2. Throwing in a non-fiction book this year: Suzanne Gordon’s Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans. When I worked at VA, it was frustrating to see shallow journalism that covered its challenges without comparison to the civilian sector or showcasing innovative programs we now risk losing. This book delves beyond bombastic headlines with a deep dive into how comprehensive care is delivered to those who have served our country.
- This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
Here’s what you need to know: As soon as I read the last page, I flipped back to the first and started reading it again. It’s honestly that good. Set in 1960s South Korea, This Burns My Heart follows the story of Soo-Ja Choi, a passionate young woman who dreams of being a diplomat but ends up trapped in a suffocating marriage. She longs for Yul, the man she truly loves, but double-crossed by her husband and constrained by tradition, she suppresses her own desires and lives only to secure her daughter’s future. Park draws an astoundingly vivid portrait of post-war Korea and beautifully explores the sacrifices parents and children make for each other.
I actually met Sam Park a few years ago and had This Burns My Heart on my “what to read next” list forever. I never forgot the captivating title, but as a writer and editor I’ve got stacks of friends’ books and clients’ books and book club picks, so sadly I didn’t get to Sam’s book in time to tell him how much this beautiful story moved me. He passed away last year at 41 from stomach cancer, shortly after completing a new novel, The Caregiver, which was just published posthumously and is also not to be missed.
I’m an editor and book coach, so I initially read this for my clients, but I loved it even more as a mom who wants to support my kids in reaching their dreams. Duckworth’s research shows that success is based far less on talent than on “grit” – holding steadfast to a goal you believe in, even when things get hard. Lest you think this book is about sucking things up or being tough, it’s not. Rather than ignoring pain, grit means allowing yourself to feel bad about disappointments before bouncing back. Thankfully Duckworth doesn’t simply identify the qualities behind success, she shows you how to develop them.
3. The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs
This was another book so good I read it twice, though with a few years between. Thirty-five year old Anna is still living a half-life two years after her husband died of leukemia when her abrasive grandmother Goldie convinces her to embark on a road trip from New York to San Francisco. Alternating between the highways of modern day and memories of 1940s San Francisco, we see Anna slowly awaken and we learn the dramatic secrets of Goldie’s past, particularly the intense wartime romance she’ll never forget. The surprise ending was just as delicious even though I knew it was coming.
Tiffany Hawk is a military spouse, author, and writing coach. Her novel Love Me Anyway was published by St. Martin’s Press, and her stories have appeared in such places as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, StoryQuarterly, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Rebekah Gleaves Sanderlin
1. Educated, by Tara Westover — Everyone was talking about Educated this year, and for good reason. It’s mesmerizing. Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up in an Idaho backwoods with Mormon, doomsday-prepper parents who didn’t let her go to school, then pursuing education anyway and ending up at Cambridge and Harvard, is shocking, stirring and captivating.
2. The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova — My book club (all military spouses, by the way) picks the best books! Kostova’s novel is equal parts macabre mystery and historical fiction. A young American school teacher gets sidetracked on her way to teach English in Bulgaria when her bag is switched by mistake and she finds herself in possession of another human’s cremated ashes. In her quest to return the bag to the dead man’s family, we get to learn the history surrounding the brutal Communist takeover of Bulgaria.