My goal for 2019 is to read (really, to experience) 30 books.
If a book captured my attention and held me captive for days (and sometimes even for months after I finished it), I will list it here. You’ll see some of my favorite novels, but I will also include my favorite nonfiction, self-help, and spiritual books. Typically, books on this list swooned me, challenged me, and/or changed me.
I love to talk in general, but I especially love to talk about books! Please connect with me on my Facebook page and tell me all about your favorite books.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – What can I say about this mind-capturing book that hasn’t already been said on the internet, in book club meetings, and around kitchen tables and water coolers? Delia Owens has created a work of art that lives, breathes, and has its own being. Grab a copy of this book and become one with The Marsh Girl, Keya. Explore the hidden beauty of her simple yet complicated life. Feel the angst from her loneliness and others’ betrayal. And pay close attention as the story unravels clues to the murdered body found in the thick mud of the marsh.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim – This beautiful, difficult whodunit mystery totally got to me! Who doesn’t want to fit in, to feel “normal,” to be accepted into a group? Kim places us in a courtroom—and inside her cast of characters’ heads—as a mother stands trail for the murder of two innocent victims, one of whom is her autistic son, who died when a controversial hyperbaric chamber exploded. But was the explosion really the mother’s fault, or was she caught in the middle of the lies and betrayals of other patients who sought a “cure” on that fateful day? Miracle Creek is more than just a courtroom drama. The true story at the heart of this book is about the choices we make just to fit in.
When Light Breaks by Patti Callahan Henry – Escape into this sweet love story about following “the hints of your heart” and not everyone else’s expectations. This great light read is set in—my favorite—a charming Lowcountry town, and riveted me with its love triangle, a fast-approaching wedding, the reappearance of a first love, and sage advice from an elderly Irish mentor confined to a nursing home.
Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry – A book about grief, love, and doing what makes your heart happy. Ellie Calvin has just lost her (controlling) mom, Lillian, when her ex-boyfriend Hutch shows up at the funeral and informs Ellie he is doing a documentary on her mom and the work she did with the Civil Rights movement. This is a side of her mother Ellie never knew. Then, while cleaning out her mom’s closet, Ellie discovers a journal in a locked drawer and the mystery of her mom’s past begins to reveal itself. Ellie partners with Hutch to unravel the secret life her mom stored away inside her heart. Coming Up for Air is another beautifully written, layered tale by Henry!
Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey – A captivating tale about three sisters that return home to the strength of their mother’s self-reliance and the healing-nature of her love. Slightly South of Simple, the captivating first novel in the Peachtree Bluff series, will have you turning pages to see if infidelity is forgiven, a secret is revealed, and love truly does conquer all. You are sure to see a review for The Secret to Southern Charm (the second book in this series) on this list.
The Art of Keeping Secrets by Patti Callahan Henry – This is a late-night, just-one-more-chapter, did-he-cheat-on-her-or-not kind of book! Annabelle Murphy lost the love of her life two years ago. Knox Murphy was a devoted husband and loving father, but the wreckage of his plane was just discovered with an unknown woman’s body inside. In The Art of Keeping Secrets, Annabelle unravels the mystery of the unidentified woman on her husband’s solo hunting flight. Was this woman her beloved husband’s mistress, or was their relationship something else entirely? You will have to read this page-turner to find out.
The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry – I’ve found my new favorite author after reading this layered tale about love, loss, and finding yourself in the midst of it all. Her beautiful writing is captivating! Patti created a world with characters that I had to follow to the end. The Bookshop at Water’s End will keep you up late cheering for a woman struggling through divorce, aching with a young adult through growing pains, hoping a doctor won’t let one tragic mistake destroy her passion, and sitting with a friend processing past trauma and current pain. You are sure to find more of Patti’s books on this list in the future.
Between the Tides by Patti Callahan Henry – You’ll love this gripping story rich in characters struggling with grief, regret, shame, and letting go to love again. Catherine Leary’s father passed away and left his daughter with one request: scatter his ashes in the Seaboro River. A simple request on the surface, but a monumental task for Catherine, as the Seaboro River is the place of a childhood tragedy. Henry weaves together the past and the present in an unforgettable tale about lies and love, heartache and healing. I am officially proclaiming Between The Tides as my all-time favorite novel.
Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry – What did I tell you about my new favorite author? This novel will suck you into the life-like drama of three sisters as they fight to save the family bookstore, take care of their sick mama, and release perceived wrong doings from their past. Driftwood Summer is told in alternating points of view between two of the sisters that fell in love with the same boy many summers ago. This love triangle will keep you flipping pages to find out who (if either of them) wins his affection in the end.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend – Do you give until it hurts? Do you sacrifice and take on more than you can handle because, well, aren’t we supposed to display Christ-like behavior? It’s time to stop being a slave to others’ demands and guilt trips. It’s time to stop fretting, worrying, and exerting all of your energy trying to make other people happy. It’s time to transform old ideas of Christian servanthood into a confidently voiced “no.” Get your hands on this book and let Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend illuminate what drives our boundary-less lives, guidelines for breaking unhealthy habits, the biblical basis for self-love (aka, the confident no) as stewardship, and real-life scenarios that illustrate how to establish healthy limits in all areas of our lives.
Writing Craft/Creative Work
The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – Anyone involved in creative work would benefit from this easy-to-read guide. Pressfield cuts through the layers of our resistance and uncovers the core of our fears, empowering us to move beyond needing the world’s applause and approval and into our own heart’s desire.
Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience by Dan Blank – Connect with your tribe and inspire people with your creative ideas with the help of this book. I just love Dan Blank. I’ve learned so much from him by reading his weekly newsletters (link) and following him on social media (link), so I knew I had to read his book. Be The Gateway is a quick read, full of actionable steps for connecting with your audience. Dan is a kind, easygoing soul that knows how to cut beneath the social media facade and down to the core of true connection.
Heart’s Cry: Principles of Prayer by Jennifer Kennedy Dean – “He whispers, and it echoes in your heart.” This quote from page 137 sums up this book’s message. Heart’s Cry is an excellent book on prayer and filling up the empty spaces inside our hearts with the deep comfort and connection we long for. If you want to dive deeper into your faith, explore the mystery of prayer, and challenge and expand your beliefs about prayer, pick up one of Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s books. She is a skilled master on the cry of the heart.
Too Blessed to Be Stressed: A Journal by Debora M. Coty – An inspirational devotional that infuses humor with real-life anecdotes and Biblical truths to help you de-stress and find peace and comfort in all the many blessings we have already been given. Deborah M. Coty is a master storyteller. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and having read it, I feel more equipped to hand over the steering wheel of life so that I can live in a state of intentional peace.
Live a Praying Life: Open Your Life to God’s Power And Provision by Jennifer Kennedy Dean – We all know how to pray. It’s pretty simple, right? You just put your hands together, bow your head, and ask away. My dear friends, there is so much more to prayer. Jennifer Kennedy Dean will open your eyes with her exploration of why we should pray, how we should pray, what we should pray for, and what we should really expect from the act of prayer. Trust me when I say that prayer is not just another thing we need to do. Prayer is not just asking for things and feeling frustrated when our pleas go unanswered. Prayer is transformational life work.
So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us by Beth Moore – This book will take you on a deep dive into the many defeating facets of insecurity. Moore arms us with knowledge of how this emotion looks on us, what we do to each other because of it, why we do it, AND—the best part—how to overcome insecurity and live secure in our own skin. no. matter. what. A must-read if you are a parent!
The Daniel Key: 20 Choices That Make All The Difference by Anne Graham Lotz – A Christmas gift given to me by a dear friend and faith-warrior partner, explores the story of a man from the Bible. This book is about the choices Daniel made to honor his faith, and the risks he was willing to take for this same faith. Daniel’s legacy was written into the greatest book of all time, and through Daniel’s legacy, we learn more about the character of God. The passages within The Daniel Key are short and inspiring enough to be read as daily devotionals. The last entry is the best: it illuminates how Daniel’s legacy lives on in the people of today who are going to great lengths for their beliefs.
Click on the tabs below for previous years’ lists.
My goal for 2018 is to read 30 books.
I mentioned in My Must-Read Book List of 2017 post that I love books that I can’t put down, books that I stay up way too late reading, and books that I finish within a matter of days. Those are the types of books I will list here.
Of course, along with my favorite fiction books, I’m including my favorite non-fiction books and self-help books (even though self-help books generally take me a few weeks to complete). If a book “got inside of my head” and stayed there, forcing me to ponder my own values and views of this world, then it’s worthy of this list.
