Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Loving Lately in February

Hoopla– As a big consumer of audio books, I really enjoy the Hoopla app, available for free from my public library. There is a huge library of audiobooks to choose from, and unlike Overdrive ( also free from library), you don’t have to wait for the digital audio files to become available. There are also ebooks, music, and movies– only catch is there is a 5 checkouts per month limit. This isn’t a huge issue for me as an average audio book of anywhere between 8-10 hours usually takes me about a week to go through on my commute.

Nutpods- February was the month of Whole30 and I did not want to give up my coffee, but I really dislike coffee black. I knew I could do it without sugar, but needed something to cut the acid a bit. Regular unsweetened, unflavored almond milk was too nutty for me, and I’m not a huge fan of coconut flavor. In doing research for Whole30, I discovered Nutpods, which is a mix of unsweetened almond and coconut milk. It comes in flavors like hazelnut or French vanilla, but I’m not a flavored coffee fan either. I think Nutpods is just enough to take the bite out of the coffee that I need. I’ll continue using these instead of cream in my regular coffee even after Whole30.

Sweet potatoes ( preferably cut up and roasted).

Diffusing essential oils- lately my favorite has been a combination of lavender and peppermint.

The Department of Interior’s Instagram. I think all future vacations will always involve a new national park.

This quote:

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via wearsoulsparks instagram

 

 

Friday Finds February 2017

Do you like fortune cookies? I’m not a huge fan, but here’s an interesting history of how they became so popular in the US.

The whole concept of “vintage” clothing started with Davy Crockett’s hat and the lure of old fur.

Speaking of fur, here’s an interesting idea for how to preserve some clothing/history related to Dorothy Parker, the American poet.

Who didn’t read Goodnight Moon  as a child? There’s a new biography out about the author Margaret Wise Brown that I’ll be bumping up my To-Read list, but in the short time, this article gives some history and insights about why it’s such an everlasting book for children.

Speaking of books, as a lover of libraries and a follower of rules, I don’t remember the last time I had a library fine ( I’m such a square). Nevertheless, many libraries are now waiving late fees which I give two thumbs up.

 

 

Book Review: Maisie Dobbs

Synopsis: Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, began her working life at the age of thirteen as a servant in a Belgravia mansion, only to be discovered reading in the library by her employer, Lady Rowan Compton. Fearing dismissal, Maisie is shocked when she discovers that her thirst for education is to be supported by Lady Rowan and a family friend, Dr. Maurice Blanche. But The Great War intervenes in Maisie’s plans, and soon after commencement of her studies at Girton College, Cambridge, Maisie enlists for nursing service overseas. Years later, in 1929, having apprenticed to the renowned Maurice Blanche, a man revered for his work with Scotland Yard, Maisie sets up her own business. Her first assignment, a seemingly tedious inquiry involving a case of suspected infidelity, takes her not only on the trail of a killer, but back to the war she had tried so hard to forget.

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My review: 4 stars.

As always, I’m late to the game when it comes to popular fiction series, so when I had the opportunity to read Maisie Dobbs, I took it. It’s a title on many to-read lists for fans of historical fiction, as it was first published in 2003. Author Jacqueline Winspear is about to publish her 13th (!) book in the series. And I can see why– the characters are endearing, Maisie Dobbs is a fascinating woman, and Winspear skillfully blends suspense/detective work with a little bit of romance and great story lines.

Maisie Dobbs takes place after World War I, and the first book in the series establishes her life story and experiences that brought her to her role as a private investigator who has great instincts and the ability to connect with people/clients in meaningful ways. The story starts in 1929, then shifts back to her younger years and then the War, before then shifting back to 1929 present day to wrap up the novel. This sort of structure worked for me, as it kept me reading through the first section as I wanted to figure out more about her back story.

This novel’s great mystery involves a place called The Retreat that is essentially a rest home for World War I veterans who had major injuries, as well as the unseen injuries of “shell shock,” which we now call PTSD. One of the nights I was reading the book, Q was watching the movie The Hurt Locker on TV, and it was an interesting comparison of the similar emotional struggles and trauma of the soldiers written about in Maisie Dobbs and those in modern-day Iraq.

Serious subject matter aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will definitely be adding the 12 other titles to my reading list. You can check out more of them here and learn more about Jacqueline Winspear’s other titles on her website.

 

tlc tour host

As part of the TLC Book Tour of this book, I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Dragon Springs Road

Synopsis: From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai — a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.

In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate near Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.

Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the haunted courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.

