2018 TST Reader Survey by Madeleine Riley


Happy Weekend, Readers!

Today I'm asking you for a quick favor. Last year, I opened up a survey for readers to give me feedback about TST. It was SO helpful. From those responses, I got to know more about you and your reading life, as well as get feedback about what you wanted to see more of here on TST. 

If you're curious, you can see some of the results from last year's survey here.

I've been pretty relaxed on the blog lately, and that's due to being in a busy season of life. But as August approaches, I always feel an urge to map out some plans for the end of summer and fall. The beginning of the school year can be so hectic, and this is the perfect time for me to focus some of my energy on the direction of TST.

If you're so inclined, click here to take this year's survey. And thank you for being a reader of TST!

Reading & Riding by Madeleine Riley

Readers, today I want to share something a little different.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I recently got engaged. My (now) fiancé, Brenden, and I have been together for over seven years, since our senior year in high school. In those years, we've grown up together. I love him for many reasons, but overall he's just a really good human. He's caring, ambitious, and funny. He's a great cook and indulges me when I come home with armfuls of new plants and books, even though our apartment is overflowing with both. He's the reason why Top Shelf Text exists -- in our junior year of college, it was his suggestion that I start a blog about books, so I have him to (partially) thank for this great community of readers.

This year, Brenden is embarking on his third ride with his company team for the Pan Mass Challenge.

The PMC is a 2-day, 190 mile bike ride across the state of Massachusetts that raises money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has worked to bring together riders and sponsors to provide Dana-Farber's doctors and researchers with the necessary resources to discover cures for all cancers. In 2017 alone, the PMC raised $51 million dollars towards cancer research. (If you want to read more specifics about that money and where it goes, see here.) 

The PMC is a big deal in our household. Brenden's training schedule is our first priority in the summer, and the emotional impact of the ride itself is incredible. Cancer is a looming presence in our society. It touches everyone, whether through personal experience or through friends and family. We've both experienced loss at the hands of cancer, and we both believe that there is still hope for a cure.

As we approach the 100 mile mark, we ride over a bridge and are greeted by images of people directly impacted by the foundation. They are cancer survivors and those who have passed. We read their names aloud as we ride, as an act of remembrance. It is a deeply meaningful moment for our team.
— Brenden, On the Experience of the PMC

This year, I want to help make a bigger impact by bringing this fundraiser to you, readers. I'm asking that you consider donating to the PMC to support research for curing all cancers. You can do that by clicking here to donate directly to Brenden's team.

If you choose to donate, please leave your Instagram handle or e-mail address in the note section of your donation. Make sure to also check "show my name" and "show note" so that I can get in touch with you to say thank you. If you choose to donate any amount, I would like to send you a TST bookmark (featuring one of my favorite quotes in literature) as a small token of thanks, for being part of the TST community and for being a good human being.

Read-Along with Me

In addition to donating, this year I'll be reading two books about cancer and medicine in the month of July. If you're interested, you're welcome to join me for a read-along, using the hashtag #readandridePMC. 


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced. Nursing homes, devoted above all to safety, battle with residents over the food they are allowed to eat and the choices they are allowed to make. Doctors, uncomfortable discussing patients' anxieties about death, fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them.

In his bestselling books, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures-in his own practices as well as others'-as life draws to a close. Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life-all the way to the very end.

I'll host a discussion on these two reads on August 4th & 5th, the same weekend of the PMC ride this year. I'd love to have you read along and discuss with me.

Thank you for supporting those impacted by cancer, and for those fighting to eradicate it.

Summer Reading: June Wrap-Up by Madeleine Riley

I don't usually do monthly wrap-up posts, but summer reading is my favorite and I love to hear what others have read during this season. June in particular is hard to think of as "summer" for me. As a teacher, the real summer begins after the last day of school. Leading up to that, it's pure chaos, and this year was no exception. Since we didn't get out of school until just days before July started, this June really felt like more of a run-up to my actual summer reading season.

I average about 10-15 books per month, and in June I managed to read 13 books, a few of which I'm keeping under wraps for the DBC. Since I've done a lot more "behind the scenes" reading this year, I've stopped using Goodreads and starting tracking my reads in a spreadsheet. (If you're curious about the spreadsheet itself, I have a post coming soon with more details.)

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
— Jeannette Walls


The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Rating: 4/5

Thank you to Harper Books for my free review copy!

I listened to Magpie MurdersHorowitz's mystery bestseller from last summer, on audio this spring and loved it. (Highly recommended if you're looking for an audio experience that pulls you in.) When I saw this new mystery in the Harper catalog, I knew it'd be a great pick for me this summer. The premise is unique: a woman enters a funeral home to plan and pay for her funeral, and is found murdered just hours later. As is tradition in British mysteries, the detective on the case, Inspector Hawthorne, is a bit gruff, hard to work with, and teeming with secrets about his own past. Horowitz casts himself in the story too -- he is the Watson to Hawthorne's Holmes. I loved the mystery and the characters, and I'm looking forward to more installments in the series. (P.S. Horowitz did a very interesting interview with NPR about the process of inserting himself in a novel -- you can read that here.) I also realized, partway through reading The Word is Murder, that I have another of Horowitz's novels, The House of Silkon my unread shelf. Needless to say, I'm excited to have discovered a new favorite mystery author.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley

Rating: 4/5

Thank you to Scribd for my free audio subscription!

