Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Newbery Project Update

Today I'm giving you a quick update on the Newbery Award & Honoree titles I've read and listened to recently!

If you're new to TST and don't yet know about my Newbery Project, you can read about it here. My goal is to read all of the Newbery books -- including both award-winners and honorees, and to check them off the list as I go. You can see the list at any time by clicking the My Newbery Project tab on the TST homepage.

I had every intention of making great headway with these books over the summer but I ended up only reading four titles since my last update! In October, I'm hoping to pick out a few that fit my fall reading mood, such as Neil Gaiman's Coraline. If you head over to my Instagram page today, you can help me decide which Newbery book to read next! I've selected four titles for readers to choose from -- I would love to hear your vote!

Savvy by Ingrid Law // I read this early in the summer and loved it. It wasn't necessarily a unique premise -- a child waiting to reach the age when she'd inherit her own magical power -- but the cast of characters was so fun and the adventure kept me turning pages. I love the quirky world that Law has built, and I'm hoping to read the next two in the series soon!

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage // Again, this cast of characters totally captured my heart. I absolutely loved this story. It features characters with real social issues such as abandonment, domestic abuse, etc. but doesn't make them the central issue in the book. In it, our main character is an amateur detective for her tiny hometown, the setting of which had me totally charmed. I would definitely recommend this to middle grade readers. My friend Sara, who writes about books over at Meaningful Madness, kindly sent me the next two in the series, so I can't wait to continue the adventures with this crew!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman // If you're looking for a fun, spooky story to listen to with your kids this fall (or to listen to for yourself), I would highly recommend the audiobook version of The Graveyard Book. It's read by Gaiman himself and wonderfully done. One of the best audiobooks I've listened to, in fact. The story features a human boy who lives in a graveyard among the spirits who took him in as an infant. There are nefarious villains, themes of identity, and Gaiman does an excellent job of voicing the different characters.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale // This was my least favorite book that I've read for my Newbery Project so far, which is disappointing because I had especially high hopes for it. I listened to it on audiobook and though it started off on an interesting note, the majority of it felt like the plot was dragging, the characters weren't very interesting, and the overall impression I got from it was that it felt a little desperate. More than once, I questioned how this book even ended up on the Newbery List. I've had a few readers tell me that Hale's other books are worth checking out, so I'll pick up another one eventually, but I'm not feeling too motivated after this experience.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reader Recommendations with Amy Powers

Readers, today we have another round of recommendations from a fellow bookworm! Amy Powers is here to tell us about five of her very favorite books. Amy is one of my lovely, in-real-life friends, a fellow educator, and the only person I know who can finish a book in two hours. (Seriously, she devours books.) Amy and I worked together last year, and while I'm now in a new district and missing her everyday, we love staying connected through our shared love of books!

• • •

Amy, tell us a little about yourself!

I teach fourth and fifth grade in an urban district north of Boston, MA. I'm voracious in my reading life and could literally read ten books a week, given the free time! I love the outdoors and history. I'm completely unorganized but in a lovable way. (Madeleine can attest to this, having been my co-worker last year.) I love books from every genre except self help because I'm still in denial about all my faults (just kidding, I'm fully aware of my faults). Other than that, I'm a divorced mom of two who is currently trying to navigate the tsunami-like waters of teenagedom. Oh, and I love all things bookish and literary.

Share with us some of your favorite titles!

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott

First up, when I was a little girl growing up in Middleton, Ma, we had the luxury of having a big, beautiful mischief- enticing lilac bush in our front yard. I spent a couple of years playing hide and seek and having mud-pie parties with my twin sister under its perfectly purple boughs. So when I was a teenager and I encountered Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs one day in my father's old book collection, I was taken by the fact that someone else must've loved lilacs and found them as nostalgic as I did and still do. Ms. Alcott didn't let me down. Under the Lilacs is a charming novel of two circus runaways, Ben and Sancho, that one day cause mischief during a tea party that two sisters are having under the lilacs in their garden. (Can you see the parallel here for me?) The characters include Ben, Sancho, Bab, Betty, Miss Celia and Thorny as well as a few other memorable souls. In essence, Ben discovers that families/important relationships can form from the simplest of occurrences. Sweet Serendipity! I love everything about this novel. The characters, the settings, the proper language from generations ago... It makes my mind go straight back to the sweet scent of lilacs and mud-pies lingering in the air. This is a great book for readers that love old-fashioned stories, nostalgia and underdogs. I've seen it categorized as both a young adult novel and adult fiction. I think it bridges the gap for both. It's proven elusive to purchase in book form, which I still am attempting to do. I was able to download it digitally, however, and I continue to go back to it when I need comfort or a walk down memory lane.

