Best Books of 2019

This year was a slower year of reading. Part of this is that my time has shifted, as it does every year with school and seasons. Partly it’s that I read longer and deeper books, which I needed. I still finished 66 total and of those, 20 were 5-star reads.

I won’t share all of those best reads here (you can check out my Goodreads page for all my reading lists and reviews) but I wanted to highlight some of my absolute favorites and am aiming for a mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

It’s interesting doing year-end reviews. Some books that I gave 4 stars, I remember with 5-star fondness. And some of my 5-star reads aren’t as memorable as I thought they would be when I finished reading. But I never go back and change reviews. I like to trust the process and the fact that I felt something at the time after finishing a book. So, these are the 5-star books that stuck with me and that I’d recommend to almost anyone.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This book had been on my radar for a while but after taking an Indigenous Voices class where it was highly recommended by both our teacher and a guest speaker, I knew I needed to read it sooner. I had read The Lost City of Z by Grann and loved his style. Killers of the Flower Moon did not disappoint. Delving into the Osage murders that happened in Oklahoma at the beginning of the twentieth century, Grann combines incredible research, solid journalism, and engaging storytelling to remember the lives of those who were murdered. He also weaves in the formation of the FBI and its role in the investigation. This is a must-read for many reasons––Indigenous history, a perspective on a powerful institution’s beginnings, and a reminder that we must continue to pay attention to stories that aren’t part of mainstream history classes.

Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker
I started the year reading much more poetry than I ended the year, which is something I’d like to remedy. I loved starting my morning with a mug of coffee and a poem or two as we eased into the day. Alice Walker’s most recent collection of poems were quite political but they made me think. Walker helped me look at the news through the lens of people who don’t look like me, who aren’t in my same socioeconomic bracket, and who are impacted by policies and decisions that don’t necessarily impact my own life. The format of these poems made me pause and reexamine in ways that only poetry can––opening the eyes of those who are looking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I hadn’t read an epic generational novel for a while and Pachinko didn’t disappoint. The plot follows four generations of a Korean family who moves to Japan before World War II, and who stays through its reconstruction. Lee tells their story in a way that helped me understand a region and history I hadn’t known about before. She also wrote in a way that I could connect attitudes toward immigrants in my own country, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. Lee’s storytelling and ability to connect the past to current events makes this book feel like a timeless classic.

Voice of Witness Oral Histories by McSweeney’s
There are about ten volumes in this series, ranging from stories of those locked in solitary confinement to refugees who have settled in the United States to those who survived Burma’s military regime.

I read three this year: Palestine Speaks, edited by Cate Malek was in preparation for my trip to Israel-Palestine. The stories were powerful and mostly from the perspective of Palestinians living in the region, though Malek chose to include two narratives from Israeli perspectives, which strengthened the collection.

Underground America, edited by Peter Orner followed the stories of those who have come to the United States and have stayed without proper paperwork. Some stories highlighted how easy it can be to extend a temporary visa; others were about human trafficking; and still others were about those who make the treacherous journey across deserts for an “illegal” border crossing. All of these stories helped build empathy and made me remember that there are no easy answers when it comes to undocumented immigration.

Lastly, I read Hope Deferred, edited by Peter Orner about the lives of Zimbabweans living under the terror of Robert Mugabe. I was especially interested to read this, as we have dear friends from Zimbabwe. They would allude to stories but I never fully grasped the terror of those decades of violence and disruption. This was the hardest of the books I read in this series. Many of the governmental crimes are unimaginable and, while none were described in a gratuitous way, it became difficult to read after a while.

I’ll be returning to this series in the new year. My hope is to read a couple of these books a year, to gain perspective through the power of listening (or reading) the stories of those who have lived through what have become political stands.

On Writing by Stephen King
I try to read a couple books about the craft of writing each year and King’s had been recommended by a variety of writers and readers. This book, which is part memoir and part guide, is a reminder of just why King is such a successful author. His storytelling is incredible and his attention to detail impressive. On Writing inspired me to pick up more of King’s work and I plan to read more in the years to come. I’d recommend this to anyone, regardless of an interest in writing.

