Non-fiction I Read in 2017

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester****
If you love history and literature, this is for you! Totally fascinating history. Also, creating a dictionary makes my head spin!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson*****
This book is NEEDED in America right now more than ever. And the work Bryan Stevenson is doing is incredible. Stevenson's non-profit works to challenge wrongful convictions, as well on behalf of juveniles and those with various mental handicaps in the justice system. Stevenson makes it personal by telling one main overarching story that is just makes you shake your head because you know that this stuff just can't be made up! At once heartbreaking, somehow the book doesn't bring you down, but makes you see the hope.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin****
A good book about study methods that take you from reading the Bible at the surface level or through a lens of emotion and "what it means to me" to historical context and meaning.

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd****
This is a great "discussion" book. I went back and forth between 3 or 4 starts but finally landed on 4 because it was so thought-provoking, although I found her tone a little condescending at times. There was much I agreed with and much I did not agree with too. A full review can be read here.

Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris by Judy Pollard Smith****
I had NEVER heard of Alice Seeley Harris before this book, which is too bad. Alice was a missionary to the Congo who soon discovered the atrocities of the rubber trade, which mutilated, maimed, and murdered the indigenous people of Congo for the harvest of rubber under the rule of Belgian King Leopold. She began documenting what she saw with her Brownie Kodak camera and eventually used her slides as evidence to crusade against the Belgian government alongside her husband.

I was fascinated by Alice as a person and the tensions in her life. One of the biggest tensions was that of mother and missionary. To be an effective missionary as well as to go on a speaking tour to raise awareness to the Congo atrocities, she had to leave her own children behind for years to be cared for by others.

Alice was a woman ahead of her time and more of us should know about who had a heart for social justice.

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer by Sarah Arthur****
A unique devotional guide literary types would appreciate.

The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature by Nancy Guthrie****
A great study that I did over the summer with some friends.

Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Simons*****
I loved this book and it's so unique. You can read my complete review here.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp***
I love Ann Voskamp's heart and writing. She is so genuine in her faith.

However, I had a hard time with this book. I had a hard time tracking with it and it felt scattered. Although each chapter holds is about the "brokenness" theme, I had a hard time following what the point was, most of the time. Each chapter seemed more like a stand alone narrative essay and I think I was looking for more of a narrative arc in the book overall. So as a whole, I found it a scattered reading that lacked cohesion.

I did find gems and nuggets of wisdom that I highlighted throughout. 

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins****
This book was a lot more fun that I imagined. It took a minute to get into the rhythm of Rollins "voice." It reads like a conversation with lots of dry wit and sarcasm. She makes fun of herself a lot but it's encouraging too.

A Lamp unto My Feet by Elisabeth Elliot****
This was a reread for me but perfectly timed. I read it as I experienced severe anxiety for the first time in my life over a health issue. Reading this book felt like it literally physically bolstered me each day as many a topic it came back to again and again was fear.

What was your favorite non-fiction read in 2017?

Fiction I Read in 2017

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Last year I read some real duds when it came to fiction. I'm realizing my taste in fiction most often runs counter to "popular" in a lot of cases. Not always, but you won't find me loving Me Before You or The NightingaleBut this year there were a lot of hits! I'm glad to share them with you.

You already know of my love for Inspector Gamache. We'll start with him:

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny****
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny*****
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny***
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny*****
The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny*****
Glass Houses by Louise Penny*****

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry****
Poignant is what comes to mind. I wrote more than one quote from this book. A fast read but thought-provokingly beautiful.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly****
You know I loved this one. Check it out on audio if you like to listen to your books.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah**1/2
I barely made it through until the end. It was just blah. Reading it right after Lilac Girls highlighted it's flaws. I felt like modern women were superimposed back into the W.W. II era. I had a hard time caring about the characters because they just didn't feel real. Lilac Girls was like a fine crafted award winning movie and this felt like a Hallmark version.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood****
This book got a lot of love and I wasn't so sure about it . . . until the end. Oh, the end! It was superb!

The Dry by Jane Harper****
A gritty Aussie murder mystery.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan****
Delightful on audio! Such a fun romp!

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh****
Kept me guessing right until the end!

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay***
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the literary references. But, it just didn't grab me. The dialogue wasn't very natural and I thought the characters made really big deals about small things which struck me as a plot device to keep it moving.

As a side note, I did love that the character worked for a design firm. It's been a long time since I've heard a reference to "Scalamandre." I used to work in a museum and we used their fabrics all the time. So there were some fun side aspects to the book.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon****
It was more the history than the book that I enjoyed about this. It was slow to start but it did grab me in the end. I was captivated by the real people who were on the airship and watched the footage that was captured of it's destruction. It is truly amazing so many people actually survived.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson*****
Favorite stand-alone novel of the year! The audio version really was excellent!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson****
Quirky, funny, and delightful. I'll read any thing Simonson writes!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*****
I listened to this like I'd never heard it before. Rosamund Pike was just a terrific narrator bringing out all the drama and comedy. A fun "reread."

