Eye on Art / 10

Hello!Eye on ArtMy love of art has long been a part of my life. I can vividly remember adding my own creative flair to the pages of coloring books as a kid, working with new materials at summer art camps, or attempting to hand-letter my middle school binder covers. Exercising my artistic skills just makes me happy, the same way a musician might feel practicing an instrument or an athlete playing out on the field.

With that said, it’s no wonder that I enjoy putting together the Eye on Art posts each month. Coming across talented artists brings me just as much joy as working on my own personal projects, regardless of the type of art they do. Today’s three – a textile designer, a creative director, and a freelance painter – have inspired me to pull out my art supplies one last time before the stress of school hits {and when that happens, I’ll just turn to my new adult coloring book :)}. Have you been crushing on any artwork lately?

Jacqueline ColleyI believe that textile designers go underappreciated by the general population. A strong pattern requires an excellent sense of composition, exquisite attention to detail, and a defined eye for color, and only the best designers, like Jacqueline Colley, make it look easy.

With years of experience in her field, Jacqueline shows a wide variety in subject matter, and furthermore, she displays an impressive line quality. While elements of nature dominate her portfolio – she herself notes inspiration of “habitats and ecosystems” in her bio – I’m personally drawn to the more whimsical patterns, such as the binder clips and glasses shown above. Wouldn’t they make a cute dress print? {website}

Stephanie BirdsongI don’t know about you, but I find it hard to look at Stephanie Birdsong’s illustration work and not smile. I believe an artist has found success once they develop their own artistic style, and it’s clear that Stephanie has done exactly that; due to her superb use of color and her unique artistic style, each piece in her portfolio leaves a happy and lasting impact on the viewer.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find one of Stephanie’s pictures in a children’s book, as my favorites, the hairstyles of the 1940’s and the girl reading by the fire escape, are suited for such a format. If you have any interest in graphic design, I encourage you to browse her work as magazine art director as well; she has plenty of visual goodies to admire. Three cheers for fun art! {website}

Caitlyn MurphyFinally, though I think painting is relaxing, I also find it challenging, which is why I love artists who have mastered the medium and use it well. Toronto based illustrator Caitlyn Murphy is one of the talented bunch, and one glance at her pieces above shows you her signature color palettes and terrific figure drawing.

Caitlyn’s artwork is made to be hung; I can imagine quite a few of her paintings in my very own bedroom. With summer coming to a close, I gravitate towards the image of the girl jumping into the pool {the pink sky is top-notch}, but I also like the baseball player in front of the dotted crowd. If I had the money, I would buy them all, but for now, I will simply admire from afar. {website}

Have a wonderful Thursday!

Historical Fiction 101: A Top Ten Tuesday Syllabus


Top Ten TuesdayThe childhood play opportunities are endless: some kids spend their afternoons playing round after round of tag and hide-and-go-seek; a few use their imagination to craft elaborate stories about their stuffed animals; and others indulge their inner princess with Disney store gowns. Myself? I adored playing school, a game that had me decorating a “classroom,” creating different worksheets, and convincing my little sister to act as the students :)

While my play school days are over, my love of learning and teaching have not disappeared, a fact illustrated by my excitement over this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt: Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 {it’s a wordy one!}. With the back to school season in full swing, it’s a fitting topic, and better yet, it allows me to share my favorite historical fiction novels. What books would you include? {And as always, this feature is hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish}.

ChainsMy required reading list would begin with Laurie Halse Anderson’s widely acclaimed novel, Chains. Set at the time of the America Revolution, this heart-wrenching story is worth a read for its writing alone, but I continue to recommend it because of its unique and diverse point of view. For extra credit, one could pick up the Seeds of America sequel, Forge, which is just as powerful of a book!