Always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother, Jialing grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, guided by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past. But she finds herself drawn into a murder at the periphery of political intrigue, a relationship that jeopardizes her friendship with Anjuin and a forbidden affair that brings danger to the man she loves.

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My review: 3 stars.

Dragon Springs Road is essentially a coming of age novel set in early 20th century China– a time period that I know little about, though this book didn’t entirely have me searching for more information or googling events or people.

The major themes of growing up and learning about what matters in life, identity, and overcoming societal stereotypes and biases are clear throughout the novel as Jialing struggles to make her way in the world as an orphan and mixed-race girl. It was about way more than just finding her mother, but also about what a person may be willing (or unwilling to do) for love, friendship, money, status, education, and so on. With those things in mind, I wanted the book to be so much more in these areas, especially as Jialing became an adult and was finding her way in the world.

There is a huge element of Chinese folklore and mysticism in the book with the Fox character, who plays an important role in Jialing’s life from her childhood. This part of the book was interesting to me, but I also found I was often lost in the details of those encounters between Jialing and Fox. This might say more about my ability to suspend practicalities while reading and less about the author’s writing and the role of Fox within the story.

Not knowing a ton about this time period in Chinese history– really about a lot of Chinese history in general– was one of the reason I wanted to read the book as I look to expand my literary horizons. I found myself more interested in the brief insights into missionaries in China during this time period more than anything else, and after reading the author’s notes at the back of the book, understand that this was some of her original intent for the book. Had I not read that it would have seemed more random for this part of the storyline, but it makes sense to me now.

Learn more about the author or purchase the book here!

 

tlc tour host

As part of the TLC Book Tour of this book, I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Whole30: Halfway There

Halfway through the Whole30!

How am I feeling?

Honestly? Pretty darn good.

The first few days of the Whole30 were tough– I had an almost constant headache, though that could have also been hormonal. I was definitely exhausted in the afternoons, which I expected. I wanted donuts, which is weird because it’s not something I eat on a regular basis. I attribute this mostly to social media where various folks were posting about a few new gourmet donut places that have opened around me in the last few months.

I thought the first weekend we had Little Man, which occured on days 3-5, I would cave when making food for him, but through a series of events, he only ended up having one meal and snacks at our house that weekend, both of which had no appeal to me ( ham& cheese sandwich and Cheezeits). We did go out to eat as a family and it took me longer to read through the menu to find a suitable option (grilled salmon with broccoli, though steak was also available).

The Whole30 is expensive and we’re at the store more than usual because we’re going through a lot of the veggies faster than I anticipate because we’re snacking a lot on them. I’m trying to buy some things frozen so that we can save a bit there. Q is slowly weaning himself back into regular food at this point, as his super fast metabolism is making it hard for him to not be hungry all the time. This weekend alone, he went through 4 bags of sugar snap peas and 2 bags of beef jerky just in snacks! He has been incredibly supportive, but we’d need a second job to afford all the food he eats!

Even after we end this experiment, I think we’ll continue to keep a lot of the Whole30 ideas going. Q and I both admit to getting lazy with cooking and buying items that were more convenient like bottled marinades that are basically just flavored sugar instead of making our own easily at home. I’m not sure that I’ll do coffee with cream and sugar anymore, or it might just become a special weekend treat when Q and I can have a fresh brewed cup and enjoy it, instead of my quick on the go coffee for my commute.

I think this whole experiment has just made us more aware about what we eat, how we make it, etc. but I definitely will be having cheese as soon as I can!

Book Review: The Wicked City

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.

When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.

In 1924, Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.

As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . .

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My review: 3 stars.

As one of my ‘must read’ authors, it’s always exciting when there is a new Beatriz Williams book. Even though the Jazz Age isn’t my favorite period of American history, this story had more of the 1920s Prohibition history in it which I do find fascinating.

This book was part ghost story, part finding oneself after life falls apart around you. Overall, a quick read but it left me wanting more. First of all, I’m not entirely sure the contemporary story of Ella was needed. I understand that the author is trying to make connections with other characters from her other novels ( which is something as a reader I enjoy), but this felt forced to me. There were connections in the 1920s story with one of the characters from her other books ( Julie Schulyer), so I’m not sure that it was necessary to add the Ella storyline. I almost think the book could have just been Geneva Kelly’s story alone without the contemporary angle added in at all. I was far more interested and intrigued by Geneva than Ella in any way and like in other Williams’ books that have the same setup of past-present, I didn’t think there were connections made between the two women beside being in the same building.

