ESSENTIAL LIFE SKILLS

Do you possess all of the essential life skills you need not only to survive but to thrive?  Beyond the extremes such as disaster preparedness or wilderness survival and, less dramatically, basic literacy or numeracy, there are the practical skills of daily living such as cooking & cleaning, home and vehicle maintenance, and money management. These are just some of the essential life skills you need to be competent, live independently, and even be self-sufficient.

Also crucial to have are an array of cognitive skills that fall into the category of social-emotional learning (SEL). The core competencies of SEL are:  self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and the tools to build relationships. These skills allow us to adapt in the workplace, in our personal relationships, and in our personal development, and to mentally tackle the challenges of life. Every day we make decisions and utilize the skills we’ve learned, which ultimately prepares us to successfully face the opportunities and adversities that life presents.

But, there is no definitive list of “Essential Life Skills”.  Learning to swim, driving a car, and using a computer are useful life skills for most people. But, each individual will potentially have a different list of skills they consider most essential to their life. And, some skills that one person believes are critical may be deemed unnecessary to another. Certain skills may be more or less relevant to you depending on your life circumstances, beliefs, age, geographic location, culture, etc.

Do you have some weaknesses in any life skills? If you learned new or better strategies, could you improve your overall well-being?  Maybe you won’t know where there is a gap in your skillset until a major crisis comes along?  People often joke that when children are born they “don’t come with a handbook”. Likewise, there are many aspects of being a competent adult that could benefit from having a handbook of skills to follow. At minimum, we would feel more confident in our decisions. No matter how old you are or what life stage you are in, you can always add new skills to your “toolbox” or improve the real-world and SEL skills you already have. After all, the most important skills are the ability and willingness to learn. The more you learn, the more resources you’ll have to adapt to life’s surprises.

All together these life skills make us resilient: prepared to respond to inevitable life changes and cope with the unexpected. Below are a number of books in our collection that can help you evaluate your life skills, assess what skills may be lacking, learn some new strategies, and live a more productive and fulfilling life.

RESILIENCE, SUCCESS, and WELL-BEING

SURVIVAL, EMERGENCY, and EVERDAY HAZARDS

PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS

   

COMMUNICATION, RELATIONSHIPS, SOCIAL and EMOTIONAL

TEACHING OTHERS THE SKILLS TO THRIVE

 

RESILIENCE, SUCCESS, and WELL-BEING

Resilience : hard-won wisdom for living a better life by Eric Greitens

Type R : transformative resilience for thriving in a turbulent world by Ama Marston

Take charge of your life : 12 master skills for success by Brian Tracy

How to Skimm your life

Why has nobody told me this before? by Julie Ann Smith

Farsighted : how we make the decisions that matter the most by Steven Johnson

Start here : master the lifelong habit of wellbeing by Eric Langshur

Think again : the power of knowing what you don’t know by Adam M. Grant

A survival guide for life : how to achieve your goals, thrive in adversity, and grow in character by Bear Grylls

 

SURVIVAL, EMERGENCY, and EVERDAY HAZARDS

The scout’s guide to wilderness survival & first aid : 400 essential skills–signal for help, build a shelter, emergency response, treat wounds, stay warm, gather resources by J. Wayne Fears

The total outdoorsman manual by T. Edward Nickens

How to stay alive : the ultimate survival guide for any situation by Bear Grylls

The next apocalypse : the art and science of survival by Chris Begley

How to drag a body and other safety tips you hope to never need : survival tricks for hacking, hurricanes, and hazards life might throw at you by Judith Matloff

American Medical Association handbook of first aid and emergency care

Rossen to the rescue : secrets to avoiding scams, everyday dangers, and major catastrophes by Jeff Rossen

 

PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS

The useful book : 201 life skills they used to teach in home ec and shop by Sharon Bowers

Storey’s curious compendium of practical and obscure skills : 214 things you can actually learn how to do

The lost art of reading nature’s signs : use outdoor clues to find your way, predict the weather, locate water, track animals–and other forgotten skills by Tristan Gooley

Stuff : every man should know by Brett Cohen

How to cook everything. The basics : all you need to make great food by Mark Bittman

The cook’s book : recipes for keeps & essential techniques to master everyday cooking by Bri McKoy

100 techniques : master a lifetime of cooking skills, from basic to bucket list

Personal finance 101 : from saving and investing to taxes and loans, an essential primer on personal finance by Alfred Mill

 

COMMUNICATION, RELATIONSHIPS, SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL

Making great relationships : simple practices for solving conflicts, building connection, and fostering love by Rick Hanson

