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!

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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Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

Happiness Hacks For September 2017It’s been an interesting month; the back to school adrenaline has definitely worn off and happiness hacks for September 2017 were a bit random. My baby is now an adult. I can hardly watch or listen to the news without wanting to crawl under the covers (I live right near the Pacific Ocean if you get my drift). My first born filed her papers to graduate from college. Pumpkin spice hit the shelves again (wait-it’s still 90 degrees here in northern CA) and I’ve STILL got a huge to-do list hanging on from the summer.

I’m exhausted.

Last night I socialized with a bunch of old and new friends, many that are teachers. We all had the same look in our eyes – the half-droopy, bloodshot and overwhelmed look that teachers get when they’ve been putting every ounce of energy into establishing classroom routines, tackling new curriculum and battling over sub-par technology.

And to think someone asked me why the beginning of the year is so tiring – don’t we already have our lesson plans from last year?

Ah, if only it was just about lesson plans….

So yes, I am seriously in need of some happiness hacks. I’m betting that you are, too.

I’ll give it my best shot – I’m not giving up!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time

Happiness Hacks For September 2017 book

My page-turning definitely slowed down in September, in large part due to not being able to keep my eyes open past 9:00 p.m. I did have to abandon a book that just wasn’t catching my interest, but I’m deep into/nearly finished with Jennifer Chiaverini’s The Spymistress. I’m a huge historical fiction fan and especially love finding books that make American history come alive through a female protagonist. This book focuses on the Civil War in Richmond, Virginia, and a young, unmarried woman, Lizzie Van Lew, who poses as a Confederate supporter to help smuggle Union prisoners and messages through her home. Van Lew is not a fictional character; she was instrumental in establishing the Richmond Underground and is known as one of the orchestrators of the escape from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison. It’s cool to see our female unsung heroes finally reaching the notoriety they deserve. One of my favorite stories is by Erin Lindsy McCabe, who wrote I Shall Be Near To You – you can read my interview with Erin here. It was one of my top ten books of 2014!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Happy At Home

This month’s Happy at Home is about meeting personal goals. Like many teachers, I’m a planner. I love to make to-do lists, set small, medium and large goals, and in the last few years, writing has featured prominently in most of my personal and professional goals. I decided to blend as much of my personal and professional life into my writing as possible, and it’s been a blast!

In September I hit TWO huge goals: doing a live TV cooking segment, and being PUBLISHED IN A MAGAZINE!

You can watch my cooking demo here – just a fleeting 4 minutes to make spaghetti with sauteed eggplant and tomato basil sauce!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

If you haven’t flipped through the September issue of Real Simple yet, have a look at the “Relating” feature “5 Excellent Habits To Start When School Does”. Doing the interview and seeing my name in print is SO EXCITING!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017

I’m not second-guessing myself, just thanking the universe for the opportunities and helping me gather up the courage to say YES!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Something Yummy

I love to bake, but after my daughter left for college things definitely slowed down. You’d think that living with two men I’d be filling the kitchen with all sorts of delicious treats, but both my son and husband are super health conscious about eating white flour and sugar. So much for backing-as-a-form-of-stress-relief!

Happily, though, this month I stumbled on an easy, yummy treat that they both seem to adore. I call them coconut energy bombs, and I found the recipe here.

I’ve tried adding almonds (tastes like an Almond Joy), pecans, and even some cacao powder, but they like the straight coconut and dark chocolate the best. I used mini-muffin tins to form the bombs and store them in the refrigerator until they are gone. They’re super easy and taste like candy, without all the bad stuff!

Happiness Hacks For September 2017: Listen Up

I’m still loving my podcasts, for sure. As I noted earlier, the news-junkie in me has taken a huge hit with this new administration. I cannot subject myself to all the stupid/scary/abhorrent drama that seems to occur on a daily basis, so I rely on the NPR podcast “Up First” to get my 10 minute morning update while I’m cooking breakfast. Later in the day, I’ve taken to the “10% Happier with Dan Harris” podcast and the “10% Happier” app for quick, relaxing meditations. I mean quick – they start with 1 minute and can go up to 10. They’re awesome. Try it.

I hope these Happiness Hacks for September 2017 bring more gratitude into your life. Please be sure to leave your happiness hacks in the comments – I’d love to share your tips for living an ordinary, extraordinary life.

~Jennifer

Do you have to intentionally make yourself happier? Some people, like me, need ‘happiness hacks’ to remind themselves daily of what a blessing it is to be alive – what great fortune we have to be living for one more extraordinary, ordinary moment.

Years ago I started a gratitude journal – just a daily addition to my morning pages that documented the ordinary things that I was grateful for – simple things that made me happy.

During this time I read Gretchen Rubin‘s book, The Happiness Project – Gretchen’s writing and podcasts inspired me to create what I hope are monthly lists of ‘happiness hacks’ – small, simple acts or moments in life that bring me happiness and maybe they’ll rub off on you, too. You can read my essay inspired by Gretchen’s other book, Happier At Home here. 

In June 2017 I started with my first set of ‘happiness hacks’, and loved the responses I received on the post and on social media. Turns out, you do things to make yourselves happy, too. 

You can read my “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks For August 2017: Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

Happiness Hacks For July 2017

 

 

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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