Fellow readers, it’s my favorite time of year for the blog. I am about to share my two, favorite, annual blogposts of the year! At the end of each December, I share my favorite books of the past year. Then, in the earliest days of January, I share my personal list of reading aspirations for the coming year. It thrills my book-loving soul to hear that blog readers have begun looking forward to these lists, as well! Thank you for showing up each year to share in my nerdy enthusiasm, friends.
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read fifty books. This year’s goal was significantly fewer books than I completed the year before, but I had the inkling that I needed to set the bar lower to make way for other ambitions and life changes. Sure enough! I began a new job this year. Not only did I read fewer books than the year before, I also read much more fiction than any other year of my adult life. Instead of reading to learn and grow, I found that I enjoyed reading for entertainment and to soak up the quiet minutes before bedtime. For months, I’ve been looking forward to telling you about the fictional series I have discovered.
Friends, I cannot stress this enough: I have found the most enjoyable Christian fiction series in all of the land. To be honest, I rarely find a Christian fiction book that I find to be well-written. I’m sure there are many delightful choices that I’ve yet to discover. Nonetheless, this series is far better than anything else I’ve read in the genre.
‘Tis time for me to tell you about the best Christian fiction series in all the land. This series is so incredibly enjoyable that I must give a quick disclaimer. Neither the book covers nor the titles do this series justice. Disregard the titles and the book covers. Judging the series by these will lead you astray. You must read this series, friends. You will not be able to read just one book. Drumroll…
My Favorite Fiction of the Year
1) The Yada Yada Prayer Group Series by Neta Jackson
There are seven books in the series and I read every, single one in 2019. The series covers a group of women who meet at a women’s conference in Chicago. The characters are all well developed and believable. Each woman, and the other characters in their lives, have unique pasts and diverse cultures. They are well written and go through authentic trials and tribulations as they get to know one another and become friends. Their community and support of one another despite differences reminded me so much of the “coffee group” that met at my home for the five years that I was a stay-at-home mom. Their relationships felt very genuine. I may go back and reread the entire series in the next few years. These are must-reads! I was so disappointed when I finished the final book, but lo and behold! Author, Neta Jackson must have anticipated my dilemma or perhaps received fan mail from readers begging her to write a sequel. There’s a spin-off series and it did not disappoint. Please read both of these series, and then message me so we can talk about them!
2) The House of Hope Series by Neta Jackson
The titles in this series will cause you to hum the Preacher’s Wife soundtrack repeatedly: Where do I Go?, Who do I Talk To?, Who do I Lean On?, Who is my Shelter? You’ll understand the titles and the connection to the Preacher’s Wife soundtrack once you dig into the storylines of this series. I didn’t expect this spin-off series to include the characters or stories of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series very often. I expected the name dropping of a character here and there, but I was overjoyed at the way the author wrote their lives into the main character’s story. Friends, I seldom reread, but I will reread both of these series one day. My heart broke for this main character because her life seemed so reminiscent of other women I have known, but the author wove so much joy into these stories in a way that I cannot describe without major spoilers. Wait until you meet the supporting character, Lucy! I loved Lucy’s story so much that I am going to be reading her sequel right away in 2020. Yes, there is indeed a sequel to the spin-off series. You can read more about my reading ambitions for next year when I release that post in a few days. Stay tuned.
Honorable Mention Fiction
3) No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert
This was a very well written story. Since reading this, I am always on the hunt for more books by Katie Ganshert. The story is told from the perspective of three different women. I enjoyed seeing their lives connect as the storylines wove together.
4) The Noticer by Andy Andrews
My book club read this book, and I loved it so much I gifted it to my grandma for Christmas. The overarching theme is that sometimes we need a bit of perspective. This story was delightful.
