Phew! I read 73 books in 2017! Looking back on my Goodreads ratings, I really loved most of them. It was hard to choose from my favorites, but there were a few stories that I just had to gush about once more before officially putting a close on last year’s reading.
1. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
I’ll begin with the last. I like even numbers (I’m weird!), so I planned to finish up my reading in December with 72 books for the year. I purposely picked up this historical fiction book at the end of December because I thought it would easily take me into January. Not so! I couldn’t put it down! Before We Were Yours features two strong women from two different generations. Each is faced with heartbreak — some worse than others. It also sheds light on terrible adoption crimes that took place in Memphis. I cried BIG tears, but the ending made it all worth it.
2. No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith
This book is so unusual. The narrator’s voice is unique. The plot is clever. I absolutely fell in love with Precious Ramotswe and Botswana.
3. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Did you know graphic memoirs were a thing? I didn’t until this year and – wow – so good! This story, in particular, was extremely moving. It follows the harrowing journey of Thi Bui’s parents as they struggle to survive the Vietnam War and eventually immigrate to America. The story is told with such incredible empathy that my heart opened to what it meant to live in Vietnam at that time and what it means to be a stranger in a new land.
4. To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay
This may well be my favorite book of the year. It is a story – simply told – of an old man who loses his wife unexpectedly. Around the same time, he sees a white dog on his property that won’t seem to leave him alone. He eventually warms to the dog and begins caring for it — but, the problem is that his children can’t see it. This book is beautiful and the ending made me CRY BIG TEARS!
5. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
A skeleton is found on some family property during a renovation. Rowan Chase wants to know why. She begins to explore the history of her family and the history of her community. This is YA historical fiction that sheds light on a long buried Oklahoma race riot and massacre. You’ll want to read this one quick to find out what happens.
6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
This was the book I read during Hurricane Harvey and it was such a respite for me. Stradal presents a fresh voice in fiction and, though the author is male, he gives us a believable female character. Her story — from her humble, somewhat depressing beginnings, to her future as a famous, enigmatic chef — is told from all the significant and insignificant people that helped her achieve her destiny. (Also, the author liked my review on Goodreads… so I pretty much fangirled out!)
7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
What if there were no boundaries? You could walk through a door and be in another country, in someone else’s home, anywhere really… This is the premise of Exit West, which follows two characters desperate to flee a brutal civil war in their native country and their odd, somewhat sci-fi immigration to a new country. This book is unusual, but so thoughtful. It makes you think about immigrants and the boundaries – largely invisible – that we let divide us. This book stayed with me LONG after it was over.
8. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I didn’t know much about Trevor Noah and I didn’t know much about apartheid. But, after reading this book, I was a fan — of Trevor Noah, not apartheid. Noah gives a completely genuine, hilarious account of his childhood under extreme circumstances. Like a true comedian, he shares the most horrifying and senseless details of his life in a way that makes you laugh… and then marvel that you’re laughing when you really want to cry. I found this to be the most quotable book of the year. There were so many poignant thoughts that were worth revisiting!
9. Beartown by Fredrick Backman
This book. Oh man. This book. I have no words. Just read it.
10. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
I picked this book up on a whim and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It’s hilarious, ironic and cleverly told. Even if you’re not a fan of the movie, you’ll find it charming and laugh-out-loud funny. There’s an Andre the Giant fart scene that made me cry with laughter.
11. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
I read this book on audio, while driving cross-county for our summer vacation. It was my first introduction to Sedaris and I just love, love, love his voice. His observations on life, the way he captures the magic and intrigue of an ordinary day… it’s truly an art. He’s not for everyone and there’s quite a bit of language and risky behavior, but I could listen to him craft a sentence any day.
12. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
I vaguely remember the movie, but this year, I kept hearing Fannie Flagg, Fannie Flagg. I’m so glad I tried her out. This book is nostalgic, charming, funny and sad. It’s southern fiction done right.
13. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I fell in love with this YA series this year. It’s sweet, light, honest and you really, really want to see everything with Lara Jean work out. Oh, holy cow, she can be AWKWARD though!! (Cringe!!)
14. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
I love books that teach me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Turns out mortality is more than just dying. This book is so important that I think it should be required reading for everyone. It makes you understand why our bodies break down over time, what that means to us, what that means to those we love and how we can face the end of our mortality with dignity.
15. Mayday by Karen Harrington
My daughter read this and then handed it to me and said, “Read this now.” So, I did. This YA book is about a boy who survives a plane crash. He uses facts and statistics to view the world and tell his story — which is anything but cold and unemotional. I finished this book and just wanted to hug it. My kid had it pegged right. A must-read!
16. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
I just love Maria Semple. She’s a genius. Seriously. This entire book takes place in one day. And, like any other day, Eleanor wants to live her best life. She wants to do what she should be doing and not do what she should not be doing. Sounds simple, but it gets complicated. REAL complicated. Semple has an uncanny way of just saying the darn thing – without all the unnecessary extras, which is MUCH harder than it seems.
17. My Life in France by Julia Child
I had no idea what a sassy, clever, hilarious lady Mrs. Julia Child was. Her memoir about her time in France is almost perfect, as far as memoirs go. You feel like you know her after it’s all over. And, most importantly, her story is so inspiring. Julia Child became THE Julia Child late in life and with plenty of obstacles and hardships. She didn’t let anything get her down. Bon Appétit!
- The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett – Experimental, hard to follow at times, but so interesting and thought-provoking. I found it worth the effort.
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – A refreshing character in depressing times
- The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – A stunning, heartbreaking story about the foster care system and the ways to communicate. I give it five stems of ranunculus.