February 2015 Monthly Recap

Hello!

Monthly RecapToday’s Love List is being replaced with something I hope is equally as fun: a monthly recap for February! I can never grasp how quickly time flies by, and before I know it, I’ll be counting down the days until summer vacation. In the meantime, here’s a round-up of what happened on Ciao Bella last month. How was your February?

Highlights: Shopping My February was a month for Boden shopping; I grabbed several stylish pieces at the semi-annual Boden Sale in Boston and bought this cute sweater with a Christmas gift card. My parents also recognized my love for shopping and gifted me a shopping bag charm from Chamilia’s now-retired Disney Collection for Valentine’s Day. Lots of cute pieces to wear into spring! :)

One-Act Play Festival Another highlight of my month? Participating in the preliminary rounds of a one-act play festival last weekend. Although my school’s play is not moving on, I had such a fun day and will treasure the experience for a lifetime!

Lit-Up Review Finally, February ended on a good note when I learned I was one of seven new contributors to Lit Up Review! I am so honored to join a group of other lovely bookworms, and I am excited to work with them all throughout the year. My first post will be up in a few weeks, but you can see my contributor bio HERE!

All Four Stars{Can we all say how adorable Tara Dairman’s debut is?! This middle grade foodie adventure was a delight from beginning to end.}

Reads: I reviewed all of the novels I read in January, some of which were good, some of which were great, and some of which are new favorites of mine!

  • Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas | “A delightful mix of adorable holiday situations, hilarious grocery store secrets, and so awkward, it’s cute moments, this is a book that will have you smiling from beginning to end.”
  • Famous Last Words by Katie Alender | “Famous Last Words isn’t an ultimate favorite for me, but its chilling plot, unique premise, and addictive suspense makes it a must for horror fans.”
  • All Fall Down by Ally Carter | “The novel is a welcome addition to my bookshelf, and it truly shows why Ally Carter is a beloved – and skilled – author for the young adult market. I know I’ll be gushing about All Fall Down for months to come, but I’m thankfully in good company!”
  • All Four Stars by Tara Dairman | “Like the tasty treats this novel’s adorable protagonist whips up, All Four Stars is a demonstration of outstanding skill.”
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds | “YA contemporary fans should be adding this to their TBR list, if they are not already rushing to the store for their own copy. Reynolds has made his name in young adult fiction, and I hope – but, frankly can’t see – him leaving anytime soon.”
  • Manhunt by Kate Messner | “I’m disheartened to say that it didn’t match my enjoyment of Capture the Flag and Hide-and-Seek, but I still encourage fans to continue on with Anna, José, and Henry’s tale.”
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins | “I can see why this book has such a dedicated {and large!} following of fans, but I, for one, never clicked with Anna or her story.”

Nine seems to be my lucky number; I added nine more novels to my book count last month! That 100 novel goal for the end of the year seems all the more manageable.

February 2015 Books{Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literacy Characters not pictured}

I have a backlog of reviews to write up and post, so keep an eye out!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana BreadEats: I posted two recipes for you to make and eat: an easy update to chocolate chip cookies and my three favorite flavors, peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas, blended in one loaf.

Valerie McKeehan{I find chalkboard art so impressive, and Valerie McKeehan’s pieces are no exception.}

More: I love a good feature – they are just so fun to write up! In February, I fit in another musical moodboard {last month’s inspiration was the whimsical production, Mary Poppins}, a Style Snapshot fit for Valentine’s Day {although, let’s be honest, pink is good all year long}, and another round of Eye on Art. I also participated in Book Blogger Love-a-Thon for the first time; catch my introduction post HERE and my author valentines HERE.

J Crew-Presentation Backstage-fashion-week-caroline-donofrio{via A Cup of Jo}

Favorites: With the updates to Bloglovin’, I was saving plenty of posts from my favorite blogs. Here are a select few!

  • On and off the runway shots from Fashion Week popped up everywhere in February, but this fun guide to looking like a J.Crew model was the best look behind the scenes. A Cup of Jo nailed it, once again!
  • Regina’s tips for social media are invaluable for bloggers. Be warned though: one click to her site, and you’ll be scrolling through her informative posts for days!
  • Kimberly’s font pairing guides are clear, colorful, and helpful! I’m bookmarking them to use for future design projects, and I encourage you to do the same.
  • Are we obsessed with Florence and the Machine, or are we obsessed with Florence and the Machine?! I absolutely love her latest single.
  • Finally, Deb from Smitten Kitchen always has me ready to head to the kitchen. I have no reason to make chocolate cake, because it’s an “I want chocolate cake” cake, I see no reason why I couldn’t :)

Looking Ahead March{via My Cute Graphics}

Looking Ahead: Although I can’t wait for the official start to spring, trimester finals, statewide tests, and Daylights Savings Time {I can’t be the only one who is thrown off by the time change} makes March seem all-too long. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing Cinderella in theaters, reading several new releases, and wearing at least one dress by the end of the month!