The power of positive confrontation : the skills you need to handle conflicts at work, at home, online, and in life by Barbara Pachter

Crucial conversations : tools for talking when stakes are high

Hit it off : 21 rules for mastering the art and science of relationships in life and business by Joe Brocato

The everything body language book : master the art of nonverbal communication to succeed in work, love, and life by Shelly Hagen

Ask a manager : how to navigate clueless colleagues, lunch-stealing bosses, and the rest of your life at work by Allison Green

10 mindful minutes : giving our children-and ourselves-the social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier, happier lives by Goldie Jeanne Hawn

 

TEACHING OTHERS THE SKILLS TO THRIVE

What great parents do : 75 simple strategies for raising kids who thrive by Erica Reischer

Ready or not : preparing our kids to thrive in an uncertain and rapidly changing world by Madeline Levine

Do your laundry or you’ll die alone : advice your mom would give if she thought you were listening by Becky Blades

 

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

I’m a sucker for an intriguing cover and offbeat book description. When I saw the cover of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy on the new shelves at the library, it was like it called to me. Add in one of the review quotes and I was done for: “A uniquely charming mixture of whimsy and the macabre that completely won me over. If you ever wished for an adult romance that felt like Howl’s Moving Castle, THIS IS THAT BOOK.” —Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss QuotientWhimsy AND macabre?! Done. Let’s talk about this utter delight of a book.

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is the first book in the Hart and Mercy series by Megan Bannen. Hart is a marshal who patrols alone in Tanria, on the lookout for bodies gone astray. It’s a lonely job that leaves him with ample time to think. Mercy has been keeping her family’s business, Birdsall & Son Undertakers, alive by herself for years, waiting for the day her younger brother comes home from school to help out.

From the very first time Mercy and Hart met, it was like mixing oil and water. When he drops off bodies, it always seems to be when Mercy is at the end of her rope. The two push each others’ annoyance buttons just right, leaving them both cranky and exasperated after every encounter. After his last drop-off, Hart is so frustrated that he writes an anonymous letter and sends it out in the universe addressed to “A Friend”. Not expecting a reply, he’s surprised when he actually gets a response. The two begin writing back and forth, finding comfort in being able to share their secrets to each other.

The secret? Hart is sharing his secrets with Mercy, the person he hates the most. The two grow closer the longer they write to each other. This tentative friendship can only last for so long. As chaos starts to erupt in Tanria and their small town, their relationship deepens. How will the two react when their identities are revealed?

The only reason why I give this book four stars instead of five is that I wanted more world building. The explanations of the world were there, but they took place in large chunks that were difficult to follow (this might also be due to the fact that I listened to an audiobook version and had to rewind multiple times to make sure I understood). Regardless, I still loved this book. The characters were adorable and cranky, the family dynamics were realistic, and the twists were devastating. It’s full of magic and demigods and culinary masterpieces and small-town drama. I remain hopeful that the next book in the series will be just as good.

Hart and Mercy series

  1. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy (2022)
  2. The Undermining of Twyla and Frank (2024)

Happy Place by Emily Henry

“I want my life to be like-like making pottery. I want to enjoy it while it’s happening, not just for where it might get me eventually.”
― Emily Henry, Happy Place

Emily Henry is one of those romance authors that never disappoints, for me at least. Her latest book, Happy Place, is a dual timeline, forced proximity, found family, second chance romance that tugs at your heart strings.

What would you do if you started dating someone from your friend group, got engaged, and then broke off your engagement? How would you tell the other people in your friend group? How would you handle figuring out all the relationships with this change after ten years? These questions are what Harriet ‘Harry’ Kilpatrick and Wyndham ‘Wyn’ Connor have to deal with now that they aren’t together anymore.

Harriet and Wyn are the perfect couple, have been since they met in college. Well except for now and they don’t want to talk about it. The issue? They broke up five months ago and haven’t told their best friends. Harriet and Wyn have a plan that might work if it wasn’t for their yearly friend vacation. Their plans come crashing down when both end up at their annual weeklong vacation despite the plan that this year would be Harriet’s turn to vacation by herself.

Well shoot. Harriet and Wyn now have to share a bedroom and pretend they are still together for the sake of their friends. They have been vacationing at this Maine cottage for their friend group’s yearly vacation for the last decade. For this one week, they are all together without the pressures of their daily lives. When they were younger in college, they spent copious amounts of time together, but as they got older, this one week became the only time when they could count on seeing everyone together. It’s tradition. A tradition hanging on delicate strings as it becomes clear that their friends have secrets to tell on this year’s vacation.

