Best books

The Best Books of 2017

I set a 12 month Goodreads Challenge in 2017 to read 37 books – more than I attempted in 2016, and I’m proud to say that I made reading a priority of my be-here-now focus and completed 40 books in 2017!  If you’d like to read the best books I read in 2016 click here, and for more best books recommendations click over to 2013 and 2014 favorites posts. I’ve also written a Books I Love post, and would love to connect with you on Goodreads to share more about reading in 2018. Goodreads is my favorite place to keep track of what I’m reading, and to look up reader reviews for new books I’d like to add to my ever-growing shelf of ‘to reads’. With each book, I’m linking to Goodreads reviews/descriptions, and if I’ve written individually about a book, I’ll link to that post, too. I’m also adding my favorite quotes from the books – just for a little bonus! I also share monthly reads on my Happiness Hacks blog series – October’s post has a few titles you might enjoy.

In no particular order, I’d love to share My ‘Best Books of 2017″ – and please respond in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have a title to share for 2018!

Stitches by Anne Lamott

Best books
Stitches by Anne Lamott

Another one of the best books by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott – she seems to be on my list every year! In Stitches, she shares her dry, witty, though-inducing words that enrapture me over and over again. I loved this book. Anne is who I’d love to be when I grow up – honest, unafraid, funny, outspoken and insightful. Her personal stories will ring true – I promise. Just check out her ‘secret of life’ below:

Best books

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

“How often, on this great spinning ball where we’re all just struggling to lead our tiny lives, do you get to see evidence of God’s grace and know, the way you know your name, that at least for a little while, maybe just a few seconds, you can stop worrying, and take a deep breath, because things are all right?” ― Natalie BaszileQueen Sugar  

I ALWAYS read the book before the movie – but in this case, I’ve been watching the Queen Sugar TV series and decided to read the book.  I liked the story and the main character, Charley, but felt like I was constantly comparing it to the OWN TV series instead of reading it on its own merit. I loved the TV series, and feel like the novel’s characters were much less developed than in the show.

Kid President’s Guide to Being AWESOME by Brad Montague

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Kid President’s Guide to Being AWESOME by Brad Montague

“When you joyfully rebel against your circumstances, against mediocrity or negativity, you invite others into something really beautiful.” – Brad Montague

If you can’t tell from the photo, let me say that meeting this author was a highlight of 2017. I’ve seen him speak several times (AMAZEBALLS) and his Kid President video series has been a staple in my classroom for years. He’s why my AVID classes do our Socktober sock drive for the homeless every year. He’s why we giggle and dance and think after watching Kid President videos. He’s why I proudly wear my “JOY REBEL” shirt, and this year, he’s why I’m reminding myself to find joy at home AND at school. This book is perfect for adults, kids, and would make a fabulous gift for anyone you want to share a little joy with. One of the best books!

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

“Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.”
― Cheryl StrayedBrave Enough

I loved Cheryl’s memoir Wild, so naturally, a book featuring her quotes on life caught my interest. It’s a fast or slow read, depending on how you want to use it – but the quotes will linger with you long after the last page. Another fun book to gift!

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

Best books
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

“Hope is never false. One’s hopes may not be fulfilled, but that doesn’t not mean it was wrong to hope”
― Jennifer ChiaveriniThe Spymistress

I LOVE historical fiction. I’d say 85% of my reading is some sort of history related topic, especially when there are strong and intriguing female characters like in The Spymistress. This narrative, set in Richmond Virginia in the 1860s, shares the real-life story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a badass woman who stood up for what she believed in despite the consequences.

I like those kinds of characters. If you do, too, you’ll enjoy this read. You can read more about this book in my September Happiness Hacks post.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“It is not biology that determines fatherhood. It is love.” ― Kristin HannahThe Nightingale  

Speaking of historical fiction: wow- what an intriguing plot line to this book! Hannah’s writing was immensely readable and intriguing. I loved the narration twist and applaud Hannah for pulling the reader through which an expansive view of WW2. I loved the relationships – especially between Isabelle, an amazingly strong young woman battling for justice during WW2 to present and her father, a complex character attempting to protect his daughters to prove his love. I wrote about this book in my November Happiness Hacks, as well as a few other titles I haven’t mentioned here.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Best books
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

“He used to say we all had a compass inside of us and what we needed to do was to find it and to follow it.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

