Favorite Books of 2017

Here it is! A fabulous list of recommended books made by readers for readers! Thank you to everyone who contributed. The winner for this year’s giveaway is:

Mary Nichols

Congratulations to Mary!

Now, here are the books word nerd readers loved, along with the reasons why they loved ’em.

Adult Fiction

  • Small Great Things
    One of my favorites for 2017 too!
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – “I love Jodi’s writing. Family drama, current and really important issue, and her signature surprise twist at the end!”
  • The Life List by Lori Nelson Speilman “It is the story of a 34-year-old woman whose beloved mother dies and while she expects to inherit a company and lots of money is instead sent on a quest to re-discover herself.”
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by P. Patrick  “On the first anniversary of his wife’s death, Arthur Pepper decides he has to clean out her closet. In the closet, he finds a red velvet box with a charm bracelet. He has never seen the bracelet before and it does not look like anything his wife would wear. He sets out on a journey to find out about his wife’s life before she met him.”
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara “A long and tough read, but it is still with me, months after I finished it.”
  • All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn GreenwoodAs the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle.” Goodreads
  • This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel  “This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.  When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.  Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.”  Goodreads 
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, short story collection “I liked all the stories in it and I loved some. Hanks writes in a variety of formats (traditional, movie script, movie junket itinerary, small-town newspaper social column, and so on), in a variety of settings, and from a variety of perspectives. And–bonus–a typewriter features in some way in every story.”
  • Come Sundown by Nora Roberts  
  • The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah historical fiction, WWII (see my review here)
  • Changes (The Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher urban fantasy/ paranormal
  • The Martian  by Andy Weir 
  • America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray historical fiction about Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, “a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.” Goodreads
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Diana Norman “Great take on the clash between science and religion at the time of King Kenry II, and how gender roles played out (and got in the way) in the late medieval period. The plot is “Chaucer meets CSI.” Makes you skin crawl, but you can’t stop reading.”
  • Order to Kill by Kyle Mills “This is the first book written by Mills in this series since the series creator, Vince Flynn, passed away. If you like CIA/Black ops types of books this whole series is a must read.”
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders  (Man Booker Prize 2017, Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2017) “Historical reports say that when Lincoln’s 11-year-old son died, the president was so stricken with grief that he returned to the crypt several times to hold his son’s body.  From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying.”  Goodreads

Adult Non-fictionHidden FiguresWe Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on race and resegregation by Jeff Chang  “Explains so much of what is going on in the U.S. at the moment and puts things into perspective.”

  • Miracles and Massacres by Glenn Beck “Little known stories from American history.”
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shutterly 
  • I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher “Big Mike” from the movie The Blind Side tells his story.

Young Adult

  • What to Say Next by Julie Bauxbaum “When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find.”Goodreads
  • The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin  “After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone.” Goodreads
  • The Hate You GiveThe Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Goodreads Choice Award Winner 2017)  “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.”  Goodreads

Middle Grade

  • The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud  “It’s the last book in the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE this series. As in, as much as Harry Potter (warning, it’s a bit spookier and I wouldn’t recommend it the series for kids under 11 or so).”
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio  Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.  Goodreads

Wow, I have so many more books I want to read now!  I’m definitely sharing these titles with my book club.  Thanks again to everyone who contributed, and happy shopping!

What Was Your Favorite Book of 2017?

I thought I was doing well.  Thanksgiving was early this year, so I had an extra week to prepare for the Christmas crazy.  But then, this morning, my youngest child said, “Mom, Christmas is only 18 days away!”

Cue the panic.  I’m no where close to being ready.  I haven’t even made the Christmas card yet.

He didn’t mean to frighten me.  His enthusiasm for Christmas is inspiring, actually.  He’s the only child who still cares enough about the Christmas count down to put a new felt ornament on the Christmas tree advent calendar that Nana made by hand many years ago.  The three teens haven’t touched it.  Sniff.

My mother in law made this when my husband was her little boy.

This is the last Christmas before the first kid goes away to school, and I know that once the “kids in college” phase starts, it will change our lives into something not necessarily bad, but different.  I’m grappling with which traditions to cling to and which ones to let go as the kids get older and their interests change.  On my annual Christmas shopping trip with my friend Leslie, we didn’t visit Toys R Us.  (I’m okay with that.)   The kids still want to pick Secret Santas among the siblings. (I love that.)  Most of them just want cash for Christmas.  (Hmm… easier wrapping?)

One tradition I will keep is getting each of them at least one book for Christmas.  Which takes me away from my sentimental musings and brings me to the point of this post.

Are you, like me, a little behind on holiday shopping?  Do you need gift ideas for friends, loved ones, teachers?  I have a solution for you.

