Happy New Year’s Eve, sweet reader friends! This year, I completed 57 books. With the annual favorite books of the year post in mind, I meandered through my Goodreads account to see which books I rated 5 stars.
It never ceases to amaze me that in retrospect, I remember some books being a bit less worthy of five stars and demote them a star or two when I realize the particular book to be incredibly unmemorable. Likewise, I am always shocked to see that I rated some of my most memorable books of the year 3 or 4 stars. Does this happen to you?
I’ll be completely transparent. I’ve noticed that I often give incredibly memorable books a lower rating if the content felt a bit questionable. I find myself rather hesitant to recommend books that I probably shouldn’t have read in the first place.
A relevant sidenote: Two year ago, I read a book with a very interesting storyline but such questionable content that I would only recommend it to my friends if they promised me that they were (are) seriously devoted to both Jesus and their husbands. If that isn’t a red flag about content, I do not know what is. In the end, I only recommended the book twice because I quickly saw that judging my friends’ hearts and devotions to recommend a good storyline was not my best offering of good literature.
With all of this in mind, you won’t be surprised that I am recommending very few fiction books. You can be sure that any recommended fiction books earned five stars because I balanced the quality of the prose against the quality of the content and landed in a peaceful justification of the rare five stars for my fictional reads. This is not to say that these books are all rated G. Most of them were originally rated 4 stars for PG13 content but the story itself was beautiful and memorable enough to bump it to 5 stars. Reader, beware. I will specify the story and content for each book below. You can be sure that anything I refer to as “3 star content” is a fascinating story and quite a page turner. Believe me when I say that I read a great many books from the mystery/thriller/suspense genre that I won’t be recommending due to the morality content being far below what I’d recommend or should have been reading myself. I’m really not sure why it is so rare to find a good storyline with character development, twists and turns, and also truth, beauty, and goodness. It is what it is. Likewise, why are so very many wholesome fiction novels boring and poorly written? (Dear fiction writers, I believe in you. This is your year. Impress us all with your beautiful and wholesome literature. Please and thank you. You can do it, dear writer friends!)
Shout out to Neta Jackson for writing the very best, 5 star all around, contemporary fiction, Christian novels I’ve ever read. You must read The Yada Yada Prayer Group and House of Hope series by Neta Jackson. I devoured them. Unfortunately, those weren’t this year, so I digress.
Let’s begin with my five star fiction reads for the year. I highly recommend each of these.
5 Star Fiction:
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: 5 star story, 3.5 star content
The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth: 5 star story, 3 star content
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: 5 stars all around. This book is my favorite classic and is appropriate for all ages. It wasn’t written in 2021, obviously. We need for Louisa May Alcotts up in here. No?
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: 5 star story, 3 star content (I also enjoyed the Netflix series based on this book. I think the content was 3 stars, but I can’t remember for sure so it is safe to say that this may be the post that makes 2021 “the year that Courtney Stanford went off the rails as a Christian blogger.” I apologize. I’ll do better to keep good records and make better choices in 2022. I still love Jesus and all things wholesome. Please do not unsubscribe.) My husband will ask me later why I didn’t just use the backspace button, but I like to keep things authentic, you know.
The Family of Jesus by Karen Kingsbury: 5 stars all around for the most beautiful historical fiction of Jesus’ family members based on Biblical truths with artistic liberties. This is officially the first Karen Kingsbury book that I have completed. I listened to it as an audiobook and my husband sent me a text from the next room that said, “I hear you in there trying to like Karen Kingsbury.” I read it and I liked it, dear husband. Mission accomplished!
The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth: 5 star story, 3 star content (This is the trend for most Sally Hepworth books, I’ve discovered. I’ll probably keep reading her books. She is so suspenseful and smart!)
The Wish Book Christmas by Lynne Austin: 4 star story, 5 star content This book is light, happy, and heartwarming. You should read it next Christmas. It won’t be your favorite book of the year, but it will be your coziest and most nostalgic to pair with a cup of coffee or tea. Put this on your list for December 2022.
5 Star Nonfiction:
You can trust me much more in the nonfiction section. It isn’t nearly as tricky to find wholesome nonfiction books. Alas, I should have led with nonfiction but there’s really no turning back now. Is there? These are all 5 stars all around! Read them all!
◦ On the Bright Side: Stories about Friendship, Love, and Being True to Yourself by Melanie Shankle This was my first book of the year. This was my favorite book of the year.
◦ Stand All the Way Up: Stories of Staying In It When You Want to Burn It All Down by Sophie Hudson This was my second book of the year. This was my second favorite book of the year. I’m just stating the facts, here.
◦ The Miracle Morning for Teachers: Elevate Your Impact for Yourself and Your Students by Hal Enrod and Honoree Corder I’ve been waking up at 4:55a.m. (and getting out of bed at 5am) since January 2021 because this book was a game changer for me! I absolutely loved this one!
◦ A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon by Sophie Hudson How is Sophie Hudson so funny? I really, really want to live on the same street as Sophie in Heaven. Please and thank you, Lord. Amen.
◦ Giddy Up, Eunice: Because Women Need Each Other by Sophie Hudson (Clearly, I was loving Sophie Hudson and Melanie Shankle by this point in the year. I wish they would write even more books because I think I read every single one of them, that I hadn’t already read in previous years, in 2021. I guess I needed to laugh. Pandemic life is a bit heavy, you know. They are delightful! Listen to the audiobooks for a lot of hysterically good times or enjoy reading the books on your own. It’s a win either way. I promise!