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Shifting gears completely, my second recommendation is a novel by Mark Mathabane entitled, Kaffir Boy. I'm not sure any other novel that I've ever read moved me the way this one did. I first read this in high school 20 some odd years ago. The feelings that this book wrenched from my very soul have stayed with me all these years. This is the devastatingly hopeful true story of a black youth's struggle to find his way in South Africa during the age of Apartheid. It's Mr. Mathabane's autobiographical account of his pursuit of life. Although I can't remember on which page my tears started to flow, I know that they continued throughout the book and well after. This is an intense read that evokes powerful feelings my friends. It also provided an education regarding the horrific regime that dominated South Africa. I will forever be moved by Mr. Mathabane's tenacity in finding hope, happiness and courage in such despair. (Yes. I'm actually tearing up while writing this.)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I've got another tear-inducing treat that honestly made me jump out of bed in the middle of the night and yell, "WHHHAAATT????!!!!" The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, shocked me a little bit. This fictional account of a dog breeding family is so moving and left me with a bit of a hole to fill in my soul. It may have affected me so much because I am always rooting for the unsung heroes, the underdog, the characters that get treated as subhuman by those that feel they are superior... I'm not sure, but I was rooting so much for the main character, Edgar, that I actually got a lump in my throat. I also didn't realize, until the twisty end, that I had subtly gotten so absorbed by the masterful storytelling and characters. It's a novel sure to get you trying to think of a way to save the underdog!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

One of my favorite novels in the history of history is Ruta Sepetys' Salt to the Sea. This story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I have no idea how Ruta Sepetys does this, but she's a master at it. The story of WWII refugees finding one another and trying to survive the Russian advance is mind- bogglingly fascinating. Not only does this book grip you with it's characters, it pushes you right into the fold of one of the most unknown human tragedies of the war. I had never even heard of the sinking of the German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, when I began reading. Since I love history, the magnitude of this event should have been at least a blip on my historical radar and yet I knew nothing. I love the fact that four characters' stories came together in such a beautiful way. Ruta Sepetys took me on a roller coaster of emotions with this one! And I thank her for enlightening me on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, while telling such a compelling story. This book is categorized as a young adult novel, however, I really feel that it will appeal to all adult, historical non-fiction audiences as well. You HAVE to read this book!!! I know you'll love it and then you will want to call everyone you know and tell them to read it too! (I did! )

My next recommendation is a little less emotional but just as gripping to my historical self. Manhunt by James Swanson is one of my must reads if you love all things history and Abraham Lincoln. This is the story of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln. It follows the trail of Booth as he escapes from the Ford Theatre and makes his way south. This novel read like a movie and shines a light on the fascinating details that unfolded in the 12 day hunt for Lincoln's killer. It was mind-blowing to learn new information about both Lincoln's assassination and his assassin. I was taken aback by how many people were actually involved and Booth's network of political sympathizers. I couldn't put this book down. This novel of the background of one of the most important events in Americas' history was riveting! It was so well written that I went and further researched different people mentioned in the book. (I know, I'm a nerd) But this novel seriously had it all.

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Have you read any of these books? Have any read-alike recommendations? Tell us below!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Diverse Books Club: October 2017 Selections

Happy Sunday, Readers!

Today's post is for those TST readers who are also members of the Diverse Books Club. We, the DBC Team, have had so much fun launching this book club with you all. Later this week, we'll wrap up September and feature some highlights from the month, but today we're looking ahead to October.

You can expect an announcement in the last week of each month with the next month's picks. This will (hopefully) give you time to request these titles from your local library, shop for them at your local bookstore, or place an order from your favorite online bookseller. We understand that many of you have asked to be notified of the picks earlier in the month. At this time, we need that extra time to preview and select the books, as we are previewing quite a few books in order to make these selections!

This month, we'll read books about immigrant and refugee experiences. We had a large number of titles to consider for this theme, and in selecting these stories we wanted to represent the experiences of people from all different areas of the world. In the current political climate, immigration is a topic that has people divided. Here in the DBC, we believe that no human is illegal, and we want to honor not only the experiences of immigrants and refugees, but also provide opportunities for understanding and empathy from those of us who haven't had experiences that relate to this topic.

In the month of October, you'll once again have THREE books to choose from.

Reminder: You do not need to read all three books!

Choose the book (or books) that most interest you and follow along with those discussions, but don't feel obligated to read every title on our list.

Diverse Books Club October 2017 Selections

Book #1: (Adult Fiction) Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

Thank you to Touchstone Books for partnering with the DBC this month and providing copies of this novel to our adult fiction moderators. Music of the Ghosts is powerful -- it haunted me as I read and lingered with me well after finishing. The story follows Teera, a young woman who, in childhood, fled from her home in Cambodia during the violent reign of the Khmer Rouge. In Music of the Ghosts, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since fleeing, and there confronts the history of her country and family. Ratner's prose is lyrical -- her writing had me so completely immersed in the story that I could feel the sensory aspects of Teera's surroundings. This story is heavy, and full of terror and loss, but it's also a story of healing and love. Ratner herself was a refugee from the Khmer Rouge, and we on the DBC Team strongly believe this book deserves to be in the hands of more readers. Our Twitter moderator, Gina, will be reading this selection alongside members this month.

Book #2: (YA / Mature Middle Grade) Refugee by Alan Gratz

Every person that I know who has picked up this title since it was published in July of this year has raved about it. This is the one that I'll be reading alongside members this month, but when I brought it up in a DBC Team meeting, one moderator who had already read it insisted that it be on our list. In her words, "This should be required reading for children and adults." Refugee is told in three narratives: Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany, who must flee from the threat of concentration camps; Isabel, a Cuban girl in 1994 who boards a raft bound for America with her terrified family, and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015 who flees to Europe with his family as the Syrian war threatens their safety. I can tell it's going to be an emotional read for me, as I interact with Syrian refugee children on a daily basis at work and my heart breaks at the idea of what they've experienced. 