Harriet and Wyn only have to keep their secret for one more week, but this proves even more difficult as they are forced together after not seeing each other in person OR talking in over five months. They were in love for years, so faking it for one more week shouldn’t be that hard, right?

What I enjoyed the most in this book is watching the characters grow as individuals and in their relationships. A lot of romance I have read doesn’t necessarily show growth and if it does, it tends to gloss over what led to the changes. In this title, Emily Henry gives her characters room to grow and has them explain their choices both in their heads and out loud to others. The characters are well developed and even the ‘side characters’ don’t feel like side characters. They are key players and all have their own important story arcs. Well done.

This book is also available in large print, CD audiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

“Things change, but we stretch and grow and make room for one another. Our love is a place we can always come back to, and it will be waiting, the same as it ever was. You belong here. ”
― Emily Henry, Happy Place

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Do you have a favorite romance novel trope? Some examples of the most common tropes are friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, forbidden lovers, secret identities, forced proximity, second chance, and fake relationships. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the romance tropes, instead these are ones that have popped up in the romance books I have read in the past couple months. My latest romance read, The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, featured two of these tropes: enemies to lovers and fake relationship.

Shay Goldstein has been working at a Seattle public radio station for almost a decade. Hired on for an internship when she was 19, Shay has worked her way up to producing her own show. Working at PPR is her dream and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. The one wrinkle: working with Dominic Yun, her newest colleague who just graduated with his masters in journalism and who will not shut up about having his masters. He’s the hot new thing at the station and Shay can’t stand him.

At a pitch meeting for new ideas, Shay proposes a new show where two exes talk about their relationship and deliver relationship advice on air. Their boss decides Shay & Dom should host, despite the fact that they have never dated and frankly can’t stand each other(though the hatred feels more fueled by Shay than Dom). Their new show, The Ex Talk, skyrockets to fame, their popularity soars, and their lie grows bigger and bigger. The more time Shay and Dom spend together, the more they realize they might not actually hate each other. Their deception looms, leaving the two knowing that if the truth comes out, their careers and budding relationship will end.

This title is loosely related to the book, Business or Pleasure by the same author, which I read last year and LOVED. I have yet to read a title by this author that I haven’t enjoyed.

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

“Every real human interaction is made up of a million tiny moving pieces. Not a simple one-note situation: a symphony of cues to read and decipher and evaluate and pay attention.”
― Katherine Center, Hello Stranger

Sadie Montgomery has spent her life struggling. Determined to not need anything from her father, she decided not to study medicine and became an artist instead! She has had her share of ups and downs, but it looks like her life may finally be on the upswing. Sadie has just learned that she is a finalist in the North American Portrait Society competition with a prize of $10,000. This competition has the opportunity to publicize her work more and hopefully bring more commissions her way.

Everything’s great, right?! Wrong. Her joy is shattered when she learns that she needs to have surgery right now. The surgery will be minor and she will only need to stay in the hospital for less than a week. In the midst of recovery though, Sadie discovers that the surgery has altered her ability to paint portraits in a big way: she can no longer see faces. Sadie has prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. This should hopefully be temporary, but the doctors can’t give her any definitive answers. This is the worst news a portrait artist could receive.

Sadie is devastated. Her new reality consists of avoiding looking at faces or seeing a disconnected jumble of facial features every time she looks at a person’s face. Her life just can’t seem to go right. She still wants to be an artist, her family is going through some extra messy drama, and Peanut, her dog, is now sick! In the midst of this madness, Sadie also may have met the man of her dreams. Actually, she may have met TWO men of her dreams. What is she to do? With her perceptions screwed up, Sadie walks through life slowly, wanting to make sure she knows who she is talking to without having to tell everyone she meets that she is face blind. Her journey to acceptance is rough, but at least she has these men, and Peanut, to distract her. Right?!

This title is also available as a Libby eBook, Libby eAudiobook, large print, CD audiobook, and Playaway audiobook.

“We’re all just doing the best we can. We’re all struggling with our struggles. Nobody has the answers. And everybody, deep down, is a little bit lost.”
― Katherine Center, Hello Stranger

Love Everlasting Volume 1 by Tom King

Love Everlasting: Volume One is a graphic novel that was published in 2023. It contains Love Everlasting #1-5 and was written by Tom King, artist Elsa Charretier, colorist Matt Hollingsworth, letterer Clayton Cowles, and editor Marla Eizik. This book caught my eye as the cover reminded me of Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’s Lady Killer. (The familiar cover is Issue #1 and an image can be found on the Dark Horse website.)

