly because Lucy seems to slip so easily into that corrupt frame of mind. For me, it felt like the wall that she put up for the other characters actually prevented me (the reader) from accessing her full character. It's for that reason alone that I can only give the book four stars. That being said, I think Reay created a real, flawed, human character here and I appreciated that the relationships were built slowly enough to be realistic. I also loved Helen's character -- the wise old woman who's unafraid to face the end of her time -- and I felt genuinely heartened after finishing the book. Reay's written two others, both based on Austen's works, and I look forward to reading those in 2016. I'd recommend this one for bookclubs especially, because I think it's a great book for discussions about living a full life and opening up yourself to others. 

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Brontë Plot
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2015
Price: $12 on Amazon
ISBN: 1401689752
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Break Reading List

One of the things that I loved about college was having that month-long winter break. I relished the fact that my to-do list that had nothing on it, and in anticipation each year I would build up a huge list of all the books that I wanted to read during those weeks. 

This year is a little different for me because I don't get the same extended period for a break. I do have a couple weeks, however, to rest and relax before my responsibilities kick into an even higher gear in January. I'm hoping to make the most of that time by indulging in some of my favorite activities (reading tops the list, obviously) and having quality time with friends and family.

I like to build my stack of winter break reads ahead of time, so I've picked out just a few books that have already made it onto my list. I think a trip to the library is in order...

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig // Lauren Willig is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction and I can't wait to preview her latest book, written in partnership with two other excellent writers. 

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood // I've been meaning to continue reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series and I need to read both the fourth and fifth installments. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the mystery revealed!

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran // I love Michelle Moran's writing and I'm so excited to read her account of Nefertari, the niece of the more well-known Nefertiti. (If we're being honest, I already started this one last night and it has me completely enthralled!)

Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit // I think a break is the perfect time to catch up on a little bit of professionally-minded reading. I have a whole stack of education books that I've been meaning to read, so this may not be the exact one that I pick up, but I'm hoping to tackle at least one from the pile while I'm relaxing at home!


Now, no matter how much I add to this list, it's almost inevitable that I'll stray from it the second that I see an interesting book on the library shelf, so stay tuned to see how it turns out! Also keep an eye out for a new review later this week!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Review: The 19th Wife

{On Goodreads}
I'm acutely aware that I buy way more books each year than I can possibly read in the same time period. I bought this book at a library sale approximately two summers ago, (having recognized it among the piles as being on my ever-growing to-read list on Goodreads), but it was left to sit on my shelf until just last week, when I finally decided that the time had come to read it. It was one of those moments where I fell into the book instantly, and then kicked myself for not having read it sooner. David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife first peaked my interest after I read (and loved) this non fiction book, which shared the subject of modern Mormon Fundamentalists and their history in relation to the mainstream Mormon church. In this novel, which is part historical fiction, part contemporary fiction, Ebershoff tells the parallel stories of Ann Eliza Young and a young man named Jordan Scott. 

Jordan grew up in a fundamentalist sect located in the desert of Utah but was ex-communicated as a teenager for the very serious crime of holding a girl's hand. Now, Jordan lives in California, working odd jobs and trying to piece his life together after having experienced a fractured youth in a polygamous household and the dual trauma of losing both his faith and his family. Jordan puts aside thoughts of the place that he's come from, until his mother is accused of murdering his father and Jordan is forced to return to his former home to defend his mother and investigate the murder himself. As he works to uncover the secrets of the elusive community, we learn about the history of the Mormon faith, the tumultuous road to polygamy, and its ultimate renouncement by church leader, all conveyed through the story of Ann Eliza Young. The 19th wife of Brigham Young, she was notable in her day for her very public divorce from her husband and her national campaign to end polygamy in the United States. Her story is told through the manuscript of her memoirs, as well as through letters written by her family members and newspaper clippings from the scandal of her divorce and her subsequent campaigns. 

Because I had a relatively good store of background knowledge about the historical events in this book, I was able to dive into the story itself rather effortlessly. Jordan's character and his fractured identity reminded me of Theo Decker from Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. The imagery of a desolate plain with manipulative and neglectful adults brought about a lot of connections between the two books. This is one of those stories in which the characters are very....real. There's no sugar coating, there's a lot of tragedy, and it all comes together in an imperfect ending that's reflective of how complicated these situations can be. I enjoyed the mystery aspect (and was genuinely surprised by the reveal), but mostly I loved witnessing how the characters carefully reached out to each other, negotiating new relationships and mending the scars that were wrought by the corruption of their faith. This is one book that I'd recommend for those who enjoy that mix of contemporary and historical perspectives that come with novels of dual storylines. It's a story that tugs at heartstrings and encourages gratitude in equal measure.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The 19th Wife
Author: David Ebershoff
Publisher: Random House, 2008
Price: Less than $6 from Better World Books!
ISBN: 1400063973
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Library

Friday, December 4, 2015

Currently Coveting {December}

It's me.
(Adele humor...get it? I'm not very good at making jokes).

Also, happy December! One of my favorite months of the year (the peppermint-chocolate candies, the twinkly lights, the Christmas movies!!) and also one of the busiest for me, what with wrapping up my first half of grad school (can you believe it!) and preparing to enter my student teaching full time in January. While I've been on my blogging break, I've been taking full advantage of jump-starting the holiday season. I may have put up my own little Christmas tree a week before Thanksgiving, but I strongly believe that when the fancy strikes you should go with it. For me that means lots of holiday music, gift preparations, and spreading cheer!

Speaking of my blogging break,  a big thank you to those of you who have stuck around and explored past posts while I've been on hiatus. I had a few weeks where I questioned how much I wanted this blog to remain a part of my weekly routine, so I thought that the best course of action would be to take some time off and see how it felt. After a few weeks, I realized that this blog acts a sort of creative outlet (if you can call it that) for me and that I missed the thrill of sharing great reads with others. 

 Now, let's get to talking about books. The end-of-the-semester chaos naturally slows my reading pace, so I've been in search of some extra captivating reads to keep me enthralled during this busy season (and I'll be needing a stack for my upcoming winter break). This one was my favorite from my Thanksgiving break (a hearty portion of which was spent lounging with my nose in a book). Now that we are back to school for the final "finals" push, I am feeling grateful for the energy that I gained from that extra down time!
Below you'll find just some of the reads that I'm currently coveting:

The Relic Master: A Novel by Christopher Buckley // This one caught my eye because of the cover. It's a new historical fiction novel featuring a relic hunter from the early 1600's. It will be out on December 8th, so if you're into that sort of historical fiction/adventure mix, keep an eye out for it!

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen // Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants was a huge hit a few years ago, but I actually fell in love with her writing after reading Ape House. This latest one from her is on my list to read next time I'm craving some historical fiction featuring high society scandals and strong female characters.

The Bounty by Caroline Alexander // For those interested in non fiction stories, I've found that I'm most interested in ones featuring the sea. This true story of one of the most famous instances of mutiny has me craving a night curled up next to the fireplace with this book in hand. I'm thinking I'll add this one to my winter break reading list (keep an eye out for that next week).

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Happy Reading!