Book #3: (Middle Grade) Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I read this novel for a children's literature course back in graduate school and it blew me away, so as soon as we decided on this theme I knew it had to be on our list. Inside Out and Back Again is a novel in verse, so for adult readers it'll be a quick read. (It's also on the Newbery list, for those of you who are doing your own Newbery projects, you'll be able to check it off your list!) The story follows Hà, a ten year old girl who must flee when the Vietnam War threatens her home in Saigon. Her family settles in Alabama, and Hà finds herself missing her homeland and the vividness of her culture. I loved reading the perspective of a young child in this novel, and it certainly changed the way I interact with immigrant and refugee students at our school. This story is largely based on Thanhha Lai's own experiences, as she herself fled Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War and relocated to Alabama. Teachers, parents, and librarians: I hope this earns a spot on your shelves.


Now, let me explain why we have two middle grade picks for October, as Refugee does technically fall into the middle grade category. Kate Olson, of Kid Lit Exchange, recommends it for grades 5-8 and we agree with that recommendation. It's a heavy read and not appropriate for younger audiences. Inside Out and Back Again, however, is perfectly appropriate for middle grade readers of all ages. So if you've been using DBC picks with your children, we recommend Refugee for 5th grade and up, and Inside Out and Back Again for all other young readers. If you're not using these titles with the littles in your life, we'd definitely recommend reading both -- and because Inside Out and Back Again is so short, we think it will be relatively easy to manage both picks this month.

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Picture Book Selections

Picture book selections will be revealed on The Novel Endeavor tomorrow, September 25th so make sure to keep an eye out for that post too!

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Let us know what you think of the October selections below!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Series Spotlight: The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries

Today's post is for my mystery-loving friends. I know that many of you have already seen me rave about this series on Instagram this year, but I'm here to tell you that I just love the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T. E. Kinsey and implore you to add them to your library.

This mystery series begins with A Quiet Life in the Country, which introduces us to Lady Emily Hardcastle and her lady's maid, Florence Armstrong. Lady Hardcastle is a wealthy widow, who moves to Gloucestershire with Flo to enjoy a quiet life in the rural countryside. Rather than the stuffy, boring types that you might expect of a Lady and her maid in 1908, the two women come with an unusual past. After the murder of Lady Hardcastle's husband, she was recruited by The Crown to work as a spy, and she and Flo led a rather exciting life in various places around the globe. When they come to settle in the country, they expect that they've left all that excitement behind. That is, until a man is seemingly poisoned and the two are recruited by the local constable to help solve the mystery of his death. The series continues with In the Market for Murder and Death Around the Bend and all three books contain both these lovable quirky characters and interesting mysteries to be solved.

I first experienced this series as an audiobook, and fell in love with it almost instantly. I believe I have Elizabeth Knowelden to thank for that, as her voice combined with the cheeky banter of our two protagonists had me smiling for the duration of these books. More than once, I decided I needed to go for a walk so that I could listen to just a few more chapters before turning in for the night.

I think the mark of a good book is when you consider the characters to be like friends, and I am completely serious when I say that the personalities of Kinsey's characters are so charming, bold, and unique that I may just have to re-listen or re-read these books while I await the next in the series -- no word on that yet, but I'm feeling impatient.

I own these books in all three forms: hard copies, e-books, and audiobooks and can tell you that I wholeheartedly recommend them in whatever form you prefer most. However, if you are an audiobook listener, you won't regret listening to the audible versions. You can find them here.


Have you read any of these mysteries? 

Comment below and tell me about your reading or listening experience!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Podcast Recommendations with Hollie Lawder

Today, readers, I am so happy to have one of my dearest friends from bookstagram here to guest post on Top Shelf Text! I mention Hollie on Instagram pretty often because we are actual twins. All of our tastes/habits/preferences align and we came to the conclusion a long time ago that we are the same person. Except for the fact that she lives in Canada, which automatically makes her cooler than me.
If you follow Hollie on Instagram @readingontherun, you may have noticed that she listens to tons of podcasts. After I kept seeing her mention them in her stories, I asked if she would consider doing a guest post for us here with recommendations for podcasts. I am so happy she agreed, and you can bet I've already downloaded a whole bunch of these to listen to this week while I'm at the gym!


Hey there, bookish friends! My name is Hollie, and I am a total book worm. But another thing that I’m completely obsessed with is Podcasts. I love being able to learn something new, or topics that I am interested in. Being at home with my two kiddos right now, I have found that podcasts keep my mind stimulated, and make the mundane tasks of daily life fly by. If you have no idea where to get started, I did a blog post awhile ago on How to Start Listening to Podcasts.

Here is my list of favourite podcasts at the moment. Please feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to hear what you listen to as well!

Bookish Podcasts

Anne Bogel gets to know one lucky reader, who will share their three
favourite books, one they didn’t like so much, and what they would like to change in their reading life. From there Anne does some literary matchmaking and recommends three new books to the reader. It’s great! Every episode is worth listening to, but check out Ep. 72 which features Madeleine, and Ep. 1 with Jamie Golden.

I just discovered this podcast, and have deep-dived the back catalogue! It’s smart, and so
entertaining. You hear Rider Strong (from Boy Meets World), Tod Goldberg (bestselling author), and
Julia Pistell talk books and bookish topics!

