One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature

Friday, July 31, 2015

The gorgeous Lilly Library in Bloomington, Ind. has an exhibit on "One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature" right now. So of course I had to check it out.
It was wonderful! There are first or early editions of so many famous books. There's Madeline and Winnie-the-Pooh and dozens from the early 1900s. The exhibition goes all the way back to the 1700s with copies of Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe.
There was also a sweet side exhibit on Alice in Wonderland in honor of the books 150th anniversary!
So many of the books I saw, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Little Prince are favorites of mine.
 I loved seeing how so many of the classic children's books included detailed illustrations. Each one was like a piece of art.
The books we read as a child seem to stay with us for the rest of our lives. Those formative years, before we become teenagers and crushes and gossip seems more important than losing yourself in a story, we thrive on those books. I can still remember reading Black Beauty and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH for the first time. This exhibit was such a lovely trip down memory lane and it was a great reminder that books provided entertainment for centuries before there were TVs and video games.

Wordless Wed: Smithsonian Castle

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Smithsonian Castle in D.C.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Paris in July

Monday, July 27, 2015

Paris in July, what a sweet city to think about this month! I’m late to the party, hosted by Thyme for Tea, but have a quick book review and also a few thoughts on the city itself.

My experience with Paris began with books and films. It’s a romantic city, one that constantly pops up in literature. From the earliest books I read, like Madeline, to adult memoirs like A Moveable Feast, I’ve always loved seeing the city through other people’s eyes. Amelie, Moulin Rouge, Before Sunset, and Paris Je T’aime are a few of my favorite movies.

The first time I got to visit the city was something I’ll never forget. I was with a dear friend backpacking through Italy and France my junior year in college. Paris was the last stay in our trip and one that we’d both looked forward to. We saw all the big things, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, but it was in the quieter moments that Paris stole my heart.

We sat outside Shakespeare and Company waiting for the bookstore to open. When it finally did, I wandered through the precarious stacks carefully selecting a few treasures to take home with me. We bought gelato on Île de la Cité while listening to a little jazz band play on a bridge. We hiked up the stairs of Sacre Couer for a breathtaking view of the city. Those are the moments that made Paris come alive for me.

It will always be a magical city that appears in movies, but it became something real and deeper on that trip. It’s not my favorite city I’ve visited, but it’s one I would return to again in a heartbeat.

Bringing Up Bébé 
One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
by Pamela Druckerman

I was curious about the buzz this one received and since I’m pregnant, it seemed to be the perfect time to check it out. I went into it assuming that Druckerman’s argument would be that everything French is better. I was prepared to take that with a grain of salt and move on. Instead I discovered that, although she was living in Paris, she wasn’t a huge fan of France or the French. That being said, she was in awe of French parenting and the seemingly effortless success they had raising their children.

Druckerman approaches the whole subject as a journalist, not as a mother desperate to figure out what works. I appreciated her factual approach. She included anecdotes about her own experiences, but relied more heavily on what she learned from other French mothers. I thought it was fascinating to learn what cultural differences are ingrained in French and American parents, respectively.

There is plenty that I know wouldn’t work with my particular style. The sheer pressure put on women to look perfect as quickly as possible after giving birth is a bit overwhelming, but there were plenty of other things to learn from. I loved seeing how the day cares in France, called a crèche, work. Where American day cares have a negative stigma attached, crèches are the opposite.

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting and informative. There are a few parenting styles that I hope I’ll keep in mind as I attempt to find what works best for my family. I particularly liked the French approach to encouraging your kids to eat a wide variety of food and sleeping through the night as early as possible. 

Photo by me. 

American Players Theatre, Arcadia Books, and Wisconsin Weekends

Friday, July 24, 2015

Every single year, since 2010, I spend one weekend in Spring Green, Wisconsin. There's an incredible theatre there called the American Players Theatre that performs everything from classic Shakespeare to cutting-edge intimate plays. It's my absolute favorite theatre and one of the only places I've been where you can see professional Shakespeare under the stars. 
The tiny town of Spring Green includes a wonderful bookstore called Arcadia Books that I always visit while I'm there. I am never disappointed by their collection and I always leave with at least one (usually more) books. 

