As one year comes to an end, we anticipate the start of a new one and wonder how it will compare to the years before. I am especially anticipating 2017 because Nate and I are expecting our first baby at the beginning of March!! And because of our little peanut, I decided to take a break from grad school for the spring semester, which means: time to prepare for baby, watch Gilmore Girls, and read many, many books that aren’t textbooks. :)
Speaking of reading, a bunch of the bloggers I follow have created lists of their favorite books they read in 2016, so I thought I would follow suit and share my list with you. The description of each book will be straight from Amazon, and then I’ll give a few reasons why I loved it. So here they are, in no particular order: my top ten books of 2016. Maybe you’ll find a few to add to your own list.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
About the book: “For years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig, largely absent to his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness records–obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son’s unfinished Boy Scout badge.”
Why I loved it: Nate and I listened to this book on Audible, and we found ourselves quickly swept up in the tragedy and beauty of the story. Monica Wood does an amazing job at showing the brokenness and redemption of relationships through hardship. The characters teach us how important it is to meet people where they are because everyone has a story to tell.
Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
About the book: “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman had a baby in Paris, she didn’t aspire to become a ‘French parent.’ But she noticed that French children slept through the night by two or three months old. They ate braised leeks. They played by themselves while their parents sipped coffee. And yet French kids were still boisterous, curious, and creative. Why?”
Why I loved it: Since finding out I was pregnant, this book is the first parenting book I picked up, and I’m really glad that was the case. Parenting strategies can be a seriously sensitive topic, and I’m sure I don’t even know the half of it yet, but reading this book felt like a sigh of relief. Druckerman is not preachy or overly-opinionated, but more curious and interested in finding out why instead of telling us how. Honestly, I think I would have found this one fascinating whether or not I was expecting. Besides the fact that I have an affinity for France (four months abroad in college!), I really enjoyed learning how another culture approaches this aspect of life.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
About the book: “In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War. Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.”
Why I loved it: This book is one of those “can’t put it down” books, and not because it is particularly pleasant to read. In fact, it’s really hard to read, and that might be an understatement. Still, I became so invested in the story. The characters are vivid, and I found myself caring for them, rooting for them, pleading for them, and even feeling visceral disdain for some of them. Grissom is a masterful storyteller, and the story sparked so many new questions for me about this time in our history.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
About the book: “A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.”
Why I loved it: I still can’t believe I hadn’t picked up this quintet series until this year. Middle school Hannah would have LOVED these books because middle school Hannah was basically Meg Murray minus the glasses. Madeline L’Engle has become a true hero of mine for writing a story that seems, on the surface, like just another kid’s book, but once you dig a little deeper, you find all the beautiful layers. I have yet to read all five – I only have two to go – but I am beyond excited to share these books with my kids someday.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
About the book: “Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.”
Why I loved it: I could probably read this book a hundred times and get something different out of it each time. It’s written in the form of letters from a father, who is a pastor, to his young son. There is so much depth and self-reflection involved in the father’s letters about family, doubt, belief, loneliness, anger, grace, and forgiveness. Robinson’s prose is simply captivating, and I found myself reading sentences over again just to linger on them a few moments longer.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
About the book: “Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him ‘the bitter neighbor from hell.’ But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness.”
Why I loved it: If I had to pick my favorite book of 2016, this one would win by a landslide. This remarkable book aims straight for your heart and really sheds light on what it means to love your neighbor. By the end, I was taken by surprise at how much I adored the characters and felt like I was a part of their neighborhood in Sweden. I can’t do this book justice with my own words because you have to experience it for yourself to understand the sweetness of the story. Also, the audiobook is top notch.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
About the book: “Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black ‘stand-in mother,’ Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sister, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.”
Why I loved it: I feel like a bit of a late-comer to this book, but better late than never, right? It impressed me in so many ways, especially the wonderfully crafted sentences and story structure. The characters are lovable, the scenery is vivid, and the story is beautifully paced. Plus, I was floored by the symbolism of the bees and beekeeping that took the story to a whole new level. I’m always thankful for authors who step out in courage to tell tough stories that take us to places we may not have understood otherwise, and I look forward to reading more books by this author.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
About the book: “In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and the promise of massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Why I loved it: I originally got this book for Nate, and once I saw how quickly he finished it, I knew I had to read it next. What an adventure. It brought me back to the days of playing video games with my brother for hours on end and entering into those virtual worlds, wishing we had superpowers in real life. This story was such a fun ride, and I envy those who get to experience it for the first time!
Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines
About the book: “In Coming Clean, Seth Haines writes a raw account of his first 90 days of sobriety, illuminating how to face the pain we’d rather avoid, and even more importantly, how an abiding God meets us in that pain. Seth shows us that true wholeness is found in facing our pain and anxieties with the tenacity and tenderness of Jesus, and only through Christ’s passion can we truly come clean.”
Why I loved it: This book sat in my Kindle library for quite a while before I decided to dive in, but I believe I started it at just the right time. As I was applying for grad school and thinking about becoming a counselor, I began considering the importance of self-reflection, dependent prayer, and entering into the uncomfortable spaces of dealing with pain. Seth Haines sets an incredible example of these things as he tells his story through his first 90 days of sobriety and paints a picture of the freedom we can have in Christ when we acknowledge our pain instead of run from it.
This Is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection by Sammy Rhodes
About the book: “One of the saddest realities of life is that the things we need to talk about the most, we tend to talk about the least—from bouts with depression to sexual struggles to parent-wounds that never seem to heal. Raise these issues out loud, and wait for the awkward silence. But those awkward moments are precisely where we find connection with God and one another.”
Why I loved it: This book is the realest of the real. I laughed and cried through the whole thing, and I can’t even begin to say how much I appreciated each chapter. Sammy Rhodes goes straight to the heart of some very specific issues we tend to hide because of the guilt and shame associated with them. But even when our guilt and shame seem so loud, God’s love is louder. Our awkward moments give us opportunities to love others and to be loved, and that’s where the healing can begin.
Because choosing ten favorites is hard, I’ll also mention these two, both of which are fascinating, wild rides. One follows two teenage boys on the hunt for a dozen eggs in the heart of WWII, and the other is a portrayal of what life might be like in North Korea. Neither are for the faint of heart, but they might make you think about life a bit differently.
City of Thieves by David Benioff // The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Other Books I Read This Year
- Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
- For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
- Jesus the King by Tim Keller
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
- A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne
- Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
- A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
There you have it! Let me know if you plan to read any of these! And if you have read any of them before, what did you think?