Stephanie Swilley

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in.

To face your financial statement with less fear, we’ve found three books that mix self-help, financial how-to and a big dose of female sensibility. Each of these accessible books recommends opening up about money, and they give you the advice you need to make the conversations a little easier—whether it’s with your spouse, financial advisor or debt collector.

To get you inspired to take charge of your wealth (start with positive thinking!) in 2010, pick up Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom. Marianna Olszewski, a popular money and lifestyle coach with years of Wall Street experience, writes in an engaging style that educates without being overwhelming.

Olszewski focuses first on maximizing your potential to achieve financial independence by finding balance in all areas of life (diet, sleep, exercise) and adding more fun to the everyday. It feels a bit like you’ve wandered into a “best life” episode of “Oprah,” but it succeeds in energizing and opening your mind to new possibilities. Part two then gets into the financial practicalities of dealing with debt, cleaning up credit and saving for retirement. However, Olszewski goes beyond the basics by coaching the reader on uncovering why and how their individual money histories got them where they are today. She includes activities and questions to defuse emotions around money and even suggests that it’s OK to love money. The personalized “fun spending plan” reframes the money perspective to make it less boring than following a basic budget.

The final strategies focus on action, and the interactive approach helps you make the most of the advice. Whether you do it on your own, inspired by the personal stories from powerful women in the book, or start a group to work on the exercises together, Live It, Love It, Earn It will energize how you think about—and act on—money.

While you’re still feeling empowered, tackle Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey. This succinct guide teaches women in committed relationships how to talk successfully about money with their mate—without fighting. It’s no surprise that many gals simply avoid this tough conversation, since 85 percent of all couples say money causes tension in their marriage (according to Money magazine). But, while the conversation may not be appropriate for a first date, authors Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar say it’s a must to discuss what you own, what you owe, your income and your credit scores before moving in together or getting married. No problem, right?

Start by baring all and getting naked with yourself first, then warm up to doing it with your partner. Helpful “foreplay” questions get the ball rolling, and the financial compatibility quiz is revealing and eye-opening. The authors are refreshingly honest, reassuring the reader that you don’t have to love—or even like—dealing with money to be successful. Their best advice is that personal finance should be simple. Focus on the big stuff: house, car, kids, retirement and family. And the common sense, straightforward advice on these five key lifetime expenses makes it truly seem easy. It’s having the courage to have the “get naked” talk before saying “I do” that is really powerful. The roadmap developed by Thakor and Kedar helps readers navigate these landmine conversations and get to happily ever after.

Another distinctive female perspective on financial independence is A Purse of Your Own. It’s based on a metaphor we can all relate to: an impulsive splurge on a designer bag to fool everyone into thinking we have it all put together. This is what author and wealth coach Deborah Owens calls a “counterfeit purse.”

With 20 years of financial industry experience, Owens turns the purse metaphor into a wealth philosophy and provides tips, action steps and “purseonality profiles” for her seven must-have wealthy habits. It starts with cleaning out that purse to cultivate a Wealthy Outlook that allows you to dream big again. The remaining habits teach the basics of investing, with a heavy focus on owning stocks.

Some of the best advice comes at the end as Owens details how to start your own Purse Club and covers nine “pursessentials. ” The no-nonsense tips on hiring a financial planner, speaking the financial lingo and establishing your daughter’s purse allow you to start putting your new wealth habits into practice with confidence.

Pick up any of these valuable books to start your purse makeover in 2010.

Stephanie Gerber writes from Kentucky, where her purse has turned into a diaper bag.

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in. To face your financial statement […]

The name Nevada Barr may sound like the perfect moniker for a spirited heroine or a Vegas showgirl, but Ms. Barr's legions of fans know she's the author of an intelligent, suspenseful mystery series set in various national parks. A former actress and National Park Service ranger, Barr didn't use her own name when she created her alter ego Anna Pigeon, but she readily admits she was the model for the sassy sleuth.

 
"She was based on me — except she was taller and stronger and smarter and braver," laughs the petite author. Barr channeled her feisty, independent spirit and love of nature into the intrepid park ranger's roving mystery-solving adventures. Whether it be Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park or New York City's Gateways Park, when Anna arrives, disaster seems to strike. Along the way the heroine has faced raging wildfires, battled claustrophobia in a cave rescue and even saved the Statue of Liberty.
 
But Barr admits that over the years "we've evolved in different ways, so now she is very little like me." While Anna Pigeon battled alcohol dependence and slowly became more of a work-oriented loner, Barr grew "more whimsical, more lackadaisical, lazier, happier. I've rejoined humanity, and Anna has no intention of getting near it," she says.
 
