Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Empty Mansions

{Potential favorite for 2015!}
{on Goodreads}

Empty Mansions is the story of one of America's wealthiest men, W.A. Clark, and his daughter, Huguette. Dedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, stumbles upon  Huguette's story while perusing the real estate listings during his own house hunt. He comes across a beautiful, ornate mansion, unoccupied for decades and up for sale. The property belonged to the daughter of a self-made billionaire and copper industrialist, W. A. Clark, Huguette. Huguette grew up with the same fairytale life as the children of the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller families, but rather than become a household name, she disappeared into obscurity early on in life. The heiress to a staggering fortune and owner of several incredible properties, Huguette limited her social interaction to her employees and select family friends. At the time of her death, at age 104, she had been living in a hospital room for twenty years, despite being in perfect health. After her passing, her family and employees engaged in a high-tension battle for her fortune, arguing blood versus service. Dedman deftly navigates the almost-surreal world of wealth and privilege and draws in readers with his narrative of Huguette's tale. 

I cannot say enough good things about this book. There are very few nonfiction stories that can draw me in with the same force as a novel, and this is one of them. I wouldn't hesitate to read it again in the near future, because it was just that good. I recently watched a series on the Smithsonian channel called Million Dollar American Princesses, and although this book had been sitting on my to-read shelf for over a year, loving the Smithsonian's show was the trigger for me to seek this out at my local library. (I'd also recommend the show, for those who are interested.) It's difficult to wrap your head around a fortune like Huguette's, but her story had a lot more to it than just her money. She had an incredible penchant for generosity and a genuine care for others, and was eccentric almost to a fault. I loved reading about her life in general, but it was the descriptions and photos of her properties that had me reading passages out loud to anyone who would listen. The everyday opulence was something that I just could not get over, so I devoured every page with disbelief-- certainly her story had to be the product of someone's imagination? The fact that everything was true only added to my shock, but in the end, I came out with an admiration for Huguette, for her humility and her quirkiness. Were it not for her aversion to notoriety, she could have been one of the biggest celebrities of her time. I'd recommend this for fans of nonfiction, of popular American history, and for anyone interested in learning more about the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Author: Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. 
Publisher: Ballantine, 2013
Price: $21 on Amazon
ISBN: 0345534522
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library

Monday, March 23, 2015

Literature Link Roundup

 Happy Monday! I spent the past week at home for my spring break, and it was one of those weeks during which absolutely nothing got done. I lazed around for pretty much the whole week, and while it was nice to feel like I had no obligations, I'm feeling ready to get back to a routine!

While I was home, I stumbled upon some fun links on Pinterest. Mostly, I find that Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for interior decorating, but last week I found some fun links that will appeal to a range of my fellow book-lovers, so I thought I'd share them here!

This buzzfeed list is one for fans of Serial, and since I'm a big-time fan, I'll be adding a few to my reading list. I like that these books appeal to mystery and non-fiction-lovers alike.

I have more than a few of these on my shelves already (most of them still unread) but I like the idea of working my way through this list. They're listed in reverse chronological order, and first up is Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which you can read my review of here.

I am loving some of these ideas! I have been looking into DIY headboard ideas for my next apartment, and though the book one doesn't look feasible for me next year, I love how these ideas bring personal touches into a space that really speak to a love of (and reverence for) books. 

I'm telling you, these personal libraries are the stuff of dreams. I am especially smitten with this one, the Biltmore House, which is the largest privately owned home in the country. It has such an old world feel with the candles, ornate architectural touches, and richly textured furnishings. And can we talk about that spiral staircase? I would gladly pay a premium for a few hours to peruse those shelves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If you liked that, read this!

