Saturday, December 26, 2009


My Rating: 5/5
Pages 304 • Speed: Fast, considering its a self-help
Subject: Self-Improvement, Christianity

This is one of my most recommended books.  As Christians and good neighbors it is almost natural to socially play the martyr to the point of self-deprecation.  (This is non-denominational Christian but can be applied to any school of thought.)  The stories embarrassingly remind you of yourself and those you know, and give appliable ideas on how to handle people and situations.  The book starts out with the scenario of woman's typical day in a boundaryless life and how unhappy a person can be if she gives too much in the wrong areas.  The first section defines boundaries, how they develop, and their associated laws and myths.  Boundaries exits whether or not we recognize them, and if we don't set limits on our lives, someone else will.  The second section tells of different types of boundaries, which are with your family, friends, spouse, children, work, self, and Heavenly Father.  The principles are taught through true stories that keep you turning the page.  One thing I learned is that it is as vital for us and our kids to to say no as it is to say yes.  The ability to say "no," done with love and respect, cultivates agency and confidence.  Reserving our "yeses" for when we mean it establishes trust and joy on both parties.  The self section is particularly enlightening to me.  It describes one patient who began a session with: "I haven't told you about this relationship before, though I guess I should have.  I have tremendous boundary problems with this woman.  She eats too much, and has an attacking tongue.  She's undependable-lets me down all the time.  And she's spent money of mine and hasn't paid me back in years."  The therapist (the author) asked, "Why haven't you mentioned her before?"  Sarah replied, "Because she's me."  The third section is about developing healthy boundaries and how to track success continually.  This book can be used to reestablish down trodden boundaries as well as a tool to keep skies blue.  The last chapter illustrates the same typical woman's day but with boundaries and healthy priorities.  Her whole paradigm changes and she is genuinely happy, which illustrates that with your same circumstances you can take control of your life.

Get it here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Time-Starved Family: Helping Overloaded Families Focus on What Matters Most

My Rating: 4/5
Pages: 175  •  Speed: Fast
Subject: Family, Parenting

"In the scriptures, the Lord warns us not to run faster that we have the strength to run (Mosiah 4:27; D&C 10:4).  When we spread ourselves too thin for too long, everyone loses--especially our families."

This is just one lesson taught in this quick witted book from a mother of 7.  She learned first hand how to nurture individuality while strengthening family unity- all with busy schedules.  I have read many self-help family books, and I'm amazed at how a book on time management could be 600 pages.  Like I have the time to read that.  It's like the joke on 3 steps to be a Millionaire.  "First, you get a million dollars... and then..."  This author is inventive in her ideas, realistic in her goals, and understanding of what mothers go through.  There are 16 ideas suggested to get a family not just surviving but thriving.  Eating dinner together, you modeling controlled behavior, and knowing when to say "no" are three of them.  Other ideas include delegating tasks through mini family councils and learning to let kids fall so they can learn how to get up.  Here are a few things I underlined in the book.
  • (in relation to kids' activities and accomplishments:) "C.S. Lewis had these wise words to share on the subject of comparison and competition: 'Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man...It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.  Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.'"
  • (prioritizing and recognizing the ticking clock") "If I were to tell you that your earth life would end exactly three months from today, what would you change about your current schedule?"
  • "By doing too much to help our kids, we're actually relaying these messages to them: 'You can't do it without me' and 'You're not capable.'"
A quick read with practical ideas on how to refocus and make time for who you care about most.  It made me realize that if I am not making time for my kids, they are on the road to not making time for theirs.
Get it here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ultimate Gift

My rating: 3/5 (not the most literary but a great message)
Pages: 154  -  Speed: Fast
Subject: Business, Money, Service

This is a fictional story about a young man troubled by life who finds purpose through a series of challenges devised by his late grandfather as a test to see whether he's worthy of inheriting a lofty fortune.  Red Stevens built a life on hard work and good decisions, but failed to find a way to teach his children and grandchildren the same joy of work.  Upon his death, his $1 billion fortune falls into the possible hands of grandson, Jason Stevens, a wandering party man whom Red believes to have the only potential to break free.  Red leads Jason-through his attorney Theodore Hastings, a previously recorded video and rigid instructions-on a quest to find that potential through a series of gifts.  Each gift is a lesson learned by a particular task, such as working manually on a farm, going without all assets, and giving to someone in need.  If successfully completed, all of these gifts allow the inheritance of all that the Grandfather had- "the ultimate gift."  (Sounds a little like the God's plan for us, doesn't it?)  The great twist is that the whole time Jason is toiling through, and gaining character as he went along, he didn't know what the ultimate inheritance would be.  A movie was made from the book, but it left out most of the gifts and their stories, and focused too heavily on a relationship developed with a young girl.  This is an easy read and one that invokes reflection on what really matters and the pure joy that we are all trying to achieve.

Side note: The author deals with the challenge of blindness, was honored as the 2000 International Humanitarian of the Year, and has developed The Ultimate Gift Institute, which gives people the opportunity to experience these 13 steps for themselves.

