My Favorite Books of 2017

By Thursday, January 18, 2018 , , , , , ,

Hello and happy 2018 again to all of you, dear readers! I hope the first few weeks of it have been promising and encouraging and as usual, full of good books :) It’s that time again for me to share my tops reads of the past year. It was a great reading year in 2017 with some strong standouts. I read a total of 36 books, plus I reread the following favorites (many of them via audiobook) – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and The Black Moon by Winston Graham (new in 2017 but read it twice). It was a little tempting to be dissatisfied with this since I read 50 books in 2016, but at its foundation, reading is about quality, not quantity, and 2017 certainly delivered that. So with that, here are my top titles from 2017, in no particular order. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
This was the very first book I read in 2017, and even then, I was confident it would remain a favorite. And so it did! Paul Kalanithi wrote this personal memoir during what he knew were the final months of his life, and he reflects on deep questions of life, death, and the human search for meaning with thoughtful poignancy. He talks about his time as a young medical student wondering what makes a meaningful life, his lifelong love for writing and poetry, his decision to pursue neurosurgery, his fascination with the brain’s place in man’s search for identity, and his own sudden transition from doctor to patient. Kalanithi was a brilliant writer and examined difficult life questions through this book as he unflinchingly faced his own mortality. It is deeply moving to read and impossible to forget. Tears were pouring down my face as I read the last ten or so pages and I know I’ll be revisiting them.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan 
This was a jewel find of 2017, plus it has a great title, doesn’t it? Sullivan’s writing is cinematic and gripping and it will suck you in with this true story of an Italian teenage boy who becomes involved in Italy’s resistance movement during WWII. The story opens in the early 1940s on Pino, our hero, who really just wants a normal life. But the war soon necessitates that he move away from his family to a boys’ school run by a kindly Catholic priest. It’s through this school that he soon starts helping Jews escape over the Alps and into Switzerland, and later on, he becomes the personal chauffeur to one of Hitler’s chief executives by happenstance. From here, he has the chance to spy within Nazi high command. I’m so glad this story has now been written, for Pino was a true hero. You’ll laugh, cry, and tremble with suspense as you read his story.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
And while we’re on the subject of WWII hero stories, here’s another one that made my favorites in 2017. You may be familiar with the film version of The Zookeeper’s Wife that came out last year, but as usual, I also recommend the book :) The heroes of this one were Jan and Antonina Zabinski, and their work with the resistance in Poland was truly remarkable. Their beautiful Warsaw Zoo was bombed early during the war, but throughout the rest of the war years, they worked to evacuate Jews and others at high risk. They hid people in their house and throughout the zoo, brought food and medical supplies to Jews trapped within the Warsaw Ghetto, and helped many more escape the country. It’s impossible to calculate the impact the Zabinskis had and I’m so glad to know their story. After I read the book, I had the honor of visiting the Holocaust Museum and seeing their names listed on a wall that honored those who helped Jews during WWII. Entirely fitting.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

This was apparently the year of the biography and memoir, because this memoir was another 2017 favorite. In this one, Rosaria Butterfield tells her personal journey of coming to the Christian faith. The short version is that it was not easy. In fact, it was marked by pain, grief, disappointment, and loss. Heavy losses. Loss of friends, career, home, respect, and much more. She describes her conversion as a train wreck in which she lost everything but the dog. But every page of this incredible account ensures the reader that it has been worth it. I’m so thankful for Rosaria and her gut-wrenching honesty. It challenges and edifies well.

How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger

Since I’m still relatively new to the Harry Potter books, I’ve been eager to learn all I can about Harry’s world and study the fun and hidden meanings in J.K. Rowling’s series. Her imagination blew me away continually as I read the books for the first time almost two years ago, and this book by John Granger gives even more insight into just how brilliant she was in constructing Harry’s story. Granger is humorous, engaging, and has more Potter mania in his little finger than the biggest superfan the internet could find. He carefully analyzes the series’ place in the English literary tradition, the story’s roots in alchemy, the spiritual keys in each book, the deep symbolism, the meanings of names, and so much more. The details he has pulled out and made accessible through this book will make Potter fans marvel afresh at the timeless, universal nature of Harry’s adventure. I know it made me love the series that much more.

The Black Moon by Winston Graham 
Yes, I’m still working through the Poldark series and I’ve now read up through book 7! However, book 5, The Black Moon, certainly won a special place in my heart. It has all the usual for Poldark – mining, feuds, politics, marriages, and more – but after the ringer of Warleggan, The Black Moon is a welcome respite for Ross and Demelza. They joke, laugh, tease, and raise their children happily together, and what a joy it is to watch. But it wouldn’t be Poldark without drama, and it’s found in the introduction of star-crossed lovers Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth. These two, y’all. They’re my new favorites and their story is one of suspense, heartbreak, and the most enduring and pure love I’ve seen in a long time. Also notable to this volume is the prison break in France to free Dr. Dwight Enys. The order of events is changed a bit in the TV series, so if that’s your only exposure, please pick up the books! The rescue attempt and the subsequent homecoming occur toward the end of The Black Moon, and unlike the show, said homecoming is an extremely happy event. I read this one twice within 2017 and am working through rereading books 6 and 7 until season 4 airs later this year! Here’s to ever more Poldark, you guys. 

So, there are my 2017 favorites – what were yours? And what are you reading now? I’d love to hear what you’ve read in the last year and any recommendations you might have for me in 2018! Here’s the full list of 2017 titles I read and I can’t wait to hear all about your reading in the comments :)

My 2017 Reads:
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Stepping Out in Faith: Former Catholics Share Their Stories  edited by Mark Gilbert
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Black Moon by Winston Graham
The Four Swans by Winston Graham
The Secret Wife by Gill Paul
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Angry Tide by Winston Graham
Journey from Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt
In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger
Humility by C.J. Mahaney
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Reading People by Anne Bogel
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
The Beat on Ruby Street by Jenna Zark
Eight Women of Faith by Michael A.G. Haykin
The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen
The Pleasures of God by John Piper
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert 

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