The Ella story line had SO many plot points and details that were not capitalized on or explained. As a reader and a writer, it definitely is something I notice and wonder what the point is to certain details or plot points that are mentioned, but never resolve within the larger arc of the narrative. I did learn from Williams’ Instagram that she just finished a sequel to Wicked City that will be out sometime in 2018- I can only assume that some of the big questions I’m left with at this point will be explained/resolved in that book, or at least I hope so! Even knowing that about the sequel, I still feel like some details of the Ella storyline could have been resolved better.

As a reader, I feel like the parallel storylines across time concept is becoming a bit overdone– or I may have just read far too many books that are in this vein ( Sarah Jio comes to mind). That doesn’t mean I won’t keep reading Beatriz Williams– in fact her next book, Cocoa Beach, will be out in July and it definitely will be a summer weekend read for me.

Buy the book!

tlc tour host

As part of the TLC Book Tour of this book, I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

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Find it here

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Reading Resolutions

Reading is by far one of my favorite things to do. My love for books has increased significantly in the past few years as audiobooks have transformed my daily commute and allow me to tackle more of the titles on my ever growing ‘to-read’ list.

I think I probably could have read more books if I didn’t spend a lot of my evenings reading articles and blogs on the iPad so hope to focus on bettering my reading habits in the new year.

2016  was filled with great books- some out of my comfort zone, reading the backlist of my favorite authors, and new discoveries for me like finally reading Harry Potter.

For 2017, my goal is, as always it seems, to read more from my own bookshelf and the books I own. As a general rule since about 2008 or so, I have tried to not buy any brand new books. This is mostly because of the aforementioned issues of never getting around to reading books I own. This is apparently not a problem only for me, but for millions of other bookworms and is called tsundoku.

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Many of these books were purchased at a local bookstore that a few years ago had a month-long $1 book bonanza. My mom and I thought this meant the store was going out of business, so we went a bit crazy. And after their $1 month, they announced they were ALWAYS going to be a $1 bookstore from then on! Good marketing for them, as it totally got us there to buy books when we weren’t planning on it.

I’m also trying to pass books along after I read them, either to friends/family who I know will enjoy or donating to the library. I used to be a person who kept every single book as a badge of honor of my reading prowess, but as a quasi-minimalist, I like the idea of passing along good titles to the next book lover instead of keeping them to myself. There have been a few books over the years I’ve held onto and make sure are returned to me when I lend them out ( Baker Towers being one of them), but overall, I read and pass along.

This year, I’m also trying to read outside my comfort zone, particularly with both fiction and nonfiction that will expand my horizons and get me out of my bubble of white privilege. The election and the happenings of the world have me wanting to retreat more into the bubble to escape the news and events, but I’m fighting hard against that because I realize doing that is part of the issues we have in the country. So while I look to reading as my entertainment and escape, I also need it to be more of my education too.

 

Hello February!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I enjoy, what makes me happy, and how to do more of that in this year of 2017.

I’ve come to realize I actually like winter a lot, leading me to believe I may need to always live in a climate where there are 4 seasons. This past January seems to have been more spring-like than wintry, so I’m hoping February has some of my favorite winter things thrown in like another weekend snow storm ( or a snow storm that cancels a work day) and some more cozy, lazy days.

The big news for me this month is that Q and I are embarking on the Whole30 eating plan for this month. No sugar, dairy, alcohol, carbs. Why? Mostly to try to get ourselves back on track from lazy eating of too much pizza, pasta, and brownies.

For me, I’ve noticed in the past few years as I’m getting older that some foods don’t agree with me as much as they used to ( onions!), and I’m trying to get a better handle on what some of those are. It will be a challenge for us– probably a big one for Q who eats a ton of food already and barely gains any weight. This morning I started with no sugar or dairy in my coffee, instead using Nutpods, which is a combo of unsweetened almond and coconut milk. I can report the coffee was still tasty! We’ll see how it goes!

 

 

Friday Finds January 2017

This is over a month old, but new theories on the capture of Anne Frank and her family.

The death of Debbie Reynolds the day after her daughter’s death broke my heart. I had no idea Reynolds played an important role in saving many pieces of Hollywood costume history too. 

I loved the TV Show My So-Called Life when I was a teenager- this oral history about the show made my month.

A history of the plus-size section in women’s clothing.

Ladies who launched space exploration. Cannot wait to see Hidden Figures!

Did you know rayon was a deadly fiber?

Remembering some of the great inaugural gowns worn by First Ladies.

 

 

 

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