Have a terrific weekend!
B

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My Twelve Favorite Books of the Past Three Years

Hi!

Top Ten TuesdayMy least favorite question is “What is your favorite book?” Reading near one hundred books a year, I find it so difficult to narrow down my reading experience to just one novel! {For time’s sake, I usually go with the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee}. Fortunately, The Broke and The Bookish‘s feature, Top Ten Tuesday, allows me to share more than just one book for this week’s topic: Books You Would Classify as Your All-TIme Favorites from the Past Three Years. I’ve have been blogging for just over three years now, so making up my list only required a look through my past reviews. It was challenging, but the following twelve novels are ones I would return to again and again with glee.

Favorite Reads Since Blogging[1] Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein • It took me a couple of times before I fell in love with Code Name Verity {I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds some historical fiction hard to get into}, but I am so glad I stuck with this WWII-set novel. Wein’s endless amount of research pours out of the pages, and her writing is captivating. I couldn’t put it down, finished it in one afternoon, and now declare Elizabeth Wein one of my most favorite authors with confidence. You’re missing out if you haven’t read it.

[2] Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell • Over the past three years, many young adult novels have become bestsellers for teens and YA-loving adults. Whether it’s due to the author’s reputation and emotional story {The Fault in Our Stars, anyone?!}, an adaptation hitting the big screen {that would be If I Stay, by the always amazing Gayle Forman}, or because it is just so good, like Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, you can hardly go wrong with these popular reads. I loved – and still do! – Rowell’s novel, and I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.

[3] Winger by Andrew Smith • Andrew Smith is known for his bizarre, yet well-written, stories {i.e. not everyone’s cup of tea :)}, but Winger is a must-read, regardless of your reading preferences. Authentic, humorous, and intense all at once, Winger lives up to its eye-catching cover. My only regret?! I never wrote a review when I read it a couple of years ago, giving me the perfect excuse to re-read it this spring.

[4] Cinder by Marissa Meyer • You would have to be living under a rock to never have heard of Marissa Meyer’s ever-so popular The Lunar Chronicles; they have dominated the bookseller and book blogger world for several years now. The novels are all winners, but I gave Cinder, the first book, a shout-out. Even I, who doesn’t read much in the science-fiction and fantasy genres, adored Book One, and I cannot wait to see how the saga wraps up later this year.

[5] Something Real by Heather Demetrios • I’ve lost count at how many times I’ve praised Heather Demetrios’ debut, Something Real. I suppose there’s only so many times I can say read it for its superb characterization, compelling story, and wonderful writing! I rarely come across a novel that takes priority over my homework, so do take note: Something Real should be on your TBR list {as well as Demetrios’ other novels, since I’m convinced she can do no wrong as an author}.

[6] Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson • I could have easily put any of Matson’s books on this list, because, like Demetrios, Morgan Matson is a master in the young adult genre. However, Second Chance Summer has an emotional depth that’s hard to overlook. I never have a problem recommending her books to realistic fiction fans.

Favorite Reads Since Blogging[7] A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff • My favorite middle grade novels deserve the spotlight as well, such as Lisa Graff’s A Tangle of Knots. A perfect blend of magic, realism, and charm, this book made me a Lisa Graff fan forever and ever. The whimsical story is more detailed and layered than it first lets on, and if that doesn’t hint at Graff’s skill, I don’t know what will! A companion novel is set to release next year, so there’s no time to lose in grabbing your own copy.

[8] Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne • I debated including Monument 14 on this list because, if anything, it’s a “guilty pleasure” of mine, but the addictive story and fleshed out dystopian world won a spot. Laybourne’s series isn’t perfect, but it is oh-so successful in hooking the reader from page one. I speak from experience; start now, and you won’t stop until you’ve reached the final page of the third book, Savage Drift.

[9] The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine • I’m saddened that I rarely see Kristin Levine’s books publicized online. Her historical fiction novels may be aimed at the middle grade audience, but I can’t see why any age – kid, teen, or adult – wouldn’t enjoy them. What I find so impressive about her work, as is the case with her debut, The Lions of Little Rock, is that she presents historical material in an engaging and fully developed way, avoiding the dreaded history textbook like style.

