Life By Kristen

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

Archive for the category “Books”

Book Review: A Piece of the World

Synopsis:  From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the smash bestseller Orphan Train, a stunning and atmospheric novel of friendship, passion, and art, inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s mysterious and iconic painting Christina’s World.

To Christina Olson, the entire world is her family farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. The only daughter in a family of sons, Christina is tied to her home by health and circumstance, and seems destined for a small life. Instead, she becomes Andrew Wyeth’s first great inspiration, and the subject of one of the best-known paintings of the twentieth century, Christina’s World.

As she did in her beloved bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction to vividly reimagine a real moment in history. A Piece of the World is a powerful story of the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, her complicated relationship to her family and inheritance, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

***

My review: 4 stars.

I LOVED Orphan Train so I jumped at the chance to read this new title by Kline ( I have yet to read any of her backlist). As a museum curator, I like art, though am super picky about what I enjoy and seek out when I’m visiting museums on my own. Modern art is something I do enjoy and the work of Andrew Wyeth is quite interesting to me, especially since so many of his great paintings were done in Maine, so I feel a regional kinship to them.

I love the premise of this book- an imagining of a life and relationship between Wyeth and one of his frequently painted sitters, Christina Olson. It’s clear Kline did a lot of research on Olson and Wyeth, and the copious amount of googling I did while reading proved that she made sure actual facts were accurate and her creative spin on other aspects of Christina’s life were not far fetched or unbelievable.

I also think the book is a bit of a story of life in Maine as well- the descriptions of the seasons, farming, fishing were so beautifully written that I felt Kline was making the place another character too. I especially loved the references to ice harvesting as it something that was a big deal in New England that people often forget about ( I also did a lot of research on this for a previous job project).

What kept this from being 5 stars? I didn’t love the back and forth timeline between Christina’s back story and the current time period of the 1940s with Andrew Wyeth. I can see why the author used this technique as a way to build empathy and layered understanding for Christina’s life, but it didn’t quite work for me. Overall, I would definitely recommend A Piece of the World.

Buy the book!

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

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Book Review: You Need a Budget

Synopsis:

Discover four simple rules to help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money faster! The You Need A Budget (YNAB) Method has helped tens of thousands of people to turn their financial lives around. It can certainly help you! Whether you’re looking to right an apparently sinking ship, or you just want to implement a system that will require less time “managing” your money, YNAB will most definitely work for you

My review: 4 stars.

I’ve seen the You Need a Budget system (YNAB) on various financial blogs before, but I’m a classic paper and pen gal when it comes to organizing life, and that includes budget, so I’ve never looked into the software that Jesse Mecham developed. I liked this book because it goes in-depth with real life examples of the 4 tenets of the YNAB system:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Embrace true expenses
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Age your money

A lot of these things I already do, especially #1 and #3. I am a saver and planner by nature and I think my budget reflects that. I keep a pretty tight system- I bring lunch everyday, I contribute to my 401k, but some in savings, have eliminated credit card debt. But what I like about Mecham’s system is that he sees money not just as a numbers system to be conquered, but that the money has to reflect priorities for life. Essentially, we should all ask ourselves: what do I want my money to do for me?

For me, I want to live debt-free. I want to have enough dollars to cover my expenses so that I can live a meaningful life doing work that is fulfilling and challenging, without having to worry about my bottom line and bills every month. This book made me realize I need to be more on top of where the actual dollars are going and pay attention to that. For example, I looked through my spending after reading the book and realized that 2017 had way too much shopping in it.

I really appreciated Mecham’s chapter on budgeting as a couple. Q and I have very different methods for managing our money, especially since Q is almost entirely a cash only guy. It’s taken us awhile to get our act together as a couple financially and to find a system that works for us. Mecham suggests monthly budget dates to go over spending and priorities. I think this is something I’ll try with us, though we’re pretty open about money and spending after 5 years together.