The town also happens to be home to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture studio and a current architecture school. House on the Rock is also located there (and plays a big part in Neil Gaiman's American Gods).

It's in the middle of nowhere, but the strange collection of attractions means there's a constant stream of people visiting. If you're ever in the Midwest you should definitely take time to visit! It's only about 3 hours from Chicago and even just seeing one of the plays makes the trip worth while! 

A few of my reviews of APT shows: 

APT photo from here, bookstore photos by me. 

Wordless Wed: Sculpture Garden

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

May Mini Reviews

Monday, July 20, 2015

Here's the rest of the book reviews that I have been so behind on! Again, just because the review is short doesn't mean I didn't like the book. 

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
Louisa Clark finds herself with no job and no prospects. She finds a position as a caregiver for a paralyzed, depressed man named Will. I knew the premise of this one and honestly it didn’t sound appealing. It sounded depressing and a bit gimmicky, but it was so good. The story has a way of getting under your skin though. The characters are struggling to make things work in their own lives and don’t realize how much they need each other.

BOTTOM LINE: A fast beach read that defied my expectations.

Sisterhood Everlasting
by Ann Brashares

The Sisterhood series was one that I loved in college. The girls’ ages corresponded with my own in most of the books. I loved that they faced big issues, like divorce, suicide, self-doubt, death, but they also dealt with the joys of growing up and falling in love for the first time.

This is the fifth book in the series and I wasn’t really drawn to it when it came out. When I finally read it I realized that the girls’ ages still almost corresponded with my own. They are all about to turn 30 and the issues they’re faced with are big ones that I recognize.
The book takes an unexpected turn right from the beginning, but it’s a rewarding story by the end. Brashares has never shied away from tough subjects in this book and I loved the way she handled the situations each girl went through.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved returning to their lives and I was so glad I got to see how they were all doing. I don’t think the series needs another sequel, but this installment provided a wonderful conclusion to their journey.

Backseat Saints
by Joshilyn Jackson
Rose Mae is a minor character in Jackson’s Gods in Alabama. This novel tells her story. After a childhood filled with abuse, she finds herself trapped in an abusive marriage. She decides it’s time to take action after a gypsy reads her fortune in an airport. Rose Mae’s situation is a familiar one for many women. It’s also terrifying to think about being trapped in a life like that.

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Gods in Alabama. It was a quick read, but the characters didn’t ring true for me in the same way. It felt more like a Lifetime movie.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone
by Laini Taylor

I wanted to like this one more than I did. It’s a fascinating concept. Karou is a girl living in Prague with a few strange chimera as friends. She runs errands for them, collecting teeth and getting information. She’s an art student with an extraordinary skill. An angel named Akivia sees Karou and is enthralled by her. Soon their paths cross and everything she knew about her life begins to unfold.

The first half of the book was interesting, but I was never fully invested. When we switched the telling the older tale I was really hooked and fascinated. Unfortunately at that point I’d already been struggling to want to keep reading.

I felt like one thing that really held me back was the relationship between Karou and Akivia. For quite a while I thought the big reveal was going to be that he was her father. They whole thing felt icky to me. It made sense when it was revealed, but early on she’s still a 17-year-old girl, while he is quite old in actual years.

BOTTOM LINE: Good in concept and a very unique story (not in overall theme, but in the details). For that reason I’m tempted to keep reading the series, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it.

Night of Cake & Puppets 
(Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy)
by Laini Taylor
My favorite character in Daughter of Smoke and Bone was Karou’s best friend Zuzana. This short story gives readers a look at the first date that’s mentioned but not described in the novel. It’s told from the point of view of both Zuzana, who makes puppets, and her love interest. She creates a series of clues for him to follow throughout the city of Prague on a snowy night. It’s sweet and offbeat and I really loved the whole story.

Go Set a Watchman

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee 
I just want to start by saying I intentionally avoided articles and reviews of the book that came out before I had a chance to read it. There was way too much talk swirling around this book and I wanted to go into it without any preconceived notions. I actually tried to read it slowly, but it's not long and it's hard to put down. I was so nervous that it would be a disappointment and I'm so glad it wasn't!

