It started with the ash trees…a song and story of my heart, and book giveaway!

It started with the ash trees, the inspiration behind my new novel Before I Saw You. The bare branches of hundreds of dying ash trees in Indiana stuck out against the lush green of the rest of landscape, and the sight broke my heart.

If the emerald ash borer beetles haven’t reached your state yet, count it a blessing.

Researchers aren’t positive, but they suspect a barge carrying international cargo with bug-infested pallets inadvertently introduced the emerald ash borer to North America several years back. At first, the bugs claimed acres of trees in Michigan. But soon, the damage extended exponentially. The toll on the ash trees was quick and devastating and continues still today.

Some say ash trees will eventually become extinct in North America, but I hope they are wrong. Scientists are beginning to discover treatments to combat the insects, and the ash tree in our front yard is one example of their success.

So what does my heartbreak over ash trees have to do with a story about a young woman and an unexpected pregnancy, set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic in Southern Indiana?

Click here to find out this and more in the rest of this blog post over at Tricia Goyer’s place!

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!

*****

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

*****

What about you?

Have you read any of these?

What were your favorite books of 2017 and why?

Casting call: Meet the characters of Lead Me Home

I am so excited–people have been sending me photographs of their copies of Lead Me Home that have arrived already from some stores. I can’t wait until you all have a copy and we can talk about all the characters in this book.

  

Speaking of characters, can I share something special with you? 

I’d like to introduce you to the five main characters of this novel. They truly became my friends over the months I spent writing their stories. I think you’ll find they will become your friends, too.

Meet James Horton.

The pastor of one of Sycamore’s oldest churches, James is a kind man who recently suffered tragedy, and who is about to come upon more. How he responds to these crises impacts his faith and everything he holds dear.

Meet Shelby Horton.

James’ only daughter, Shelby is nearing high school graduation and has also been impacted by recent tragedy. Will she continue to shut people out of her life in response, or will she learn to trust again?

Meet Noble Burden.

 In his early twenties, Noble is stuck on his family jersey dairy farm, the last place on earth he wants to be. Or is it? Handsome, angry and determined, what will he give up for his dreams?

Meet Eustace Burden.

Eustace is probably the favorite character of mine that I have ever written. As Noble’s older brother, he is a gentle giant, unexpectedly charming in unexpected ways. 

Meet Laurie Burden.

Mama of Noble and Eustace, Laurie’s had more than her fair share of trouble, everything from a no good husband to near-poverty and a precious son with disabilities. Is Laurie destined for hopelessness, or can she find joy again?

Lead Me Home is available in stores and online at your favorite bookstore now. Click here to order. 

Thank you for taking the time to meet these five special folks. I can’t wait to hear what you all think about their story!