I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re trying to move forward with financial goals and figuring out a system that works well for you and your family. I appreciate that Mecham and the book isn’t a big advertisement for his software ( which has a free trial period, but after there is a usage fee), and that he uses the book as an opportunity to educate about the principles of budgeting in an easy to understand and useable way. I think there are so many complicated budgeting ideas out there it can often feel like you need to be an economist to understand them, but Mecham’s approach makes sense to even the most mathematically challenged like me!

Buy the book!

 

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

 

Book Review: Just Sit

Synopsis:

Written for the many, many people whose schedule or skepticism has kept them from trying meditation, Just Sit is an approachable and visually engaging beginner’s guide. Assuaging fears, answering questions, and providing real-world information to demystify the process, Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz provide a hands-on look at what meditation really is, what is does, and how to do it. The authors make clear that meditation doesn’t have to be complicated or follow a specific protocol. The most important part, to “just sit,” can lead to a lifelong practice, tailored to anyone’s lifestyle.

A perfect blend of information and instruction, Just Sit covers everything you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask. Sukey and Elizabeth address meditation myths and realities, offer advice on how to combat awkwardness, extoll the physical and emotional benefits of meditation, show readers how to find those precious minutes to meditate every day, and more. They also include an eight-week plan to get help readers kick start—and stay with—their own daily practice.

My review:  4 stars.

One of my 2018 goals is to integrate meditation into my everyday life. I meditate as part of my yoga practice, but haven’t succeeded in making it happen on other days. Several times I signed up for the Oprah/Deepak Chopra 21-day free guided meditation apps, but haven’t ever successfully done more than a few days of it. So when this book came my way, I was interested.

The title pretty much speaks to me directly-  “a meditation guidebook for people who know they should but don’t.” That’s actually pretty much a bumper sticker for so much of my life!

The book has lots of great illustrations,infographics, and helpful tidbits. It’s super readable and usable as an actual meditation tool, making it easy to flip to the sections you need and find what you want. I know it’s something I’ll refer back to in years to come, especially with some of the later chapters like preparing/packing for meditation retreats ( I’d like to do a yoga/meditation retreat at some point), mantras, and different meditation techniques.

I appreciated the very logical way the authors present their case for meditation- why it’s good, what it can do for you, and easy ways to get started. It was surprisingly “hard” to sit for three minutes! Also, it was quite laughable with this the first week I was trying to meditate because I scheduled it into my phone and set an alert so I wouldn’t forget. When it went off, I was in the middle of the grocery store with no zen in sight! This book contains an 8-week plan that I re-started this week– 2 days down and so far so good!

I know the most difficult thing for me is going to be finding the time, but like exercise, I know I must make it part of life because work is stressful and I need to find some mental focus to get myself to what I want in life. The writers say pretty early in the book: “Once you learn how to do it[meditation], and do it daily, suddenly all sorts of positive changes tend to come, and come faster and easier than ever. Meditation is the best tool for change that we know of.”

Who can argue with that?

Buy the book here!

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

2017 in Books

I read 79 books. This includes audio and physical books. I originally set a goal for 60 books at the beginning of the year, but by September, I was about to meet that goal, so I pushed it to 75. I thought I was going to get to 80, but the flurry of holiday movies and plans the past few weeks kept me from reading as feverishly as past months.

The longest was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at a whopping 734 pages.

The shortest was 161 pages- The Crossroads of Should and Must.

The best audio book was Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, a memoir of her friendship with poet Lucy Greeley. I also enjoyed Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner and Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos. Interesting to note these were all read by the authors– narrators make a huge difference in audio books.

I “re-read” (though as an audio book) Anne of Green Gables. I haven’t done a lot of re-reading because there are so many  books on my to- read list ( currently at 467- time to cull it again).

This year I stretched myself outside of my normal reading genres to include more fantasy, romance, and YA.

My 5 star books (in random order):

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston ( sort of like a graphic novel, except it’s like reading a diary/scrapbook- visually pleasing and interesting story).

Overseas by Beatriz Williams: As a longtime Williams fan, I wanted to read her entire backlist. Even though many reviews of this book weren’t amazing, I devoured this book in a few days. It’s a romance with time travel, both of which are not things I normally enjoy, but this captivated me when I read it back in February.

Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos

 

 

 

My Reading List

Prior to the internet and my love of Goodreads, I tracked books I wanted to read on a written list that I slowly crossed things off as I read them. I was mostly reading books I owned or were lent to me from friends. I bought them from bargain racks at the big bookstores, from used book shops, and other spots. My favorite for many years was buying hardcovers for practically nothing at Building 19, a now-defunct New England chain that had a lot of books that had small issues like an inkblot on the title page or a binding that was just off by a bit. The prices were too good to pass up ( seriously, you could get a $25 brand new hardcover for like $3) and I often went with my parents, and going to Building 19 together is one of my favorite memories with them as an adult.

About 10-ish or so years ago, I stopped buying books completely and became strictly a reader from the library or my own shelf. This is mostly true today, though I’ll pick up a few a year that are used or written by an author I want to support.

via Risa Rodil

This book-buying history is important to note when it comes to my reading list, which as of this writing, stands at 445. If I did the math correctly, that would take me just about 8 1/2 years to finish reading if I read a book a week. Depending on time of year, length and type of book, I can sometimes do two books a week, but it might be a stretch.

This list though, is not the complete to- read list because awhile ago I decided to eliminate any book I owned. My thinking there is that I own it, so I won’t forget that I want to read it. Of course, the issue I seem to have is that even though I liked the book enough to buy it, I have some sort of block that prevents me from reading it as fast as a loaned book from a friend or the library. Maybe because I know it’s mine and will always have it, so it doesn’t feel urgent? I’m determined to really “read down” my owned shelf in 2018.

Of course, I’ll never reach the end of my to-read list and that’s the amazing/exciting thing about being a bookworm. About two or three times a year, usually on a night when Q has chosen a movie I have no interest in, I sit on the couch next to him with my Goodreads list, and try to cull it a bit. There isn’t a lot of method to my madness– I eliminate books that might be in a series so that the only one that appears on my to-read list is the first in the series. I try to take off books that I think I’d prefer on audio ( memoir and non-fiction mostly) and know I can get via Hoopla or Overdrive.  I do keep a “favorites” list on Hoopla for a lot of those titles too, which is about 65 as of right now.

Despite the size of the list, I love recommendations and as always, love to find new friends to follow on Goodreads!

From here

 

 

Book Review: Start Without Me

Synopsis: The author of the critically acclaimed The Book of Jonah explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance in this mesmerizing tale that unfolds over one Thanksgiving day

Adam is a former musician and recovering alcoholic who is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Surrounded by his parents and siblings, nieces and nephews—all who have seen him at his worst—he can’t shake the feeling that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be the one who can’t get it right.

Marissa is a flight attendant whose marriage is strained by simmering tensions over race, class and ambition. Heading to her in-laws for their picture-perfect holiday family dinner, her anxiety is intensified by the knowledge she is pregnant from an impulsive one-night-stand.

In an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning, Adam and Marissa meet. Over the course of this day fraught with emotion and expectation, these two strangers will form an unlikely bond as they reckon with their family ties, their pasts, and the choices that will determine their way forward.

My review: 3 stars.

I always enjoy reading novels that are about family dynamics because they are always so fascinating and layered with interesting characters. This book does not disappoint in that way. Both characters that we get to know in-depth, Marissa and Adam, are deeply flawed, but fascinating. They aren’t entirely likable, but they aren’t depicted as horrible human beings either.

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I always wonder about these “strangers meeting” novels where two people’s lives come together from a happenstance meeting. I don’t think I could ever meet a person and connect with them so well in a few minutes that I’d invite them to my Thanksgiving with family.

A lot of the Thanksgiving family drama of this book reminded me of one of my favorite ( and one of the few) movies about Thanksgiving, Home for the Holidays. It’s a Holly Hunter movie from the 1990s where Hunter’s character goes to her family’s Thanksgiving in her hometown after many years away. It’s about love, family, and all the mess that comes on Thanksgiving.

