Self-Help / Relationships
by Sandra Vasher
Idea: The author has taken a complicated, sensitive personal topic and crafted an extremely poignant book. It's funny, sad, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and more.
Prose/Style: Vasher structures this book extremely well, starting with an emotional visit to the doctor's office that will immediately engross the reader. Often witty, the narrative deals candidly with the complex emotions that can accompany the experience of trying for a baby.
Originality: The author's sarcastic wit, powerful descriptions, and empathetic nature result in a greatly moving and entertaining blend of memoir and self-help.
Character Development/Execution: Readers struggling with infertility will garner great support and comfort from Vasher’s human, honest, and authentic words.
Life In Full Colors: Unlock Your Childlike Curiosity to Uncover and Activate the Creative Intelligence You Areby Corry MacDonald
Idea: In Life In Full Colors, Corry MacDonald encourages readers to find serenity and connection to the universe through creating visual art. Guiding her reader through a series of seven steps, accompanied by corresponding artistic exercises, MacDonald makes both a quieter spirit and personal expression through creating visual art achievable goals.
Prose/Style: MacDonald writes simply but beautifully; she gently encourages but never demands. Her real-life examples of overcoming life's challenges by marshalling inner creative resources are well-chosen, and her artistic exercises are accessible to anyone.
Originality: Many books already exist extolling the therapeutic value of artistic expression, but this is one of the better ones. Life In Full Colors is written with sincerity and genuine caring for the spiritual growth and well-being of its readers.
Character Development/Execution: This is a lovely, gentle book written in a lovely, gentle spirit. Intelligent and well researched, it is a pleasure to read a book into which so much heart, intelligence, and careful, well-thought-out planning of the exercises the author recommends are in evidence.
by Poonum Desai
Idea: Desai’s work follows the traditional formatting for a guided journal while providing creative and varied activities at the end of each entry to be used to further process and ponder the topic discussed. This work covers every aspect of life thoroughly and is well laid out and flows seamlessly from one topic to the next. This journal guides readers to reconsider everything about life and how best to live it.
Prose: The prose is eloquent and flows smoothly. The narrator, Life, has an engaging, consistent voice that is not condescending but rather contemplative. Life’s voice is encouraging and allows the reader to be more open to the arguments presented.
Originality: The use of Life as a narrator who approaches the presented subjects as a curious observer, is a fun and unique concept. The activities at the end of each discussion are rich and varied.
Character/Execution: Desai's book is inspiring and clear-eyed. Young adults will find a warm and welcoming guidebook through which to reflect on their lived experiences.
by Carlo Pietro Sanfilippo
Idea: In a genre that is absolutely saturated with books from those who have gone through transformations and want to share their journey with others, After Life, stands out among the clutter. It is well-written, brutally honest, and engaging without being preachy.
Prose/Style: Often, writers of self-help books like these are misguided and believe they need to have a book that is filled with medical jargon, deep scientific prose, or analytical rhetoric. Sometimes, simplicity is perfection, especially when it's so emotionally well-written as the author has done here. This book is the writer's journey, but he shares it so well that it becomes a reflection of what the reader is feeling too.
Originality: The book stands out in originality for one simple reason: it's written by a male, who shares that he needed to go through a transformation after a divorce. Honest feelings of feeling lost, not giving as much of himself as he could as a father and husband, and understanding that the change had to come from within is needed in this market. This author's deep introspection and candor is a beacon among the other self-help books.
Character Development/Execution: The book is structured well, written well and takes readers on a clear emotional and physical journey. This is one of the best self-help/memoirs readers will have encountered in a long time.
by Curtis Honeycutt
Idea: Honeycutt, the creator of the Grammar Guy column, offers a charming and enjoyable collection of brief essays that suggest how mastery of grammar can lead to feats of personal achievement.
Prose: Honeycutt invites readers in through his amusing, sometimes trite, appealingly self-depreciating style of writing.