Runners Up (Because it’s hard to narrow down such awesome reads!)
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Calipso by David Sedaris
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney
The God Who Sees by Karen Gonzalez
Circe by Madeline Miller

For 2020, I want to read another book on writing, dive into the idea of pilgrimage in faith, literature, and poetry, and read a scholarly book on something. (I’m not yet sure of the topic!)

What about you? What books stood out for you this year? What are your reading goals for the coming year?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.


The Case for Rereading Novels: A Guest Post

Rereading novels is one of my favorite memories of childhood. Curled up with an old friend, each time I got lost in a story, I’d learn new things about life through the characters. From classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to easy reads like Peanut Butter and Jelly, rereading was a rhythm of my reading life. It’s only been a recent change that I’ve stopped the practice and I miss it a lot.

Our guest author Melissa Chan, the designer of Literary Book Gifts, makes the case for rereading. Check out her shop for some great bookish gifts and scroll to the bottom for a special offer!

The Case for Rereading Novels

These days, with the sheer quantity of new novels coming out every day it can seem like one needs to devour books at the speed of light just to keep up. It can even be a challenge to only read all the current bestsellers, let alone any other books that catch your interest. Choosing where to devote your reading attention is a far more time-consuming task than just picking up a book and diving right in. I am a big supporter of diversifying one’s reading list to include titles and authors of all genres. Reading books by more than just one author will help you expand your horizon to find books you would never have thought you might have enjoyed. However, I love rereading books as well.

When there are so many new titles out there it can seem like a waste of time to read novels you have already read. Here are a few of the reasons why I personally love rereading novels. Perhaps it will get you thinking about picking up one of your favorite books again.

Themes are stronger the second time

I think most of us would agree that the very best books have timeless stories and themes that stay with us long after we put the book down. I’ve been fascinated when rereading passages of Moby Dick by Herman Melville at just how much I had missed during the first read through. In the case of Moby Dick, Melville’s writing is so descriptive and the plot so exciting that I tend to get caught up in it easily and forget about everything else. When picking up a book again for the second time, I already know what happens. This can bring more of a focus to the ideas, themes, and character development. In addition, there is time for reflection since the book was last read, allowing our minds ample time to understand, appreciate, and think through the story itself.

Rereading certain quotes or sections

Owning a few of my books in hard copy and audiobook has allowed me to mark up a few of them for my favorite quotes and passages. Books are a lot more than words. The narratives and characters can have such a powerful meaning to us. Experiencing their stories alongside our own can help us get through difficult times in our lives. Being able to quickly read a few pages from book I’ve already read can put me in a different mood right away. This is can be a big help considering that you never know what you are going to find when you open up a new book from an author whose work you’ve never read before.

Books never change, but people do

As time goes on we are different people than the ones we were when we read the book for the first time. A book to a child or teen can speak differently than to an adult. Books we read when we are young, perhaps in the school curriculum, will have entirely different meanings to us 20 or 30 years later. The lives we have lived in between influence how we read, and what we think about when we experience the story again. Reading books over a long period of time can show us how we have changed as people. Despite the words never changing in the book, people will always change and the reading experience is always a new one.

While I love rereading some of my favorite books, I don’t believe it is always the best strategy. When you are new to reading in general or to a particular genre I encourage you to explore. Find as many books as might interest you and read the first pages with an open mind. I know that I had thought I had found all of my favorite authors until I found Flannery O’Connor’s work. Her novels and selected stories are now a part of the list that I enjoy rereading all the time.

Melissa Chan is the designer of Literary Book Gifts,  an online gift shop for book lovers. She loves rereading novels, listening to audiobooks, and spending time in the library.

What about you? Are you a re-reader or is your to-read stack too high? How do you balance the comfort of old books with the discovery of new tales?

If you’re looking for bookish gifts, check out Melissa’s shop, Literary Book Gifts. She’s offering 20% off to my readers with the code ANNIERIM20. (I especially love the Tree of Life tote!)

