The year 2017 was a strange reading year for me and not my best. In fact, I couldn’t even classify many of the books I gave 5-star ratings to as my favorites of the year. Hopefully 2018’s list of bests will be longer; a few of the books I read in 2017 were pretty “meh” to be honest.

I did read some great and memorable books last year, though, and I finally utilized Goodreads more to keep track. There are 48 books marked as read in my profile for 2017 and I’ve picked out my top 5 to carry on about below.

1. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey

I was drawn to this book for its approach to historical fiction, which was telling the life stories and friendship of renowned English preacher Charles Spurgeon and American former slave Thomas Johnson, supported by material from real letters and sermons. This is quite an undertaking, since there is more available material written by Spurgeon than by any other Christian author (living or dead) and his sixty-three volumes of sermons are the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity, according to an intro in one of his books on prayer that I read. I thought it was well done, and I can safely say it was my favorite book of the year.

Read it if you like: Historical fiction, slave narratives, and/or the work of Charles Spurgeon.

Quotable quote: “If you know Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest for your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold, He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, lavish and superabundant in love—you will always find it in Him.”

2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

This was one of the first books I read in 2017 and definitely one of the most well-written. The story took some time for me to get into, even more time to connect with the characters, and then to connect where the characters connected. I know that sounds like a lot, but that was the central motion and point of the novel—how the lives of many people, living many different lives, intertwine in one city, on one day.

Read it if you like: Literary fiction and stories set in New York.

3. Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of a Young Black Girl in the Rural South by Anne Moody

Anne Moody was one of the five participants in the Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in in 1963. She was also active in the NAACP, CORE, and SNCC during the Jim Crow era.

Her autobiography had been sitting untouched on my shelf for years and is my typical kind of African-American nonfiction choice. It tells the story of the poverty and pain of her early life and then how she bravely participated in the Civil Rights Movement during a dangerous height in one of the most violent states in America at the time. Needless to say, it got intense. I had to take a few breaks.

Read it if you like: Books about the Civil Rights Movement and black history in general.

4. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I was excited to read this highly-anticipated essay collection from one of the most popular black writers of the moment. I struggled a bit with Coates’ 2015 book, Between the World and Me, but greatly admired We Were Eight Years in Power for his honest approach to his own writing work during the era of President Obama and the black experience well before and after it. Past events are described in the book with important, stunning historical detail. I hated to reach the end of this book and recommend it often. You can read my full review here.

Read it if you like: Social justice, nonfiction, politics, race relations.

Quotable quote: “The high point of the lynching era has passed. But the memories of those robbed of their lives still lives on in the lingering effects. Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person ten times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.”

5. None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur

In one of his newest books (released February 2017), John MacArthur displays what I appreciate the most about his writing and teaching style: clarity. I think he tackles Christian theology in a clear, concise way and None Other was no exception. I quickly plowed through this short but Scripture-rich book about God and was fond of it overall. It’s a good resource on the attributes of God.

Read it if you like: Christian theology and short lessons.

Full disclosure…three of my favorites were free Advance Reading Copies from publishers (Steal Away Home, We Were Eight Years in Power, and None Other) which I was not required to post about on this blog or even give a positive review. They were just that good. The other two, Let the Great World Spin and Coming of Age in Mississippi, were not published in 2017 and had just been sitting on my shelf waiting their turn. Most of the books I read are usually not new releases.

My to-be-read list is absurdly long, but I’m always on the hunt to add more books to it anyway. Feel free to tell me about your favorite books of last year (or any year!) in the comments or on Twitter.