Reading for Self-Care with Lauren Woodard by Madeleine Riley

Readers, today I want to introduce you to a sweet new friend of mine. Lauren Woodard and I met through the #bookstagram channels, and while we love to chat about all things reading, we also love to talk about self-care and mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Lauren was gracious enough to brainstorm a couple reads for those of you looking for some self-care wisdom!


Lauren, tell us about yourself!

Madeleine, thank you so much for having me! Top Shelf Text is one of my favorite bookish blogs, and I am honored and thrilled to be here! My name is Lauren Woodard and I live in the amazing city of Asheville, North Carolina. I am an INFJ and HSP. I love books, my cat Grover Cleveland (who wears a bow tie everyday), and all things coffee and tea related. During the day, I teach as a part-time adjunct professor in the social work department at a local 4 year college here in Asheville. I am also the owner and founder of Bloom Counseling and Consulting, where I see therapy clients on a full-time basis. I have a Master's degree in Social Work and practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). In my work, I focus on treating clients who have anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, a history of trauma, perfectionism, and chronic illness. Outside of work, I enjoy reading, yoga, focusing on self-care, and am currently learning to watercolor! In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I am excited to share some of my favorite personal development reads. 

What would you recommend to readers looking for a personal boost?

The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aaron

This book is one of those rare reads where on each page I told myself "the author is talking about me!" My entire life I have been a sensitive and empathic soul. Sometimes, this has been to my detriment. In other ways, it has guided to me to a career path that I love. This book has helped me see and utilize my sensitive nature as a strength. It has also given me full permission to embrace this part of myself and realize why some things just aren't for me. I also highly recommend the workbook by Elaine N. Aaron as a great compliment to this book. 

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

I am extremely grateful to have taken two semesters of Mindfulness Meditation classes in college. Learning to utilize meditation each day is something that has truly made me a calmer, more present person. While I certainly have many favorite books about meditation, this is one I love using with those clients who are skeptical about starting a meditation practice. There is also an accompanying smartphone app which is great! 

May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein

This book is one of my absolute favorites of all time. If you find yourself getting in your own way or being unable to turn off those nervous thoughts that spiral into fear, this is the book for you. I bought this book in 2014 when it was first released, and have gone through it several times. Each time, I learn something new about myself and grow in a different way. This book really helped me with subtle shifts in my mindset and increased my gratitude practice. This book was also profoundly helpful to me as I moved through the fear of starting my own business. 

My Year With Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

Those who know me well know that I love a good memoir and My Year With Eleanor happens to be one of my favorites! Published in 2012, My Year with Eleanor follows 29 year old Noelle Hancock as she becomes unemployed, finds herself struggling with anxiety, and needs a change. After seeing an Eleanor Roosevelt quote in a coffee shop that says "Do one thing every day that scares you," Noelle decides to do just. She spends several months challenging herself to experiences out of her comfort zone. This is one of those books that will make you laugh, cry, and laugh so hard you cry. And it will inspire you along the way! 


Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”-Brene Brown. 

It would be impossible for me to write about my favorite personal development reads without including Brene Brown. Her newest book, Braving the Wilderness, focuses on how we can show up courageously in our communities, work places, and the world we live in. This book challenges us to put aside our needs to be quiet and fit in so that we may challenge ourselves to show up in the world with genuineness and authenticity. This book is timely and a must read for the day and age we live in. 

For more mental-health related content, you can find Lauren on Instagram @laurenwoodardlcsw or Twitter @lwoodardlcsw. For book related content, find Lauren on Instagram @okayinmybook.

Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway (& Giveaway!) by Madeleine Riley

Note: TST received a copy of this text from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the newest novel from revered author Ruth Ware. Though I own all of Ware's novels, I've only actually read The Woman in Cabin 10. It was an excellent vacation read, and I was looking forward to another fast-paced thriller. What I didn't realize is that The Death of Mrs. Westaway is not necessarily a thriller -- I'd categorize it as a gothic mystery, and it's definitely one I'd recommend for fans of Rebecca. 

The story follows Hal, an isolated young woman struggling to make ends meet. Hal is just about to sink further into debt when she receives a letter detailing a substantial inheritance. Hal knows the letter is meant for someone else, but she can't help thinking that if she can fake it, the money could make a lasting difference for her future. She travels to the funeral, hoping that her job as a psychic can help her convince the family that she's a relative -- at least, until she can secure her portion of the money. Except that when Hal arrives, she realizes that something is not right, and that the circumstances surrounding the inheritance are much more complicated than they seem.

I loved the gothic setting of this book, and you can bet you'll see it pop up again in my October recommendations list this year. At first, I didn't love Hal's character. It seemed like a trope to have the outsider referencing her unique style -- combat boots and piercings -- to point out the contrast between her life and that of the wealthy family. As the story built, I paid less attention to that, and got lost in the mystery of the inheritance and the events that ultimately influenced the deceased matriarch's will. This story has all of the right elements for a creepy mystery: an old family estate with lots of dark passageways, a housekeeper inspired by Mrs. Danvers, and a family legacy at stake. A slow and steady build to an action-packed ending with a great twist. Bonus: there was hardly any gore, so if you're looking for a more chilling (but not gruesome) title to add to your summer reading list, this is the one.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

This title will be released on May 29, 2018.

