Birthday Wishes 2015

Hello!

Slide2July is my favorite month of the year by far. I find that schoolwork is not as much of a concern with summer vacation in full swing, I have more free time to read and see friends, and I have my birthday to celebrate towards the end of the month! With my b-day only three weeks away, I’m following Ciao Bella tradition and sharing the items that top my wish list this year; clearly, my list-making love extends to all aspects of my life.  Of course, this round-up is just for fun, as birthdays are special, no matter what gift you receive.

[1] Grace’s Sightseeing Outfit from American Girl Nearly every item in Grace’s line has won my heart {her storyline revolves around Paris and baking – can you say love at first sight?!}, but I think her most recent product, this adorable black and white ensemble, would be most at home in my collection.

[2] Campus Backpack in Parisian Paisley from Vera Bradley My current Campus Backpack is showing tears in its straps, so I would love a new bag before I head back to school. All three patterns in Vera Bradley’s fall preview are stunning, but this brightly colored print is my favorite.

[3] 2015-2016 Lilly Pulitzer Agenda in Wild Confetti Planner that I am, a new Lilly agenda for my junior year is an absolute must! I adored the one I used this past school year, so I have little doubt that the 2015-2016 edition – dotted with speckles of pink and green – will please this frequent organizer.

[4] How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence and the Machine The last few weeks of the school year were so crazy that I never made the time to order Florence’s newest album. Fortunately, I’m not the only Florence and the Machine fan in the family – it’s practically a present for us all :)

[5] Boden Giftcard The release of Boden’s fall line is a mere three to four weeks away, a fact that is both exciting {I could browse for hours} and distressing {their autumn items come out only weeks into my summer}. Nevertheless, spending money would come in handy for back-to-school shopping.

[6] Big Eyes Tim Burton’s films are certainly interesting, even if they are not always my cup of tea! One of his recent works, Big Eyes, came out on DVD in the spring, and I hope to watch it myself as I didn’t get the chance to see it in theaters. The movie, a look at the artistic couple of Margaret and Walter Keane, sounds so intriguing.

[7] Emmy & Oliver I could never let my birthday go by without asking for a new book! Robin Benway’s novel, Emmy & Oliver, recently celebrated its release, and I have heard a continuous stream of positive praise. It sounds like such a good read – I’ll be sure to have a place ready for it in my bookshelf.

[8] Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love Given The first cookbook by this baking duo is amazing; I have tried several recipes since I checked it out of the library, and they have stopped nothing short of delicious. I would happily own their second cookbook, released in the spring, if it is even half as good as the first!

[9] Sharpie Ultra Fine 24 Pack Finally, for doodling and hand-lettering alike, one can’t get any better than the classic Sharpie marker. Much of my current set is drying out, so I’m asking for another pack to replenish my supplies. Just look at all of the vivid hues included!

Have a fantastic Thursday!
Bella

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June 2015 Monthly Recap

Hello!

Monthly RecapWe are now in the second half of 2015 – how crazy is that?! Since time clearly flies, I like to review each month in a short recap. Today’s introduction will be short and sweet, as you surely know the drill by now; here’s everything that happened last month on Ciao Bella. It’s the perfect opportunity to revisit your favorites or catch up on the posts that you missed!

Almost Famous Women{Almost Famous Women has me rushing to read more short stories, especially those by Megan Mayhew Bergman!}

Reads: I am so pleased at how terrific of a year in reading 2015 has been so far. What I have read has been overwhelmingly terrific, and my June reviews illustrate that fact. From adorable middle grade novels to superb YA contemporaries, the following books all earn my recommendation.

