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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How I’m Learning To Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity

“The only unique contribution we’ll make in this world will be born of creativity.” ~ Brene Brown

There’s this crazy, confusing thing  happening as I get older. As I’ve passed through the decades and find myself looking at a life ahead that is bound to be on the downhill slope, I see with clarity things that I hadn’t seen before -I see the urgency to step out of the comfort zone of creativity.

Perhaps these things were never there to begin with. Maybe they’ve been inside all the time, and it’s taken this long to realize that creativity is a need, not a want.

I’ve never been what I considered the ‘creative’ type. My sister, my aunts, my mom, my grandmother – now there are women who are creative. Canvas becomes startling images of beauty. Clay transforms into object. Fabric turns into clothing and pillows and bags.

The closest I’ve ever felt to being creative was through my garden. My approach a cultivation painted with reckless strokes, sometimes wild combinations of color and texture, but always with the hands of a woman trying to squeeze beauty into my space; of one attempting to simultaneously curb and release the loveliness of a part of what makes a home. I guess some might consider parenting an exercise in creativity; I’ve always felt that if I do it well enough, my children will be my greatest contribution to the world.

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity
My garden is my creative escape.

“When did inspiration promise us that it owes us anything?” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Writing wove its way into my life five years ago; blogging transformed my private journal scribbles into a rough-hewn, unrefined platform to practice sharing my stories for the first time. As my children aged and my confidence matured, I recklessly dove into my newly released creativity. Inspired to connect with other women – mothers and teachers and writers and like-minded creative spirits who used words as their outlet, I greedily crafted a community that lifted me up, gave me courage, and reminded me that I need to write every day.

“When you get to the place where standing on the edge is more fearful than the risk of failure, I think you owe it to yourself and your world to leap.” ~Brene Brown

And here I find myself, half-way to 51, standing on the edge of what is left of my life. I see my children launching into adulthood with grace and courage. I write and publish and share and push myself to refine, to reflect. I know the nest will be empty soon, and I’ll be left with a vastness ready to fill.

I think about teaching another 15 years, and wonder if the system will support my need for change. I’m astonished I’ve made it this far – 25 years ago, I comforted myself with the notion that there were so many possibilities in the world, and when I didn’t like teaching anymore, I would jump, hoping that the net would catch me.

Turning 50 has created a strange sense of comfort and discontent; the moments when I sit in my writing space, surrounded by all that I’ve created in this life, I feel as if there is nowhere else I would rather – or I should be. I breathe deeply and slowly and write my daily gratitude for home and family and this span of moments which weave together so exquisitely. I wonder where my creativity could lead me, and what is worth doing even if I fail.

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity
Looking down from my writing space.

“Failure has a function. It asks you if you really want to go on making things.” ~Clive James

And then the discontent creeps in on the back of absolute acknowledgment of where I am. I know my days are finite. I see my mothering transfer into my children as they age and grow and find their own space in the world. I wonder where my creativity could lead me, and what is worth doing even if I fail.

Now is the time to step out of the comfort zone of creativity, the time to leap without knowing where the landing is. It’s the time to trust the creative journey, and to know that whatever challenge the day presents is there for a reason.

It’s time to go on making things and continue the story.

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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