Category: Book Reviews

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life
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Published: October 3, 2017
Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend tackle the very common issue of boundaries and how healthy and unhealthy boundaries can affect every area of your life for good or bad.

I don't really like reading self-help books, but I tried this book out because it's on a subject matter that I want to understand better. Boundaries is a book that will help you understand what boundaries are and recognize if your boundaries are injured or unhealthy. This book offers a Biblical perspective on boundaries, and confronts the many spiritual-sounding misconceptions about boundaries especially among Christians.

There are important questions here such as whether God intended us to have healthy boundaries, how can you keep your boundaries intact while still being a loving person, how to deal with people who do not respect your boundaries, among others. It talks about boundaries at work, in a marriage, with kids, with friends, etc. I appreciate that the book tackled ways to identified injured boundaries in different settings, and offered practical ways on how to address these issues. It's not going to be easy, they didn't offer quick fixes, but the suggestions are Bible-based and practical. Doable, if you're willing to take ownership of the issue.

I wish I read this book earlier in life. It did, however, bring to my attention how our parents did their best to teach us how to establish healthy boundaries. Many of the lessons mentioned in the book, I recognized from my memory of my parents. Biblical principles are timeless, after all. Overall, this is a very helpful and insightful book.

Marcel’s Letters

Marcel's Letters
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Published: June 6, 2017
While in search for an inspiration for her personal project of designing her own font, graphic designer Carolyn Porter stumbled across some letters from 1943-1944, written in French, by someone named Marcel. She couldn't understand the words but she fell in love with his handwriting. Years later, she had the letters translated and was suddenly wrapped up in Marcel's remarkable story.

Before I even read the summary of this book, the title and the font used on it, particularly the letter M, caught my attention. I love handwriting-style fonts, and this font is quite gorgeous. I delved into the book expecting to read about Marcel's letters (as in his written correspondences), but I was pleasantly surprised that the book is also about his letters (as in the letters he formed with his hands, his penmanship).

Carolyn Porter wrote about how she found the letters in a flea market, and even without being able to understand a word on it because it was written in French, she bought it because she found the penmanship beautiful. This penmanship would be the basis for her personal project, a handwriting-style font. I can appreciate this fascination, and I love how the author included a lot of technical details about font design without being overly technical about it. Somehow she managed to describe the long and arduous process of making a font without alienating readers like me, who don't really understand the technicalities. I enjoyed and appreciated how she shared her creative process. It was a lot of work, to be sure, but she didn't sound overly whiny or defeatist about it. I came away with a better understanding of how a personal passion project can really take years to complete. It's bittersweet, and if you're not careful, it can eat up a lot of your time and focus. The details of her passion project were interspersed with the story of Marcel, the man who wrote the letters that became the inspiration for her font.

Marcel's letters were dated between 1943 to 1944, and they had stamps that had Hitler's face on them. They were written during World War II and looked like they were sent from Germany. What was a Frenchman doing in Germany in 1943-44? Several years after working on her passion project, Porter decided to have the letters translated. Pretty soon, she found herself immersed in yet another project...that of unraveling the story of Marcel. She detailed all her efforts to trace Marcel's whereabouts in order to answer that nagging question--was Marcel able to make it home after the war?

This pursuit was itself filled with a lot of challenges and also took time and resources to work on. At times it was already beginning to sound like an obsession. After all, what did it matter if Marcel was able to go home or not, right? But it mattered to Carolyn Porter, and while reading the book and soaking in her thoughts, it began to matter to me too.

I really loved how she uncovered the historical context of Marcel's time in Germany. I can relate to how she felt. We know of the Holocaust, we know of World War II, Nazi Germany, Hitler, all the millions of people who suffered and died during those years, but we really actually don't know much to truly care. We don't have enough of a connection to it to let it inform the way that we live our lives today. The more you uncover the details and the more you are able to somehow put names and faces at a certain point in time during this dark corridor in history, the more it becomes vivid in your mind. It's like the dawning of understanding, when history stops being a vague collection of dates and events and personalities that we should know but we really don't grasp, and begins to be clearer and weightier.

Porter's journey of discovery was fascinating and engrossing. The details of her love for calligraphy, for type, and the birth of her first font was also fascinating. It resonated with me, and I feel like somehow we're kindred spirits, poring over and admiring written words on paper.

I was afraid at first that it would be a book about a handful of letters stretched and padded into a rambling account to force it into a book, but I loved how the author shared Marcel with the readers. She handled Marcel's story thoughtfully and respectfully. This is a very pleasant, memorable book. I enjoyed it from start to end.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
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Published: October 23, 2011 (first published 1960)
William L. Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was a journalist and war correspondent. This book is a combination of Shirer's personal experiences as a correspondent in Nazi Germany, as well as a collection of memos, letters, and journal entries from the people involved in the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

It took me a couple of weeks to read through this book, the contents were just both riveting and at the same time so hard to stomach. It is a very engrossing book, and I will highly recommend it if you want to understand what the Third Reich was and what led to its rise and fall.

