Thursday, June 29, 2017

If you liked that, read this!

If you liked... this!

If you're like me, you're hoping to find a book (any book, really) that can bring back the feelings you're still experiencing from reading A Man Called Ove. For that, I give you The Universe Versus Alex Woods. I discovered this book on a random library shelf and dove in without knowing anything about the story itself.  I didn't expect it, but Alex Woods charmed me in a way that only Ove (and grumpy old man characters) can do.

What binds these two books together are the character relationships. If you haven't yet read Ove, then to you I say -- what in the world are you waiting for? (And may I recommend the audiobook version, it is fabulous.) In Alex Woods, we have a boy whose life has been shaped by extraordinary circumstances. When Alex was young, he was struck by a meteorite, which caused him to lose consciousness for two weeks and reemerge into the world with a severe seizure disorder. Because nothing about Alex's childhood is typical, he befriends a curmudgeonly man named Mr. Peterson. They forge a rare friendship, one of those ones in which wisdom travels in both directions. I won't tell you more about the plot because I so enjoyed seeing it unfold without knowing anything beforehand, but the relationship between Alex and Mr. Peterson greatly reminded me of the same between Ove and Parvaneh. After turning the last page in Alex Woods, I had that familiar swelling in my chest that I felt at the end of Ove, and it is for that reason that I wholeheartedly recommend this novel.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Reading Flowchart

Summer reading season is finally here!

Today I'm kicking off my first official week of summer with a trip to visit my little brother. To give you a little background, my brother is in training to be a golf pro, which means that for his college program he spends most of his time on internships rather than on his actual college campus. This means that he's spent most of his college semesters in some of the most beautiful places in the country. Last year, my mother and I visited him on St. Simon's Island on the coast of Georgia for my spring break. This year, we're kicking off the start of summer with a trip to see him in the Hamptons. I am so looking forward to a few days of relaxation, sun, and of course, summer reads.
(P.S. If you've got the scoop on the Hamptons, send recommendations our way! This will be our first time visiting the area.)

While packing for the trip, I ran into that classic bookworm dilemma: which books to take with me?

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me ask for recommendations from the stack of potential beach reads I plucked from my own shelves. (You'll have to stay tuned to see which ones made it into my suitcase!) It took me a good half hour of deliberations before I stuffed three into my bag. Of course, I then also debated bringing my Kindle in case of a bookish emergency. (Tell me I'm not the only one?!)

All this to say that picking out a book -- whether it's for a day at the pool or a weeklong vacation -- can be a daunting task. Luckily, our friends at The Expert Editor have created a clever flowchart to help direct you to your next engaging read.

From savoring the classics to venturing into more modern literature, there's a recommendation for every type of bookworm. Check out the flowchart here and come back to tell me which book The Expert Editor recommends for your reading needs!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Jane Austen Project

If you're a follower of Modern Mrs. Darcy (I'm sure by now you can tell that I am an avid fan of Anne Bogel), then you may have glimpsed The Jane Austen Project on her summer reading guide for this year. I've said this before -- and I think it's important to be honest -- I am not a true Austenite. I've only read Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility and started to read Emma but found Emma herself to be, well...annoying. (I know, I know, she deserves a second chance.) I say this because I've had a couple readers reach out to ask if you needed to be a true fan of Jane Austen in order to enjoy this novel and the answer is certainly not. While there were references to all of Austen's works -- some that I didn't understand for lack of reading -- I felt that my reading experience was just as pleasant and that I understood the story perfectly.

 The adventure takes place in 1815, shortly before the death of Jane Austen from a mysterious and drawn-out illness. Rachel and Liam were selected for a mission -- to travel back in time, infiltrate the Austen's social circle, and return to the future with a missing Austen manuscript. Rachel and Liam pose as wealthy siblings, recently arrived from the West Indies. Both Rachel and Liam are Austenites, and while they are intent on completing their mission, life in the Regency era begins to grow on them. They struggle to navigate their genuine affection for their new friends and their questions about the cost of changing the past, and by proxy, the post-apocalyptic world to which they will return.

