Most Christian women know they’re supposed to emulate Mary, Esther, and other “good girls” of the Bible. But author Liz Curtis Higgs just couldn’t relate to these paragons of virtue. Instead, she took a closer look at Biblical “bad girls” and saw issues that she still struggles with, like a need to control others and clinging to material comforts. In this book, she examines the lives of ten Biblical women who were either bad to the bone, bad for a moment, or bad for a season but not bad forever. With a twinkle in her eye, Lizzie (as the author calls herself) uncovers what motivated Potiphar’s wife, Delilah, the Woman at the Well, and others while pointing out the lessons their tales offer us.
Why I picked it up: I’d enjoyed the author’s novels that reimagine characters from the Bible in 18th and 19th century Scottish settings -- my favorites are Thorn in My Heart and Here Burns My Candle -- so I wanted to try her nonfiction.
Why I finished it: Each chapter starts with a fictionalized modern day retelling of a Bible story, which I found both compelling and relatable. I used to think the story of Lot’s wife turning back towards Sodom and Gomorrah was nonsensical -- what she did always seemed so stupid. But after reading the modern version, about Lottie’s refusal to leave her comfortable home even when authorities warn her Mount Saint Helens is due to erupt, I was haunted by my own stubbornness.
I was also impressed with Lizzie’s deep dive into ten different translations of the Bible along with fifty historic commentaries to inform her explanation of the scripture. The result is a study guide that affected both my head and, because of its honesty and humor, my heart.
It’s perfect for: Shelia. I love to sit next to her at church because she always leans over at key moments to whisper her honest thoughts about a speaker’s topic. Reading this book felt like curling up for tea with the author and sharing confidences about our struggles to be good people. I think Lizzie, Shelia, and I would have a great time talking together.
An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved. But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. She and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
Jeff Baker invented the key technology behind the Datasphere, successor to the Internet, then gave it to the world for free. Decades later, he is rewarded when he is chosen to receive the first ever rejuvenation treatment. Now a brilliant and famous seventy-eight-year-old man gets to experience life with the body of a twenty-year-old.
Why I picked it up: Had a few hours to kill in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, so I popped into the local public library. I loved Hamilton’s Commonwealth saga and was curious to read this earlier book with a smaller scope. I retreated to a friendly coffee shop and cracked it open.
Why I finished it: I became fascinated by how much Hamilton was still learning the craft when he wrote this. He intersperses believable characters with cardboard cutouts, and genuinely affecting emotional moments with sexy sex between its impossibly attractive protagonists.
It's perfect for: Europeans. This is essentially three books in one: a hard sci-fi novel about technological advancements, a complicated family saga, and a provocative prediction about future British/EU politics from an English writer. I found the last to be the most compelling, and I expect the folks on the other side of the puddle would find it even more so.
From the winner of 2014’s PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize, an unforgettable debut novel about a teenager married off as a “sister wife,” who makes a break for freedom.
Fifteen-year-old Loretta slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her so-called gentile boyfriend. Her strict Mormon parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and a brood of kids. The Harders relocate to his native Idaho, where Dean’s teenage nephew Jason falls hard for Loretta. A Zeppelin and Tolkien fan, Jason worships Evel Knievel and longs to leave his close-minded community. He and Loretta make a break for it. But someone Loretta left behind is on their trail.
A riveting story of desire and escape, Daredevils boasts memorable set pieces and a rich cast of characters.
Tsar Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and their five children lived a life of luxury far beyond the hand-to-mouth existence of most of their subjects. Unprepared for the job, Nicholas insulated himself from the daily routine of governing his nation while Alexandra spent nearly all of her time with their children. Their inattention led to their downfall and the end of Romanov rule in Russia.
Why I picked it up: This title appeared on a local middle school's annual reading list, which challenges students to read fifty books before the end of the school year. I knew the general outline of the Romanov’s story but wanted a closer look at the details.
Why I finished it: The author uses details culled from family diaries, other histories, and eyewitness accounts to make these people come alive. Nicholas comes off as both a brutal tyrant and a weepy mess. Alexandra moves from an antisocial invalid (her pregnancies took their toll on her) to an officious household tyrant in the mold of Marie Antoinette. Near the end of their lives, she is genuinely surprised to learn that the majority of the population hates her family. And then there is Rasputin, a shadowy figure I never knew much about. Here he is a complete charlatan who used hypnotism to lead the gullible Nicholas and Alexandra to believe he could cure their son Alexei of his hemophilia.