Meet the Bookshelf Thomasville staff, and owner Annie! They put out this
podcast on a weekly basis, and there is so much good about it. First off, Anne and Chris always have a hilarious intro, which is usually nothing to do with books. But one feature that they do on this podcast that I love is they always go over the books they read for the month. Get your TBR list ready!

This is the New York Public Library’s podcast, and your hosts are Gwen and Frank. These two are super witty, and have a fun banter back and forth between them. They discuss what they have recently read, and different bookish topics each episode. Check out their latest Ep. The Right Book at The Right Time, on Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger.

Like the title of this podcast says, these hosts are professional book nerds…who work at OverDrive. They chat to current authors, and discuss books that they have read recently. What I love about this podcast is that they ask the authors great questions, and a listener gets to hear the story behind the book. Check out Ep. 105 with George Saunders on Lincoln in the Bardo. It’s AMAZING!!!

Health Podcasts

Whether you like to run or not, this podcast gives a listener amind/body/soul connection point. Kari interviews people from all walks of life, who can give you tips on how to live your best life. What I love about this podcast especially is the last segment, Serena a Registered Dietician, answers questions, and gives great tips!

Join Dave Asprey as he interviews professionals in their fields on what they know
best, and how it contributes and enhances your health. Super interesting, and very fact heavy, you will
walk away feeling educated and in control of the information that will benefit your life. Seriously, every person, male or female can find something that will interest them on this podcast. ! One episode that interested me a lot was Ep. 415: On Women’s Health, Post-Birth Control Syndrome, and Brain Injuries.

Just a warning, this podcast has information that may not be appropriate to listen to with kiddos! The popular blogger Lauryn Evarts, and her husband Michael chat about health, relationships, blogging, and always has great tips to live a healthier life.

Lifestyle Podcasts

This podcast is not just sorta awesome, it’s completely awesome!! Meg, and her
rotating co-hosts chat about everything from motherhood, books, to depression. I always end these
episodes feeling like I just had a great chat with my girlfriends. 
Every episode is awesome… pardon the pun!

Topics include books, home, and travel with Tsh Oxenreider who has travelled the
world with kids, and written several books. The episodes flip flop back and forth between all these
topics with different co-hosts. Two episodes that I enjoyed are Ep. 33 Starting a Book Club, and Ep. 58 The World’s Most/Best cities.

Bestselling author Emily P. Freeman recently released a new podcast, and it’s
wonderful. Her soothing voice will lull you into living your best life. Because it’s recently released… start from the beginning and subscribe to hear weekly episodes.

Okay, this podcast is sooooooo great! Jamie and Knox tackle everything pop culture in the most hilarious way. It’s not uncommon for me to be laughing out loud the whole time. Also, for all you bookworms…. They do a great segment at the end called Red Light/Green Light, which is where they hate on something they didn’t like, and recommend something they did, which a lot of times include books!

Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, and her sister, Liz Craft provide practical, and manageable advice to live your life happier. What is so great about this podcast is that the advice that’s given simple tasks, and so easy to work into your life that you actually can apply it! One episode that was very insightful was Ep. 103: Pick your Moment.

Podcasts for Deep Thoughts

This podcast is all about the invisible forces that control human behavior, on a simplistic level, then diving into a whole new level of deep. It’s incredible, and will leave you wanting to tell everyone about what you just learned! My favourite episodes are: The Secret History of Thoughts, and The Personality Myth.

 So friends… free your calendar and start from Ep. 1, and be prepared to hear a weird, beautiful,
and deeply thought provoking true story. From the producers of Serial, Brian Reed is contacted by John who hates his hometown in Alabama, and decides to do something about it. I was stripping wallpaper in my house while I binge listened to this podcast, and am still so moved by it.

Featuring true stories, told by everyday people live and without notes. Sometimes you will
laugh so hard, or learn new things, or be brought to tears… but one thing is for sure, you will be

This podcast takes a big idea or situation, and tells its story. It starts with the smallest details,
and ends up showing you the big picture. The production is amazing, with sounds, music, science, and a ton of research! Check out this fascinating story on the episode titled: Birthstory.


Thanks Hollie, for putting this amazing, gigantic list together for us! No matter your preferences, readers, I bet you can find something to listen to from the list above. I'll also chime in here to say that I love What Should I Read Next? and S-Town, but I'll add one to the Bookish Podcast section: Overdue -- which I wrote about on the blog waaay back in 2015 and still listen to regularly!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

DBC Member Survey (& Mark Your Calendars!)

Hello DBC Members!

Today I'm you to please fill out our member survey, which will help to give us information about the demographics of our membership, as well as information on how you like to keep up with DBC news, what parts of the club you're enjoying so far, and what you'd like to see change in the future. You'll also have an opportunity to provide general feedback here, in case you have something on your mind that you'd like to share with the team!

We'll be taking your feedback into account throughout the month of October and adjusting our practices as necessary.

Thanks for joining us in spreading the love for diverse literature, and thank you in advanced for your feedback!

You can fill out the survey here.

& Mark Your Calendars!

We'll be announcing the October selections here on Top Shelf Text on Sunday, September 24th.

 Our October picture book selections will go live on Lori's blog, The Novel Endeavor, on Monday, September 25th.

On Friday, September 29th, we'll share some fun statistics, quotes, and member photos from September in our September Wrap-Up here on Top Shelf Text!

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Self-Care (& ACK! - A New Picture Book for Grown-Ups)

Let's talk about self-care, shall we?

