Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

One of the perks of joining a book club has been that I really have to make time for reading specific books each month. Outside of reading for publishers, I generally just select whatever book catches my eye when deciding what to read next. In December, my book club read Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, and 84, Charing Cross Road was the flight pairing for the month. I hadn't really read a collection of real letters before, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I loved this book. The letters represent twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York City, and the staff of Marks & Co., an antique and used bookstore located in London. 

I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud when reading this book. It only took me a few hours to fly through the whole thing and I loved every page. Helene's personality was so strong and her sarcasm and genuine enthusiasm for books had me totally charmed. Highly recommended for kindred spirits who love books about books. 

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books, 1970
Price: $10 on Amazon
ISBN: 0140143505
Format: Paperback
Source: Amazon

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean

When I go to pick out historical fiction novels, I generally stick to a few periods in history. One of those periods is World War II, and because so many readers enjoy reading about that time period, there are plenty of novels to choose from in that category. It can be hard to stand out, but A Bridge Across the Ocean managed to provide what felt like a fresh take on the genre. A few things I loved about this book: multiple perspectives, a supernatural element, and it actually taught me something new about that period in history. The story follows three women and switches back and forth from 1946 to present day. Two of those women are survivors of the war: one a German ballerina, the other a traumatized daughter of a French Resistance member. Both end up traveling together on the RMS Queen Mary as war brides waiting to be reunited with their American husbands. The third woman, Brette, is living in modern-day California. Brette is unusual in that she can see ghosts. A series of circumstances lead Brette to the Queen Mary, where she comes across a ghost who, for the first time in Brette's life, compels her to engage with her gift rather than ignore it. 

Multiple perspectives plus jumping time periods can be tricky, but Meissner pulls it off seamlessly in this novel. I was drawn in right from the start and really interested in each character's story line. I also loved learning about the war brides and how the Queen Mary was used to reunite couples who had met during the war and held out hope during those difficult years. I don't want to give anything away, but I there were definitely some twists towards the end of this book, and I loved that it surprised me. It was one of those books that I enjoyed for every minute of my time spent reading it, and left me with happy feelings -- not a super common resolution for WWII-era novels. Recommended for fans of The Seven Sisters (one of my top ten favorites from 2016). This novel will be released on March 14, 2017.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: A Bridge Across the Ocean
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: Berkley Books, 2017
Price: $9 on Amazon
ISBN: 045147600X
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

Friday, February 17, 2017

Children's Review: Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)

Last week we went from an almost-sixty degree day to three straight snow days -- granting me a five-day weekend and a subsequent case of cabin fever. Before the restlessness set in, I was super excited to tackle some of the books in my to-read pile for this month and I ended up spending two days reading the first three books in the Fairy Tale Reform School series, a new-to-me middle grade series. I had originally signed on to review the third book, but as I am a strict consecutive-order reader, that meant I still needed to experience the first and second installments before diving into the third.

Now, after having finished all three, I would still recommend reading the series in order, but I will say that I thought the third book was the best of the series so far and slightly redeemed it in my eyes. Would I highly recommend this to middle grade readers? Probably not. It wasn't a series that hooked me. However, we all know that sometimes a book isn't the right book -- for a specific person. I was not the right reader for these books. I tried really hard to get engaged and feel invested but, alas, it felt like work to get through these.

I tend to shy away from giving harsher reviews on here (authors, I feel for you), so first I want to share what drew me into the book. Of course, that cover. It's whimsical and cute and definitely eye-catching. It's also a fairy tale series, and we all know that's one of my favorite genres. I thought the premise was creative too: a reform school for criminal fairy tale characters (think the Evil Queen, the Big Bad Wolf, etc.), and a redeeming main character. Gilly Cobbler is a petty thief, true, but she only does it to help her family survive. Her large family lives in an old boot, and demand for cobblers is low in the kingdom of Enchantsia. After stealing one too many times, Gilly is sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS). There she meets a gang of friends, including an ogre and a fairy.

In the first two books, Gilly and her friends manage to save Enchantsia from doom, and Gilly battles with a newfound hero complex and some friendship troubles. In Tricked, the third installment, Enchantsia is once again threatened -- this time by Rumplestilkskin. It's up to Gilly and her friends to complete a quest in order to stop him.

What I wasn't such a fan of: the characters. They felt so shallow and despite incredibly obvious clues being dropped with reckless abandon, realizations seemed to jump out of nowhere, making it seem like characters had really limit thought processes. I really felt like (as a teacher of the middle-grade audience) that not enough credit was given to readers. They catch on a lot faster than you might think, and this all felt a little fake. There were some great themes in the books, but none were very well developed so the lessons weren't very impactful -- both for the characters and the reader. I liked the plot of Tricked -- the adventure aspect was the most compelling part of the reading experience, but in the end the series fell a little flat for me overall.

In terms of recommending the Fairy Tale Reform School series, I'd say it's worth a try for middle grade readers who enjoy this type of book in general. It may be that, as an older reader, I'm reading it from too much of a teacher perspective. Tricked will be available for purchase on March 7th, and is available now for pre-order.

Bottom-Line Rating: 2/5

Title: Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)
Author: Jen Calonita
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN: 1492637955
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: The Bone Witch

It's been a while since I've read a good fantasy novel, and despite my history of avoiding young adult fantasies, there was something about this new fantasy series from Rin Chupeco that drew me in. The Bone Witch introduces us to Tea, a fourteen-year-old girl who accidentally resurrects her brother from his grave. This act reveals that she belongs to an unusual class of magical women, called asha, and furthermore, that she is one of only a few women who can conjure dark runes -- in other words, she can perform death magic. There's more to the story here, including a relatively innocent crush on a prince, lots of intrigue, and some really memorable characters. I was worried about the story being cheesy (you know, in the way that YA can sometimes be), but the plot was interesting, with allusions to catastrophe and a definite cliffhanger leading into the second book. What I was most surprised by was the world building in this book --it was certainly more sophisticated than I was expecting. I could tell as I was reading that Chupeco had a clear picture of the details of this world, and I loved how the setting and rules of society were revealed without it feeling like an information dump.

