My Favorite Books Read in 2017

In 2017, my friend Ginger roped me into a super lofty goal (for me) of reading 75 books. By fall though, I ended up scaling back a bit in favor of slower reading, so that I could really savor some deeper books.

In the end, I completed 61, which was a few more than the previous year. What I found is that I started and put down way more books this year than I ever have. I don’t know if it was the large looming goal or if I was choosing the wrong books, but whatever it was, I decided not to even set a goal for 2018.

Instead, I’m going to be reading through the list of Most Famous Books Set in Each State – aiming for one a month over the next few years. There are some fabulous books on the list, many of which I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, so this feel more exciting to me than a random number goal this year!

As for last year, I wanted to share my favorite reads from the year! I chose 6 from each category of nonfiction, fiction and YA/children’s literature.

(You can also check out my favorite reads from 2014 here, favorites from 2015 here, and favorites from 2016 here.)

NONFICTION


Falling Free by Shannan Martin. This was one of the first books I read in the beginning of 2017, and I didn’t want it to end. Shannan has a gift for writing about Christian living and challenging her reader without being the slightest bit condemning. And her writing is just beautiful! I read this on Kindle, and then went and bought the paperback because I liked it so much. I can’t wait for her next book.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Another early 2017 read for me, and probably my favorite nonfiction this year (or a tie with Falling Free). As the author trains to be a neurosurgeon and then receives a grim diagnosis of cancer, he pens exquisite observations about his own life and mortality in general. And perhaps the most emotional portion is the epilogue written by his wife – I cried the entire way through.

Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Gillebeau. I read this one at a time when I really needed it. When my kids both started school in September, I was feeling a little aimless. Not bored- not at all. But searching to figure out the best ways to spend my time and what I really wanted to get out of my days and weeks in the open spaces. I love how the author shared stories of “regular people” all over the world who set out to accomplish both big and small goals, and how the pursuit of those goals gave important meaning to their lives.

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet. A recommendation from my friend Geri, who has good taste in books on important issues! In reading about the author’s journalism career on the front lines in the Middle East, I became much more aware and educated about current events and global issues facing us all.

American Fire by Monica Hesse. I received this through Book of the Month Club, and I am partial to it because I love journalistic-type nonfiction. I think the author did a wonderful job of researching and telling the story of a rural county in Virginia that saw a night of fires begin one November – and didn’t stop for months, stumping law enforcement and forcing firefighters to sleep at the fire station week after week.

Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. This book has influenced my life in a huge way! My pastor recommended it to me, and I have been recommending it ever since. It takes a hard look at the ways we’ve been conditioned to “help” the marginalized in our communities and worldwide and examines whether those actions and behaviors are truly helping or are actually hurting – and offers other options to empower those we seek to help.

FICTION


A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. It may start a bit slowly, but keep at it. Because I was crying through the end. Definitely my favorite fiction of the year! Evan read it too, and we can’t stop talking about it.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult. This book addresses racism and prejudice in a fascinating and challenging way. Such an important topic and a very timely read – and extremely well-written!

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward. A compelling book that covers the dual storyline of a young couple trying to have a baby, and a young girl trying to get to the United States from Central America to be reunited with her mother. This one has really stuck with me!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This was my last read of the year, and it was so cute, I had to include it. It’s written from the perspective of a 39-year-old man who is most likely on the autism spectrum but doesn’t know it. All he knows is that he doesn’t “fit in” to the social conventions of the rest of society. He is looking for a wife, and the book details his adventures in seeking a suitable partner.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. My librarian recommended this historical fiction, and I flew through it in about 2 days. My only complaint is that it needed a lot more commas added during the editing process, but it was an intriguing read and a great coming-of-age story.

Camino Island by John Grisham. This was very literary, with the whole plot based on stolen F. Scott Fitzergerald manuscripts and a largely part of the setting focusing on an independent bookstore, so I enjoyed those aspects a lot! I listened to it on audio and thought it was really well-read too.

YOUNG ADULT/KIDS

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker. My friend Kendra loaned me this book, and I devoured it. I hope to read it out loud with my kids at some point, but I couldn’t wait because it was so good. The author is an incredible storyteller, and she made the characters and emotions come to life.