The closest I’ve ever been to the Amazon was hearing stories from my husband about his adventures canoeing there as a young man – that was enough to make me understand the power of the river, and the prominence it plays in Brazil’s geography and culture. That is until I cracked open Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel, State of Wonder. This perfect novel took me into the ‘now’ of the life of two female scientists and left a story that lingers in my mind months after reading the last page. Oh, I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. It’s the kind of book that I couldn’t stop reading, and when I was reading I couldn’t stop thinking about all the themes woven in and out of the narrative. 2017 was the year of Ann Patchett for me – I read four of her novels, so I’ve almost read her entire canon. Ann Patchett is such a master of language and characterization, as evident in this story of an adventure into the Amazon – it’s full of sensory lushness, vivid imagery, and a gripping, tragic tale. One of THE best books of 2017 – and one of the few I rated five stars. You can read my full book post here: http://jenniferwolfe.net/2017/08/state-of-wonder.html. Click here to watch a video chat with the author: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/24362-goodreads-live-with-ann-patchett

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

“If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.”

A powerfully honest historical fiction novel told in parallel voices about the abolitionist, suffragette Grimke sisters of Charleston, South Carolina living in the 1800s on their plantation, and the relationship between Sarah Grimke and her slave, Hetty “Handful” Grimke. This is Sue Monk Kidd’s first fiction in awhile, and it was entertaining and well-written.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

“He told her that every one of her enemies, all the masters and overseers of her suffering, would be punished, if not in this world then the next, for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end.”
― Colson WhiteheadThe Underground Railroad

This was truly one of THE best books I read in 2017. An often difficult, yet breathtakingly written story to read that shares the brutality of slavery through the story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation, who decides to attempt the Underground Railroad passage after hearing of it from another slave, Caesar, who has just arrived from Virginia. This isn’t just another book about slavery – the author amazingly shares not only the story of slaves living in unbelievable oppression, but also ties into the reality of how this oppression has sculpted our American history and current society. You need to read this – there’s a reason it won the Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017)Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2017)National Book Award for Fiction (2016)Arthur C. Clarke Award (2017), and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction (2017) to name only a few awards. Watch a clip of Oprah talking about the book here: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/106773-oprah-reveals-new-book-club-selection. 

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

Best books
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a  novel nowhere near my real life.

I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss. You can read my full book review here: http://jenniferwolfe.net/2017/06/the-fall-of-lisa-bellow.html

Devotion: A Memoir AND Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

“Oh, child! Somewhere inside you, your future has already unfurled like one of those coiled-up party streamers, once shiny, shaken loose, floating gracefully for a brief moment, now trampled underfoot after the party is over. The future you’re capable of imagining is already a thing of the past. Who did you think you would grow up to become? You could never have dreamt yourself up. Sit down. Let me tell you everything that’s happened. You can stop running now. You are alive in the woman who watches you as you vanish.” — Hourglass

The summer months are my best times for plowing through my stacks of books to be read – and I made a good dent in August. Two of my favorites were by Dani Shapiro – her memoirs Devotion and Hourglass. Wow – I couldn’t get enough of either one, finding myself wanting to shout out loud, “Hey, me too!” on nearly every page. Dani just GETS it. Motherhood. Marriage. Womanhood. She’s a sage, in my opinion. Watch for more on her writing.

Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

Best books
Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

“She truly believed that she carried her own fate in the palm of her hand, as if destiny was nothing more than a green marble or a robin’s egg, a trinket any silly girl could scoop up and keep. She believed that all you wanted, you would eventually receive, and that fate was a force which worked with you, not against you.”
― Alice HoffmanHere on Earth

I was also on an Alice Hoffman binge this year ( I read three of her novels) – Here on Earth was a good read about marriage, love, motherhood and finding yourself – can you relate?

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

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The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

This book was another one of my RARE five-star reviews. This story was mesmerizing- I couldn’t read it fast enough. Weaving love and spirits and culture of St. Thomas with Paris and art and Impressionism and race….beautifully written, alive with color and bursting with the sights and smells and textures of place. If you remember your art history, the name Camille Pissarro might sound familiar. This story tells the life of his mother, Rachel, growing up in St. Thomas in the 1800s. It is a love story, a historical tale, a story about marriage and motherhood and love and beauty blanketed with the exquisite writing of Hoffman, who spares no detail in helping the reader feel like the magic of the islands has jumped into their own reality.

The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein

“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”

A surprise read was Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing In The Rain – it was one of those books I heard about when it first published but never got around to picking up a copy. Boy, am I glad I did – such an interesting narrative technique (it’s told from the point of view of Enzo, an almost human-like dog who seems to understand just what his owner needs), and if you’re a dog lover/owner, it’s a mmust-read Caution: it will make you cry.