Written before To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is actually set after it. Scout is now in her 20s and living in New York City. She returns home to visit her family to find that not everything is how she left it. I don't want to compare Lee's two books, I think this one stands on its own. But I do love the style of writing that's prevalent in both, it's Harper Lee all over. You fall in love with the characters, particularly Atticus' brother Dr. Finch, who loves Victorian literature. You meet Jean Louise, not as the tomboy Scout, but as a 26-year-old woman who still trying to figure out who she is.

There are shades of The Help in this book. A girl returns to her Southern roots to find that her friends and some of her family members seem racist in light of her new education and experiences. But Go Set a Watchman's focus is more on how Jean Louise reacts to this than it is about the issue itself. I think this is particularly true when you think about the fact that this was written in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, not in retrospect when we already knew the outcome.

Honestly, I think the story is timeless because the issue itself is interchangeable. If it was written in the early 1900s it might have been about women's suffrage, if it was written today it might have been about gay marriage. The issue is what was being dealt with at that time. The story is about the people it affected and the hard truths you face when you grow up and realize your parents are human beings and have their own flaws.  

It's something most twenty-somethings go through, but it's never easy, especially for someone who has a parent like Atticus who is easy to place on a pedestal. Seeing your parents as real people for the first time is so hard. It's important to think about the context of their lives and the way they were raised when considering their actions. It doesn't justify their actions or beliefs, but it can help you understand them. Giving some context and perspective to their world is so crucial in understanding the people around us, flawed as they may be.

What I love the most is throughout the book everything so personal. We flashback to Jean Louise's childhood. There are glimpses of the To Kill a Mockingbird days and Dill. We see her as an awkward teen, misunderstanding things like pregnancy and periods. We even learn a bit more about Atticus' family history and his relationship with his deceased wife.  

Family provides the eternal conundrum. We love them so deeply, they are a part of us, but that doesn't mean we always hold to the same beliefs. It's the respect that we have for each other that keeps us close.  

BOTTOM LINE: I'm still processing the book and it's one that I'm sure I'll return to again in the future. It's not an easy book to think about, because it forces you to look at your own heroes and wonder about their flaws and how that changes your relationship with them. I really loved it though. The writing, the characters, the frank struggle, self-righteous indignation that it's so easy to feel when you're young. There was such a wonderful balance of nostalgia and new meat of a story. It was all that I was hoping and more.  

"She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him."

"Love's the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There different kinds of love, certainly, but it's a you-do or you-don't proposition with them all."

"Any reference to her personal eccentricities, even from Henry, made her shy."

"She had never seen a shelter that reflected so strongly the personality of its owner. An eerie quality of untidiness prevailed amid order: Dr. Finch kept his house militarily spotless, the bookstand to pileup wherever he sat down."

"As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he'll look for his lessons."

"The only thing in America that is still unique in this tired world is that a man can go as far as his brains will take him or he can go to hell if he wants to."

"Remember this also: it's always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years, it is hard to see what we are."

"He was the only person she ever knew who could paraphrase three authors into one sentence and have them all makes sense."

Wordless Wed: Twilight Opera House

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Twilight at the Sydney Opera House
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Why Have Kids?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why Have Kids?
A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness
by Jessica Valenti

From the title of this one you would assume it’s a manifesto about not having children. The opposite is actually true. The author discusses the different reasons people have kids and the pressures that we put on ourselves and others to parent “right”.
Valenti had an incredibly traumatic birth three months before her due date. This extreme circumstance affected her views on a lot of things, but it also gave her a desire to question why certain things are done the way that they are. She struggled to breastfeed while her child was in the NICU and was pumping for 5 hours a day to try to keep up milk production. She quickly learned that sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t possible for some moms. 

Her focus is on the fact that she believes there is no single correct way to give birth or parent. Women, particularly in western civilization put an insane amount of pressure on themselves and others to do it all. We tell ourselves we have to breastfeeding, co-sleeping (or not), make organic baby food, do attachment parenting, etc., all while continuing to work or run a household. There’s a strong tendency to glorify mothers who sacrifice everything for their babies, grinding their lives to a halt so their kids can have it all.