[10] Spy School by Stuart Gibbs • Spy School is another novel I can’t go a month without mentioning in a post, but praise it again I will! I have little doubt that avid middle grade readers, humor seekers, and budding spies will all enjoy Gibb’s series {or ANY of his books}. Save me the words, and read it as soon as you can :)

[11] Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone • I picked up Stone’s novel on a whim; I had heard some good things about it, and the designer in me loved the pale blue cover. Little did I no that it would soon become book one of my most beloved companion series {Time After Time is its sequel}! I could spend hours discussing how much I enjoyed it.

[12] Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian • Finally, Burn for Burn is one of my more recent reads, but I don’t think I’ve said how much I LOVE it over the past few months. Like many of the novels on this list, I didn’t suspect that Han and Vivian’s collaboration would rank among my favorites, but that’s the beauty of finding a good book, right?!

What novels would you call your favorites from the past few years?

Have a lovely day!
Bella

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The Last List Blog Hop with Sarah McGuire

Hello!

Slide1When Kat at Cuddlebuggery posted about the Last List Blog Hop, I knew I would join in to spread the word! The publishing company, Egmont, recently went out of business, putting its authors in an awful position {fortunately, their books are still hitting shelves this spring}. This amazing blog hop was then born, to celebrate and promote the novels on Egmont’s “Last List” {you can read more about the blog hop HERE and the last list HERE}.

ValiantToday, I’m honored to have Sarah McGuire, author of the middle grade fantasy, Valiant, guest posting for this blog hop. Her fairy tale retelling has been praised by many, and I know I’ll be the hunting down a copy at my local library once the novel comes out in April. Sarah was oh-so sweet to write a response on my topic, Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Retellings. Before I share her post, here is a quick synopsis about her debut:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true. Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes far more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive – even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.

But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal. Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Doesn’t that sound adorable?! Now, I’ll let Sarah take over :)

When I think of fairy tales, I think of Warrenton library and the very specific set of shelves that held the fairy tale books. Whenever my family went there, I’d plop myself down in the aisle and pore through the books – all of them! – picture books as well as the collections, like Andrew Lang’s colored Fairy Tale books.

When I was younger, my favorite stories were all about the pictures. For instance, how could anyone NOT love a tale that was illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman? And to be honest, illustrations still affect me. I didn’t see this book till I was in my 20’s, but I can’t mention “East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon” without thinking of P.J. Lynch’s illustrations.

I could list so many fairy tales that I liked then, but I think the fairy tales that stood out to me most were “Beauty and the Beast,” “Goose Girl,” “East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon,” “Snow White and Rose Red,” and “Six Swans” – or Anderson’s version of that tale, the “Twelve Swans.”

I think, looking back, I loved them because the heroines fought to save others – like in “East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon” or “Six Swans.” It’s what draws me to fairy tales now – a nobility of character {it sounds so old-fashioned, but it’s true!} and a wonderful, awe-inspiring world.

And retellings that I enjoy now?

The first retelling I read as an adult was Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl. I was amazed. It took everything I loved about fairy tales and wrapped it in gorgeous, lyrical language. I actually had a this-is-who-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up-moment. I think it encouraged me though, because Hale chose to treat the world as if it was real, and dive in. Other retellings? I love the Lunar Chronicles. They are so ridiculously clever and fun. I recently read straight through R.C. Lewis’ wonderful Stitching Snow. {Plus, she’s another math teacher who writes fairy tales. How cool is that?!}

Then there are stories that aren’t retellings, per se, but ohmyworld! Sarah Cross’ Beau Rivage novels, Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart put the Grimm back in fairy tales.  I also love Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad. It’s funny and insightful, and though he’s mainly riffing off Cinderella, there are bits of so many fairy tales there!

And then {do you see what you’ve started?} I can’t wait to get my hands on The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, a collection of tales that was gathered by Franz Xanver von Schönwerth. While the Grimm brothers edited the tales they collected to form a cohesive {and slightly more palatable} whole, Schönwerth wanted to preserve the tales as much as possible. These will be fairy tales in a more pristine state. I think there’s even a version of “The Brave Little Tailor!”

I suppose this means that whether you’re a girl wandering through a library or a math teacher wrestling with lesson plans, there will always be new tales to discover, new worlds to explore.

Thank you so, so much to Sarah! I know I have some fairy tales and retellings to add to my TBR list. If you want to learn more about Sarah, her book, or just want to follow her on Twitter, I have your links!

