My stand-out reads in 2017

Posted by on Dec 12, 2017 in Miscellaneous | 0 comments

Another book post for ya! T’is the season to read (or, at least, to buy books as presents) and to reflect, and this list combines both themes. These are some of my stand-out reads in 2017. They are a mixture of memoirs (such powerful memoirs on this list!), novels, and parenting books. All of the books below have impressed me to the extent that I’m giving copies of several of them to certain friends and family for Christmas. Enjoy.

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The Choice: Embrace The Possible (Edith Eva Eger)

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Edith (Edie) Eger was sixteen years old when the Nazis came to her hometown in Hungary and took her Jewish family to Auschwitz. Her parents were sent to the gas chamber. Against all odds she and her sister survived the next year.

Years after she was liberated, Edie went back to college to study psychology. The Choice weaves Eger’s personal story with case studies from her work as a psychologist—illustrating both how Edie has used her own experiences with trauma to help others, and how she has been helped and healed herself along the way.

Edie’s story and personal journey spans decades (she is now more than 90) and is a fascinating exploration of how people can choose to escape the prisons they construct in their minds and find freedom, regardless of circumstance. Edie has a truly remarkable story and a powerful and inspiring larger message.

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Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant)

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After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.”

Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. Beginning with the gut-wrenching moment when she finds her husband, Dave Goldberg, collapsed on a gym floor, Sheryl opens up her heart—and her journal—to describe the acute grief and isolation she felt in the wake of his death. But Option B goes beyond Sheryl’s loss to explore how a broad range of people have overcome hardships including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Their stories reveal the capacity of the human spirit to persevere, and to rediscover joy.

Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. Even after the most devastating events, it is possible to grow by finding deeper meaning and gaining greater appreciation in our lives. Option B illuminates how to help others in crisis, develop compassion for ourselves, raise strong children, and create resilient families, communities, and workplaces.

Of the books I have read this year about grief and resilience, and The Choice and Option B have impacted me most deeply. Both books combine deeply personal story with larger principles and useful therapeutic techniques in ways that are memorable and powerful.

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The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story (Hyeonseo Lee)

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Hyeonseo Lee grew up in North Korea—arguably the world’s most secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to question the party indoctrination. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”? She risks her life to cross the border and catch a glimpse of life elsewhere—in China, only to find herself stranded and separated from her family for twelve, long years.

This book is a fascinating look into a life and culture most of us cannot even come close to imagining. I found it gripping, heart-wrenching, illuminating and (given the current state of the world, the puerile antics and provocations of the current US president, and North Korea’s recent nuclear tests) terrifying.

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Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate)

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Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth.

This novel is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country. It will keep you riveted (and guessing) until the end. It will stick with you long after you read the last page. Fair warning, it will probably also make you cry. Remarkably well-written. Remarkably heart-wrenching.

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Little Broken Things (Nicole Baart)

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I have something for you. When Quinn Cruz receives that cryptic text message from her older sister Nora, she doesn’t think much of it. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a year. But when a haunted Nora shows up at the lake near Quinn’s house just hours later, a chain reaction is set into motion that will change both of their lives forever.

Nora’s “something” is more shocking than Quinn could have ever imagined: a little girl, cowering, wide-eyed, and tight-lipped. Nora hands her over to Quinn with instructions to keep her safe, and not to utter a word about the child to anyone. But before Quinn can ask even one of the million questions swirling around her head, Nora disappears, and Quinn finds herself the unlikely caretaker of a girl introduced simply as Lucy.

While Quinn struggles to honor her sister’s desperate request and care for the lost, scared Lucy, she fears that Nora may have gotten involved in something way over her head—something that will threaten them all. But Quinn’s worries are nothing compared to the firestorm that Nora is facing. It’s a matter of life and death, of family and freedom, and ultimately, about the lengths a woman will go to protect the ones she loves.

Nicole Baart is a good friend of mine and a wonderful writer. This book–with its multi-layered characters, complex relationships, and lush atmosphere–pulls you in. It is a treat, a mystery, and challenge all in one.

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The Explosive Child: A New Approach To Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children (Ross W. Greene)

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What’s an explosive child? A child who responds to routine problems with extreme frustration—crying, screaming, swearing, kicking, hitting, biting, spitting, destroying property, and worse. A child whose frequent, severe outbursts leave his or her parents feeling frustrated, scared, worried, and desperate for help. Most of these parents have tried everything-reasoning, explaining, punishing, sticker charts, therapy, medication—but to no avail. They can’t figure out why their child acts the way he or she does; they wonder why the strategies that work for other kids don’t work for theirs; and they don’t know what to do instead…

It is no exaggeration to say that parenting (my eldest child, in particular) has so far been the greatest challenge of my life. Dominic’s particular mixture of personality tendencies make for many fun and funny moments and fabulous anecdotes. But behind the scenes—in the outtakes that don’t show up nearly as often on facebook—they also, regularly, make for some incredibly difficult times for all of us.

This book frames the sort of challenging behavior we are well-acquainted with (and thankfully seeing less of lately) primarily in terms of lacking skills in the flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving. The approach makes a lot of sense. And the focus on practical strategies and pragmatic reassurance has been helpful.

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Illuminae (Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff)

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I continued dipping into science fiction and time-travel stories this year. Of the dozen or so I read, Illuminae is my pick for original, gripping, and clever sci-fi, and An Ember In The Ashes is my pick for fantasy/dystopian. Here’s the synopsis of Illuminae…

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s artificial intelligence (AI) may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Illuminae kept me up way past my bedtime. I enjoyed it so much I bought the next in the series, too. But for all you fellow kindle lovers… you CAN read this book on a kindle but because of the way it’s formatted (so clever!!) the paper version provides a much better experience.

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An Ember In The Ashes (Saaba Tahir)

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Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

In this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Public Radio International said of this book… “It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”” Saaba Tahir is such a talented writer. You find a lot of strong stories with strong charecters in this genre. You don’t find as many written with such artistry. Looking forward to the next one!

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And… I almost forgot (seriously, I’ve already published the post so I’m adding this in live). I wrote a new book this year for couples. It just launched last month–or sort of, anyway, ‘cuz I got the flu and my whole launch to-do list was shot to pieces. Meh… I’ll get back to it next year What can you do? When you get the flu you get the flu (and man alive, did it SUCK).

In the meantime, though, if you’re looking for something to do with your partner in the new year–something to help you learn more about yourself and them and help you have important and interesting conversations, check out Deeper Dates For Couples. It’s a fun 12-week series just for you (and if you’re interested and in the US, I recommend buying two copies of the paperback, because it’s easier and nicer if you each have your own workbook).

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What have been YOUR standout reads of the year?

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