Favorite Fiction for Fall

My goal this year was to read more fiction. (I feel like this is a perpetual goal…) I love reading good fiction because it expands my worldview, makes me think about people and places I don’t normally interact with, and can dig into topics and issues in creative ways that is often difficult for an essay or nonfiction format.

FavoriteI just scrolled through my Goodreads shelf and tallied up 17 fiction books so far! I’m impressed with myself and would say I’m doing pretty well with this goal. With the school year underway and autumn just around the corner, I thought I’d share some fiction reads that will get you thinking about deep topics but with a compelling narrative.

(These are just five of my favorites. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Goodreads shelves or let’s connect on Instagram, where I often share my current reads.)

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward is a masterful storyteller. I read both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing this year and they both count as favorite reads. Salvage the Bones is the story of a family in the days before Hurricane Katrina. This intense novel tackles family, poverty, and the systemic structures that impact families who are more at risk when natural disasters strike. I was drawn into Esch’s story and felt that Ward handled teen pregnancy and all its complexities well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I found this novel to be an excellent follow-up to discussions around America’s industrial prison complex. Books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson have brought a lot of the injustices around incarceration to light and Jones is able to take the reality of those injustices and dive into them through this novel. The story follows Celestial and Roy, newlyweds who are separated within the early years of their marriage by a false conviction. The book dives into the reality of being separated, of how prison changes a person, and the pervasive injustice people of color experience in the court system.

Untitled designEtta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
I read this book after a string of intense reads (see the novels above!) This magical story of three childhood friends in Saskatchewan was exactly what I needed. The plot toggles between present-day and World War II. I don’t want to give too much away, but keep in mind this genre is magical realism. Hooper uses magical twists in the plot that enrich the entire story but if you’re looking for historical fiction, this will be confusing.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This book received a lot of buzz last year, and for good reason. Ng weaves a deep story of suburban life, image and identity, foster care and rights, and our own prejudices when viewed through the lens of “doing good.” I think what makes this novel worth reading is that you will find yourself or your views portrayed somehow. Each character is developed in a way that brings to light many common ideas and ideologies of success and the American Dream. The themes in Little Fires Everywhere will make you examine your own good intentions and their roots.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I had this book on my shelf for a while and Frank devoured it earlier in the summer. I knew I had to pick it up and I’m so glad I did. Saunders weaves seeds of historical truth with a swirling world of the afterlife. His political commentary is powerful because of the setting and use of character. This is a novel that takes a little getting used to, as the style is written theatrically rather than narratively. If this has been on your to-read list for a while, I’d recommend moving it up. I’m glad I did!

What genre do you have to be intentional about reading? Any other fiction recommendations?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Favorite Books of 2017

It’s the week of lists and favorites as we prepare for the new year. As of right now, I’ve Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 10.39.10 AMread 67 books and am hoping to hit 70 by the end of the year. I did a better job than in years past of balancing fiction and nonfiction reads. I also tracked my page goals and found that they matched up pretty well with the number of books I read. I feel like I read a lot of great books this year, probably because I’m learning to be pickier about what I choose and about dropping a book that I’m not connecting with. I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite reads of 2017, in case you were looking for a way to spend some gift cards. Most of these books have made it into other lists and references throughout the year but these are the ones worth mentioning again.


To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This beautifully written novel follows the men of the first exploration to the interior of Alaska was well researched and thought-provoking. Ivey weaves maps, journal entries, and letters to tell the story of Alan and his new wife, Sophie, who is left behind in Washington as he leads a group of men on a harsh expedition. Ivey’s writing style is engaging and I’m thinking of starting 2018 with her earlier work, The Snow Child.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a book everyone should read. Following two half-sisters from Ghana, one who marries an English colonist and stays in Africa, the other who is sold into slavery in America, we see the history and repercussions of colonialism and slavery as each chapter flows into the next generation. The format is powerful as Gyasi points out the direct results of actions three hundred years ago to what is happening in modern society. I’m currently reading Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which pairs well as a nonfiction account of laws and practices that have continued nearly two hundred years later.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
These powerful short stories follow Vietnamese immigrants following the American war in Vietnam. Some stories take place right after the conflict; others are reflections twenty years later. As with powerful fiction, Nguyen is able to weave facts, history, and important commentary into his stories. Frank recently took my library copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which seems like a good pairing.

