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?