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: French Letters: Children of a Good War

Synopsis: Four decades after World War II, 1986 is a year of terrorist hijackings, of personal computers and CD players, of AIDS and Miami Vice. It also is a year in which a beloved doctor falls to his death, a Pan Am pilot is shot while trying to foil the takeover of Pan Am flight 73, and when four bitter French widows use their medicines as bets to play poker in their retirement home while a lonely nun observes her vows of silence in an Irish convent. And it is the year when a cache of faded letters is discovered in a cellar, causing Frank Hastings to realize that he is not who he believed he is, and to go in search of his mother.

***

My review: 3.5 stars.

This likely would have been a higher review for me but with life and work happenings ( including being at an exhausting work conference for 3 days), it took me longer than usual to read. I had a few days in between readings so found myself having to go back and remind myself what was going on- this isn’t a critique of the author, his writing, or the book, but more about where my brain was at for the past couple weeks.

The French Letter series is a new one to me, as is this author, but I agreed to review the book because of my interest in World War II.  Children of a Good War is the third book in the series, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything or was confused by characters, plot lines, etc. by not having read the previous two books ( though I did add them to my to-read list).

Without giving up too much of the plot, the story centers around Frank Hastings, a writer who is estranged from his brother Peter, a pilot. The two brothers come together after the death of their father (the doctor), and it is revealed that Frank’s mother is not the same as Peter’s. Letters from World War II are found and the mystery surrounding Frank’s mother, and his father’s time in France during the war are made known. There are other revelations about Peter too, and again without giving a lot away, both of the brothers are changed by what they learn of their parents and how they view themselves and their relationship with each other.

Part of the 3.5 stars for me aside from the time it took me to read was that there were a lot of different characters to keep track of, which didn’t help with my slow reading. The author is definitely creating a distinct and clear ‘universe’ in both the modern and historic timelines– it’s clear a lot of research and time went into crafting the novel with its details, subplots, and development. Some of the background helps inform the main narrative, but there were a few that left me feeling a bit clueless like I’d missed something. That being said, I appreciate novels where you can see the personal development, realizations, and self-discovery of a fictional character, so this book gets good marks for that.

Buy the 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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Julia Child, J.K. Rowling & Toni Morrison

Julia Child, J.K Rowling, Toni Morrison. Any guess what these women have in common?

Other than being huge for their contributions to society and culture, all three women earned their success, achievements, and fame later in life.

All three of them are my beacons of hope for achieving my dream of publishing a novel.

Julia Child (whose birthday today inspired this post) was only 32 when she went to French cooking school. Her groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking was not published until 1961 when she was 49 and her PBS show started just 2 years later.

J.K. Rowling was 36 years old when the first Harry Potter was released. Toni Morrison’s first book (The Bluest Eye) was published in 1970 when she was 39. She’s gone on to write many important novels and won a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize for Literature. Rowling and Morrison both wrote much of their first novels in the hours before they went to their day jobs.

I’m not saying I’m anywhere near close to the greatness of these three women. But they remind me that dreams never go away as you age. That things you want are worth fighting for and making priorities. I think of them when I even just spend 5 free minutes jotting down a plot idea or researching something for the novel ideas I have (which are many at this point).

In all the career exploration and deep thinking I’ve done as I try to figure out what’s next for my career, so many articles and pieces of advice say to think about what you wanted to do when you were a child. My answer, even for the short period of time when I wanted to be a doctor (until I found out I have a weak stomach for blood), always involved books and writing. I’m 35 and more clueless than ever about where I want to go in life with my career, but I know writing and publishing a novel is in me and that there is no time limit on achieving it. That’s where my mind wonders during the day and what I need to make time to do.

 

 

Summer Reading

There really isn’t a lot different for my reading in the summer than there is in the winter, except I try to keep it light and not too involved since I often read outside and get easily distracted.

My goal for reading this year is 80 books and as of today I’m just over halfway to my goal. I took Thursday and Friday off this week after the Wednesday holiday, so hoping to enjoy some lazy days reading.

This past month was a total of 8 books– almost made it 9, but I didn’t read as much as I thought I would this past weekend, so didn’t finish it before the calendar turned to July. For this month, I’m going to focus on reading from my Kindle and my personal bookshelf. Funny that even with Kindle, I’m not reading books I own!

Here’s a rundown of the books from June!

