Your New Online Book Club: Words Between Worlds by Madeleine Riley

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Do you belong to a book club? One of the best things I’ve done for my reading life in the past couple years was to join several book clubs — I dabble in each of them when it works for my reading life, but even when I don’t get to read the monthly selection, I still love getting to hear the conversation. The great thing about online book clubs is that you can be part of the conversation on your own schedule, and still feel connected to readers all over the world. Today I want to introduce you to an Instagram-based book club that I love to follow — Words Between Worlds. The team of ladies behind this club care deeply about raising up new voices in literature, and I encourage you to check it out and join in. I asked one of the moderators — Diana, of @owls_library — to join me for a quick interview. Onto all the details!


Tell us a little about yourself!

Hello! My name is Diana from @owls_library. I'm originally from Logan, UT but also spent my teenage years in Gwangju, S. Korea. I currently (reluctantly) live in Dallas, TX.  My BS is in Early Childhood Education from BYU but I currently am not using my teaching degree and instead work at a skincare company. Like many of you, I am an avid reader and especially love reading books written by authors of color. Other than reading, I enjoy writing, eating, traveling, and am in love with chocolate!

Tell us about your reading life! What's important to you when selecting a book to read?

I tend to lean towards books written by multicultural authors. I've always been passionate reading about immigrants in America. Just the thought of so many different ethnicities, cultures living in one country fascinates me.  The first 20-ish years of my life, I was not exposed to diversity — I spent my early years in Utah, a very white state. And then my teenage years in South Korea and though I love many things about my motherland, it is a homogeneous country that is still pretty closed-minded of accepting anything or anyone that is different. So when I moved to Dallas five years ago, a very diverse city, I was fascinated by the different types of people I met and wanted to hear their stories. 

When and how did you come up with the idea for forming Words Between Worlds?

WBW happened all because of Lee Min Jin's Pachinko. I read it summer of 2017 and was madly in love with the book. When an Asian author, especially a fellow Korean author comes out with a book, I'm naturally already intrigued. But, Min Jin Lee covered three generations of Koreans (in Japan) starting from the dark days of colonialism, the Korean War, and the aftermath of the two wars. Pachinko was such a powerful book because it was so personal to me. Though it was a work of fiction, it almost seemed like I was reading my grandparents' and my parents' past.

I then started talking to Haley from @mylittlebooktique and Simone from @simoneandherbooks a lot! Because all three of us are Korean, Pachinko meant a lot to us. We then discussed how it'd be nice of authors of color/ minorities' stories to be more well-known to the public. Though we've seen some improvement, the publishing industry still is very white and has made little progress to diversify, especially racially. We then decided to start an online bookclub that would focus on recognizing and promoting marginalized voices, especially minorities in America. When America is a country made up of people from all different parts of the world, it saddens me knowing that so many voices are still unheard and we wanted to change that with a bigger goal to change the publishing industry! 

Tell us about your WBW team! Do you each have a specific role?

The three moderators are Haley, Simone, and myself! We're still trying to figure out our roles. WBW was an idea that suddenly "happened" without much thinking. We do not have defined roles but naturally Haley (from @mylittlebooktique) takes a lot of our photos, Simone (from @simoneandherbooks) played a huge role making our Goodreads page happen (but sadly, we're going away from Goodreads). She also comes up with captions for our posts and discussion questions. I communicate with authors and publishers for future books. We all help out to manage our account here and there as well. 

We also have Miriam (@guatemamma_reads), Stacey (from @prose_and_palate), Jamise (from @spinesvines), Lois (@all26letters) and Katie (@katie_in_sandiego) that help us too! When we first came out with the idea, I asked them if they wanted to join (I honestly didn't think WBW would get this big and imaged it'd be a smaller, more intimate group) and they said yes! They provide ideas and help with the selections as well. And they are awesome promoting WBW on social media!

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How do you go about deciding the monthly selections for WBW?

Since Min Jin Lee inspired us to start WBW, we started with her book Free Food for Millionaires. From then on, we decide to rotate continents/ ethnicities while focusing on our main purpose of WBW, "whose voice needs to be heard?" We then all met online and had a great "meeting" and planned out the rest of the year. We're also looking into 2019 and what we'll be reading them. Our focus is to also play along with the different holidays that come up throughout the year making sure to celebrate authors and writing in those months.

We've also been extremely lucky enough to work with authors and publishers as well. So, if we are contacted with a book that would be a good fit for WBW, we will add it to our list but make sure not to read a book by similar ethnic groups twice in a row.

Can you tell us your favorite WBW book so far?

All WBW books have been so good and unique, but if I had to pick one, it'd be Speak No Evil. It was a book that evoked so many emotion. Though a YA book, it covered so many important themes - immigration, traditional and cultural clashes of immigrants of 1st generations, and it also sadly, yet accurately, portrayed  events that happen in this very country we live in because of prejudice and racial discrimination. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all! And the teacher in me also thinks Speak No Evil should be a mandatory read for high schoolers! 

