Just Read: Street Of Eternal Happiness By Rob Schmitz

I consider myself a life long learner and in the last few years I’ve tried to focus my reading and other educational activities around topics that I felt I didn’t know enough about.

China is one of the topics to which I’ve dedicated myself, in part due to how important the future of this country is to the future of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Even after having read several books on China’s past and present, I realize that there’s always more to learn because China is such a huge and complex country. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity of reading Street Of Eternal Happiness, to continue expanding my knowledge.

Street Of Eternal Happiness Book ReviewStreet Of Eternal Happiness by Rob Schmitz

Published: June 2016

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The author, Rob Schmitz is an award-winning journalist who has lived many years of his life in China as both a teacher for the Peace Corps and currently in Shanghai as China’s correspondent for Marketplace.

For this book, Schmitz focuses on a single street in Shanghai on which he lives, whose Chinese name roughly translates to Street Of Eternal Happiness.

Queens, Empresses, Mistresses And Duchesses: Biographies Of Noble Women Through History

When looking at biographies I’ve gravitated towards in the past, many of them involved standout female royal or noble figures from different historical times. I decided to put a book list together of my favorite female royal biographies, to be added to as I continue to explore the genre.

Here are 6 of my favorite of these biographies so far – mostly from European history. I do plan to expand this book list to include more diversity both in terms of historical period and in terms of geographical origin in the future.

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Review of royal women biography The Life Of Elizabeth The FirstThe Life Of Elizabeth The I by Alison Weir

Published: October 1999

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No list of biographies of historical women would be complete without a history of Elizabeth I’s life or without at least one work (and in this case two) by Alison Weir. This is an intensely personal portrait of arguably the most complex and compelling female monarch of all time. It reads like a novel but is based on extensively researched sources. Alison Weir brings Elizabeth intimately to life for her readers, spanning from the minutiae of her daily life – including food, dress and privy chambers – to the overarching issues of marriage, succession and intense court rivalries.

Just Read: The Expats By Chris Pavone

Let me preface this review by saying that I rarely read lighter thriller novels like these of my own volition. I’m part of a wonderful book club here in Los Angeles that often brings me to expand my reading into titles that I would normally not seek out on my own.

This was the case for The Expats by Chris Pavone, which was my book club’s August 2016 pick. I have to say I really enjoyed reading the book and it perfectly lent itself to the kind of unburdened reading that is ideal for the London to LA intercontinental flight on which I ended up finishing it cover to cover.

That’s definitely another advantage of this kind of novel, you can finish it in a day and have that sense of living the entire story all at once. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read but still gripping story with an enigmatic female lead, The Expats will the fit the bill.

The_Expats_Book_Cover_2.jpgThe Expats by Chris Pavone

Published: March 2012
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“Part of being human is having secrets. Dirty fetishes and debilitating fascinations and shameful defeats and ill-begotten triumphs, humiliating selfishness and repulsive inhumanity. The horrible things that people have thought and done, the lowest points in their lives.”

Kate seems a woman just like any other – with two kids, a husband that wavers from attentive to inattentive, and endless laundry to do. When her family moves to Luxembourg to follow her husband Dexter’s career aspirations, Kate decides to throw herself full-time into motherhood, quitting her apparently innocuous state department job. Once in Europe and trying to adapt to her new life, Kate’s natural aptitude for suspicion is awakened by her husband’s unwillingness to reveal details about his new employer, and by two new Americans – Julia and Bill – that suddenly appear in Luxembourg and insistently insert themselves into Kate and Dexter’s lives. In a crescendo of secrets, the reader will wonder alongside Kate whether her past life is about to be revealed, or whether it’s in fact someone she never suspected who has even more to hide.

Other novels by Chris Pavone



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Author Spotlight: Henry James

Henry James is one of my Top 5 favorite authors. It’s impossible to order them by preference but the other four are Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Virginia Woolf.

Why his Henry James one of my favorite authors? Well, first of all I really gravitate towards intricate writing styles, as they just feel closer to how I think (and write, as you may have noticed). Every one of Henry James’ novels also include strong though flawed female characters that I find relatable and interesting in their complexities. He often deals with questions of female independence versus traditional society expectations which still feel modern, though they are obviously set in the 1800s in his writing. I’d recommend any of his novels for these reasons.