Over the summer a lot of readers requested that I share more on the behind the scenes of TST, and on the balancing act that is having a real life and running a blog. I started writing that behind the scenes post several times over, but realized I didn't have much to say on balancing these two aspects of my life because...well, I wasn't really doing a good job of keeping that balance.

Long story short: TST has grown by leaps and bounds this summer, which is amazing and wonderful and totally overwhelming. I have more books on my to-read shelf than ever before, and real deadlines. In past years, the blog could slow down when I needed it to because it was a more of a hobby and less of an endeavor. But social media and working with publishers equals more stress, and while I'm grateful for every single opportunity that's come my way this year, I flew by my breaking point and only realized it when I contemplated quitting Instagram and the blog all together because it felt like too much of my life was being spent worrying about the thing that makes me most happy: books.

After a few weeks of intentional time unplugged, some calming and kind words from a fellow reader and blogger that I greatly admire, and a mention on my Instagram that my priorities needed to shift, I've reached a transition period.

One of the things that compelled me to take a look at the causes of my increased anxiousness and make some changes was the book ACK! One Simple Secret on How to Beat Bad Days, and Live a Happy, Joy-Filled LifeThis book was sent to me by the author, Cory Sanchez, and pitched as a picture book for grown-ups who have too many things on their to-do list and are feeling overwhelmed and drained. The book features a character named Jennifer, which also happens to be my mother's name! Jennifer is ordinary -- she's a mom, wife, yoga lover, and chocolate fanatic, but on most days, she wakes up feeling like a zombie. (We've all been there, right?) Feeling tired and stressed led Jennifer to a negative cycle of actions and words, so she set an intention to change the way she thinks about her day.

This is the important part, friends, and it's the part that I'm working to implement in my own days. The idea is to take the negative thoughts in your head and reframe them in a positive way. To take that little voice in your head that says, "Ugh! I hate having to vacuum the house!" and replace that thought with, "After I vacuum, the house will feel clean and that will make me happy!" (This may be a bad example, as we all know I find vacuuming to be extremely satisfying. A more apt example from my own life would be taking "Ugh! I don't want to go to the gym after work." and replacing it with "When I go to the gym, I'm taking care of myself. Afterwards, I'll feel much better!")

It sounds a little silly, to basically talk to yourself in your own head, but I swear it's been making a difference in my days, especially when I wake up feeling groggy or a little more stressed than usual. Having this book on my bookshelf is serving as a physical reminder that I set an intention to take better care of myself, so that I can take better care of the other people in my life, too. (And if you have someone in your life who is moving into a new season and may need a reminder of this, I think ACK! would make a great gift for a close friend.)

Self-Care + Top Shelf Text

Here are the three steps I'm taking with TST as I transition to a phase of new ground rules and as one bookish friend put it, a "return to the roots of TST":

Giving myself permission to unplug from social media as often as I need it. (This is not to say that I hate social media. I, in fact, love bookstagram so much that I have trouble pulling away from it. But I feel better when I set boundaries, so this practice stands.)

Learning to say, "No thank you," to review requests that come my way. I spent the summer saying "YES!" to every opportunity and ended up with too many deadlines and not enough room to choose for myself. So I'll be setting a limit for how many advanced copies I'll request or receive each month, to make room for Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club picks, the Diverse Books Club picks, and books with older publishing dates that have been patiently waiting on my shelves. (Many of you requested older books when I asked for feedback -- I loved hearing that!)

Working on my Newbery Project, since I've made little headway on it this summer. I do tend to pick Newbery Books for my audiobooks, but I have a whole shelf of these waiting to be read! I was glad to hear this was a project that many of you are eager to follow along with more. Keep an eye out for an update on this soon!


Self-Care in My Real Life

To follow through with my intention for more self-care, I'm also taking some steps in my life outside the blog. Here are my big three:

It took a month, but I finally got myself signed up for a gym in our new city. I've set a goal to get there every day after school, and I'm finding the break so beneficial to relieving stress before I get home. I may not have the same beautiful views that I had before we moved (I miss my walking route every day!), but moving my body (for the purpose of health, not weight loss) is what's most important.

I'm making plans for our weekends. We're in a new place and we have a lot of exploring to do, so we sat down to make a list of Autumn activities to schedule on our weekends! Some weekends will be busier than others, but I'm looking to find a good balance between getting out of the house and taking time for rest. Weekends well spent truly make a difference in feeling rested for the work week. Some activities on our Autumn list include apple picking, decorating for Halloween, carving Jack-O-Lanterns, going for a hike, and finding a new date-night spot. We also have a trip coming up for a friend's wedding, which serve as a fun mini-vacation!

I'm getting back into my bedtime routine. I talked about this on my stories over the summer, but I keep to a pretty strict bedtime during the school year. I do this because the littles in my life are truly impacted by the mood that I'm in when we work together, and they don't deserve the version of me that's present when I haven't had enough sleep. (Plus, whether or not you get enough sleep impacts all of the other choices in your day -- what you choose to eat, how much energy you have to put into exercise, the way you speak to others -- it's all part of overall health!) My routine gets skewed in the summertime, and I'm okay with that, but it's important to stick to it during the year. Here's what it looks like: at 7pm, an alarm goes off on my phone. That's my signal to put it away (I charge it in our dining room, so it's not available to me when I'm in bed) and also my signal to start getting ready for bed. I make a cup of calming tea and pack my bags (school, gym, and purse) for the next day. Most days, I also pick out my outfit for the next day. As soon as all that is done and I've taken a few minutes to tidy the apartment in general, I hop into bed with my book. I generally can get about an hour or more of reading in, and it helps to prep my brain for sleep and allows me to wake up at 5am without a problem (most days). On the nights when I come home and ignore my alarm because I'm working on the blog, a school task, or on DBC things, I feel the impact of it the next day, so I'm working to follow it faithfully this season.