American War by Omar El Akkad
As with most dystopian novels, this one had parts that hit a little too close to home. But Akkad’s view of the future seemed plausible and, while I didn’t connect with any of the characters, I also had trouble putting the book down. It gave me a lot to think about without being too heavy-handed.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
I will read anything written by Roxane Gay. Her subject matter is gritty and raw but these stories are important. However uncomfortable the topic, Gay reminds her readers that these stories are based on actual experiences. She doesn’t sugarcoat life and I always close her books feeling that I’ve gained empathy for the stories and struggles of others.


Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein
This book (and Orenstein’s TED Talk) has started a necessary conversation about how we’ll model and present healthy views of sex to our girls. It’s no shock that our culture needs an overhaul in how we treat women and deal with sexual misconduct. I don’t know the big answers to that, but I do know that I want to raise strong girls who have a healthy view of themselves and their sexual experiences. Girls and Sex was the starting point I needed.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
My year has been marked by learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Blood Brothers was a good starting point. Written by a Melkite priest, Chacour’s family has lived in Galilee for centuries. This book reframed the conflict for me and added depth that is so often lost in the media’s portrayal of this seemingly two-sided issue. Paired with The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, I’d recommend either book as a place to dig deeper into the stories of this region.

Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha
I had the honor of being on the launch team for Kelley’s powerful book but it’s one that has stayed with me. As an adoptee and mother of adopted children, Kelley brings her experience of adoption into her theological readings. Kelley digs into the sacrament of belonging – that Christianity is built on the idea of adoption and what that means in our relationships with God and one another.

Mending the Divides by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
Another book centered around Israel and Palestine, Huckins & Swigart dissect the story of the Good Samaritan in asking, Who is my neighbor? As they ask this question and center their search around peacemaking, they also give practical advice and help in creating peace from a grassroots level. They helped me look into my own family as a place to start working toward global peace.

Slow Reads

I’ve been reading the following three books all fall and they are ones worth taking slow. I’ll read a chapter or two a day, sometimes leaving the book for a few days before picking it up again. This is not normally how I read and I’ve found it so rich and satisfying. As I look toward 2018, I want to be sure to keep some of these slow reads by my side.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This memoir is one I’d recommend everyone read. When I read the news and wonder how we have created systemic injustice, Douglass answers those questions. His own story of life as a slave is powerful on its own but Douglass includes societal commentary that helps me understand how certain policies and practices were put in place and are still considered normal.

In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson
This book is worth reading just for Richardson’s reframing of the “sin of Eve.” Leading us through powerful women in church history, Richardson gives insight and blessings to help us on the way. Reading about the church mothers is a reminder to reach back in history and immerse my own experiences in the stories of those who have gone before.

This is Not a Border, edited by Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton
These reflections and essays from the annual Palestinian Festival of Literature have been powerful and heartbreaking. Included are insights from Palestinians, Jewish authors, British and American artists, and other creatives who have participated in PalFest. Their insights and reporting into what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank have given faces and stories to an underrepresented people.

Of course, I have so many more favorite reads of this year – it was hard to narrow down! Check out my Goodreads shelves if you’re looking for other recommendations. In the past, I’ve set goals and made lists for my reading. This year, in taking over the Red Couch Book Club as well as some other projects and focuses, I’m not really sure how I’ll set and track my reading goals in 2018. I do know I want to read more women of color and will be more aware of how I choose the books I read.

What were your favorite books of 2017? How do you track your reading? Anything you’re looking forward to reading in the new year?

What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?

The Art of Essay

Frank and I were sipping rosé with a friend this weekend and talking about genres of writing and reading. I was saying how much I love reading essays and that a goal of mine is to get better at writing longer essays. I think there’s something powerful in saying something in limited space but that is more formal than a simple blog post.