  • None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio | “I.W. Gregorio’s gem of a debut, None of the Above, is one of many examples that best fits the campaign’s mission, but furthermore, it is one of few that tackles identity on the gender spectrum.”
  • Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens | “What they lack in experience, the two girls of the Wells and Wong Detective Society consistently make up in their intelligence, friendship, and, of course, British charm, making this 1930’s-set mystery a stand-out among this year’s releases.
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord | “Before reading The Start of Me and You, it had been quite some time since I came across a book that captured my heart in one sitting.”
  • Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman | “Bergman’s newest book is fascinating, and she has certainly proven herself a talented author in short fiction. Though I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, I finished thinking Bergman accomplished her goal.”
  • Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs | “Stuart Gibbs is just one of many authors I recommend on a frequent basis, and his latest release, Evil Spy School, illustrates the best of the middle grade genre. I enjoyed it, as I’m sure you will as well, no matter what your age.”
  • Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman {posted on Lit Up Review} | “I hold the utmost respect for writers who bring [mental illness] to the forefront. Neal Shusterman’s latest release, titled Challenger Deep, is among many of this year’s publications that caught my eye for doing so.”

I’m slowly but steadily making progress on one of my summer list goals: to bring my yearly total of books read up to one hundred by the summer’s end. Fortunately, June was a good month for reading; I was able to return ten more books to the library, as you can see below. Most, if not all, of my recent reads were strong, well-written novels, a trend that I hope to continue into July and August!

June BooksI am behind in writing my book reviews, but I’ve blocked out time to write and post a few of them this month – you’ll see them pop up soon!

Strawberry Rhubarb CrispEats: Though only one recipe was shared last month, I promise that it’s a dish worth making multiple times throughout the summer. I’m sure this strawberry rhubarb crisp will taste just as delicious at a late August gathering as it will at this weekend’s Fourth of July celebration! Even better? There’s no better way to use up your excess backyard rhubarb supply, not that speak from experience :)

Kiernan Shipka{The question is not when, but when do I not, envy Kieran Shipka’s closet?! I would happily wear any of her red-carpet dresses, as I explained in last month’s unique Style Snapshot.}

More: Reviews and recipes were not the only subjects that I discussed in June! Per usual, I honored three more talented artists in last month’s round of Eye on Art; they ranged from a stroke-heavy painter to a character-driven illustrator. June’s Style Snapshot highlighted the celebrity wardrobes I’m constantly eyeing, while the Top Ten Tuesdays I participated in last month included the books I can’t wait to read in the rest of 2015 and my summer to-be-read list {and massive library haul}.

In my list-making fashion, I shared my annual Summer List last week – it’s something I look forward to writing all year long! I also shared my feminist inspiration, the ever-so talented and creative Tavi Gevinson, here at The Feministas, and finally, I introduced a brand new – and seasonal – feature called Summer Lovin’, which Ana, blogger at Butterflies of the Imagination, kicked off on Friday.

That J.Crew Gingham Shirt{via A Cup of Jo}

Favorites: As many bloggers often lament, keeping up with RSS feeds is hard enough, let alone leaving a meaningful comment on each and every post! I hope to improve my commenting skills during this summer vacation {your advice is appreciated}, but in the meantime, here are a few sites that caught my eye last month. As always, read and spread some blog love.

  • Finding well-designed and affordable {i.e. free!} clipart has proven to be a difficult task in the past, which is why I absolutely adore this free download from Emily at Jones Design Company. The seaside doodles are provided in black and white and color, so I’ll be downloading both to use throughout the summer months.
  • Rarely do I see discussion posts on age when it comes to blogging; I certainly interact with a wide range, anywhere from “tweens” to adults, but it wasn’t until I read Annie’s thought-provoking post on the subject that I actually stopped to think about it. Her post is certainly worth the read, but the comments from others in the blogging community are interesting too!
  • In case you are a Nancy Drew fan like me, may I suggest this insightful article on the history of the beloved detective? Reading through it made me smile, and reminded me that one can never go wrong with re-reading a Nancy Drew mystery. My independent study project on Nancy in elementary school fueled this obsession! :)
  • Instagram has quickly become one of my favorite forms of social media, as I love the balance I can find between popular photography accounts and those of my close friends. A Cup of Jo highlighted a few Instagrams to follow earlier in June, including my favorite, “That J.Crew Gingham Shirt.”
  • Finally, doesn’t Sea Salt and Vanilla Fudge Ice Cream sound absolutely delightful?! The recipe {whipped up by the food geniuses at Love and Olive Oil} does look time-intensive, but I’m sure the final result is entirely worth it. Lindsay’s photos are your proof.