The 8 novels recommended below are some of Henry James’ most famous, and I loved every single one of them. He was an extremely prolific writer and some of his well-known novels, as well as numerous novellas are not included in this list (not to mention nonfiction works and plays). I did not review Princess Casamassima and The American for example, as I have yet to read them. Something to look forward to.

Brief Biography

Henry James was born in America in 1843 in a wealthy New York City family. His father, Henry James Sr., was a well-known theologian and philosopher. The author traveled with his family and later alone extensively throughout Europe, staying for a prolong period as a young boy in France and becoming fluent in French. He struggled to find an audience for his writing until 1869, when he began to publish his works in serialized form for a primarily middle class female audience. Remaining mostly in Europe and bouncing between London and Paris, he continued to publish feverishly and met famous literary and political figures. Of particular influence on him were writers Emile Zola, George Eliot and Ivan Turgenev. He never married, declaring himself a bachelor, and died in 1916 at age 72 in London.

The_Europeans_CoverThe Europeans

Published: 1878
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“There were several ways of understanding her: there was what she said, and there was what she meant, and there was something between the two, that was neither.”

The Europeans revolves around the arrival in a stiff American family of two very bohemian European cousins, The Baroness Eugenia Munster and her brother, Felix Young. Enraptured by these new arrivals, their young American relatives, Clifford, Charlotte and Gertrude are tempted to throw their puritanical upbringing to the wind. Hilarity ensues.



Washington_Square_CoverWashington Square

Published: 1880
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“Catherine, who was extremely modest, had no desire to shine, and on most social occasions, as they are called, you would have found her lurking in the background.”

Instead of the nosy and middling mother in Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, Henry James offers an equally stiff and unyielding father. Dr. Sloper fails to see the many attractive qualities of his daughter Catherine and unremittingly attempts to intercede between her and her suitor Morris Townsend in this tragicomedy of parental misdirection.




The Portrait Of A Lady

Published: 1881
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“Sometimes she went so far as to wish that she should find herself in a difficult position, so that she might have the pleasure of being as heroic as the occasion demanded.”

Isabel Archer has money, beauty, freedom and a mind of her own. She travels to Europe to see the sights and soon finds herself surrounded by pressing suitors fighting for her hand. Her spirit of independence is tried over and over again by the masculine world as it tries to seize her and tame her. Will she be able to escape traditional society expectations?


The_Bostonians_CoverThe Bostonians

Published: 1886
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“It was the usual things of life that filled her with silent rage; which was natural enough inasmuch as, to her vision, almost everything that was usual was iniquitous.”

The Bostonians is set amid broiling political activism on women’s rights. The two diametrically opposed characters of Olive Chancellor and Basil Ransom struggle for the charming Verena’s affection and allegiance in this setting. Olive represents principle and independence while Basil represents tradition and subordination. Who will Verena ultimately choose?


What_Maisie_Knew_CoverWhat Maisie Knew

Published: 1897
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“She had a new feeling, the feeling of danger; on which a new remedy rose to meet it, the idea of an inner self or, in other words, of concealment.”

This is one of Henry James’ less typical novels. The main character is a child – Maisie – who observes and muses over the actions of the many irresponsible adults around her. Her parents – Beale and Ida Frange – are divorced and soon married to equally immoral and/or frivolous people. Amid the murkiness of a confused childhood, Henry James intersperses rays of humor to lighten the mood.


The_Wings_Of_The_Dove_CoverThe Wings Of The Dove

Published: 1902
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“She found herself, for the first moment, looking at the mysterious portrait through tears. Perhaps it was her tears that made it just then so strange and fair … the face of a young woman, all splendidly drawn, down to the hands, and splendidly dressed … And she was dead, dead, dead.”

To what ends will beautiful and impoverished Kate Croy and charming journalist Merton Densher go in order to realize their engagement? An sickly American heiress – Milly Theale – becomes the target of their scheme, as they wrestle between their love and their morals.



