November 23, 2014

Book Review: Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

With the same surety he brought to his succinct retelling of the fall and subsequent rise of modern Chicago in City of Scoundrels, Gary Krist details the fascinating history of another American city. Empire of Sin covers a 30-year span of New Orleans history, from 1890 to 1920.

New Orleans, with its French-Spanish-Creole roots, was always markedly different from the rest of the American South, especially with regard to its attitudes about morality and race. But the city's reputation meant that it wasn't attracting investors, so businessmen decided to enact both racial and geographic segregation. All brothels, saloons and dance halls were pushed into an area known as Storyville (with a separate section for "Black Storyville") and outlawed elsewhere. For more than a decade, the vice trade flourished, giving rise to wealthy madams like Josie Arlington and producing some of jazz music's early greats, Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong among them.

But soon teetotalers and ministers, appalled at the flagrant debauchery and increasing crime of Storyville, decided that New Orleans needed an even bigger makeover and began pushing legislation that would cement Jim Crow laws, eliminate prostitution and drastically cut back on jazz music and drinking. Naturally, the denizens of Storyville fought back, and the battle for New Orleans began.

Gary Krist excellently summarizes a momentous era in a complicated city. Black-and-white photos of many of the main characters add to the narrative's historical appeal. Indeed, "characters" is apt, since Empire of Sin reads almost like fiction as musicians, criminals, prostitutes and businessmen mix and mingle on the streets of old New Orleans.

I think Empire of Sin or City of Scoundrels would make a great Christmas gift for the nonfiction readers in your life. I've never had a particular desire to go to New Orleans, but Empire of Sin might have changed my mind! It would be fascinating to walk the areas that used to be Storyville.

Have you ever been to New Orleans?

I originally wrote this review (well, almost all of it) for Shelf Awareness.

November 20, 2014

Bookish Advent Options

Bookish Advent Options: Creating an Easy and Inexpensive Book Advent Calendar for Christmas.

I know that I just posted about Thanksgiving books earlier this week (but that's just because I didn't get my act together enough to finish that post last week like I'd originally planned!).

But you still have about 10 days to prep an advent option, even if you weren't planning to do one.

I thought I'd share our two favorite advent choices around here. The last two years we did BOTH of them each time, and it was a little much. So I think this year we're just going to go with Truth in the Tinsel.

It offers a daily Bible reading, and a craft to accompany it, which walks through the story of Jesus's birth, a snippet every day until Christmas day. Some of the craft ideas are so adorable! We've had a ton of fun with it the last few years.

Two years ago I made our other advent calendar pretty organized. I wrapped up all of our Christmas movies and books, plus a couple of small craft items (like stickers), and let Eleanor open one each day, leading up till Christmas. I specifically put movies on days we had to have a babysitter, and stickers on days we'd be in the car a long time, etc. We never buy a ton of gifts for actual Christmas day, so it was fun for her to have something to open each day.

Last year, I didn't put as much thought into it. Mostly because Juliet was 6 weeks old, and I was just happy to actually get things wrapped. I randomly wrapped up all of our books and movies again, and let Eleanor open one each day. Although we also hinged opening gifts on daily good behavior, so by Christmas day we had 3 or 4 unopened presents, ha.

The funny thing is, I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to wrap everything this year, I was just going to set out a basket of books and movies... but now that I'm writing this, I think I am going to go wrap everything. It just makes it so much more festive! (And if you don't have enough Christmas books to wrap one for each day, I know people who wrap up library books. You'll just have to make sure you don't end up with late fees!)

Next week I'll share a full round-up of our favorite Christmas books, but some of our favorites are:  The Jolly Christmas Postman, The Story of ChristmasMerry Christmas, Curious George and B Is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet Board Book

Share YOUR favorite Christmas books in the comments, and I'll include them in next week's post!

This post contains affiliate links!

November 17, 2014

20+ Thanksgiving and Autumn Books (& Movies!) Kids Will Love

Thanksgiving and Autumn Books Kids Will Love - picture books like Pete the Cat and Curious George, plus easy readers about Pilgrims and more.

Here are 20 of the fall and Thanksgiving books that we've been enjoying lately. Plus, a couple of Thanksgiving shows and movies that Eleanor has been watching.
  • Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by James Dean. Pete the Cat is just the best! Eleanor loves these books -- this one has some fun lift-the-flaps, and tells the story of Pete acting in a Thanksgiving play at school.  Rating: 5 out of 5  Recommended ages: 3 and up
  • Give Thanks to the Lord by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Amy June Bates. This is a sweet story, where a family thanks God for their blessings over the year, and for the food on their Thanksgiving table. I always like Karma Wilson's books, and this one is no exception. Rating: 4 out of 5  Recommended ages: 2 and up
  • Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon. This is a funny little book that lets kids count down the tail feathers on a turkey. Juliet loves touch-and-feel type books, so the "feathers" are perfect. It's a cute story that I think most toddlers would love! Rating: 4 out of 5 Recommended ages: 1 - 4
  • Turkey Trouble by Wendy Silvano, illustrated by Lee Harper. We haven't read this one yet, but it's on my hold list at the library. It gets great reviews: it tells the story of a turkey who tries to disguise himself as various other animals to try to avoid getting eaten for Thanksgiving. Recommended ages: 3 - 7
  • Fancy Nancy and the Fall Foliage by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Eleanor loves Fancy Nancy these days. She's always throwing big words (like foliage!) into conversation and telling me she learned them from Fancy Nancy. This one is no exception: Nancy's fall shenanigans are as delightful as usual. Rating: 4 out of 5  Recommended ages: 4 and up 
  • EyeLike Nature: Leaves from Play Bac. This is one of Juliet's favorite books right now. It's full of adorable kids interacting with leaves - playing in them, eating them, throwing them, etc. Simple text, super cute. Rating: 4 out of 5  Recommended ages: 0 - 3