Book Reviews

9 Books to Read this Summer

Food for Thought
Animal Farm
Atlas Shrugged
Brave New World

Nonfictional works that read like extraordinary fiction
The Age of Wonder
The Lost Boy
The Moral Judgment of the Child
Night
The Rape of Nanking (warning: very disturbing)
Steve Jobs

Do you have book recommendations for us? We love to curl up to a good book!

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Book Review: The Age of Innocence

Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 305 pages

Plot
Set during the end of the 19th century, The Age of Innocence examines the societal battles of morality and ideals between “old” New York and “new” New York in the backdrop of a forbidden love affair.

He Said
I’m always drawn to historical fiction that is able to bring back to life days gone by. When done well, they can be intriguing and sometimes even offer insight into modern times. Written in the 1920’s, Wharton effectively preserves the attitudes and times of the 1870’s for readers of many generations to come to be able to visit. The protagonist, Newland Archer, is a young man who possesses modern ideas of romance and freedom and wants to fight against tradition, the dying “old” New York. The grandeur, societal nuances, and “scandals” are intriguing and keeps the plot turning. Ultimately this novel is not so much a love story as it is a tragic reminder that sometimes a lone fight against social norms is futile.

She Said
I approach historical fictions with a desire to learn more about a great era in days of yore. But almost always, I get pulled into the characterizations and ultimately got bothered with either their stagnant development or selfishness. Such was the case with Sister Carrie and The Great Gatsby. Perhaps I just do not like the late 1800s or early 1900s. Wharton’s Age of Innocence indeed painted a society I did not want to live in. It was so hard for me to empathize its characters, who were either spineless or too self-assured. The realistic ending, however, was a great redeeming factor. As a whole, Archer’s love affair was the more acceptable version to Anna Karenina. Archer was a tragic character who achieved wisdom and self-awareness. Karenina was a tragic character who wrote her own demise without ever redeeming herself.

We Say
The Age of Innocence paints for the reader a vivid picture of high-class New York society in the 1870’s which makes it enriching and interesting. However it falters from uneven pacing and excessive, mostly flat, characters that can be hard to keep track of. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable read.

Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Days

Title: Around the World in Eighty Days
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Fiction
Length: 248 pages

Plot
To honor an absurd bet, Phileas Fogg set out to travel the world in 80 days. That is, he would go from train to steamboat to train, back-to-back in order to cross the continents and loop back to London before the 80th day expired. All odds – including weather, kidnappings, natural disasters, etc. – were against the eccentric Fogg. Would he win the bet or would he face financial ruins?

He Said
Verne’s novel enchants the reader into a fantastical, globe-trotting journey. While certain aspects of the plot are indeed incredulous and the characters lack depth, the details don’t matter so much as the wonderfully thrilling adventures of Fogg and crew. I found myself rooting for Fogg as he ingeniously overcame every obstacle. I enjoyed the view into the world of the late 19th century – a world before airplanes/cars made traveling a no-brainer. With the snappy writing and page-turning action, the novel felt really short. It is such a fun, heartwarming, and touching story with endearing characters.

She Said
A novel at once adventurous, thrilling, and humorous, Verne offered a delightful read! Although the glimpses of various cultures around the world were stereotypical, I admire Verne’s ability to create circumstances around a seemingly boring expedition of mathematical precision. Although the characters were mostly two-dimensional, they possessed great charms. In fact, as little as we know about Fogg and his origins, this character is the exemplar of my literary hero – mysterious, charitable, respectable, innovative. I fell heads over heels for this Renaissance man.

We Say
Around the World in Eighty Days is a charming and exciting novel that’s fun for all ages. Upon finishing the book, we hastily recommended it to our niece and nephews who are avid readers.

Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Title: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 384 pages

Plot
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a historically significant fictional work that raised awareness on the tragedy of slavery. Depicting the lives of the multidimensional slaves and slave owners, this rich story brings to life a time period preceding the Civil War (with the novel being credited as spurning some of the seeds leading to war!).

He Said
I was captivated by the strong characterizations and the initial plot promised to be an exciting tale. Unfortunately, the novel fell short due to glossed over details, too many characters, and contrived/convenient plot devices. The characters, with distinct voices, were far more interesting and well-fleshed out than the situations they found themselves in. I really enjoyed the way Stowe presented both sides of the slavery debate. By the novel’s end, however, it sadly became propaganda for Stowe’s beliefs. The ending was terribly unrealistic and overly simplistic. In this case, the sum of the parts (so many moving, insightful, and humorous storytelling) is better than the whole.

She Said
Powerful characterization. Moving language. While the narratives were captivating in the beginning, the novel soon suffered a plague of characters that simply could not tell all their stories within the short span of 300+ pages. While each character’s plight was distinct, most reached a similar (if not identical) conclusion that was convenient and contrived. For example, I was very drawn into George’s and Eliza’s journey. I stood by their ideals and feared for their lives. Then suddenly, their planning was interrupted with the narratives of many more characters. When we resumed their journey, we found they arrived at safety. Just like that. Despite these shortcomings, Stowe’s work is a true classic and should be taught in schools.

