My annual book review is here! Brace yourself for this review. Friends, I read fewer books this year than I’ve read in eight years. Truly. The last time I read this approximate number was 2015. I have a few theories about why that might be. For example, my foster babies are approximately the age my biological babies were prior to 2015. One can only read so many books while parenting three tiny ones. At least that’s true for Courtney Stanford. I’ve now proved this in two different seasons of my life. My capacity to read books while parenting toddlers and infants is significantly less than my capacity to read books while parenting school-aged children. So, there you have it.
However, you can rest assured that the quality of books I read this year is indeed something to write home about…or to blog about, as it is. This year in books is really something!
As always, I read several books that I won’t be recommending, specifically a handful of the fiction books that I read this year. I read a few page-turners in 2023 that didn’t leave me with any sort of beneficial sentiment following their consumption, so they’ve been purposefully excluded to save your time. We can’t get that time back, friends, so they won’t be recommended.
Without further ado, here are the 9 delightful non-fiction reads, 2 intriguing memoirs, and 3 noteworthy fiction reads that I would recommend. Depending on your reading needs, these 14 books are the ones that I would indeed share with you. Pay close attention to the varying subjects because these are not one-size-fits-all books. Choose wisely amongst yourselves. Here we go!
9 Delightful Non-fiction Reads
1. Foster the Family: Encouragement, Hope, and Practical Help for the Christian Foster Parent by Jamie Finn Most bloggers would end with their best book, but I’m going to lead with this one in case you’re limited on time. This book is the book that I would recommend for any reader. It would change our entire society if we all read this book. Everyone knows a foster parent or a family that is fostering. Everyone knows a child in foster care. If you find that you do not know a family that is fostering, I would strongly and lovingly recommend that you read this book and expand your circle to include families that are loving children from hard situations. Please share this book with anyone you know who might be fostering, considering foster care, supporting a biological family through the hardest time in their lives, or even supporting a foster family. If I had not read this book prior to fostering, I would have handled many situations differently out of my best intentions and limited innovation. This book opened my eyes to ways that I could see and love people differently. And it has saved me from making mistakes that I would have made from my lack of perspective. You need to read this book to open your eyes to a huge demographic of children and families in our society. I would have gifted it to everyone I know for Christmas (as in- the copies were in my Amazon cart) but anyone who wanted a preachy gift from Courtney Stanford for Christmas could just read my blog. So, deleted from cart and gave gifts that were lighter on the social Justice because not everyone actually enjoys my heavy heart and I’m finally beginning to grasp that prior to burning a few bridges. Eek. That’s a different post. Maybe just read the book and thank me later, friends.
2. The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Secrets to Managing Productive People By Kevin Leman This is definitely the next most influential book that I read this year. One day, I’m going to be an assistant principal. I feel it in my bones, I tell you. I have a deep calling to support children who need help with their executive functioning skills, but that’s the next book, actually. This book is the one that will benefit anyone who is leading and I do indeed intend to lead one day in an assistant principal role. This book is golden for anyone who might be leading or coaching in any capacity, especially if you are a follower of Jesus being led by Him. Prior to finishing graduate school in May, my advisor taught a class for future administrators in which he assigned this book. And goodness gracious! It is good for the soul and so applicable for so many careers. I would honestly recommend this book for ministers, administrators, coaches, business owners, teachers, and anyone in a leadership capacity. I will read this book again one day for the reminders and if you’ve been reading the blog for any amount of time, you likely recognize that I do very little rereading. If I reread a book, it is a high compliment from me to the author because I strongly prefer to read new books to rereading anything I’ve read before. This one is a must reread for future Courtney. At the risk of sounding trite, I’ll go ahead and say that I was richly blessed by these words.
3. What Happened To You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Dr. Bruce D. Perry My assistant principal and friend, Brooke recommended this book and it was one of the most worthy reads of the year. I took notes and learned valuable content about trauma and the effects on the brain. It has significantly influenced the way I teach my students and parent all six of the children in my home. I can recommend this book very widely because who wouldn’t benefit from better understanding the effects of trauma and healing in the brains of people we love. We all share lives with someone whose brain development was effected by situations beyond their control. (That’s probably all of us, right?) This book educated me in a way that will forever shape my methodology, compassion, and practices. It was a good use of my reading time.
4. Raising Amazing: Bringing Up Kids Who Love God, Like Their Family, and Do the Dishes without Being Asked Monica Swanson I enjoyed Monica Swanson’s writing style and parenting style so very much that I literally subscribed to everything of hers: newsletter, blog, you name it after reading the final page of her book. Monica is the kind of mothering mentor that I need and want in my life. I welcome all of her wisdom. If you’re a mom, read this. If you’re a boy mom, absolutely do not miss reading this book. She parents multiple boys. She gets us, boy moms.
