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

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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:

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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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My Year In Books, 2013

In 2013, I set a goal to increase my reading this year, despite all the other events that take up my spare free minutes. I met my goal, and have some great titles to share with you! Thanks to all the wonderful authors that shared their stories with me this year – here’s to 2014 and many more great books!

January, 2013

I wasn’t sure if I would like (or finish) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot but finish I did-I was fascinated by the story behind HeLa cells, and the idea that racism could be entwined with medical science in such an unfair manner.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, beautifully written and lyrical, shares the story of 1970s northern California – my own backyard.

Divisadero (novel)
Divisadero (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I Go Again: A Novel by Jen Lancaster is a delightful read you’re looking for a good, funny escape-my-life chick-lit novel; check out my review of Here I Go Again!

Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Livesby Becky Aikman is a book that shows us how life has a funny way of taking us on a different path than we might expect; Becky Aikman’s novel was a great reminder for me to live in the moment and love what I have. Read my post, “When Life Doesn’t Turn Out The Way It’s Supposed To” inspired by her story.

February, 2013

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and adored A Good American for that reason – but also, because of the author, Alex George. Tweeting with him while I was reading was such a thrill-and I cannot wait for him to finish his next novel! Read my review of A Good American here.

Another brilliant historical fiction novel, The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom, recounts the story of a white Irish servant girl and her attempts to survive  as she lives and works with the slaves in a plantation house during the 1800s.

March, 2013

Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Robison Elder helped me understand some of my students who have Aspbergers in a touching story of a father-son struggle to love each other.

April, 2013

Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton – oh, I loved this book, despite the constant stream of tears rolling down my face. You know what I mean-those books that touch you deeply? This one triggered volumes of emotions about motherhood, as I reflected on my post “Forever Afterwards”.

May, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel by Anthony Marra wasn’t at the top of my 2013 book list, but I did enjoy the story of the father and daughter in war torn Chechnya and how it reminded me of playing Risk as a child.

June, 2013

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff, a beautifully written story about motherhood and change, left me teary and happy I was introduced to Lee’s writing. While her autobiography detailing the horrific accident endured by her husband, reporter Bob Woodruff, established her talent, this novel will solidify her ability to evoke emotion within her reader in this story of a fictional tragic accident.

The Binding Chair; or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society: A Novel by Kathryn Harrison satisfied my need for more historical fiction, this time a story set during turn of the century Shanghai combined the pull of the past with the push towards the future – really a good read.

The Samurai’s Garden: A Novel by Gail Tsukiyama didn’t catch my attention-maybe it hid in the shadows of Harrison’s novel-I’m not sure why I didn’t get into it.

I was introduced to the mystery novels of J.A. Jance years ago by my friend and author, Dawn Wink (see below for her novel Meadowlark) and fell in love with the character of Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady – think of Judgment Call: A Brady Novel of Suspense (Joanna Brady Mysteries) as a story to satisfy your need for a  grown up Nancy Drew

Home by Toni Morrison – what can I say about a novel by one of my all time favorite novelists? Simply beautiful, haunting and a must-read.

English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el front...
English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el frontón del barrio de Aranzabela-Salburúa, en Vitoria-Gasteiz. Imagen tomada el 30-12-2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July, 2013

If you haven’t read Ann Patchett, you’re certainly missing out and you should certainly add Run, a story set in a New England snow storm,  to your 2014 book list!

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel by Elizabeth Silver combines a mother’s love, a murder mystery, and the death penalty into a gripping novel. Reading it reminded me of  the power of memories, and as children when we feel powerless over our future.

This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila is a beautiful collection of short vignettes about the author’s homeland, Hawaii. I loved her stories about making choices and growing up, especially as I was helping my daughter navigate the college application process. Kristiana Kahakauwila is not only a gifted novelist, but her ability to connect with her readers (me!) over social media made the reading experience really come to life.

August, 2013

The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison – I can’t really recommend this book unless you’re SERIOUSLY into cheese. I’m not.

Meadowlark was written by my friend, confidante and a wonderfully amazing woman, Dawn Wink. Elegantly written, Meadowlark is simply a beautifully heart-wrenching story of her great grandmother’s life on the South Dakota prairie that you MUST read! After being one of the first ‘editors’ of her story many years ago, seeing her first novel birth into the world was one of the highlights of 2013.

September, 2013

“Parenting is hard as hell” – that quote resonated with me, even though my parenting experience is vastly different than the author, Lori Duron’s. Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son is an eye-opening read for modern day parents and educators – see my reflection here.

Mother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas was the first in a series of stories surrounding the theme of motherhood that I read this year as part of the blogger’s book club From Left To Write. This psychological thriller left me wanting to hold tightly to my own children, and savor every momenet with them.

October, 2013

The Funeral Dress: A Novel by Susan Gilmore Gregg was a story that captured my attention and kept me up late for a few nights-I couldn’t get through the story of love, motherhood, and marriage fast enough. Can’t wait for her next novel!

The Dinner by Herman Koch wasn’t my favorite read of the year, but I was intrigued by the narrative technique used by the author as he shares the mystery story of a mother’s love.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel by P.S. Duffy takes the reader back in time to World War 1, but for me, it reminded me of my summer travels and the Pull of Nicaragua.

November, 2013

I was haunted by The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel in part because of the skillful mystery writing of author P.D. Viner, but also because it brought back memories of a horrible childhood memory when I first felt the horror of murder in my community.

I devoured Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (30 Minute Spiritual Series) by one of my all time favorite writers and life-guides, Anne Lamott. I spent this month hunkering down and preparing for big change; read my thoughts about Help Thanks Wow here.

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory was a sweet memoir by the editor of the Boston Globe….reminded me of finding my own very first buddy.

December, 2013

Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon tells the story of the REAL Downton Abbey-if you’re a fan, you’ll love this one.

I’m wrapping up the year with Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin – enjoying parts of her story, but not all.

Yes, I’m one of those people who has ongoing novels on my bedside table:

I’m slowly rereading The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, which reminds me that every day should be infused with reverence.

Cover of "The Seat of the Soul"
Cover of The Seat of the Soul

I started reading The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays by Caroline Knapp after reading blogger Lindsay Mead’s recommendation-I love savoring an essay a little bit at a time!

Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper is another blogger recommended book that I dip into, chapter by chapter, as I attempt to describe this glorious time of my life.

Have you read any of these great books? What was your favorite book of 2013? What’s your reading goal for 2014?

 

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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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