Here are the ones that have made the list so far this year:
Eve: A Novel by W. M. Paul Young – This fictional story, written by the highly acclaimed author of The Shack, is a deeply woven plot about a young girl’s healing. I had difficulty acclimating to the three interwoven storylines at first, but I found the plot so engrossing that I couldn’t put the book down. I will warn you, however, that I found the plot emotionally challenging—not because of the way that Young chose to portray Eve’s origin story (which upset numerous reviewers) but because of the trauma the main character, Lilly, has to overcome. You learn about Lilly’s abuse as the story progresses and, even though Young is not explicit with details, the nature of Lilly’s experiences still brought me a ripple of dark emotions about this child who suffered and bore scars so deep she felt broken and unworthy of love. And that, my friends, is what Young has his readers questioning and healing in this story: our own brokenness.
The Novice: A Story of True Love by Thich Nhat Han—I don’t know that I have ever read a story that inspired me to grow as much as this one did. I read this entertaining, educational, and inspiring parable (based off of the real life Vietnamese bodhisattva Quan Am Thi Kinh) in one day! It is an easy read that kept me turning its pages and left me wanting to practice more forgiveness, self-control, kindness, love, and compassion in my life.
“A bodhisattva is a great being, an enlightened being who is animated by the desire to help all beings suffer less and enjoy peace and happiness” (page 107). This is exactly what Kinh Tam, the main character in The Novice, did through the story of her life. I highly encourage you to invest your time and money in this life-changing read.
Click here for a detailed review of The Novice.
The Beach Trees by Karen White — This is the kind of “just one more chapter” book that keeps you up late. I’ve heard that Karen White is a brilliant writer, weaving together rich settings and unforgettable characters. It’s absolutely true! In The Beach Trees, main character Julie is the new guardian of her deceased best friend’s son Beau, and Julie wants nothing more than to protect and nurture him. Julie returns to her late friend Monica’s summer home and finds herself surrounded by a loving, hospitable family who question why Monica ever left in the first place. As Julie and Monica’s family begin to unravel the possible reasons for Monica’s disappearance, a past full of memories, deception, and lies are exposed. Suspense and mounting questions come with every chapter of this book, making this a compulsive read. Karen White has gained another fan!
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White — I loved Karen’s writing so much that I had to read another one of her books. The House on Tradd Street is set in the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina, and full of all the things that I love about Charleston: old houses, beautiful gardens, ghost stories, and history. As much as I love hearing ghost stories during the day with the lights on, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy reading a book about ghosts, especially since I do a lot of reading at night. I was pleased to find that this is not a horror story, but instead a tightly woven plot of romance, suspense, and the colorful pasts of a group of characters that are all brought together thanks to one house. This book is unputdownable!
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – This book almost didn’t make it on this list—until I remembered my statement, “If a book ‘got in my head’ and stayed there, then it was worthy of this list.” This book certainly wormed its way into my mind and my heart, just not in the usual escape-reality way that I generally favor in my fiction reading selections. Anything Is Possible is a collection of short stories about small-town life. Many of the characters are scarred and suffering from the effects of PTSD, poverty, sexual abuse, and many other real-world, traumatizing events. Strout does a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life, along with their issues. She writes in a way that brings the reader into the story, experiencing pain, questions, and tough decisions alongside these characters. Anything Is Possible is an excellent read if you want to dig into reality and many of the world’s ills and challenges.
Still Me, a novel by Jojo Moyes – If you’ve read Me Before You and After You, you will certainly want to read Still Me. Louisa Clark is moving past her grief over Will Traynor’s controversial death and discovering what matters most in her life. Lou has taken a position with a family in New York’s high society. The physical distance created by Lou’s new employment puts a strain on her existing relationship with Ambulance Sam (who still lives in Lou’s native land of England). But the distance is not the only thing straining Lou and Sam’s relationship. Sam has a new (attractive) EMS partner, and Lou has met someone strikingly similar to Will. Still Me, like Moyes’ other novels, explores deep issues such as grief, social classes, sexual orientation, and what happiness means to each individual. Moyes has once again crafted a true-to-life world populated with characters struggling to survive and thrive, just like you and me.
Barefoot at Sunset, a novel by Roxanne St. Claire – This sexy read has just the right amount of heat. Mark Solomon is a 40-something widower who is trying to preserve the memory of his soulmate without a lot of painful questions and unwanted attention from his old classmates—especially the single ones—at his 30th high school reunion. Emma DeWitt, an unemployed copywriter who was recently dumped by her fiancé, agrees to pose as Mark’s fake fiancée to protect Mark from his overly interested and single classmates. Mark and Emma’s scheme works well for a little while. But when their plan starts to unravel, Mark and Emma have more to worry about than just the questions and attention from Mark’s old classmates. St. Claire’s pacing and suspense will keep you turning the pages, while the romance will give you those feel-good feelings of falling in love all over again.