Books make great gifts. They are easy to mail, reusable, instructive, and entertaining. Besides, buying books supports writers and the publishing industry, and we all want to keep books around, right?  The problem: finding proper books for each person on your gift list. Here’s where Diary of a Word Nerd can help.

Today I’m starting the Favorite Books Giveaway for 2017.  Tell me your favorite book from 2017 and the reason you liked it.  I’ll add your book to a list of recommendations and your name to a drawing of potential winners. In the end, we’ll have a collection of fabulous book titles to use as a shopping guide, and one lucky winner will have a Barnes and Noble gift card.

Favorite Books of 2017: Giveaway details

  • You may enter the giveaway by commenting on my blog, my Facebook profile, my Twitter feed, or my Instagram Favorite Book post by December 13, 2017.
  • Your comment must include your favorite book from 2017 and a short explanation of why you recommend it.  All genres welcome.
  • The book doesn’t have to be published in 2017, just read in 2017.
  • I will announce the winner on Wednesday, December 13 with the full list of favorites. That will give you plenty of shopping time. 😉
  • The giveaway winner must provide a mailing address for the gift card.

The first suggestions

My friend Dana asked me to suggest books for a 13-year-old girl, and I thought I’d list those here, as maybe Dana isn’t the only one who could benefit.

Contemporary realistic – all of these are thoughtful YA without too much “content”

Historical fiction

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (WWII)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (WWII)
  • Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (China, cultural revolution)


  • The Matched series by Ally Condie ( a good “entry” level dystopian series)
  • The Divergent series by Veronica Roth

Now, your turn.  Share your favorite read from 2017 and help me make a great shopping list!

Thanks for contributing!







Why You Must Read Year of Yes

This week, I had a mini mama breakdown, and I spent the better part of Monday night planning, in intricate detail, my escape from the demands of motherhood, right down to the amount of cash I would need to withdraw from the bank so that my family couldn’t track me via my credit card charges. Sometimes the nagging, the scheduling, the folding of laundry, it just gets too much, especially when all of that hard work is rewarded with dirty looks, hostile answers, and whining.

If, like me, you’re feeling a tad overwhelmed, and you would like to read something light, yet thoughtful, that makes you laugh and gives you hope, then I highly suggest Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Ms. Rhimes is the talented creator and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, and her sassy style will have you chuckling and wishing you could have lunch with her tomorrow.


During Thanksgiving dinner prep one year, Shonda’s older sister Delorse uttered six words that would change Shonda’s life:

You never say yes to anything.

At first Shonda blew her sister off. But those six words stuck with her, and a little later, Shonda made a life changing decision. For one year, she would say yes to all of the opportunities that came her way, even if they scared her. The result? An appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, a ton of weight loss, and a much happier Shonda.

What I liked

One of the first things Shonda said yes to was giving a commencement speech at Dartmouth College, her alma mater. Shonda dreaded public speaking, but she overcame her fear and shared some very candid and valuable life lessons with those young men and women.

My favorite part of that speech was lesson number three: ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU THEY ARE DOING IT ALL PERFECTLY IS A LIAR.  I hate the ridiculous myth circulating in our culture today that people, especially women, can do it all well. I literally cheered when Shonda shared that when people ask her, “How do you do it all”, the truthful answer is, “I don’t.” She says, when discussing the struggle to balance work with family:

You never feel 100 percent okay, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous.
Something is always lost.
Something is always missing.

Shonda also has some validating words about motherhood. She humorously recalls how, when it was announced at a PTA meeting that items donated to the weekly bake sale had to be home-made, she loudly proclaimed her indignation (dropping “F-bomb” before she could stop herself). She was a working mom, and she simply didn’t have time to bake. Some might argue that motherhood is a job too. To those people, Shonda says:

Being a mother isn’t a job.
It’s who someone is…
You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are nver off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us.

And I say, Amen, sister.

Shonda encourages women to stop judging each other and to support each other, whether they choose to work or stay at home. “There’s room enough for everybody here. This is a big, big maternity tent.”

I love this. I have often felt undervalued because I don’t work outside the home. But Shonda reminds us that we are all valuable, that choosing to work or choosing to stay home are both worthy of respect, and that “motherhood remains equally, painfully death defying and difficult either way”.

What I didn’t like

Um, nothing.


If you enjoy fun, yet insightful memoirs like Glitter and Glue or Yes Please, you would like Year of Yes. It’s a great book to read during the hustle of the holiday season.

Can you recommend a fun memoir to ease the stress of the holiday season? And, be thinking about your favorite reads of 2017, because next week I will open up my annual Favorite Books contest. Everyone who suggests a book will be entered into a drawing for a Barnes and Noble gift card.

Happy reading!