RevolutionIt would only make sense that Historical Fiction 101 be taught in chronological order, so the next novel on the syllabus is Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution. Aptly named, the book switches between a modern-day setting and the French Revolution. It’s an interesting way to tackle historical fiction, and more importantly, Donnelly’s gorgeous writing suits the structure well. Extra credit seems to be the theme of the day, so pick up A Northern Light, also by Donnelly, in addition to this one. {review}

Under a Painted SkyMoving swiftly along to the 1800’s, we’re brought to Stacey Lee’s young adult debut, Under a Painted Sky, a story set along the Oregon Trail in 1849. Although I’ve only read this a few weeks ago, I’m already declaring it a historical fiction favorite due to the high attention to detail, the complex and engaging characters, and the vivid western setting. It’s hard to beat a combination like that.

The Evolution of Calpurnia TateThe historical fiction genre has novels aplenty on World War II and the events of the sixties, but the late 1800’s make less frequent of an appearance. Jacqueline Kelly’s gem of a novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is one of the few, bringing the 1899 Texas setting alive along with its feisty and curious main character. Attention has died down since the book was honored with a Newbery Medal, but there’s no better time than now to read it with the sequel already out on shelves.

UprisingI typically list the 1950’s and 1960’s as my favorite genres to read and learn about, but I’ve grown to love books set earlier in the century too. Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising, a gripping novel on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, was my first foray into the time period, and I haven’t regretted it since! If you too have interest in immigration and Ellis Island, factories and child labor, or twentieth century city life, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Audacity are your extra credit selections.

Rose Under FireIt’s not wrong to say that Elizabeth Wein is the queen of YA historical fiction, as each of her newer releases deliver in character development, complex storylines, and accurate suspense. I recommend them all {my reviews for Code Name Verity and Black Dove, White Raven can be found here and here}, but I believe Rose Under Fire is her best. It’s by no means easy to read, but it’s an excellent choice to learn more about WWII and the horrific concentration camps. {review}

Out of the EasyRuta Sepety’s Between Shades of Gray comes highly recommended to me, but until I read it, I will continue to recommend her other piece of historical fiction, Out of the Easy. Taking place in 1950’s New Orleans, the atmosphere created is incredible, and though I read it a few years ago, I can still recall the novel’s dynamic characters. If Between Shades of Gray is just as good as this, I know I’m in for a good read. {review}

The Lions of Little RockIf Elizabeth Wein is the queen of young adult historical fiction, Kristin Levine is certainly the master of middle grade. All three of her novels have developed Levine’s signature style; her books always feature layered character relationships, a tense historical setting, and a well-paced plot of events. My personal favorite of Levine’s work is The Lions of Little Rock, which covers the integration of Little Rock students in the 1950’s. {reviews: 1 / 2 / 3}

The Notorious Pagan JonesThe Cold War is such an intriguing time in history, and I’m fascinated with the war’s cultural consequences. Unfortunately, the time spent covering the war in school is brief, so I look to my bookshelf for more information. Nina Berry’s The Notorious Pagan Jones was recently released – I myself just read it last month – but it has received far less attention than it deserves. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but trust me: it’s an absolute must-read.

The Carnival at BrayFinally, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in reading a lot of historical fiction, it’s that a story does not need to be placed one hundred years back in history to have an impact on its reader. The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley’s debut, is set in 1993, when cell phones didn’t exist and the grunge movement was at its peak. Foley uses the time period to her advantage to create a setting as engrossing at the book’s sixteen year old protagonist, leaving readers with a strong tale of family, loss, and growth. {review}

Have a terrific Tuesday!

Two Mini Book Reviews {The Set-in-Summer Edition}


Thanks for sticking with me through my blog hiatus! I had an excellent vacation with my family {we visited Monticello, the Appomattox Court House, Gettysburg, and the Boden Outlet store, of course :)}, and I’m now soaking up the last bits of summer before I return to school next week. I haven’t posted a set of mini reviews in a long time – how’s last September for quite a while?! – but I wanted to share my thoughts on these reads before the summer season comes to a close. What have you been reading lately?

The Stars of SummerTitle: The Stars of Summer
Author: Tara Dairman
First published: May 5th, 2015 by Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 236
Genre: Middle Grade / Realistic Fiction
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Yes – it’s the cutest! Here’s my review for Book One.

