My ‘Best of 34’ Books Read in 2016

I set a 12 month Goodreads Challenge in 2016 to read 30 books – more than I attempted in 2015, but as part of my ‘trust the journey’ focus, I knew that pushing myself to not only read more, but read more diversely, was key. I’m pretty proud to say that I made reading a priority, and completed 34 books in 2016! Last year, I wrote about my favorite books of 2015, and loved hearing from readers about what books they loved and were reading all during 2016.

If you’re interested in more recommendations, you can find them in my 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 2017. 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’. 

In no particular order, I’d love to share My ‘Best of 34’ Books Read in 2016 – and please respond in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have a title to share for 2017! (p.s.- I included some favorite quotes just to tease you!)

“Love doesn’t work like that, one or the other. Don’t you know that yet?” – from June by Miranda Beverly Whitmore

I first learned about this author after reading her best seller, Bittersweet. When I finally was able to read June, I have to say, I loved it even more than her first. June is a story about a 25-year-old woman who, while mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother, lives in their old rural mansion and uncovers part of her past while creating a present full of love and excitement. If you enjoy small town stories, old time movie stars, and complicated love triangles, June is the book for you.

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” -from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I figured that with all the hype over this book, along with the massive good reviews on Goodreads, that I would love it. I was right. I fell in love with Ove in the first few pages – his cranky yet lovable character made me really feel like he was someone real, someone human in his faults as well as in his incredibly huge heart.

“If you are going to abandon your work because someone speaks ill of it, then it has never been your work, has it? It becomes theirs. You give it up.” – from I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira

As a young girl I devoured Irving Stone’s stories of artists and politicians, so upon discovering this gem about Mary Cassat and Edgar Degas I knew I had to jump in. Besides all that, Robin Oliveira’s book My Name Is Mary Sutter made one of my top 2015 books as well. I immersed myself in Robin’s story of 1880s Paris and the stormy romance between Cassat and Degas made me grab for my art history books and remember how uncommonly common relationships can be.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

This book was full of adventure; I felt the terror, the fear and the hope of Jonah and Angel as they attempted to escape slavery and bounty hunters in 1850s South Carolina. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly around the Civil War, and as such I loved Morgan’s strong characters and unusual twists on the slave narrative.

“It reminds us that as ordinary as we might be, we can, if we choose, take the harder road, walk forth bravely under the indifferent stars.” -from The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown

Brown’s most well-known novel, The Boys On The Boat, is on my 2017 list – but I couldn’t resist reading his interpretation on one of my favorite historical stories. I devour books about the Donner Party – but this one was different. Told as a nonfiction narrative, Brown skillfully wove their story between historical information that really helped me get a sense of more than just what happened – but how and why it happened.

“There is no shame in who I am,” he said. “There is only shame in how I came to be, and that is not my burden to carry” -from Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

Grissom’s novel The Kitchen House was one of my top books of 2015, so when I spied this sequel on the library shelf I grabbed it and jumped right in. I wasn’t disappointed. Picking up the story of Jamie, the author transports us to 1830s Philadelphia to develop the plot around his life, while weaving in familiar characters from The Kitchen House. Immensely readable and believable, this sequel definitely competes with the original.

“You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me.” -from The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Like so many, I adored Eat Pray Love when it came out in 2006. I listen to Elizabeth’s podcast and read her blog. Still, I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love this novel. L plants and flowers and all things eighteenth century, the story of Henry Whittaker, a wealthy trader in quinine, and his daughter Alma, a well-respected botanist, was a natural read for me. What I didn’t expect was for me to become so enamored of the characters as I was of the plot line. Explorations of science, religion, class, gender expectations made this a book that I never wanted to end – even after 501 pages! It was that good.

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright

This is not my typical type of read – contemporary fiction about blues musicians and Elvis fans aren’t regulars in my reading choices. But I fell in love with Wright’s story of Cory, who travels South Carolina in search of her real father – who she believes is Elvis Presley. A sweet story of mothers, daughters, and what we really don’t know about each other…such a pleasant surprise.

“You only have one life, but if you live it well, that’s enough. The only reality is now, today. What are you waiting for to be happy?” -from The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende

Honestly, I have to say that this book was one of my TOP reads from 2016. I wrote a review about it here, and judging from the feedback I’ve received, everyone else loves it, too. Told in the tumult of pre and post WW2, Allende unravels the complicated love story between a young woman living in an opulent mansion in San Francisco and the son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Living near San Francisco myself, I could imagine the vivid settings and fell into the spell of their forbidden love of over 70 years. This story is about love and passion and history and the improbable situations we find ourselves in when we find true love.

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 Year In Books: Top Ten Titles of 2014

What a fabulous year in books! I’ve compiled my top ten choices from last year’s “books I’ve read” titles- not all were published in 2014, some I wrote reviews on, and others I just simply savored. I definitely notice a leaning towards women writers telling the stories of strong willed, independent women – and lots of historical fiction. I’ll miss these women, but I’m eager to start my discoveries in 2015- my shelves are groaning with new titles!

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

A fabulous novel by a northern California ex-teacher-turned writer – after years of research, Erin Lindsay McCabe’s tells the love story of Rosetta, a strong willed young woman who follow her new husband into battle during the Civil War. I had the most wonderful time getting to know Erin this year – I love it when a great author is living right in my backyard! You can buy her terrific novel here: I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel.

Cover of "These is my Words: The Diary of...

