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!

Move Toward the Mess (and a book giveaway!)

She practically shuddered with a hand over her heart. “You took your baby…to Africa?” she asked my friend Ginger, and we laughed.

“Yeah,” Ginger smiled. “It was fine, and our kids were able to experience so much of the culture. We can’t wait to take them back again.”

I think of that moment every now and then, when I realized that comfort is a very, well, comfortable thing. It’s difficult to step out of that comfort, to walk knowingly into uncertain situations even when we are doing so in order to spread Jesus’ love.

Being uncomfortable is hard. Moving into the mess is difficult. But that is right where God wants us.

I’m finishing up the book Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, who is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church, within North Point Ministries. (Scroll down – I’m giving away a copy today!) What John has found is that too many of us are too comfortable… too isolated… too bored within our faith. But “if you’re bored,” he writes, “don’t waste another minute. If your church service feels like a failed pep rally that never leads to the actual game, then it’s time for you to follow Jesus onto the field where the opposition is real and the stakes are extraordinary.”

I’ve been contemplating this a lot when it comes to my family. I’ve been asking myself not only what am I helping my kids to learn about the Lord, but also what am I showing them about what it means to give of ourselves, to love others the way Jesus loves us? Because doing this, truly doing this, usually means stepping outside of ourselves, outside of the areas that bring us comfort.

When we first got the opportunity to serve at a local winter homeless shelter, we didn’t hesitate to sign Connor up too. He was 5 at the time, and he was assigned the job of handing out little packs of snacks and water after the individuals came through the dinner line. There is a lot of mess among that group. We’ve heard some interesting things, and we’ve seen a fight or two break out. But it’s a real chance to be a part of Jesus’ love, and I feel like I’m looking at the face of God as I hand out bottled waters and say hello and smile.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there’s nothing heroic about showing up once a month for a single dinner. But it’s a start, and the first step in moving into a life of less talk and more action does begin with showing up. I know we have a lot more to learn, a lot more to give, and much, much more love to offer. And reading Move Toward the Mess has deepened my resolve and heightened my reflection for how our family can meaningfully live this out.

One of my favorite points in Move Toward the Mess was an analogy John used to describe what is happening in churches across the country. He likened Christianity to a sporting event, with the locker room strategy, followed by the big highlight: the game. But today, he pointed out, we’ve busied ourselves with talking strategy in the locker room so much that we’ve been abandoning the game.

“…What if the team didn’t show up on the field? When we Christians start to confuse the locker room with the game, things get boring…We talk about love and generosity and grace. Those things come alive and get exciting when they’re running loose in the world. But if we only ever talk about those things in church, and never practice them outside the church, things get stale. It might be more comfortable inside the walls of the church, but excitement is found where Jesus is at work – out in the world.”

Hambrick_MoveTowardtheMess_SMG_02_P1

When I think about what it means to move toward the mess, I think of my friend Kathy, who played an integral role in getting hundreds of beds built in a Charlotte NC apartment complex for the homeless. I think of my friend Kristin who organized a group of friends to host a fundraiser that collected months’ worth of toilet paper for low-income families in our community.I think of my friend Julie who mentors young, homeless mothers each week. And I think of my friend Ginger who serves with her family in Sierra Leone, working to bring education and the Christian faith to the people there.
I know that it takes not only a willingness, but also specific, passionate action to move into the places where we can make a deep impact – and I hope to continually seek out these places to connect with others in grace and love. Wherever God is calling us – from the international ministry to the local nonprofit to our neighbor’s home – the most beautiful parts of life are found in the mess.
Today, I’m giving away a copy of Move Toward the Mess! Just leave a comment and I’ll select a winner by Friday, January 20 at 5 p.m.!