December 20, 2017

my favorite reads of 2017...

favorite reads of 2017 |
This past year has been such a wonderfully bookish year for me. I read so many fantastic books in 2016, but this year I read even more and tried my best to branch out a bit when it comes to what I chose to pick up.

I ended up reading (as of this week) a total of 38 books this year. I had the secret hope of hitting the magical goal of 50 books read, but once the school year started (and as my pregnancy progressed) my reading pace slowed down a lot. And one regret I have is not keeping better track of the audiobooks I listened to, because I finished quite a few this year—many of which were fantastic—and would love to count those in my total. (I'm pretty sure if I added the audiobooks and my chapter book read-alouds with Eisley to my previous total, I would have definitely hit 50.)

I learned a few things about myself during this last year of reading. The most notable (not to mention beneficial) being that I quit a great many books one or two chapters in and have no regrets at all. I used to hate quitting books (maybe it had something to do with my perfectionism or people-pleasing tendencies) but at this point in life I've realized there is simply no reason to drag myself through a book that isn't absolutely captivating to me. In order to read as many books as I read this year, they had to be books I couldn't wait to pick up! It's been very freeing to just let myself quit a book—even if it's one that so many people loved.

Another lesson I learned was the importance to making sure I am reading a variety of different genres. There are days that all I want in life is a solid thriller that I absolutely can't put down (and choose to read instead of, you know, cleaning the bathtub or making dinner). But looking back on the variety of books I read this past year has made me realize there were a lot of books I was missing out on simply because I limited myself to the genres that have been my go-tos for the past several years. Sure, I ended up starting and quitting quite a few books while I searched out the keepers, but the ones I ended up finding were absolutely wonderful and I would have completely missed out on them if I'd not made the effort to seek out a bit of variety.

So, without further ado, here is my list of nine favorite books from the past year! Because I want to feature a variety of books, I'm not limiting my list to fiction (as I did last year). I kind of love that my favorites ended up being in a variety of different genres without even planning it that way, and perfectly represent the goodness of the year of reading I had.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance — When I picked up this book earlier this year, I felt like it had been ages since I'd read a memoir that captured my attention like this one. The author is a man (born the same year as I was) who was born and raised in a small, poor town in Appalachia. He grew up and did something that is essentially never done within his culture: he left his hometown and became incredibly successful—even attending Yale. In reading about his life within "hillbilly" culture (poverty, abuse, drug addiction, deeply flawed people with deep devotion to each other) I realized that this is a group of people who I rarely even think about. It's heartbreaking, actually. So much of his story is tragic, but there is so much hope and incredible insight, as well. I was absolutely captivated by his storytelling and his honesty.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne — This book is hands down the very best parenting book I've ever read. (I feel like I mentioned it here before, but it is worth repeating.) I actually ended up purchasing a copy from Amazon after finishing the library copy I'd been savoring for a couple months at the beginning of the year. I don't often buy books—so this is saying something! There is so much good stuff in this book that I can't even do it justice with a synopsis. Over the years, I've heard it recommended by so many people and I wish I hadn't taken so long to pick it up myself. If any of you crave simplicity, peace, routine, and rhythm for your own family, this is a must-read. It is in no way overwhelming and is so, so encouraging. My goal was to go through it again and write about my thoughts after completing each chapter, so maybe I can actually make that happen in 2018!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes — I haven't read much of this popular author's work, but this book absolutely lived up to the praise I heard over and over and over. It's definitely a love story, but it's written in a way that far exceeds chick lit (at least by my definition) and was an incredibly emotional book to read. As in, there were literally tears pouring out of my eyes and I was sobbing a little bit at the end. I had what I like to refer to as a book hangover after this one because it was so good and it was hard to begin another book after finishing something like it. And, no, I won't be seeing the movie because I know it will absolutely not do it justice. I'm stubborn. And books over movies forever. Amen.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel — This novel tells the story of a woman who has spent years on death row for the murder of her son, which she claims she did not commit. It is written chapter-by-chapter from the viewpoints of both the mom and the now-adult daughter she left behind after being convicted so many years ago. The story is both heartbreaking and hopeful and made me cry like a baby. It's hard to believe these characters are fictional because they seemed so very real! I honestly had to keep reminding myself that it was not a memoir and was indeed a work of fiction. It reads so much like a memoir that anyone who enjoys them will absolutely love this novel. It's another book filled with characters that filled my headspace long after I finished reading.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd — How had I not picked up this book until this year? It's a mystery. My older sister (whom I consider my own, personal book whisperer) sent this one to me after she finished it and it absolutely lived up to her glowing review. It is such a beautiful, heartfelt story on our desire for love and to be needed, seen and understood. It's also a very powerful look at race and social issues during the 60s. The women in this book are such vibrant, complicated characters and it made me love them all. I love when I finish a book and the characters seem so real that they leave an impact on my actual day-to-day life. I definitely had tears streaming down my face during a couple chapters and think maybe I need to lay off the emotional reads until I can get a hold of myself. (Pregnancy, man. Why did I end up choosing so many books that would make me ugly cry this year?) In any case, read this if you haven't yet! So good.

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry — These days, suspense/thriller would have to be my go-to genre (second only to memoirs on polygamy, naturally). I read a fair amount of thrillers this year, and it was hard to narrow it down to my favorite. But when it came down to it, this book simply had to win. It was recommended by Anne Bogel over at Modern Mrs Darcy as a novel you can't put down, and it definitely lived up to that claim. I read it in two days! (A feat during this season of life.) I love when an author's first novel is so well written, with a story that is crafted with so much detail. This book follows the story of a girl who was kidnapped from her home at age 13, then reappears at her front door 8 years later. There were many twists and turns, and the way the chapters unfold more of the story is very creative. There's some content that is a little heartbreaking (and especially hard to read as a parent) but it was still such a good read.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry — I read this series for the first time this year (I have no idea how I skipped over it in my youth, especially because I've always been a voracious reader and this series is one most people seem to have read). This book was my favorite of the series, although it was hard to choose. I'm so glad a few friends encouraged me to pick up this book after reading The Giver! This one was equally fascinating and the story was so beautifully written. Gave me goosebumps. I typically don't enjoy YA fiction, but I'm thinking maybe it's the newer books or stories that involve older teenagers that aren't my jam. For a long time I've wanted to read more books that I never read as a child but have heard great things about (and would like to pre-read before Eisley is ready to pick them up herself), so I'm eager to continue browsing the shelves for gems like this.

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell — This is one of the best memoirs I've read in years, and I can't recommend it enough. The author, Andie Mitchell, tells the story of her first 20 years of life and her struggles with overeating and obesity. In her early twenties, she lost more than 130 lbs. and changed her entire way of life and way of thinking. This memoir is so honest, touching, and beautifully written. There is such depth to her story, and it is in no way just a book on weight loss or reinventing yourself. It is a book I'd recommend to anyone (especially women my age).

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang — I think if I were to choose an absolute, hands-down favorite from this last year, this book would be it. I don't want to say much about the premise of this book, because I loved being surprised by the overall story and certain elements that were so unexpected. This book spans many years and introduces many characters, but there is a common thread in each story that has a touch of (believable) magic. This novel is just breathtakingly beautiful...there's really no other way to put it. The relationships and growth between the characters in the book were just incredible. I cried through the last few chapters, but it was a good kind of cry, and this is one of the only books I've ever read that made me wish I could un-read it just so I could re-read it immediately.

If you have any favorites from the past year that you can't help but recommend, please share! I'm always happy to have more books to add to my holds at the library. And I love hearing what books people enjoyed most over the past year.

— Further reading: my favorite fiction reads of 2016

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  1. No surprise that I enjoyed a few of these, too, & that others have long been on my list. Thanks, as always, for the recs!

  2. I always love your book recommendations! I just blazed through "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch. You might enjoy it! Definitely going to check out Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance!


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