Life By Kristen

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

Archive for the tag “TLC book tours”

Book Review: The Beautiful Possible

The Beautiful Possible COVER

About the book: ” Spanning seventy years and several continents, this enthralling novel tells the braided love story of three unforgettable characters. In 1946, Walter Westhaus, a German-Jewish refugee who spent the war years at Tagore’s ashram in India, arrives at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he meets Sol Kerem, a promising rabbinical student. A brilliant nonbeliever, Walter is the perfect foil for Sol’s spiritual questions . . . and an alluring paramour for Sol’s free-spirited fiancée, Rosalie. Months later they shatter their impossible bond, retreating to opposite sides of the country—Walter to pursue an academic career in Berkeley, and Sol and Rosalie to lead a congregation in suburban New York. A chance meeting years later reconnects them—catching three hearts and minds in a complex web of desire, heartbreak, and redemption. With extraordinary empathy and virtuosic skill, The Beautiful Possible considers the hidden boundaries of marriage and faith, and the mysterious ways we negotiate our desires.”

About the author: Amy Gottlieb’s fiction and poetry have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, and she is the recipient of fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. She lives in New York City.


While it took me a bit to get into this book ( I was getting a bit overwhelmed by a lot of the Jewish terminology and rabbi school bits), I overall enjoyed the story and characters. I love any book where you feel you get to know the characters over time and see how they develop and change- the book spans 50 years from 1938 to 2008.

I appreciated the extensive looks at how Rosalie and Sol looked at themselves and their inner thinking about how they thought of the other and their relationship, particularly as they and their marriage evolves over the years. Walter is essentially with them- emotionally and a few times reappears randomly in their lives- as the third person in their marriage. It reminded me a bit of other books and movies where one partner is always wondering about the life they could have had or the desires they secretly hold, but this book was more dynamic because it represented both husband and wife.The later part of the book shifts a bit as Rosalie and Sol’s children grow up, and the character of Maya, the daughter, pushes the story further in terms of examining relationships, love, and identity.

Since Sol is a rabbi there is a lot of references of Hebrew words and phrases, and prayers from the Torah.I think these were used well within the context and details of the story, but as I said, it did overwhelm me a bit in the early stages of my reading. It was interesting to learn the expectations of a rabbi’s wife, especially in the years when a woman’s role was changing so rapidly in society.

This book would be a great read for anyone who appreciates historical fiction that has some deeper themes and great characters.

4 stars.


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.

Book Review: The Santa Claus Man

One of my most beloved books that I own is Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus. I think “Santa” probably brought it when I was beginning to question his existence and this small book included the original 1897 letter in the New York Sun,  the editor’s response, and various other bits of historic Christmas stories to prove Santa Claus was a real thing ( guess the historian in me started early!)

So when I saw the book The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York by Alex Palmer, I was definitely intrigued for much the same reasons the Virginia book still appeals to me. It was perfect timing in my reading cycle too because I was on the hunt for some interesting nonfiction.

SantaClaus Man cover

The book centers around the dynamic personality of John Duval Gluck, Jr., an enterprising businessman ( really he was a con!) who, after learning in the 1910s that the Post Office threw away letters to Santa, founded the Santa Claus Association. This group read every letter and then worked to find ways, through donations and kind members of society, to provide some of these gifts to less fortunate children. Sounds like an amazing, altruistic endeavor, right?

Of course, the truth was that Gluck’s organization was not exactly doing as much amazing work as they claimed. Gluck used a lot of the donated funds for his own purposes and led quite a celebrity, high-class lifestyle. Various authorities became involved and the fraud of the Santa Claus Association was revealed.

I highly recommend the book, even though I’m still about 75 pages from being done! My lack of completion for the review is actually because I’m enjoying the book so much, I’ve been taking notes and doing research on names and events that I didn’t know much about– even though I’ve studied the “Jazz Age” and 1920s New York, this book’s focus on cultural and social history bits of that time period was just as fascinating as the actual Gluck story, particularly about the commercialization/popularization of Christmas and the origins of many things that still occur today like Christmas parades. I found myself stopping to read many things to Q, which definitely slowed down my reading too.

It’s fascinating/mind boggling to me that before Gluck came around to find a home for all these letters to Santa that they went in the trash– how sad! Even though Gluck was not the most honest guy, it seems clear from the stories the family has that he wasn’t an entirely horrible person. I think his intentions were admirable in the beginning of the Santa Claus Association, but fame and success clouded his judgement and business practices.

Palmer is related to the late Gluck which gave him access to family members and personal stories that may have not been revealed if another writer undertook this project. I appreciated the readable narrative- often times when I’m reading a nonfiction book, I find myself skimming a lot of the contextual information because it’s too dry or verbose, but I think Palmer did a great job of making the facts interesting, relevant, and accessible. There were some great vintage photographs that were interspersed with the text; I appreciate that as a reader and historian since I like to see the people/places I’m reading about as it happens instead of always flipping to a middle or back of the book photo section.

I think a person who likes a more popular history, nonfiction read will enjoy this  book or even someone who has an interest in reading in about lesser known people of history.  Here’s a brief review in the NY Times of the book too!

If the book description or my review make you want to buy this book for someone on your shopping list this holiday season, a free Santa bookplate signed by the author, plus two vintage Santa Claus Association holiday seals are available with book purchase. Just email proof of purchase (online receipt, photo of bookstore receipt, etc.) along with the mailing address where you’d like the gift sent to before December 21 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

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.

Book Review: Mireille


Mireille is a story that begins with 17 year old Mireille in the ending days of World War II.  Through the war, her struggles are many, and turns to high-class prostitution as a means of survival for herself and her child- she becomes known as “The Angel.” Through a series of events after meeting a well-known American film producer, she becomes a very popular, award-winning actress in the United States, but her earlier life and exploits come to haunt her.

Written by Molly Cochran, I read this book as part of TLC Book Tours and was intrigued by this particular title because of my interest in historical fiction. I also really enjoy stories that follow a character through time and various events. Mireille fits both of these characteristics so I thought I would enjoy.

Overall, while the book was interesting, it wasn’t a page turner- there were long periods in between my sitting down to read it on the iPad Kindle app. It’s long-  almost 550 pages– which discouraged me at times, but with a book that is character and detail driven over an expanse of time, that’s not surprising.

I was not so much a fan of the extended abusive relationships/circumstances, but I understand what the author was trying to achieve with these details. It definitely was not the feel-good historical romance I often read. But as much as I disliked some aspects and often got lost in some detail, I wanted to know how Mireille was going to do, especially as she navigated her way from each situation, often going from bad to worse, but always with her and her daughter’s well-being in mind. While this book is not for everyone, Mireille as a character was interesting and dynamic enough that I thought about her after I was done with the book, which is always a good sign of a well-written and developed character.

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