If you liked:

Read this:

If you're a fan of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, I'd recommend reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Both books were super popular when they came out in 2012, and they were two of my favorite library finds that year. I felt that a similar tone ran through both stories, with ordinary characters and really well-developed relationships. A description of the latter calls Harold Fry one of the most endearing characters in current fiction and I completely agree. I also just discovered that it's the first in a series, so if you've already read (and enjoyed) both books, pick up the second in the series. It doesn't hurt that both books have fabulous covers-- I wouldn't hesitate to recommend both as perfect book club reads.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Educational Booklist

If you saw this post, then you know that I'm really really excited about what's to come in the next year. Though I read a lot of textbooks about education and spend a lot of time in discussions with my classmates and professors, I still always feel like I have so much more to learn (which reminds me of this talk that I also love). I've been collecting a number of books lately that have to do with education, and I've added a few to the stack that I've read before but want to re-read. These books cover a number of topics within education: the controversy of standardized testing, the reform movement, the argument behind proponents of grit as a success factor, the achievement gap, etc. These are all big-ticket issues within my field, and I feel like the more I read, the better prepared I'll be to address them. Of course, each author lends his or her own bias to the arguments, so while I'm approaching each book with caution, I'm looking forward to seeing new perspectives on these issues. I thought I would share my booklist here for those who are also interested in reading about education!

The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons from a Small School in Harlem by Deborah Meier // Deborah Meier has an incredible history as an educator. She is the founder of several small schools in Harlem, which became some of the most successful schools in an area that was ridden with low graduation rates and disengagement. In this, Meier writes honestly about the challenges in creating a successful school, and lays out her strategies for others to consider and follow. I've read snippets of this book since I bought it late last year, but I'm looking forward to reading it cover-to-cover soon.

How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough // I read this book last summer and it made it onto my top ten list. You can read more of my thoughts about it there; I found it to be extremely thought-provoking but didn't always agree with Tough's assumptions. I do think that I'm better able to speak about educational issues since reading it, and I certainly appreciate how much I learned from it.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch // I was introduced to this book in a class about schools and society in my sophomore year of college. Essentially, it was the book that introduced me to some of the major controversies in education. Diane Ravitch was one of the major players in supporting No Child Left Behind when it was first implemented, and in this she admits that she was greatly mistaken and details why our schools are failing our students and what should be done to help slow and repair the damage. When I read this I didn't have a whole lot of background knowledge so I took Ravitch at her word on a lot of issues. Now that I'm more knowledgeable I'm looking forward to revisiting it with a more critical eye to see if my opinion of it has changed.

The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner // This is one that I haven't read yet, but we've had a lot of discussions about the national achievement gap in my classes this semester and I'm looking forward to expanding my scope to learning about the achievement gap on a global level. 

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine // This is one that I found in my mother's collection of books on children and parenting. Mel Levine is widely respected for his perspectives on learning, and since my background is in psychology I am looking forward to exploring this classic.

Radical by Michelle Rhee // Michelle Rhee is another big player on the educational scene. It's the same type of story: here's what's wrong with our system, here's how we can improve it, here are the overarching social problems that are playing a role in preventing these changes. I'm interested to see Rhee's personal perspective on it all.

The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner // Gardner is behind the theory of multiple intelligences, which is one of the most important theories that we use in approaching the idea that each learner is unique. Information is best processed and demonstrated in different ways by different students, and I like Gardner's idea that we should mold our teaching around the way that students learn.

In Schools We Trust by Deborah Meier // Another one by Deborah Meier, and one of my newest acquisitions. We've been having a lot of discussions in my classes that center on the idea of school culture and community. Curating an unconditional learning community in which everyone feels they can learn is one of the biggest challenges and most important goals of schools. The atmosphere of standardized testing often strains that community feeling, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Meier has to say about how we can combat that strain.

