Friday, March 31, 2017

Reader Recommendations: Children's Literature

I am so excited to share these recommendations with you today. I mentioned in my 2017 Reading Resolutions  that I'd like to read more children's literature this year, not for the sake of my job but for the simple love of it. Today's reader recommendations come from a childhood friend of mine who grew up to be a bookseller and expert in children's literature (ahem, dream job!).

Amanda is currently the Lead Children's Bookseller at our nearby Barnes & Noble, where she's privy to all of the insider knowledge when it comes to new releases in children's lit. She also recently completed an internship with Candlewick Press, a Boston-based publishing company that puts out really wonderful books each season. Amanda is an avid reader of a whole range of children's lit -- everything from board books to YA -- and she has some great recommendations to share today. Don't just take these into account for the littles in your life -- try picking up one for your own reading pleasure!

Without further ado, here are six children's books that you should add to your list:

Hair by Leslie Patricelli

I promise that you cannot read this book without smiling. With one-word sentences on each page, this simple story showcases a baby wearing only a diaper, and discusses the dilemma of a single hair growing atop the baby's head that needs to be cut. What makes this adorable story so special is the combination of text and illustration. The baby's facial expressions show a huge smile, fearful blushing cheeks, and a happy tear. There are bold, colorful backgrounds and sound-effects in the text. The fact that there is just one hair that grows and grows makes me chuckle every time I flip through the pages. It's by far the cutest board book I have ever seen. (Well, this and all of Leslie Patricelli's collection.)

While interning at Candlewick, our hottest new product was A Child of Books (or as I am used to hearing it referred as, ACOB). It made the cover of the Fall/Winter 2016 catalogue, it received 3 starred reviews (that's really good -- most books don't even get a single star), and a teacher's guide was created for it (you can find that here). You have to trust me; ACOB lives up to its hype. 

Oliver Jeffers, who wrote The Day the Crayons Quit, teams up with artist Sam Winston to created a masterpiece. Original text from classic stories such as Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and Frankenstein (to name a few) are used as the physical illustrations. The words are spaced out, bolded, shrunk, and arranged to make art. The plot involves a girl who sails across a sea of words to find a boy and take him on an adventure to discover reading and imagination. I have read this book more times than I would care to admit, and every time I notice something different in the illustrations. If you are an avid book reader, teacher, artist, or just want to pick up a new book, please read this one.

Journey, Quest, and Return by Aaron Becker (The Journey Trilogy)

Journey will forever be my favorite wordless picture book. Wordless, you might ask? Yes, there are zero words in this book and in the entire trilogy. Aaron Becker used to be an architect, and utilizes his constructing skills to create an intricate and imaginative fantasyland that tells a story without the need for text. 

Stuck in her room with her family members all-consumed with electronic devoices (relatable, right?), the main character takes a red marker, draws a door on her bedroom wall, and takes off on an adventure. The sequel, Quest, involves the girl meeting a boy with a purple marker (hello Harold and the Purple Crayon), and how they gather all the colors of the kingdom that have been lost over time. Return involves the girl's father entering the fantasyland and saving the colors that have been stolen by an evil character. Teamwork, adventure, and of course, imagination, are all pleasantly apparent in this stunning picture book.

The Princess in Black (series) by Shannon Hale

This book is perfect for the beginning reader who is in-between an "I Can Read" and a full text chapter book. This series has short chapters, larger printed words, and colorful illustrations. As a Barnes & Noble Children's Bookseller, I can say that this is one of the only early chapter books out there with colorful illustrations; all the rest are strictly black and white. This is also one of my most commonly recommended books for children 5-8 years old (although older or younger readers may enjoy it too!).

What makes this book special in my eyes is the empowerment of girls to be both a pretty princess in pink who drinks tea, and a badass princess in black who fights crime. She does not have to choose between her two identities; she is able to be both. Princess Magnolia is an inspirational female character any young girl can look up to. I'm a huge fan!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Embrace the amount of tears you will shed for this emotionally charged magnificent YA read. Told from the prospective of 13-year-old Connor living in England, this story centers on his relationship with his mother who is dying of cancer. During this tumultuous time, Connor is visited by a monster every night at 12:07. This monster tells Connor three stories, and then it is up to Connor to tell the fourth story as it is happening in real life. Siobhan Dowd who originally started writing this story died prematurely from cancer. Patrick Ness stepped in to finish the novel.

A Monster Calls plows through the exterior appearance of Connor and into his innermost thoughts and emotions. Connor is true to his feelings and I respect him as a main character during all of the tough times. The black and white illustrations throughout the novel really place the book over the edge. They allow the reader a glimpse into the fantasy realms of Connor's nightmares, but remain imprecise so that the reader still has room to picture the story in their own head.