We Say
While poised to be a literary classic, the novel does not live up to its fullest potential. However, the degree of clarity and insight in which Stowe presents such a controversial topic of her time is astounding and worth reading.

Book Review: Steve Jobs

Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Genre: Biography
Length: 656 pages

About
Jobs agreed to have a biography written about him so he could inform his children of why he was such an absent father. For a man who was extremely sensitive about his image, the project also assured him that his biography would be truthful. Indeed, he and his family urged for truth – for a portrayal that reflected the dichotomies that existed in him. He was cruel, yet brilliant. He was visionary, but also hypocritical. He viewed himself as an artist and allowed the stereotypical temperaments of an artist to manifest. To the world, Jobs was an astonishing individual who provided a perfect case study for business schools, technologists, and inventors.

He Said
Steve Jobs is one of the most iconic figures of the 20th & 21st centuries. Whether you love or hate Apple, Jobs most likely influenced your life in one way or another. Jobs does an impeccable job at detailing, without filters or biases, the fascinating “true story” behind all of the technological advancements and how Apple became one of the most valuable companies in the world. I really enjoyed learning about how the iPod, iPhone, and iPad came to be. The chapters on Pixar were a surprising bonus as I didn’t know Jobs had such an involvement in my favorite animated production studio. The biography was well-written and structured and shows the culmination of lots of research.

She Said
Uncensored. Poignant. The book painted a clear image of Jobs as a selfish jerk and… an innovative genius. Jobs left behind a legacy of not just a revolutionized digital world that meets both the demands of art and technology, but also a proven science of a “great company”. He built Apple (and Pixar) on a collaborative and cutting-edge platform that won’t settle for less than best. As a person, Jobs left lots to be desired. He seemingly had no social filter and would speak his mind even to hurt people at will. Indeed, the book contained many details that would delight Pixar and Apple fans.

We Say
When it comes to Jobs, he commands “the best”; therefore it is not surprising that he chose Isaacson to compose his biography. Isaacson wrote a truly candid, insightful, and detailed piece that does its best to present the multifaceted sides of Jobs and his intelligence, which led to so many innovations. A must-read for anyone with a curiosity towards the man responsible for Apple and Pixar. It allows the reader to see Jobs as a person, exposing his genius and flaws.

9 Books to Read this Summer

Looking to be inspired?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Alchemist
The Little Prince

Want to learn history, uncensored (and engaging)?
Building a Better Race
Einstein: His Life and Universe

These books will tug your heartstrings:
Flowers For Algernon
The Kite Runner
Oliver Twist
The Tapestries

Do you have book recommendations for us? We love to curl up to a good book!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Marriage

Some people go through marriage blindly. Some go through couple counseling as part of their church’s requirements for matrimony. We took a completely different route. We… consulted a book.

Having read and loved Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I knew I would one day read his series on Effective Marriage and Effective Families when I’m ready to walk those milestones. With our wedding fast approaching (June 28!), Thanh and I went through the 7 habits:

1. Be Proactive: We cannot choose the events that occur, but we have the freedom to choose our response. In marriage, we cannot control our spouse’s thinking or actions, but our reactions to theirs are completely independent. Therefore, we do not blame our spouse for the feelings we have or how we interpret outcomes.

2. Begin with the End in Mind: Envision your marriage five years from now. Ten years from now. How should your children describe your marriage. Write a mission statement. Here’s our marriage mission statement:

We promise to nurture each other’s goals and ambitions; to support each other through misfortune and celebrate triumphs.

We promise to keep our lives exciting, adventurous, and full of passion.

We promise to persevere when times get tough, knowing that any challenges we might face, we will conquer them together.

3. Put First Things First: Don’t always act on urgent matters for they may be unimportant (i.e. interruptions). Assess activities and pursue those that align with your values first. Define your roles in life (i.e. student, wife, mother, CEO, etc.) and set three important goals under each role to fulfill on a weekly basis.

4. Think Win/Win: Seek mutual benefits. Your values matter and so do your spouse’s. When your interests or values don’t align, try a rating system. For example, if you want to go to the movies but your spouse prefers watching the games at home, ask each other to rate how sad you would be if you miss the activity. Then, yield to the person who would be more affected if the event would not occur.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: In other words, listen before you talk. Listen more than you talk. Listen with the intent to understand, not to reply.

6. Synergize: Don’t compromise. Don’t settle on a solution that would make one party unhappy. Seek a third alternative through synergism. It’s not your way. It’s not my way. It’s the better way.

7. Sharpen the Saw: Make sure you are healthy: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Before we could help someone fulfill their dreams and aspirations, we must first be in a healthy position to meet our own.

We Say
The 7 habits for a successful marriage are rather common knowledge, as they should be. There is no real secret to having a blissful marriage. As with any other domains, success comes only after hard work and genuine effort. While we don’t view marriage as an uphill battle, we know not to expect rainbows and unicorns everyday. :)