Anna's increasing isolation is even more apparent in Blood Lure, Barr's latest mystery. This time Anna travels to Waterton-Glacier National Park in the Rockies to join a grizzly bear research project. While gathering samples of bear fur and DNA in the wilderness with two other researchers, Anna's peace of mind is shattered by a violent bear attack. The woman who has always turned to nature for comfort and solitude finds her world turned upside down.
 
"The big thing in Blood Lure that makes her seem isolated is that it's not people that seem to be warped and twisted, it's nature itself. Suddenly the place she's always gone to find peace has been screwed up," Barr explains.
 
Often praised for her arresting depictions of park scenery, Barr's keen psychological insight is even more impressive. She's able to communicate the grandness of the wilderness and then nimbly magnify the smallest gestures and details of her characters into funny, dead-on descriptions. "I just find it riveting why people do things," says the avid student of the human mind. "That's one of the things that makes life so interesting."
 
The National Park Service isn't worried about Barr tampering with their tourist business by scaring off would-be campers. She's become a sort of park poster girl, with rangers and superintendents vying to be considered for her next setting. That's how she wound up in Glacier, the "stunning" park she's "been wanting an excuse to visit for some time."
 
Deciding on the setting was the easy part. Then Barr waited for the story to come to her, plunging in with no idea how the ending would come together.
 
"All I know when I start is who dies, where they die, how they die and usually I know who did it," she says. "But sometimes I'm wrong, and in the middle I realize, he didn't do it. My gosh, it was this other guy!"
 
Her write-now-and-worry-later attitude has filled several drawers with scrapped ideas. "I tried once, years ago, to outline it all like a grown-up and write a synopsis for every chapter, and it read like the English assignment from hell," she admits. "Every bit of spontaneity got sucked right out." One failed attempt includes a prison book with a cast of male characters. "About 60 pages in I realized, Wait a minute, these are all men, what do I care? So I dropped it."
 
Barr had hoped to take a break from the Anna series and go in a different direction with her next book, but the success of her 2000 release, Deep South, changed her mind.
 
"The need to do [a different book] is getting stronger and stronger, but the money they'll give me not to do it is getting better and better," Barr admits with a laugh. So in her next adventure, Anna is heading back to the Natchez Trace Parkway to catch more criminals and to continue her semi-serious relationship with a local sheriff.
 
"I have to balance artistic integrity with material greed," Barr says ruefully. "Material greed won this time, but I'm hoping artistic integrity will win in the next few years." But for Anna's many fans, Barr seems to have the balance just right.

 

The name Nevada Barr may sound like the perfect moniker for a spirited heroine or a Vegas showgirl, but Ms. Barr's legions of fans know she's the author of an intelligent, suspenseful mystery series set in various national parks. A former actress and National Park Service ranger, Barr didn't use her own name when she […]

Usually it's the diva author who breezes in late for an interview. This time it's the interviewer, offering a multitude of apologies, who calls 40 minutes late. In the face of myriad technical difficulties, Irish novelist Emma Donoghue couldn't be more sympathetic and generous. "No problem!" she says in her lilting accent, adding almost apologetically, "but can we be done by 10:30? I have a photographer coming to take a picture of me."

With a new book hitting the shelves, a media whirlwind is already disrupting Donoghue's routine. The interest in her latest work follows the critical and popular success of her third novel Slammerkin. Reviewers called it "a roller-coaster ride through the 18th century" (The Baltimore Sun) and "an intelligent and mesmerizing historical novel" (Publishers Weekly). Thousands of readers were drawn to the provocative cover, making the book into a word-of-mouth bestseller.

In Slammerkin, Donoghue turned the true story of Mary Saunders, a poor servant girl who turns to prostitution, into absorbing fiction. With her latest book, Life Mask, Donoghue returns to 18th-century London, but this time her characters are the wealthy and privileged. The author says she enjoyed delving into the world of lords and ladies "after writing about chamber pots" in Slammerkin. "These characters wouldn't even have noticed the servants of Slammerkin," she says.