There was only one thing that seemed a little strange to me, and it has to do with the duties of an asha. In this world, the asha are -- from what I could tell -- essentially like geishas. Their job is to entertain their hosts with dancing and conversation. As soon as I realized this parallel, I had trouble aligning it with the fate and duties of Tea in particular. While a typical asha would not have any duties outside of entertainment, Tea's dark magic put her in a different class from other ashas -- not only was she expected to be skilled in the entertaining arts, as a bone witch she was also expected to protect the kingdom from dangerous beasts. It felt strange to me that she was still expected to take singing lessons when she really needed to be trained further in the dark runes. I'm hoping the reasons for her participation in the more frivolous arts will be revealed in further installments. I will definitely be following the series as its released. Though I don't read much YA, I would recommend this to fans of Game of Thrones and similar fantasies with magic, beasts, intrigue, and the like. I also want to mention that there was a twist thrown in at the very end that has me impatient for the second book (but I won't ruin it for you here)! This title will be released on March 7, 2017 and is available now at a pre-order price!

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire, 2017
ISBN: 1492635820
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

The One Book You Need to Read in 2017

I was going to attempt to review This Is How It Always Is for you, but I honestly don't think I can do it justice.

I read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club February pick, so I have Anne Bogel to thank for (figuratively) putting it into my hands. Her advice was to just pick it up -- don't read the cover, don't read any reviews. No expectations. Just read it.

I am not typically a contemporary novel reader. Nor do I seek out novels about family relationships, or the trials of parenting, or what it means to love someone unconditionally. But I devoured this and it firmly rooted itself in my Best Books I've Ever Read list.

This is one of those you-just-have-to-trust-me recommendations.


Read it? Feel like discussing? Email me at or chat with me on Instagram @topshelftext.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: A Portrait of Emily Price

First things first -- that cover. If that doesn't scream Tuscan countryside, then I don't know what does. As happens, I was first drawn to this book by the gorgeous cover. I've read one of Katherine Reay's novels before, The Brontë Plot, and really enjoyed it so I had high hopes for this one. All of her previous novels have connections to classic literature -- I can never resist a good novel with allusions to other famous works. 

In A Portrait of Emily Price, our protagonist is a art restorer. Emily meets Ben, a handsome Italian man who easily captures Emily's heart, and in the span of a few weeks he proposes, they marry, and Ben whisks Emily off to Tuscany. This was where I hit my first snag with the novel. It's not that Ben was that classic Italian heartthrob, or that Emily found herself quickly falling for him, but their extremely quick romance felt utterly shallow to me. In context, Reay managed to explain why it felt necessary (to the characters, that is) but I still felt like rolling my eyes at their too-quick courtship. Emily and Ben arrive in Tuscany, where Ben's rather intimidating mother is (not surprisingly) unimpressed with his new American wife. Ben's father, however, is kind and welcoming. As Emily tries to navigate her new family and her new country, she turns to creating art. Her art plays a big role in unveiling and helping to heal the family's longstanding secret. 

I put down the book about halfway through -- after Ben and Emily arrive in Tuscany, but picked it back up again a month later because I wanted to see it through to the end. I certainly felt more pull from the second half of the book, when the focus is on the family's secrets and how their relationships change as Ben's father grows close to death. I just couldn't bring myself to believe in the "true love" between Emily and Ben. That can be a hangup that I have when reading contemporary fiction, but if it's not something that phases you, I'd recommend this book for the scenery, art, and the descriptions of food.

Bottom Line Rating: 3/5

Title: A Portrait of Emily Price
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson 2016
Price: $12 on Amazon
ISBN: 0718077911
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: A Study in Charlotte

There's nothing better than receiving a good book for Christmas. Kudos to my bestie, Allie, for finding one that was totally in my wheelhouse and one that I hadn't yet heard of. A Study in Charlotte is the first in a (relatively) new series featuring the descendants of two of my favorite literary characters. In this, Jamie Watson wins a rugby scholarship to a prestigious prep school in Connecticut, where he discovers that the descendant of Sherlock Holmes - his own ancestor's infamous crime-solving partner - also attends the school. Charlotte Holmes is a notoriously aloof student, who dabbles in hard drugs and has a fully-outfitted lab hidden in a maintenance closet. Jamie and Charlotte fall quickly into a deep friendship, but when a fellow student turns up dead, the duo realize that they're being framed for his murder. Suddenly Jamie's childhood daydreams of solving crimes with Charlotte Holmes seem foolish compared to the very real danger that faces them now.

I've mentioned here before that I don't often read young adult literature, but I loved this book. Cavallaro stuck closely to the canon when writing, so elements like the Holmes' feud with the Moriarty family are included but with an extra creative twist. My only hang-up was Charlotte's drug use because, while canonically correct, I hate to think about young adults seeing drug use semi-glorified in literature. I follow pretty much all forms of Sherlock Holmes -- whether it be literature or television -- so I enjoyed reading this in anticipation of the new season of Sherlock from BBC. I even pre-ordered the second in the series, which is scheduled to come out on Valentine's Day and I can't wait to continue following these characters.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: A Study in Charlotte
Author: Brittany Cavallaro
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
Price: $11 on Amazon
ISBN: 0062398903
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gift