Life By Kristen

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

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.

 

 

 

5 on Friday: The Obamas

The country has changed dramatically in 8 years. Far more prolific writers than myself have said many things on the topic of the Obamas, but here’s 5 small tidbits from me on this day.

1  As a lover of words and books, I am captivated by how fellow book lover President Obama talks about the topic. Here’s the list of all the books he has recommended over the years. I’m happy that a few I’ve read are on there, and a lot are already on my to-read list too.

2  Some of the shots of President Obama with kids are some of my favorite images from his presidency, a bunch of which are here. My favorite is this one!

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Pete Souza

3  Michelle Obama with Ellen at CVS is way too funny, especially when she discovers the boxed wine. Watch it! 

4  Fashion history is a big interest of mine, and Michelle Obama set the bar high. Here’s an article on why the clothes she wore mattered and a slideshow of 50 of her most memorable outfits. I’d love that turquoise sheath dress she wore for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

5 The Obamas seem like incredibly interesting, down-to-earth people and both of them would make the guest list for my dream dinner party (which is very much a dream considering my kitchen abilities).

 

As our world changes today in a big way,

I’m keeping hope in my heart for the future.

Life in January

I once told a friend that January is meant for sweatpants and hibernating. And while I generally still believe this, this January has been going along at at such a quick pace, there hasn’t been a lot of hibernating!

I’m fresh off a much needed 4 day weekend– even though with holidays and other happenings in life I haven’t had a full work week since before Christmas, my day job has just been frantically busy, a feeling I dislike and goes against the pace of this time of year, in my opinion. There are a lot of changes happening, including a huge one in the leadership of the organization, that have all of us worker bees in the middle just going along each day doing our work until someone tells us something different! It’s an odd feeling to know change is happening, but that nothing is happening at the same time. Supremely cautious optimism is the name of the game these days.

18 days into the new year and I feel like I’m doing well with my goal of ‘wellness.’ I walk on the treadmill most nights for at least a half hour, plus my once a week yoga class. On my extra long weekend I did a ton of cooking for lunches and dinners, plus planned out new recipes to try out.

One new habit that I’m loving– listening to podcasts while chopping, cooking, and doing housework. It’s totally transformed what was previously some of my least favorite chores into something to look forward to a bit. I’m currently loving I Feel Better, Pop Culture Happy Hour,  Stuff You Missed in History Class, Modern Love, and You Must Remember This. I’m listening to podcasts just as much as audio books on my commute now too, so I’d love any recommendations! Points if the podcast is around 40ish minutes, my usual commute time!

Another new thing I love- the Hoopla app from my local library. Unlike their Overdrive option ( which is also great), you don’t have to wait in line for a title on Hoopla for audio books, though the selection is more limited than Overdrive. They also have e books, music, and videos available for rent. You can only rent a certain amount of titles per month, but since I average about 2-3 audio books a month for the commute, it works perfectly for me.

The 4 day weekend and some solo TV time gave me some uninterrupted time to watch Bright Lights, the Carrie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds documentary that was more uplifting about family relationships than the sadness I thought it was going to be. Also caught Weiner, about NY politician Anthony Weiner, which was fascinating/disturbing/interesting all at the same time. I recommend both!

How is your January going?

Book Review: A Certain Age

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Synopsis: As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.

But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.

Full of the glamour, wit and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’ fiction and alternating between Sophie’s spirited voice and Theresa’s vibrant timbre, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York

***

My review: 3 stars.

I actually read this book back in June when the hardcover first came out as Beatriz Williams is one of my “must-read” authors. I enjoy her style of historical fiction– well-researched and developed characters, great story, and a peppering in of real-life historic events and people.

But this one fell a little flat for me.

Maybe it was the time period ( the 1920s) which isn’t one I’m particularly interested in or the premise of a married woman with a younger man, even though she’s married. There were story lines and details that felt underdeveloped and left hanging without explanation, though I wonder if this is just setting things up for future Williams’ books, as she is known for placing characters from other titles into each book, creating a well-developed universe of people. I think that might be my favorite thing about her as a writer– she leaves you wanting more and wondering about a character well after a  book is finished, and then writes another title exclusively about that person.

The story line is also Williams’ loose interpretation on a well-known opera, which she explains fully in the author’s note at the back of the book. Knowing very little about opera this didn’t mean much for me, though I appreciate the retelling and interpretation on a creative level.

 

tlc tour host

I did not receive a copy of this book in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own. 

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