Now that I’m working in an office again, I’m back to taking the bus everyday. The good thing about that (aside from saving me money and the pollution of my car) is that I have built in reading time! In the almost two months of my new employment, I’ve managed to read six books completely, two I haven’t and likely won’t finish, and am currently reading two now.

I’ve also rediscovered the library. Back when I first got my Kindle several years ago, the e-books available for check-out weren’t really what I wanted to be reading. I read a few, but quickly lost interest. Recently I went back, just to see what they have, and nearly every book I want to read is now there! I’m so excited by this, it’s almost like I can’t get through them fast enough.

Between the new job and some downtime I had earlier in the year during shoulder surgery, I managed to knock out 27 books. I’m not going to review them all, roughly half that. So without further ado, here are my books recommendations (and books to avoid) from 2017!

Kili Me Softly – Aggie Lal

Fellow travel blogger Aggie at Travel In Her Shoes wrote this book about her experience climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I picked it up because it was a free e-book offered by Amazon, and I am always curious about other people’s experiences doing things I have done. In this case, her climb was very different than mine. While my trip went off almost without a hitch, she had some difficult trials to endure. The book is short, it only took me a couple hours to read it, and easy enough, but I’m glad I got it for free. The story was just okay, and I didn’t really find myself relating to her much, but climbing Kilimanjaro is a fantastic achievement, so kudos to her for pushing through the truly awful things that happened to her to make it to the summit.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School – Kathleen Flinn

Several years ago I read Kathleen’s first book, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” about her time in France, attending Le Courdon Bleu Cooking School – the very same one attended by Julia Child. That book was good, if rather predictable. Doesn’t everyone seem to move to France to attend Le Courdon Bleu and write a book about it? Truth be told, I bought her second book by accident (thanks Amazon 1-click purchasing). I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to read it after her first book, but I’m glad I did. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is much better than her first.

After noticing a woman pushing a cart filled with boxed foods, Kathleen asks her why she isn’t buying more whole foods. The simple answer – the woman doesn’t know how to cook. After talking with friends, she finds out this is more common than she realized. This inspires her to see if she can teach women to cook, and if that would change their eating habits.

She finds nine women (there was a man as well, but he drops out) who are willing to learn and she sets out trying to understand why they’ve never learned to cook, the unique problems they face and how she might be able to help. The whole thing is set here in Seattle, which I very much enjoyed, and even mentions someone I know personally. It really is a small world.

We’ll Always Have Paris – Jennifer Coburn

This super cute memoir is about a mother (Jennifer) and her daughter as they take trips to Europe together every few years to strengthen their relationship. The book begins when her daughter is 8 and continues through her high school graduation. They travel to France, Spain, Italy and beyond. Jennifer is a bit of a hypochondriac, constantly afraid she’s going to die young. This is the driving force behind her desire to take her daughter on these trips. But through their travels, she learns to live in the moment and replace her fears with with the joy of living. There are plenty of relatable moments, even for someone who doesn’t have children and I really enjoyed this charming story.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

I know. I’m very late to the party with this one. I watched the movie with Reese Witherspoon on some long-haul flight somewhere and really enjoyed it, but for some reason put off reading the book. Now I can finally say I’ve remedied that problem. Overall, I really liked this book. As someone who is into the outdoors, camping, hiking, etc, much of this book appealed to me. I had a harder time with her struggles with losing her mom and resulting drug addiction and infidelity, but I understand it was part of her journey and without it, there likely wouldn’t have been a reason for her to hike the PCT to begin with. I wish she would have hiked the Washington portion of the PCT as well, but probably that’s just me being biased to my home state.

An African Love Story – Daphne Sheldrick

Talk about a book that pulls at the heartstrings. Daphne Sheldrick is the founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya that raises orphaned elephants and animals of all kinds until they can be rehabilitated back into the wild. This book tells the story of her life, growing up in the wilds of Kenya in the early 1900’s, meeting David and eventually marrying him, Kenyan independence and their struggle to remain while England was asking them to return “home”, a place she had never been, and eventually how her love for animals led to her creation of the Trust. I really enjoyed this fascinating look at a world I haven’t had nearly as much exposure to as I’d like. And if you find yourself wanting to help the elephants in some way, I’m raising money to donate to the DSWT and would be thrilled if you would make a contribution!

Stories I’d Tell in Bars – Jen Lancaster

The latest memoir by one of my favorite authors of all time, this book was even funnier than her last few. Unlike her previous books, this one is told more as a collection of stories (as the title suggests) rather than a chronological period of time. Fortunately this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. Jen approaches even the most frustrating situations with humor, especially when she herself is the one being difficult. Unique to this book is commentary from her husband, which I loved. He’s featured in so many of her anecdotes over the years, I loved getting his point of view this time around. While I probably wouldn’t recommend starting with this book (try Bitter is the New Black instead!), if you’ve read any of Jen’s books in the past, this is another must-read.

Provence, 1970 – Luke Barr

This was an interesting book. Written by the great-grand nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, it tells the story of the meeting between famous American and French chefs (Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, Judith Jones and Fisher herself) in the winter of 1970 in Provence, France. It’s during this brief period that James, Julia and Fisher become disenchanted with the snobbery of French cooking and the help bring about rise of America as a major player in the food world. Based on journals and letters written at the time by the main characters, Luke Barr manages to tell the story from their perspective in an historically accurate way. While I very much enjoyed reading about this stage in the culinary landscape, it’s not for everyone. There’s no drama, little humor and none of the traditional story-telling elements (rising action, climax, etc) that usually make for a good read. But if you enjoyed reading about Julia Child’s My Life in France, this is the next chapter in that tale.