My Favorite Non-fiction of the Year
5) Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies by Hillary Morgan Ferrer
Mom friends, if you read one book from my list this year, read this one. I am level–ten obsessed with this book. After reading the first two chapters, I texted all of my mom friends with an invitation, (no, it was a plea), to join me in a book study on Mama Bear Apologetics. All of my mom friends got the, “You have to read this!!!” text message from me in all-caps and far too many exclamation points and emojis for added emphasis. A measurable group of friends humored me enough to buy the book from Amazon and to meet twice to discuss. (We still need to meet one last time to cover the final chapters, but Christmas is busy, y’all.) And do you know what? Nearly all of the ladies who purchased this book have sent me a text message that says something like, “Oh my word. This book is that good!” It wasn’t my imagination. Friends, I’ve read numerous parenting books and this one is just different. It feels so timely, so relevant, and so practical. It empowers mothers to empower children to be respectful, critical thinkers, who stand on absolute truth without being curmudgeons. My little review does not begin to give Mama Bear Apologetics the proper amount of credit. Read it and message me so that we can talk about it. This is my highest book recommendation of the year, I tell you.
Honorable Mention Non-Fiction
6) The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life by Melanie Shankle
Melanie Shankle’s laugh out loud memoirs are always time well spent. I kept pausing to read excerpts aloud to my husband, because it was too funny not to share. She is hilarious and makes my heart so happy!
7) Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy
My friend, Kim and I decided to read this book together. If you love beautiful, introspective, Ann Voskamp type of writing, you will love Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. This book really made me reflect on my childhood home, and I am considering writing a bit more about my earliest years after thinking through Roots and Sky.
8) The Way of Abundance: A 60 Day Journey into a Deeply Meaningful Life by Ann Voskamp
Long time readers of my blog know that Ann is my absolute favorite to read. I’ve read each of her books and each one is like a balm to my soul. Perhaps that sounds dramatic, but is there a better way to describe the writing of Ann Voskamp? Her gratefully reflective pace is much needed in the rush of this fallen world.
9) Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon
I enjoyed this book more than words can say! From excerpts about “how to curl your hair with rollers” to “catching frogs,” I realized how much I have in common with Reese Witherspoon. Truly. My Midwest childhood with deep country roots must have been very similar to her own childhood in the south. I’m so glad to have found another woman who feels her hair looks best when she takes her rollers out in the car just before she arrives. This is a long-held belief of mine. Bless Reese’s heart for spreading this clearly sophisticated beauty regimen to the rest of the world. Side note: I read this one as an audiobook narrated by Reese and followed along in her hardcover book from the library. The exquisite photography coupled with her own narration was the full experience!
10) Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
This was another great read from my book club. John Ortberg’s definition of the soul caused me to ponder how I care for my own spiritual health. My favorite parts of this book were actually Ortberg’s conversations with a mentor of his, theologian, Dallas Willard. Ortberg’s humor (pertaining to Dallas’s depth) and Willard’s wisdom were a great pairing in each of the passages of their conversations. I highly recommend this book.
Juvenile Fiction (Children’s Fiction Books)
11) Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is brilliant! She has done it again. This little girl’s fictional journey made me think of many students I’ve taught along the way. Louisiana’s family life is just wonky and that is the reality of many children. Louisiana has a grandma who loves her, but doesn’t do a proper job of caring for her. Louisiana, however, is brave, spunky, and responsible. She is heroic and self sufficient when the going gets tough. I’m quite certain that fictional Louisiana will be a bright light in the lives of many children who, themselves, have to be courageous and spunky! Kate DiCamillo does a good work by making Louisiana’s story light and humorous enough to balance the real-life heaviness of Louisiana’s (unfortunately relevant) circumstances. As an educator, I appreciate they way Kate DiCamillo always perseveres to put a spin on the tough stuff to create wholesome, encouraging, and hopeful fiction for children in the middle grades. This is honorable children’s writing, indeed.
12) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My older boys and I read this together as a “book club,” this summer. I told them that after they finished the book, I would take them out for milkshakes to discuss the book. Shout out to Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival for the bookclub and milkshakes idea! It was just the key to prompt my non-fiction savvy boys to enjoy a fiction book. My boys absolutely loved this book. My middle child even chose to dress as Ivan for “Book Character Day” at school. The One and Only Ivan is a future classic! Children love this book, perhaps, because it is told from the perspective of the gorilla. It was an enjoyable read for me, as well.
13) Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy
Readers of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo will also love Walking with Miss Millie. I appreciated, not only the sweet storyline, but also the life lessons that crossed lines of generation and race for the main character of this book. One of my students gifted me with this book from our school’s book fair, so I anticipate sharing this story with children for years to come now that I own the book. I think you will love sharing it with the young readers in your life, as well.
Happy reading, friends!
From my heart to yours,
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