Frank’s favorite collection of essays is Down the River by Edward Abbey. (Most likely because he has gone down that same river quite a number of times, always relishing in the quiet adventure.) I thought this was interesting, as another friend just last week recommended Abbey’s collection, Beyond the Wall.

I started thinking about collections of essays that I love and thought I’d share just five of my favorites. There is a trend to compile a collection of essays, but often these feel like a series of blog posts (and sometimes, these books are literally taken from the author’s personal blog and compiled.) What I love about the following collections is that they feel intentional to the book. Which makes sense, because for three of these authors, the world of blogging played no role in their writing lives.

71nhadCDSTLEverbloom edited by Shayne Moore
I received an advanced copy of this collection by the talented women of the Redbud Writers Guild. It releases today and I’m excited to share the news of this book. I knew these women were incredible writers, but the stories of rootedness and faith, of solidarity and doubt have made me read these essays slowly. I want to savor the words and I think anyone who is looking for a powerful series on faith will enjoy this collection. Bonus? Each essay ends with a reflective question, which as allowed me to continue the conversation, in a way.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I am a fan of Gay’s writing style and this collection of witty, honest commentaries on culture had me nodding and laughing. I appreciate her point of view and journey that she brings to these essays. However, I recommended this to a friend who did not connect at all. I suppose, as with any of these authors, time and place and voice all play into our experience. But this is a collection I find myself recommending to all sorts of people.

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
My college years were spent trying to emulate Annie Dillard and this is my favorite of her collections. These essays captured my imagination and Dillard’s descriptive language is unparalleled. I find myself drawn to authors who connect our humanity to nature and this series makes me want to rediscover myself on a trail.

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
I read this collection while pregnant with Elle (and thus, her namesake) and I connected with Roosevelt’s observations on life, mothering, and being a thoughtful human. Some of her lessons sound a bit dated to modern thought but the underlying themes are timeless and solid.

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I first read this collection before I even thought to claim creativity as my own. L’Engle talks about the blurred area between being an artist who is Christian and a Christian-artist. Like so much of life and faith, L’Engle argues that one need not Write About God to write about God. Really, I could pick any of L’Engle’s collections but this one in particular has stood out as a pivotal read on my journey.

I was reviewing Book Riot’s 100 Must-Read Essay Collections and realized how few I’ve actually read. (And, upon reflection, how few men I’ve read…) So, my new reading goal is to always have a collection of essays on my nightstand. Whether by all the same author or a collection of voices, the essay format remains a powerful form of expression.

Do you enjoy essays? What are some of your favorite collections? What are your thoughts on blogs-turned-books?

Favorite Books of 2016

My original reading goal for 2016 was to read only 2 books: The Bible and War and Peace. I’m in “October” of my Bible in a Year plan (which I actually started in 2015…) and have made some progress in War and Peace but still have a ways to go. It’s just too hard to say no to so many other books! So, I’ll keep going with those two, but this year was filled with others.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-12-35-24-pmI didn’t meet my goal of 52 (just 4 shy!) but looking at our very active phase with the girls, I can see why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Another goal was to read more fiction, and I did accomplish this, especially when I look at my list of 5-star books. Five out of the twelve books were fiction, so I’m pleased with that. It’s hard to narrow the 12 books down to just 5, but some I’ve already mentioned on the blog so I may repeat here. You can check out all of my books over at Goodreads.

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
While D.L. Mayfield’s experience as a missionary is far from my own “calling,” I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty as she shared her journey. I had read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution when it came out and this book is a wonderful real-life follow up to what living in an Upside Down Kingdom really looks like.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I think Neil Gaiman may be my new favorite author. His writing draws me in and his use of magical realism is superb. I read Stardust while on my retreat and I’m glad I had two whole days to do nothing else – it drew me in, sparked my imagination, and was hard to put down.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
While we are still eating animals, this is one of the best books I’ve read on factory farming, its environmental impact, and our duty as global citizens to reflect on how much meat we are consuming. Foer is brutally honest and writes this book as a longtime vegetarian. He doesn’t seem to be trying to convert carnivores, but is writing to those on the fence, who need a nudge to get started on the vegetarian path.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This collection of letters to Dear Sugar is one of the most empathetic books I’ve ever read. Not only are Sugar’s answers beautiful, but she reminded me how to connect my own story to others; that even the most unlikely experiences can be seen as a connection.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
This fictional tale of slavery and plantation owners in the Saint-Domingue and New Orleans was eye-opening for me. I haven’t read many books about slavery in the Caribbean and this was certainly thought-provoking. I’m on the (very long) holds list for Homegoing and The Underground Railroad at the library and I’m glad I read this one to get me thinking about other aspects of the slave trade.

