The sun has come out, my brain is awakening, and I can finally report the best books I read in 2017. I’ve divided them into categories because it was hard to choose.
Seven outstanding books I read in 2017 that I recommend heartily:
1. Ink – Alice Broadway.
Brilliant Young Adult genre book set in a world where everything you do, good and bad, is tattooed onto your skin for all to see. (Ink’s sequel, Spark, is just out).
2. 4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster.
A brilliant door-stopper of a book. One incident in Archie’s childhood produces four alternative lives, which are narrated in parallel – this made me both feel and think.
3. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy.
Although it’s not quite up to the dazzling heights of The God of Small Things, it’s up there as a great novel exploring India post-partition, and what happens to all who don’t quite belong.
4. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman.
It’s become a runaway success because of the compelling characters, wonderful lean, wry writing, and secrets gradually revealed.
5. Hot Milk – Deborah Levy.
A daughter cares for her chronically ill undiagnosed mother – who may or may not be faking her illness. This is a little treasure – a lyrical book with feminist and Greek mythology interwoven which explores a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.
6. My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal.
This is a moving and ultimately hopeful novel about a black boy who is fostered while his white baby brother is adopted. It’s has a good mixture of sweetness and grit.
7. The Day The Angels Fell – Shawn Smucker.
A courageous, gripping tale for older children – a bereaved child searches for the tree of life to bring his dead mother back. Weaving in Greek myths and the Genesis creation account it explores the theme of bereavement and letting go. (The sequel, The Edge of Over There, is being released in July 2018).
Best Theology (I read some good theology last year!)
1. The Woman Who Named God – Charlotte Gordon.
Outstanding exploration of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths – written as compellingly as a great novel but with intellectual rigour. My book, Those Who Wait, is richer for having read this.
2. God Remembered Rachel – Jenni Williams.
Brilliant biblical studies book on women in the Old Testament, with a feminist and Bible-loving slant. Another great book which influenced Those Who Wait.
3. Exclusion and Embrace – Miroslav Volf.
A theological classic – looking at the cross through the lens of forgiveness after coming out of the Serbia-Croat civil war.
4. The Contemplative Writer / Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Ed Cyzewski.
Both of these books are calming, encouraging gems – contemplative theology for people nervous of contemplative theology.
Best Spiritual Memoirs
1. What Falls from the Sky – Esther Emery.
A year without the internet after a year of crisis – and how it changed her life.
2. Still Life – Gillian Marchenko.
A lyrical, beautifully written memoir of depression, grounded in evangelical theology.
3. Love, Amy – Amy Young.
What life really looks like as a ‘missionary’ in China – it’s the ordinary drama of the everyday I found fascinating.
4. Home – Jo Swinney.
Has memoir elements in this exploration of the idea of home in the Bible.
Best Books for readers of Thorns and Gold
1. Songs of Suffering – Simon P Stocks.
Accessible, theological and practical reflections on hard times, using the psalms of lament as a guide. Written with a pastor’s heart.
2. Tumbling Sky – Matt Searles.
Beautiful, short, devotional reflections on the psalms of lament from someone who articulates what it means to struggle.
3. Living Cross – Amy Boucher Pye.
Forty days of devotionals about God’s forgiveness.
4. I Thought There Would Be Cake – Katharine Welby-Roberts.
A great companion for those struggling with mental health (especially for those in teens or twenties).
Best kids books:
1. Beowulf – Michael Morpurgo.
Even though I’m an English Lit graduate who read Seamus Heaney’s translation, this was the first time I really understood the plot and had empathy for the characters. Wonderful language, and my son was hooked on this dragon-slaying story. (Be warned: the hero dies.)
2. East of the Sun, West of the Moon – Noel Daniel, illustrated Kay Nielsen.
A really special hardback book with beautiful 1920s illustrations containing Nordic fairy tales, traditionally told. One to give and treasure.
3. The Wind In the Willows – Kenneth Grahame, illustrated Robert Ingpen.
A pleasure for both kids and adults to read – this hardback edition comes with beautiful illustrations by Robert Ingpen.
4. How to Train Your Dragon – Cressida Cowell.
A really great kids series – worth all the hype.
(See also above The Day The Angels Fell for older children 9+ and Ink for teens 13+.)
Two to avoid:
1. The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters.
I’ve loved previous books by her, but in this half-romance, half-thriller I found the protagonist incredibly predatory while she perceived herself as victim, and many of the sex scenes were laughably bad.
2. When God Was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman.
Meh. Some incidents happen, and then it ends.
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“This is a gentle book full of humanity, biblical integrity and unexpected humour.” – Pete Greig, founder of 24:7 Prayer Movement.
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