The_Ambassadors_CoverThe Ambassadors

Published: 1903
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“Strether had never smoked, and he felt as if he flaunted at his friend that this had been only because of a reason. The reason, it now began to appear even to himself, was that he had never had a lady to smoke with.”

Bumbling middle-aged Lambert Strether is sent to Europe by his fiancée to rescue her son Chad Newsome from the clutches of fallen Parisian society. It soon is clear that Lambert is only too taken with the freedom of Paris and its ladies himself. Will Mrs. Newsome lose both son and husband to the continent?



The_Golden_Bowl_CoverThe Golden Bowl

Published: 1904
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“The golden bowl – as it was to have been.’ And Maggie dwelt musingly on this obscured figure. ‘The bowl with all our happiness in it. The bowl without the crack.”

The Golden Bowl represents Prince Amerigo and heiress Maggie Verver’s apparently perfect engagement. She brings money to the table, and he his noble title. In comes the flaw in the Golden Bowl, however, in the shape of Maggie’s friend Charlotte Stant. Unbeknownst to Maggie, Charlotte has had a past tryst with Amerigo. Who of the characters will notice the fatal flaw in this love triangle first?


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How To Create A Morning Routine That You’ll Be Excited To Wake Up For

I’ve woken up at 5AM more or less consistently for a little over a year now, in order to have about two and a half hours to myself before getting ready for work. I use this time to build habits that help with my anxiety (yoga, meditation, journaling, prayer) and to do things I might not have time for during the rest of the day (exercise and reading).

Having quiet, leisurely time to myself in the morning has the biggest impact on my day – I always feel more centered and focused when I actually follow my entire morning routine and don’t snooze through it.

Inevitably it’s impossible to be perfectly consistent with a habit 100% of the time. During my recent two-week vacation to Milan to visit my family, I haven’t practiced my morning routine at all, in fact. I decided to take some time now that I have this new blog and new tasks and goals that come along with it, to redesign my morning routine and remotivate myself to follow it.

Here is my strategy for how to create a morning routine for yourself, and look out for a post on my redesigned morning routine next week!

Creating a MORNING ROUTINEYou'll Be Excited To Wake Up For.jpgHow To Create A Morning Routine That You’ll Be Excited To Wake Up For

1. Pick One Thing That Will Really Get You Out Of Bed

This is my #1 morning routine trick. If I don’t have something more than just habits that are good for me to look forward to, half of the time I won’t be able to get out of bed. If you decide to start your morning routine with exercise, and you hate to exercise, chances are that snooze button will look VERY tempting.

I choose to front-load my morning routine with two things that really motivate me to get up and going – a delicious cup of rooibos tea with milk and sugar and a good 10 minutes of snuggles with my bunny Sammy. This way when my alarm rings, I know I’m getting up for something that always feels special and rewarding.

What you pick can be anything that you’ll REALLY look forward to, whether it’s a particular morning drink, a certain breakfast, a guilty online social media habit, a 10 minute walk or time with a loved one.

2. Determine Your Goals And What It Will Take To Accomplish Them

Any kind of success is built through a small series of actions, so even if you only dedicate 10 or 20 minutes each morning to a particular habit, over a year of time it’ll make a huge difference in your abilities at it.

Maybe your goal is to read more, to take better care of yourself or to feel more relaxed, to be more in shape or flexible, or to develop a talent you haven’t had time to practice. Here are some suggestions of elements that done in 10 to 20 minute sections can really help you build towards a better version of yourself through a morning routine. You can pick as many as you’d like or have time for, or come up with others of your own.

Keeping A Gratitude Journal
Taking Time For A Side Hustle
Reading A Book
Walking Outdoors
Prepping Food For Your Day
Using A Face Mask Or Doing Your Nails
Practicing An Instrument
Learning A New Language
Taking An Online Course
Bullet Journalling

3. Define How Much Time You’ll Need For Your Routine

I spend two and a half hours on my routine, and in order to have that much time to dedicate to it, I’ve progressively moved my alarm time to 5AM. This means I go to bed no later than 9:30PM or 10PM at night. Right now I’m single and thankful for all this time I have to focus on myself.