The Bookseller, a novel by Cynthia Swanson – From the first page, this book pulls you into a dreamlike state that makes you question what is real and what is fantasy. Katharyn “Kitty” Anderson has repetitive dreams of a “perfect” world that is full of all of the things she has always wanted—like a husband, children, and a fancy, modern home in the suburbs of 1960s Denver. But as Kitty’s dreams continue, they begin to feel more “real.” Kitty’s view of the perfect life and her appreciation for both the good and the bad things she has changes, and my own perspective changed along with hers. The Bookseller is an intriguing read that will have you turning the pages to find out if Katharyn will wake up in the real world or stay locked in a fantasy of protection.
Everything We Keep, a novel by Kerry Lonsdale – I could go on and on and on about this book! I was captivated from the first page and read the whole book in two days. It. Was. That. Good. Everything We Keep is full of suspense, mystery, romance, and a deep angst. The book starts out in the middle of the main character Aimee Tierney’s grief as she attends the funeral of her fiancé and childhood sweetheart, James Donato—on what should have been their wedding day. But the funeral and Aimee’s fiancé’s death are shrouded in mystery and questions. And just when you think Aimee is finally accepting James’s death and falling in love again, more questions arise. Is James really dead? Aimee follows her heart as she searches for the truth, but sometimes the truth only leaves us with more questions. This book did not end with the typical happily ever after and that left me feeling a little uneasy, but have no fear: there is a sequel.
Everything We Left Behind, a novel by Kerry Lonsdale – This is just as gut-wrenching as Everything We Keep. There are more questions to explore. This book weaves together plot pieces from Everything We Keep. [Spoilers ahead] You are sure to become even more emotionally involved in Aimee Tierney and James Donato’s story, along with James’s current mental condition, while reading this book. Everything We Left Behind focuses on James’s story and alternates between the points of view of James and Carlos, the 2nd person in James’s skin. Everything We Left Behind offers a happily ever after, but again, it is different from what I am used to or anticipated for this story. I’m glad there is another book in the Everything series.
Everything We Give (EWG) a novel by Kerry Lonsdale – The final book in the Everything Series was another emotional ride full of suspense, mystery, and romance. I couldn’t put it down! EWG is Ian’s story—past and present. I found myself enthralled by this complex character and how his earlier experiences with a parent with mental illness impacted the man he is today. You can definitely read this book as a standalone story, but I recommend reading all three books from start to finish. You will suffer from a book hangover of the best kind!
Another Side Of Paradise a Novel by Sally Koslow – This beautifully written fictional tale is based on the true-life love affair between Sheilah Graham and F. Scott Fitzgerald during the golden age of Hollywood. Sally Koslow did her homework. This novel has layers upon layers of history that Sally has woven seamlessly into Sheilah Graham’s story. I absolutely loved this intimate look into the tumultuous romance between two real-life characters.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This gripping autobiography explores the meaning of life. This book is sad, and you are sure to cry while reading it, but I promise it is worth your time. Paul asks the difficult questions, the questions that have no definitive answers, the questions about the significance of life and how to live in the face of uncertainty. Paul was just about to complete his residency as a neurosurgeon when he found out he had lung cancer. His lifelong search for meaning took on a different shape after his diagnosis as Paul’s fascination with the mind turned inward and he began identifying his own values and what mattered most to him while facing an incurable disease. If you want to challenge yourself, if you want to challenge your thoughts, if you want to challenge how you choose to live each moment of your life, then read this book.
Non-Fiction (Writing Craft)
Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon – This must-have resource for writers is an easy read with plenty of details, examples, and sample exercises to help you lay the foundation of your work. If you want to learn how to focus your writing and drive the story, read this book!
Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer by Priscilla Shirer – This book is your guide to a detailed plan for your prayer life. Priscilla is a master storyteller who weaves words into pictures. She captured my attention within the first few pages of this book with a photo of both her and her grandmother’s hands on top of a spiralbound notebook. Priscilla was captivated by her grandmother’s prayer notebook, and specifically wanted to know why her grandmother wrote down her prayers. Her grandmother’s why— “So I won’t forget” —became the message behind this book. If you want to deepen your prayer life, feel more confident praying for the things on your heart, and find the courage to take hold of your soul’s deepest desires, you need this book in your personal library.
Heavenly Minded Mom: A 90-Day Journey To Embrace What Matters Most by Katie Bennett – This devotional comes straight from one mom’s weary, grace-loving, hope-seeking heart. Katie shines biblically based light on the big picture of life, making our earthly toil and trouble pale in significance to eternity. You will ponder the short and thought-provoking tidbits of information all day long. Every mom can benefit from the journey you take when you read this book.