◦ Book Girl: A Journal of the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life by Sarah Clarkson I do tend to enjoy reading about reading. I originally gave this book 4 stars in the spring but bumped it up to 5 this week when I thought back on how much I enjoyed this one!
◦ Nobody’s Cuter than You: A Memoir About the Beauty of Friendship by Melanie Shankle And Lord, if Melanie Shankle could live on my street in Heaven as well, I would be ever so thankful. Amen.
◦ Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn by Melanie Shankle (See the above disclaimer about Sophie Hudson and Melanie Shankle. I have zero regrets about reading every word they’ve ever written. You should, too. I’m so serious.)
◦ Dance, Stand, and Run: The God Inspired Moves by a Woman on Holy Ground by Jess Connoly I love it when Jess Connoly writes words. She’s so authentic and always leads me closer to Jesus.
◦ Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler These girls. You must listen to their podcast, as well. “Search it up!” as our oldest son used to say.
◦ Everybody Fights: So, Why Not Get Better at It? by Kim and Penn Holderness (I adore Kim and Penn Holderness parodies. I expected this book to be funny. I did not expect this book to be as encouraging as it was! This book was delightfully surprising! And a fun fact: Bret and I have two real life friends named Kim and Jeremy who are very, very much like the Holderness couple. If you know Kim and Jeremy in real life, you know it is so true. This could be part of why I love the Holderness family. Hilarious! Our friends, Kim and Jeremy are also much like Chip and Joanna Gaines but that is completely irrelevant to this post. I must stop writing the end of the year posts at the end of Christmas break when I’m clearly so very unsocialized and chatty. My husband will ask me why I didn’t backspace here, as well. He’s the reasonable one of the two of us.)
5 Star Bible Studies:
One might wonder why I didn’t lead with this section in a Christian blog. I am, in fact, wondering that myself. These are the 6 books that most challenged and changed me this year. To God be the glory for the transforming goodness of His word.
◦ Matthew: This is Jesus by She Reads Truth
◦ Mark: Repent and Believe by She Reads Truth
◦ Luke: The Good News by She Reads Truth
◦ John by She Reads Truth (I cannot attempt to explain why John didn’t earn a subtitle. I’m sure the girls at She Reads Truth have their reasons.)
◦ Romans by She Reads Truth (I think this one did have a subtitle but apparently it got lost in my records. It’s been a complex year. The records are a bit disheveled, I suppose.)
◦ Advent 2021: The Everlasting Light by She Reads Truth What a beautiful, beautiful study in every way. This is definitely the very best thing I read all year. My sister-in-law Jenny and my mom both did this study with me. They probably got tired of my 5am texts of awe and wonder at the scripture and accompanying details, especially since Jenny lives in a different time zone which essentially creates a middle of the night texting situation for my sweet sister-in-law. Sorry, Jen. Also, should we plan now to do this again next year? You can get back to me. Take your time.
If you haven’t ever read a Bible study by She Reads Truth, I highly recommend downloading their app or shopping on their website. The app has multiple free Bible studies. I tend to pick the ones that I truly, truly want to read and pay $1.99 for those studies. I can’t think of a better use of $2, truly. You can check them out here.
5 Star Juvenile Fiction:
I read a great deal of juvenile fiction every year because I’m an Elementary English Language Arts teacher and a mom to three boys. Maybe you have kiddos to read to, as well? These recommendations are for you!
◦ Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
◦ The BFG by Roald Dahl
◦ A Letter from Your Teacher on the First Day of School by Shannon Olsen
I read a great deal of children’s literature this year that I won’t be recommending or sharing with children. The subject matter is getting more and more grown-up and edgy all of the time. I’m an advocate for allowing children to be children as they learn to read. Perhaps they don’t need strong opinions on every grown up topic when they’re eight years old. Much of the newest juvenile fiction isn’t developmentally appropriate for young minds and hearts. Nonetheless, I am happy to report that I feel very optimistic about the children’s literature on my to-read list for 2022! I think there are several true treasures coming down the pipes for us, friends! Check back tomorrow to see my book goals for 2022, specifically my juvenile fiction goals. I’m extremely excited about the books that I’ll be previewing for children and rereading with children this year! Good things are coming!
Friends, thank you for hanging in there as I share my books for the year and for hearing my heart about these books. Reading isn’t my full time job, but it is actually very closely related to my full time job. As a teacher of reading, I take my own reading life very seriously. It means so much to me that year after year, I hear from so many of you at this time.
Thank you for telling me that you look forward to these posts about my books for the year. Blogging most certainly isn’t my full time job, but as a teacher of writing…just kidding. (I’m not actually going to say that again.)
This January will mark the 7th birthday of my little space on the internet. To the best of my memory, I don’t think I have ever thanked you for reading year after year. I’ve written much less frequently since returning to teaching in the fall of 2017 and yet, it warms my heart that so many of you have been here since the beginning and still reach out to me after a new post with kind and encouraging words. Sometimes, I can’t believe you are still here. I can see, in my blog stats and in my inbox, that you are indeed still here. I am humbled.
I’m grateful that you’ve kept reading and have continued to encourage me. From one encourager to another, thank you for taking the time to speak my love language. Thank you for reminding me that our words, our stories, and even our book recommendations matter. This blog has become such a part of my life, even in the busiest season of my life. (I have no doubt that I am indeed in the busiest season in my life but there’s really no sense in pontificating about all of the reasons that is true for me. I know it to be true.)
After seven eventful years of writing, I know this to be true as well. I will keep writing for as long as you will keep reading.
Thank you for being a part of my life and for encouraging me as I write to encourage you.
From my heart to yours,