One of my goals last year was to read at least two new books each month. And I’m pretty happy that I DID IT, even with an extra one to make it 25! Ok, I actually listened to most of them (Audible rocks!), but hey, sometimes you have to cling on to accomplishments like this because I’m failing miserably at a few other goals…just looking on the bright side here 🙂

ANYWAY, I decided to up the ante to 30 books in 2020, and I’m deep into my second one now (I read Mao’s Last Dancer first, loved it and can’t wait to discuss at book club, and now into Hillbilly Elegy which is also so interesting, much like The Glass Castle and Educated). I love how books can make you think. And the unique worlds they can pull you into, whether it’s Mao’s China or the struggles of the beginning of America or a trial of a start-up company gone wrong. So much to learn from so many vantage points!

I figured since people are always asking for book suggestions, and also since I want to remember my 2019 list, I figured I’d list them here. So here you go!

The Robe — loved this depiction of a Roman soldier who followed Christ…wrote a little about it HERE.

The Lake House — I enjoyed it ok, it was entertaining and would be an ok vacation book, but not on my “favorites” list (read it for book club)

The Last Romantics — another “just ok” one in my opinion, interesting family dynamics but to be honest it kind of made me mad.

Thirst — loved this one, someone who had some pretty life-changing experiences and helped change the lives of many because of his determined nature…made me want to be more like that. I wrote a lot about that one in conjunction with our Africa trip HERE.

Kisses from Katie — another one I read in preparation for and while in Africa, inspiring story. Also wrote about it HERE.

The Promise of a Pencil — yet another vantage point of seeking to do good in the world, through education this time. Super inspiring story and another one I wrote about HERE.

Born a Crime — Loved this memoir from Trevor Noah that took me right into growing up in the middle of apartheid in South Africa. Made me think a lot about how people pull themselves out of tough situations and what gives them that kind of a drive. I loved that Trevor Noah was the one narrating when I listened to it.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky — SO GOOD, based on the true story of a harrowing journey of an Italian teenager who is faced with all kinds of challenges during World War II, including the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command.

The Handmaid’s Tale — another one we read for book club, kinda racy, futuristic, made me think but not one I’d really recommend.

The Secret Garden — this is one of Lucy’s very favorites and she wanted to re-read it this last summer so I read it with her. And loved it.

Where the Crawdads Sing — LOVED parts, didn’t like other parts, but I’d totally recommend it. Loved the writing style, loved that it took me directly into that world of marshlands and innocence amidst making me think about prejudices and moral dilemmas…more thoughts about that one back HERE.

Sapiens — Abby got us interested in this one, and Dave read it too, so I joined in and it was fascinating. A very high recommendation from me, all about the history of humankind that really makes you think and I loved it. I wrote lots more about that one back HERE.

Bad Blood — pretty interesting documentation of Elizabeth Holmes and her Silicon Valley start-up-gone-bad, made me think a lot about decisions and human nature and how people can be duped by confidence.

Wednesday Wars — Lu and I read this together (recommended by a blog reader…thank you!) and it’s probably one of my very favorite ever books for youth. So filled with goodness as Holling Hoodhood tries to figure out life, relationships, and all the things he learns sometimes from unconventional “teachers.” Talked about this one back HERE.

In Cold Blood — chilling and eerie true-crime that creeped me out but was pretty interesting.

Anne of Green Gables — LOVED reading this one with Lucy. Lots of my feelings on that book back HERE.

Before We Were Yours — An unbelievable journey of a young girl who is taken from her parents to “sell” to the upper class in the pretense of adoption in the mid 1900s. It’s based on a real-life scandal Memphis and it’s so sad to think of all the families who were broken up, as well as the different paths our lives take us on. (more thoughts HERE)

And There Was Light — I wrote a bunch about this one HERE because it hit me so hard, especially as it hit so close to home having a daughter who is rapidly losing her vision. How I hope she will always “see the light” as this man could.

Dancing on Broken Glass — Interesting story about a couple dealing with cancer as well as mental illness. I didn’t love the writing style but I did love that it made me think about moral dilemmas and that it took me into the mental illness world which I’m trying to learn more about and understand better in this world where it is becoming more and more prevalent.

The Empowered Wife — Gosh I loved this one. I love any book that makes you re-evaluate your marriage and how to work on it from new angles. Marriage is so incredibly important and beautiful and I think the working-on-it part of it is beautiful too. No matter how great your marriage is, it’s always something to contemplate and work on, in my opinion. I’ve changed a few things after reading this book and that makes me happy. I wrote more about this book back HERE.

