Category: Book Reviews

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects
Genres: ,
Published: 2006
Reporter Camille Preaker returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two girls. Living with her family in their Victorian mansion dredges up unresolved childhood issues.

I picked up this book because I liked Gone Girl. I think that Gillian Flynn has a knack for exploring dysfunctional relationships. The main character of this book, Camille Preaker, is not the usual protagonist that people expect in stories. She's neither feisty nor virginal, she's quite unremarkable if viewed from the point of view of the other characters in the book. She doesn't stand out, she doesn't always speak out either.

I still like the character because I find her believable. The way that her childhood trauma was uncovered in the book is something I can relate to, and I guess that's what I like most about the character. She has serious issues that she's trying to work through and there are many ups and downs to it. The book shows how a child's fragile sense of self can be damaged by their parent's actions, which is often just perpetuated family dysfunction.

I also like how the book shows those subtle and not-so-subtle ways that women attack each other and are cruel and spiteful towards one another. I like how this theme winds through the different parts of the mystery, like a thread that is part of what ties the story up. It adds layers of dysfunction to already dysfunctional small town and family dynamics.

While I liked how the author created the web of relationships among the characters, I didn't like how the crimes were solved. The way the ending was written (more in the style of an Epilogue, a summary of events, rather than unfolding as a part of the story telling) felt like a cop out. Still, I did enjoy reading it, even if it started out slow and ended a little flat.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Published: July 29, 2008
Set in post-war London, 1946, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for inspiration for the next  book that she plans to write. She finds this inspiration when a native of Guernsey happens to find one of her old Charles Lamb books and starts a correspondence with her. In the course of exchanging letters, Juliet discovers the endearing book club called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I have always loved epistolary novels. It feels like your imagination is working harder, piecing together the story in your mind as you read letters from different peoples' perspectives. Epistolary novels has its limitations and challenges, but when done right, it can have add a singularly beautiful touch in the story. Reading this story reminded me of my favorite epistolary novel, Daddy-Long-Legs. The book just radiates warmth and love.

The story is set in a time when London was picking itself up from the rubble of the war. This is the dark thread that weaves itself through the story, this very recently concluded World War II which left very deep scars in the national psyche. The story does not make light of the events of war. In fact, it's very touching how the details were woven in, such as how people had to make do with rationing of food and clothes, the maddening threat of being bombed, the blackout curtains, the rubble, the separated families... The characters in the book are so endearing that you tend to feel deeply the loss they grappled with in their own private spaces.

I wish that the letters were more descriptive of Guernsey, but it was sufficient to paint an idyllic setting in my mind. The characters were memorable and colorful, and their personal stories about the war were heartrending. Because of the book, I read and learned more about the Island of Guernsey and the 5-year period of Nazi occupation. I learned about how many of their children were evacuated to London, and how some of them were not able to come home after the war.

I loved the story of how the book club started, and I am reminded that no matter how different people are, they can find kindred spirits if they find themselves among fellow readers. I find it heartwarming how the members of the society found comfort and solace in each other and, though not all of them started out as readers, they all discovered the joy of books and sharing ideas. I like that the book shows how much more tolerant people can be when their minds are open and willing to learn and listen.

I enjoyed the love story as well, but I appreciated that it's not the focal point of the novel. I feel that I would be very much at home with the society, if it had been real.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It had me laughing and crying by turns. The wholesome, lighthearted humor interspersed with the very tender recollections of war was unforgettable. The story is a celebration of the human spirit, a reminder that even if there are many dark chapters in the story of the world, there are also good people that shine in such darkness, and that love and friendship can spring up in the most unexpected ways.

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
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
Genres: ,
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
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.