My top favorite books (and then some) of 2017!

It’s that time of year again.

The time when I look back on all the books I read (and didn’t), and wish I’d been able to read more.

So many books, so little time, right?

One fun part about my year in books is I figured out if I keep a book going on Audible at all times, I can read at least 1-2 more books a month than if I’d stuck to text alone. I also discovered if the audio narrator reads too slowly, I can speed it up! At first, all I can think of is Alvin and the Chipmunks. But eventually I’m so absorbed in the story I don’t mind one bit. (Do you like audio books?)

If you’d like to see my 2016 list of favorites, click here. 

If you’d like to see the really cool summary of all my 2017 reads on Goodreads, click here.

Overall, I came in nine books shy of my goal of 60 books. (Not counting my own novel that Goodreads counted in the mix.) But considering I spent the first half of the year rewriting and editing said novel of my own (Before I Saw You, coming June, 2018 from Tyndale House Publishers), I’m pretty proud of the 51 books and 16,121 pages I was able to read.

I had hoped to share my top five favorite books with you, but I was only able to whittle my list down to seven! I seriously loved every single one of these. If you’ve read any of my writing and you’ve read any of these, I think you’ll see why they’re my favorites.

Below them, I’ve posted several other fiction and nonfiction books I really enjoyed this past year. Many of them I struggled to cut from my top seven. I would definitely recommend all of them. (For my complete 2017 book journey, including ones that didn’t make this post, visit my Goodreads page.)

Without further ado, here’s my favorite books of 2017!

Stick around at the end and post your favorites, too, and any thoughts you have about these. Books are best when shared with others, after all!

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TOP SEVEN FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2017

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

A kind editor once told me that my novel, Lead Me Home, reminded her of Of Mice and Men. So re-ignited my interest in Steinbeck, which led me to read The Grapes of Wrath this year. I can’t describe it better than the synopsis on Goodreads, “A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.” Therein is the reason I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end.

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

The turn of the 20th century. Two runaway girls. An old, broken man cultivating his vast expanse of orchards. And prose that makes me want to slow down and savor every phrase. “Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.” (Goodreads synopsis.) All this and so much more. That’s why I love this story.

This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems, by Wendell Berry

“For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems occasioned by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows, to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions in memory and occasion, family and animals, who have with Berry created his Home Place with love and gratitude.” (Goodreads synopsis). The result is this book. No wonder I adore it, and in fact, am never really finished reading it. I keep it on my nightstand so I can read a morsel of it any time.

Upstream: Collected Essays, by Mary Oliver

As Goodreads describes, “Comprising a selection of essays, Upstream finds beloved poet Mary Oliver reflecting on her astonishment and admiration for the natural world and the craft of writing.” I can’t say much more than that about why I adore this book. Every word and phrase is like a hug to my nature-loving, writer heart. (I keep this one on my nightstand, too.)

Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is that so much of the work occurs alone. The fact that I was smitten with The Grapes of Wrath aside, I was smitten all over again with Steinbeck because of all the ways I could relate to the dysfunction and frustration and epiphany and joy he expressed as he wrote his novel. In short, this book made me realize I am not alone as a writer, and I read this during a time in my writing career where I very much felt alone.

The Invention of Wings,by Sue Monk Kidd

I absolutely loved this story, inspired by the historical figure and early abolitionist Sarah Grimke. Told by dual narrators, Sarah Grimke and her handmaid, Handful, I was riveted to this book from beginning to end, and inspired to learn more about much of the historical events and traditions Kidd utilizes throughout the novel. A beautiful story of captivity and freedom, and often in the unlikeliest of ways.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,by Sam Quinones

As a practicing registered nurse, I witness first hand the horrific impact of the opioid epidemic on infants, young adults, and beyond. It breaks my heart so much that my upcoming novel is set right in the middle of a small, fictional town in Indiana ravaged by opioids. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic sheds a lot of needed and balanced light on the origins of the battle we now all face in our backyards. Few, if any, are untouched by the opioid epidemic, and as people of faith we would all be wise to understand it better.

OTHER GREAT FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell

Freedom’s Ring, by Heidi Chiavaroli

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskins

The Sound and the Fury,by William Faulkner

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg

Nashville by Heart,by Tina Ann Forkner

Turtles All the Way Down,by John Green

Camino Island, by John Grisham

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman

The Alliance, by Jolina Petersheim

Anything is Possible,by Elizabeth Strout

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901,by Nancy E. Turner

The Color Purple,by Alice Walker

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

OTHER GREAT NON-FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime Is Eating At the Heart of Rural America,by Scott Thomas Anderson

Ruined,by Ruth Everhart

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival,by Bernd Heinrich

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg

Mammals of Indiana, Revised and Enlarged Edition,by Russell E. Mumford

Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon,by Susan P. Schoelwer

The Raptor Almanac: A Comprehensive Guide to Eagles, Hawks, Falcons, and Vultures,by Scott Weidensaul

Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book,by Don E. Wilson

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, by Julie Zickefoose

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What about you?

Have you read any of these?

What were your favorite books of 2017 and why?

Big, blessed book giveaway!

Without readers, a book is nothing.

Stories only come to life when someone reads them.

Because of that, and because of a heart overflowing with gratitude to those who read my books, I’m celebrating by giving away EIGHTEEN signed copies* of my newest release, How Sweet the Sound to kick off the holiday season!

It’s my own door-buster of a celebration.

Leave a comment below, telling us what you are most grateful for this year.

The first EIGHTEEN people* to comment will win!

It’s that simple.

And I’m that grateful. And then some.

*U.S. addresses only please. Winners of previous giveaways on my blog not eligible.

Meet the characters of How Sweet the Sound: Jed Manon

All this month, I’m introducing various characters from my novel, How Sweet the Sound. Today I’m introducing Jed Manon, the unlikely friend of the protagonist. 

Order a copy of How Sweet the Sound today to learn more about Jed and all the characters in this lower Alabama story. Available at this link and wherever your favorite books are sold.

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A rebel.

Maybe he has a cause.

Maybe he doesn’t.

Maybe his role in the story is to find one.

Unannounced and unexpected, Jed Manon arrives bigger than life in Bay Spring, Alabama, bringing with him secrets of his own.

Will he and Anniston face the dangers lurking in Jed’s life, a life markedly different from her own?

Together, what will they learn about trust?

Pain?

Even, and perhaps, love?

If you’ve read How Sweet the Sound, what did you think of Jed? Share your thoughts below (without giving away any plot secrets, of course!)

*Photo credit: Boy rolling a cigarette. Kentucky, 1964. William Gedney Photographs and Writings Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/

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How Sweet the Sound: A Novel

Available now at your favorite online, national, or local bookstore.

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