‘Love is everlasting.’ That is what Joan Peterson is told immediately before she is murdered. Shocking, right?! In Joan’s world though, being murdered is a frequent occurrence. She has been caught in a never-ending cycle of deadly romance for as long as she can remember. After each death, Joan wakes up in another timeline with a new, yet somehow the same, problem: a man wants to marry her. Every time she falls in love, says yes to marriage, she is dramatically torn from that world and catapulted into another one with more disastrous love on her horizon. Joan is confused about how she even started on this path, wanting to break free, but unsure of how. Readers are at a loss right alongside her. Towards the end of this first volume, Joan starts her journey to escape this maddening cycle of love and death. Will she escape? Only time will tell.

You Lucky Dog by Julia London

‘She’d done everything right. She’d gotten good grades in school, had gotten a good job, and had worked hard. She’d been a decent daughter, a better sister. She didn’t do drugs or drink much. She’d done everything right. It was not supposed to be this way. She was supposed to have it all by now, not be worrying about how to pay her rent.’ – Julia London, You Lucky Dog

Every once in a while, I need a reading break. When that happens, I look up feel good romances that I know will make me smile or laugh. My latest feel good read was You Lucky Dog by Julia London. I won’t lie – the cover hooked me first, giving me 101 Dalmatians vibes with the twisted together leashes. That plus basset hounds and I was ready to start reading. You Lucky Dog is the first in the the Lucky Dog series.

Carly Kennedy is struggling. Her new business, Carly Kennedy Public Relations, is not going well. She only has two clients, yet they are the neediest clients she has ever had and demand so much of her time. Her parents are divorced and are both now going through separate midlife crises that are way too much. Her mother bought her sister a basset hound WITHOUT asking her, causing said sister to completely melt down. Baxter, the basset, is now Carly’s problem. Baxter is a sad basset hound. In fact, Carly thinks he may be depressed. He can frequently be found with his head wedged in the corner of the room no matter Carly’s best efforts to coax him out. Baxter is growing on her though.

Yet another inconvenience is dropped on Carly’s plate when she comes home from work late one night to discover an imposter basset hound in her house. Her dog walker has switched out her sad basset for this perkier female basset who has no boundaries. This one is on her couch, chewing on things she shouldn’t be touching!

Max Sheffington is also confused. His happy basset hound, Haxel, has been replaced by this depressed male basset hound who, for some reason, will not get out of the corner of the room. Max is even more bewildered when Carly shows up on his front step demanding her dog back. It doesn’t help that Carly is pretty and extremely opinionated, facts that distract Max and simultaneously captivate him. He was expecting his dog walker, something that this gorgeous woman is not. Carly was expecting a stuffy old man given the name of the man she was told had her dog. Instead she finds a handsome man who is corrupting poor Baxter! Her dog is sprawled on the couch and has clearly been eating macaroni and cheese.

What most surprises Carly is that Baxter seems to be at home at Max’s house. He loves Hazel and follows her around. Since Baxter’s mood has improved, Carly decides that she needs to spend more time with Hazel and Max to keep him happy. It doesn’t take long for Carly to realize that there are feelings buzzing between her and Max, even though the two couldn’t be more different. Their lives end up being completely altered by an accidental dog swap.

While I enjoyed the premise, I found myself wanting to shake Carly at points (to be fair, I find myself more likely to want to shake the main characters when I’m reading romance – just TALK to each other already). Some of the solutions to her problems were right in front of her face, but she was just not seeing them. Regardless of my frustrations, this novel was adorable and exactly the brain break I needed. The main characters were both genuinely nice and cared about all the people in their lives. The fact that the author made Max’s brother autistic was a breath of fresh air. His portrayal was done sensitively and seeing him through Max’s eyes from both a scientific and familial point of view was also realistic. All in all, I enjoyed this book and am already searching for the second book, It Started with a Dog.

This title is also available in large print, as a Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

Lucky Dog series

  1. You Lucky Dog (2020)
  2. It Started with a Dog (2021)

‘That was the problem with social media—there were people in the world who seemingly existed just to tear other people down, but you couldn’t give them any oxygen. You couldn’t let them steal your mojo. And the best way to keep your mojo intact was to stay off social media and allow your publicist to post for you and monitor comments.’ – Julia London, You Lucky Dog

Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

Confronting your past is an issue that most adults go through in life. Kate Clayborn’s newest book, Georgie, All Along, talks about how to reconcile your past, love, career, and understanding your worth in a whimsical and captivating story.

