Can you believe 2015 has two days left in it? I didn’t get as many books read as I usually do because we were so busy traveling and remodeling. However, I got to read a wide variety of books and I think you’d enjoy most of them. For each book listed, I cut and pasted some description from Amazon, then I added my own thoughts.
30. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
On May 1st, 1915 the Lusitania set sail on its final voyage. That it was sunk by a German U-boat will be news to few—and Larson’s challenge is to craft a historical narrative leading up to the thrilling, if known, conclusion, building anticipation in his readers along the way. To his credit, he makes the task look easy. Focusing on the politics of WWI, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable, and beloved” Lusitania, Larson once again illustrates his gift for seducing us with history and giving it a human face. Dead Wake puts readers right aboard the famous Cunard liner and keeps them turning the pages until the book’s final, breathless encounter.
*This book was interesting but was more of a history book than a riveting read.
31. I’m Proud of You by Tim Madigan
Fred Rogers, the “gentle icon” of public television’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, taught generations of children and their parents how to express feelings and relate to others in a positive way. Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister who regularly studied the important spiritual thinkers and shared his faith with an eclectic range of adult friends. Madigan, a journalist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, became one of those friends after writing a piece on Rogers and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) in 1995. Soon Madigan and Rogers were corresponding, and Madigan reprints here many of their letters and e-mails. They built a warm, supportive friendship, one that nourished Madigan through his self-doubt “Furies” and the difficult death of his dear brother. As Rogers grieved for Madigan’s losses and several of his own, the two taught each other about the beauty of giving and receiving “unconditional regard” from a beloved friend. So close did they become that readers may share Madigan’s shock at discovering that Rogers was gravely ill—too weak for a last visit before his death in 2003. Even if readers don’t feel their day-to-day lives transformed by this luminous memoir, in times of grief or of loss they’ll know which book on their shelf to turn to.
*This is the second or third time I’ve read this book. It’s one of my all time favorites. I highly recommend the audio version.
In January 2010, Aubert de Villaine, the famed proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the tiny, storied vineyard that produces the most expensive, exquisite wines in the world, received an anonymous note threatening the destruction of his priceless vines by poison-a crime that in the world of high-end wine is akin to murder-unless he paid a one million euro ransom. Villaine believed it to be a sick joke, but that proved a fatal miscalculation and the crime shocked this fabled region of France. The sinister story that Vanity Fair journalist Maximillian Potter uncovered would lead to a sting operation by some of France’s top detectives, the primary suspect’s suicide, and a dramatic investigation. This botanical crime threatened to destroy the fiercely traditional culture surrounding the world’s greatest wine.This book takes us deep into a captivating world full of fascinating characters, small-town French politics, an unforgettable narrative, and a local culture defined by the twinned veins of excess and vitality and the deep reverent attention to the land that runs through it.
*This book took me nine months to read. That’s because I had it in my eliptical machine and I usually walk outdoors. I only read this on cold/rainy days. Since it is a true story this book could have been great. I felt like it bogged down and would have been improved with a heavy edit. But, it was still worthwhile if you’re interested in wine.
33. Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom
The collection of ten absorbing tales by master psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom uncovers the mysteries, frustrations, pathos, and humor at the heart of the therapeutic encounter. In recounting his patients’ dilemmas, Yalom not only gives us a rare and enthralling glimpse into their personal desires and motivations but also tells us his own story as he struggles to reconcile his all-too human responses with his sensibility as a psychiatrist. Not since Freud has an author done so much to clarify what goes on between a psychotherapist and a patient.
*This is another book I read for the second time. Yalom writes books to teach counseling students, but anyone would enjoy the stories from inside the counseling room.
34. Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Enthusiastically praised by everyone from Bernie Siegel to Daniel Goleman to Larry Dossey, Rachel Remen has a unique perspective on healing rooted in her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of chronic illness. A deeply moving and down-to-earth collection of true stories, this prominent physician shows us life in all its power and mystery and reminds us that the things we cannot measure may be the things that ultimately sustain and enrich our lives. Kitchen Table Wisdom addresses spiritual issues-suffering, meaning, love, faith, courage, and miracles-in the language and authority of our own life experience.
*I could read books like this every day of my life. Dr. Remen shares all the important days of her life as a physician and therapist.
35. Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression by Gillian Marchenko
For Marchenko, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.
*As a published author I get asked to review a lot of books. This one was a joy to read. If you’ve never struggled with depression but want to know what it’s like, Still Life paints an accurate picture. If you have lived on that fearful ledge called depression, you’ll find an ally in Gillian Marchenko. With heartfelt honesty, Marchenko describes life with double depression (Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia). In my dozen years as a licensed professional counselor, I’ve never read a more accurate book about depression and the toll it takes on the one who suffers, as well the impact on those closest to the sufferer. This book holds no cure, no magic wand, but it does extend hope.