However, having such an early wake-up time and bedtime may not work for everyone’s schedule, and you definitely don’t need over 2 hours for a morning routine that will have a huge impact on your day. I’m sure that in a different phase of my life, however, I may have to seriously rethink my routine into a shorter framework.

Make sure you’re realistic in defining what you want to accomplish in the morning and how much time you’ll really need to do so. I think starting with at least a half hour to one hour of time to yourself is ideal, but even 10 minutes to meditate are better than nothing.

4. Get Started.

It may take a few weeks to get into your new routine and you may have to progressively move your wake-up and bedtime 5 to 10 minutes per day until you’ve carved out enough time for yourself in the mornings.

If you end up skipping a few days – or few weeks – don’t get discouraged. ANY extra time you dedicate to yourself in the mornings will help you start off your day on a positive note. Please don’t judge yourself if you’re not always consistent at it – I always try not to 🙂 Just get back to it the next day!


6 Stories Of Escape And Redemption – From High-Profile Kidnapping Memoirs To Tales Of Escape From Polygamist Cults



Escape By Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer

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This is a first person account of Carolyn Jessop’s experience growing up as a polygamist in the FLDS and being married to a man three times her age. Her stories of abuse and torment as the fourth wife of Meryl Jessop and as the mother of their eight children, are equal parts enlightening and heartbreaking. The recounting of her harrowing escape from the sect and of the life she has built for herself since, will truly inspire you.

My Story By Elizabeth A. Smart And Chris Stewart

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I just finished Elizabeth Smart’s memoir about her kidnapping at the hands of a duo of religious fanatic wannabes by the names of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. Even more dramatic than the account of how Elizabeth was taken from her bed as an 14-year-old innocent Mormon girl in the middle of the night, are the levels of abuse she experienced at the hands of her captors. Through nine traumatic months, Elizabeth demonstrated incredible strength and presence of mind, keeping her hope for salvation and herself alive through her faith.


Favorite Wife: Escape From Polygamy By Susan Ray Schmidt

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The polygamist sect that Susan Ray Schmidt was brought up in was, if possible, even more extreme than the FLDS. At only fifteen, Susan is informed by church elder Verlan LeBaron that he has had a revelation informing him that she is to become his sixth wife. Before Susan’s eventual escape many years later, the story first takes her through pregnancies, privations, jealousies, poverty, breaks within the church’s leadership and even a move from Mexico to Nicaragua. This story would be unbelievable if it weren’t that it actually happened. Of interest, Verlan’s first wife Irene also wrote her own memoir, Shattered Dreams.

Finding Me: A Decade Of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings By Michelle Knight With Michelle Burford

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Everyone remembers the day when three girls were saved from years of captivity in Cleveland at the hands of the monster Ariel Castro. This is Michelle Knight’s account of her experiences during that decade. It is one of the more horrific kidnapping memoirs I’ve read, with graphic details of the torture Michelle suffered through. Not for the faint of heart, but filled with inspiring redemption in Michelle’s success in turning her life around and becoming a symbol of resilience after her ordeal.


Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier By Tom Kizzia

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At first Papa Pilgrim (Robert Hale=, his wife and their fifteen children seem the epitome of a hard-working, pious Christian family. Tom Kizzia soon starts to separate fact from fiction, though, as he figures out that Papa Pilgrim is essentially a sociopath whose primary intention in moving his large family to Alaska is to be able to continue to emotionally and sexually abuse his children in isolation. Amid battles with government authorities, increasingly erratic behavior on the part of Hale and a courageous testimony from his first-born daughter Elishaba, you’ll be hoping Hale gets what is coming to him.

A Stolen Life: A Memoir By Jaycee Duggard

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Like Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Duggard was kidnapped when she was only 11 years old. Like Michelle Knight, her captivity lasted for many years – 18 in fact. Jaycee’s experience at the hands of her captor Phillip Garrido differs however in that her memoir is heavily based on the journals she was allowed to keep throughout her captivity, as well as by the fact that Jaycee gave birth to two innocent children as a result of her sexual abuse. Her daughters were already 11 and 15 respectively when they were all finally freed.

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