5. 1&2 Corinthians The Body of Christ By She Reads Truth She Reads Truth writes Bible studies that are heavy on the scripture and lighter on the man-made (woman-made?) devotional content. I appreciate this very much. The perspectives shared point to Jesus and His truth. I pay approximately $2.99 for one of their studies every few months. In the past few years, I’ve read a few with themed content but for the most part, I’ve been working through the New Testament. I’ve read all four Gospels, Acts, Romans, and then read this study on 1&2 Corinthians. I have found that I always recommend these studies as opposed to many other Bible studies that I read. I really appreciate She Reads Truth. For reference, I use the app. Highly recommend the app. It does have free content in addition to the $1.99-2.99 studies that I’ve invested in.
6. Galatians Study Book By She Reads Truth And then I read Galatians. Five stars, of course.
7. Ephesians Study Book By She Reads Truth And then I read Ephesians. Again, five stars to the Apostle Paul and the women at She Reads Truth. I’m debating on whether or not I’m going to read Philippians. I’m finishing my Advent study. (Yes, Christmas is over and I’m behind. It’s fine. Carry on.) I loved Matt Chandler’s Philippians study very much several years back. Obviously, I do reread the Bible so I’m either going to dive into Philippians again or pick up in Colossians because I just really feel like I know and love Philippians better than Colossians already. I’ll probably keep with the sequential order and read Philippians again before moving on. Stay tuned.
8. Raising Emotionally Strong Boys: Tools Your Son Can Build On for Life By: David Thomas I began listening to David Thomas’s podcast after reading this book. He is wise and I really appreciated the way he wrote about the emotional needs of men and our society’s tendency to put men in unhealthy and lonely boxes. (This is my paraphrase. I recommend actually reading the book if you’re raising a man or married to a man.) I’ve read many books about raising boys and I haven’t recommended all of them. This one is a must-read. Add it to your list if it would benefit your familial needs.
9. Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms By Justin Whitmel Earley This writer, Mr. Justin Earley, has great wisdom for families. I appreciated much of his advice. I’m in a unique season of parenting children in two different seasons with a significant age gap in between my two groups of three. I think this book would be much mor beneficial for most other families who are probably parenting a slightly more traditionally spaced set of siblings as opposed to my own sweet family circus. I’m juggling a bit differently than most, but this book was very wise and noteworthy. To be completely transparent, it wasn’t the most beneficial for me but I did enjoy it very much. It would likely be much more beneficial to most other moms in the more “normal” rhythms of life. Excellent book…probably for you!
2 Intriguing Memoirs
1. Counting the Cost By: Jill Duggar Well. This was a memorable read. I don’t want to be a spoiler but this book is probably not exactly what you imagine this book will be. It’s better. I can explain without too many spoilers. I was a huge fan of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting. Huge. I never missed an episode. I read three books published by the Duggars during their time on the air. Knowing what we all know now, I thought I knew what Jill was going to say. She said it better than I could have imagined. There was more truth and more grace in this book than I expected. After reading the book, I’ve changed my thoughts in a different way than I anticipated. I will allow you to read the book, but I’d like to go on record as saying that I still respect at least half of the Duggar family. I am filled with respect, love, and compassion for the women of the Duggar family. I also believe there are good men in the Duggar family, but I no longer respect everyone that I respected in the early 2000s. Everyone is redeemable with Jesus. I think many of the Duggars know Jesus. I think there are those, seemingly few in number I hope, that have been deceived and I hope they will come to know truth that will change their lives. Regardless, I believe there’s a group of people in our world that would benefit from reading Jill’s book to think through the things they have believed or been taught. I’ve read reviews from people that feel as though Jill told too much and I disagree. I believe she spoke truth that needed spoken for the benefit of a group of people who have fallen under false teaching. I also don’t think the Duggar family has been completely wrong or completely deceived. I think some of their practices came from pure hearts that desired to honor the Lord such as worshipping together through music and studying the Bible as a family. There were other things, however, that sadden me. For that reason, I commend Jill for writing about hard truths to shine a light in the darkness and to open the eyes of people who may be living in deception. Finally, Jill wrote with more grace than I anticipated. She seems to be living more freely than ever before and I believe that’s the work of the true good news of Jesus. The truth of Jesus seems to have set her truly free. Speaking of which, I believe that’s the theme of her sister, Jinger’s book. I may read that next year pending the future feelings of my future self regarding the consumption of another book about the Duggar’s childhood. I’m sorry for being indecisive here, but I’m going to have to give that literary decision a bit of pause.
2. Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care By: Tori Hope Petersen This was not an easy book to read, but it was eye opening and it made me think deeply about what it means to love in action. As a current resource parent (foster mom), I deeply appreciated the lens of a woman who grew up as a child in the foster care system. I’m a better member of our society for reading this book. It was another memoir of hard and good truths. Notice that I only read two memoirs all year. These are important reads from time to time because it is important to walk a mile (or a book) in someone else’s shoes, but important reads aren’t always easy reads. I am a very passionate person about social justices and take following Jesus very seriously. For me, I can only read a few memoirs a year. I could become a very serious person in which no one could enjoy a Thanksgiving meal or cup of coffee with if I consumed too much social justice a year. I get very serious very fast. All that to say, I would put this on your list for heavy and important reads this year. And I hate to say that you will enjoy this book because of the subject matter, but you really will enjoy Tori’s writing style and authentic story from a perspective that seldom shared. Put this on your list this year. You’ll be grateful to read this one.