The 13 gifts with their themes: 

1. "He who loves his work never labors."
2. "Money is nothing more than a tool.  It can be a force for good, a force for evil, or simply be idle."
3. "It is a wealthy person, indeed, who calculates riches not in gold but in friends."
4. "Education is a lifelong journey whose destination expands as you travel."
5. "Problems can only be avoided by excercising good judgement.  Good judgement can only be gained by experiencing life's problems."
6. "Some people are born into wonderful families.  Others have to find or create them.  Being a member of a family is a priceless privilege which costs nothing but love."
7. "Laughter is good medicine for the soul.  Our world is desperately in need of more such medicine."
8. "Faith is all that dreamers need to see into the future."
9. "The only way you can truly get more out of life for yourself is to give part of yourself away."
10. "In those times when we yearn to have more in our lives, we should dwell on the things we already have.  In doing so, we will often find that our lives are already full to overflowing." (gratitude)
11. "Life at its essence boils down to one day at a time.  Today is the day!"
12. "Love is a treasure for which we can never pay.  The only way we keep it is to give it away."
13. "In the end, life lived to its fullest is its own ultimate gift."

Get it here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

My rating: 5 of 5 (simple writing 'cause not in her first language)
Pages: 215  -  Speed: Regular
Subject: Historical Biography, Christianity

Have you ever wondered what happened during the Rwandan holocaust or what could drive neighbors to slaughter neighbors?  I have to endorse this book as one of the most spiritually riveting books I have ever read.  It is real, it is unpretentious, and the true stories inside will lead you to the conclusion that evil and good exist, and forgiveness and strength are the only way.  I wrote on my Facebook account after I finished, "Anyone who can read [it] without their heart exploding doesn't have a heart."  Get it, suffer through her experiences, marvel at her faith.  Feel in the end that life does have its choices (even in annihilation) and that we all have a purpose.

Get it here.
I was over at my parents' house, engulfed in the pages, and looked up to see my brother-in-law Jacob reading a book next to me.  I said, "You have got to read Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza."  He looked at me, paused, and turned his book around so I could see his cover.  He was reading the exact same book!  ...So unbelievable we had to take a picture!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Book Thief

My Rating: 5/5 (really)
Pages: 550  -  Speed: Fast
Subject: Historical Fiction

This is one of the most creatively written books about WWII given from a German citizen's perspective.  Witty and refreshingly inventive, Zusak was inspired by his German mother's stories of the Nazi rein (watch it here).  One particular memory was when a herd of Jews lead through town heading to the concentration camp.  An old man that couldn't keep up was given bread by a watching boy.  Weeping in the boy's feet, the man poured out gratitude.  But a soldier tore the bread away, whipped the man dry and beat the boy to the ground.  This story inspired the two polars of the novel, which are pure love and destructive evil- both part of the human experience.  A little girl named Liesel is the main character who looses her family and is emotionally lost.  She catches the eye of Death-the narrator-who is haunted by human suffering (instead of the other way around). He is gathering her little brother's soul when he notices the girl and takes pity on her (though he complains he was so busy those days).  She is taken in by an unlikely couple who dangerously and quietly object to the Nazi agenda.  Her old "father," Hans Hubermann, has such depth that you grow an extra heart valve for this shy accordion player.  Saved by a Jewish comrade in WWI, he vowed to reciprocate to his rescuer if the need arose.  In the middle of a city not unlike Munich, where "the sky was the color of Jews," the rescuer's son, Max Vandenburg, appears starving at the door where Hans is his only hope.  Finding refuge in a corner of Hans's basement, Max and Liesel develop friendship while white-painting over the pages of "Mein Kampf" and writing in their own creations.  Liesel becomes obsessed with the craft of book thieving in a mansion house where she delivers laundry.  The little joy she can exude includes reading a stolen text, one titled "The Grave Digger."  During rampant war, the characters are trying to find beautiful moments to maintain dignity and purpose.  The novel speaks frankly of alluded terror and secret heroism, but does so so delicately it is appropriate for young teenage readers as well as adults.  For example, referring to human nature, Death says, "So much good, so much evil, just add water."  This is simply unforgettable and bound to be a favorite. 

Get it here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Wife

My rating: 4/5
Pages: 555  -  Speed: Regular
Subject: Political Biography, Marriage, Women's Studies

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, People, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, and Times.

Inspired by the life of Laura Bush, this liberal author creates a gripping novel about a woman balancing her high-profile marriage and her personal conscience. "Did I jeopardize my husband's presidency today?  Did I do something I should have done years ago?  Or perhaps I did both, and that's the problem-that I lead a life in opposition to itself" (pg. 4).  Alice- a shy only child falls into unimaginable tragedy, that begets more disheartening, and the course of her existence is changed.  When she falls for an attractive quasi-famous extrovert, her intentionally unnoticed life turns upside down as he changes jobs- leading to the White House.  There, she finds herself living a quiet contradiction to her position as the First Lady. The relationships are inventive, the story line the same, and characters are so real you feel you know them (OK- some are loosely based on real politicians, but that's not who I'm talking about)!  I give this less than a perfect score because of its unnecessary profanities, and sometimes over-detailed scenery.  Omit pages 74-84, & 164-166, and the story will still make sense; a few phrases are tainted too- not for minors or ultra sensitives.  The clever circumstances of this small town librarian joining the elite clubs and lifestyle are very fish-out-of-water.  Her struggles are inventively realistic.   Still- Alice Blackwell sets her place in life with dignity, intellect, and a quiet strength that are great to oversee.  Her father said, "Whatever you are, be a good one."  And she was- even in a role she never sought.  I hated the ending (last 20 pages) and try to understand her decision after tragedy two (you'll see) as a torn victim, not as a co conspirator of bad judgement.  But that's the conservative side in me talking. Enjoy! I hope her other bestseller Prep is great too!

Get it here.