One side effect of moving is the significant lack of social events. This is awesome for anyone who, like me, is a reader. In fact, one of the very first places I go, after relocating to a new city, is to get a library card. In the past seven months, I’ve checked out over 60 books from my current library (which happens to be less than a mile from my house!). After all that reading, here’s a quick review of the most notable books I read in 2017.
Book Reviews: 5 Definite Must-Reads
Carry On by Lisa Fenn—I read this in preparation for helping the author develop a small group study guide. I could not put it down. It is the true account of two high school wrestlers in Cleveland—one legally blind and the other without legs—as told through the eyes of the ESPN producer sent to interview them. I really don’t want to give away any more of the story because I just want you to read it. For families, book clubs, and small groups, this book is a wonderful conversation-starter.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult—In this thought-provoking novel, Picoult gives us the opportunity to consider a plethora of questions about race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion. I love books that leave me wrestling with: What would I do in this situation? This book definitely does that, and more. It is well worth reading and would be especially great for book clubs to discuss.
Clara’s War by Clara Kramer—Why is this not required reading for all high school students?! It is the most historical, most poignant, most revealing Holocaust story I’ve encountered. And the best part is it is a first-hand account from a survivor! Seriously: read this book.
The Spy’s Son: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia by Bryan Denson—I actually bought this book because it was not available at my library. That tells you how much I wanted to read it (if you know me, you know I rarely buy books). I’m so glad I did! I love a good spy story and what makes this one truly fascinating is that it is true. Jim Nicholson was convicted of espionage not once, but twice – the second time happened while he was in prison, using his son to ferry messages to his Russian handler. How could he? Why? So many questions. Denson does a great job of delving into those, to try and help us understand how one man could do such a thing.
Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey—I read this as part of a leadership class, and was surprised by how much Yancey’s stories impacted me. He tells how the following 13 different people significantly impacted his life and faith: Dr. Paul Brand, G. K. Chesterton, Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, C. Everett Koop, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henri Nouwen, John Donne, Mahatma Gandi, Shusaku Endo, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Coles. Each individual story was fascinating and Yancey’s insights were quite thought-provoking.
Book Reviews: 11 Really Good Reads for Mindless Entertainment
I See You and I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh—I fell in love with this British author of psychological thrillers. I very much enjoy books that keep me guessing and Mackintosh’s books did a great job of that. And let’s be honest, I can’t get enough of the British stuff these days (The Crown is awesome!). If nothing else, her books gave me a chance to practice my British accent, but they are so much more than that. If you enjoy books that mess with your head and keep you on the edge of your seat, check these out.
The Preacher and The Lost Boy by Camilla Lackberg—I also fell in love with Swedish novelist Camilla Lackberg. I found myself Googling the far-away cities she mentioned so much that Google added Fjällbacka to my favorite places at one point. These are essentially crime novels, but Lackberg’s characters and storytelling make it feel like so much more. These are two of the eight books in her Detective Patrik Hedström series. (I have the others in my queue.)
The First Patient by Michael Palmer—This book combines medicine with politics in a past-paced drama, with a love story thrown in for good measure. The main character is a doctor treating the president, in a suspenseful, very entertaining tale that definitely made me add Palmer to my list of read-again authors.
Doing Harm and Under the Knife by Kelly Parsons—These are medical thrillers written by an author who definitely knows what he’s writing about (since he’s a surgeon). He style is very conversational and believable, and the characters feel real. I haven’t read many other medical crime novels, so it was nice to have that change of scenery. I will look forward to reading more from Parsons if he continues to write.
The Late Show by Michael Connelly—Here’s another police drama for anyone who enjoys these. This one takes place in Los Angeles and has a young female cop at the center. She works the night shift (hence the title), which causes her to encounter quite a variety of characters each night. This author has also written the Harry Bosch series, which I found to be darker than The Late Show. I much prefer Renee Ballard to Bosch and hope Connelly is writing more of her stories.
All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg—I will admit to being very surprised that a guy authored this book, because it is written from the perspective of three different women, and does a wonderful job of getting inside their heads. It’s an easy read, and there’s very little suspense, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Particularly for anyone who has been affected by cancer (and who hasn’t these days), you’ll likely find this to be a unique and poignant perspective.
Camino Island by John Grisham—After reading a couple duds (which have been left off any of these lists), it was great to get back to an author who can actually tell a good story. Grisham is an old-stand-by for me, in that regard. All of his books are engaging, entertaining, and just really fun to read. Unlike most of his books, this is not a legal drama. Instead, it centers around a writer/professor and a bookstore owner, and the high-dollar theft that brings them together. I’ll leave it at that so you can fully enjoy this one. 🙂
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman—It’s practically raining Alexander Hamilton stories these days, and Hoffman’s is not one to be missed if you enjoy this genre. I enjoy well-written historical fiction, particular those that cause me to research the time period and/or characters more thoroughly. The Hamilton Affair did not disappoint in that regard. As a historian, Hoffman does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into her novel. She wins high praise from me for that and her ability to capture my attention with a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Book Reviews: 5 Other Noteworthy Mentions (for various reasons)
The Force by Don Winslow—I really wanted to like this. I tried. But I just couldn’t get into it and ultimately gave up. It reminded me of the show Shades of Blue, which I also abandoned. But if you really really like crooked cop stories, you’d probably like this. Otherwise, just pass.
A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald—I was assigned this book as part of a class in my leadership program. I was dreading it, due to the title, but ended up racing through it. I realize this isn’t a topic everyone would be interested in reading about, but I found the tale to be fascinating. For anyone who lived through the financial crisis of the first decade of this century (which is probably everyone reading this), the lessons learned in this book are quite worth considering. (It also caused me to watch The Big Short after finishing this book, which covers the same time frame.)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver—I know: half of you are hating me right now for not putting this as the top of my list. Maybe it’s because my family spent time abroad serving as missionaries, I don’t know. Maybe, in that sense, it’s too potentially real. I just hated certain characters and kept wanting a different outcome. It left a very sour taste in my mouth. I am not saying all books have to leave me feeling good in order for me to enjoy them, but when they make me wish I could have those hours back… it’s a problem. But it would be a good one for a book club because it certainly can be fuel for conversation…
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult—I have another Picoult book on the top of my list from 2017, but this one felt strange to me. The main characters run an elephant santuary, and I did appreciate learning more about elephants. No one can deny Picoult’s ability to masterfully weave stories, but this one felt like a bit of a stretch. Ultimately, I just didn’t buy it.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman—OK, if you’re a hockey fan, this is the book for you. While I’m not, that didn’t initially turn me off. It’s definitely all about hockey, in this fictitious European town. But the story also tells about community, relationships, and what tears those apart. It’s a highly rated book and definitely well written. I kept trying to love it, but it ended up falling flat for me and so I could take it or leave it.
More to Come in the New Year
Well, I’m already reading my way through 2018. The first one I’ve actually just about finished is Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. Regardless of your political views, the 2016 election was quite monumental. This book covers one NBC reporter’s experiences following the Trump campaign from the summer of 2015 through the election. Again, no matter which way you voted, it’s always helpful to consider someone else’s thoughts on the topic, especially someone so close to the epicenter of the issue…
Here are a few others at the top of my list, whether for school or fun (or both):
- The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
- Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
- Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Henry Cloud
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
- Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller
Help me build me to-read list. What else should I pick up this year?