What I will say is that this novel started out a little slow for my taste. It wasn't until about eighty pages in that I started to feel the desire to read uninterrupted, as the first bit was really the setting up of the novel and the plot itself didn't get going until after that. I saw many readers who were uncomfortable with the level of sexuality in this book, but I wasn't bothered by it at all. In fact, I thought that the contrast between the strict prudence of the Regency era and our own social rules was interesting; it brought to light some of the feminist issues that Jane and her contemporaries dealt with in a world where men controlled every aspect of women's lives. I was interested in the character relationships as they changed throughout the book and had one or two moments where I felt my heart swell or shrink on behalf of a character. The time travel element was captivating as well -- it brought about big questions (the type that make your brain hurt) and I loved thinking about the implications of changing history, for better and for worse. This was a story that had me rooting for so many of its characters, and I have to admit that I wish there was a sequel in the works, as I would happily re-immerse myself for another adventure into the past.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Jane Austen Project
Author: Kathleen A. Flynn
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2017
Price: $10 on Amazon
ISBN: 0062651269
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Reading Hard Books in Trying Times

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."

- Charles William Eliot

Today we will attend the funeral of a child. Our team will hold each other close, as we've done for the past six days, as we remember our student and mourn his loss.

There are so many reasons why it's hard to be a teacher, and so many more reasons that make it hard to teach in a place where children are forced to grow up too quickly every day. Our students were not carefree from the start -- they lead hard lives, and while we teach them about history and science and mathematics, we know that there are some things that are more important for them to know -- that we love them, that our school is a safe space, and that they can come to us and we will celebrate their joy in good times and share their tears in hard times. We've seen some of them cross the threshold into an unforgiving adult reality this week.

I read Beartown by Fredrik Backman this week in anticipation of our author chat for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. I was wary of this book to begin with -- I had a rough idea of the storyline that it contained already and knew that it was a topic that I felt sensitive to from the start. There was no question of me reading it -- I trust Anne Bogel's recommendations with blind loyalty and know Backman to be both a prolific writer and an author that I revere -- but I knew that picking it up this week in particular meant that I was choosing to read a book about hard things in a hard season. 

Grieving is a peculiar process, and I've seen it play out this week in many different forms. Grief is something that catches you unexpectedly, in odd moments. I find myself strongest when I'm with my students and weakest when I least expect it -- standing in line at the coffee shop, suddenly hearing a news story about the accident on the radio, on a walk when I pause to watch the sunrise.

Grieving is an uncomfortable process, and reading Beartown was an uncomfortable experience. Though the story that Backman writes contains plenty of tragedy, it's a story of survival, and as I read I realized I noticed more and more the threads that reach out into my current reality. 

In the end, I felt glad that I read the book. It helped me to acknowledge my grief. As a lifelong reader, I've frequently turned to books in hard seasons, but I've always chosen gentle reads. I've learned this week that reading a hard book in a hard season does not add to the solemness, but that the lessons embedded only help to start the healing process.

In the spirit of healing, I've returned to gentler reads for the next few days, and while I'm grateful to Beartown for its counsel, I feel lighter from the friendship that comes with reading a book that transports me from a hard season into another time and place.


How do you go about reading in hard seasons of life?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: Watch Me Disappear

Here's what you should know about my life (or the life of any teacher) in June: it is pure chaos. Between attempting to wrangle my children for the last 10 days of school, checking off all my end-of-year tasks, packing up my classroom, recycling all the things...I mean, you get it, right? 
It's insanity.

Thank goodness for a good book. Because although June is the least relaxing month of the year, it's one of my favorites for reading. I love the transition into summer reading lists, the chatter between friends about the books that you must get to this summer, and the light at the end of the tunnel that is my promise land -- reading, interrupted, on the beach for an entire day (or five).

All this to say that if you have a day of uninterrupted beach/reading time in your schedule this summer, I highly recommend that you bring along Watch Me Disappear. Not only is the cover design perfectly suited for summer reading -- the words on the page are sure to keep you captivated, as they did for me when I read this book cover-to-cover on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Watch Me Disappear tells the story of the Flanagan family. One year ago, Olive Flanagan's mother, Billie, disappeared while hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Though her body was never found, Olive and her father Jonathan mourn her loss. In that year of grief, Olive withdraws into herself while Jonathan writes a memoir of their perfect love story, aided by one too many afternoon drinks. As Jonathan battles the courts to get the official death certificate for his wife, Olive is not entirely convinced that her mother is dead. Her evidence? She's been having visions of her mother, and she's convinced they are really telepathic messages. Jonathan, worried about his child's mental well-being, takes a second look into Billie's disappearance, and soon comes to find that his wife wasn't exactly the saintly stay-at-home mom and doting wife that he describes in his memoir.

