To hear my mom tell it, I started reading when I was a toddler. (There is a picture of me at about 18 months old “reading” a book about butterflies). While I doubt I was reading real words at that age, there’s no denying that books and I have never been far from one another throughout my life. And real books are definitely my preference. My Kindle is cool, and I like taking it on trips, but there’s just something about real pages that makes the reading experience that much better. I also have a Kindle app on my phone, which I’ve grown to dislike. Reading a book on a phone screen just seems wrong, although it is definitely better than nothing!
Since I decided to try my hand at writing books, my reading habits have changed. For one thing, I no longer read purely for pleasure. Reading is something we writer-types must do to stay abreast of what’s current, what’s being done, what’s being overdone, etc. And for another, the more I learn about writing, the harder I am to please because the more mistakes I can spot. It is a rare book that makes me turn off my inner critic and get sucked into the story, which definitely makes me more sympathetic to agents and editors!
But there have been a few books I’ve read recently that have accomplished this for me. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite books of 2017 (so far).
When I Fall In Love (Susan May Warren)
Cautious, afraid-to-try-anything-new Grace gets paired up with determined, flirtatious, intense, can’t-afford-to-make-a-mistake Max for a cooking competition in Hawaii. Max helps Grace overcome her fears and embrace life, but what Grace doesn’t know is that Max likely doesn’t have a lot of life left; he’s a carrier for Huntington’s Disease, a progressive, fatal disease he’ll contract in a few years.
These are some of the clearest character arcs and most compelling conflicts I’ve ever read. This book is a great example of the instruction we have to make things bad for our characters, and then make them even worse. And I love, love, love that the Huntington’s angle wasn’t dealt with via miraculous healing. Sometimes God does that, but frequently He doesn’t, and it is the latter that makes for more compelling stories.
Grace and the Preacher (Kim Vogel Sawyer)
I had the privilege of meeting Kim at a multi-author book signing recently and picked this up having never read any of her work. Grace is a preacher’s daughter in small-town Kansas in the 1880s who falls in love via letter with Rufus Dille, the recent seminary graduate who’s on his way to take over for Grace’s retiring uncle. However, when Rufus arrives, she's confused: the real guy doesn't match the guy whose letters she's been receiving. This is because “Rufus” is actually Theo, a man on the run from vengeful cousins and who, in a matter of fortuitous timing, was able to commit identity theft, nineteeth-century style. This book had lots of twists and turns and a really compelling conflict; there is no easy way to resolve this level of deception. I felt like the resolution was almost a bit too quick, but it was believable enough to be very satisfying.
A Twist of Faith (Pepper Basham)
I’d never read any of Pepper’s books, either, but after reading this one, a contemporary take on Pygmalion, I kind of want to be her BFF. Dr. Adelina “Dee” Roseland places a bet with a co-worker that she can eliminate Appalachian country boy Reese Mitchell’s strong accent and reform his atrocious grammar so he can get a job in Chicago. But Dee’s in over her head with Reese’s loving family and her powerful feelings for him, and Reese must confront trust issues from his first wife’s betrayal. This book had everything I require in a book: smart, snarky humor, passionate kisses, angst, and characters who love the Lord and want to serve Him, but still notice each other’s physical appearances and have the feelings associated with that noticing. I’m all for purity, both in books and in life, but so often inspirational books go too far the other direction and have the characters not notice things about one another’s appearance at all. Pepper Basham strikes the balance exactly right. I can’t wait to read more of her books!
A Note Yet Unsung (Tamera Alexander)
This is not only one of my favorite books of the year, but one of my favorites ever. As a musician, I am a sucker for books with musician characters. But because I’m a musician, I notice errors that non-musicians probably wouldn't. Tamera Alexander nailed her portrayal of violinist Rebekah Carrington, who seeks to become the first woman to audition for the Nashville Philharmonic. Maestro Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb isn’t quite ready to push the envelope that far, but he does recognize talent when he sees it, so he makes her his assistant. Though Rebekah’s not thrilled with this assignment at first, she and Tate soon learn what a powerful team they make, both musically and personally. Tate’s back story was amazing, his angst was believable, and the conflict of women onstage in an era when that just wasn’t done was resolved in a most creative way.
Home At Last—Deborah Raney
I started this one last night, and even though I’m still a few chapters from the end, it’s safe to put this one on the list. Link Whitman and Shayla Michaels have all kinds of obstacles thrown at their budding relationship, from Shayla’s complicated life situation to their racial differences. As half of an interracial couple myself, I have to cheer every time the lead characters are from different backgrounds. While my husband and I haven’t had to deal with some of the difficulties Link and Shayla have, we’ve had our own challenges, and I found myself nodding along with many scenes in this book. As always, Deb Raney creates believably flawed, sympathetic, three-dimensional characters (I’m pretty sure I fell in love with Link on page 1) and witty dialogue, and I applaud her for tackling such a hot-button, timely issue. This book is opening my eyes and causing me to think about some things differently, and I highly, highly recommend it.
Your Turn: What are you reading currently? Have any books so far in 2017 really stuck with you? My TBR pile is already as tall as I am, but it won’t hurt to add another few titles…