All of these steps are helping me to feel much better these past few weeks. I'm happier overall, and finding that when I'm vocal about needing to take care of myself, other people in my life start to express that they've been thinking about how to do that too. No matter who you are or what you do for a job, we all have busy seasons, and it's so important to take care during those seasons so that we don't burn out or drop into a negative cycle. Here, I want to say thank you to Cory, for putting ACK! into my hands and for giving me the push to talk about these things with all of you!


Tell me, how are you practicing self-care in your life?

P.S. If you're looking for strategies to help you follow the advice in ACK!, then I suggest you join us for #ackthechallenge, for which Cory will post seven days of prompts to help you boost your mood and overall well-being. The challenge starts today, so hop on over to Instagram and make sure you follow @ackthebook

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reader Recommendations with Katharine Scrivener

Hey, readers!

Today I'm excited to welcome one of my friends from the bookstagram world here for a Reader Recommendations post! Katharine Scrivener is the beautiful, kind, hilarious human behind @kathareads and From A to Pink. (Also, she has great style. Just saying.) I'm so glad to have her here today!


Katharine, tell us a little about yourself first!

An avid reader, I live in Baltimore, MD with my husband, our miniature schnauzer Gus, and more books than I care to admit (but I'm sure y'all are with me on that). By day I do communications at a local university, and by night and I read and write as much as possible. When I'm not reading or writing, I help to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis, a disease I was diagnosed with at 16. Connecting with others, on many different things, is what fuels me and I love that this book community has allowed me to do just that.

P.S. You can also find Katharine on her personal Instagram account @katharinescriv and on Twitter @katharinescriv!

Now, tell us about some of your favorite books!

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel 
This will be one of my favorite reads of the year, by far, and it was brought to my attention by none other than your favorite blogger: Madeleine! Caleb and Kit tells the story of a 12-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis (CF). But it's so much more than that -- it's a story of friendship, growing up, figuring out who you are, and overcoming life's challenges, both big and small. It's also an incredibly accurate (in my opinion) portrayal about what life with this somewhat unknown and often misunderstood disease is like. As someone with CF, this hit me in the feels for obvious reasons, but I think it's a book that anyone would enjoy.

 I honestly think it was the cover that first made me pick this one up (Riverhead has some of the BEST covers), and I’m so glad I did. Another favorite of 2017, Exist West is told from the perspective of refugees trying to escape an unnamed war-torn country. I was lucky enough to see Hamid when he came to Baltimore. Listening to him read passages made his already lyrical writing even more powerful. While the subject matter resonates with our current political climate, this is a book that will withstand time.

As a huge fan of Patchett’s, I picked up Commonwealth as soon as it was released. This is definitely a character-driven novel, more than a plot-driven one, which was just fine because I LOVED these characters. I read this book in two sittings -- a rarity for me -- because I didn’t want to leave Franny and her siblings. This family has stuck with me long after I read the last page; Patchett has a way of sucking you in and making you fully invested in their lives. She’s truly talented and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. (If you haven’t picked up This is a Story of a Happy Marriage, her collection of personal essays, I highly recommend you do.)

I would read almost anything Tippett writes. My adoration of her started with her podcast, On Being, where she tackles some of life’s biggest questions alongside some pretty important and accomplished people. All of whom have plenty of wisdom to share. In Becoming Wise she examines what she’s learned over the years and through these conversations. What results is a wonderfully hopeful vision for our future, full of her unending wisdom and empathy, as well as timeless advice for all of us.

This might be a somewhat controversial choice -- it seems people either love this book or hate it. After my initial reading, I fell somewhere in the middle: I enjoyed the second half far more than the first, but appreciated both her writing style and the format the book takes. But when I attended a seminar she did at Washington & Lee University, I realized just how much depth the book has that I missed. There are certain books, at least for me, that mean much more after discussing it, whether that’s with the author or others. Hearing Groff talk about her inspiration for the story, the various texts that influenced her telling of it, and analyzing both both the literary and psychological themes, this book became one that I can’t wait to reread, and with an entirely different lens. Groff is certainly a gifted writer, with an impressive knowledge of a plethora of literary works, and who is dedicated to her craft.


Thanks, Katharine, for sharing those five recommendations with us! Readers, here are a few quick thoughts on Katharine's list from my perspective: I adored Caleb and Kit (you can read my review here), abandoned Commonwealth because dysfunctional families are not my cup of tea, and have the other three still on my list! I can't tell you the number of times I passed over Fates and Furies on the book sale shelf at my local library -- now I wish I had snagged it while it was there!

 I love having guests here on TST to shake up our recommendations pool, so you can expect to see these posts twice per month in the future!

Let us know in the comments if you've read and loved these titles, or if you'll be adding them to your TBR!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Reading People & Personalities

Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this text as a member of the Reading People Launch Team. All opinions are my own!