It's perfect for: Dasha, who, as a Ukrainian, might know much of this history from a different angle, but who would love to know what happened at the end, when the Romanovs were herded into a basement room and shot. (These details have not been widely known until quite recently. They were buried anonymously in peat bogs a few miles away from their home, and the search for their bodies and giving them a proper burial is the subject of the book’s last chapter.)
A riveting, kaleidoscopic debut novel and the beginning of a major career. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a novel about race, history, ancestry, love, and time, charting the course of two sisters torn apart in 18th century Africa through the present day.
Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising children who will be sent abroad to be educated before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle's women's dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration to twentieth-century Harlem, Gyasi's novel moves through histories and geographies and captures―with outstanding economy and force―the troubled spirit of our own nation. She has written a modern masterpiece.
The traditional advice given when dealing with bad behaviors in dogs is "Train it out of them" using some one-size-fits-all regimen like food rewards or clickers. But what if you could figure out what was causing the behaviors and treat that through medication, changes in environment, and coaching better responses to specific stressors? Dr. Nicholas Dodman, head of the animal behavior department at Tufts University, wants to help people do just that. He makes his case by introducing a variety of dogs with seemingly intractable behavior problems, from Tammy, the collie who works herself into a self-destructive frenzy at the sound of the garbage truck, to Samson and Delilah, two Springer Spaniels who decide that the newborn baby in their midst is destined to be their next meal. In each case, Dodman discusses the underlying cause of the behavior, the treatments he developed for it (including using drugs intended for humans), and his attempts to generalize what's going on so other afflicted dogs can be helped.
Why I picked it up: PETA cites Dr. Dodman on their webpage against crate training, which I found surprising as many experts use it as part of their standard training repertoires. Since I knew Dodman was a preeminent researcher in the animal behavior field, I thought I'd read his book to see if he really thought crate training was a uniformly bad idea. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't.)
Why I finished it: What I thought would be a dry discussion of causes, symptoms and cures for common behavioral problems ended up reading like a cross between a mental health version of All Creatures Great and Small and what the TV series House M.D. would be like if it featured canines. I was particularly interested in both Dodman's defense of using human pharmacological remedies on dogs and his discussion of the difficulty in getting dosages correct. (I’ll admit to being one of those people who have said, "But, but, it's a dog! Why would you give it Xanax in the first place?”) Those kinds of details, along with nail-biting decisions owners must make when their dogs are dangerously aggressive and Dodman's lighter tales of being a Scottish veterinarian transplanted to Boston, ended up making this a great read about the inner life of the critters I love.
It’s perfect for: Kelvin, who worked with me at the Oakland SPCA in the early 1990s. In those days, all the behaviors described in this book would have rendered a dog unadoptable. I hope it would warm his heart as much as it did mine to read about both new strategies for correcting problems and the people who are patient enough to see them through.
A dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger.
Dodgers is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys—including East's hothead younger brother—to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he's never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become. Written in stark and unforgettable prose and featuring an array of surprising and memorable characters rendered with empathy and wit, Dodgers heralds the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.
An amateur rapper in his teens, Jensen Karp never thought his verbal skills would be called upon for anything more than a party trick. But then he won a call-in radio rapping contest in California called "The Roll Call” -- and kept winning, daily, for over six weeks. When he was asked for a rapper name, he blurted out "Hot Karl" which has unsavory sexual connotations. (Editor’s note: Look it up at Urban Dictionary if you have to, though I recommend you don’t.) His fame grew, and soon he was signed by a manager and Interscope Records. But Eminem was also with Interscope, and he was blowing up. Karp began to worry that he wouldn’t get money from Interscope to complete his record, because Eminem was going to get the label’s big push. He did get to record with several stars (including Kanye West), but his his album never saw the light of day.
Why I picked it up: Brilliant title.
Why I finished it: There were a number of hilarious show business anecdotes in this book, like when Karp was at a party where Busta Rhymes was about to show up. When Rhymes' attendance was verified, the party organizer ran around screaming, "We need to get rid of all the ham. Busta Rhymes cannot have ham around him." (Karp really wanted to see what would happen if an errant slice of ham was found.) Later Hot Karl was asked to submit a track to EA Sports for a basketball video game called NBA Live 2003. He did, and the track is in the game, but Karp’s proudest achievement is that there is a password-protected, playable version of him in the game. There was also an entertaining mini-feud he had with the actor/singer Tyrese, because Karp needed a rhyming word for "beef." The line went "Excuse this next line, 'cause it may start some beef / But I'd rather kill myself than ever have a song with Tyrese." The line worked on the radio, so he continued to pick at Tyrese, even challenging him to a fight as a joke.
