The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

What a lovely surprise: the best book I read in 2008 (and I read a lot of books).  So good that I bought it.  I tell a lot of people about it, when they ask me for a good book to read.  It is Sherman Alexie’s first foray into YA fiction.  It is the story of Junior, a smart and talented boy in Washington state….hmmm…well, I don’t really want to tell you anything else, because it is a marvellous story, well-written, and it makes you laugh and cry…it moves you.  And that’s always the best kind of surprise. (submitted by Jen)

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Too Big To Fail: the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system from crisis — and themselves

What a soap opera!  Andrew Ross Sorkin uses his behind-the-scenes access to lay out the details of the recent financial crisis, from the failure of Lehman Brothers to the near failure of other key financial players.  This is riveting and page-turning stuff – you can also get updates on this ever-changing drama on his blog, dealbook, for the continuing story.  It’s a big book, and I couldn’t put it down.  If you want a moment-to-moment breakdown of the events and decisions made by the big boys in 2008-2009, you’ll enjoy this one.  I certainly did.  Update: HBO is making it into a movie. (submitted by Jen)

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

I felt like I’d been on an extreme rollercoaster ride after reading this book.  We follow Richard Mayhew, a very ordinary Englishman, until he suddenly falls through a crack  into the alternate universe of London Below.  He wanders the subterranean world of the London Underground where he meets up with some very frightening beings, but there is enough humour in this book to make even the darkest moments entertaining.  I never knew what to expect or whether Mayhew would prevail against the dark forces right up until  the end.  The book is based on a six-part BBC TV series. 

 Gaiman is a witty and creative writer and I’ve enjoyed all of his books so far.  However,  Neverwhere is still my favourite.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday

Although I’m not planning a fishing trip anytime soon, I grabbed this audiobook in search of some fun before my summer road trip. What I found was a story about fate, miracles, and ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The story is narrated through letters, emails, and interview transcripts that follow this bizarre plan to introduce salmon fishing into Yemen, between the British government and Yemeni Sheikh.

 It is a great story that makes you believe in the impossible, full of personal influences and political agendas. Funny and inspiring at the same time. Warmly recommended to anyone searching for comedy with bite. (submitted by IM)

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The Beach House – Jane Green

I chose this book as a light vacation read that I could pick up and put down at whim.  Instead I found myself glued to the page, wanting to know what experiences were in store for the families who had joined Nan Powell at her Nantucket boarding house.  

Nan is eccentric in an amusing way: skinny dipping in a neighbour’s pool and generally confounding her neighbours with her behaviour. She is surprised to learn that, due to financial woes, she may lose her home.  Since Windermere is a large older home, Nan decides to open it to paying guests.  The people who join Nan in her home are as interesting as Nan is eccentric.

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Rampant – Diana Peterfreund

Two words: Killer Unicorns.

If you’re
a)      tired of vampires, werewolves, and zombies, and
b)      a fan of kick-ass heroines like Buffy

Then, this is the book for you.

Astrid has never really believed her mother’s crazy tales about the bloodthirstiness (or existence!) of unicorns. But one night, her date is gored by a creature with a single horn. When Astrid saves him, she discovers that her mother has been telling the truth. Not only are unicorns real and out for blood, but Astrid is a descendant of one of the greatest unicorn slayers of all time. Now Astrid must travel to a crumbling cloister in Rome to learn the finer points of unicorn hunting. (submitted by GH)

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Just Listen: discover the secret to getting through to absolutely anyone

I bought this book.  I have given it as a high-school graduation gift.  I cannot recommend more highly.  Mark Goulston dissects his natural gifts to share with the rest of us.  Simple and powerful techniques for better and effective communication, especially with difficult people, or with people who are having a difficult time.  Very practical and enjoyable to read.

Some of the things I liked:

  • Stop trying to be interesting, be interested instead
  • Let a person in crisis exhale: they vent, be quiet, they stop, say “tell me more”, don’t engage or debate or offer solutions, just listen and let them exhale
  • Make everyone feel valuable
  • Share your own vulnerabilities (bare your neck)
  • Steer clear of toxic people: the needy, bullies, takers, narcissists, and psychopaths
  • Ask: What is impossible but desirable?  Then ask: What would make that possible?
  • Ask: “Do you really believe that?” when they make a hyperbolic statement
  • The power of “Hmmmm….” (and “Really” and “And so…” and “Tell me more” and “Then what happened?”) to de-escalate
  • Cause people to look up (with their eyes) and reflect on your question – you’ll make a better connection with them than if your question is transactional (yes/no) (submitted by Jen)

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