Looking Ahead July{via My Cute Graphics}

Looking Ahead: July has plenty going for it: it’s not only the first full month of summer break, it’s also my birthday month and National Ice Cream month! With the Fourth of July this weekend, a performance of the so bad, it’s funny Carrie mid-month, and a handful of parties sprinkled throughout the next few weeks, it seems to me that my vacation is off to a smashing start.

Have a wonderful day!

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Making the Grade / Evil Spy School

Hello! Making the GradeEvery few months or so, I come across an article or tweet that denounces those that read middle grade or young adult novels in adulthood. As an avid reader of MG fiction myself, I am saddened that some find it okay, or even necessary, to shame other bookworms – I’ve always thought that reading is reading, regardless of how old the character of the book is. I alternate between various styles of literature, but no genre brings a smile to my face as often as my middle grade reads; my favorites are not only fun to read, but incredibly well-written too! Stuart Gibbs is just one of many authors I recommend on a frequent basis, and his latest release, Evil Spy School, illustrates the best of the middle grade genre. I enjoyed it, as I’m sure you will as well, no matter what your age.

When Ben gets kicked out of the CIA’s spy school, he enrolls with the enemy. This companion to Spy School and Spy Camp is rife with action, adventure, and espionage.

During a spy school game of Capture the Flag, twelve-year-old Ben Ripley somehow accidentally shoots a live mortar into the principal’s office and immediately gets himself expelled. Not long after going back to the boring old real world, Ben gets recruited by evil crime organization SPYDER. And he accepts.

As a new student in SPYDER’s evil spy school, which trains kids to become bad guys with classes like Counter Counterespionage and Laying Low 101, Ben does some secret spying of his own. He’s acting as unofficial undercover agent, and it becomes quickly apparent that SPYDER is planning something very big and very evil.

Ben can tell he’s a key part of the plan, but he’s not quite sure what the plan is. Can Ben figure out what SPYDER is up to and get word to the good guys without getting caught before it’s too late? {Goodreads}

Evil Spy SchoolNeed more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers had to say.
“The story moves forward at a steady pace, providing some clues and questions.  With about a third of the book left, things really explode and it becomes a fast paced sprint to the end.  Along the way, everything that has happened before comes back into play” {read the rest of the review at Corsairs Considers HERE}.

“Pitch perfect middle grade novel. Well meaning but accident prone main character who also gets to be a SPY. A frisson of romance. Things blowing up. Awesome cover; glad the series is staying the same. It’s hard to keep this series on the shelf” {read the rest of the review at Ms. Yingling Reads HERE}.

“Ben is as witty and entertaining a protagonist as ever, and readers will get a kick out of his new “friends” at evil-spy school. Ashley Sparks, a bitter ex-gymnast robbed of her chance for Olympic gold but carrying a torch for Ben, is a particularly welcome addition” {read the rest of the review at Kirkus Reviews HERE}.

Let’s discuss! Have you read Evil Spy School? Do you gravitate towards mysteries or spy-related novels? Finally, I would love to hear your thoughts on what seems like a favorite subject of the media: adults reading YA or middle grade.

Have a lovely start to your week!

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Summer Lovin’ with Ana from Butterflies of the Imagination

Hello!

Summer Lovin'I’m excited to introduce a special edition of The Love List, a regular series here on Ciao Bella, for the summer: Summer Lovin’! Inspired by my own weekly feature, I have invited a few of my favorite teenage bloggers to share their summer-themed favorites, from a good book to a fun activity, throughout June, July, and August.

To kick off the event, I am delighted to welcome Ana from Butterflies of the Imagination. Ana is the absolute sweetest, and she has an excellent taste in novels {she is a fellow Harper Lee fan!}, so I encourage you to pay her a visit when you finish reading through her summer picks. Without further ado, here’s Ana!

