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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bring joy

Bring More Joy To Your Life: Happiness Hacks November 2017

Bring Joy To Your Life: Happiness Hacks November 2017

November FLEW by – one minute I’m sneaking Halloween candy, and the next I’m boxing up cornucopias and hanging outdoor Christmas lights! Despite the speed with which I flipped my Hay House affirmation calendar pages, November definitely was a month that brought joy to my life! Surrounded by new adventures, old friends, and loving family, I found joy from California to Washington D.C., and I do wish that my November happiness hacks bring a little joy to your life, too.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Time To Travel

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Sunsets on Carmel Beach are always spectacular.

I love traveling. I hate airplane flights – especially ones over water. This has been my discomfort spot for as long as I can remember, and definitely where I need to put growth mindset into action.

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Presenting on Hyperdocs at the TGC Educator Summit in Washington, D.C.

This November, I took trips to Carmel, California, Washington D.C. and St. Louis, MO. One of my happiness hacks, when I travel, is to take something from home that makes my day start on the right note: coffee. I travel with either a plastic pour over drip coffee filter or a portable French-press in a travel mug. All I need is a baggie of my favorite ground coffee, some hot water and I’m starting my day off just like at home! Note to self: check hotel cups carefully before heating water in hotel microwave. I nearly evacuated the 24th floor in St. Louis after smoking out my microwave at 6 am – who knew there were metal bands around PAPER coffee cups?

st louis view

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Happy At Home

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My babies = bring joy to November.

It’s my daughter’s senior year in college, and so far I’ve been able to get her home for every Thanksgiving. Having her live far away has had its challenges, for sure – but the blessing of devoted family time when she comes home definitely takes a bit of the sting out. Besides our daughter coming home, we filled our house with special aunts and uncles and cousins and dogs…nothing fancy or elaborate, just time together to laugh and share the small moments of life since we were last together. One thing I’ve learned is not to sweat the details about family gatherings, and to accept all the help that is lovingly offered. There is plenty of time during the year when we are lost in our daily routine, and to just relax into the comfort of loved ones is an easy happiness hack to accomplish.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time

I met my Goodreads goal of completing 37 books in 2017! Making reading for pleasure a priority has brought so much simple joy into my life-it’s like channeling all those comforting childhood moments when I would find a space to read and immerse myself in imagination. This month I completed Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I’ve got several of Pam Houston’s novels on my shelves and considering she’s a local UC Davis author, I jumped in. Her realistic fictional short stories about love and life in and out of complicated relationships were easy to read, and just the right size to complete one or two in a sitting. And don’t worry if you’re not a cowboy fan – the emotions are relatable despite any longing for campfires and horseback rides! The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of those books that has been recommended by so many people that I was getting embarrassed to say I haven’t read it. Like so many, I whipped through her tale of two French sisters battling during WW2 in vastly different ways. I can’t say that the writing itself was anything too breathtaking, but Hannah manages to carry the reader along an expansive track of the WW2 timeline without losing interest or momentum.I’m currently reading:  Homestead: Modern Pioneers Pursuing the Edge of Possibility by Jane Kirkpatrick (love her pioneer stories) and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (must read her latest, too!) – with a dash of Wonder by R.J. Palacio ( I so need to read more YA lit!=) just to mix it up. I’ll finish these three by the end of 2017 just so I get to an even 40!

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Wise Words

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St. Louis sunrise over the Mississippi River from my hotel room – a perfect reminder to be present.

I want to introduce you to one of my favorite bloggers/writers – Katrina Kenison. She writes her blog, A Gift of An Ordinary Day, at www.katrinakenison.com. I’ve read all of her books, and absolutely absorb every word she writes. This month her post, “A Blessing For Deeper Knowing”, really made me stop and think deeply about who I am and how I integrate into the world around me. She writes, “This work of knowing begins anew each day, with our own quiet recommitment to the truth of the present moment. And truth, of course, begins with me: the truth of who I really am, the truth of what I say and do, the truth of the consequences of every choice I make. So it is for each of us.” Definitely, check out her words-I just know you’ll feel inspired.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Teacher Hacks

Along with a month of travel, November was a month of presentations – for my district on Inquiry Learning, for the Teachers for Global Classrooms cohort on Using Hyperdocs, and for the National Council For Teachers of English on Recapturing The Love of Teaching Through Blogging and Social Media. You can see my presentations here:

Inquiry Learning

Using Hyperdocs

Recapturing The Love of Teaching Through Blogging and Social Media

I’m loving working with teachers and districts lately – if you’re interested in having me come to your area, please contact me.

I hope these happiness hacks help you add a bit more joy to your month – have a happy holiday season, and I’ll be back with more in December!

~Jennifer

**A little background on my Happiness Hacks series:

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 past monthly “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks For October 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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