What were your favorite books this year? Do you wait in long hold lines at the library or do you buy your books?

Favorite Books of 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 2.53.52 PMIt’s time for the annual summary of my favorite books. After a book-filled year last year, I again set the goal to read 52 books this year. Unlike last year, when I exceeded the goal by 30 books, I just barely made it this year. (I blame Elle…)

Even though I read fewer books this year, it feels like I read more 5-star books. Of the 53 books I read, 11 earned 5-star ratings. Perhaps it’s because I have limited reading time these days that I’ve been pickier about choosing books I’d most likely enjoy.

I’ve already blogged about some and others, while I very much enjoyed them, may not be for everyone. If you’d like to see all my ratings, check out my Goodreads account.

Here are 5 of my favorites this year. As usual, I’m nonfiction heavy. I’m trying to work on that, but as a stay-at-home mom, I need to keep on learning – it’s what keeps me sane!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
This is a must-read book for everyone. While I knew America’s prison system is broken, I had no idea what that actually meant. Bryan Stevenson has devoted his career to giving inmates on death row a fair chance of acquittal. Just Mercy is a mix of shocking statistics and heartbreaking stories mixed with admirable hope. Stevenson’s book is heavy, but the hope and redemption that he finds makes it uplifting, as well.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
Zealot messed with my faith – in a good way. Reza Aslan looks at the life of Jesus through the eyes of a scholar and Muslim. This well-researched book is not out to disprove Jesus, but rather looks at Jesus the man rather than Jesus the Messiah. It made me question why I believe what I do and how I reached that place in my faith journey. It also brought about lively discussions in our home in regards to how we’ll present the Bible and its stories to our girls.

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
If you’re a Christian and you read Zealot, you must follow it with The Bible Tells Me So. Peter Enns questions why and how we read the Bible, as well, but from a Christian perspective. While Zealot left me feeling a bit lost with where to go next, The Bible Tells Me So helped me regain my footing. Enns looks at the Old Testament mostly and helps us see the Bible as a story arc rather than a piece of journalism. It’s helped me read my Bible more critically but also with a better context.

Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano
I heard about Mirrors via a cousin on Facebook and through it sounded interesting so picked it up on a whim. I am so glad I did! Eduardo Galeano weaves the mythology of cultures across the world to create a tapestry of stories about the human experience. Some are stories, some are truth, most are a mix of both. I loved the connections he made between common stories and I finished remembering that cultures across time and geography are more similar than different.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
I am not a huge fan of Ann Voskamp. She has beautiful things to say but her style is a bit to flowery for me. I bought this book last year after hearing rave reviews about it, hoping we could start this Advent tradition this year. I went into it with low expectations – it’s really meant for older kids. I printed the free ornaments for Bea to color while I read the story. Of all the Advent activities we did, this is the one she loved the most! She would remind me daily when we needed to do it and she asked to start over after we finished. Definitely a winner and a tradition I look forward to continuing.

What about you? What were some of your favorite reads this year? And as always, any great fiction recommendations?

Favorite Memoirs

A friend and I were talking about memoirs the other day. When done well, memoirs can be amazing and life-changing. Sadly, they can also be rambling and narcissistic. I’ve read quite a few memoirs this year and have come across both. There was a stretch of mediocre reads when I almost gave up the genre.

But, last week I finished A River Runs Through It and my faith in storytelling and memoir was restored. If you love the movie but haven’t yet read Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella, I’d highly recommend. It is storytelling at its best!

