Life By Kristen

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

Book Review: The Song of the Jade Lily

Synopsis:

A gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII.

1939: Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.

2016: Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother’s history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother’s own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family—and herself.

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

My review: 4 stars

I didn’t mean to read two World War II era novels right on top of each other, but it was interesting to do so because they both were quite different and both exposed stories of World War II that I didn’t know anything about which is always great.

The dual timeline trope definitely seems like a trend in the past few years with historical fiction and depending on how it’s handled, what the purpose is with moving story lines forward and similar questions, I am all for it. It works in this case very well I think because most of the arc of the novel is from the contemporary point of view of Alexandra, as opposed to this back and forth with the historical story and it not being clear what the ultimate story line is.

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.

 

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Book Review: Resistance Women

Synopsis:

After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.

As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.

For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.

Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

My review: So far, 4 stars!

I say so far because, in full disclosure, I haven’t finished reading it yet. At 608 pages, it is a pretty dense book and with baby boy arriving in 4 weeks, my brain can only handle so much at one time. It has nothing to do with the writing, the story, or the author’s approach and everything to do with baby brain!

The author has been on my to-read list for a few years so I jumped at the chance to finally read some of her work. Add in my favorite time period of World War II  and I’m really glad I have this book in my hands. As a historian who is particularly interested in women’s history, I am also a huge fan of the publishing trend in the last few years of highlighting hidden women’s stories throughout various time periods, but especially during the life-changing era of World War II.

The book is rich in detail and it’s clear Chiaverini did  A LOT of research on this book which I appreciate on many levels. The book also covers an expanse of time– 1929 through 1946– and follows three women. These factors alone would make the book long, but when Chiaverini adds in her masterful storytelling and dialogue, it’s pretty easy to see how the book came to be 600 pages (I wonder what the earlier drafts looked like!). I appreciate the expanded time period because so often in World War II era fiction it jumps right into Hitler and things going terribly without the slow buildup that led to his rise in power.

One of the reasons I like historical fiction as a genre is because it brings life to often well-known events and provides creative personal insights. What I like even more is when I learn about something I had no clue about before. I’ve read a few novels about the various resistance movements during World War II (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah being one of my favorites), but this book is based on the German- based spy/resistance movement based in Berlin called the Red Orchestra, which I had never heard of before. This is definitely the area where Chiaverini’s research comes through because there are a lot of facts and information ( I’ve been googling a lot while reading) but they aren’t boring and don’t read like non-fiction.

I’m hoping this weekend I’ll have plenty of relaxation time in my sunroom to finish the book!

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. 

May!

What a whirlwind in April! It was quite dreary in my neck of the woods, raining 21 out of the 30 days of the month. There were a few nice days in there, but this past month definitely lends true to the “April showers bring May flowers” rhyme.

With a lot going on in April, I was still productive- we got a roof contractor all set up, mortgage stuff mostly figured out, and got a few small DIY projects done.

Baby’s room is just about ready to go- this weekend, I’ll organize all the stuff we received from our baby shower and fingers crossed, the crib should be delivered on Monday.

I did not get around to selling my wedding ring so that’s definitely going to happen this month.

Q and I also didn’t go anywhere, but we’re still hoping to at least do a little day thing in the next few weeks. I’m fairly uncomfy sitting for more than an hour so we’ll probably just take a little car ride to somewhere fun for lunch on a Saturday or something just to get out of the house and mind off of all the things still to do.

So May is pretty much a continuation of April goals, with mostly more baby prep.

We’ve procrastinated for a long time and are finally reaching the ‘holy krap, there’s going to be a tiny human here in 6 weeks time!’ mode. Car seats to install, clothes to wash, freezer to fill up, and so much more.

The dreary weather of April has us way behind on yard work- every weekend it either rained or we had something going on so between Q and his 13 year old niece is who desperate for her own money, we hope to get a lot of the spring cleanup stuff done and get some flowers before baby comes.

The countdown is on!