I recently wrote a little about this book in a post featuring the amazing bonuses that you'll receive when you pre-order Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything before its release on September 19th (that's next week!) and spoke about how it's been helping me to get to know myself a little better. I want to tell you a little more about how I've been thinking about and using this book to make small, beneficial changes in my life!

The work behind Reading People actually started long before the actual drafting of this book. Anne Bogel (of Modern Mrs. Darcy and the What Should I Read Next? Podcast) started exploring personality frameworks as a personal project many years ago. She was fascinated by the ways in which we can categorize different aspects of our personalities, and used her growing knowledge about personality to make her life happier and to better understand the people she loves. In Reading People, Anne introduces readers to the major frameworks used to describe personality. For each framework, she gives an overview, some basics, and points to resources to use in figuring out how you can both figure out where you fit into the framework. She then takes it one step further by offering some advice for using your results to understand your needs and the needs of others in your life. 

This isn't a book that you sit down and read cover-to-cover. It took me about a month total to read the whole book, because it's the type of book you want to pick up, read a chapter or two, and then take some time to digest the information and make some observations about how it applies to you. Reading this in one sitting might give you information overload and scare you away from personality frameworks, so I highly suggest keeping it on your nightstand (or on your coffee table) to peruse slowly

The book covers topics such as introversion vs. extroversion, highly-sensitive people (HSPs), the Five Love Languages, Kiersey's Temperaments, the MBTI and the MBTI cognitive functions, the Clifton StrengthsFinder, and the Enneagram. Anne points out that having an understanding of your personality is certainly helpful, but it's also not your destiny, and that the purpose of this book is to help you get to know yourself and others better so that you can not only be empathetic, but also play to yours and others' strengths. 

Here's what I've gleaned from it so far:

I am a definite HSP. Knowing this has helped me make sense of the situations in my life where I've felt most over-stimulated and uncomfortable, and is keeping me aware of the types of environments that I place myself in. This is also becoming increasingly clear as I dive into heavier reads for the Diverse Books Club. I've never needed my escapist reads so much as I do now, to help me balance out digging into hard topics. I'm also pretty aware of this when selecting TV shows and movies. (For example, going to see Dunkirk in theaters this summer was a huge mistake for me. I was rattled for hours afterwards.)

I am a strong introvert -- I knew this already, but in chatting with friends about this book I realized that some of my friends didn't know this about me. For those new to personality typing, this may be the most confusing part. I've had several people comment that I can't possibly be an introvert because I'm friendly and peppy. Being friendly doesn't mean I'm an extrovert -- it just means I have good manners! (Credit to my parents for that.) I would happily pick spending my Saturday night on my couch with a book over going anywhere with others -- just one example of needing to draw my energy from solitude rather than from the company of others. Letting people know that I need time by myself (or with a book) to recharge is one step I'm taking now, especially as we head into the holiday season. Thankfully, I have a partner who already understood this about me and happily leaves me alone for long stretches of time so I can reorient myself. If you're a teacher and an introvert -- you know the struggle is real every day of the week. Hence why my after school me-time, and time spent unplugged on the weekends is precious to feeling balanced!

My MBTI personality type is an INFJ, and for now, that's the only "type" that I have figured out. I'm not rushing to type myself under every framework -- as Anne stresses throughout the book, this isn't a matter of just taking a simple quiz, but of making observations about yourself over time and across situations. Right now, I'm spending a lot of time pondering the love language for myself and my partner, and trying out different ways to implement the five love languages and see what works best for us.

The thing I like most about Reading People is that reading it feels like an ongoing experience. It's more of a reference guide than a strict how-to, so I can pick it up whenever it suits my needs. Plus, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the gorgeous cover. I highly recommend this title if you're at all interest in personality frameworks (this is the perfect place to start) and think it would make a really interesting non-fiction pick for a book club -- it would be fun to see if you could guess the types of your fellow members! I should mention here too that it's really really difficult for me to get into non-fiction books, so the fact that I've picked this one up multiple times speaks to the accessibility of it.

Although I received a copy from the publishing team, I have another copy on order to gift to my mother -- because some books you just have to share with others but don't want to give up your own copy! (Bookworm problems, right?)

This title will be released on September 19, 2017

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Author: Anne Bogel
Publisher: Baker Books, 2017
Price: $9 on Amazon
ISBN: 0801072913
Format: Paperback
Source: Baker Books / Reading People Launch Team

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2)

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!

If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mine would, without a doubt, be mystery. I love reading mysteries set in all different places and time periods, but Victorian England is high on my list for favorite settings. Some behind the scenes secrets about how I get my advanced copies: sometimes, publishers offer a book to you and you get to accept or decline. Other stalk the publisher until they agree to send you a book that is already on your wish list. With A Conspiracy in Belgravia, I practically begged the team at Berkley to send me the book, and was over the moon when it arrived on my doorstep! I read the first book in this series, A Study in Scarlet Women, earlier this summer and absolutely loved it. (In this post, I compared it to another popular mystery series.) I got a lot of feedback from readers who said they also loved the first in this series, so I couldn't wait to share more about this one with you. As with the first, the thing that I loved most about this book was how it pulled me in. By the end of the first chapter, I was fully immersed in Victorian London and steeped in the drama of Charlotte's exile from proper society and the suspense of her newest mystery to solve. With so many of my recent reads falling into heavier categories, this was the perfect escapist book for me!