It’s not easy being an undercover restaurant critic — especially when you’re only twelve years old!

After successfully completing her first restaurant review for the New York Standard newspaper, Gladys Gatsby is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and eating. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley.

As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy; she struggles to pass her swim test, can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches, and cannot seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper. The worst part is she’s not able to find a moment to sneak away for her latest reviewing assignment: finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when Gladys learns that her hot dog assignment might actually be a dirty trick made up by a jealous fellow critic, she fears her reviewing career could be over forever.

This perfectly plotted sequel brings readers on a rollicking summertime adventure through New York City with all of the charm of All Four Stars and even more foodie flavor! {Goodreads}

As popular of a setting as it is, I’ve never actually been to the “traditional” summer camp, where, if my knowledge from books and movies will suffice, your cabin mates become your best friends, the mess hall becomes your second home, and your days and nights intertwine to become an endless slew of fun. Though my opportunity to go to summer camp has since passed, there are a number of novels that allow me to visit the classic destination in a different fashion: through the power of words. One of the most recent – and most adorable – examples is The Stars of Summer, the follow-up to Tara Dariman’s foodie debut, All Four Stars, where the book’s pint-sized restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby is off to Camp Bentley. It’s as cute as it sounds!

Like its predecessor, Dairman’s sophomore novel delivers in both charm and heart. Gladys has a lot on her plate, pun not intended, during her summer vacation: she is the new assistant cook in the camp kitchen, she has to pass her swimming test, and she has the difficult assignment of finding the best hot dog in NYC. These storylines offer various opportunities to introduce new characters, from an arrogant young author to a gruff camp cook, but they also allow the previous characters to grow and develop. In addition, Gladys’s enthusiasm for good food is contagious, and the vivid descriptions of her meals had my mouth watering {it’s important to note that this book is best read not hungry}.

While the novel suffers from a slow beginning, the plot picks up as Gladys adjusts to camp life and learns more about her new acquaintances. Fortunately, this is only a small complaint in an otherwise outstanding new installment; it’s the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Dairman, and I think it will be no different when the third book is released. Like a towering ice cream cone on a warm summer’s day, The Stars of Summer can only be described in one way: a delight not to be missed.

The Summer I Turned Pretty

Title: The Summer I Turned Pretty
Author: Jenny Han
First published: May 5th, 2009 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 276
Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary Romance
Source: Library / Hardcover
Series: Yes! I’m hoping to get to Book Two in the Summer series at some point.

Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer – they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along. {Goodreads}

I’m not a beach person in any sense of the term – I would rather spend my summer afternoons sight seeing in the city or swimming in the pool, thank you very much – but I oddly still gravitate towards books with a beach setting. The common formula of small town charm and carefree romance makes for easy reading, and more importantly, I can do it without the accompaniment of the blazing sun and seaweed {yes, please!}. Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of the more popular “beach books,” and its sequels, It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer, find similar success in the style. I myself finished it underwhelmed, but I’m happy to have finally read it all the same.

Belly longs for the summertime, as it’s this season where her worries melt away in the time spent with family friends Susannah, Jeremiah, and Conrad. This year, however, tension lingers in the usually carefree atmosphere, and change comes quicker than Belly expects or wants. Where the novel shines is in developing Belly’s emotions; Han has proven herself well in crafting realistic teenage protagonists, and Belly is no exception as she navigates the new developments in her life. In contrast are the other character dynamics: the romance between Belly and the brothers falls flat, and even the friendship between Belly’s mother and Susannah lacks the expected spark.

Some readers call the Summer series young adult classics, but I remain on the fence as to whether or not this is the best of contemporary YA. What I was hoping for was different from what I read, and though this situation can sometimes lead to a pleasant surprise, I was only left conflicted over my thoughts upon finishing. I hope the series improves as it continues, as my curiosity already has me grabbing Book Two. I like to finish reviews on a positive note, so despite my so-so feelings, know that I’m still a proud Jenny Han fan.

Have a terrific start to your week!