Just Mercy — Loved the way this one made me think. And still think. It is the memoir of Bryan Stevenson, a young lawyer who works to defend the poor and wrongly condemned in the criminal justice system. He takes us deep into many of their stories, and compassionately makes a pretty inspiring argument for the need for mercy. And the need for some serious criminal justice system reform. I know it’s been made into a movie, and I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t imagine it would be able to compare to the book. I wrote more about this book back HERE.

The Prosperity Paradox — I wrote about this one back HERE, so many thoughts about what brings prosperity in some nations while others can’t seem to catch a break. Gave me lots to think about, especially in wake of our experiences in Africa.

The Little Woman — (not to be confused with Little Women which we read straddling 2019 and 2020, but I’m counting it for 2020) Lucy needed to read this for her neighborhood book club, and we couldn’t find it on her little audible book reader so I read it aloud to her (sadly, she can’t read books any more). It is a pretty inspiring story of a woman who feels compelled to go share Christianity in China in the early 1900s, quite an adventure I have to say, and gave us lots to think about and discuss.

Genesis — futuristic book about a whole new generation and a big dialog about man vs. machine. Really interesting discussion at book club about that one and the future of artificial intelligence.

Alexander Hamilton — I started reading this one in preparation for our trip to see Hamilton, and it took me forever to get through. But I’m telling you, it’s one of those bedrock books that keeps you thinking. What an expansive study of history Ron Chernow had to delve into to write that puppy. Wow. I keep thinking about how “mess” can lead to so much beauty (I wrote more on that thought over HERE). (Early America was messy. We’re still messy in so many ways. But there are good things that come from messes sometimes.)

Ok, and I just realized this list doesn’t include my two more spiritual reads (perhaps some of the most important books I could read in my opinion, because they have the power to change not only your view, but your heart also): The Book of Mormon (all about that challenge last summer HERE), and also one of my very favorite books: He Did Deliver Me from Bondage. Wrote more about that one HERE, and I’m reading it again and taking another class on it now. I LOVE IT SO MUCH!

Ok, there you go, lots of book thoughts for the day. Phew!

Here’s to more good ones in 2020! Send me more of your favorites!

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  1. Handmaid’s Tale is “racy?” I read it as dystopian fiction about what happens when women’s roles are confined to that of wife, helpmate, and/or baby making in large part based in religious ideals. Sexual violence, and violence against women
    In general, is an especially disturbing part of this book.

    I don’t think this was in the book but in the show the main wife helped launch the patriarchal society by writing a book about women focusing on their natural/god given roles as wife and mother (kinda like the empowered wife?) Now she focuses on that so much that she’s forbidden to read, much less write.

    The NY TIMES on Laura Doyle who wrote the EMPOWERED WIFE which was originally called THE SURRENDERED WIFE “ Ms. Doyle believes that every decision, from vacations to child care, is an opportunity to make a husband feel more masculine and thus more eager to please. To get hubby to carry packages, a wife should marvel at how big and strong he is. ”This will feel odd — perhaps even dishonest — at first,” ….And she believes that regardless of who’s the breadwinner, husbands should control the finances, balance the checkbook and dispense a cash allowance.,”

    1. I don’t normally comment but needed to here…I totally agree. The Handmaids Tale is not racy! I think you totally missed the mark on reading this.

      1. The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary story of what can happen when women acquiesce to men and give away their rights and freedoms. As a mormon, it was shocking to recognize the strong parallels between the book and the mormon culture. From my many years of experiences in the mormon church I have seen time and time again where men are more highly valued over women, listened to over women, and nurtured over women to the point of a misogynistic culture that has subtly shifted group beliefs to men are superior to women in all aspects.

    2. Oh I appreciate the comments and have to give a disclaimer that some of these reviews I wrote really fast, (this took forever to write and that’s probably one of them I didn’t go back and re-check). Take what I write here with a grain of salt because sometimes I have to write kinda quick! I read that book (A Handmaid’s Tale) a long time ago and I really did love how it made me think, and i really liked the writing style, but if I’m recommending books it’s not one I highly recommend. This is all just me, of course, different books speak to different people, which is awesome!

      1. I agree with you Shawni, I found The Handmaid’s Tale “racy” and didn’t enjoy the dark feeling from reading it. I get what it is trying to say, but it wasn’t for me either. Thanks for your reviews! I just read Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini and LOVED IT.