Best books
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

“And I get up because it is the only thing I can do.” ― Jesmyn WardSalvage the Bones

This last title of my best books was another hard one. I found myself recoiling at the graphic imagery, yet leaning forward into the narrative. It’s the kind of book that really made me think. I originally I picked it up at the NCTE conference because I knew it was the precursor to Sing, Unburied, Sing, which I knew I wanted to read. This book, the winner of the 2011 National Book Award, takes place in Mississippi with a family struggling to prepare for Hurricaine Katrina – but remarkably the hurricaine dissolves into the background against the powerful narrative of Esch and her brothers, father, and the boy she loves who impregnates her early in the novel. It was a hard read – especially the parts about China, the family pit bull. I’m looking forward to the next part of the story in 2018.

That’s it for 2017 – I read dozens of excellent books and hope we can keep talking about life and stories and happiness all throughout 2018!

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life July 2014: A Month of Quiet

My Best July:

The month of July was quiet -sometimes, WAY too quiet. My grown-up girl has spent her summer working as a ski camp counselor at her beloved Mt. Hood, Oregon. My thinks-he’s-grown-up son has been back and forth between Mt. Hood and Lake Tahoe, and when he’s actually at home his social life keeps him WAY too busy for my liking. Even my husband took off for a few days, leaving me and the dog alone to deal with the 100+ heat and a kitchen flood that’s turning into a big-deal-long-awaited remodel. When my kids were little I longed for the kind of quiet I have now, but as time passes more and more quickly every day, I realize that those crazy, hectic, sweaty summers with two little kids were absolutely ethereal. With a blink of an eye, ten years whooshes past…so this July, I made my best life amidst the quiet. I’ve read, written, photographed, cleaned, organized, traveled, and walked, attempting to find the best in every moment. To read all of my blog posts from July, click here.

Best Quotes:

I’m a collector of quotes. I find great wisdom and inspiration in words, and I’m frequently suprised and delighted at the end of the month when I look back at those quotes I’ve chosen to share on my blog, Twitter, or Facebook. Here’s some of my favorites from July:

“Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.” #AnneLamott #quote

“The reality of what we really are is often times found in the small snips, way down at the bottom of things.” Jean Shepherd

“There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.” Emerson

“After all, it is those who have a deep & real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life.”E. Underhill

“Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” Kathleen Norris

Best Moment:

I’ve found myself having a bit too much quiet time this month; I know, you parents of small children are thinking I’m crazy, but honestly, my kids are growing up and going in different, independent directions, and they’re hardly ever at home. Combine their wanderlust with their ski training at Mt. Hood, and I’ve found myself away from my daughter since mid-June. The best moment for me this month was when she took her only day off and hitched a ride (or convinced two boys to drive her, not sure which is the truth) from Mt. Hood to Bend, just to spend five glorious hours with me. We packed in a day of shopping, great coffee, hugs, river swims, coloring (yes, teens still like to color) and catching up with the fam. Peanut, thank you so much for that gift of your time. It kept me going for the last few weeks!

L on the Deschutes River
L on the Deschutes River

Best Blog Reads:

My dear friend, Dawn Wink, introduced me to the BraveGirlsClub.com, and I just had to share it with you all. Not only do they use gorgeous art work to share their mission statement: “We are on a wild and crazy mission to find all of the brave women of the world…to help them find each other…then to change the world with good news, good ideas, good people, and good times,” but they also have lots of great essays, blog posts, and even a daily truth email, Facebook page and Instagram feed that offer lovely doses of inspiration. I loved this one from their Facebook feed titled, “Dear Super Smart Girl”. I think every mom should subscribe!

Best Photo:

Ok, I’m gonna brag a bit here…I didn’t take this photo myself, but I love it so much because it captures my brave girl in all her glory! Not only has she worked away from home all summer (I know-harder on me than it is on her!) but she has become a licensed Class 2 bus driver in the state of Oregon! Love her confidenc

e!L is a licensed bus driver!

Best Books:

Oh, this one is easy-peasy! I stumbled onto Nancy E. Turner’s amazing series about turn-of-the-century Arizona, and fell in awe of Sarah, her feisty, feminine and all-around awesome main character. I’d actually bought the first book in the series, These Is My Words, for my mom as part of a Christmas book bonanza gift (she’s a voracious reader, too). I could not put that book down, and to my complete delight, I discovered that it was merely the first in a series of three novels that trace Sarah’s life as she fights to survive on the ‘territories’. If you love historical fiction with strong female characters, you MUST read this series!