• • •

Hi, I’m Ana, and I blog over at Butterflies of the Imagination. I’m a huge fan of Bella’s blog, so when she asked me to guest post, I was unbelievably excited. I hope you enjoy my list of summer favorites!

Chasing JupiterFavorite Summer Read • Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker is the perfect summer read for me, not only because it takes place during the summer but also because it is beautifully written. In this book we meet Scarlett, a teen girl with an autistic brother named Cliff. When Cliff asks for a rocket to Jupiter for his birthday, Scarlett is determined to make his wish come true. This novel is full of humor, heartache and lots of peach pie, making it absolutely perfect for the summer.

TomorrowlandFavorite Summer Film • At the beginning of the summer, I was lucky enough to see Tomorrowland in theaters. I’ve come to expect only brilliance from Disney’s productions, and I’m glad to say that this film lived up those expectations. I love how it features two strong female heroines that aren’t afraid to carve their own paths as scientists and innovators. I also enjoyed seeing the wonderful depiction of Tomorrowland {I really want to live there!}. And to top it all off, the inspirational message of everyone’s ability to create the future they want to see touched me and is sure to touch all viewers of the movie.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream{via}

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor • Mint and chocolate have always been, and will always be, my favorite taste combination. When paired with ice cream, the rich taste of chocolate and the refreshing taste of mint gets even better. I’m looking forward to lots of mint chcolate ice cream this summer.

RunningFavorite Summer Activity • One thing that fills up each of my summers is running. This summer I’m looking forward to daily runs with my cross-country team. I am especially looking forward to long runs, which are perfect for exploring new trails and bonding with my teammates, as well as other teams. After runs, I know I’ll look forward to recovering with some watermelon and a plunge into a cold stream nearby.

Navy Anchor SkirtSummer Wishlist Item • Ever since I read Chasing Jupiter, I have been an avid follower of Rachel Coker’s blog. Soon enough, through her blog I learned that her sister, Hannah Coker, has an Etsy shop called Hannah Everly. She sells cute skirts that are modest without sacrificing style. I have my eye on her Navy Anchor skirt, which I think is the perfect summery skirt for a trip to the beach.

• • •

Thank you again to Ana! I too loved Tomorrowland, and I’ll certainly keep my eye out for Chasing Jupiter – it sounds fantastic. Be sure to visit Ana’s blog HERE or become friends with her on Goodreads HERE.

Have a terrific Friday, an even better weekend, and happy summer! :)

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Almost Famous Women: A Book Review

Hello!

Almost Famous WomenTitle: Almost Famous Women
Author: Megan Mayhew Bergman
Published: January 6th 2015, by Scribner
Pages: 256
Genre: Adult / Historical Fiction
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: N/A

The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader’s imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past {and delve into the future}, and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.

The world hasn’t always been kind to unusual women, but through Megan Mayhew Bergman’s alluring depictions they finally receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is a gorgeous collection from an “accomplished writer of short fiction” {Booklist}. {Goodreads}

My Thoughts: I have found the best way to review a short story collection is simple: write up a few short sentences on each piece of work! Bergman’s newest book is fascinating, and she has certainly proven herself a talented author in short fiction. Though I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, I finished thinking Bergman accomplished her goal; I not only learned about the “forgotten” women of history, but I also wanted to research them all further.

It is important to note that Almost Famous Women may be based on fact, but it is still a work of fiction. Bergman uses her artistic liberty to craft stunning pieces on their lives that are each interesting, but imagined all the same. I’ve provided a picture of the women written about for your own reference, in case you want to do some research on your own {after you look for the book yourself, that is}.

Pretty Grown Together ChildrenThe first short story highlights conjoined twins and entertainment duo, Daisy and Violet Hilton. Stars as children and young women, the twins led unusual – and sadly, depressing – lives. Bergman captures their mental and physical decay well with the narrative style, and the lack of quotation marks is fitting given the relationship of the sisters.

Siege at Whale CayAlthough Joe Carstairs is frequently overlooked in history, Bergman brings a sense of intrigue and character to her story in The Siege at Whale Cay. One of the strongest aspects of this collection is the inconsistency in narration, as Bergman experiments throughout the book with perspective. Here, readers “live” through Georgie, the young lover of Carstairs; she acts as different lens to the eccentric boat racer’s life.

