I’m sure the pandemic and sheltering-in-place had something to do with it, but I’ve read more books this year than ever before. This weekend, I finished book 80 for 2020.
Right now, I’m reading advanced copies of books that will release in 2021. My December reading tends to be solely ARCs (advanced reader copies) as I narrow down the list of books I’ll recommend for the next year. (The “Can’t-Miss Books list for January-April” is in the works! If you’re an email subscriber, it’ll be in your inbox soon.)
Because I’m focused on that upcoming list, I figured I’d skip the “favorites of 2020” round-up. One, book lists take hours to put together. (As is true for you too I bet, this month is always full! Adding an extra round-up would be a tight squeeze.) Two, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested! I’m a sucker for book round-ups, but I love books . . . so I’m not the best judge there.
I decided to conduct a scientific study AKA ask your honest opinion on my Facebook page, and the answer was a resounding yes. So here we are! While many almost made the cut at 4 stars, I’m only including the 12 books (out of the 80) that I gave a 5 star rating.
My Favorite Books of 2020 . . .
About: What Is a Girl Worth? is the inspiring true story of Rachael’s journey from an idealistic young gymnast to a strong and determined woman who found the courage to raise her voice against evil, even when she thought the world might not listen. This deeply personal and compelling narrative shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, why so many survivors are reluctant to speak out, what it means to be believed, the extraordinary power of faith and forgiveness, and how we can learn to do what’s right in the moments that matter most.
My thoughts: If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I would. Denhollander’s voice rings loud and clear in this book, and the words within its pages will change lives.
Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace :: Christie Purifoy
About: Weaving together her family’s journey with stories of botanical marvels and the histories of the flawed yet inspiring placemakers who shaped the land generations ago, Christie calls us to cultivate orchards and communities, to clap our hands along with the trees of the fields, to step into our calling to create, to make a place in the place God made for us. Placemaker is a timely yet timeless reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of a world that is more real than we know.
My thoughts: I’ve never read a book quite like Placemaker, and I mean that in a lovely way. Beautifully written, Christie’s words about her own places bring you, the reader, to better appreciate the very place where you are. Instead of longing for what someone else has, Placemaker leads you to cultivate the life you’re already live.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness :: Austin Channing Brown
About: In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.
My thoughts: I’m Still Here was on my To Read list for far too long. It’s short but it packs a punch and if you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly realize “Yep, this is one I’m going to re-read sooner rather than later.” Honest, truth-filled and thoughtful, this is one you absolutely must read to the final paragraph.
Strong, Brave, Loved: Empowering Reminders of Who You Really Are :: Holley Gerth
About: Bestselling author Holley Gerth understands that you want to be a woman who looks life in the face and says, “You can’t beat me.” A woman who knows love is a risk and reaches out anyway. A woman who understands kindness takes real courage. Who doesn’t fake it or try to hide her scars. Who fights to believe she is who God says she is and helps others do the same. Strong, Brave, Loved offers 60 short devotions to empower you to be that kind of woman. It’s simple, personal, and practical, with room for you to journal your own responses and reflections.
My thoughts: There’s something unique in the way that Gerth writes, as she comes across as a friend, mentor, and coach all at the same time. Her stories are relatable, easy to remember, and yet make you think or perhaps bring to light ideas that you’ve never considered before. This is a devotional I can easily see myself passing along or gifting to several women in my life, all in various life stages. If you enjoyed Fiercehearted by Holley Gerth, you’ll definitely want to pick this title up.
About: The chorus of “shoulds” is loud. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the mixed messages of what it means to live well. Kendra Adachi invites and equips you to be a genius about what matters and lazy about what doesn’t. Everything from your morning routine to napping without guilt falls into place with Kendra’s thirteen Lazy Genius principles, including decide once, start small and ask the magic question. Discover a better way to approach your relationships, work, and piles of mail. Be who you are without the complication of everyone else’s “shoulds.” Do what matters, skip the rest, and be a person again.
My thoughts: Smart. Practical. Personal. This is so far from a book that tells you to do XYZ or leaves you with endless lists and a million ideas without solutions. Instead, Kendra offers you systems and shares stories, inviting you to implement *what works for you*. You might think a book like this would feel a bit removed or robotic, somewhat like a textbook in the form of a nonfiction title, but Kendra’s voice offers kindness, honesty, and the feeling of “she really does get it” in every chapter. This book accomplishes exactly what it set out to do—and more.
About: Affluence, autonomy, safety, and power. These are the central values of the American dream. But are they compatible with Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves? In essays grouped around these four values, D. L. Mayfield asks us to pay attention to the ways they shape our own choices, and the ways those choices affect our neighbors. Where did these values come from? How have they failed those on the edges of our society? And how can we disentangle ourselves from our culture’s headlong pursuit of these values and live faithful lives of service to God and our neighbors?
My thoughts: This isn’t a “how to” book. It isn’t a book that will shame you or should you (you should do XYZ, you should not…”). It is, however, a book that will challenge you, inspire you, encourage you, and make you think through/wrestle through your own beliefs on affluence, autonomy, safety and power. Most likely, portions of the book will be uncomfortable, and from Mayfield’s writing, that appears to be intentional. However, I found myself appreciating this even when I needed to sit with a chapter or idea for a while. This is one I’ll re-read.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness :: Andrew Peterson
About: Janner Igiby, his brother, Tink, and their disabled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. The Igibys hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera. Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to discuss for its layers of meaning about life’s true treasure and tangle of the beautiful and horrible, temporal and eternal, and good and bad.