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

As you can tell I love to read books that make me feel. If I express some sort of emotion such as laughter, crying (sobbing), amazement, or admiration, I know it's a good book. Phantom Limbs is one of those stories that made me feel empathy for each of the characters that I have nothing in common with, but could somehow relate to perfectly.

The narrator is Otis, a teenage boy whose best friend/swimming coach (Dara) is a one-armed girl who was once a swimming prodigy. Dara is a couple years older than Otis, and is the tough-as-nails person otis needs after his childhood girlfriend, Meg, suddenly moves away. Otis seems able to move on from his past until Meg returns to town three years later. There are changes in both Meg and Otis, and once secrets of the past are revealed, both characters have to decide what they truly want from one another and how much they are able to forgive.

Although my summary focuses on Otis and Meg, Dara is the character that stuck with me the most after finishing the book. She questions her career, her sanity, her sexuality, and is incredible brave in times of distress. The characters read as real, authentic people, and I applaud Paula Garner for her debut novel. 


Thank you, Amanda, for putting together this list for us! I can't wait to tackle this stack of books!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What Should I Read Next?

Hi friends!

Yesterday was a big day around here! I was featured as a guest on Anne Bogel's podcast, What Should I Read Next?, which just happens to be my favorite podcast and one that I listen to every single week without fail. It was a dream and a joy to share my favorite (and not-so-favorite) books with Anne, who has been my book guru since the first day that I discovered her blog

You can read more about my love for this podcast here.

You can listen to the episode right on your computer here.

If you have an iphone, you can download the episode right on the podcast app on your phone. Just look for episode 72: Embarrassing Bookworm Confessions (and yes, that title was a result of me making embarrassing confessions about my worst bookish habit). 

If you don't yet follow along on Instagram, you can find me @topshelftext and Anne @annebogel and @whatshouldireadnext.

If you have a recommendation for me, you can leave it in the comments of the podcast episode or in the comments section here!

Happy listening!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: The Enemies of Versailles

If you know me in real life, you may have recently heard me raving about this historical fiction trilogy, of which the final installment was released just yesterday. The Enemies of Versailles continues the story of King Louis XV's reign through the lens of his last mistress. With this last look at the many women behind his throne, Sally Christie once again completely captivated me and had me dreaming of life at Versailles. If you're interested in starting from the beginning (I highly recommend it -- every detail is worth reading), you can find my review of the first here and the second here

This series is one of those that managed to transport me -- while reading, there was little to distract me from the delicious details, incredible scandal, and suspense of the court of King Louis XV. In this third installment, Christie examines the last period of Louis XV's reign from the perspective of his final mistress, a woman named Jeanne B├ęcu. Jeanne eventually becomes the Comtesse du Barry, but her origins are far from noble. Early on in life, Jeanne was recruited to be a prostitute for wealthy men. Jeanne's charm and flirtatious manner win her the attention of friends to the king, and eventually she finds herself with an apartment in Versailles and the object of the king's adoration. 

There was a pretty stark difference between the Comtesse du Barry and the woman that came before her, the intimidating and powerful Marquise de Pompadour. (For more details on her, read the second book.) Jeanne was far more frivolous in nature, and therefore not as interested in controlling the throne, but she did have a significant adversary in the king's eldest daughter. The novel switches back and forth between the perspective of the mistress and the daughter, and that is what made it so interesting. The stark contrast between the pious, spinster daughter and the bold, flirtatious mistress highlighted the dissonance of Versailles -- a court that tried desperately to uphold tradition but was known for its outrageous parties and rampant infidelity. I also loved that this novel gave the reader a different perspective on the reign of Marie Antoinette and the decline of the nobility due to the revolution. 

Christie manages to make this reading experience one that's both entirely educational -- the scope of her research is clear -- and marked by heart-pounding scenes of suspense and scandal. I adore this series and predict that any historical fiction lover would not be able to resist this story after reading the first few pages.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Enemies of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles #3)
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria, 2017
ISBN: 1501103024
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

If You Liked That, Read This!

If you liked...

and... this!

If you liked Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (review here) or The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig (review here), you'll likely enjoy The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes.