Educated– Tara Westover (audio)

Matchmaking for Beginners– Maddie Dawson (Kindle)

All We Ever Wanted– Emily Giffin (advanced reader copy)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (hardcover)

Number the Stars– Lois Lowry (Kindle)

Calypso– David Sedaris (audio)

The Dressmaker– Kate Alcott (hardcover)

Uncommon Type: Stories– Tom Hanks (audio)

The Sun is Also A Star– Nicole Yoon (hardcover)

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows– J.K. Rowling (hardcover, borrowed from friend)

Little Women 150 Years Later

It’s hard to believe Little Women was written 150 years ago, and even harder to believe that so many of the issues that Louisa May Alcott wrote about are still things society is grappling with today. This AP article touches on some of these ideas, especially the idea of feminism and possible how Alcott would take the modern-day #MeToo movement.

I don’t remember the first time I read Little Women but it was definitely well before the 1994 film with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon (among others) came out. It’s a book that’s resonated me throughout my life at different times and one of the few books I’ve re-read. In fact, I re-read the book in 2011 shortly after deciding to end my marriage, which is also the time I began blogging. The quote on my blog masthead from the book found me at the perfect moment in my life when I was trying to figure out what I wanted for my life and it’s something that has stuck with me ever since.

I think some of my affinity for Little Women is the independent spirit of Jo March, a quality I value and a characteristic I think applies to me in many part of my life. I also feel a bit of a fierce local pride for the Alcott family and other writers from Concord, MA. I was born at the hospital in Concord and we visited the town several times when I was growing up, taking day trips to canoe on the Concord River, visit historical sites related to the American Revolution, and walked around Concord’s adorable downtown. I’ve been to Orchard House, the Alcott family home, a few times, though it’s been many years since I’ve visited so I think a summer day trip is in order. I’m sure my perspective will change now that I work in the history field, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

I still pick up my copy of Little Women to read from time to time, though I’m well overdue for a complete re-read of the book. While Jo will likely always remain my favorite character, I have come to have a new appreciation for the older sister Meg and feel more emotional over the death of Beth than I did as a young person reading the book. The 1994 film is still my favorite and I always watch during the holiday season, though it isn’t your typical Christmas film. The 1933 Katharine Hepburn version is quite good as well– and filmed at Orchard House. I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t watched the most recent PBS Masterpiece adaptation, but that will be remedied very soon!

 

A few of the actresses who have played Jo March

 

5 on Friday: Book Recommendations

Friday the 13th! Be careful for ladders, black cats, and other signs of superstition today!

4 months into 2018 and I’ve read 23 books out of the 80 reading goal for this year. Here are 5 books I’ve read this year I’d definitely recommend.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Not historical fiction in the traditional sense of the genre, but historical in that it follows one famous movie star over the years as she tells the story of her life and career to a journalist. I picked this up because I love depictions of old Hollywood, but this book is so much more than that. The main character Evelyn Hugo is complicated and dynamic, and it was not predictable in any way. I could barely put it down! 5 stars.

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen

A free Amazon Prime Kindle book that I grabbed while Q watched a horror movie that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. As a person in women’s history, I was pleasantly surprised that there were so many women in this book that I had never learned about before. So many of their stories are fascinating, and it’s got me thinking about the many historical fiction ideas for my own writing based on some of these amazing females. I only gave this 4 stars because I thought the book could have included more diverse women.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

An audiobook listen, I chose this book because science/nature/space are mesmerizing to me, but also so outside of my realm of understanding it’s a little embarrassing. I never did well with science in school ( especially physics and chemistry) so I decided to listen to this to try to have a better understanding. Tyson’s documentaries and work with astrophysics is centered on trying to make it more palatable for the average person, and I so appreciate that. This short audiobook ( I listened within one commute week, so I think it was under 8 hours total) is narrated by Tyson, who has a great speaking voice. I will admit it gets 4 stars only because there was a whole section explaining protons, neutrons, and so on that totally made my head hurt and confused me more, but that’s my own personal shortcoming in the science realm and not a dig to Mr. Tyson!

Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

Another free Kindle book that I can’t remember quite when I downloaded it, but this memoir about living with parents who were hoarders was both fascinating and horrifying. 5 stars.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Is there anything more wonderful to a book lover than a book about a bookstore owner and the world he lives within? I devoured this book in almost one sitting and it was so heartwarming, charming, and lovely. 5 stars.

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.

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

 

 

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