  • Title: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
  • Author: Ruth Ware
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Price: Pre-order for $18 on Amazon
  • Format: Paperback ARC
  • Source: Gallery Books

I'm partnering with Gallery Books for a giveaway on Instagram! Check out my feed to enter to win one of three advanced reader copies of The Death of Mrs. Westaway!

The Diverse Books Club Summer Reading Guide by Madeleine Riley

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Dear Readers,

It has been a whirlwind season since we first launched the Diverse Books Club in September of 2017. Last summer, I realized that my reading life was lacking diversity. As a lifelong bookworm, I naturally turned to books as a source of new learning. I set a goal to include perspectives from diverse authors and characters, and to promote diverse literature in whatever way and on whatever platform became available to me. When shared on social media, this personal goal grew rapidly to include a team of ten like-minded readers and thousands of members. In our first nine months as a book club, we’ve read sixty-seven titles, ranging from adult to picture books, and explored nine different themes. We’ve championed diversity in many forms, and we’ve come together to face hard stories and uncomfortable discussions, all to help us reach our goal of gaining empathy and understanding.

Thank you, readers, for joining us in our mission, and for being open to learning from others in addition to sharing your own perspectives. Our community of readers is made better because you are a part of it.

Thank you also to the members of the DBC team, who have spent endless (volunteer) hours reading and advocating for our club. The DBC team helped bring this to life. As we break for a season of preparing for a new year, we are so pleased to present you with over thirty diverse selections for summer reading, with a bonus pick curated by you, based on your own member recommendations!

We hope you enjoy these stories as much as we have, and that you join us for select activities and discussions throughout the summer as we continue to read and explore together!

Happy Reading,

Madeleine & The DBC Team


Click here for a printable list of our summer reading selections and join us tonight (May 14th) at 7pm EST for an Instagram Live on @diversebooksclub, where I'll be answering all your summer reading questions and sharing a few of the titles I'm planning to read this summer!


Founder & Lead Moderator

While Cane River is a new-to-me favorite, Jefferson's Sons is a book I've been shouting about for years. Cane River is a generational story featuring strong women (based on the author's own family history) and Jefferson's Sons revealed to me a piece of hidden history about Thomas Jefferson's second family. Both novels carry the theme of perceived race, with characters' opportunities differing based on the shade of their skin. Their experiences highlight a conundrum of this era in history, when biracial slaves struggled with feeling out of place. Highly recommended if you liked The Underground Railroad.


Recommendations Moderator

I love nonfiction, so both of my picks are in that realm! The Fire Next Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race was one of the best books I read in 2017. Every thought-provoking piece packs a punch with strong writing and point of view. I like this book for a summer read because you can dip in and out, and you don't have to read i order. For an idea of the type of essays in this book, check out one of my favorites from the collection: "Walking While Black," by Garnette Cadogan, available online. Bonus rec for context: The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, a brief, classic civil rights text from which many of the writers draw inspiration. Drama High was a favorite from my first quarter reading in 2018, and I really appreciated that it's so well-written and goes way beyond what could have been a saccharine, nostalgic account of a successful theater program. The book talks about the town of Levittown, digging into class, race, and priorities in education. If you're enjoying the TV show, Rise, definitely check out this book for the true story of the teacher that inspired the series. 

You can find RuthAnn on Instagram @definitelyra.


Related Resources Moderator

Love, Hate, and Other Filters and Invisible, while seemingly different in their topics, both provide a deeper look into the lives of young women in difficult situations. Love, Hate, and Other Filters is coming of age story of a Muslim girl who just wants to experience the world through her own lens, rather than through the filter of her parents’ Indian heritage.  It’s poignant, clever, and just plain wonderful.  It starts off as a tale of forbidden love but quickly shifts into a discussion of Islamophobia.  Invisible provides a glimpse into the unique challenges faced by young women with serious health issues in all facets of life.  It’s part memoir, part ethnography, part autobiography.  Both of these books provide a voice to women who just want to be heard and understood rather than marginalized and told what to do.  

You can find Alexandra on Instagram @bookedupblog and on her blog, Booked Up Blog.


Author & Member Outreach Moderator

Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a brilliant graphic memoir that recounts Bechdel’s relationship with her father, all the while addressing issues of sexual orientation, family issues, suicide, and more.  The novel America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo oscillates between the Bay Area in California in the 1990s and the military uprisings in the Philippines in the 1970s and 80s, meanwhile illustrating the experience of an extended family of immigrants to the US, as well as the role of class and gender in their lives.  Both feature strong, imperfect female characters and both are bound to suck you in and spit you out having walked a few hundred pages in someone else’s shoes.

You can find Morgan on Instagram @nycbookgirl and on her blog, NYC Book Girl


Adult & YA Moderator

The Secret Loves of Geeks is the spin-off to Dark Horse's 2016 graphic novel anthology The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, expanding the audience and theme of love and relationships -- both romantic and non-romantic -- among self-identified nerds. Love, sex, and dating from your favorite cartoonists and writers... what more could you want? My second pick is Children of Blood and Bone, a YA fantasy that just inked a 7-figure movie deal for its 20-something author, Tomi Adeyemi. This is the perfect summer to read her debut novel and get in on the conversation from the ground floor.