    3. Agreed. “Racy” means “lively, entertaining, and typically mildly titillating sexually.” While there’s some consensual sex in The Handmaid’s Tale, and maybe that’s what you’re referring to (?), the fact that that is what you highlighted in your review, such as it is and having read your caveat, makes it seem like that you read this book as some sort of romance or something, which is mind-boggling. Even if you recognize that it’s definitely not that, how was “racy” one of your main takeaways? The majority of the sex in that book (which I admittedly think is amazing, as is basically everything Margaret Atwood writes) is horrifying, not titillating.

      1. I absolutely agree. “Racy” makes it sound like you were reading “50 Shades of Grey”.
        “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not a book that is supposed to make you feel good. It’s a warning.

    4. Jenny, first off I agree with all of your points on the Handmaid’s Tale! I have not read the Empowered Wife…it certainly sounds like it has undertones and values that I would not necessarily agree with. Because I was curious, I went back on the blog to read Shawni’s initial thoughts of the book, and it seems like she also disagreed with certain aspects of it. (As well as the original title of the book.)

      Below is her quote from the first post – it helped me understand her thought process when reading it, and might be helpful for anyone else reading the comments. (Because like you, Jenny, I don’t agree with the “idea” of the book from the perspective of the NY Times – it seems like an unhealthy view on marriage and gender roles. [again, haven’t read it myself.] But I still think that people can take away valuable and healthy insights from books that they don’t totally agree with.)

      “And I really like it. I’ll give you fair warning that there are some parts that are a little on the cheesy side, and there are some parts I don’t see quite eye-to-eye with, but overall I would totally recommend it. It’s to help wives learn to let go of a little of their control but I think it’s also teaching me to let go of trying to control my kids too. Yep, I do that sometimes. I like how it’s getting me thinking.

      You can find it HERE, or the old version HERE (I don’t love that title, glad they changed it.)”

  2. Common sense media on Handmaid’s Tale gives a much better summary than I did. “The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most acclaimed dystopian novels of the 20th century. An uncompromising portrait of a totalitarianism and institutional misogyny, it critiques fundamentalism in all its forms.“

    1. Would be nicer if the Canadian who wrote it decades ago put the setting in Iran or Afghanistan where it actually happened. Women needing to be covered. Needing a male guardian. Restrictions in work to maintain morality. The state deciding when and how long to insist people use birth control and then stop using birth control. The streets were full of women wearing miniskirts and those wearing Islamic dress were harassed before the revolution. Now the women in bad hijab are harassed and it’s illegal not to have one on. The book, not the original movie to go with it is actually about the time after this Futuristic America where Off Fred leaves these tapes explaining what happened in her experience. The book is about the future. What happens on Hulu is further fantasy, this time without ‘resettling’ all people of color. Today in America people are not forced to breed for the infertile elite. Women are in every field and have bank accounts in their own names. Homosexuals aren’t hung in the US. Racy just means it’s sensitive subject matter for kids. This isn’t for the ten year old who reads at college level. It’s not a mother daughter book group pick like Wonder.

  3. I totally foun this book and it got me! It’s called ELIZABETH IS MISSING. The novelty is that the narrator has Alzheimer`s so she can’t remember things properly and she can’t find her friend Elizabeth, which will take her to remember thins from her past. It’s just enthralling and lovely, and so pure and sad at the same time. My best read in 2019 (out of over 20 books), not because of the writing which is good, it’s the characters and the story. Totally worth it!

    In 2018 my favourite one was The tiger’s wife, great writing and very interesting story with different layers. Makes you wonder about the nature of our species. The best I’ve probably read in my life. That year I read 31 books!
    In second place Station Eleven, dystopian novel. Timely if you think of coronavirus! I think younger readers will enjoy it.

  4. I read The Anatomy of Peace every year- it’s that good, and an old classic that is a comedy, The Scarlet Pimpernell (there is a movie with Jane Seymour, my kids love it). I think you’d them both!

  5. Hi Shawni! I’d echo others comments about Handmaid’s Tale, but I want to put a plug in for reading The Hate U Give this year (could be one for you and Claire). It’s a page-turning entrypoint into the lived experience of racial violence. I’d also mention that I took a personal challenge 2 years ago of only reading only books by women or people of color (I’m a white cisgender woman) and it was a transformative year of understanding different perspectives that I’d encourage anyone to journey on with me. I’d be so delighted to share a list of books that I loved if that’s of interest to you.