These Is My Words/Sarah’s Quilt/The Star Garden by Nancy Turner

I fell in love with Nancy Turner’s stories last summer – I couldn’t put down her thrilling stories of Sarah, a tough willed woman living in the 1900s Arizona Territory. This trilogy was the type of story that sucks the reader in, riding the prairies alongside her as she shows us how very hard it was to be a strong woman at the turn of the century. You can purchase her stories here: These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.)

Mitten Strings For God/The Gift of an Ordinary Day/Magical Journey by Katrina Kenison

I must say, finding the books of Katrina Kenison was a true highlight to my year. I first read her blog, and fell in love with her simple yet poignant stories of the changing landscape of motherhood, and what it means to keep in touch with our selves during it all. I found myself savoring each word of each book, knowing how much they would be missed when I came to the last page. My books are highlighted and flagged, and in her words, I found so many quotes to include in my own writing. If you’re a mother, start with Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry and relish each word through The Gift of an Ordinary Day and Magical Journey. You’ll be glad you did.

The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson

I discovered this book through From Left to Write, an online book review group I’ve been writing with for the past few years. Maddie’s story of 44-year-old Rosie, who suddenly discovers she is pregnant, made me think a lot about motherhood and how simple, yet not always easy, parenting can be. You can buy Maddie’s book here: The Opposite of Maybe: A Novel

Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou

Oh, the sadness of losing the brilliant voice of Maya Angelou in 2014…only tempered by her heartwrenching story of her relationship with her own mother. One of my role models, mentors, and most cherished writers of all time, Maya’s words of love and her stories of being raised by Vivian remind me of the importance of showing our daughters how to be strong, confident, and fiercely loyal to our ideals. You really should read this book – you can purchase Mom & Me & Mom here.

Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner

In keeping with my fascination with strong women in history, picking up this title was a natural. When I read stories of the Donner Party, particularly as I’m spending my weekends in the Sierras, I’m endlessly fascinated by their sheer determination to not only survive, but to maintain a ‘normal’ family life amidst the complete devastation of all they knew to be true. If you enjoy historical fiction, fiesty women and stories of survival, pick up a copy of Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner this winter.

If you’re looking for more titles, you might find some additional ideas on lat year’s post, My Year In Books 2013. If you’re a book nerd like me, I’d love to connect with you on Goodreads – I love adding books to my shelves and reading and writing and chatting about books!

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, January 2014

be brave quoteJanuary…the month when I feel like there are expectations galore. Although I’m not a voice for new year’s resolutions, there’s a tiny part of me that expects January to be….different.

And it was. January, in California, was DRY. Watching the rest of the nation shiver with the Polar Vortex certainly provided a certain sense of  comfort and envy as my family yearned for snow. I watched my rosebushes begin to bud out in the garden, and actually wore a short sleeve shirt. January in my life required a little bit of bravery, scads of patience, and at the end, surrendering to things beyond my control.

My Best January:

Best Quotes:

One of the best parts of my day happens in the morning when I open my daily email from First Sip. This was one of my favorites-doesn’t it just ooze January?

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”~ John O’Donohue

I first began reading Ida B. Wells in college; when I read this quote this month, it shouted out a reminder for my year:

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” ~ Ida B. Wells

Best Books:

January books

January was a month of reading. Two of my favorites were A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker, a story about an American woman, a Burmese monk, and unexpected love, and Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton, a fictional recounting of the Donner Party experience in 1846.

Best Recipes:

January was a busy month, and sadly, not much original cooking occurred in my kitchen. Fortunately, my daughter continued her Wednesday baking tradition with these INCREDIBLE dark chocolate brownies from The Pioneer Woman. If ever the expression ‘death by chocolate’ were applicable, this would be the time!

Best Blog Reads:

Edutopia is one of my favorite education blogs, and often times I find posts there that bleed inexorably into my ‘other’ life. This post, about teaching grit and resilience, touched me. So much of what I do as a teacher and a parent is try to encourage, support, and show kids that they can and will survive life’s challenges. I’m seeing many examples of kids giving up on themselves, and parents excusing them, because life gets hard. The idea that they’re learning this life strategy, instead of focusing on developing grit, frightens me. It’s something we all should think about.

One of the best blog posts I read in January was “A New Season”, written by Lindsey Mead for Huffington Post. I follow Lindsey’s blog, A Design So Vast, and have enjoyed getting to know her through her poignant and often times painfully realistic reflections on motherhood. Although she’s a few years behind me in parenting years, her posts never fail to remind me of the delicacy of our time with our children.

Best Photos:

My sister found this image of my girl, taken around 16 years ago. It brought tears to my eyes; I could feel her little fingers holding mine, and the sinewy hug she wrapped me in right after the photo was taken. The fleeting nature of motherhood…

17 years later, I love the woman she's become
17 years later, I love the woman she’s become

I’m including a video in this month’s Best Photos, simply because it captures my heart, my child, and how we spend so much of our time in the mountains-and because I was lucky enough to be at the start gate for one of his races.

Best Moments:

photo credit: Kristy Powell

January handed me several ‘parenting handbook’ moments; one of the toughest was during my daughter’s ski race. I wrote about resilience, and life lessons, and thanked a stranger for teaching her. 

And of course, some joyous ones as well – ski season is off to an exciting start! 

Wishing you bravery and adventure in February – and as always, thank you for supporting mamawolfe. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and Facebook, too!

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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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