Originality: Wholly unique and great fun, Good Grammar Is the Life of the Party presents a typically less-than sexy topic in a manner that’s entertaining, quirky, and informative.
Character/Execution: This book covers the principals of good grammar through amusing anecdotes, lessons, and silly examples, proving that grammar need not be stuffy—and that it is possible to be a grammarian without being one of ‘Those People.’
by Monica E. Pierce
Idea: What’s wrong with just wanting a quietly fulfilling life rather than limitless accomplishment and success? Absolutely nothing, Pierce suggests in this compassionate and thoughtful guidebook. Pierce encourages readers to think differently about their wants and needs rather than buying into platitudes relating to outmoded definitions of achievement.
Prose: Pierce’s prose is warm, yet authoritative, as she both draws from her professional and personal experiences, and provides intriguing reflections on what it means to be a woman who embraces selfhood over climbing the corporate ladder.
Originality: Leaning Out is truly refreshing in its focus on redefining happiness and fulfillment for modern women.
Character/Execution: Pierce will be strongly relatable to her core readership. Women who have found themselves at odds with societal (and even self-driven) expectations and their true desires, may breathe a sigh of relief that they are not alone.
by Neel Burton
Idea: The author delivers on the provocative and intriguing promise inherent in this work's title and subtitle. He provides a fascinating exploration of topics ranging from courage and death to madness and ataraxia, offering the reader a meaty analysis of these subjects and more.
Prose: The author capably delves into the psychological science behind the weighty topics introduced. To keep interest high, he offers several engrossing case studies that captivate the reader.
Originality: While certainly every aspect included in this work has been covered by others in some form, the author offers a different take collectively on the topics, bringing the reader a unique perspective.
Character/Execution: The author maps out a list of related topics in his exploration, moving logically and systematically from one subject to another, painting a clear picture for the reader.
by Mark Linden O'Meara
Idea: The author covers a hugely broad topic where no cookie-cutter solution exists. Through his personal stories, readers are able to relate to his challenges which will ultimately help them identify areas in their own lives where pain may be festering.
Prose: The author's writing style is clear and concise, and he writes in the first person, using accessible, non-technical language. These techniques help the reader relate to his story and subsequently his advice. He speaks to the reader as a peer and a fellow sufferer, not as a practitioner.
Originality: There is an abundant number of self-help books available on dealing with suppressed pain for anyone seeking advice. The author's personal approach here is not only appreciated, but refreshingly original.
Character/Execution: What makes this work so appealing is the author's approach. He becomes the reader's coach, offering genuine guidance based on the steps he took to achieve healing himself.
by Aziz Velji
Idea: Throughout this work, Velji uses the metaphor of mountain climbing to help the reader understand the journey they will undergo. It's an effective analogy that helps simplify what may seem like an overwhelming task to some.
Prose: The author is a gifted writer, with great command of language. His writing is engaging and surprisingly accessible given the weightiness of the subject and the science he introduces.
Originality: This work offers a unique perspective on eliminating stress and awakening the mind mainly due to the author's personal stories which help simplify the complex.
Character/Execution: The author is quite adept at taking a complex topic and distilling it down to manageable steps so as not to overwhelm the reader. The process described is not light reading or an easy goal to achieve, yet the author's approach makes the journey seem not only worthwhile, but achievable.
by Brian M. Keltner, MA, LPC, NCC
Idea: Keltner, a psychotherapist, takes an intriguingly philosophical approach to mental health and human perception.
Prose: Check Your Reality features sophisticated, polished prose that echoes the work’s frequent literary and psychological references. If at times overly formal, readers who have an intellectual interest in their personal psychology, will embrace Keltner’s style.
Originality: Highly original, Check Your Reality combines exploratory content with more concrete tools relating to acknowledging distorted and destructive thinking patterns.