Let's be real, this novel belongs in a whole category of women's fiction with these same elements, so if you're a fan of this general formula, then I'd recommend this novel for you. We're talking dual perspectives from past and present, family secrets, and female protagonists. Other novels that come to mind include The Seven Sisters (review here) and A Bridge Across the Ocean (review here). I just recently picked up The Girl You Left Behind for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and found that contains the same elements as some of my favorite historical fiction picks. The Girl You Left Behind mainly follows two women: Liv, a grieving widow in present day London, and Sophie, a woman living in northern France during the first World War. What links them is a painting of Sophie, which after 85 years has made its way into Liv's home. Years later, Liv finds herself involved in a high-tension art restitution case, which compels her to dig deep into the history of both the painting and the life of its subject. I didn't find Liv's character as likable as I had hoped, but overall the book was interesting and had a twist that surprised me and left me feeling satisfied with the story. I gave it four out of five stars and would even recommend it as a spring/summer read when you're looking for something interesting and easy to follow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: The Shadow Land

Let me start by saying that Elizabeth Kostova is one author that I'm loyal to, so when I heard that she was releasing a new novel this spring, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on an advanced copy. Kostova has only written two books before The Shadow Land, and I loved both of them (you can read my review of The Swan Thieves here). In my experience, Kostova is most well-known for The Historian, a sweeping novel of the Ottoman Empire and the original Dracula, and just one of the books I recommend frequently as a great October read. I read that one in high school for a summer reading assignment and was floored by the intricacy of both the historical detail and her plot. So when it came to reading The Shadow Land, my expectations were high.

This is where my disclaimer comes in. I think it's important to note -- before I get into the why's -- that not every book is suited to every reader. In this case, I recognize that this book might be captivating for some readers, but I was not the right reader. Or, I picked it up at the wrong time. Either way, I got through the 500 pages only to feel totally disappointed.

I saw another reviewer say that the plot point that launched the adventure in this novel was unbelievable, and that the incohesion throughout the book really came back to that inciting event. I have to agree with that evaluation and add even more, because this book fell so flat for me.

First, we have a main character with a trauma in her past. I thought that trauma was really interesting, but it only came into play a few times throughout the book and in a way that left me (and the character, I assume) without any closure. Second, we have a very strange kick-off: a girl arrives in Bulgaria and accidentally takes the luggage belonging to a handsome man after having a momentary interaction on the front steps of a hotel. She then goes on a quest to return the luggage to him (mind you, a multi-day, multi-city quest, with a stranger) and ends up being followed by some unidentified but nefarious source who is threatening everyone they come into contact with. Sound confusing? It was. Not to mention that there was absolutely no explanation for why they were being chased all over the country until about 90% of the way through the book. I pushed myself to finish the novel just so I could make sure that we actually found out what was going on at the end.

I won't say much else, because if you're going to read it then you yourself might find it very compelling and enjoyable. Though I'm a big fan of the author, this fell flat for me in almost every way -- characters, setting, conflict, and even the resolution. And though I highly recommend her other works, I won't be recommending this to fellow readers.

This title will be released on April 11, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 2/5

Title: The Shadow Land
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Ballatine Books
ISBN: 0345527860
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

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, March 10, 2017

Review: The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes #2)

I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes -- give me everything from the original stories, to TV reincarnations, to book spin-offs and I'm more than happy to indulge. I read the first book in this series A Study in Charlotte, back in January and though I'm not usually a YA reader, I thought it was a pretty good start to a new series and certainly a fresh take on two of my favorite characters in literature. (Psst - If you think you might be interested in reading, stop here and go back for the first. This is one series you definitely need to read in chronological order.)

In The Last of August, we meet up with Charlotte and Jamie in London, where they are spending time with both of their respective families during the winter holidays. It becomes immediately clear that something is off -- something is not quite right in the relationship between our two main characters. That tension remains throughout most of the book, as the two battle with themselves and each other over what their relationship should look like going forward.

While trying to work out their angst, the two are also on a new case, as Charlotte's beloved uncle has gone missing, and they're pretty sure his disappearance was at the hands of the Moriarty family. I don't want to say much more here about the plot -- spoilers are not so fun in mysteries, you know -- but I can speak more to the experience of reading it. After reading the final page, I will say this: the last 30 pages or so were intense and somewhat confusing and for me that made it worth pushing through to the end. Overall, this book just did not captivate me as much as the first. I think that my waning interest may be due to the greater focus on the relationship between Watson and Holmes. I am much more interested in the mystery aspect than in the lives of the characters themselves, and I have to say that I felt like the mystery was hastily thrown together, and when it came to the big reveal I felt confused. In the end, I didn't appreciate how "genius" the plot was supposed to be, so I think when it comes to this series, the first was worth the read and the second was more take-it-or-leave-it. 

Bottom-Line Rating: 3/5

Title: The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes #2)
Author: Brittany Cavallaro
Publisher: Katherine Tegen, 2017
Price: $11 on Amazon
ISBN: 0062398946
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal Library

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: A Piece of the World

File this under: books I read in less than 24 hours. Do you need more of a recommendation than that?