 

 

Friday Finds April 2019

I’ve never been to Paris, but the images of the burned Notre Dame Cathedral were just heartbreaking. If you need something to lift your spirits in the face of that sadness, here’s a story about the priest, fire brigade, and human chain that worked tirelessly to save the relics that were in the church.

Novelists who became spies– I think I have a book about writers/artists/actors being spies in World War II on my own bookshelf that I haven’t read yet.

In case you’re enjoying some Easter candy: why chocolate bunnies are hollow.

Speaking of chocolate, Mr. Hershey almost was on the Titanic! 7 famous people who missed the sailing of the Titanic.

How Nancy Drew inspired a generation. I was a big fan of Nancy Drew books too!

Flannels in plaid prints may be on their way out for spring and summer lighter plaids, but the history of the print–more correctly referred to as a tartan is pretty interesting.

The woman who made Tupperware a household name.

 

5 on Friday: Random Thoughts about Pregnancy

  • I’m in the beginning of my third trimester with just about 2 months from my due date in June. So far, so good! Baby boy is healthy and things going along well. It’s still a little strange to think that when the summer comes, there’s a new little human who I’m responsible for and who will rely on me.
  • There are so many things family and friends never told me about being pregnant. I heard about the aches, the heartburn, and pregnancy brain, but no one told me about the weird dreams, the development of carpal tunnel, and honestly, all the gas/burping (sorry if it’s TMI).
  • Shopping for maternity clothes sucks almost as much as shopping for regular clothes does for me. Thank goodness tunics and leggings are acceptable attire because buying maternity pants for work is even more dreadful than buying regular work pants. I’ve scored some great finds secondhand and now that weather has finally change in my neck of the woods, will likely be relying mostly on dresses.
  • There are way too many baby products out there and picking one random car seat from the other really is a crap shoot. Even reading all the various reviews, best product listings, and so on, it’s beyond overwhelming. I don’t know if we chose the right stuff, we just picked stuff based on our gut.
  • I haven’t had any weird cravings. When I was pretty sick during the first trimester, I wanted cold stuff all the time, mostly because it didn’t smell. I did crave pickles a lot but that’s because I had a pretty constant metallic taste in my mouth and the acid of the pickles helped counteract it. Lately, it’s been cold dairy products- cheese, ice cream, and milk. I’ve probably had more glasses of milk in the past few months than I did in the previous 3 years!

April Goals

April arrives- the month where I basically pushed off everything that needs to get done before baby comes because work is crazy in March. It turned out to be far less stressful than it has in past years, but I was thankful we didn’t have a lot going on so that I could unwind on the weekends which has been much needed.

Even with a lot going on at work, I accomplished all the goals for March!

I had a lovely day off from work on my birthday which ended up being a true day off because we had a work snow day (our only one this year!) so there wasn’t even the worry of work emails piling up that day.

Our purging/organizing is going REALLY WELL. I have one more attic bin to go through and then a few things in the basement, but we’ve cleaned out a lot and have a run to the donation center on our weekend to- do list. Last weekend, Q cleaned and organized the basement, we moved down the bed so we have room for a crib, and now just need to figure out what to do with a few pieces of furniture that don’t fit anywhere.

I bought a new pillow which within a few days eliminated my weird neck/shoulder pain. Of course, being 7 months pregnant has brought on other discomforts to sleep, but the neck/shoulder stuff was bothering me all day and night so happy this was an easy fix.

Now onto April.

We have A LOT in April– our baby class and baby shower, Easter, and a few other fun things like a long weekend together, Game of Thrones premiere, and I’m going to see David Sedaris next week ( I cannot wait!). Plus we’re in the home stretch for baby!

This month, I hope to…..

Get some house stuff done: Estimates for roof, interior/exterior painting, spring yard cleanup, mortgage, and a few other random things.

Finish baby’s room: once crib and rocking chair come at end of month, we need to hang wall art and find a bookshelf.