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch. I admittedly read a bunch of YA this year, particularly over the summer. So I was privy to a lot of young love stories. But I’d say this was my favorite. The story was well-told, and it was just a really cute read!

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. SUCH a good piece of children’s literature! Set in World War II London, it tells the story of Ada, who was born with a club foot, and her brother Jamie, being raised by an abusive mother. The kids find their way out to the country during German advancements and live with Susan, which changes everything, especially for Ada who had never even been let out of her apartment in her 10 years.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. Another one of my favorite YA reads for the year! I didn’t want to put this one down, and it’s a quick, sweet read.

Soar by Joan Bauer. This is an uplifting and encouraging kid lit read that I plan to read with my kids in the next couple of years. I grabbed it on a whim from the library and flew through it. When a weak heart keeps him from playing his beloved baseball, Jeremiah appoints himself the team coach for the new town he and his adoptive dad just moved to. After the town experiences some tragedy and scandal in baseball, Jeremiah seeks to restore the community’s morale and help the team bounce back.

Frindle by Andrew Clements. I read this out loud with Connor over the summer, and we both loved it. (I had to hide my falling tears at the end!) (Sometimes I get a little sappy…) I love Andrew Clements, and he really nailed it with this one.

So there we are! What’s been on your favorites list this year? I’m excited to explore some new topics in the year ahead, and my to-read list continues to grow. Happy Reading!

To Our Daughter, as You Turn Six Years Old

To My Beautiful Baby Girl, as you turn SIX years old today:

You would definitely protest my use of the word “baby” in that first sentence.

Lately, your dad and I have been especially nostalgic as we see images on social media from when you and your brother were babies. “Look at those squishy cheeks!” we coo to you, and you implore us to “STOOPPPPP!”

But no matter if you’re six, sixteen or sixty – as long as we’re living, our baby you’ll be.

A few months ago you went off to kindergarten, and it’s been a challenging transition for me, if we’re being totally honest. I’m re-discovering who I am again  and what our family dynamic will be like going forward, now that the vast majority of my days aren’t spent taking caring of you and your brother.

It’s been a really good shift, but not without its ups and downs – like most parts of life.

Over the last couple of years, my grocery store runs have fallen from three to two and finally this fall, to one. But the last eight years have engrained in my days to be looking out for three, not one. To be predicting and planning for three, not one.

(On my first solo grocery store run, I came back to the car to find the back door wide open. Without thinking, I had done what I usually do when I got out of the car – and that was to push the button to automatically open your door too!)

And the last six years have also engrained in me to constantly be physically feeling for more than myself.

I am acutely aware of just how frigid it feels in the grocery store’s freezer aisle and note that I would need a jacket for you if you were with me. I see the sun’s light creeping into my shady spot as I sit outside and recognize immediately when it turns from warm to what would be too hot for you. When I roll the windows down and the wind blows through, I notice how strong it feels against my skin and eyes – too strong for you.

I really never realized how much these things “bother” me now, simply because I know they bother you. My body has been trained to try to feel for your body as much as I can. It is motherly instinct in the physical form, and a small part of my vast love for you.

Recently, a new friend, who has a toddler, asked what it was like “now that your children are older?”

And it was a little tough for me to accurately describe my enthusiasm for this phase of life right now.

I’m not sure it’s any easier than when you were young; it’s just a different hard.

But it’s so beautiful to see how our family’s dynamic is shifting and to see what emerges each day. It’s such a beautiful process to get to know your children – to foster interests, to explore together, to express love in meaningful ways. And then to apologize yet another time and stand up together again.

Beautiful Brenna, our love for you exceeds far beyond comprehension. We are abundantly grateful for your life, for your love, for your spirit.

You are growing into such a confident and spirited person. Your voice is loud, your laughter louder. You are compassionate, empathetic, observant, stubborn, joy-filled, “people-y” (as you like to say!)…and we couldn’t be prouder to be your parents. Of all the little girls in the world, we would choose you, over and over again.

To our second-born, our only daughter, our dynamite, learner, outgoing socialite, traveler, constant companion, story enthusiast, animal-lover, best sister, silly goose with more nicknames than we can count…. Happy Birthday. We love you so.