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart***
This was an interesting book, mainly due to the true events described. I looked up with interest the real Constance Kopp, who became the first female deputy sheriff. She defended her home against a man--a wealthy factory owner and his gang--who begins maliciously threatening her sisters by throwing rocks and shooting through their windows. The writing was a bit witty and the history was interesting. 

But something about it didn't quite do it for me. I'm not sure what, but I didn't LOVE it. I probably won't be reading the rest of the series.

What about you? What fiction did you enjoy last year? I'd love to add your recommendation to my ever-growing TBR list.

Reading Highlights from 2017

For years now I've been sharing what I've read at the beginning of each year. This year I'm changing it up a bit by sharing a highlights post. I will still share my complete list from 2017 over the next few posts, but this was such a great year of reading for me, and I wanted to especially take a minute to share the stories that make me want to rave about them.

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Favorite Cookbook:

Honey and Jam: Seasonal Baking from My Kitchen in the Mountains by Hannah Queen
While I got this at the end of the year, it had been on my to-buy list for a long time. I love the flavor combinations, the rustic photos, and inspiration to bake seasonally. Follow Hannah on Instagram for more inspiration. This cookbook just feels so cozy! I love just flipping through it.

Best Series:

Chief Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny
I finally caught up to the author's publishing schedule by reading six of the books in this series this year. The final one, Glass Houses, was fantastic! Few modern writers, in my opinion, capture the depths of human motive--the evil and the goodness--as well as Penny. The community she creates in Three Pines is something I think we all long for and Gamache represents someone, we all aspire to be. She manages to create a true hero that stands for justice and yet also seems very real and human. 

Most Delightful:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This books was just. so. fun! It put a smile on my face the whole time I listened to it. Yes, this was an audio choice and I think listening to it added to the pleasure. Perfect for bibliophiles and museum lovers who want a dash of an adventurous quest. A wonderful mix of National Treasure meets Harry Potter.

Favorite Historial Fiction:

That would be a tie between Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. 

I think the cover does Lilac Girls an injustice and portrays it as a sweet book about some friends. Not so. This was a hard book about W. W. II that felt very relevant to today. It follows three women, an American, a Polish girl, and a German doctor, and how their lives all touch each other. It covers some grotesque atrocities. I can't imagine all the research that went into this story, especially considering two of the main characters were real women. But the writing was great--especially the attention to historic detail and creating a sense of place. I loved how the book didn't end with the end of the war, but went much further, showing how difficult life could still be. It was particularly good as an audiobook, as each main character was played by a different reader.

The Summer Before the War is the novel I'm always looking for that is so darn hard to find! It hit all my sweet spots when it comes to reading. It made me laugh and cry and I have missed the wonderful characters since it has ended. Agatha, Beatrice, Hugh, and Daniel found their way into my heart like few characters do. The dialogue reminded me of Jane Austen: sharp-witted repartee with perceptive one-liners into human nature. Her descriptions were perfect to pull you back in time to the W.W. I era and the small social dramas within the town of Rye. It is a comedy of manners with a more serious undertone of war that never gets too overwhelmingly dark due to the humor.

This book has a decidedly English flavor and feels old-fashioned, just what I like. If you like the sharp wit of Lady Violet of Downton Abbey and the banter in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society then I think this book will delight you.

Most Important:

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
It's hard to know what to say about this book except--read it! I knew this would be a perspective changer and probably challenge preconceived ideas I had. It is an incredibly thought-provoking book written by the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, which does amazing work. The best "synopsis" would be to read the following NPR piece on the book and to get it right away. It offers historical context to many issues relevant to today. Although this book is filled with very hard stories, ultimately, it has a hope-filled message. 

What were your highlight reads of 2017?

Library Love

The flurry of Christmas activity is slowing down. The new year has dawned. I always look forward to January as a wonderful month of recovery. Time to cozy up in the dead of winter with hot chocolate and a good book.

In anticipation to my annual "what I read last year" post, I've been dreaming of the perfect library.

I have been imagining new book shelves. I'm currently cramming my books in sideways into my shelves, and when we get around to renovating our living room (this year--I hope!) bookshelves will be top priority. And I've always wanted one with a ladder, haven't you? Then there's the cozy chair, perfect lighting, a pretty pillow, and a warm rug. I love neutral shades with a bit of soothing blue. Arhaus has a variety of living room options to add to this kind of space.

To make it perfection I'd also have my favorite monogramed mug and a snuggly throw.

What do you think? What would you include in your perfect library?

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