3 Noteworthy Fiction Reads
1. Remarkably Bright Creatures By: Shelby Van Pelt Now, for a lighter and happier reading experience! I read this one based on someone else’s recommendation and it was the most delightful and recommendable work of fiction that I read this year! I wouldn’t have expected to appreciate a book in which one of the characters was an octopus. I’m so glad I read this one! It was incredibly enjoyable. If you know a child in the middle grades, you likely are accustomed to fascination children have with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan is tremendous children’s literature. This book, Remarkably Bright Creatures, is brilliant grown-up literature in that same way. The human character is delightful and memorable in the way that Eleanor Oliphant is delightful. Actually, this character might be even better because she’s more relatable. The animal character is memorable and lovable in the way that Ivan is memorable and lovable, but more believable because this book is written for adults and not middle grade children. If I could recommend one fiction book from 2023 to you, this book would strongly win that recommendation. Add it to your Goodreads list immediately. This book is everything we all love about reading. Write to me after you finish this book to tell me if you agree. The comment section will be waiting for you. You’re going to love this book! I can promise that…I’m pretty confident.
2. A Baxter Family Christmas By: Karen Kingsbury I have read very few books by Karen Kingsbury which is kind of a surprising fact about me based on the fact that I read a great many books, love Jesus, and also love the Hallmark channel. Those three things about me would lead most fellow readers to believe that I read a lot of Karen Kingsbury but that would be an incorrect assumption. And here’s why: I never know where to start. Do I go all the way to the beginning with her books about the Baxters? That seems like going waaay back and what if I don’t really enjoy the early Baxters because they were Kingsbury’s earlier books? These are the thoughts that have prevented me from reading many of her books. Well, problem solved! This book was the perfect starting place and was a really, really, really good choice for a Christmas read. Write it down so that you can read this title next November or December. It was much better than many, many, many of the books marketed as Christmas books. It had just enough substance but also plenty of Christmas vibes. I get a little bit frustrated with a book that supposedly takes place at Christmas and has a yuletide scene on the cover but has very little Christmas cheer. I also get a little bit underwhelmed by a book that has only Christmas cheer and no substance to keep me going. This book was a very nice balance of substance and cheer. I also really fell in love with the Baxter family. So, I might be able to go back and read more about them in the rest of Karen Kingsbury’s books now. This was a really great starting place! Believe me when I say that I read other Christmas books this year that won’t be recommended on the blog. Read this one, reader friends!
3. The Five-Star Weekend By: Elin Well, if you’ve read this far, I need to share something important with you. Elin Hilderbrand’s books are very enjoyable to me. I said this last year, but it needs repeated in case you didn’t read my reviews last year. Hilderbrand’s books are delightfully set in the warmth and charm of Nantucket. She talks about food and clothes that give the very best beach read vibes. I cannot wait for her books to come out because they’re also great, great stories. She has so very much substance and the plots are always just the perfect amount of twists, turns, and escapism when you need it. But, Elin Hilderbrand writes PG13 books. There was most definitely a moment in this book in particular that felt rated R. It might greatly disturb you that I read that. I apologize if I’ve let you down. I probably shouldn’t read that, but I’ve come to realize that most of us watch things that are rated R without a hint of hesitation and I find reading to be a much more worthwhile experience because the content tends to be richer in all of the literary aspects. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a reader so you probably know what I mean. This book was lovely enough that I gifted a copy to a family member and recommended it to another family member. The plot was really original. The main character has gone through a devastating experience and deals with a heartbreaking season in her life by inviting four women: one best friend from each of the four stages in her past on a girls vacation of a lifetime. It is absolutely as lovely as that concept sounds and Elin Hilderbrand delivered on the suspense! The twist in this book was very surprising and well executed. Needless to say, if the idea of reading a PG13 book with a rated R moment makes you hesitant, I understand and I highly recommend the previous book written by Karen Kingsbury. It was rated G. This one…most definitely not the same rating and not for everyone. Some of you will enjoy it very much. Please know that I don’t recommend all of her books. I’ve said this before but Elin Hilderbrand has one title that I only, only recommend to close friends who love Jesus and love their husband very much because it is a well written novel but you won’t find it widely recommended on the blog. This title is much more recommendable. Goodness, I kind of hate to end on this note. I should have been ended with Kingsbury, I do believe.
In review, if you read two books from my list, I think they should be:
1. Foster the Family by Jamie Finn
2. Remarkable Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
I kind of feel like I should have said Ephesians. That’s actually my real recommendation. If you read one book this year, let it be Ephesians. Ephesians, then Foster the Family. You can take or leave the octopus.
From my reading heart to yours,
Happy New Year! If you loved this blog post, you might enjoy reading a few of these book lists:
My Favorite Books of 2020 This was a really great year in reading, probably due to a global pandemic of all things. This post also links back to the book reviews for 2015-2019 so it’s a winner. If you really love need a rabbit trail of book reviews, click on this page. Happy New Year, sweet friends! May your reading be abundant and may a high percentage of your books draw you closer to Jesus.