In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Charlotte Holmes is still living in London and running her consulting detective business -- though she's still working behind the curtain with her ailing brother as a cover. Things get complicated, though, when she receives a client request from a lady in her former social circle -- and who wouldn't be pleased to find out that Sherlock is really Charlotte. For fear of spoiling one or more of the wonderfully plotted twists in this story, I can't say more here. I can tell you, however, that the ending of this novel left me stunned. After reading the first book, I raved a lot about my love for the characters and the way that Sherry Thomas plays with the Holmes canon, and while those opinions still stand (and are even strengthened) with this second installment, I loved this one even more for the plot. And as in the first book, the tensions between Charlotte and her dashing, devoted but complicated love interest only grow. I cannot wait to follow this series in the future.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2)
Author: Sherry Thomas
Publisher: Berkley Books
Price: $9 on Amazon
ISBN: 0425281418
Format: Paperback
Source: Berkley Books

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Me & Milo the Great

Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

Me & Milo the Great is one story I've read this year that was totally outside of my comfort zone, but it's also one that made me glad I pushed my boundaries. Before I launch into my review, I want to share with you the description for this book:

"My name is Holiday Sanchez. I carry a heavy burden. But I'm not the only one. There are others who know what it feels like to remember. Maybe they are the answer. Maybe we can help each other. Maybe I'll finally get past it. Maybe it just takes time -- and a little bit of magic." 

Not much to go on, right? So when the author of Me & Milo the Great, Michelle Schlicher, sent me a copy to read in anticipation of the release, I was intrigued but a little hesitant -- it's hard to know what to expect when the description for a book is so mysterious.

I can't tell you my feelings on this contemporary novel without telling you more about the plot, though, so I'm going to give you a few more details here. This novel follows Holiday Sanchez, a young woman who was just one victim in a terrible act of domestic terrorism. Years later, she lives with the burden of crippling anxiety.

Most days, Holiday prefers not to leave the safety and comfort of her apartment. But each year, on the anniversary of the event that changed her life, she ventures out for an annual pilgrimage to the site of the crime. Except that on this particular year, something is different. In this place where Holiday feels so much sorrow, she meets a new friend named Milo the Great.

Here's what I appreciate about this book: it's a genuine portrayal of anxiety and depression as a result of a trauma. Holiday struggles with daily life and finds comfort in her routines and boundaries that she's set. When Milo comes along, Holiday finds herself shifting her perspective on the outside world and wanting to sustain a friendship. I liked watching Holiday's progress in opening up to the outside world and I felt deep empathy for her character.

What I didn't love was that this book turned out to be about such an intense topic -- and that there was no way for me to know about that just from reading the blurb. It was hard for me to read about the suffering in this book and I could see the novel being a trigger for people who have experienced trauma in their own lives. I'm not saying that this book isn't worth reading -- it prompted me to think deeply about how people (and society) deal with trauma, but I think readers deserve to know a little bit more about it before diving in. If you're an HSP, this might be a book that you want to think carefully about before picking it up. Otherwise, I would recommend this to readers of contemporary fiction who are looking for genuine, flawed characters and plots centered on personal growth.

This title will be released on September 14, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 3/5

Title: Me & Milo the Great
Author: Michelle Schlicher
Publisher: Michelle Schlicher, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Author Submission

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Review: The Fifth Doll

If you've been a reader of Top Shelf Text for a long time, you might already know that Charlie Holmberg is the author of one of my favorite fantasy series -- The Paper Magician Trilogy. (For those of you unfamiliar, it's a fantasy series that's gentle and charming and one that I wouldn't hesitate to re-read.) So when I saw that Holmberg had a new book coming out this summer, I didn't hesitate to pre-order myself a copy. (Can I just digress here for a moment? Pre-ordering is great but it makes waiting feel so hard! Especially when you pre-order a June release in April.) The Fifth Doll is a total departure from The Paper Magician, and I loved how Holmberg immersed her readers in Russian culture with this new fantasy tale.

The story follows Matrona, a young woman living with her parents in a small village. When we first meet Matrona, she seems to have the same cares as any other twenty-six year old village girl -- she and her closest friend Roksana are busy daydreaming and preparing for Matrona's upcoming wedding. Matrona isn't happy exactly -- she could more aptly be described as content, but she's hoping that eventually she'll find love and happiness in her new union. Matrona's seemingly unremarkable future is ruined, however, when she ventures into the home of the local tradesman to return a lost object and finds a room containing peculiar dolls. The tradesman has row upon row of Russian nesting dolls, all painted to the exact likeness of the villagers. Matrona stumbles out of his cottage, confused and alarmed. When she later returns to the cottage, the tradesman forces her into an apprenticeship that becomes her nightmare.

I loved the premise of this book. It was unique, slightly creepy, and so interesting. I don't usually read novels featuring Russian culture, so I learned a lot too. (And if you have any to recommend to me, please leave a comment below!) I don't want to reveal too much about the plot because the element of surprise and suspense was my favorite part of reading, but I do want to say that this is a perfect fall read for fans of the fantasy genre. (You can definitely expect to see it on my October Reads list this year.) And while the story had its fair share of chilling moments, it wasn't gruesome -- the villainy was more of the psychological type.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Fifth Doll
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Publisher: 47North, 2017
ISBN: 1477806105
Format: Paperback
Source: Amazon