**Available May, 2016
36. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.
*This was a difficult book to read. Why? Because it’s a gruesome depiction of war. The writing and storytelling is top notch. We read this in our bookclub.
37. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
You may be someone who looks at Rising Strong and says, “oh, that’s not really for me….” Translation: I don’t read or need that self-help stuff, give me a good novel and go away. But Brené Brown isn’t a spiritual guru, or someone who’s risen from the ashes to tell us how to live our lives. She’s a researcher. And Rising Strong isn’t some feel-good-get-over-it regimen; it’s more investigative reporting on the common denominators of people who whole-heartedly get back up and go another round after getting their asses handed to them in big and small ways. In her straightforward Texan voice, Brown sets the table for us to get curious about life’s sticky moments and invites us to serve ourselves a plate of what she’s learned in over a decade of research. I don’t know about you, but I’m not trying to be famous or come up with a cure that will change the world, I just want to live happily and keep getting back in the arena whether I’ve been rocked on my heels, knocked to my knees, or gone face down in the dirt. For my money, seeing how I can do that better is worth reading about.
*I love all of Brown’s books. This is not my favorite but it’s very worthwhile. (I still think The Power of Vulnerability on audio is Brown’s very best book).
38. Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community by Anne Marie Miller
Life has a way of throwing unexpected obstacles in our path, tripping us up, and bringing us to our knees. When these crises hit, who do you call? Who do you lean on? Miller found herself in one of those valleys on the floor of a hotel bathroom while on a business trip. Months of stress accumulated and took its toll. In a moment of desperation, she picked up the phone and called a friend for guidance. That simple phone call was the first step in a transforming journey of evaluating what community truly meant and looked like in her life. We live in a world and a generation where the word “community” is often discussed. But how genuine and authentic are your relationships really? Miller noticed an important tension all of us must recognize in order to have life-giving friendships: “We desperately want to belong yet at the same time, we yearn for independence.” Miller takes us along as she sets out to dig below the superficial and explore what choices are necessary to find intentional, vulnerable, and consistent community. Jesus was passionate about truth-speaking relationships. And with Miller’s narrative and practical insights interwoven together, you will feel more equipped in your quest for these types of relationships as you seek people to lean on and as you pour love into those around you.
*I enjoyed this book. Miller describes a difficult time in her life and shares what helped. It wasn’t earth shattering but it wa a good reminder.
39. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too. M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.
*I listened to this on audio. A coming of age story mixed with mystery. A story of teenage angst in Baton Rouge.
40. Never Broken by Jewel
When Jewel’s first album, Pieces of You, topped the charts in 1995, her emotional voice and vulnerable performance were groundbreaking. Drawing comparisons to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, a singer-songwriter of her kind had not emerged in decades. Now, with more than thirty million albums sold worldwide, Jewel tells the story of her life, and the lessons learned from her experience and her music. Living on a homestead in Alaska, Jewel learned to yodel at age five, and joined her parents’ entertainment act, working in hotels, honky-tonks, and biker bars. Behind a strong-willed family life with an emphasis on music and artistic talent, however, there was also instability, abuse, and trauma. At age fifteen, she moved out and tasked herself with a mission: to see if she could avoid being the kind of statistic that her past indicated for her future. Soon after, she was accepted to the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and there she began writing her own songs as a means of expressing herself and documenting her journey to find happiness. Jewel was eighteen and homeless in San Diego when a radio DJ aired a bootleg version of one of her songs and it was requested into the top-ten countdown, something unheard-of for an unsigned artist. By the time she was twenty-one, her debut had gone multiplatinum. There is much more to Jewel’s story, though, one complicated by family legacies, by crippling fear and insecurity, and by the extraordinary circumstances in which she managed to flourish and find happiness despite these obstacles. Along her road of self-discovery, learning to redirect her fate, Jewel has become an iconic singer and songwriter. In Never Broken she reflects on how she survived, and how writing songs, poetry, and prose has saved her life many times over. She writes lyrically about the natural wonders of Alaska, about pain and loss, about the healing power of motherhood, and about discovering her own identity years after the entire world had discovered the beauty of her songs.
*After a best selling author/English teacher said this was the best book she’s ever read, I ordered it and devoured in two sittings. I also mailed my hard copy to my twin sister who has been begging me to listen to Jewel for a dozen years. I then ordered another copy on Kindle so I could refer back to it. I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor and mom of two grown children. I found myself alternating between shock and anger most of the first half of the book. I felt so badly for Jewel and her siblings who did not get the kind of parenting they needed. Not only did they miss out on nurture, they experienced physical and emotional abuse. Most people would have turned to drugs, promiscuity, or alcohol. Not Jewel. She was raised in a bar and saw how alcohol poured on top of pain made people worse off, so she turned to her journals. Her written words became songs.