These Is My Words

Best Road Trip:

I took two amazing trips this month: one to Bend, Oregon, and one to Calistoga, California. I’d have to call the Bend, Oregon trip the ‘best road trip’ simply because I got to spend eight hours in the car with my mom. It was such a treat to have her all to myself-the hours whizzed by, and I was keenly aware of how precious time with your parent can be – are you hearing me, kids? Aside from the drive, the three days I spent in Bend with my extended family were pretty spectacular-I shared some of the highlights in my post, travel with mamawolfe: Bend, Oregon for Rivers, Books, Coffee and Consignment Stores. 

Best Quiet Place:

During my stay in Bend, we spent a bit of time down on the Deschutes River. The kids loved to jump from rocks, swim, and hang out on the ‘island’. I’m not much of a swimmer, but certainly hovered while my girl flew through the air into the water. The morning I left I took a quiet walk alone down to the river and just sat and thought about this amazing life I get to live.

Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon
Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon

Best View:

This one ties in with my best road trip – the most amazing sunset I’ve seen in a long time. I found myself glued to the deck chair, snapping photos every few minutes. I was convinced it couldn’t get any better, and after two hours of beauty, this took my breath away.

Sadie at sunset
Sadie at sunset

Best Selfies:

My kids get so mad when I try to take selfies with them…here’s a few of my faves from July:

L at Mt. HoodBend, OregonL and Mom in BendC on the way to Hood

Best Tweets:

From Stephen King: Revised Tea Party Gospel: “Suffer the little children come unto me. Unless they’re undocumented kids from Central America.”

This one really hit home for me; I’m so tired of all the arguing about these children being brought by their parents to our country. When I heard one of our country’s politicians call them ‘criminals’, I just about lost it. Despite what you might think about our immigration policies, these children are far from criminals. They are children. Their parents are doing what any one of us would do – well, maybe some of us wouldn’t actually be brave enough to do what they’re doing. Having spent time in Nicaragua and seen first hand the absolute poverty many families are living in in Central America, all I can think is that extreme situations call for extreme actions, and we need to do better than labelling innocent children as ‘criminals’. They are humans, and we can find a way to figure this out.

Best Morning Ritual:

I’m definitely a creature of habit, which sometimes drives my husband crazy. I’ve been thinking a lot this month about solitude – maybe because I’ve had so much of it forced upon me this month – and one thing I know about myself is that I require a certain amount of it as a morning ritual. My best day starts off with quiet, coffee, reading, writing, and after approximately 1.5 LARGE mugs of a good Central American roast, I’m able to face my day. Throw in my list-making, dog-walking, #quoteoftheday tweet and a small bite to eat, and I’m good to go on full speed for the next 15 hours or so!

gratitude

Best Wardrobe Staple:

I’m totally into the maxi dress this month – have you tried them? If I can wear them (I’m only 5’2″, you know), so can you! I picked up a little black one during a shopping spree with my girl last month, and am absolutely in love with it. It’s super hot here in the summer, but when I slip this on I just feel comfy!

Best California Food:

Since our kitchen has been torn apart this month due to a minor flood (it’ll all be back better than ever next month!), we’ve been eating out WAY more than normal – kind of awesome, actually. We’ve had it all this month – Thai, Italian, Chinese, American, and LOTS of Trader Joe’s prepared foods (have you tried their butternut squash/quinoa salad? It’s delish), but the memorable meal and true California food goes to our dinner at Season’s in Davis – the three of us devoured our plates of mozarella stuffed turkey meatballs over penne pasta, tiger shrimp skewers with peppered fettuccine, arugula, garlic mushrooms, copacolla ham and a white wine sauce, and a rosemary rubbed pork chop served over a mushroom risotto cake, swiss chard, pancetta jus, roasted red pepper and gorgonzola sauce. And no, we didn’t have room for dessert!

tiger shrimp at Season's in Davis
tiger shrimp at Season’s in Davis

Best Recent Read:

I’m smack in the middle of Erin Lindsay McCabe’s novel, I Shall Be Near To You, and so far I cannot put it down.  Combine that with getting to know the writer via Twitter, and I know this will be one of my fave summer reads! Look for a review (and if I’m lucky, and author Q/A, on the blog next month).

I Shall Be Near To You

Dear reader, what word best describes your month of July? Wishing you great possibilities and bit of quiet in August – and as always, thank you for supporting mamawolfe.

Each month I write about what makes up ‘my best life’. To see all ‘My Best Life’ posts in one place, click here. I’m always on the lookout for what makes life amazing – I’d love to connect with you on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, too!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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