It's unrealistic to think that I'll get through all of these in the near future, as I usually look to reading as a way to relax during busy semesters and tend to save these types of books for long breaks when I'm craving stimulation. I don't have any long breaks coming up anytime soon, but I'm hoping to at least revisit Ravitch's book, read In Schools We Trust, and dive into Rhee's sometime this summer.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Inspired: Outdoor Reading Nook

{image via}

Now that spring is in the air, I am constantly dreaming of reading outside. One of my favorite memories from a family vacation to Kiawah, South Carolina was reading on the porch of our rental. I spent hours in the hammock with my kindle, enveloped in a warm breeze and surrounded by the enchanting fragrance of southern gardens. Needless to say, it was so relaxing and wonderful and I am wishing I could be back there this week. 

I stumbled across this article on Essential Elements of a Garden Reading Nook, and I am now totally smitten with the idea of creating my own perfect nook. Shade and comfy cushions are both essential elements for me, and I am just dying to cozy up in the nook above with a tall glass of iced tea and a long, captivating read. I'll be spending my weekend dreaming of these great spaces and curating a list of spring reads.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Have Courage & Be Kind {Celebrating Cinderella}

Remember how I mentioned recently that I am a lover of fairytales? Well, I mean that in a big way. Nothing captures my heart more than a classic tale of a princess and the triumph over evil forces. Sometime long, long ago, I drank the Disney juice, and I haven't been able to get enough of the fairytale culture since.

Us Disney superfans have something to celebrate this weekend: the arrival of the new Cinderella, starring Lily James and Richard Madden (hello, Robb Stark, you're looking well) as the handsome prince. The moment we first heard the announcement, I seriously considered buying a plane ticket to Chicago to celebrate the occasion with my equally-fairytale-obsessed besties, Allie & Sam.

You can watch the trailer below:

Simply magical, right??

I did quite a bit of reading about the origins of our favorite fairytales last summer for my honors project this year, and I love how the original tales (which came from oral traditions) have inspired and informed so much writing. I thought a booklist was in order, one that celebrates the original tale of Cinderella and the many, many works that it's inspired since its publication back in the 17th century. 

Normally, when I curate a booklist, I stick to one main audience. Since fairytales are something that readers of all ages can enjoy, I thought I'd mix it up and include a few books for readers from preschool all the way through young adulthood. I know quite a few adults who really enjoy these kinds of stories from the YA genre, so if you're a little older than the target audience (like me), don't be afraid to dive in!

For Young Readers (Preschool & Elementary):

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman // A collection of Cinderella traditions from around the globe. This book weaves together the unique tales from places as different as Zimbabwe and Ireland into a story that demonstrates the universality of the fairytale. For parents who want to share a more worldly view with their children!

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson // A quirky fracturing of the original tale. Cinder Edna (Cinderella's neighbor) isn't lucky enough to be rescued by a godmother and a handsome prince, but she perseveres due to her own resilience and go-getter attitude. This one's for families who aren't fans of the "damsel in distress" formula. A feminist and funny take. 

Cinderella by Barbara McClintock // A classic retelling with an added Parisian element and gorgeous, detailed illustrations. For fans of the original. 

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci // A childhood favorite of mine. A rather Tim Burton-esque fracture, with the same uplifting message: that kindness and virtue conquer all. Definitely one to add to your Halloween collection too! 

Seriously, Cinderella is So Annoying! by Trisha Speed Shaskan // A fractured version, from the perspective of the wicked stepmother. A great opportunity for discussions about the fact that there are always two sides to every story.

Cinderella Stays Late by Joan Holub // The first in a series that takes place in Grimmlandia, this story sets Cinderella as a new girl at Grimm Academy. Her evil stepsisters tease & embarass her, but she ends up as the hero in the end. A great lesson on girl power & treating others well!

Cinderella at the Ball by Margaret Hillert // For beginning readers (ages 6+), this is a great retelling for independent reading!

Cinderella Stories Around the World by Cari Meister // Another collection of Cinderella versions from many different cultures. I love the illustration style of this one!