This book isn't ground-breaking in it's ideas, but it was certainly a page turner and one that fits so well into that category of dysfunctional family/psychological thriller. I would describe it as similar to Where'd You Go Bernadette but without the humor and with more of a psychological element. I don't want to say much more (you know, spoilers are hard to avoid with this genre), but I would most definitely recommend adding this to your summer reading list.

This title will be released on July 11, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Watch Me Disappear
Author: Janelle Brown
Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2017
ISBN: 0812989465
Format: E-book
Source: 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!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Author Spotlight: Charlie Lovett

Today I want to share with you an author that I've been following for a few years and one that I highly recommend for all those TST readers who send me lovely messages about how our bookish tastes align. If you're a reader of historical fiction, a lover of old-favorites-turned-new, or a bibliophile who can't get enough of books about books, then Charlie Lovett is one author you'll want to put on your to-read list this summer.

If you're following Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, then you may have seen this title already (and if you've checked it off that list, then I would love to hear your thoughts). This one started a bit slowly for me, but once I got into the rhythm of the book I loved the story. The Lost Book of the Grail follows Arthur, a man firmly grounded in habit and reverent of the routines of the church but not a believer in God Himself. He's been a follower of grail lore for his entire life, and when a captivating American woman named Bethanny brings technology into the library of ancient manuscripts that he holds so dear, he must reconcile with Bethanny's new methods for historical conservation in order to save the church that he loves.

In this, we follow Sophie, an antiquarian bookseller and Austenite. She's drawn into a mystery surrounding her favorite author when an obscure text, Richard Mansfield's Little Book of Allegories, comes to light and brings with it questions about Jane Austen's legacy and the authorship of Pride & Prejudice. This is truly a story for book lover's and I gave it 5 stars when I read it back in 2014.

This was the first book I read by Lovett (and his debut novel) and it made it on to my Top Ten of 2013. Out of the three novels I've read by Lovett, this one remains my favorite. It follows a man named Peter, who arrives in Hay-on-Wye (the most famous row of bookshops in England and a spot I desperately want to visit) nine months after the death of his wife. He's relocated from North Carolina to England, hoping for a fresh start as he indulges his love for antiquarian texts. Peter is shocked,  however, when he opens an eighteenth-century text and finds a portrait that looks stunningly similar to his late wife. As Peter works to discover the origin of the portrait, his relationship with his wife is shown through flashbacks, and it was the love story between the two characters that really drew me in. 

This is the only one of Lovett's novels that I have not yet read, but I think I'll save it for the end of 2017 (for obvious reasons). 


It should come as no surprise that Lovett himself is an avid collector of rare books, and was once in the business of antiquarian bookselling himself. His characters are flawed and lovely, and I will continue to be a devoted fan of his as long as he continues to write novels that are geared toward his fellow bibliophiles. I've heard that he is at work on his next novel but there are no details yet as to when that will be published.

If you're also a fan of Lovett, leave a comment below or send me a message! I would love to discuss favorites with you.

P.S. Interested in more books about books? Read my collection of titles read & recommended by readers here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Children's Review: Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravedigger's Club

I am a fan of all-things Sherlock Holmes, so anytime I hear about a new spinoff of my favorite detective series I am guaranteed to give it a try. Artie Conan Doyle and The Gravedigger's Club is the first in a new series that I'm looking forward to following. The mystery stars a young Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the original Sherlock Holmes) as he solves mysteries around his hometown in Edinburgh. In this first adventure, Artie and his best friend Hamilton are exploring a local graveyard late at night when they spot a ghostly woman and the paw prints of a gigantic hound. Soon, they're on a quest to discover the mystery behind the two sightings, as well as the culprit of several robberies carried out by a mysterious society known as The Gravedigger's Club.

I loved that this book carried elements of some of the tales of Sherlock and Watson -- the idea being that these events in Artie's life would later influence his storytelling -- and I also loved how the story was steeped in historical detail. Though the mystery is the main focus of the plot, this also featured a theme of friendship, particularly as it relates to the hero-sidekick relationship that we see in this type of story. Recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy detective stories (and potentially a great summer reading pick)!

This title will be released on June 15, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Artie Conan Doyle and The Gravedigger's Club
Author: Robert J. Harris
Publisher: Kelpies, 2017
ISBN: 1782503536
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!