The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh
This is an explanation of the basic tenets of Buddhism with an explanation of how they connect to our modern lives and how we can practice them.
Thich Nhat Hanh has a really accessible way of writing and this was a really good and understandable way of learning about the basic principles. It took me forever to read it, because it is really dense. So I would read a small section and then stop and think about it for a while before I went back to the next section. The beginning of the book explains the Eightfold Path and is very practical with how to live them. The third part of the book gets a little more esoteric and is more confusing and difficult to understand.
I recommend it if you are interested in spiritual practices.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A young woman is hired to be the caretaker for a young man who is a quadriplegic. She discovers that she has been hired to keep him from killing himself, so she develops a plan for letting him see what he can do even after his accident.
I really enjoyed this book. On the surface it is just a story about how these two people connect and overcome difficulties and eventually fall in love. But beyond that cute surface story, the story is an exploration of euthanasia.
Because of his accident, Will's entire life has changed and he isn't willing to adjust and has asked his family to allow him to "die with dignity" with physician-assisted suicide. Everyone tries to convince him to have a place in the world as the novel progresses, and the view of whether he should or shouldn't is presented in a really balanced way.
Honestly, there were a few moments during the book that I thought it was getting too contrived and the author was going to completely lose the story. But she managed to pull it off, and I was really interested in the story.
[Spoiler-ish warning: I sobbed]
I recommend it.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
This is a how-to book on setting boundaries in your life. It has specific steps and stages to move through and begin to set boundaries in specific areas of your life including work, marriage, kids, family, neighbors, etc.
This was interesting. The authors track the lack of boundaries back to each person's early life and then explain how the lack of boundaries affects them as adults and spreads to their families. They move very specifically through how to begin setting boundaries and how that will affect your life.
They told a lot of stories about specific people. The authors take a Christian/Biblical view on boundaries, so a lot of the specific stories are about people being asked to do things in church and always feeling guilty if they don't agree to do it. Each step that they outline is explained based on Bible verses.
This was interesting.
The Dhammapada translated by Gil Fronsdal
The Dhammapada is the earliest Buddhist scripture.
I expected this to be really dense like The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. It's not. It was really readable and accessible. It does help to have some basic knowledge of Buddhism before reading this so that it makes sense, but I recommend it.
Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson
This is a non-fiction work that looks at brain science and how we can work our brains to focus on positive and become happier. Hanson's point is that our brains have evolved to focus on the negative -- because if there is a tiger stalking you, you better notice it -- but that evolution is not serving us anymore. So he lays out how we can rewire our brains to hold on to the positive instead.
This was really interesting and very simple. As Hanson works through the ideas, he has specific practices that he lets you stop and work through.
The audiobook format was not the best way to read this book. I "read" it as I was driving for Thanksgiving, but with the start of each practice, Hanson says, "Don't do this while you are driving." He also has wrap up points at the end of each chapter, which in an audiobook makes it sound really repetitive.
Despite the couple of drawbacks to the audio form, I recommend the book. I'd suggest a hardcopy though.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
This is a Pride and Prejudice retellling, but rather than tackling Lizzie and Darcy (again), Baker tells the stories of the servants at Longbourn, the household of the Bennet family. The servants are Mr and Mrs Hill and the two housemaids Sarah and Polly. Their lives are changed by the hiring of a footman, James Smith.
This was a good story. It stays tied to Pride and Prejudice with a quote from P&P at the start of each chapter, and because it follows the same timeline, we learn how the servants are affected by the visits of Mr. Collins, Lydia's scandal, and the marriages of Jane and Lizzie.
The main focus of the story is Sarah, the older housemaid, who is chaffing at her role in the household. She wants to be able to travel and see the world, and to meet someone and fall in love. There were a few moments (three) as I was reading that I thought, "Oh dumb girl, don't do that." But I kept reading. In one of those moments, I thought about quitting, but I wanted to know how the story would work out.
Overall I enjoyed the story. It was entertaining, and I liked the different perspective and slightly Downton Abbey-ish look at life. I recommend it.