A Great Audio Book for Holiday Travel

It’s Thanksgiving week, which means there’s a good possibility you’ll soon be traveling to visit loved ones and consume large amounts of carbohydrates. You know what’s a good complement for many hours in the car or excessive caloric intake? An audio book! You can listen while you navigate the highways or while you walk off a slice of pumpkin pie.

I just finished a wonderful kid lit audio book that should appeal to the entire family and keep you awake, even during a traffic jam on I-95. My son recommended it before a trip to a soccer tournament, and it’s called Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud.


As I mentioned already, it’s Thanksgiving week, so I don’t have either the time or the brain power to craft a good synopsis for Heroes of the Valley. Instead, I’m borrowing from Goodreads.

Halli Sveinsson has never fit in. Unlike his tall attractive blond siblings, Halli is stumpy, swarthy, with a quick mind inclined to practical jokes. But a trick on [his rival] Ragnor goes too far, and begins a chain of events that alters his destiny. Leaving home on a hero’s quest, he meets highway robbers, terrifying monsters, and a girl who may finally be his match. He discovers the truth about legends, his family, the meaning of bravery, and himself.

This is a lovely children’s novel (middle grade), set in a medieval-like time, with witty dialogue, exciting action, and compelling characters.

What I liked

Stroud’s writing is beautiful and poetic, with vivid, original descriptions in a style reminiscent of older days. Stroud also inserts subtle, clever humor into the narrative and the dialogue between his characters.

Heroes of the Valley has a quest format that offers plenty of exciting scenes as well as a theme that challenges the idea of legends. During his various adventures, Halli must ponder several underlying questions, including is it good or bad to believe in legends and what purpose do legends serve? The structure of the book reinforces this theme, as each chapter opens with an elder telling one of many legends about the hero Svein, a great warrior and the patriarch of Halli’s family. In a thoughtful twist, the book ends with such a “legend telling”, leaving the reader to decide what legends are true, and how much faith we should put into legends in general.

What I didn’t like

Heroes of the Valley felt a little long. The plot seems to hit a climax, but then the story goes on for a while. I remember thinking, “Where can this story go now?”, but Stroud eventually brings his book to a satisfying conclusion.


If you and your family like fantasy and adventure stories, Heroes of the Valley would be a great audio book to listen to together. The narration by David Thorn is excellent. I also recommend The Ranger’s Apprentice series and the Artemis Fowl series for family friendly fantasy/adventure audio books.

Notes on content

Some description is a little graphic and grotesque, including rotting flesh and empty eye sockets, especially toward the end of the book.

What family friendly audio book can you recommend for the holiday travel season?

Happy reading!






The Value of Striving

Seeing people work hard always inspires me, and last weekend, I witnessed a ton of hard work on a challenging state cross country course in chilly temps.  The runners  I coach gave everything they had to their races, and some hit a personal record, and some fell just short.  Some finished top 15 to qualify for “all state” status, and one finished just one second shy of that goal.  One second!

Competition is always exciting, but only sometimes ends with a medal or trophy.  In a society that focuses on results- a grade, a time, a number- it’s easy to forget the value of getting out there and doing the work, even if you don’t win.  Standardized tests make many teens feel like they only have succeeded if they get the right answer, and get it quickly.  What a shallow definition of success.

One of my daughter’s swim coaches said years ago to a group of parents, “Success and failure in athletics are fleeting, but attitude and habits last a lifetime.”  I often have to remind my runners that they aren’t defined by one race or one time, but by the collective quality of their work and the attitude they display each day, and especially in times of adversity.

Getting ready to race

Last year, during the five hour drive up to the state meet, one of our coaches read a bit from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt to inspire our runners and remind them of the value of process.  I’d like to revisit that speech, not just for my runners, but for everyone who attempts to better themselves with hard work, who dares to fail in order to succeed.  We are often afraid of failure.  We shouldn’t be.

Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910  from TheodoreRoosevelt.com

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This boy has put in the hard work, and this time, his team got the trophy.

So here’s to the people who strive valiantly, who risk defeat in the hopes of victory.  Of course we celebrate the trophies, but we should also celebrate the work it took to get them, and in many cases, to not get them.

Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt.

What quotes do you use to encourage hard work?  

Thanks for getting inspired with me!







Running Quotes to Inspire

cross country

We are entering the last weeks of cross country season.  We’ve been training since June, running trails, climbing hills, and oh, my those 800 repeats.  It’s the final, and very important, stretch now, and my runners need some inspiration.  We’ve got regions on Thursday, and hopefully state the week after that.

Oh, the intensity at the starting line…

Can you help me?  I’m looking for some good motivational quotes, especially those about running.  Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Running quote - believe

running quote motivation

If you have an inspirational quote to share, please leave it in the comments.  And if you really like one of these, please tell me why.

Thanks for getting inspired with me!