A Homemade Life; Molly Wizenberg

I’m sensing a theme here. Most of the books I’ve read this year seem to be either about travel or cooking. That was not done on purpose, but I suppose it speaks to my interests in general. This is another book based around food and at least partly set in Seattle. Does every food blogger/author live in Seattle or do I just have a knack for only picking those who do? Molly is the author of the blog Orangette, named the best food blog in the world by the London Times, and owner of local Seattle eatery Delancey. Less a novel and more a collection of stories, I mostly enjoyed this book. At times it seemed to be more an ode to the men in her life (her father who passed away several years before, and her husband) than herself or food, but this was my only real gripe. She has a distinctive voice and is frequently funny. Each chapter ends with a recipe that was featured in that chapter, which was based on different stages of her life. If you’re a fan of Orangette and/or food, you’ll probably like this book as well.

Turbo Twenty-three; Janet Evonovich

I love the Stephanie Plum stories and have read all 23 (and I’m waiting on the 24th at the library). These stories are laugh-out-loud funny. Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are constantly finding themselves in the most precarious positions as they hunt down clueless criminals and mobsters alike. My one complaint with this book, and frankly all the books, is there is absolutely no growth in the characters. Stephanie is in the exact same place in her life in book 23 as she was in book 1. She hasn’t made a choice between which guy she wants to be with (Ranger or Morelli), she hasn’t seemed to acquire any new skills – some character development would be nice. I get that a lot of this is what makes the stories funny, but it also makes them all blur together. Aside from book 1, there’s no real reason to read these in any sort of order and nothing ever seems to change. Beyond that though, I love these books and always get a kick out of Stephanie’s shenanigans.

Fluent in 3 Months – Benny Lewis

It took me awhile to get into this book. The first third of it drones on and on about all the reasons people fail at learning a foreign language, none of which is because you “just aren’t good at learning languages” and is mostly because you don’t have enough passion for it. But once it got to the point of the story, how to actually go about learning a language quickly, it got much better. None of the information is necessarily ground-breaking – his main advice to start speaking the language, preferably with a native speaker, from day 1 – is a bit unusual, but as someone who has tried learning several languages in the past, it makes a lot of sense. He then goes on to give tips for finding native speakers when you don’t know any (he humble-brags about learning Japanese in Spain and Arabic in Brazil), and other tips and tricks to help you along. By the time I finished, I was glad I read this book. One of my goals for the last couple years has been to learn Spanish, so I hope to put this information to good use.

The Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanna Gaines

If you’re a fan of HGTV’s mega-hit Fixer Upper, you’ll enjoy reading this book. Chip and Joanna are just as adorable in print as they are on TV. Mostly written from Joanna’s perspective, Chip adds his two cents sporadically, making you feel like you’re sitting down with them while they tell you a story. It’s a quick and easy read, and it’s really interesting learning all the things that they went through to get where they are. Even through the tough times, they both seem to have led a truly charmed life. As sad as I am that Fixer Upper is ending, I can’t wait to see what they do next. If you’re looking for something to tide you over, I definitely recommend giving this book a read.

The Goddess of Mt Rainier – Lori Ross

It’s not everyday I get to write a review of a book that I’m in, but I do today! I’m thrilled to tell you about my friend Lori’s book about our climb up Mt Rainier last year. I’m so proud of her for getting this book written and published – it wasn’t always easy. Stops and starts along the way, editing and reediting, it can wear a person down. The story is told from Lori’s perspective about her experience and the lessons she learned and it was fun to relive the climb through her eyes. It’s an easy read; it only took me an hour from front to back and I even had a few tears in my eyes by the end. Perhaps I’m biased, but I definitely recommend giving this one a shot.

I also read two books that I didn’t finish…

Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) – George R.R. Martin

I’m 200 pages into this book and I’m not sure I want to finish. People are obsessed with these stories, although admittedly most of those people have only watched the show not read the books. But I don’t get it. Now I love a good epic fantasy saga, and I don’t find the perspective-jumping difficult to follow. It just seems like everyone I like is going to die, and nothing good is going to happen. Why would I continue to read further? I agree that the story is gripping, but I can’t shake the foreboding that nothing will end well here which makes me not want to continue on. I also feel like perhaps people like these books for the same reason so many people liked 50 Shades of Gray – it’s exceptionally taboo and scandalous at times. Personally, I could do without all the incest, but I guess then there’d be no story (spoiler alert?). To those of you who have read the books (not just watched the show) why do you like them? Should I really give them another chance?

The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World – Kristin Rockaway

This book made me so angry. It’s absolutely nothing like the title suggests. Admittedly I only read the first quarter, then jumped ahead to see if it ends as I suspected it would. It does. I’m not going to recap the story because frankly, it’s not worth it. But my takeaway from the book is that if you’re a career driven, constantly traveling woman at the ripe old age of 24, you’re clearly lonely deep down inside and compensating for your lack of companionship, and the only way to truly be happy is to find a man and settle down. AAAAAHHHHHH! So. Dumb. To add to that, the main character completely changes her personality before we’ve even finished getting to know her. This whole book seems wildly unrealistic and completely out of touch with the times. If your career and/or your travels make you happy, you do you. Don’t let anyone tell you you need a man to complete you. That’s just nonsense. On the flip side, if getting married is your dream in life, go on with your bad self. Everyone has their own road to happiness and it’s nobody else’s but yours.

Whew, I’m glad I got that off my chest. What were your favorite books you read this year? I’m always looking for more recommendations!

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Best of 2017 - A Year of New Beginnings
Nighttime at the Chinese Gardens

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