Fun thing about reading this book was I took it with us on our Vermont long weekend getaway to Brattleboro, so imagine my surprise when it turns out that Marissa is on her way to in-laws’ Thanksgiving right outside of the same place!

Buy the book!

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

Book Review: The Fire by Night

Synopsis:  A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.

My review: 3.5 stars.

Probably not a shocker that I read yet another piece of historical fiction about World War II. This was especially interesting to me because of the undergraduate research I did on nurses during the war, as well as an exhibit that centered on the experience and World War II uniforms, belongings, and ephemera of one Army nurse who was the great aunt of my then roommate.

There are a lot of novels centered on World War II because of how tumultuous and life changing the time period was- it’s full of interesting people and stories that should be told. Fire by Night is a different spin on the World War II story not only because it’s coming from the perspective of the nurses, but also because it’s very detailed and well-researched, without being boring or too much like a history lesson. Fire by Night  is told by Jo and Kay in alternating chapters, and even though they are separated during the war, their experiences as nurses is very similar. It’s a novel about their experiences, but also about their friendship.

It’s the first book by this author and the reading guide and author’s interview at the back of the novel was quite telling about her writing and research experience. She spent 7 years (!) researching this book, and it’s obvious that she invested a lot of time in getting the details and information correct, which I greatly appreciate. I would love to know more about some of the people she interviewed and how much of their stories are reflected in the final text.

The details of the war, on both fronts, is so well-done that my weak stomach could not take a lot of the descriptions of the various medical scenarios both nurses are involved with. This made me have to skim some of the book more than I’d like, but some of the descriptions were just too vivid for me ( there’s a scene with Jo in Germany during an operation to take out a soldier’s appendix that really made me feel gross). I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to skip the book entirely, as I enjoyed the characters and this new perspective on a unique experience during World War II, but just be warned that if descriptions of blood and injuries bother you, it’s not a book to read while eating a meal!

Buy the book!


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

Book Review: The Way to London

Synopsis:

From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.

My review: 4 stars.

I really do read a lot of historical fiction from World War II it seems. It’s such a fascinating time period to me as so much happens, not just in terms of the war and its effects, but with social and cultural change, especially for women. The many creative stories of World War II do not get old for me.

The Way to London is a great traveling story where the journey is not so much about getting to a particular geographic destination as it is about the journey to learn more about the main character of Lucy and how she becomes to know who she truly is as a result. The plot moves along fairly quickly; in fact, in the first few chapters, Lucy’s character has a lot of action and happenings that are quite dramatic.

I found Lucy to be quite annoying and rude in the earlier part of the novel, which is clearly intentional by the author because as various roadblocks (both literal and metaphorical) come into the path of Lucy and her traveling companion, the orphan Bill, the reader can “see” Lucy’s slow realizations, watching her grow up emotionally and psychologically on the trip to London.

The relationship between Lucy and Bill was enjoyable and made me think a lot about the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks where the 3 siblings are evacuated to the country during the Blitz and end up with Angela Lansbury’s character, who over the course of the movie, becomes more charmed with the children. This is a bit different in that Lucy is aiding Billy to get back to his mother in London after being evacuated himself, but he’s definitely a handful for Lucy. It’s sort of perfect that Billy is such a little devilish prankster at times because I think it helps Lucy think more deeply about her own behavior and actions.

There is a small bit of a love story with Lucy and a character named Michael, who was in the war but sent home after contracting malaria. It was a light enough bit that helped move the story along and keep it interesting, but I disliked how part of Lucy’s awakening and becoming a better person was related to her wanting to measure up to the standards of Michael and wanting to impress him.

Overall, I definitely recommend if you’re looking for a quick read and enjoy the genre of World War II historical fiction with a strong female lead.

Buy the book!