Shirer did a great job of documenting not just the events that he witnessed first hand as a journalist during that time, but also compiling memos, journal entries, letters, papers, and other documents that were not destroyed during the fall of the Third Reich. He also included portions of transcripts and other eyewitness accounts. This is a very robust book that is also quite easy to read, even for people who are not history buffs (like me). It's remarkable how Shirer was able to establish the historical and cultural context that led to the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler.

Just a side note, it helped a lot that I purchased the Kindle version because the X-Ray feature came super handy for this book. There were a lot of names, dates, and places involved and it can be a bit challenging to keep track of them all.

The way that Shirer laid out the context in such an accessible language helped me understand how a nation as great and cultured as Germany could possibly come under the thrall of a madman such as Adolf Hitler. Shirer described the unfolding of events not just in terms of what happened in politics or the government, but also in terms of how society itself changed during this time. How it affected the academe, the church, the family. How it affected arts and culture. How it affected the economy. How the nation somehow found itself in a state of complicity to this gangster government's atrocities.

I had to stop reading the book once in a while because it really weighs on you. I got nightmares from reading it, and not just the parts about their atrocities but also the parts about how their propaganda machine was so destructively efficient.

The book is an authoritative account that takes the readers through the unfolding horrors of Nazi Germany. I highly recommend it. This wasn't required reading during my high school or college days, but I think it really should be.

Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others— Living with a Father’s Monstrous Legacy

Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others— Living with a Father’s Monstrous Legacy
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Published: February 6, 2018
In 1940, the German sons and daughters of great Nazi dignitaries Himmler, Göring, Hess, Frank, Bormann, Speer, and Mengele were children of privilege at four, five, or ten years old, surrounded by affectionate, all-powerful parents. Although innocent and unaware of what was happening at the time, they eventually discovered the extent of their father’s occupations: These men—their fathers who were capable of loving their children and receiving love in return—were leaders of the Third Reich,…

Here's something I've always wondered about. These men who played such a big role in Hitler's Nazi Germany, they were family men too. What happened to their families after the war? I bought this book since it popped up on my recommended reading list. Overall, I thought that it was a bit too thin, not too scholarly. The author did write in the introduction that she was only able to conduct one interview, and based the rest of her work on existing interviews. Given the timeframe, that's acceptable, but one comes away from reading this book feeling like it's a little too thin on the historical details and even the insights on the matter. It's not very scholarly. It reads a bit too anecdotal and very short, as if the writer had little material to work with and didn't want to stretch the book out unnecessarily.

That being said, this book is a nice, easy read if you want to learn about how the children of Himmler, Goring, Hoss, Mengele, Bormann, and others dealt with the legacy of being children of war criminals. Majority of them were very young during the years of the holocaust, some don't even remember their fathers, but the long shadow that they cast in their lives is undeniable.

I find it very surprising that many of these men provided happy homes for their children. I suppose that they really do not consider what they did during the Third Reich as immoral, but rather as essential to their service for their fuehrer. They went about their day, bringing pain and death to people (many of them are as young as their own children), they filled up their homes with items looted from other people's homes, and yet they fail to grasp how immoral that is.

This book, while far from being a satisfying read, offers enough usable insight on the subject.

Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark
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Clare Cosi returns! A smartphone dating app turns the Village Blend into a top meeting spot for its users. It's great for the business until someone gets murdered.

Cozy mysteries are quite new to me. I've only discovered this through my Goodreads feed (where I get a lot of great recommendations from what my friends are currently reading). Full disclosure, I binge-read all of Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mysteries in a matter of days earlier this year. I was really excited for this new addition. I really like this series because of the coffee references, and I love that there's much emphasis on where the beans are sourced and how different factors affect how coffee tastes. I liked the details. There's also a lot of food references, so reading a Cleo Coyle book always makes me hungry after, haha.

This new book has less coffee and food references compared to previous books. I really miss that. Still, it's a pretty good mystery. Somehow the character of Clare Cosi straddles that fine line between justifiably curious and annoyingly nosy. The clues, the police interaction are all plausible. I've always liked the strong female characters of this series but I love how Esther Best's character shone in this story. The poems in the slam poetry session for horrible hookup stories were funny. The story also finds the sweet spot between being comfortable with using technology and understanding how this isn't a replacement for real-life relationships. Of course, there's the usual annoyances with Matteo's juvenile ways, which I had hoped would be toned down a bit. Not much interaction with Mike Quinn on this book, but that's alright. It's actually one of the things I like about the book. There's not much of that cloying, overly-romanticized, wishy-washy love story. They're both busy with their careers, they both try to balance their responsibilities and personal lives. I actually like how the series show the day-to-day challenges Clare Cosi face while managing Village Blend, and little tidbits about how she navigates relationships with suppliers, customers, and even her coffee broker.

Cleo Coyle succeeded in making a nice little world in this series, and despite the fewer coffee and food references on this installment, I still enjoyed it a lot.