You can find Jordan on Instagram @jordanmcalhoun and on his website.


Adult & YA Moderator

Dear Martin sparked the best classroom conversations my students had all year. We loved Justyce's voice and story (Nic Stone is an author to watch!). My second pick, When They Call You a Terrorist, absolutely humbled me; I learned so much about the history and diversity of the Black Lives Matter movement. These two books make a great pair as they explore similar topics in completely different, unique formats. Put them at the top of your TBR list if you enjoyed The Hate U Give

You can find Chelsey on Instagram @chelseyreads.


Adult & YA Moderator

Human Acts: Living in a multicultural society is a wonderful yet complex experience. I think one of the kindest things people can do for one another is listen in order to better understand each other - one way to do that is to read each other's stories, so I'm recommending Human Acts by Han Kang. Human Acts is a work of historical fiction that takes place during the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, a political protest that claimed hundreds of lives in South Korea, and it is so much more than a recollection of a tragedy. A small but extremely poignant insight into the Korean perspective on grief, Kang's novel serves as a reminder that every person has a history that shaped them.   

Buffering: People who produce viral content are often seen as inferior to creatives who work in traditional media. I chose Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded because I believe it's important to recognize that digital creators aren't simply just "YouTubers" or "social media influencers" with no other talents. Hannah Hart is a queer woman with a fascinating life story, and Buffering is a message that I believe everyone should hear.

You can find Cailee on Instagram @illreader.


Children's Lit Moderator

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway is a multi-perspective novel told by Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, three siblings separated at birth by adoption. In alternating chapters, these three characters outline the trajectories of their lives after their adoption (Maya and Grace) or living in the foster care system (Joaquin) and their present situations. I really enjoyed this young adult novel. It moved quickly overall and I especially enjoyed the development of relationships between Maya, Grace and Joaquin. Benway is skilled at developing these characters, making them complex and likable, and ultimately, they are just three kids you want to root for throughout the duration of the story.

Erika Sánchez's I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is the story of Julia, a young Mexican woman who has lost her (perfect) older sister, Olga, in a tragic accident. The novel follows Julia as she copes with Olga's death, the fallout the death has on her close knit family, and her life as a high school student trying to plan for the future SHE wants, not what her family wants. What is so compelling about this novel is the strong voice Sánchez gives Julia that never yields. Julia is smart, strong, funny, and self-aware and is a character readers will not soon forget. This novel tackles tradition, perseverance, poverty, and gender roles in an accessible way that will be appealing to teenagers and adult readers of young adult fiction. 

You can find Sara on Instagram @meaningfulmadness and on her blog, Meaningful Madness.


Children's Lit Moderator

Orphan Island is a mysterious place that's a little like paradise. Nine orphans form a family and discover that life isn't always as it seems, especially when you don't follow the rules. This middle grade novel will leave kids wondering and adults feeling all the feels. On a different note, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? enlightened me on the formation of ethnic identity and how to have productive conversations about race and ethnicity. This book isn't just for parents, teachers, or psychologists; it's a book for people. Period.

You can find Lori on Instagram @thenovelendeavor and on her blog, The Novel Endeavor.


Classroom Coordinator

Breakout is a stunningly told story with themes of social justice and anti-racism at its core. While this can sound like a lot for middle-grade readers, our world is asking them to do the work of questioning and critical thinking every day. It's our job to put books in their hands that reflect the world at large, and to support kids as they consider how they can make a change in their communities. Stella Díaz Has Something To Say tells the story of one girl who is learning it's okay to be more than one thing. Both books are perfect reads for the middle-grade readers in your life!

You can find Lorraine on Instagram @meetmissmagee and on her blog, Miss Magee's Reads.


Classroom Coordinator

As a middle school reading teacher, it's my goal to ensure that every student is able to personally connect with at least one book within the year. This year, I have been intentional about reading and recommending books that are written by own voice authors. Amina's Voice is about a young Pakistani-American Muslim written by Hena Khan who is a Pakistani-American Muslim. Like her character, she also struggled to balance cultures and meet her parents expectations as a young girl. I originally came across Amina's Voice when trying to find a book for a Muslim student who expressed never having read a book about someone like her. In addition, Ghost is written by own voice author Jason Reynolds. Ghost will have you hooked from the very first page. All Castle (aka Ghost) wants is to be the fastest sprinter on the track team. You'll be rooting for him on an off the track until the very end. 

You can find Jessica on Instagram @onlaughterandliteracy.



Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This memoir of growing up in apartheid South Africa from the host of The Daily Show won 26% of the vote in our recent members' choice poll. Born a Crime comes highly recommended by both members and moderators, and many readers suggest listening to the audiobook, narrated by the author himself. Keep an eye on our calendar for a discussion date this summer!


Recommended by our Kid Lit Team!

Stay tuned for our June events calendar! In the meantime, you can access a printable version of this list here.

Let us know which of these picks you're excited about below!