There were some startling statistics on people abandoning their kids or quitting their job and going on welfare because childcare is too expensive. While I don’t agree with every point Valenti made, I think she opened the discussion on some important topics about why we parent the way we do. Are people having kids because they want to or because they feel like they are supposed to?

BOTTOM LINE: I’m quickly learning that every single parent has their own unique style. I don’t know exactly what mine will be yet, but I’m finding it helpful to read books like this to learn more about what’s out there. I can tell you I’m definitely not ever going to be a supporter of elimination communication though.

April Mini Reviews

Monday, July 13, 2015

So I read a bunch of books during the Dewey Read-a-thon in April. Then I got through a good number of books when we were lounging on the beach for a week in May. Unfortunately lots of reading means I’m now way behind on reviews. So I’m going to give a few super short thoughts on a few of the books this week to finally catch up. If the review is short it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book! 

All The Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

This novel, set during World War II in Europe, tells the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner. She is a young blind girl who lives with her father in Paris. He is a German orphan with a skill for building and fixing radios. Both tales are rich in their own right, but they build towards each other throughout the book.

The writing was wonderful. I felt myself running my hands over the miniature city that Marie-Laure’s father builds for her. I flinched alongside Werner when the fellow boys in the Hitler youth program beat one of his friends senseless. All along the way we hear about a famous jewel that curses the life of its owner in horrible ways. All these details are significant.

BOTTOM LINE: A great read. This one didn’t make me fall in love with it in the same way that The Book Thief did, but it was a beautiful book

The Big Fight
My Life In and Out of the Ring
by Sugar Ray Leonard

This one isn't my normal kind of book, but I read it in order to prepare for my interview with the author. Leonard’s path to the ring makes for a great story. I hadn’t realized he was an Olympic gold-medalist and that he’d battled addiction throughout his career. It was interesting to learn more about the boxer's life, but it wasn't something that will stick with me.

Blood of Olympus
(Heroes of Olympus Book 5)
by Rick Riordian

This is the final chapter in the Heroes of Olympus books. It was a good way to wrap up the series. I felt like each of the characters got closure.

My main complaint about the series as a whole is that is always felt more driven by action and plot than by character development. Every time I got truly invested in a character’s storyline, a huge god or giant would pop up and there would be a battle. I wish we’d gotten to spend a little more time seeing those relationships unfold. I particularly loved the interaction between the demigods and their parents. I wish there had been more of that.

BOTTOM LINE: Glad I read it, but it’s not a series I think I’d return to.

The Tiger Rising
by Kate DiCamillo

This book hits some heavy issues from the first page. A young boy has lost his mother. His father is cold and distant. They move from their home state to live in a motel in Florida. He’s being bullied by his fellow sixth grade classmates. He meets a girl named Sistine who becomes his only friend. DiCamillo is a talented author and in this book she tackles the danger of ignoring your grief and sorrow. When we ignore our hurt or bury it, it never goes away.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed this one, but if I was giving it to a younger audience I would make sure I followed the reading with a discussion of the issues.

“Ain’t nobody going to come and rescue you. You got to rescue yourself.”

“Rob realized why he liked Sistine so much. He liked her because when she saw something beautiful, the sound of her voice changed.”

Me + the Huz + One

Friday, July 10, 2015

So... we're welcoming a new member to the Hall family in January! 

I'm crazy excited. We just made it through the first trimester and honestly, I've never been so tired in my life. I feel like all I did was eat and sleep during those months. I've eaten so many scrambled eggs!

We found out shortly before we went to Florida and so we couldn't resist a little beach announcement to save for later. 

We already feel so loved and encouraged by family and friends who we've told. It's scary and exciting to think about how drastically life is going to change in 2016, but in a good way.

The Last Anniversary and Three Wishes

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Last Anniversary 
by Liane Moriarty 

Moriatry crafts novels that suck you in immediately. The timeline and family tree in this one are a little trickier to follow than her others, but I read it in one weekend and that helped me keep everything straight. 