Character/Execution: Rather than rely exclusively on examples from his practice, Keltner takes an allegorical approach. The result is a more story-driven work that encourages readers to think holistically about their mental well-being and understanding of the world around them.
by Anne Janzer
Idea: Many books on writing and self-publishing are published every year, and although this one covers some familiar ground, it also stands out for several reasons. The writer's warmth and passion for the topic and the readers come across from the first page. The idea of servant authorship is a strong hook for the book, one that sets it apart from other writing books. With that said, the author does not offer substantial insider knowledge that readers might not readily locate themselves, and some content—concerning hybrid publishers, for example—is not fully up to date.
Prose/Style: The four categories make sense and let the reader know how to navigate the book.
The prose is serviceable, friendly, and prescriptive. The author might reconsider the frequent use of italics for emphasis.
Originality: Even though the author follows the rules of prescriptive nonfiction, there's frequently a voice and a person behind the rules. This is the author's greatest strength, something that might be incorporated even more. The Inner Gatekeeper is an example of the author's originality. Readers will remember this term and others. The “Put it into Practice” sections are helpful, succinct, and well written.
Character Development/Execution: The reader comes away not just with a message, not just with a plan, but with a mentor, someone they may no doubt want to follow on social media.
By its very nature, this book is prescriptive. At times when the author opens up with personal stories, such as sharing the pain of receiving a bad review, making that experience relatable, comical, and painfully human, the book moves beyond prescriptive nonfiction, and the reader receives not only information but connection.
by Christian de la Huerta
Plot: Christian de la Huerta's Awakening the Soul of Power asks readers to aspire to a unique form of heroism of his own invention: By understanding and exercising control over our egos, he argues, we can liberate ourselves from "self-made prisons of fear and limitation," change our relationship to power, upend our backwards ideas of masculinity, and learn to practice gratitude, trust, vulnerability, and other virtues. De la Huerta's book, the first in a projected trilogy on the topic of contemporary heroism, stands out from other self-improvement titles in its thoroughness, clarity, originality, and its challenges to traditional ideas of success or heroism. Here, heroism is not defined in terms of masculine strength or market success. Instead, it is about healing, soulfulness, and an interest in the collective good. De la Huerta breaks down, in detailed but accessible chapters, novel approaches to thinking about our egos, our relationships to power, and the limitations of misogyny or homophobia. With witty maps, illustrations, and references, he links his coaching to Joseph Campbell's idea of a hero's journey, and to fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings or Avatar; his own anecdotes tend to be illuminating and compelling.
Prose/Style: De la Huerta's prose is clear, engaging, and sincere, with memorable examples illustrating his ideas and precepts. His "Power Practices" sections at the end of each chapter offer provocative exercises to guide readers' thinking. Sometimes he wanders down rabbit holes without making clear to readers that it would be edifying for them to follow, such as his occasional plot summaries of recent Star Wars movies. Passages of reminiscence or of political opining are written with a welcome passion that makes some other passages feel flat by comparison.
Originality: While it inevitably shares some ideas with other books in its crowded field, De la Huerta's text bursts with original thinking. The author eschews received wisdom and instead offers unique definitions, precepts, challenges, and hope to his readers. His emphasis on a greater good beyond the self is stirring – a welcome break with the fundamental self-centeredness of much of this genre.
Character Development/Execution: Well-written, public-spirited, original in its thinking and examples, and progressive in its arguments, this book stands as a welcome addition to any self-improvement library, despite its occasional overreliance on Star Wars plot summaries.
Blurb: Christian de la Huerta's Awakening the Soul of Power challenges readers to strive to embody a new type of heroism in their lives, a selflessness that begins by targeting the destructive force of the ego. De la Huerta's program is humane and heartening and laid out in clear, practical steps. Here's a work of self-improvement that dares look beyond the self to our impacts on each other, on society, and on our planet.
by Robert DeVinck
Idea: Using the Hawaiian practice of Pono as a way to address the topics in this book is brilliant. The relatable examples, including whether to have a burger for lunch, put the philosophy within reach of any reader. The author also stresses that it’s important that "could" choices are never wrong.