Norma Millay's Film NoirEdna St. Vincent Millay is a well-known poet, but her sister, Norma, was a name lost on me until I read Norma Millay’s Film Noir Period. Unfortunately, however, this short story was one of the un-memorable bunch. I felt disconnected from the story {likely due to the unusual structure}, and my lack of any prior knowledge did nothing to help.

Romaine RemainsRomaine Remains shows painter Romaine Brooks at the end of her life and, like the stories before, is not told through her own perspective, but that of her servant, Mario. I found the dynamics between Brooks and her servant compelling, and the mood of the piece matches perfectly with Brook’s own work: bleak and depressing.

Hazel Eaton and the Wall of DeathHazel Eaton’s spotlight is short {If I remember correctly, it is no more than five pages}, but the brief length doesn’t deter from the reader’s enjoyment. Bergman invites her audience into Hazel’s inner thoughts and fears, leaving me merely curious, not disappointed.

Autobiography of Allegra ByronTold from the perspective of an ambiguous narrator, The Autobiography of Allegra Byron is an engrossing tale about Lord Byron’s young daughter. This is a highlight of the collection, rich with developed characters and significant themes. Furthermore, the layer of grief is important in shaping the story as a whole.

Expression TheoryWith little background provided about the main character, Lucia Joyce, readers are forced to piece together the two page story, Expression Theory, on their own. The writing is no different from the other short fiction works {in other words, gorgeous}, but the execution left much to be desired.

Saving Butterfly McQueenBy far my favorite piece of the collection, Saving Butterfly McQueen is a flashback into the past; the narrator, Elizabeth, recalls her meeting with Gone with the Wind actress, Butterfly McQueen. I adored the jump from present to past, as well as the development of each character, whether it be Elizabeth, Lank, an enthusiastic minister, or McQueen herself.

Who Killed Dolly Wilde?Dolly Wilde was the witty niece of Oscar Wilde, and her short story showcases her vivacious way of life. From the vivid characterization and the somber themes of war and death, Who Killed Dolly Wilde? is a stand-out in the collection. I particularly appreciated Bergman’s mention of other characters, Joe Carstairs and a friend of Romaine Brooks, in the narrative.

High-Grade B Sits Down for LunchThere’s no doubt that Beryl Markham was an interesting woman, but I can only say that after reading up on her on Google. The only thing A High Grade B—h Sits Down for Lunch could have benefitted from is a paragraph of background information, as the conflict between Beryl and the Horse was stellar writing.

The InterneesRarely do I come across first person plural, so it was a delightful surprise seeing it used in the short story, The Internees. Bergman writes of the women liberated at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 {made famous by Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin and artist Bansky}, fully illustrating the power of one moment in history.

Lottery, ReduxThe Lottery, Redux is a retelling of Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, The Lottery. It is completely out-of-place in this collection, but I cannot discount the talent it demonstrates. Both stories are chilling and terrifyingly intriguing, despite the little history readers are given going into the tale.

Hell-Diving WomenFinally, Hell-Diving Women is a different take on the horrors of segregation, following The International Sweethearts of Rhythm – in particular, trumpet player Tiny Davis – on the road. I had never heard of the musical group before, but my curiosity was piqued by Bergman’s powerful themes of love and race.

Need more convincing? Here’s what other reviewers have to say.
“Despite the disparate nature of these individuals’ experiences and the wide-ranging eras in which they lived, multiple thematic threads bind these short stories together: Namely, strong-willed, passionate women who take risks in life, love, and other pursuits” {read the rest of the review at The Boston Globe HERE}.

“In her second story collection, Almost Famous Women, Megan Mayhew Bergman delves into the lives of real women who skirted the fringes of fame, feminism, femininity, and polite society, looking at the ripple effects of both the choices they made and the ones that were made for them” {red the rest of the review at Heavy Feather Review HERE}.

Have a great Tuesday – I’m officially on summer break! :)

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