Like the story of Mary Saunders, Life Mask is based on real-life events. The author found a snippet of gossip about three famous characters of the era Lord Derby, a supremely wealthy but ugly aristocrat; Miss Eliza Farren, a popular comedic actress; and Anne Damer, a widow, sculptor and rumored Sapphist and couldn't resist piecing together their story. History tells us that Anne Damer and Miss Farren, despite differences in ages and rank, became fast friends. Their close relationship revived the old gossip about Anne's sexuality, and the ensuing scandal threatened Miss Farren's career on the public stage and, more importantly, her long, chaste courtship with Lord Derby. "I was fascinated by the love triangle," says Donoghue. "I'm not sure why I'm drawn to stories based on real people. I guess I enjoy filling in the gaps."

She also uses that talent to create rich, full characters. Stifled by the rules of propriety, even the era's richest lords and ladies often hid their true thoughts and feelings. However, these "life masks" are not necessarily a bad thing, says Donoghue. "I enjoyed peeling back the layers of the characters." She felt a special affinity for Anne Damer's struggle to accept her sexuality. "I related to Anne's fear of people finding out," says the author, who had her own coming-out in Dublin in the 1980s. Despite having loving family and friends, Donoghue says there was always a "what if they find out?" fear that hung over her youth. The author now lives in Canada, a country she says is a "very safe place for gay couples," with her partner and nine-month-old son, Finn.

Donoghue's empathy for the characters gives the novel added depth, but it is her love of research that recreates the time period with astonishing detail. The author admits she has a hard time dragging herself out of the library to sit down and write. Donoghue immersed herself in the turbulent decade of 1787 to 1797, an era of extravagant balls, social intrigues, cockfighting and, perhaps most of all, cutthroat politics. The reader gets a front-row seat inside an English Parliament threatened by the bloody French Revolution. Fearing a similar revolt among English peasants, the government had cracked down on civil liberties.

Threats of attacks hung over the country, and the word terrorism was first coined. The similarities to today's political climate are hard to miss, something that surprised Donoghue. "I never set out to do that," she says. "But I've also never been as interested in politics as I am now." After Life Mask, Donoghue has decided to give modern-day interests her full attention. Next up? A contemporary novel set in Ireland and Canada.

 

Usually it's the diva author who breezes in late for an interview. This time it's the interviewer, offering a multitude of apologies, who calls 40 minutes late. In the face of myriad technical difficulties, Irish novelist Emma Donoghue couldn't be more sympathetic and generous. "No problem!" she says in her lilting accent, adding almost apologetically, […]

One of the best ways to learn is by example, and Winslow “Bud” Johnson's Powerhouse Marketing Plans teaches readers how to write a marketing plan by examining and critiquing great marketing strategies in action. As president of the Stamford Marketing Group, Johnson has worked with brand leaders at AT&andT, Gillette and Sara Lee, and he gives the scoop on what worked and what didn't in their product launches. The details included in the successful marketing plans, which share a number of common traits (no big surprise), are perfect for businesses small or large, entrepreneurs and MBA grads like me.

One of the best ways to learn is by example, and Winslow “Bud” Johnson's Powerhouse Marketing Plans teaches readers how to write a marketing plan by examining and critiquing great marketing strategies in action. As president of the Stamford Marketing Group, Johnson has worked with brand leaders at AT&andT, Gillette and Sara Lee, and he […]

Most marketing books make grand boasts, but get vague when it comes to the details of recreating their plans in the real world. Not so for these two gems. How to Become a Marketing Superstar by Jeffrey J. Fox is a short but snappy book filled with tips on innovation and creativity. His contrarian's proclamations (“Loss leaders are for losers,” and “Make a big splash instead of a lot of little ripples”) speed readers through his mini-chapters. Marketers will love Fox's straightforward advice.

Most marketing books make grand boasts, but get vague when it comes to the details of recreating their plans in the real world. Not so for these two gems. How to Become a Marketing Superstar by Jeffrey J. Fox is a short but snappy book filled with tips on innovation and creativity. His contrarian's proclamations […]

Mary Mitchell's Class Acts (Evans, $21.95, 276 pages, ISBN 0871319799) is an encyclopedia of good manners. Mitchell covers more than just cube-land etiquette with advice on making small talk, conquering public speaking fears and understanding cyberspace rules. Her tips on dining are a godsend (she helps rubes like me order wine), and she handles tough subjects like condolences with compassion and grace. A bookshelf favorite for avoiding social blunders at work or at play.

Mary Mitchell's Class Acts (Evans, $21.95, 276 pages, ISBN 0871319799) is an encyclopedia of good manners. Mitchell covers more than just cube-land etiquette with advice on making small talk, conquering public speaking fears and understanding cyberspace rules. Her tips on dining are a godsend (she helps rubes like me order wine), and she handles tough […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!