My thoughts: Andrew Peterson has created a world of people and places that you feel you know and absolutely must meet. The character development is wonderful, the storytelling is marvelous, and the humor woven throughout is a delightful surprise. It’s the first in a series of four books for children, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult.
North! Or Be Eaten :: Andrew Peterson
About: In order to survive, the Igibys must flee to the safety of the Ice Prairies, where the Fangs of Dang cannot follow. First, however, they have to escape the monsters of Glipwood Forest, the thieving Stranders of the East Ben, and the dreaded Fork Factory. But even more dangerous are the jealousies and bitterness that threaten to tear them apart. Janner and his siblings must learn the hard way that the love of a family is more important than anything else.
My thoughts: The second in the series, I don’t want to give too much away (and have cut out most of the description above) in case you haven’t read the first title yet. They definitely need to be read in order! But I will say this: too often, sequels are disappointing when compared to what has come before. That is not the case here. Andrew Peterson instantly draws you right back into the story, and if you haven’t discovered The Wingfeather Saga before, I absolutely recommend listening to Andrew read the books aloud on his Facebook page. The accents are fantastic!
About: Everything changes when you discover the true meaning of a fruitful, God-pleasing, meaning-filled life. In Chasing Vines, Beth shows us from Scripture how all of life’s concerns―the delights and the trials―matter to God. He uses all of it to help us flourish and be fruitful. Looking through the lens of Christ’s transforming teaching in John 15, Beth gives us a panoramic view of biblical teachings on the Vine, vineyards, vine-dressing, and fruitfulness. Along the way you’ll discover why fruitfulness is so important to God―and how He can use anything that happens to us for His glory and our flourishing. Nothing is for nothing.
My thoughts: This is a book I’ll return to for years to come. I read it cover to cover, some chapters more than once. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins. At one point I started talking back to the pages. (“What in the actual world. That is incredible.”) With Scripture, research and storytelling, Beth Moore invites the reader to come in a little closer and see for him or herself the Truth that is supremely wonderful and outrageously beautiful woven (like vines, one might say) from Genesis to Revelation. Like turning a gem ever so slightly, on the other side of this book I have a fuller, better view. The Story is the very same as it always has been, but I see a little more clearly.
All the Feels: Discover Why Emotions Are (Mostly) Awesome and How to Untangle Them When They’re Not :: Elizabeth Laing Thompson
About: Whether you have a sensitive soul with more feelings than you know how to name, a logical personality that doesn’t quite know what to do with feelings, or a steady flow of emotions somewhere in the middle, All the Feels will help you discover your own God-designed “feelings style” and how it impacts your life and relationships, distinguish fact from feeling and figure out which feelings you can trust, and understand which emotional gifts God wants you to expand, explore, and enjoy.
My thoughts: All the Feels is a powerful book that will be, for many, a game-changer. This is one to pick up whether you lean heavily on logic or action, cry at the drop of a hat, or fall somewhere in between. If you’re familiar with the Enneagram (which you certainly do not need to be to enjoy and benefit from this book), I would say that it’s especially helpful for types 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. I don’t know of another book that discusses emotions and Scripture so well. It’s definitely worth reading!
About: It’s clear that issues of race and equality have come to the forefront in our nation’s consciousness. Every week yet another incident involving racial tension splashes across headlines and dominates our news feeds. But it’s not easy to unpack the origins of these tensions, and perhaps we wonder whether any of these issues really has anything to do with us. Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference, understands these questions. In this timely, insightful book he helps us come to a deeper understanding of both the origins of these issues and the reconciling role we are called to play as witnesses of the Gospel.
My thoughts: Add this helpful resource to your To Read list! Diving into theology and history, Wytsma writes in depth about privilege and injustice. If you want to be a peace maker, if you want to pursue racial justice, if you’re ready to listen and learn—this is an excellent resource.
When God Made the World :: Matthew Paul Turner
About: A rhythmic, whimsical journey through creation–for little readers who love science and wonder and the beginnings of all things. When God Made the World focuses on the complex way that God created our vast and scientifically operating universe, including the biodiversity of life on our planet and the intricacies of a vast solar system. Illustrator Gillian Gamble brings the natural world to vibrant life with rich colors and poignant detail certain to stretch young minds and engage imaginations.
My thoughts: No one writes children’s books quite like Matthew Paul Turner. I’ve gifted copies of his other children’s titles several times and always immediately buy another copy so that I don’t run out. Lyrical, smart, inclusive and inviting—his latest, When God Made the World, doesn’t disappoint. (I will admit that it feels a little like cheating to include a children’s book in my count of books for the year. This is the only one among the eighty titles read in 2020, but with a 5-star rating, it deserves its place on the list.)
Your turn! Tell me in the comments: what is one of the best books you read in 2020?
P.S. If one of your goals in 2021 is to read more books, I’d suggest downloading the free Kindle app or getting Kindle Unlimited! I finished multiple books by reading a few pages at a time, whenever I had a couple minutes to spare. I don’t always have a book with me, but my phone is usually nearby. With the (free) app, a book is always within reach. As of this post going live, you can try Kindle Unlimited for a month — at no cost — or get two months for 75% off!
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