The Gordon family has lived on a small island in Australia for years. A mystery involving a vanished family and abandoned baby has haunted the shores for decades. When Connie, one of the eldest members of the family passes away, she unexpectedly leaves her home to her grandson’s ex-girlfriend Sophie. The odd choice baffles the family, but soon Sophie steps into her ready-made life on the island. She meets Connie’s whimsical sister Rose, Enigma, the mystery baby and her adult daughters: Margie and Laura. The grandkids, Grace, Thomas, and Veronica are all adults as well. Each one adds a unique twist to the story. 

Grace’s story was powerful because it gave such an intimate look at post-partum depression, something so few people understand. I also loved seeing Margie’s transformation. Standing up for yourself after years of being put down is incredibly difficult. The big twist/reveals weren’t as shocking as some of her other novels, like Big Little Lies (link), but that didn’t matter. I just enjoy the worlds she creates too much to care. 

BOTTOM LINE: The magic of the island is infectious. You want to visit it and be swept away by the mystery of it all. It’s not my favorite Moriarty novel. It definitely feels like an earlier work, but that just means she’s getting better with each book and I have even more great novels to look forward to.

Three Wishes
by Liane Moriarty 

Gemma, Cat, and Lyn are triplets. In the opening pages they are celebrating their birthdays at a posh Sydney restaurant and we see the meal unfold through the eyes of other patrons. Gemma is a wild spirit, the dreamy, untethered sister. Cat is the strong, brash one. Lyn is the organized, uptight one. The three are so close, yet so wildly different. The trio makes up a pretty exclusive club, yet they don’t tell each other some of the biggest secrets in their lives.

Starting with the opening scene, there are short chapters sprinkled in from the random points of view of people whose paths crossed with the girls in some fleeting way. It was an interesting chance to see them from the point of view of an outsider. The style reminded me a bit of the way Moriarty used the police interviews to break up the story in Big Little Lies (though I think the technique worked better in that novel).
One of the things I love about Moriarty's books is the way she portrays women. They are complicated. They can be jealous, selfless, kind, furious, and more without being labels a "good" or "bad" character. In other words, they are like real women. Her men tend to be a little more one-dimensional, either they are bad guys or they are long-suffering supportive husbands. That's not always true, but it seems like more often than not they fall into one group or the other. The women though don't have nearly the same defined motivations and I love that. Each of the sisters comes across as flawed and vulnerable in different ways.

BOTTOM LINE: I love Moriarty's books. This is my least favorite so far though and I would recommend picking it up after you've already read The Husband's Secret and Big Little Lies.

Wordless Wed: Hallstatt

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hallstatt, Austria
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

Monday, July 6, 2015

I'm a Stranger Here Myself
Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
by Bill Bryson

I love reading Bryson when I’m traveling. His dry wit and thoughts on travel always seem to hit the spot. This book is a compilation of columns he wrote for a British publication when he returned to live in America with his British wife and kids after years in England. He talks about a wide variety of subjects in America, from the postal service to the abundance of great snack food to the lack of sidewalks. Yes he can be condescending, that’s kind of this thing. It was fun to see how our country looks when explained to another culture.

Bryson has written about everything from entomology to Australia in his books and he always makes his subject matter interesting. No matter what random topic he chose for each column, it still worked well because it contained his trademark blend of sarcasm and genuine enthusiasm.

The book was published in 1999 and I’m guessing most of the columns ran in the years preceding that. Because of this, some things are obviously dated. He talks about new technology like computers as if they are brand new. Those dated elements don’t take anything away from the overall book though.

BOTTOM LINE: My favorite Bryson books remain In aSunburned Country and A Walk in the Woods, but this one was a fun addition. It’s easy to dip into because each chapter stands alone.

Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Have a wonderful Fourth of July weekend everyone! 
I hope you all get a chance to relax and enjoy it 
no matter what country you are in.
See you next week!
Photo by me.

Wordless Wed: Chihuly Ceiling

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dale Chihuly ceiling at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Kentucky.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.