Prose/Style: The author writes clearly and persuasively. One quibble: the author refers to the reader as "you," and other times, as "the reader" – these disjointed perspectives can prove distracting to readers.
Originality: This book contains vivid and illuminating anecdotes, but the author might focus more on weaving them into the main storyline and connecting them more tightly to the central concept.
Character Development/Execution: The author's development is clear by the end of the book. It's not quite clear if this is prescriptive nonfiction or memoir. It is still a satisfying read and an inspirational book.
Blurb: An inspiring book--and a persuasive argument for using a simple basic principle for guidance in every aspect of our lives.
by Sofia Santiago, PhD; Virginia Wells, PhD; and Daniela De la Chica
Idea: Essentially, this book demonstrates how to best get out of one’s own way when faced with conflict and the many ways individuals choose chaos when peace is easier. This is a good primer on healthy conflict and decision-making.
Prose/Style: The writing is consistently engaging, nuanced and sympathetic, conveying ideas in an accessible way without talking down to the audience.
Originality: This book provides thoughtful and innovative suggestions for readers eager to discover new ways to deescilate conflict.
Character Development/Execution: All of the characters and stories recounted feel genuine and easy to empathize with. Even those who do not make the right choices are presented as full people with motivations, problems, and emotions.
Blurb: This book covers the all-important question, "Is this hill worth dying on?" The authors cover decision making in conflict situations in a really substantive way, offering not only creative solutions, but suggestions for improving one's ability to regulate emotion and handle scenarios of extreme stress and importance.
by Mohsen Zargaran
Idea: Zargaran offers an interesting and fulfilling narrative that asserts the idea that readers need only short-term goals and a long-term objective to achieve their dreams.
Prose: The writing is focused and intense while remaining accessible. Aside from an awkwardly executed preface, the book is largely well-written.
Originality: While this work is not wholly original in terms of content, the execution is quite strong.
Character/Execution: Retooling how we think of goals and the steps we take to achieve them is a valuable pursuit, and Zargaran provides thoughtful and achievable instruction for readers to get there.
by BRENDA T UNGERLAND
Plot: Brenda Ungerland's Post-Tramuatic Growth stands out from the pack as a sober, thorough guide to the process of rebuilding a life after the experience of trauma. The author lays out seven stages of what she calls a "blueprint for transformational change"; inspired by Elisabeth Kubler Ross's stages of grieving, Ungerland's guide to recovering after trauma is frank about the onerousness of breaking down, breaking through, and breaking debilitative habits, but also hopeful, making persuasive promises like "Unraveling actually is very good news." Ungerland offers challenges and exercises crafted to help readers currently at any stage of her process take stock, face truths, and ask themselves tough questions. She draws on neuroscience, psychology, and various mindfulness techniques and illustrates her stages with narratives from real-life case studies and many well-selected excerpts from the work of poets like Theodore Roethke, Mary Oliver, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Marge Piercy, and more.
Prose/Style: Ungerland's interest in poetry will not surprise readers, as her prose is rich, emotive, tender, and somewhat complex. The sentences here often run long, but the author is a strong enough writer to keep meaning and emphasis clear even over multiple clauses and lines. That said, Ungerland is more clear when laying out the broad sweep of her transformative stages than when breaking down actual steps people can take, which at times she renders vaguely. She quotes writing worth quoting, and she's clear when summarizing principles of science and philosophy. Her tone is encouraging and highly rational; when discussing, say, the plasticity of our neural connections, she avoids the common tendency of many authors of self-help books to over-promise readers about the level of control they can exercises over their own brains. The case studies she has assembled to illustrate her transformative stages are independently interesting, but at times they take over the book.
Originality: While Ungerland draws deeply from earlier works, as the helpful index indicates, she has assembled her research in the unique and helpful form of her seven stages, and she guides readers through it with fresh insights and persuasive power.
Character Development/Execution: Ungerland's original stages are a welcome contribution to the literature of trauma recovery, and she explains the process to readers with compassion and honesty. The case studies at times go on for more pages than readers are likely to prefer, though.