Amazingingly Jewel has been able to sort through the parts of her life that were worth keeping. She repaired relationships where she could, acknowledged severe personality disorders in others and let go for her own sanity, valued her rich Alaskan upbringing, etc. She is a perfect example of what researcher/author Brene Brown calls “wholehearted & courageous.” In spite of life’s pain, Jewel keeps connecting, growing, and making wisdom out of horrible life events.
41. Hot Mama: 12 Secrets to a Sizzling Hot Marriage by Kathi Lipp and Erin MacPherson
If you ask the average woman how much sizzle there is in her marriage, she’ll probably answer, “Not enough!” Being a mom is overwhelming, and it’s easy for moms to slip into the habit of allowing responsibilities for kids, work, and church to interfere with their relationship with their husbands. They don’t have the energy or the ideas they need to have a spicy, satisfying sex life. Hot Mama to the rescue! Kathi Lipp and Erin MacPherson set out on a mission to find out what it takes for busy moms to feel confident and sexy. In this witty book, they share hilarious stories and creative ideas from moms all over the country that will help readers build a relationship with their spouse that’s happy, healthy, and fun. From building confidence and banishing guilt to flirting (remember that?) and wearing clothes that make you–and him–feel hot, Kathi and Erin offer women all the encouragement, motivation, and know-how they need to take their sex lives from ho-hum to hot.
*I was invited to contribute to this book so I read it when it was published. It’s helpful, fun read.
42. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.
*I don’t have plans to write a memoir, but it was interesting to learn how one author does it.
43. Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
From the bestselling team of Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard comes Killing Reagan, a page-turning epic account of the career of President Ronald Reagan that tells the vivid story of his rise to power — and the forces of evil that conspired to bring him down. Just two months into his presidency, Ronald Reagan lay near death after a gunman’s bullet came within inches of his heart. His recovery was nothing short of remarkable — or so it seemed. But Reagan was grievously injured, forcing him to encounter a challenge that few men ever face. Could he silently overcome his traumatic experience while at the same time carrying out the duties of the most powerful man in the world? Told in the same riveting fashion as Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, and Killing Patton, Killing Reagan reaches back to the golden days of Hollywood, where Reagan found both fame and heartbreak, up through the years in the California governor’s mansion, and finally to the White House, where he presided over boom years and the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it was John Hinckley Jr.’s attack on him that precipitated President Reagan’s most heroic actions. In Killing Reagan, O’Reilly and Dugard take readers behind the scenes, creating an unforgettable portrait of a great man operating in violent times.
*I’ve read all the Killing books. This one was just as well researched and written as O’Reilly’s other books. It’s not political so you don’t have to worry about it being skewed toward one political party.
44. Big Magic: Creating Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
*I listened to this one on audio and enjoyed hearing Gilbert’s own voice. This was an easy read puts a new spin on the creative process.
45. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth by Jim Rendon
In the tradition of Po Bronson and Paul Tough, journalist Jim Rendon delivers a deeply reported look at the life-changing implications of post-traumatic growth—an emerging field of psychological research that shows how the suffering caused by traumatic events can be harnessed as a force for self-improvement and success rather than destruction. PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is at the center of national conversation and a widely recognized psychological condition. But an equally valid, though lesser known outcome of trauma is post-traumatic growth. While many survivors suffer long-term emotional damage, over the last several decades psychologists have discovered that with the right circumstances and proper support, survivors can actually emerge from their trauma stronger, more focused, and with a new and clear vision for the future. In fact, as many as two-thirds of trauma survivors report positive changes—far more than suffer from PTSD. But how can terrible events lead to remarkable and dramatic breakthroughs? Upside seeks to answer this question by taking a deep-dive look at this burgeoning new field of study. Comprised of interviews with leading researchers and dozens of trauma survivors, Rendon paints a vivid and comprehensive portrait of this groundbreaking field. With accessible language, prescriptive takeaways, and specific tools to promote positive responses to trauma, this book is perfect for anyone interested in the ways that traumatic events shape people. It is particularly useful for trauma survivors or their loved ones seeking a more hopeful and positive future.
*For the past three years I’ve been researching this topic. It was completely gratifying to find much of the same research as my own book, and the author’s conclusions, which mirrored my own. Of course he worded it in his way with his own stories, but it made me happy.
46. Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert
Handel’s oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed contempt — and also misunderstanding. This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase understanding and appreciation of Handel’s majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence. Stapert provides fascinating historical background, tracing not only Messiah’s unlikely inception but also its amazing reception throughout history. The bulk of the book offers scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the whole work, focusing on the way Handel’s music beautifully interprets and illuminates the biblical text.
*I enjoyed this book until about 2/3 of the way through. Then Stapert lost me on on the musical information. I had hoped he would provide snippets of music in between the narrative. That’s why I bought it on audio.
47. Match by Kay Day
Fourteen-year-old Match MacGillicuddy has some big questions—questions too painful to contemplate. But a missing person (whom nobody really misses) and some unexplained phenomena in the area start him looking for answers. The Snickers-eating sheriff, the nurse with ever-changing hair color, the eccentric old lady with a pet monkey, and a homeless man with amnesia are some of the folks who help (or not) as Match tries to resolve the mysteries that surround him.
*Kay is a friend of mine. She has learned the craft of fiction writing. I’m envious. She has a wonderful voice, and lots of humor. She shows instead of tells. This was not the typical kind of book I read, but I still enjoyed it.
48. Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford
We all yearn to look back to find we lived a life of significance. But is it even possible anymore? Considering the amount of distraction and pressure that exists in society today, living a fulfilling life may seem like an unachievable dream. But it is not – not with the nine habits outlined in this book. New York Times bestselling author and widely known blogger, Rachel Macy Stafford, reveals nine habits that help you focus on investing in the most significant parts of your life. As your hands, heart, and eyes become open, you will experience a new sense of urgency – an urgency to live, love, dream, connect, create, forgive, and flourish despite the distractions of our culture. By following each daily Hands Free Declaration, you will be inspired to adopt mindful daily practices and new thought-processes that will help you: Make meaningful, lasting human connections despite the busyness of everyday life. – Live in the now despite that inner nudge pushing you out of the moment toward perfection and productivity. – Protect your most sacred relationships, as well as your values, beliefs, health, and happiness, despite the latent dangers of technology and social media. – Pursue the passions of your heart without sacrificing your job or your daily responsibilities. – Evaluate your daily choices to insure you are investing in a life that matters to you. With a Hands Free Life perspective, you will have the power to look back and see you didn’t just manage life, you actually lived it – and lived it well.
*My mother died when I was 18. That’s why I appreciate Stafford’s books so much. I never take a day for granted and neither does she. She reminds moms to live each day with purpose and presence. She shares plenty of stories of times she messed up and times she got it right. Great writing. Powerful message.
49. Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
This book compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the Laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians. Readers will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they’d ever overlooked her in the first place.
*My friend (and author) Dave Cullen recommended this book. Berlin was one of his writing professors at the University of Colorado. Any book Cullen recommends, I read. The writing is stellar. Sometimes I had to take a break because the subject matter is heavy.
In the fall of 2014, outspoken author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza found himself hauled into federal court for improperly donating money to an old friend’s Senate campaign. D’Souza pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight months in a state-run confinement center. There he lived among hardened criminals—drug dealers, thieves, gangbangers, rapists, and murderers. Now the bestselling author explains how this experience not only changed his life, but fundamentally transformed his view of his adopted country. Previously, D’Souza had seen America through the eyes of a grateful immigrant who became successful by applying and defending conservative principles. Again and again, D’Souza made the case that America is an exceptional nation, fundamentally fair and just. In book after book, he argued against liberalism as though it were a genuine movement of ideas capable of being engaged and refuted. But his prolonged exposure to the criminal underclass provided an eye-opening education in American realities. In the view of hardened criminals, D’Souza learned, America is anything but fair and just. Instead, it is a jungle in which various armed gangs face off against one another, with the biggest and most powerful gangs inhabiting the federal government. As for American liberalism, it is not a movement of ideas at all but a series of scams and cons aimed at nothing less than stealing the entire wealth of the nation, built up over more than two centuries: the total value of the homes, the lifelong savings of the people, the assets of every industry, and all the funds allocated to health and education and every other service, both public and private. “The thieves I am speaking about want all of it.” And who are the leading figures in this historically ambitious scam that has turned the federal government into a vast and unprecedented shakedown scheme? Why, none other than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – the current leaders of the Democratic Party. This pair of smooth-talking con artists, trained in the methods of radical activist Saul Alinsky, have taken his crude but effective political shakedown techniques to a level even he never dreamed of.
*This book will make you mad! Hopping mad. I’ve been a fan of D’Souza’s ever since I read America and The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and watched 2016: Obama’s America.
In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.
*This is another book I read for the second time. It’s filled with great stories and interesting research.
What were your favorite books from 2015?
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."