Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Best Books of 2017

2017 is turning out to be a pretty good year for books around here.  I have beat my last year's record by 54%.  I attribute this to several things: starting a book club, actually reading my Book of the Month and Shelf Subscription books each month and the fact that I did not teach a Bible study this past fall.  There is more time for reading when I am not studying in the evenings.

So what were my favorite books of the year?  Here are my top 6 (though it is acutally a list of 7 because I couldn't choose so I made a double feature out of one pick). 


Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
So, if #4 on my list is a double feature...this one is a 'twice the bang for your buck' entry.  I enjoyed listening to Big Little Lies on Audible.  It is such an entertaining story even though it is intense and deals with some hard subject matter.  I was swept up in the adventure from the very first minutes.  My heart raced when I wasn't sure what was going to happen to the characters...and I cheered like crazy for 'my girls.'  Madeline, Celeste and Jane became girlfriends and I was invested in their lives even when they were driving me crazy!

Then I watched the HBO series which is up for all kinds of awards.  The book was better and I still don't understand why they reset the story in California instead of Australia, but I enjoyed the show and found myself even more invested in their lives.  Yes, this is chick-lit...but it is chick-lit at it's finest! 


The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman
I just finished this November selection from Book of the Month.  All of the activity and travel in our lives made it last longer than it normally would have because I was just so tired when I tried to read at night.  But read, I must, because I couldn't wait to find out more about the Owens siblings Franny, Jet and Vincent.

I sobbed as I read some of the final pages, but closed the book with a smile on face.  It's that good!

From Amazon:
For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. 

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the '60s, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood-red hair; shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people's thoughts; and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. 

From the start, Susanna sets down rules for her children. No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And, most importantly, never, ever fall in love. But when her children visit their aunt Isabelle in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City, each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. 

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered and sometimes feared aunts in Practical Magic while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love
I'm still pondering this story and cannot wait to read Practical Magic (of which this is the prequel) and then to watch the movie. 


The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

 I am giving you a double feature on this one because I really can't choose which was my favorite.  Nobody Owens, the boy whose family is murdered and finds himself in a graveyard, taken in by ghosts?  Or the unnamed middle aged man who transports us back in time to his relationship with Lettie Hempstock, the girl at the end of the lane who tells him that her pond is an ocean?

Both were such rich stories with memorable characters that I suspect I will read them again at some point in time.  I think they would make great reads when you find yourself in a reading slump.


The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom

There are times when books just seem to fall into your hands that you were not even looking for.  This was one of those books.  Stacy chose it for our Book Club at the Barn solely because it had good comfort food that we could share at our next meeting.  (We try to eat in theme to the book...not always an easy task.)  For a couple of books prior, the food options were sparse as we read about the mail order brides of the Louisiana Purchase, a mystery set in a bakery, and a book of five novellas set in biblical times.  Let me just say, "Lots. Of. Bread."

Then we read The Kitchen House and it's characters snatched me out of my modern day complacency.  To read of how people treated one another -- slavery, indentured servitude, even in family and in a marriage -- it was moving and convicting and heartbreaking.  "Man's inhumanity towards man."  Belle's story stripped me bare.  Lavinia's story grieved me. And yet, I closed this book with hope for the world to come.

Sidenote: Jim and I recently watched Matthew McConaughey in Free State of Jones and I had flashbacks to The Kitchen House. I'm not a huge fan of his, but this one was good.


The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard
by Kristin Schell

This book still has me thinking of how I might encourage community around the table.  I am hoping in 2018 to begin a quarterly gathering similar to If:Table with the women of our church.  I have commissioned a large picnic table for our backyard in hopes of gathering our neighbors, family and friends more often.  Kristin's book is beautiful to the eyes and she gently encourages us to open our hearts to those the Lord brings into our lives. If you feel even the slightest pull toward hospitality, you need to read this book.  It doesn't shame you or tell you how you SHOULD do it.  No Pinterest Perfection called for...just love for those already around you.


A Gentleman in Moscow 
Amor Towles
I am planning to read Towles' highly regarded Rules of Civility over the Christmas holidays, but honestly, it will take a lot to displace Count Alexander Rostov as one of my all time favorite characters.  I never could have dreamed that a novel that spans thirty years and never leaves the confines of a hotel could be so interesting.  But the Count captured my imagination and I absolutely adored his outlook on life.  Talk about making the most out of a difficult situation.  Life does not have to be limited by your surroundings.  It is what you make of it.

If you want a book that sweeps you away to another time and place, this is your book.  I have honestly never desired to visit Russia...but after reading this book I took a virtual tour of the Hotel Metropol and dreamed of visiting.

This one had the most satisfying ending! I absolutely adored it.

And because it was so hard to cut this list down to 6(ish), here are my honorable mentions for 2017:
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
  • The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (the book...not the movie!) 
  • Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (was narrowly knocked off my The Rules of Magic)