If summer is for light, beach reads, I’d say fall is for inspiring and thought-provoking memoirs. Here are just five of my all-time favorites.

Bringing Up Bebe
This is one of the few parenting books I’d recommend. Beyond good, common-sense advice, though, it’s a fun memoir of parenting in France. Cultural differences, weighing important battles to pursue, acclimating to new ways of doing things, this book goes beyond parenting and is a good look at choosing to live in a new culture.

Traveling Mercies
I’ve read Anne Lamott’s classic several times and each time I feel refreshed and learn something new about my own story. If you haven’t yet read her journey of faith and discovery, it’s one that can resonate with all spiritual walks of life.

My Life in France
Another memoir for Francophiles, Julia Child’s memories of her time in France bring depth and poignancy to Julie and Julia fans. I also loved the look into the world of publishing and self-publishing. It seems as though not much has changed in the last 65 years.

All Creatures Great and Small
James Herriot’s series of stories about a country veterinary practice in 1950’s England. They are quiet, slice of life stories and you have to be ready for many descriptions of birthing cows, but there are also many laugh out loud moments. The dog stories, especially make me laugh and also cry in they way Herriot personifies pets and farm animals. If you’re not much of a reader or just need a new series to add to Netflix, I’d highly recommend the BBC adaptation of Herriot’s books. I grew up watching them and Frank and I rewatched a few when we were first married. They do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the stories.


The Upside of Down
I lived with Susan Biggar and her family during my first semester of college. Susan and Darryl were in the midst of a relatively quiet spell with their sons’ battles with Cystic Fibrosis. This memoir is about Susan’s experience with the diagnosis of this life-threatening genetic disorder with her two oldest sons and the subsequent navigation of hospital systems across four countries. Its honesty and questioning remind me of Anne Lamott’s style. Sue does a great job of detailing their journey, giving insightful details, without feeling like she’s told too much about her sons’ personal stories.

There are, of course, more memoirs that are well written and though provoking, but these are the ones that have stood out over the years. I find, too, that memoir reading is all about my own state of mind. Some resonate in ways that are baffling years later and others seem unimpressive yet I come back, read them with new eyes, and am changed.

What about you? What are some of your favorite or most life-changing memoirs?

Five-Star Books of 2013

This year, I read a record of 36 books. (And am hoping to finish a couple more before the year is over.) Of those 36 books, 13 received a 5-star rating. Some are classics; some were published this year. Most were new, though a couple were rereads. I thought I’d list some of my top books of this year:

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
I have been a fan on the BBC rendition of this beautiful memoir. The first of a series of three (all worth reading), Jennifer Worth really captures an interesting transition to public healthcare in 1950’s London. Worth’s writing style creates an amazing empathy with the people living in the slums of the West End.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
No matter what your views are regarding marriage equality or whether being gay is a “sin,” this book is a must-read. It explores the journey of one young man coming to terms with his sexuality. It is well-written and gracious to his life experiences.

Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle by Nicholas Day
A history of parenting, this book put me at ease about any parenting compromises I’ve made with Bea. (Why worry about a pacifier? She’ll find a way to soothe herself.) It’s fascinating to see how the trends in parenting have changed over the years and how resilient the human race is. Even if you’re not a parent, it’s a fascinating look at how philosophies of children as a group have changed.

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules edited by David Sedaris
I love short stories in general, but this collection of David Sedaris’ favorite and/or influential authors was wonderful. It’s a great mix, including Flannery O’Connor, Alice Monroe, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Seemingly unrelated, it’s an interesting glimpse into the authors who have influenced Sedaris’ funny and unique style.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon
What a beautiful story of friendship! Not only an interesting look into the world of publishing and politics, it’s a journey of two strangers becoming lifelong friends. When I finished, I hoped my friendships would last as long as Julia and Avis’ and be as open and meaningful.

I have a few more books I’m currently reading and hoping to finish before the year’s end, two of which I’m certain will earn 5-star ratings. Check out my Goodreads profile for all 13 5-star books, as well as the other good 3- and 4-star books I read this year.

What amazing books have you read this year? How many books do you read, on average?