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What have you learned so far in running Words Between Worlds? Have there been any particularly powerful moments relating to your WBW experience?

We've definitely learned a lot in the past seven months. One is wrangling friends online to discuss the books at the end of the month! Another one is picking books that are coming out but also looking back and seeing books published years before. We want the books we choose to be accessible and sometimes library holds can be too long for our participants. We hope to pick some older books in the future and announcing books in the middle of the month to give our readers a chance to get the book.

We've also taken some cues from other online book clubs like Diverse Books Club and Salt Water Reads to see how we want to organize our discussions and important announcements.

I think the most surprising moment for us is how people react to the books we choose. We use #wordsbetweenworlds as a hashtag and seeing month over month who reads our books. Sometimes the reaction is a little low, but when we announce a book or start a new month and we see all the great participants, we knew we were onto something. We were empowering people to read diversely and sharing the marginalized voices like we wanted to. It's incredible to watch people pick up these reads and share their feelings and relate to the stories. I think that's what we love the most.

Last question — we love to recommend books here on Top Shelf Text. Can you tell us some of your overall favorites?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood




Thank you to Diana and the WBW team for sharing! If you’ve participated in the Words Between Worlds book club before, I’d love to hear which books were your favorite!

I'd Rather Be Reading by Madeleine Riley

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Thank you to Baker Books for providing me with a free copy of this book!

This summer I've been thinking often about my reading identity, so bear with me here as I mix my own reading life into my thoughts on Anne Bogel's latest book, I'd Rather Be Reading

This collection of essays on the delights and dilemmas of the reading life came into the world yesterday, but it's held a special place on my nightstand lately. Anne Bogel, creator of Modern Mrs. Darcy and the What Should I Read Next? podcast, writes thoughtfully and beautifully on what it means to be a reader.

Being a reader is a little more complicated than it seems -- at first glance, being a reader just means that you like to read, and do it for pleasure. Whether you read one book per year or over one hundred, if you enjoy the act of reading, you are a reader. But your reading identity can run deeper than this simple descriptor -- mine certainly does.

I am a reader who loves a good mystery and a good children's classic. Who prefers to read in silence (or perhaps, with only the sound of waves crashing), who loves to share book recommendations but is reluctant to lend my own books for fear that I'll miss them too much. I am a reader who always carries a book, even if I'm just heading out to buy groceries. I am a reader who takes regular trips to the library, despite the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of unread books in my personal library.

In I'd Rather Be Reading, Anne writes about everything from how to organize your bookshelves, to being book bossy (I am so guilty, by the way), and classic bookworm problems. Just the other day as I drove home from the library, my car began to beep because the weight of my books was heavy enough to necessitate a seatbelt. I laughed because Anne wrote about this very problem and I knew she (and many of you) would understand.

Anne writes in a way that confirms what many of us (her friends and fans) already know: that there are countless kindred spirits out there who also would rather be reading. This book feels like a wink and a nod to all of us. I'm honored to put another one of Anne's books on my friends and family shelf. 


Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Summer Reading: August Wrap-Up by Madeleine Riley

Farewell, summer!

I had a great summer reading experience this year. I read a ton. (I think something like 40-ish books.) I took a weeklong break from Instagram. I organized and re-organized my bookshelves about ten times, and donated approximately 7 full bags of books to friends and Little Free Libraries. I took stock of TST and decided to just read what I want, when I want. I took a break from writing individual reviews and started these wrap-up posts, which helped take the pressure off while I channeled my energy toward enjoying my summer break. Today I want to share with you 16 of the 18 books I read in the month of August. See any favorite titles below? Have a recommendation for my September reading? Drop a note in the comments!

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Doubleday Books for my free copy!

Read my full review here. Also, just read this book. It was heartbreaking but such a powerful reading experience.

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Rating: 5/5

Thank you to Teen Vogue and Flatiron Books for my free copy!

I am notoriously picky when it comes to young adult fantasy, but I absolutely loved Mirage. This debut novel introduces us to an interplanetary world where magic and space form a unique mix. A take on the princess and the pauper formula, with a romance that didn't make me roll my eyes. Read more about this title here.

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Rating: 3/5

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Anchor Books for my free copy!

Years ago, I read and loved Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth and I thought this would be a comparable read alike, as it takes place in 1880's Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Quaker community. The writing was steeped in historical detail and I found myself desperately hoping for a happy ending for Lilli, who finds herself in a home for unwed mothers after being betrayed by her beloved and cast out of her community. Despite the fact that it was well-written and I was totally immersed, this was a hard book for me to read. It felt much longer than necessary, with a lot of repetition, which made me glad to have finished it at the end. Still, I'd recommend it for historical fiction readers, with a warning that it could be potentially triggering for new or expectant mothers, or those having experienced child loss.