  • Add Valiant on Goodreads HERE.
  • Pre-order Valiant on Amazon HERE.
  • Pre-order Valiant on Barnes and Noble HERE.
  • Visit Sarah’s website and blog HERE.
  • And, finally, follow Sarah on Twitter HERE.

Please also take a moment to visit the other blogs participating in the Last List Blog Hop today HERE. These lovely authors – and their books – deserve our support.

Have a wonderful Monday!

Bella

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loving >> week 149

Hi!

I’m loving…

Texts from Jane Eyre{via Madeline Gobbo Illustration}

1 ♥ Texts from Jane Eyre I’m sure any other bookworm would agree books that mention – or mock – my favorite pieces of literature make for a humorous night of reading. Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters had me so excited, and fortunately, it didn’t disappoint. With texts ranging as far back as Plato up to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Mallory Ortberg’s book is just as entertaining as promises, and it would make the perfect gift for a book loves. How could you pass up Mr. Rochester’s expressions love in ALL CAPS?! :)

Grease2 ♥ Grease As I mentioned last week, I’ve been watching old movie after old movie, so it was only to be expected that Grease would soon make my list. How I had not yet seen this iconic musical film I’m not sure, but there’s no time like the present. I enjoyed it immensely, and the songs were stuck in my head days after viewing it. However, it was the production aspects that made my crew heart happy; I can only imagine who much fun Beauty School Dropout was to film. What is your favorite Grease number?

Foodie February3 ♥ Foodie February Book bloggers who love cooking and baking are my favorite {sound familiar?! :)}, so I look forward to posts from Cassie, who writes at her gorgeous and newly designed site, The Casserole, on the daily. The posts from her month long blog feature, Foodie February, and other categories have been a blast to read through, and I have many recipes saved for future times in the kitchen! While you can’t go wrong with the restaurant recommendations, I am partial to my own contribution: my favorite recipe to whip up, Chocolate Chip Muffins. Take a peek HERE and spread some love to Cass HERE!

snail-mail-sisters{via Snail Mail Sisters}

4 ♥ Snail Mail Sisters There’s even more excitement in the blogging world to share! My good friend, Paulina, started up her own blog this past January, and she’s already begun another project she’s calling Snail Mail Sisters. A fellow fan of letters and packages, Paulina had the brilliant idea to start up, in her words, “a group of ladies who send snail mail back and forth in a pen pal type setting.” She’s told me it has been off to a good start, and I couldn’t be happier to spread the word. I plan to look into it more this weekend! And, since we’re all about spreading love today, be sure to stop by Paulina’s blog HERE.

Hearts{hearts for the show’s theme AND because I heart festival. via The Ink Nest}

5 ♥ Play Festival Finally, to say I’m excited for my one-act play competition tomorrow would be an understatement. The entire cast and crew {I’m stage manager} have worked so hard over the past few months, and I’m sure our practice will pay off during our performance! The play we will be doing is a comedy called Crushed; you’re welcome to read more about it HERE if you’re interested. And with that, I wish you a terrific weekend!

Bella

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Pros & Cons / Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Hi!

Pros and ConsEver since I joined the blogging scene in 2011, I’ve received many recommendations to try Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, a YA contemporary set in the city of lights. Praised for the adorable relationship between the novel’s main characters and the realistic and complex character development, Anna and the French Kiss has become a staple in YA romance. My curiosity about the never-ending hype growing by the day, I finally read Perkins’ novel, only to end it slightly disappointed – as you can see in my full review below.

Here’s a synopsis, in case you haven’t read it yet {I’ve left the club :)}: Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all… including a serious girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? {Goodreads}

Anna and the French Kiss Pros and ConsAround the Web:Anna and the French Kiss had everything that makes up a great young adult contemporary —humor, kissing cute boys, drama, and a big dose of heart. Stephanie Perkins does young adult well and I will read whatever she writes!” {read the rest of the review at Reading Books Like a Boss HERE}.

Anna is possibly the sweetest book I have ever read, and it’s witty and emotional and FUN, too. Seriously, I love this book!” {read the rest of the review at The Page Sage HERE}.

“It took me minutes to get engrossed in this story. Right away I loved Anna and her voice. She’s quirky and funny. She’s intelligent and loyal. It was very easy for me to relate to Anna” {read the rest of the review at Novel Nerd HERE}.

Let’s discuss! Are you an Anna and the French Kiss fan? Did you fall victim to the hype monster as I did? Thoughts on the companion novels, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After?

Have a lovely Thursday!
B

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