Friday 15 December 2017

My Top Ten Reads for 2017

By Iola Goulton

I do this every year. 

I sign up to write a Top Ten post, then find it impossible to keep myself to just ten books. So this year I'm cheating ...

I'm sharing my Top Ten Contemporary Christian Romance novels.

This gives me a fighting chance of keeping myself to ten books, although it also means I miss some of the excellent historical fiction I've read this year (e.g. The Dishonorable Miss Delancey by Carolyn Miller and Where We Belong by Lynn Austin), as well as the outstanding Long Way Gone by Charles Martin. The list also excludes some excellent general market romances, and some not-quite-contemporary-romance novels like Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon. And it excludes the dozens of books on my to-read pile, and all the books I've been told I must read by other CCR fans ...

The neverending trials of a book reviewer. So here goes my 2017 Top Ten list, in no particular order ...

The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce

The Last Summer is a beautiful but bittersweet romance that's actually more coming of age or women's fiction with a romance subplot. It's written entirely from the point of view of the main character, and starts when the best friend she's secretly in love with starts dating one of their mutual friends. No matter which way this goes, someone is going to get hurt ...

I bought The Last Summer after Narelle Atkins reviewed it here on Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to read her review.

The Carpenter's Daughter by Jennifer Rodewald

I loved The Carpenter's Daughter because of the excellence of the writing, the depth of the emotion, and the way it showed a non-believer's journey to Jesus, and the sacrificial love of the hero. There were so many great lines in this novel, I know it's going to be one I read and reread.

I haven't reviewed The Carpenter's Daughter, but Rel at Relz Reviews has. Click here to read her review.

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

This was also bittersweet, but in a different way than The Last Summer. It was bittersweet because of the way the heroine was so trapped by her quest to create the perfect life and earn her family's love that she never looked up and saw she already had everything she ever wanted. It's a much-needed reminder in our busy modern world.

Click here to read my review.

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

This is a dual timeline story set in France and England. The modern story isn't overtly Christian, but shows a woman struggling to recover from a life-changing event. The historical story is outstanding—it starts with a punch and never lets up. How's this for an engaging first line?

Click here to read my review.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck breaks a lot of the "rules" of modern writing. It's told in first person. The narrator occasionally talks directly to the reader. It's about a writer (a plot device I often find awkward and contrived). But it works. It feels real, even though I know it isn't.

Click here to read my review.

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

I will admit to an element of bias in this choice—Kara Isaac is a fellow Kiwi, and I edited Then There Was You. But I'd love this even if I hadn't edited it. I love Kara's writing, her characters, and her humour. And the ending ... Loved it.

I haven't reviewed Then There Was You, but Fiction Aficionado has. Click here to read her review.

The Long Highway Home by Elizabeth Musser

The Long Highway Home is a unique combination of fact and fiction. Elizabeth Musser draws on her own missionary experiences working with refugees to deliver a story that hits home in terms of the trials refugees find in pursuing safety.

Click here to read my review.

True to You by Becky Wade

A heroine who's a bookworm? What's not to love? The plot was excellent, with the perfect (!) combination of predictable and surprising. The characters were excellent—intelligent, funny, and quirky. Basically, this was everything I want in a romance novel.

Click here to read my review.

Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

Sweetbriar Cottage is a reconciliation story—a couple find they aren't divorced after all, and that maybe they don't hate each other. It's a beautiful picture of grace and forgiveness, showing how to love as Jesus loved.

Click here to read my review.

Broken Like Glass by EJ McKay

A powerful novel of love and redemption. I’ve seen comparisons to The Shack in the way God is mentioned … although I’m apparently one of the few English-speaking Christians on the planet who hasn’t yet read The Shack. A must for those who are looking for Christian fiction that goes beyond the sanitised norm.

Click here to read my review.

So what do my selections have in common? They are real people, broken people, trying to navigate their way through life with the help of family, friends, and Jesus.

What about you? What were your top reads of 2017?

About Iola Goulton

Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).

Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, and currently works as a freelance editor. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, two teenagers and one cat. She is currently working on her first novel.


  1. delighted that 'Grace in Strange Disguise' made your 'nearly' list. It's not romance - so that's fair enough. Still want to read some of the others - Where we belong. Sarah H one ...

    1. You're welcome :) I'm looking forward to reading the sequel!

  2. SO THRILLED that The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck made the list! Thank you, Iola!

  3. 10 more books on your to-read list? Mission accomplished!


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