Georgie Mulcahy has spent her entire career putting others ahead of herself. As a personal assistant to high-profile people in Los Angeles, she has always known how to get people what they need. When she unexpectedly finds herself out of a job and heading back to her hometown, Georgie realizes that she has no idea what she wants or needs. This throws her for a loop.

While helping her best friend prepare for the arrival of her baby, Georgie finds a relic from her past – a ‘friendfic’ diary that she wrote with said best friend when they were teenagers. This diary is full of all of the possibilities that they imagined for themselves, albeit mostly Georgie’s wishes. Given that she has no idea what she wants to do, this diary full of ideas is her path to a new life.

Determined to get a head start on her new plan, Georgie heads to her parents’ house to read through her diary and figure out where to start. Her plans suddenly change when she discovers that her parents have accidentally let another person to stay at their house – Levi Fanning, a quiet, grouchy man. Levi comes with his own baggage. Born and raised in the same town as Georgie, Levi used to have quite the reputation as the town troublemaker. Now however, Levi is the town hermit, determined to rebuild his reputation by keeping his head down, working hard, and not getting into any trouble.

Levi eventually offers to help Georgie work through the list of ideas from her diary. As the two work through the list, they become closer and start to see how the way each of them have been living may not be the way they want to continue. Trying to figure out what they want proves difficult as their pasts start to push to the present in uncomfortable ways.

This title is also available as a Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

We Served the People: My Mother’s Stories by Emei Burell

Documenting family history is incredibly important. If you don’t, your family’s history will disappear and you may never discover what happened or what led you to where you are in life. Emei Burell examines her mother’s past in We Served the People: My Mother’s Stories, a graphic history of life during China’s Cultural Revolution and the impact it had on lives after it ended.

At the beginning of this graphic biography, Burrell notes that this is the story of her mother’s experience and is her mother’s story – her story doesn’t speak for everyone. She was an adolescent at the time, just 14-years old, about to graduate from 7th grade when her life suddenly and drastically changed. First her school was shut down with the teachers forced to stay in the school and not allowed to return home. She and her fellow students still had to come to school, but there was no actual learning taking place. Flash forward to 1968 when Mao ZeDong launched the Down to the Countryside Movement. That meant that all educated youth were forced to go to the countryside to be reeducated by the poorest  lower and middle peasants so they could learn what China really is. They didn’t have a choice not to go, but she avoided leaving until 1969 when she ended up in Yunnan and was stuck there for ten years until the end of the Cultural Revolution. Her mother was officially a rusticated youth in Yunnan.

Throughout this book, Burell pairs her drawings with her mother’s words and photographs from that time. Those photographs add a connection to the story that readers may not have otherwise had with the drawings alone. Her mother’s stories depict how she ended up as one of the few truck-driving women during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Her life growing up in mid-1960s Communist China was rough, yet she managed to survive and thrive while living in a time of massive political upheaval. Determined to get her fair share, she wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wanted. She found ways to work the system, get an education, and eventually leave China like she always planned.

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic biography. The Cultural Revolution in China was not something I had much knowledge of before I started reading this, but this book has pushed me down a rabbit hole to learn more about this time period and the millions of lives that were lost.

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Have you ever picked a title to read based purely on the cover? My latest read, The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston, was one I picked for that reason. Lucky for me, it ended up being right up my alley: ghostwriters, handsome editors, a family-run funeral home, literal ghosts, and a love story.

Florence Day no longer believes in love. This wouldn’t be a problem except that she is the ghostwriter for a very prolific romance author. Her job demands that Florence believe in love. She has her terrible ex-boyfriend to blame. He crushed her heart and left her standing in the rain after their breakup.

When Florence meets with her new editor, she’s distracted to find that he’s incredibly handsome. However, he won’t give her an extension for her book deadline and even mentions getting legal involved if she misses her current deadline! Florence is distraught, but all her work worries cease to matter when she receives a devastating phone call from home. She has to return home for the first time in a decade. Florence’s father has died.

Her tiny hometown has never understood her. Although she misses her eccentric family, their funeral parlor, and the sweet sounds of a warm Southern night, Florence was desperate to escape as soon as she could. Now that she’s back, it seems as if nothing has changed. Her feelings are thrown for a loop when she discovers a ghost standing on the porch of the funeral parlor, confused about why he’s there. Florence must help him pass on, but is unsure how. The ghost’s unfinished business, combined with her own grief, will have Florence confused about what she believed about herself. Does she really think romance is dead and that love stories are lost to her forever?

This title is also available in the following formats: