I’m fairly certain I intended to write a “book-year-in-review” list last year, but never got around to it . . . last Christmas season was very busy for me, and by the time I got back to things in January, it had slipped my mind. But here we are today with the list for this year! I’m excited to share these books with you.
First, some statistics, because those are always fun, right?
Total books read: 47
Total nonfiction: 13 (28% of total)
Total audiobooks: 9 (19% of total)
New-to-me authors: 17
This year’s reading goals:
Read at least 50 books —NO
Read 50% physical books — NO (only got to 26%)
Read 25% nonfiction — YES! (read 28% nonfiction)
And now, for the top 10 list! I’ll start at #10 and work up to my most favorite one, just for fun, and then share several that didn’t quite make the list, but which I greatly enjoyed, regardless.
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#10: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner
Ever since reading a Christmas Carol Kauffman book years ago, stories of adoptees have gripped my heart. Add to that my fascination with split-time novels, and the Vietnam Baby Lift, and yeah . . . I was definitely sucked into this story. It isn’t an easy one, in all respects, but I enjoyed this read. I’m hoping there will be a sequel at some stage, although I won’t hold my breath for it. I’ll be looking for more by this author, though!
#9: If I Were You by Lynn Austin
I read the sequel to this book before I realized it was a sequel, but that didn’t end up lessening my enjoyment! World War II, women trying to find their way in the world after disappointments and heartbreak . . . there was a lot to love here, and a lot more depth than I expected. One of the characters fell into sin, and I loved the way that was shown. It wasn’t glorified; instead, the guilt brought them back to Christ. A great story overall.
#8: Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
This is one of those books that I’ve intended to read for years, but never got around to until just recently. I see a lot of myself in Much-Afraid. She tried to do what was right, but failed often, and yet the Shepherd was so gentle and loving toward her. And the way she learned to give things up . . . what a beautiful example of love. It’s a splendid allegory, one I’m sure I’ll be reading again.
#7: To Dwell among Cedars by Connilyn Cossette
I think what struck me about this one was the main character’s desire to go after what was right, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved the blessings that accompanied those choices. I also loved her devotion to and care for her brother, even when he rebelled against it again and again. A great picture of life in Israel at the time of the prophet Samuel, and a great mystery. I wouldn’t mind having this book in print! Read my review here.
#6: The Finder of Forgotten Things by Sarah Loudin Thomas
I just finished reading this book. It kept my attention the entire way through, made me laugh, and made me want to cry. This is based on a true-life tragedy, but the way Thomas wove that in with a story of hope was truly incredible. Parts of the book reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford, although I would argue that this had a happier ending. For its historical content and story of redemption, this is one worth reading. (Note: It does contain a character who does water-and-other-witching throughout the story.)
#5: Painted Memories by A.M. Heath
I read this book near the beginning of the year, but it’s still stuck with me. While being a mystery, it’s also much more . . . it’s the story of two people who thought they’d lost everything, but then found it again, only to face impossible decisions. The kind of love these two characters showed each other was deeply moving. Heath took a somewhat typical scenario and did something that shocked me, and I love her the more for it. This is another book I’d love to have on my shelf one day! Read my review here.
#4: The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery by Amanda Cox
Cox is a new-to-me author, but I found her work inspiring. Not only does she write extraordinarily well, but she also made me think about my own life while I read about her characters’ lives. This is another split-time novel, about three different women in three generations, and how secrets can be devastating if life isn’t handled properly. Deeply redemptive, I’m sure this story will stay with me for a long time. Oh, and did I mention? It’s also highly amusing at times! I had a hard time keeping the laughter from waking people up a time or two!
#3: Becoming Elizabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn
Elliot’s story has been somewhat at the forefront of my reading and thinking life this year, and I suppose not for a bad reason. Though I was familiar with Jim’s story, many parts of Elizabeth’s story took me by surprise. Hers was a life fraught with trials, yet she faced them with courage and determination, and an eye on the Lord’s will. She wasn’t perfect—Vaughn did a good job bringing that out—but she was a woman who loved the Lord, and for that, I’m thankful to have gotten to know her better. Her story inspires me, and unlike some biographies, I found this well-written and gripping all the way through. Read my review here.
#2: Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown
This was my favorite Christian fiction for the year. It closely tied with several others, but I chose Sensible Shoes because of the way Brown helped me to see myself. This is more than just a story of four women trying to follow the Lord; it’s the story of all of us—us, with our buried hurts and insecurities, our longing to know and love God, and the sometimes good, but often difficult, process of learning to accept ourselves and our identity in Jesus. This book was deep, sometimes lighthearted, and one I wanted to savor. Read my review here.
#1: Devotedly by Valerie Shepard
I’m delighted that one of my nonfiction titles made it to the top place for me this year! Several usually prominently figure in the list (why is it that the ones I find hardest to read are often the ones I look back on and appreciate the most?), but this one, in particular, grabbed my heart. This is Jim and Elizabeth Elliot’s love story told from their letters and journal entries. It’s raw, honest, painful, yet full of that peculiar love of the Lord that sets His children apart from all others. They were determined to follow Him first, foremost, and always—and that meant many years of patient waiting for His timing. It’s a beautiful story. Every single person who has ever even slightly struggled with their singleness should read this—and I believe everyone else, in whatever season they’re in, would also find it encouraging. This is a portrait of what God can do with two lives sold out to Him, and it’s a masterpiece.
A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French
This book is Australian history at its finest. There were some things I didn’t appreciate in it so much (see my review), but French does an excellent job bringing the people and their times to life here. I loved how this put parts of history I’ve heard about into perspective and delivered a solid story at the same time.
All Saints by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle
This is a truly incredible story, made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s true. I found parts of it a bit dry, but overall I loved seeing how God can work through us if we’re willing to let Him have a free hand in our lives. I’m also hoping I can get to see the movie someday!
Penelope’s Pursuit by Chautona Havig
By rights, I suppose this should probably have ended up in the top ten list because it was so good. But . . . it’s hard to make the cut sometimes. This is a beautiful picture of love and self-sacrifice, as well as showing a sobering reminder that history isn’t always what we’d like it to be. I really appreciated this read, even though it was hard in places.
Whew! And there you go. I hope you’ve found one or two that piques your interest—I always love looking over what other people have to say about their favorites for the year!
As for next year, I haven’t decided yet what my reading goals will be. I’m getting there . . . it just takes time. I’m thinking I’ll aim for 40-50 books again, but I also want something to challenge myself with. This year, it was to deliberately try to include more physical books and nonfiction, because I tend to read a LOT from my kindle and avoid the nonfiction side of the shelves. That worked to an extent, although I didn’t hit my goals for either of those, but I read a lot more with those two goals in mind than I would have otherwise, so I’m still counting it as a win.
Next year, I think I’ll continue on with the physical books goal (but instead of a percentage, I’ll aim for a certain number), and I also want to include at least two classics. There are so many out there that I’ve heard of, but never read, and I find those just as difficult to get into as nonfiction titles. I’m dreaming of reading War and Peace one day (but I feel like that would be jumping into the deep end a little too far!), but I may try something a bit easier like Gulliver’s Travels or a George McDonald book to get me started (he counts, right? he wrote in the 1800s!). We’ll see.
For now . . . if you wrote a top 10 book list for 2021, what would yours include? I’m always looking for suggestions for more good books! And if you’ve written a blog post about your favorite reads this past year, please share in the comments below—I’d love to read it.