A Brush with Death (Susie Mahl Mystery #1) by Ali Carter

Rating: 5/5

I have been picking up cozy mysteries more often this year and this one was a stand-out for me. I love British mysteries in particular, and this one took place among the upper classes, with the added perspective of a protagonist who is somewhat of an outsider. The amateur sleuth, Susie Mahl, was relatable and refreshing. A thirty-something, single woman working as a pet portraitist, Susie gets involved in the mystery out of concern for close friends, but winds up being quite the detective. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries, Agatha Christie, and for those looking for a detective story without gruesome details.

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The Elizas by Sara Shepard

Rating: 1/5

We read this for my book club this month and it was a unanimous flop. Out of the five of us, four disliked it and one never made it past the first 100 pages. (We told her not to bother.) The story became predictable about halfway through, and the main character was unlikable. Shepard tried to work the unreliable narrator angle and kept building up suspense for anticlimactic moments throughout. Plus, the romance was just weird and a little creepy. If you have this one on your pile, I'd recommend skipping it.

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A Study in Treason (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #2) by Leonard Goldberg

Rating: 5/5

I read the first in this new series back in April and really enjoyed it. This second installment was even better. Our sleuth, Joanna Blalock, is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, so naturally she's both gorgeous and a genius. These books must be read in order, but if you're a fan of historical mysteries and/or the Holmes canon, I'd recommend this one.

Safari Pug: The Dog Who Walked on the Wild Side by Laura James

Rating: 3/5

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my free copy!

I read this early chapter book to recommend to students this year and I think it'll be a hit. My only critique is that Pug's owner is called Lady Miranda, and I could see that moniker as potentially confusing for students who don't have background knowledge. I want to explore the first two in the series to see if the story line is more established beforehand, but the cute illustrations and Pug's hijinks have me eager to put this series on my shelf this year.

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Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Rating: 5/5

Another outstanding young adult fantasy! Absolutely recommended for both YA and adult readers. More of my thoughts on it here.

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The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9) by Alan Bradley

Rating: 5/5

I only started listening to this series on audiobook back in March of this year, and I've already worked my way through the 9 that are currently available on audio. I adore the narration and the characters. Flavia has been the soundtrack to my weekend chores and to be honest, I'm feeling a little lost now that I've caught up!

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House of Furies (House of Furies #1) by Madeleine Roux

Rating: 3/5

I read this to preview for my annual Spooktober reads list, and though I'll most likely include it on that list, I'm thinking I need to read more of the series before I truly decide on my feelings about it. The story felt a little drawn out -- I was hoping more about the world would be explained. For this reason, I found it hard to keep myself immersed in the story. I did, however, like the characters a lot. They were memorable and the bond of misfits reminded me a bit of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. HSP warning: there was a fair bit of gruesome detail in this book.

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This Side of Murder (Verity Kent Mystery #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Rating: 4/5

Thank you to Kensington Books for my free copy!

This series reminded me very much of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, and I love having another amateur detective to add to my list of favorite series' heroines. Verity Kent is whip-smart and this mystery gave me all of the Agatha Christie vibes. I can't wait to pick up the next one in the series, which comes out this October!

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Rating: 5/5

The Happiness Project was a re-read for me and it resonated even more with me the second time around. I just love Gretchen Rubin's insatiable appetite for making small improvements in her life. I've found multiple opportunities to apply some of Gretchen's tactics to my life. (The thing most on my mind this month? Be Madeleine.) Self reflection can be uncomfortable, but I'm in a season of digging deep in evaluating multiple areas of my life.

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A Quiet Life in the Country (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #1) by T.E. Kinsey

After catching up with the most recent audiobook in the Flavia de Luce series, I listened to these both on audio for the third time since purchasing them last spring. Guess what? I'm still not tired of them. I absolutely love the wit, charm, and cheekiness of these characters. Elizabeth Knowlden is a terrific narrator, and my obsession has grown to the point where she reached out when she got the script for the fourth book just to let me know a new one was in the works. (I love her. Listen to this series. That's all.)

Mortal Arts (Lady Darby Mysteries #2) by Anna Lee Huber

Rating: 4/5

Clearly, I was in the mood for mysteries in the month of August. I read the first in this series back in March and loved it. I just can't resist a good historical mystery. If you like Deanna Raybourn's novels, I'd recommend this series. I'm looking forward to picking up the third installment at the library soon!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter #5) by J.K. Rowling

Rating: 5/5

J.K. Rowling is my queen. We read this for our #HarreadPotter discussion group, for which we've been reading through the whole series throughout the course of the year. This one actually took me a full two months to read as "background reading" -- meaning, I picked it up sporadically throughout the summer until I hit a book slump caused by decision fatigued and used it to ignore the dilemma of what to read next. Spoiler: Dolores Umbridge is a you-know-what and Harry has impulse control issues. Hermione is the best character ever. At this point, reading this story feels like being around childhood friends that I've grown up with. That's all I have to say on that.