Sell my wedding ring: I’ve been divorced for just about 7 years, and the ring is definitely out of sight, out of mind, but I want to really get rid of my previous life before my new one starts with baby.

Enjoy a long weekend with Q: We probably aren’t going to do more than a day trip, but we took a weekend off together to do something and it’s also Game of Thrones weekend so we took the Monday off because we’re weird.

 

 

 

A Decade of Home Ownership

Today marks ten years of owning my home!

So much of life has changed in these 10 years: when I bought the house, I was young and in love, about to get engaged, and ready to start my life with someone. 10 years later, I have a significant other who has truly showed me the meaning of partnership and love, and we’re about to embark on a new chapter of our life together and expand our family. In a decade of living the house has seen a lot of life go through it and as the saying goes “if only the walls could talk.”

This image is taken from Google Streetview which apparently made its way through our neighborhood sometime last summer because the hosta plants on the front left are gone now ( in an effort to get rid of some invasive weeds, we killed them which is saying a lot for a hearty plant like hostas). The evergreen that I bought 10 years ago to cover up my gas meter on the front of my house grew pretty close to the house and rather tall so Q lopped off the top of it this past fall. It’s always funny to me to look at progression of trees and shrubs in pictures over the years to see how quickly things grow that you look at every day, but don’t ever really see their growth. That little evergreen was one of the first purchases for the house with my then-fiance/now ex-husband from Lowe’s (funny how we remember little details like that too!)

And of course, in 10 years, there have been numerous frustrations (a fire in the lot next door where we feared we would lost our house), lots of painting (fences, ceilings, walls), and various upgrades, but for the most part our little house has remained the same, a happy place for me during both the rough and happy moments of life. It’s not perfect- it’s 1930s bungalow style layout is limited with one tiny bathroom and 2 bedrooms, it’s close to the main road and can be loud, and we don’t love living in the town I grew up in as much as I used to (though to be fair, I never thought I’d stay, but things happen in life and you go with it).

It’ll always be the place where I learned who I was and took a stand for my own life in getting a divorce. It’s the place where Q told me he loved me for the first time, and where we’ll bring our little boy home to in June. It’s not our forever home, but it’ll always be my first house and a huge part of my life.

Friday Finds March 2019

If you came of age in the 1980s, there’s a pretty good chance you played The Oregon Trail in school. Here’s how we all came to love fording the river and trying not to die of dysentery. I didn’t realize the same company also made Number/Word/Super Munchers, which was another favorite computer game of my later childhood years. Also, a reminder you can play the original version of the game on the Internet Archive!

The loneliest road in America: Route 50 through Nevada into Utah. Seems like the start to a horror movie.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be in Cincinnati, but if I am, I’m definitely visiting the American Sign Museum. Looks like great fun and love that it basically was one man’s hobby (obsession?)

I’ve never been to New Orleans (it’s on the to-do list!) and I don’t have any interest in going for Mardi Gras, but I have always wondered what happens to all the plastic beads after the parades are over? Sounds like a mess, but interesting how some people are trying to make more eco-friendly beads for the celebrations.

This would be one of the worst nightmares of my museum career- art theft. This article about the guy who stole art from over 200 museums is fascinating, especially in how easy he makes it sound.

In honor of Women’s History Month:

Margaret Rudkin: founder of Pepperidge Farm. Makes me want Milanos.

World War II “night witches”– female fighter pilots from Russia who ran night time raids on German military targets. I’m always surprised and delighted when I learn about a new aspect of women in history.

Women who explored the North Pole wearing corsets and skirts!

 

 

Book Review: The Garden Lady

Synopsis: THE GARDEN LADY by Susan Dworkin is a novel about  unexpected love, the silence that becomes complicity, and the magic of redemption.  Urgent and compelling, the story resonates with today’s headlines as it poses the ethical question: How do we live with what we know but choose not to think about or act upon?