For Middle Grade Readers & Young Adults:

{Psst! Parents: it's up to you to make a judgment call when it comes to these categories! Some of these books are recommended for grades 7 and above. Personally, I know many middle-graders that are mature enough to read books way above their level, but if there's a question of appropriateness, I suggest checking out the recommended reading level first!}

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell // A Kindle-only book that's set to be published in August, this unique retelling has been on my watch-list since January. In this, Cinderella is cast as a wildly talented inventor. For those who like the damsel-saves-herself type!

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine // A classic and perfect choice for girls' bookclubs! In this, Ella is fierce and fights against her curse of obedience, and instead of being rescued, it is she who rescues the prince.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer // A very unique take on the classical tale, with a Cinderella who's actually a cyborg, and a science-fiction future in which earth is in really, really big trouble. 

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George // A royal exchange program, a competition between a servant & princess for an eligible prince, and a fan base that loves this author's retellings (this is the second in her fairytale series). Definitely worth checking out!

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli // When I stumbled upon this retelling, I let out an "Ooooh." Now this looks like a fresh take to me. Take the story of Cinderella and mold Chinese culture around it. Xing Xing is bound as a servant to her stepmother and sister, whose feet are bound and whom Xing Xing must take care of. Throw in money troubles and a desperate search for a husband, and you have a new perspective that maintains the core values. 

The Masked Slipper by Jessica Lorene // A setting in which the characters are aware that they're living in a fairytale? I'll take it. Nicolette is being forced to marry a not-so-prince-charming, and she's realized that somewhere along the line, her fairytale went awry.

There are so many amazing versions of this tale in picture-book and novel form, I could probably add forty more to this list and it would still barely make a dent in the number of available versions out there! I saw ones from every culture, every time period, and some great fractured perspectives as well! I could curate a whole library full of these books. Did one catch your eye? Do you have one to add to the list? Share your thoughts below!

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

{on Goodreads}
David Sedaris continues his memoirs in the tradition of Me Talk Pretty One Day, with short chapters devoted to hilarious episodes in his life, most of which are centered on his family members and their unique quirks. In this, Sedaris tells of his stay in an apartment in his parents' low-income complex and the little girl next door who slowly stole his belongings, of settling on an apartment in Paris with his partner Hugh, and of the general dysfunctionality of his family. The type of humor infused within Sedaris's stories is very specific, and radiates from his point of view as a gay man, general outsider, and drug addict.

If you've already read one of Sedaris's works and loved it, then I'd recommend following it up with this one. In my opinion, it's not quite as funny as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but it still made me laugh occasionally with its moments of absurdity. I'm drawn to these types of comedic books because I really enjoy the format: short little episodes that draw you in for a moment and provide a laugh, but cover a variety of moments throughout a lifetime. For me, that's what keeps it interesting, but I will say that Sedaris's humor is certainly not for everyone. His readers must be comfortable with frank talk about topics that are taboo in normal conversations. I'd recommend this for fans of Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and for those who are seeking a quick, light read.

Bottom Line Rating: 3/5 

Title: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: Little Brown & Co., 2004
Price: $3.98 at Better World Books
ISBN: 0965904830
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Library

Friday, March 6, 2015

Inspired: The Lives of Extraordinary Women

It's FriYAY! Around here we are celebrating not only the weekend, but also the fact that we are one week closer to spring break! I am super excited to head home next weekend for snuggles with my kitty, late mornings in bed with a good book, and a week to hit up all my favorite spots at home for coffee, lunch, and maybe a bit of shopping. I'm also crossing my fingers for warm, sunny days and long walks around town!

This Sunday also marks International Women's Day! You can find out more about it here, but I thought I'd celebrate by highlighting my all-time favorite book about inspirational women in history.

My mother gave me this book when I was younger and it has long been one of my favorites to browse through for stories on truly incredible women throughout history. From Cleopatra, to Joan of Arc, to Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt, this book has a great round up of women who were bold, intelligent, and eager to leave their mark on the world.

