Great winter reads: The best books I’ve ever read

One of my personal goals when we moved to Canberra last year was to join a book club. The two reasons I wanted to join a book club were: to meet new people in this charming city we had relocated to, and to foster my passion for reading, which usually came last after everything else in life.

For me, reading had become a luxury only afforded on a beach holiday (which I haven’t been on for a while). I really wanted to make reading a daily habit, because it improves my writing skills (an important part of my everyday job) and broadens my mind.

The big question that remained was: What to read?

I’m a big fan of a real-life story. I love autobiographies/biographies that recall the story of a struggle, followed by a triumph. I feel content if I finish a book feeling inspired, motivated, or more informed. Whilst we all have our favourite genres, being part of a book club is advantageous because it gives you exposure to books you wouldn’t usually read.
This winter we thought we would start our own book club and caught up with a few friends who share some of their favourite reads.

We hope some of these great books will help you while away the cold winter days…

Mental Toughness Training for Sports: Achieving Athletic Excellence by Jim Loehr

“I suffered with being really nervous every time I played matches with tennis. For years I would get so nervous that my best shot (which is forehand) would be the worst shot because I was so stiff and stressed.

After reading this book, I realised that a lot of mental attitude was so important to calm my nerves and get me into a positive, energised and relaxed frame of mind. Now I am winning my matches almost every time and I am enjoying my tennis more than ever. This strategy can be used with any sport and life in general. It is not a big book and really easy to read. I have given this book to many people and they “love it”. It’s an old book so you can find it at the or Thrift Books.” – Jodie Smith, Director of, the largest non-toxic range of dry body brushes in Australia.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

“This was a book that took me a few goes to get into but once I did, I was really drawn to the clarity of the structure that Stephen Covey provides for the Seven Habits. Each habit is so important, yet four really stood out for me: Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind as it put a clear focus on knowing the purpose toward which all our activity is heading, Habit 3 – Put First Things First where Covey outlines his time management matrix and the importance of planning and recreation, Habit 5 – Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood – what a game changer this is in producing more effective communication, and Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw as this puts into perspective the ineffective habits we can unwittingly slip into and the importance to stop, reflect, learn, and consolidate. Covey had a great way to weave in good stories to illustrate each of the habits. As a result of this book, I am now more mindful in how I manage what I do with my time, more mindful of what I choose to place my focus on, more mindful to tune into understanding others (basically, listening first) and where possible aim to slow down in order to speed up! I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to be more effective in all areas of their life – it is an interesting and practical book to read.” – Patrea O’Donoghue, MAPS,

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman

“After hearing the author, Prof Martin Seligman speak in 2006, I began my immersion into the world of Positive Psychology. This book was the first of Seligman’s books that I read – and boy, was I compelled by what I read, especially the chapter on health. It changed how I began to think because it put forth such a strong rationale for the importance of healthy patterns of thinking. Not wishful positive affirmations, but coming from a place of genuine understanding of what is helpful and what is not. Especially when it comes to the habits of thinking that we develop and our ability to change unhelpful habits once we know how. Not only has it helped me cope far better with life’s general ups and downs, it helped enormously when a family member was diagnosed with a ‘terminal cancer’ (given six months to live). The information in the chapter on health was so impactful for me at the time I first read Learned Optimism. It really helped me know that this person had a good chance to get through the ordeal; if he held onto his natural state of optimism (he has defied the medical odds and is going stronger than ever two years on). This book formed the spring board for me learning about the applications of Positive Psychology and has strongly shaped how I work with clients bringing about their desired positive changes. I would recommend this as compulsory reading for everyone! In particular for people who want to understand the importance of developing healthy, more considered patterns of thinking – and that is a skill that we all would benefit from learning.” – Patrea O’Donoghue, MAPS,

Taking Control by Jillian Kingsford Smith
 “The best book I’ve read in a while is Taking Control by Jillian Kingsford Smith. It is a collection of stories of people around Australia who are living with Multiple Sclerosis. While I don’t have MS, my sister was diagnosed last year and this book helped me understand what she was going through when she first found out. I found the stories quite inspirational and it also made me look at the way I live my own life and things that I could change to ensure I live healthily and happily. I think this book would be a ‘must-have’ for anyone who has been diagnosed with MS, so that they know that they are not alone and that they can get on with their lives.” – Rachel Sherman,