Maxie Dash, the heroine of THE GARDEN LADY, is a famous beauty, a fashion icon, the face of many national TV ads. Her first husband, a world-class photographer, took nude pictures of her, which are so beautiful that they now hang in museums.

On the cusp of her 50s, Maxie decides to make one more marriage, something permanent and restful, to a rich man who will guarantee her an affluent life and future security. Amazingly she finds the perfect man. Even more amazingly, she grows to love him. Albert shares Maxie’s passion for the opera and willingly supports her favorite charities. He indulges her delight in public gardens and allows her to endow the community with their beauty. All he asks in return is that she give him her love and her unswerving loyalty and agree to know nothing — absolutely nothing — about his business.

Maxie is sustained by her best friend, the designer Ceecee Rodriguez, whom she treasures as a sister. But she is shaken by the persistent enmity of Sam Euphemia, a fierce young business executive, who suspects Albert of terrible crimes.

Add Maxie Dash to the list of great heroines of contemporary fiction. Smart, funny, enjoying every moment of her hard-won success,  she ultimately faces the truth about her life, moves past denial and realizes that “her loyalty was a side effect of her greed and her greed was a crime against nature and her silence, her willful, terror-stricken silence, the true disaster.”  Her attempt to turn Garbage Mountain, a New Jersey landfill, into a beautiful park is key to her redemption.

 

My review: 3 stars.

This book packs A LOT into its slim 220 pages. It’s not my typical genre of historical fiction or romance, but I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review the book. It was a good palate cleanser after spending most of the winter reading feel-good, happy ending books.

It’s fast-paced which I appreciate in a thriller/suspense like book. Years ago, I read more in that genre (I loved Mary Higgins Clark books through high school and college), but as I had more time to read for pleasure, I found that suspense books often didn’t develop fast enough or the plot dragged on and I couldn’t read fast enough to enjoy. Or I figured out the whodunit? or big twist early on and it ruined the book for me.

In any case, The Garden Lady, while it has a lot going on (love affairs, crime, family drama, etc.) and has a lot of characters, didn’t drag for me and it kept me guessing as to where the author was going with the plot. I appreciated that the author didn’t spend a lot of time with character development that took away from the main plot, but I still felt like I understood who these people were, motivations, etc. The main character, Maxie, is complex and interesting, which helps in her path forward in reaching her goal to build a memorial garden. I know it sounds weird that the premise of starting a garden in honor of a dead spouse can be riveting, but the author’s character development, and the role of the deceased husband Albert (and his past) helps to make it interesting. Trust me!

Overall, I gave it three stars not for any fault of the author, but mostly because of my own reading habits and life. I didn’t get to read it in one weekend as I’d hoped and so it took a few sittings, which had me having to re-read a bit and remember everything that I had previously read– might be pregnancy brain, or just that there is A LOT going on with not a lot of pages.

 

Buy the book!

36

I probably say this every year, but shouldn’t it be a law that you always have your birthday off from work? I plan for this every year, but this year it was even sweeter because it ended up being a snow day for my work which means it was a completely free day to me!

As with just about every year on my birthday, I rang it in with family. Q surprised me on Friday before my birthday with my gift (flowers and lovely earrings) and maybe the sweetest card he’s ever given me in our almost 6 years together. The entire weekend we didn’t do much which I think is also the rule of birthdays. We had a lovely dinner and birthday cake with family on Sunday evening and I enjoyed time with my Mom on my actual birthday after sleeping in, finally watching Dumplin on Netflix, and coming home to relax and have Q make dinner (yummy steak).

Of course this year feels like a birthday that is closing a chapter of life and starting a new one as it’s the year I’ll welcome our baby. Even though I’m now solidly in the mid-30s and creeping closer to the big 40-0, I still feel like I have no clue what’s next in life. Obviously the baby is going to change every aspect of my life in my responsibilities and priorities. Even with that big change a-coming, I still feel like there are other changes I want for me and for Q and our family– moving to a new home, wherever it might be, hopefully a new job, and whatever adventures life brings our way.

 

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