Each entry features one woman, with beautiful illustrations that lend extra context to the descriptions of their lives and also includes a section on how they impacted their immediate societies and any lasting impacts on history. The content is appropriate for older elementary students (because let's be real, though we admire these women, some of them made questionable moral choices that could lead to awkward conversations with your child). I love that each entry is short enough to read in one sitting, so you can browse a few at a time and skip around to different time periods (it is organized chronologically). The book provides an excellent introduction to so many influential women, and a sparked interest in any one of them could be a great opportunity to look for further reading material.

P.S. I also stumbled upon this great booklist of 15 picture books featuring women in history. This list features another childhood favorite of mine, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! If you're looking for more books to read with your littles, this list is a great place to start!

Happy weekend, and happy reading!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Currently Coveting {March}

March is finally here!
I know that February is the shortest month of the year, but did anyone else have the feeling that it took forever for March to arrive? Here in New England, March came in like a lion -- with a sprinkling of snow. I am so ready for spring weather, so I'm keeping my chin up and crossing my fingers for warmer temperatures soon! I am seriously daydreaming of laying on the grass in the sunshine with a book and an ice coffee in hand. Spring, please hurry!!

I went to the library this past weekend for the first time in forever, and had great luck in finding a book that has me completely enraptured and reading passages out loud to anyone who will listen. (Hint: You can see what I'm reading by checking out the "Currently Reading" widget on the right-hand side of your screen.)

I have so many awesome books on my shelves right now waiting to be read, so sometimes I think to myself, why am I even looking for new books? My roommate even asked why I was going to the library when I have about ten books stacked on my desk that I haven't gotten to yet. All I can say is, it's an addiction. For this month's currently coveting, I stumbled across three books that are sure to make it into my library stack at some point this year.

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox // This book caught my eye because of its beautiful cover art, but the story inside sounds just as intriguing. Victorian influences, a plot to steal an exotic diamond, and a collection of eccentric characters all under the gem's spell -- it all sounds like a crazy dream, or a twist on The Little Princess.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller // I'm cheating a bit by putting this one on my list, because it actually is on my shelf already. I picked it up in the bargain section at our university store a week ago to add to my ever-growing stack. It's part apocalypse, part saga, and it made it on to a few of the Goodreads member's 'best books of 2012' lists. From browsing the reviews, it seems like one of those stories that you either fall in love with or completely despise. I'm definitely willing to give it a shot.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly // You may already have picked up on the fact that I am a fan of fairytales, but if you know me personally then you know that they simply captivate me. I will pick a fairytale over another book any day, and I love writing that is influenced by them. The influence for this story originates with the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and is supposed to be a great read. An unfortunate boy's books begin to whisper to him from their shelves, and soon he finds himself in an alternate world filled with creatures from the imagination: monsters, heroes, and a king with a secret hidden in The Book of Lost Things. One review described it as "a fairytale turned nightmare."

Clearly I am on a bit of a fantasy/unrealistic kick with my picks this month. What's on your to-read list for March?

p.s. Don't forget, today is World Read Aloud Day! Celebrate the infinite power of words and help to spread a love of literacy!

Monday, March 2, 2015

World Read Aloud Day {March 4th}

Coming up this week: World Read Aloud Day!

I just recently learned about this celebration of literacy, which takes place every year on the first Wednesday in March. 

From the LitWorld website:
"World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and creates a community of readers taking action to show the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their futures: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their stories."

I love that idea, that everyone has the right to read, not that reading is privilege for those who have the resources. The LitWorld website is a fantastic resource for celebrating this day, with pre-made kits for classrooms, communities, offices, and homes. There's also a picture book that you can download straight from their website! You can sign up for the event and tell them how you'll be celebrating, as well as donate to their cause.

World Read Aloud Day isn't the only event that LitWorld hosts, as their mission is to help promote worldwide literacy, so they are involved with a number of organizations to help spread a love of reading and writing across the globe. Definitely a cause worth checking out, and a day worth celebrating!