The best books for escaping, adventuring and finding inspiration that can change your life

Who am I?

I love adventure—I'm an adventurist. I love escaping—through creative writing and the written word! And, I love the sea—I have served over 30 years in the US Coast Guard at sea and ashore and recently drove Zodiacs in Alaska and Norway for Seabourn Cruise ships. Since publishing my first book, So Others May Live about heroic US Coast Guard rescue swimmers and aircrews  (read by Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher who both told me they loved my book and used it for their roles in film, The Guardian), I have become a TEDx speaker and coach, award-winning author and rose to the senior rank of captain in the USCG. 


I wrote...

Changing the Rules of Engagement: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Leadership from Women in the Military

By Martha LaGuardia-Kotite,

Book cover of Changing the Rules of Engagement: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Leadership from Women in the Military

What is my book about?

Changing the Rules of Engagement brings to life the authentic, vivid stories of leadership from inspiring and adventurous women who achieved the extraordinary by serving their country in the U.S. military. These women shattered the glass ceiling and performed extraordinary feats by refusing to take “no” for an answer and learning how to lead in traditionally male-dominated environments. Martha LaGuardia-Kotite skillfully captures their leadership lessons, struggles, and successes—showing how courageous and tenacious women can achieve their goals and help change policy, insights also applicable to today’s leaders in corporate and business boardrooms.

Whether soaring into outer space with the second woman to command a space shuttle or plunging to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean with a combat veteran special operations diver, these profiles in leadership highlight a range of powerful examples.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Goldfinch

Martha LaGuardia-Kotite Why did I love this book?

I love this book. The writing is rich and the story haunting. I wanted to learn more about Theo Decker a boy who survives an accident that killed his mother. Imagine losing your mother at the age of 13 and having to figure out how to survive in New York. I lived in New York City as a single mom and had to start over with my young son. This book reminds me of how hard life can be but also instilled in me the joy and optimism of knowing we are more powerful than we think. I’ve always respected and admired people who make a life in New York City—it is a place where anything can happen and, if you need a connection you can find it there, as did I.

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Goldfinch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014 Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the…


Book cover of Blue Nights

Martha LaGuardia-Kotite Why did I love this book?

Joan Didion captures the struggles of living and the harshness of losing a child in a powerful way. I found she taught me that while having a family member die we can learn much from the tragedy and change our own life, our own path by turning the loss into a way to make a difference and a positive impact on others. I lost my brother when I was in hs, and it changed my life. I focused on making a difference, saving lives, living life to the fullest (change appreciating to making a difference every day), and recognizing the many treasures Earth has to offer us if we just look and see and appreciate the mammals, people, plants, and geography that surround us. 

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter, from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Year of Magical Thinking and Let Me Tell You What I Mean

Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.

As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions…


Book cover of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

Martha LaGuardia-Kotite Why did I love this book?

This is an adventure! Turn the pages of this book to find waves and many kinds of waves: rogue, freak, and giant waves of the ocean and the people who try to surf them. I am a retired US Coast Guard officer and sailed many ships at sea. As a mariner we know of or have seen waves, some of them tossing our ships in the middle of the night as we try to sail home. Any number of ships have vanished in the ocean, quickly, with no time to put out an SOS call for help. This is a great book to learn more while having an adventure reading it from the safety of your chair.

By Susan Casey,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The have long been mariners' tales of 100-foot rogue waves - gargantuan monsters that sink super-tankers in the blink of an eye.

But waves that high violate the laws of physics, so science has dismissed them as myth. Until now.

In February 2000 the research ship, RRS Discovery, was trapped by a vortex of mammoth waves in the North Atlantic. Amazingly the ship survived and its state-of-the-art equipment registered waves nearing 100-feet. Something scary is brewing in the planet's waters. And with 72% of earth covered by sea, this is serious business.

Cut to Maui, Hawaii, a surf mecca where…


Book cover of Dear Life

Martha LaGuardia-Kotite Why did I love this book?

Alice Munro, like Joan Didion, is a powerful writer. Alice has given us this collection of stories that can take us away to her character’s world. Reading this book felt like an escape to that world and it felt real like I was in the place she wrote about as the scene unfolds. Tremendously captivating, fun, and at times surprising. Love her books!

By Alice Munro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE© IN LITERATURE 2013

A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction
A Best Book of the Year: The Atlantic, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, AV Club

In story after story in this brilliant new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancée, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected…


Book cover of The Heaven of Animals

Martha LaGuardia-Kotite Why did I love this book?

I recently met the author at a writing workshop. He was my facilitator—he did an excellent job! What’s more, after the week of reading and critiquing each other’s fictional stories I decided to read this book. Wow! Beautifully written. The stories are sometimes shocking, sometimes sad but always worth the time! I feel lucky to have met this author and have had him help me improve my first novel which I'm completing now

By David James Poissant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Named one of Amazon's Best Short Story Collections of 2014
One of Atlanta Journal Constitution's 9 Best Books of 2014
Best Short Story Collection of the Year, Tweed's Magazine
Winner of GLCA New Writers Award for Fiction
2014 LA Times Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the Florida Book Awards Silver Medal for Fiction
Nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

"A debut collection of unsparing yet warmly empathetic stories...akin to both Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver in humane spirit and technical mastery" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

The Heaven of Animals, award-winning young writer David James Poissant's stunning…


You might also like...

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in surfing, Atlanta, and murder?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about surfing, Atlanta, and murder.

Surfing Explore 27 books about surfing
Atlanta Explore 48 books about Atlanta
Murder Explore 891 books about murder