Reader Recommendations with Afoma Umesi by Madeleine Riley

It's the last Wednesday of the month, which means we have another Reader Recommendations guest here on Top Shelf Text! Today I'm welcoming Afoma Umesi to the blog. Afoma and I met through Instagram and although we have totally different reading preferences, we love following along with each other! You may even remember that I was recently featured on Afoma's blog in her BOOK'D series (which, by the way, is one of my favorite blog series to keep up with!). Afoma is here to share six of her favorite titles!


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Hi! My name is Afoma Umesi. I'm a twenty something year old Nigerian currently living in the Caribbean. I've just completed medical school and I'm in that awkward post university phase. These days I'm spending most of my free time reading and blogging about books and reading on afomaumesi.com. I'm also a contributor to thebookbanque.com (another book loving site!). As a photographer, I'm also hugely into pictures of books.


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Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

Diamond Head is the story of a powerful Chinese family that moves to Hawaii told through the women in the family. There are so many secrets in this family! My favorite thing about this book is the writing. I was mesmerized by the author's portrayal of this family and her description of Chinese culture and tradition. If you like family sagas (like I do) and enjoy learning about cultures in other parts of the world, this book is fantastic for you.

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Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

You'd have to have been under a rock not to have heard of this book! It is the adventure that is the life of South African comedian Trevor Noah and this memoir is brilliant! I listened to the audiobook and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. Trevor is hilarious and his stories of growing up is South Africa are delightful and inspiring. He also shares a lot about his mother's life and his love for her is just the sweetest thing. If you never read any memoirs, try this one. It's a joy!

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The Boat People by Sharon Bala

The Boat People was my first read of 2018 and it was such an eye opener regarding matters of immigration and refugees. Bala writes about a fictional Sri Lankan family who flee their country during the civil war to Canada. Instead of the peaceful refuge they anticipate, they are detained and families are separated as the Canadian government believes that some of the refugees are terrorists. This novel is highly insightful and Bala's storytelling is top notch. It's a great debut.

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The Windfall by Diksha Basu

The Windfall is a HILARIOUS novel about a middle class Indian family who suddenly come into (A LOT) of money. They decide to move to a high brow neighborhood and begin to upgrade their lives basically. The husband is eager to impress his new neighbors while his wife is sad and nervous about such a drastic change in their middle age. Meanwhile their son who is in business school in America is struggling and also secretly dating an American girl. I cannot believe this book is not popular because it is so good! I enjoyed getting a feel of what the real India is and not some poverty stricken or resort depiction.

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Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Salt Houses was one of my favorite books last year. And oh my word, what beautiful writing! Hala Alyan writes of the Yacoub family in this sprawling saga. Forced to flee after war breaks out in their home in the Middle East, the family essentially lives all around the world from Kuwait to Boston. She writes about the struggles in families so beautifully, love, loss, happiness and all the things that are part of a full existence. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

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And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

And After Many Days is a debut novel about a Nigerian family whose oldest son goes missing. Heartbreaking and so tenderly written, this family is unforgettable. I enjoyed the nostalgia of a book set in my hometown and the author's ability to clearly describe the pain, hope and heartbreak of losing a child without closure.


Readers, you can find Afoma on her blog at www.afomaumesi.com, on Instagram @afomaumesi, on Twitter @AfomaUmesi, and on Goodreads.

If you also loved any of these titles or have something to recommend to Afoma based on her picks, let us know in the comments below!

Review: I Was Anastasia by Madeleine Riley

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

I Was Anastasia was my most-anticipated 2018 read. I discovered Ariel Lawhon's writing last year when Anne Bogel chose The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress for a Modern Mrs. Darcy book club pick. We had a chance to chat with Ariel Lawhon as part of our book discussion, and I loved hearing her author story. She told us that she had just finished working on a new historical fiction book. Lawhon said that she had been in the middle of writing a completely different story when she had come across a newspaper article about the Romanov family. Reading the article gave her the chills, and she knew then that she had come across the idea for her next book. I was totally intrigued by that story and knew that I'd be waiting eagerly for news of its release. After our author chat with Ariel Lawhon, I immediately went out to get her second novel, Flight of Dreams, which you all know I absolutely loved. Flash forward a couple months and I began working with the team at Doubleday, who kindly sent me an advanced copy of I Was Anastasia for review.

All this just to say that as I picked up this title to read, I had high expectations for it, but reviewing it is really tricky because it could easily be spoiled, so forgive me for a brief and somewhat vague review.

I Was Anastasia is a historical fiction novel with an added contemporary narrative timeline (similar to the dual narratives of Kate Morton's works). The first narrative begins in Russia in 1918, from the perspective of Anastasia Romanov, Grand Duchess of Russia. The second narrative thread begins in Germany only two years later, when a young woman is pulled from a canal, shivering and covered in horrific scars. The woman claims to be Anastasia, having escaped from the tormentors who murdered the rest of the royal family. The woman comes to be known as Anna Anderson, and over the next 50 years, she battles both public opinion and the legal system in her quest to be recognized officially as the Grand Duchess.

Here's what I didn't love about this novel: the non-linear timeline. It was really disorienting to have the story leap from year to year, following a seemingly random pattern. I also felt minimal sympathy for the character of Anna Anderson -- she played the victim with abandon, leaving it up to others to fund her lifestyle and fight on her behalf. 