    1. Yes! Favorites were:
      Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi — Best book I’ve read in the last few years. Interweaving, generational short stories, exploring the history of slavery and it’s lasting impact on today’s world
      Exit West, Mohsin Hamid — A short novel, laced with magical realism, about the refugee crisis.
      The Mothers, Brit Bennett — Really enjoyed this. It’s a story that centers around older church ladies, a 17 year old coming of age, and a web of relationships. Complex characters and a great story.
      Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie — A British Muslin family impacted by terrorism and a retelling of Antigone all in one. Haunting. A bit slow-going at the start, but quickly accelerates.
      Tin Man Sarah Winman A short novel about friends and different forms of love. Had the feeling of Call Me By Your Name, but over many years and across England and France. I’ve given it to a few people now who have all enjoyed it. Melancholic
      Dept of Speculation, Jenny Orfill– A sparse short novel about a woman and her life unfolding through her 30s and 40s. Stylistically different than most, which to me, really worked. Good enough that I reread it a few years after the first read.
      Goodbye Vitamin Rachel Khong A novel about a 30 year old who moves home after a break-up to take care of her father who is in the early stages of Alzheimers. It’s darkly comic with some really wonderful sentences and one-liners scattered throughout.
      Uprooted and Spinning Silver Naomi Novik Both of these are fantasy books – the first about a small town and the sorcerer who lives nearby, and the second about a money lender and an ice king. I found each page-turning and fun; they are anchored in more archetypal Eastern European fairy tales, but veer off in unexpected ways and have far more developed characters.
      There There, Tommy Orange – Powerful set of interweaving stories about Native American people in Oakland.
      Such a Fun Age (new), Kiley Reid – Subversive book about a young, black babysitter, her love interest and the family she works for. Page-turning and felt real in important ways. Leaves you thinking.
      The Farm – Surrogates live together on a fancy farm they can’t leave. A good allegory on class and domestic servitude.
      The Great Believers – An art find, the AIDS crisis in Chicago, an estranged mother and daughter in Paris. All of it combined makes a beautiful, powerful and illuminating book.

      In the YA genre (which I dig): The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time in Indian, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Children of Blood and Bones, The Poet X

      Other good ones in the adult world include: George Washington Black (fast paced story of an escaped slave with a level of magic), The World is Moving Around Me (memoir of Haitian earthquake written by a Haitian man), Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (climate change has lead to dystopic disaster and it’s about the start of a new religion), The Way It’s Always Been (parents of a transgender kiddo navigate life), New People, An American Marriage, Call me By Your Name, Little Fires Everywhere, The Best We Could Do,

      1. Thanks for the list. I’ve only read Little Fires Everywhere and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (LOVED it!), I’ll have to check out these others.

  6. Hi Shawni! I’d highly HIGHLY recommend basically anything by Barbara Kingsolver. My top 3 from her are: “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (will make you want to move to a farm for a year!), Poisonwood Bible (set in Africa, I really think you will like this one), and Small Wonders (a collection of essays about America, gosh it is so good). Enjoy!

    1. I really like Barbara Kingsolver as well. I really enjoyed all 3 books you mentioned as well as The Prodigal Summer.

    2. I loved Poisonwood Bible and keep meaning to read it again (it’s been a long time). She is such a great writer! I’ll have to check out the others.

  7. Some of my favorites from 2019 were, Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Alice Network and The Huntress by Kate Quinn, A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah, and Wish by Barbara O’Connor. Special mention for Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung.

    1. I second Homes: A Refugee Story! Just read it last week and was a really great way to understand the Syrian refugee experience better. Would be a great read for someone Lucy’s age or older.
      My favourite book of the past couple years is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. It’s a sweeping novel that tells the story of Cyril Avery who is born in Ireland in the 1940s. Lots of humour infused in there and a lot of moving moments too.

  8. Thank you so much for the recommendations! I’m really wanting to read more this year, but find it hard with 3 little ones at home (ages 4& under). I would love to hear how you made (& now make) time for reading while never really being alone (when your kids were younger and made it so you were really never alone). Thanks!

    1. Not Shawni, but I’m an avid reader. When my kids were young, I would mostly read at night before I went to sleep. (My husband worked swings, so I didn’t have to worry about the light bothering him.) Now that he goes to bed earlier than I do, I read on the couch for a bit before bed. I would also do a lot of reading when I was nursing my kids. As they got older, I’d take a book outside with me while they played out there. Hope that gives you a few ideas.