Here's what I love about the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club: it pushes me outside of my comfort zone. Without the book club, I can say with 90% certainty that I would not have picked up A Piece of the World this year. This is not a novel that screams "look at me!" on the bookstore shelf. It's unassuming (as are its characters) but it's beautiful and has an unexpected depth, and that quiet genius is what is going to propel it to the top of readers' lists this year. It leaves an impact greater than its 320 pages, but its size makes it easy for all readers to access and enjoy without having to commit to a giant tome.

Kline previously found success with Orphan Train and though I haven't yet read that one (however, I am fairly certain I own it...), after reading this novel it's definitely at the top of my list for this year.
A Piece of the World tells the story behind this painting. I can tell you now that there's really not a whole lot to the plot -- if you are an action-oriented reader, this book won't be for you. Our main character is Christina, the woman in the painting and the resident of the house in the distance. Christina may descend from the infamous Hathorn family but never has she experience an adventure worth of her family name.

Instead, her life on her family's farm is defined by routines, and a lifelong illness further isolates her from the society that she craves. The story follows Christina from childhood to old age, and while that may not sound like the most compelling description, I can assure you that this was one book I did not mind staying up late for. I would recommend this for book clubs especially, and I can't wait for our book club discussion at the end of this month. 

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: A Piece of the World
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow, 2017
Price: $19 on Amazon
ISBN: 0062356267
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal Library

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: The Rivals of Versailles

Friends, I have a good one for you today. If you're a historical fiction fan, this series is for you. I really enjoy historical fiction in general, but I tend to stick to a few time periods (I mentioned that recently in my review of A Bridge Across the Ocean). The court at Versailles is so fascinating, and I love reading about the intrigue, deception, and social rules that dictate the every move courtiers. I read the first book in this series, The Sisters of Versailles, last year and loved the introduction to the court of Louis XV. 

In The Rivals of Versailles, we pick up right where the first book left off. Immediately after the death of his most recent mistress, we meet the next powerful woman to inhabit both the bed and heart of King Louis XV. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was once told by a psychic that she would be powerful beyond imagination and a mistress to a great king. She takes that to heart and with the help of Louis' advisors and confidantes, Jeanne manages to secure a place at court as the Marquise de Pompadour, the king's official mistress, and his most trusted advisor. Throughout the course of The Rivals of Versailles, we meet several more of Louis' (many, many) mistresses, and Jeanne's position is constantly threatened by both these new lovers and her enemies among Louis' advisors.

Much of what I wrote in my review of the first book remains true here: the history is so obviously well-researched, the story rich in detail, and the scandal so shocking that it's hard to look away. My one disclaimer would be that there is definitely some sexual content in these books, so some readers may find that uncomfortable. Even as a reader who doesn't normally indulge in romantic fiction, I find this series so irresistible. I love stories with strong women, but I especially love when those women played a part in real history. In this case, the author's note mentioned that Jeanne is considered to be one of the three most powerful women of the eighteenth century, and no reader can deny that her rise from a common girl to the virtual Queen of France is something to be admired. The third book in the series comes out this month so stay tuned for a review of that soon!

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Rivals of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria, 2016
Price: $10 on Amazon 
ISBN: 1501102990
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Library

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Currently Coveting {March}

Spring is on its way! I write this fresh off our February break, during which I caught up with friends, read a whole bunch of books, and got to do something very exciting that I'll be sharing with you soon! Until then, here are just some of the books that have caught my eye recently! March is going to be a very busy month for Top Shelf Text, but I'm hoping to get to these reads sometime this spring!

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck // I just finished reading A Bridge Across the Ocean and it reminded me how much I enjoy WWII-era fiction. This one brings together three widows in the ruins of a Bavarian castle. After reading the whole description I knew that I had to get my hands on this novel this year. Unfortunately, it won't be out until March 28th. Luckily, I'm already on the wait list for library holds!

(Psst! If you place a book on hold before it comes out, you're likely to be high on the list and one of the first readers to borrow it! Library secrets from yours truly.)

Dead Letters: A Novel by Caite Dolan-Leach // All it took for me to add this new novel to my TBR (to-be-read) list were the words "mystery and literary scavenger hunts." I'm in! This just came out on February 21st so should be easy to find at your local bookstore. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah // I've heard such great things about this one. I'm hoping to listen to it in audiobook form -- I've been trying to find more audiobooks lately and listeners have been loving this in both paper and audio form!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles // This was a recent pick for my book club, but one that I didn't get to in time (we have multiple books each month) but since so many members loved it, I can't wait to pick it up. 


What are you looking forward to reading this month?