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The best book ever was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I’ve always been intrigued with the roaring 20s and F. Scott Fitzgerald writing style. It was such an American Classic, and it was my favourite book I ever read! It took to me to a time and place I wish I had experienced and lived. It was such a time piece, and a wonderfully written story!” – Kelly Barrett,

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

“Various people I respect mentioned over and over a book they love called “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I had to pick it up. The book shaped how I interact with people every day. It then lead me to create a business teaching people in over 120 countries how to build friends at! People skills are one of the most important skills you can ever learn so never hesitate to invest in this skill.” – Joshua Uebergang, Tower of Power,
You can read more about this book here in Joshua’s book review on How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Aesop’s Fables, by Aesop (a slave and story-teller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BCE)

“I won it aged six in an essay writing competition. It taught me about morals; about seeking the real truth in the written word and in always really thinking about the true motivations that lie behind actions.” – Stephanie Vilner

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

“Dad is a journalist and interviewer and taught my brother to read before he was two. I was a relatively late starter at four, I think! We were, as you can imagine, voracious readers and my Dad had around 5000 books. When I was ten, he presented me with a copy of A Passage to India. I read it and then a few weeks later, he was interviewing Sir David Lean (director of the A Passage to India film) and let me wag school to attend the interview. When I had a scholarship interview for a very good school in London, the English teacher asked me about what books I had enjoyed and why. I mentioned the impact of Aesop’s Fables and also A Passage to India. I feel sure that was instrumental to my getting that interview.

For business, Malcolm Gladwell’s books have been instrumental. I highly recommend Tipping Point and that you reflect if you’re a maven, Connector or Salesman as a primary trait; Outliers for its fascinating, thought-provoking examples I quote in a business context at least weekly.

For children, never dumb it down and I say do not buy copies with updated language because kids might not understand it. Let them read Famous Five, Secret Seven, etc. all as originally written. When they don’t understand a word, take the time to explain it. We will dumb down our common language most significantly if we think our children too dumb to understand things. Gift them Ladybird books, but with original art. I am lucky enough to still have all of mine, around fifty or so. The picture quality is beautiful, and the methods still work! We taught both our kids to read using the same books we had! My favourites are Cinderella, Things to Make and Do, The Nurse and The Party. In fact, this early love of parties, crafting and looking after others etc. has totally inspired me all my life. None more so than now as I get set to launch, my social enterprise startup that shall fundraise as we all have fun partying.” – Stephanie Vilner,

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The most life-changing and inspirational book – best book I ever read – was The Lord of the Rings from J.R.R. Tolkien. Now the reason for that is simply that I was around 12 when I first discovered audio cassettes of the said story and devoured them with a passion. Soon I discovered there was an actual book detailing the story, not just tapes. I read the books, and discovered my passion for reading! I found The Lord of the Rings to be very inspirational – Good triumphing over Evil, stories of success and victory, brave heroes and fair maidens. One man (or hobbit) who rises up to a task which he never thought he would be able to face and bare, but he perseveres, achieves and succeeds.

I found this book to be a key mile-stone in my life. It changed my views, embedded in me the desire for great, fantastic stories of heroes and wonderful creatures, woke in me a passion for reading, taught me that if you just set your mind to it – you can achieve anything!” – Alex Andrasch, Contact Point IT Serivces,


Some other favourite books mentioned by our Facebook fans include:

  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • April Fool’s Day, The Potato Factory, The Power of One all by Bryce Courtenay
  • Baby Steps: A Bloke’s-Eye View of IVF by Jason Davis
  • “Michael Robotham’s books. He has 9 – The Suspect is his first, and Watching You is the new one released this week. Aussie author and the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read – brilliant.”

What’s on your reading wish-list this winter? What are some of the best books you’ve ever read?   

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