I've been steadily listening to this series since March and have been loving every single book. The narrator for the audiobooks is fabulous, and Flavia has become the soundtrack to my daily household chores. Highly recommended if you like cheeky characters, strong females, and a good old-fashioned, small-town mystery.


Lucy's Little Village Book Club by Emma Davies

Rating: 4/5

I've recently gotten into what publisher's like to call "women's fiction" novels -- books with a feel-good premise, a little bit of romance, and a happy ending. I've shied away from this genre before because I thought it was cheesy, but I'm coming to learn that all genres have a place on my shelves. I'm picking up more of these types of books lately to balance the heavier reading I do for the DBC, and I'm looking to read more from this author too. This novel features a millenial protagonist (rare in women's fiction), a librarian named Lucy who brings together a group of people for a book club, but soon comes to find that the group is connecting over more than just books. Over time, Lucy helps her friends to realize their dreams while also finding her own path. Recommended if you're looking for a light read this summer.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Rating: 4/5

This was my book club's choice for June and it turned out to be such a good selection for us to discuss. We all loved it and thought it was an interesting, new perspective in WWII historical fiction because it focuses on the experience of women who had to provide for their family on limited rations, live with German soldiers who were billeted in civilian homes, and deal with the crushing blow of losing loved ones. I loved that each of the women were strong in their own way. Other WWII favorites that came up in our conversation: All the Light We Cannot See, The Lilac Girls, The Chilbury Ladies' Choirand The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Rating: 4/5

Lori recommended this on our Diverse Books Club Summer Reading Guide and I have to be honest, the cover is what drew me in. I loved this story -- it reminded me a bit of The Giver -- featuring children with unanswered questions about society and why things are the way they are. This story follows a group of children living on an island. Each year, a boat comes ashore with a new child, and the oldest of the island's inhabitants takes the boat out into the mist, to the unknown. The main character, Jinny, has become the elder on the island and must grapple with responsibility for the younger children and her own growing fear of her eventual departure. There's a lot to discuss on an analytical level with this, and I felt that there were a lot of comparisons to draw between the island and the foster system in the United States. We're discussing this title on July 6th at 10am on the DBC Instagram and I can't wait to hear others' opinions.


Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds

Rating: 3/5

Jessica chose Ghost for our DBC Summer Reading Guide and it's gotten lots of positive reviews from our DBC members, especially those in the field of education. An urban story of triumph, responsibility, and community, I'd recommend this story for readers in late elementary/middle school, especially those who are reluctant or who find that they can't identify with many protagonists in books. A boy tries out for a local track team, is taken under the wing of the coach, and finds a home and an outlet in the sport. There's some mentions of domestic violence, but nothing that I think would scare away readers. I liked seeing the mentor relationship between the children and the coach, and I think this book has a powerful message for those who need it. I ended up giving it three stars because it took me about halfway through to get invested. I wasn't sure I was interested in the sequel, until I saw that it features a girl who joins the team and has her own personal trauma to work through. 


The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor


Rating: 4/5

I randomly picked this one up at the library after seeing it a bunch last summer and it ended up being exactly what I needed in the week that I read it. Many of you had mixed reactions to this book, but I loved the setting -- a boutique, literary-themed hotel on the beach -- and the premise, with a main character who fell in love with sharks after having been bit by one as a child. Add a love triangle and an ethical dilemma and I was sold.

A Murder for the Books (Blue Ridge Library Mysteries #1) by Victoria Gilbert

Rating: 4/5

My local librarians do an amazing job with the book displays in our library's lobby -- everything is so enticing, and I've been able to find many good books that I would have never come across otherwise. I picked this one up and flew through it. Surprisingly, it was less cheesy than your average cozy mystery. A young woman flees to her family's ancestral home after finding her fiancé with another woman, and settles in to a small-town life living with her aunt and working at the local library. Her quiet life is disrupted when one of the library's patrons is found dead in the archives, and naturally the librarian gets tangled in the investigation. There's a love interest too, and some borderline supernatural events. My pulse was actually racing at the end, and I've already placed myself on the holds list for the sequel at the library. (P.S. This series has been optioned for TV as well!)


In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware


Rating: 3/5

This was my third Ruth Ware read and my book club's pick for July. We were looking for a thriller for poolside reading, and that's exactly how I read it -- by the pool on my trip to Orlando! I thought the premise was intriguing -- an isolated young woman gets invited to an old friend's bachelorette party -- and it was interesting to me how the setting (a family home out in the woods) was really similar to Ware's latest novel, The Death of Mrs. WestawayI guessed what was happening about three quarters of the way through, so that's what made this one lower on my list of thrillers to recommend to others, but the ending was just ambiguous enough and has me excited to talk with my book club friends.

Many Love: A Memoir of Polamory and Finding Love(s) by Sophie Lucido Johnson

Rating: 3/5

Thank you to Touchstone Books for my free review copy!

I'll admit, this book was a little out of my wheelhouse, but it came highly recommended and turned out to be a fascinating read. The author writes about her journey from failed monogamous relationships to discovering polamory and navigating the various facets of relationship anarchy. The memoir is written as though you're sitting down for coffee with a girlfriend, and it was so helpful and accessible to readers like me, who have no experience with polamory, but lots of questions. I came away with a better understanding of why people choose to be polyamorous, and I'd recommend this to anyone curious about the topic.

The rest of my June reads were top-secret preview titles for the DBC. Despite all the hectic schedules, weather, and emotions that come with the end of the school year, June was a pretty good reading month. I'm already looking forward to the numerous books stacked for my July TBR!

What were your notable reads this month?