The best books for extraordinary life stories about ordinary people

Who am I?

My author friend, Mary, brought her great, great, great + grandfather’s journal to our writers' group and shared excerpts from the pages written in the 1800s. When her grandfather was window shopping in downtown London, he peered into the bookstore window. He yearned to own the books on display, but he couldn’t afford them on a minister’s income. Only the rich could purchase books. The journal excerpts brought the 1800s to life. I decided then to begin recording my life experiences to make our lives today real for the generations of tomorrow. I share my enthusiasm for telling life stories by presenting workshops on how to write life stories. 


I wrote...

Arranging A Dream

By JQ Rose,

Book cover of Arranging A Dream

What is my book about?

In 1975, budding entrepreneurs Ted and Janet purchase a floral shop and greenhouse business. Leaving behind the support and security of friends and family and their two paychecks, they transplant themselves, their one-year-old daughter, and all their belongings to Fremont, Michigan. 

Will the retiring business owners nurture Ted and Janet as they struggle to develop a blooming business? In this feel-good memoir, Arranging a Dream, laugh and cry with them as they face overwhelming challenges and heart-warming joy on their journey to turn their dreams into reality.

The books I picked & why

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Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta

By Nan Sanders Pokerwinski,

Book cover of Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta

Why this book?

Put on your flowered shirt and place a flower in your hair to be taken away to the beautiful island of Samoa. This page-turning memoir chronicles the author’s struggles with adolescence against the backdrop of a changing Samoan culture. With lyrical language, Ms. Pokerwinski paints true-to-life scenes of the island and the Samoan people. The situations and the fascinating characters will keep you reading. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving memories of the 60s such as the music of the Beach Boys, White Rain Conditioner, and Tangee lipstick. If you witnessed life in the 60s, you will identify with the author and enjoy her humor and sass. 

Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta

By Nan Sanders Pokerwinski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mango Rash as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moving to a South Pacific island from small town Oklahoma, sixteen year old Nancy Sanders trades cruising Main Street in search of tater tots for strolling sandy shores with islanders who feast on sea worms and summon sharks with song.



With a dash of teenage sass, MANGO RASH chronicles Nancy's search for adventure—and identity—in two alien realms: the tricky terrain of adolescence and the remote U.S. territory of American Samoa. Against a backdrop of lava-rimmed beaches, frangipani-laced air, and sensual music, Nancy immerses herself in 1960s island culture with a colorful cast of Samoan and American expat kids.



But life…


The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm

By Sarah Frey,

Book cover of The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm

Why this book?

My husband, Ted, is a gardening fanatic, so we listened to The Growing Season audiobook together to find out more about vegetable gardening. Instead, we happily discovered the story was about Sarah Frey’s business growing commercial crops rather than a backyard garden. She grew up in Illinois helping her mother deliver cantaloupe to local grocery stores. At 15 years old, when her mother could no longer make the deliveries, Sarah took on the route. I cheered her on as she lived her life with determination and purpose to grow that business for her family. The small route developed into a well-respected family-owned multi-state produce business.

The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm

By Sarah Frey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Growing Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A gutsy success story” (The New York Times Book Review) about one tenacious woman’s journey to escape rural poverty and create a billion-dollar farming business—without ever leaving the land she loves

The youngest of her parents’ combined twenty-one children, Sarah Frey grew up on a struggling farm in southern Illinois, often having to grow, catch, or hunt her own dinner alongside her brothers. She spent much of her early childhood dreaming of running away to the big city—or really anywhere with central heating. At fifteen, she moved out of her family home and started her own fresh produce delivery business…


Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm

By Mardi Jo Link,

Book cover of Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm

Why this book?

When my friend recommended Bootstrapper, I wanted to read it because the author’s life paralleled the struggles my daughter experienced with the mean divorce from her husband. Divorce can bring you to your knees or build your strength and character. Divorce developed strength in my daughter and in Mardi. Mardi found a way to save her farm, deal with her young sons and begin a new chapter in her life filled with love and meaning. I recommend this feel-good story to inspire hope when one is completely lost.

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm

By Mardi Jo Link,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bootstrapper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Poignant, irreverent, and hilarious: a memoir about survival and self-discovery, by an indomitable woman who never loses sight of what matters most. 

It’s the summer of 2005, and Mardi Jo Link’s dream of living the simple life has unraveled into debt, heartbreak, and perpetually ragged cuticles. She and her husband of nineteen years have just called it quits, leaving her with serious cash-flow problems and a looming divorce. More broke than ever, Link makes a seemingly impossible resolution: to hang on to her century-old farmhouse in northern Michigan and continue to raise her three boys on well water and wood…


The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees

By Meredith May,

Book cover of The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees

Why this book?

When she was five years old, Meredith May’s father abandoned their family when he moved far away to California. Her mother moved Meredith and her brother in with her parents, then closed herself off, emotionally and physically by shutting the door to her bedroom and never coming out. The Honey Bus, an old school bus parked forever in the backyard, saved Meredith. Grandfather was a beekeeper and raised bees in that bus. Meredith helped her granddad care for them and learned all about bees, but also about how a family cares for each other. This story was difficult to read at times, but charming too. The author’s bond with her grandpa reminds me of the special relationship our granddaughter has with her grandpa. 

The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees

By Meredith May,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Honey Bus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The bee is more frightened than you,' he said.

'Can you imagine how scary it is to be this small in a world that is so big?'

He was right.

When she was five years old, Meredith May was abandoned by both parents. Her father left for the other side of the country. Her mother disappeared into herself.

But when Meredith discovered the rusted old bus where her grandpa kept bees, her world changed forever.

Family duty. Compassion and sacrifice. Unconditional love. The life of a honeybee displays it all. As her grandpa showed her the sacrifices bees make for…


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King,

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

When I purchased this book, I bought it to help with tips on writing. I didn’t realize before the section about the craft of writing, King penned a memoir about his life as a boy who loved to write. He told the story as if we were sitting at a coffee shop sharing our stories like friends do. He writes like he talks using some crude words, but not pretending to be anyone but a regular guy who grew up to become a writer. I appreciated how his memoir helps readers and writers to understand the influence those life experiences have on the work a writer creates. You need not be a writer in the horror genre to appreciate this inspiring book. 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King

ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in farmers, Michigan, and beekeeping?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about farmers, Michigan, and beekeeping.

Farmers Explore 13 books about farmers
Michigan Explore 44 books about Michigan
Beekeeping Explore 15 books about beekeeping

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Artist's Way, Bird by Bird, and Letters to a Young Poet if you like this list.