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

Book Review: Cassidy Lane

A few months back I reviewed Maria Murnane’s novels Wait for the Rain  and Bridges, both of which I enjoyed, so when the author got in touch about reading another one of her titles, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the book synopsis:

Best-selling author Cassidy Lane walks into her 20thhigh school reunion with several novels under her belt, but no date on her arm, and deep down she still feels like the smart girl no one asked to the prom.

Then handsome Brandon Forrester confesses his teenage crush, and soon Cassidy finds herself swept up in a modern-day fairytale romance not unlike the tales she spins for a living. While their relationship blossoms, however, the new book she’s writing isn’t going as well, and for the first time in her career she considers crafting an ending that doesn’t end with a proverbial walk into the sunset. Contemplating the simultaneous reversal of her own romantic fortune and that of her protagonist’s is daunting, but maybe it’s time for both her writing and her personal life to take a new path. Or is it?

My review: 4 stars.

If a book and its characters stay with you after you’ve turned the final page, I count that as a great reading experience. This book was the perfect, feel-good read for a weekend after a few personally stressful weeks.

While I wanted more love story and interaction between the main character Cassidy and her love interest Brandon, the book was an enjoyable read. I especially enjoyed the honest, realistic view not just of romance and dating in this modern age, but also that the book didn’t have the stereotypical happy ending. I think with many books where there is a love story of some sort that it can often be the easy way out in terms of story resolution to just make the two love interests get together, putting aside any issues or differences that made up the main plot of a novel. Murnane doesn’t fall into that trap and knows her readers are smarter than that.

Speaking of realistic depictions of life, there is a great scene towards the end of the book between Cassidy, her best friend Patti, and Patti’s friend Amy, where they are discussing the realities of love and marriage, expectations, and so on. I laughed out loud at a particular line that Patti says about how no one talks about the realities of marriage when someone has had an enormous burrito for dinner. Of course, Q didn’t think it was as funny when I told him why I was laughing.  Humor aside, that whole interaction between the three ladies was one of the most memorable and insightful ones in the entire novel, especially this quote which resonates so much with where I am in life right now:

” No one has everything. I know it hurts right now, and I’m not discounting your feelings. But when you look at the whole picture, romance is just one part of life. It may not be clicking the way you want it to right now, but don’t forget to appreciate the things that are clicking, because they’re just as important.”

Wise words that I needed to hear ( though in my case, it’s the romance that is clicking and the other part of life that are out of sync!)

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Murnane’s books and hope to read some of her other titles in the future, as she has a great combination of humor and heart.

Book Review: The Dress in the Window

Synopsis: A perfect debut novel is like a perfect dress—it’s a “must have” and when you “try it on” it fits perfectly. In this richly patterned story of sisterhood, ambition, and reinvention Sofia Grant has created a story just right for fans of Vintage and The Dress Shop of Dreams. World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.

Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town.  But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.

Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.

 

My review: 3.5 stars.

At face value, this book has many things I enjoy– historical fiction featuring women during post-World War II period and fashion. It is essentially the story of 3 women trying to make their way in the world after losing their husbands/boyfriends during World War II: Jeanne, Peggy, and Peggy’s mother-in-law Thelma ( and a tiny bit about Peggy’s daughter, Tommie).

It took me a bit to get into the story and to really care about the characters. I didn’t feel like a lot of the intrigue began until 150 or so pages in. There were some aspects of the story that I thought would be bigger plot points, but then nothing came of them. I found so much of the story to be sort of sad actually, especially as the relationship between the two sisters evolved and soured. I thought the ending was quite abrupt– even though there was an epilogue, I think the final details of the story could have been woven into the main book. I thought the prologue was entirely unnecessary, as well as a lot of aspects of Thelma’s story.

What I loved was all the references to fashion and the changing nature of clothing in America after World War II. This served as a great backdrop to the story lines of Jeanne and Peggy as it helped give some great context for their lives and changing roles as women too. Since fashion history is one of my interest areas and part of my day job, it was clear that the author did a lot of research into this time period of fashion history to get details correct, and really capture the moment when American fashion in the form of sportswear and off-the-rack/ready to wear clothes took off.

Get your own copy of the book here!


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

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