It’s perfect for: Pete Chan, a friend who has been a rap fan since way back in the days of Kool Moe Dee and Eric B. & Rakim. He would appreciate Karp's fandom and knowledge of old-school rap, but most importantly, I think he would connect with the emotional side that Karp lays out about coming close to one's dreams, yet falling short.
A detailed look at fifty jet fighters, from the pioneering 1944 German Me 262 to the not-yet-released F-35 Lightning II. There are six pages on each plane covering history, specs, photos, and highly detailed cutaway illustrations.
Why I picked it up: I’ve always been completely obsessed with weapons. On our recent family road trip around the country we visited many flight museums and aircraft carriers, and I developed a taste for warplanes.
Why I finished it: I learned about several planes I hadn't know about, including the 1957 De Havilland Sea Vixen, one of the largest carrier aircraft ever to go into service, and the 1962 Su-15 “Flagon,” a lesser-known Soviet jet which was one of the first interceptors to have missiles as its primary weapons.
Readalikes: The American Fighter Plane. Both have beautiful illustrations, with extreme attention to detail such as specific squadron markings.
Three friends -- Ted, a bear who loves dessert; Vachel, a buzzard with a bad attitude; and Blake, an undomesticated dog who prefers to avoid people -- are about to have a picnic when suddenly Paisley, a brave penguin explorer who accidentally stowed away aboard a scientific vessel bound for New England, appears. He managed to escape the Antarctic expedition ship, and now he’s being pursued by polar bears. Paisley needs help to get back home. Taking cover from a sudden rainstorm, the friends come across a little girl, Dee, taking shelter in the mouth of Ted’s cave. She ran away from her dad’s funeral, and now everyone is searching for her. The friends don’t see any way to help either Dee or Paisley. They don’t want trouble. But after the polar bears arrive, they have no choice.
Why I picked it up: I’m a huge fan of Baldwin’s (occasionally NSFW) online comic Spacetrawler, and my daughter used to love Little Dee. Plus Chris is a super nice dude. (This graphic novel stars the characters from Little Dee.)
Why I finished it: The silent Dee just oozes love for her new friends, and it’s especially adorable when she expresses her feelings for Vachel, who doesn’t want to love her back. After Dee stows away on his biplane, Vachel threatens to use her for ballast and throw her overboard. Dee answers him with an irresistable hug. It’s a great moment. And Vachel is pretty funny himself. As he’s flying everyone toward Antarctica, he tells them to relax: “Vachel Airlines hasn’t lost a passenger yet. . . . After a thorough search of the crash site, all bodies were found.”
It’s perfect for: Kids who enjoy visiting Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Baldwin used to live in Seattle, and I bet he sketched many of the animals there that appear in this volume, from grizzly bears and vultures to pudus and armadillos. Though there are no polar bears, the thought of seeing them might get kids interested in visiting Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
Barbara Stanny started life at the top of the money pile -- her father is one of the founders of H&R Block and provided well for his daughters. But being well provided for is not the same as being well-taught, and after a financially disastrous marriage to a compulsive gambler, Stanny found herself looking at an empty bank account and an IRS bill for millions in back-taxes. Leaning heavily on A Course In Miracles for emotional support, Stanny found that the Course’s wisdom supported her personal growth and also fueled her insight into how she had gotten into such deep financial troubles. Part of her way out involved teaching women how to find work and get paid what they were worth, and she went on to become an expert on women and finance. This book is the combination of her passion for both.
Why I picked it up: My money coach recommended it to me, apparently on a whim, not knowing how much I love workbooks. She said that once Stanny became a well-recognized writer and author, she shifted her focus to this workshop-style book that encourages spiritual and personal growth as a way for women to engage with the world around them. Money, metaphysics, and women’s issues together in one book sent me flying to download the book.
Why I finished it: Its combination of storytelling, inspiring quotes, information about how finances work, and prompts for introspection kept me engaged through the chapters and exercises.
It’s perfect for: Stanny defines sacred success as “pursuing your Soul’s purpose for your own bliss, and the benefit of others, while being richly rewarded.” I’ve given it to my friend Jenni, to support her in taking her huge heart and brilliant passions for supporting mothers and lifting really heavy weights from a hobby to a great career that empowers others.