    2. I’m a mom of 7, ages 16 down to 7 months-old. At this season in my life, I read at night before bed. Sometimes I get an hour, sometimes I get zip read time (you know: babies, toddlers, teenagers who need to talk before they go to bed). When my oldest three were little, I read during nap time *and* at night. 🙂 🙂 I actually homeschool, too, so naptime is when I get a lot of teaching in. :/

    3. I love to read and also have a young family, so one thought is to try audiobooks. It’s something I can “read” (listen to) while folding laundry, doing the dishes, etc. Check out Libby for acres to free audiobooks through your library—see my comment below if you’re unsure what Libby is. Good luck! Life is Good 🙂

    4. Such good suggestions here! I have to say that audible has helped me SO MUCH! Like Ellen said, so great to be “reading” while cleaning or folding laundry. And there are some great apps from libraries where you can check out audiobooks for free. When my kids were little I tried to model reading and we had “read-a-thons” at night a LOT. Just a creative way to get them reading and let me read my book too! I have always made sure I’m in a book club because when I had little kids I was never good at reading if I didn’t have a deadline. That helped me so much! And I loved telling the kids all about the books I was reading. But it is WAY harder when you have little kids so I feel you! Sending love and good reading vibes!

  9. I read thirst and just mercy after you wrote about them on here. Loved them both and how they made me think. I’m excited to read some of these!

  10. Hi Shawni, Thought I’d share my favorite reads of 2019:

    I read a lot of really GREAT books this year (37) and would highly recommend the vast majority of them, however in my mind, these ones really stood out:

    Non-Fiction: I LOVED Educated, Born a Crime (listen on audiobook–Trevor Noah brings his unorthodox South African childhood to life in a way only he can), Just Mercy (can’t recommend this book enough), Becoming, Call Sign Chaos, How Not to Die, Dare to Lead and Atomic Habits.

    Fiction: The Nightingale and The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah were both superb–I couldn’t get The Nightingale out of my mind for weeks afterwards. (It’s historical fiction about the Nazi occupation of France). After I read The Nightingale, the next three books I read were by Kristen Hannah. Her book Winter’s Garden is also very good, although it takes a bit longer to really get going.

    1. I have loved almost every one of those as well! So good! I felt the same way about The Nightingale, so beautiful. I haven’t read Atomic Habits yet and that’s on my list for sure.

  11. Love the book recommendations—I’ve added some of them to my list, so thanks for sharing. Do you use Libby? It’s an app you can download and check out ebooks and audiobooks through your local library. I love having access to a bunch of (free) ebooks and audiobooks. Thanks again for sharing. Life is Good 🙂

    1. I use Hoopla which is just like Libby…you’re right such a great way to get audiobooks for free, and such a good thing to spread the word about!

  12. Thank you for all the great recommendations! I started replying to everyone but then figured I’d just put a big thank you down here. Lots of good books to keep me going for sure!! Love that there are so many books out there that speak to all of us in different ways.

  13. It sounds like you have a book group so this may not be your season for this, but right now I’m in a busy season and there are two podcasts that I have loved. One is called “Close Reads” and the other is “The Literary Life”. I love picking books that they have highlighted, because their conversations always make my reading of the book so much more enjoyable. It’s real to life…just like a book group their are comments that I find annoying or not on topic…but overall I find it really delightful. Literary Life has a fantastic booklist out as well that I’m excited about for 2020…not titles, just categories.

  14. Thanks to everyone for sharing! I recently read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and it really made me think about informed consent in healthcare, privacy, and the way poor people have been treated medically.

  15. Some of my favorite books from 2019 are:
    The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui – the first and only graphic novel that I’ve read, but a riverting story about one family’s experience with immigration.
    Where the Wind Leads – Vinh Chung – another immigration story. Just amazing how “coincidences” can shape someone’s life
    Becoming Mrs. Lewis – Patti Callahan about the woman who became C.S. Lewis’ wife. She was an accomplished poet in her own right.
    The World That We Knew – Alice Hoffman – powerful novel about life during WWII
    Circe – Madeline Miller – maybe my MOST FAVORITE of the year – fascinating novel about Greek Gods and Goddesses
    The Day the World Came to Town – Jim DeFede – about Gander, Newfoundland and how the town cared for all the people on planes that were prevented from entering US airspace after 9/11
    Claws of the Cat – Susan Spann – mystery novel set in medieval Japan

    and my favorite book so far in 2020:
    The Girl with Seven Names – Hyeonseo Lee – autobiography of a woman who escapes from North Korea when she is 17.

  16. I think others mentioned this in your post about The Wednesday Wars, but the sequel, Okay for Now, is even better!!! Really so good.

  17. I love any and all talk about books! I wanted to put a plug in for LibroFM. It is basically the same as Audible (I believe it is even the same price) but your book purchases go to an independent bookstore of your choosing rather than Amazon (who owns Audible). Just a good way to give back to a community!

  18. Dearly Beloved was a beautiful book about two couples and their faith. Gorgeously written. The Only Plane in the Sky was a heart breaking read but one I am so grateful I read. Highly recommend both of those books.

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