Lies We Believe About God by WM Paul Young — This book, from the writer of The Shack, drove me deep into my Christian faith and challenged me to question why I believe the things I believe. We all have our own set of ideas and beliefs, and many of us also have a “Christian heritage” (as Paul discusses within this book) that we draw upon to live out our best lives. This book nudged me to unpack those ideas and beliefs, to look at how I rationalize and compartmentalize those very ideas and beliefs that I draw upon when I judge right and wrong, and, most importantly, to think outside of my self-created box. An open mind truly is a powerful thing, and Lies We Believe About God certainly broadened my vie.. I dare you to read this book from cover to cover!
31 Days Toward Passionate Faith by Joni Eareckson Tada — This daily devotional is filled with hope and faith-building wisdom. Each devotional is crafted to awaken the soul to biblically based reasons to cling tightly to God’s promises, especially in the midst of life’s toughest storms. And the devotionals are short enough that you can turn to this book any time you need a quick boost of truth-based optimism.
31 Days Toward Intimacy with God by Joni Eareckson Tada – I needed another dose of Joni’s peace-inducing writing and this book delivered. The peace that I found in the pages of this book came from learning about the character of God. Not the scary, condemning God that is waiting for me to sin so He can shoot me down with a bolt of lightening, but the kind, loving, forgiving God that keeps His promise of unconditional love. 31 Days Toward Intimacy with God is an eye-opening study into the true character of God, and with this study comes the confidence to live out faith in a God who welcomes us as we are.
Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward by Dr. Henry Cloud – If you want to know how to live your best life, read this book! Necessary Endings is a guide to why you should and how you can end relationships (both personal and professional) that are not moving you toward a healthy, positive, and productive life. Instead of making another excuse for someone’s negative patterns of behavior or feeling guilty about advocating for an ending that benefits your goals and happiness, sit down with this book and get ready to become empowered to “have the courage, and the trust and faith, to end what you needed to end in order for the next thing to happen” (page 229).
The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations by Oprah Winfrey – This inspiring book is packed with tidbits of wisdom from Oprah’s show Super Soul Sunday. Each chapter offers inspiring segments that will force you to pause and reflect on some of life’s deepest topics: purpose, finding meaning, relationships, fear, and regret, to name just a few. The passages are short and are arranged so that each section builds upon the last. I highly recommend this enlightening book for your coffee table, nightstand, office, and/or car. It’s always nice to have a bit of inspiration close at hand.
Draw the Circle: The 40-Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson – This challenge changed both how I view prayer and how I actually pray. Each of the 40 passages has a short scripture verse, a message from Batterson, and a prayer prompt. A book about prayer seems so simple, but this book provides just enough information to instill confidence so that you can approach the divine boldly and communicate passionately and intimately about the desires of your heart.
Awaken: 90 Days with the God Who Speaks by Priscilla Shrier – This devotional proves the power of Shrier’s style and message. Each daily entry includes a piece of scripture that the author unpacks, followed by a reflection on how to apply the message to your life. The passages are short, but Priscilla’s confident way with words will challenge you and drive you deeper in your relationship with God. If you want to explore all the recesses of your heart and expose them to the light of God’s word, this is the book for you.
Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado – This book, centered around Philippians 4:6-7, will transform your way of thinking. Engaging in worry, fear, and stress causes us to experience even more worry, fear, stress, and ultimately anxiety. These very emotions are running wild within our society and robbing all of us of our joy. This book is a self-help-with-and-through-God book. For spiritual strength and suggestions that can help you remain calm in the midst of turmoil and chaos, read this book.
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood by Lisa Damour, Ph.D. – If only kids came with manuals. Navigating the teen years is difficult! Consider this book a manual of sorts, especially for parents of teenage girls. How do you tackle those tough conversations that need to happen? Is this normal teenage behavior or should you seek professional help? This book provides perspective on topics and issues that you are certain to face along with suggestions and examples for ways to handle them. Warning: if you are like me, you will question decisions you have made as a parent while reading this book and, at times, will want to beat yourself up for making the wrong ones. But trust me when I say that it is worth the discomfort to read this entire book. In the end, you will be armed with an arsenal of information, strategies, and tips that will help you guide your child through the teenage years and towards independence. And isn’t independence what we all really want for our kids anyway?
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading? Is there is a book you think needs to be added to this list? If so, please tell me about it below, or on my Facebook page.