Despite my dislike for one of the main characters, I was totally hooked by the premise and caught up in the drama of the Romanov's decline and imprisonment. Throughout the entire story, Lawhon leaves the reader second-guessing the validity of Anna Anderson's claims -- I myself went back and forth thinking that she was an imposter and the rightful claimant. After reading, I went into a deep dive of Romanov history, but I wouldn't recommend doing so until after you've finished the book. The intrigue of the story kept me turning pages quickly, and as is Lawhon's style, the ending did not disappoint.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

This title will be released on March 27, 2018

Self-Care Series: On Taking Time Unplugged by Madeleine Riley


Thank you to JORD Watches for including me in the campaign and for gifting me this watch in exchange for my participation. Readers of TST can enter to win a $100 gift card to JORD; the giveaway concludes on April 15, after which one winner will receive a $100 gift card and all entrants will receive a 10% discount code!


As mentioned in my post about my bedtime routine, I'm continuing my self-care series today with some thoughts about taking time unplugged. Since selecting nourish as my word for 2018, I've been taking steps to create more margin in my daily life.

While social media can certainly be a positive force in our lives, it can also be utterly exhausting. I love the TST community, and all of the other bookish communities that I belong to on Instagram and Goodreads. I also adore the friends that I've made online and love that many of those connections have turned into real-life (outside the confines of bookish talk) friendships.

What I don't love is being tied to my phone -- or any device for that matter -- and I would hate for my phone to do anything but enhance my experience with technology. For the past few months, I've taken Sundays as my day unplugged. I've received a lot of questions about this ritual, so I thought I'd share the details here. I think it's probably more fair to call it a social media free day; I'm trying to move in the direction of removing all technology, but as you'll read below, I'm not yet in the practice of being 100% removed.

Like any new habit, it was really difficult to keep myself from automatically opening up Instagram for the first few weeks that I took time unplugged. I started to reflect on why that is, and in my personal experience, I think it's because a). I didn't want to miss out on anything and b). it's a way to fill white space in my day. But the purpose of taking time unplugged is to create and revel in that white space. As I continued to keep my Sundays tech-free, I found myself feeling more and more appreciative of that time.

A few weeks ago I went offline for a whole three days. It was wonderful. I found myself with so much more time to do extra tasks (for fun, not just my chores) and I found myself better able to focus on the present moment.

A few things I enjoy doing on days unplugged:

Picking out fresh flowers for the apartment.

Going for walks outside (or heading to the gym for a run).

Browsing a bookstore or the local library.

Reading.

Catching up with friends over coffee.

Cooking or baking with my boyfriend.

Spending the whole day at the beach.

Doing a hands-on craft (I recently had a great time creating a spring wreath for our front door!)

A Few Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you keep yourself from picking up your phone?

The answer here is that I do sometimes use my phone still for things other than social media. But when it's in my hand, I'm using it for a specific purpose (like to access my grocery list), and when that purpose is served, I put it back in it's designated "unplugged" spot (on top of a cabinet in our dining room). Putting your phone out of reach is my number one tip for implementing time unplugged. 

When it comes to keeping off social media, I hide my social media app folder in its own screen on my phone (isolated from all other apps) and if I find myself scrolling over to it, I'll immediately lock the phone and put it down. I think opening social media apps is a muscle memory action for most of us. I've become more conscious of that even on days when I'm not unplugged -- I'll catch myself opening it automatically and ask myself what the purpose of that action is. Most of the time, it's just out of habit, which helps me to put it away. I've heard from others who practice social media free weekends that logging out of (or even deleting the apps) works too.

Does this bother others when you're unreachable?

Friends, family members, and colleagues are all very understanding of my boundaries around screen time on Sundays and in the evenings -- they'll send me texts or leave voicemails knowing that they won't necessarily be answered until the next morning. So far, it hasn't been a problem. (But I'll also say here: people won't respect boundaries unless you set them. Our loved ones aren't mind readers!)

Often, I'll put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode (which only allows for calls from "favorite" contacts to ring) in case of an emergency. (Because I am a worrier by nature.)

Don't you wear an Apple Watch? How does that factor into days unplugged?

I've recently traded my Apple Watch (which I think is a daily blessing for teachers and love to use for exercise tracking) for an analog watch on days unplugged, so that I can feel totally disconnected. When I recently joined the spring campaign for Jord Watches, I requested that my watch be engraved with a snippet of my favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables, whose idyllic lifestyle is a dream that I would love to one day emulate.

‘Dear Old World,’ she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.’
— Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This quote encourages me to really appreciate life outside of my devices. I write it into my planner every week, and having it on my new watch is just another reminder to think like Anne Shirley. 

Does being unplugged mean you don't watch TV either? Or use your computer?

I use Saturdays to get my blog, DBC, and teaching things together so that I don't have to open my computer at all on Sundays. I think it's too easy to get distracted and end up working when my computer is open. I'm pretty strict about no computers for myself.

I don't watch much television in general, because my day-to-day is pretty packed. (On weekdays, we've taken to watching one episode of a show together before I head off for my nighttime routine). I'd rather spend that time outside on a walk or reading, but sometimes winter weather calls for lots of indoor time. I do think too that television can sometimes serve as a form of quality time, but I'm careful to keep it from becoming the only quality time we spend together. I'm not against a Sunday afternoon movie on a rainy day, but I try to choose other activities for us first. (We actually recently watched Thor Ragnarok together and we haven't stopped talking about it since. Highly recommended!)


I still wouldn't place myself outside the realm of modern-day screen addiction, but I do feel like I have a fair amount of self-control when it comes to technology now. Between my Sundays unplugged and my 7pm deadline for putting away my phone on weeknights, I'm better able to separate myself from the online world. I've even scheduled myself one totally unplugged weekend per month, and after hearing some good reviews, I'm picking up The Tech-Wise Family to explore this topic a little more.


I'd love to hear about your relationship with technology. Do you have personal guidelines for screen time in your home?