I love books! This is a list of my all-time favorite books (ordered by genre). And just a note: most of these books are on my yearly Reading Lists below. Be sure to check those out!
I still feel something when I think about these books, whether it’s the characters, the setting, what the characters went through, and/or the experience I took away from each of these books. These books have impacted me so deeply I can tell you what was going on in my life when I read them, and a lot of times where I was when I read them.
- One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Midnight at the Blackbird Café: A Novel by Heather Webber
- Time Is a River by Mary Alice Monroe
- Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
- Keeping Faith by Jodi Piccoult
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
- The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
- The Noticer by Andy Andrews
- The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
- The Beach Trees by Karen White
- The Lost Husband by Katherine Center
- Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale
- Side Trip by Kerry Lonsdale
- Between the Tides by Patti Callahan Henry
- The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
I also feel something when I think about these non-fiction books. The characters in these books are real-life people working through real-life dilemmas. Their stories, experiences, and messages left an impact on me that altered the lens through which I view the world.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
- I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
These self-improvement books inspired me to go out and live my life and chase my dreams, because each of these books contained something within I needed. Whether it be inspiration, motivation, a kick in the pants, and/or a lesson in people-pleasing and boundaries, these books have the power of transformation in the form of words.
- Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud
- Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
- Powerhouse Woman: How to Get Out of Your Own Way, Fulfill Your Unique Purpose, and Live a Powerful Life by Lindsey Schwartz
- The Big Leap Conquer Your Hidden Fear And Take Life to The Next Level by Gay Hendricks
- The High 5 Habit: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit by Mel Robbins
- Choose Your Story, Change Your Life: Silence Your Inner Critic and Rewrite Your Life from the Inside Out by Kindra hall
These religion and spirituality books deepened my faith in ways that allowed me to surrender and trust there is beauty in the grand mystery of this life.
- The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create by Allen Arnold
- Take Back Your Life: A 40-Day Interactive Journey to Thinking Right So You Can Live Right by Levi Lusko
- The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson
**Please check out my Writer’s Corner for my favorite books on the writing craft and the writing mindset.
Books have the power to inspire, inform, and whisk us away to another time and place. I read books for all of these reasons and more: I want to continue learning and growing, and sometimes I just want to escape. But mostly I want the experience of a book that captivates me from beginning to end, and then sticks with me in my thoughts for days after.
I’ll share all of my captivating book finds here. Both fiction books, nonfiction books, self-help books, spiritual and religious books, and books on the writing craft.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Sex. Drugs. Family drama. A group of kids you can root for through it all. When I open a TJR book I know I’m in for an entertaining ride. The characters have flaws and depth and problems all their own, which Taylor utilizes to make the story meaningful. Set in the 80’s, Malibu Rising is about a family of characters with a lot of dysfunction and deep family wounds. And still Taylor brilliantly brings life to the whole cast of characters while illustrating you can love and let go, and you can choose what parts of your inheritance you will carry forward.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone ST. James – This book is the perfect Halloween read with ghost that don’t just haunt the other characters in the book but are characters in the book. Mystery, suspense, an alternating timeline, and a quirky town where two stories converge to unravel what happened to Viv Delaney and if the same fate will fall upon Carly Kirk are all reasons I enjoyed this book.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – Three women narrate this page turner with two stories merging into one. The Lost Apothecary combines historical fiction, women’s fiction, and mystery with themes of female empowerment, trust, and betrayal. Who would have thought one small vial would have so much power when placed in the hands of silenced women?
Everything Must Go by Camille Pagan –Laine Francis wants a baby and she’s tired of her husband brushing aside her desire, so tired in fact that she’s ready to have a baby without him. But when Laine asks her husband for a divorce, he dismisses her request as grief over the recent loss of their fifteen-year-old spaniel mix. Then Laine’s sister, Hadley, calls and asks Laine to come home and check on her mom’s bizarre behavior of wandering through the aisles of the small store near their childhood home wearing only her nightgown and buying cat food, when she doesn’t have a cat. Laine is hesitant until Hadley adds that Ben is back in town.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – Suspense! A letter, an unsolved murder, and an “affair.” Liane Moriarty masterfully weaves together three stories into a modern-day Pandora’s Box. What secret lies hidden inside a letter that a husband left for his wife to open after his death — yet she found the letter while he’s still alive, and he’s decided he doesn’t really want his wife to open the letter. This book will keep you flipping its pages to see if Cecilia reads the letter, if Tess chooses to stay with her “cheating” husband, and if Rachel finds closure around the tragic loss of her daughter.
Midnight at the Blackbird Café: A Novel by Heather Webber – This book has it all: Secrets; Complex characters; Grief and emotional wounds; Mystical passageways, a cat, and blackbirds; And a small town cafe’ with pie that brings messages from departed loved ones while you sleep. Then if that wasn’t enough, I learned from Heather’s website that her inspiration for this book came from the Beatles’ song “Blackbird.”
This book left me in a state of book euphoria, and the need to read more of Heather Webber’s books. Which is why I’m highly recommending this book, and adding it to my All-Time Favorite Book List.
Time Is A River by Mary Alice Monroe – This captivating book has well-drawn characters you will fall in love with and feel like you personally know; a small historical mountain town right outside of Asheville, North Carolina, that you will wish was real so you could go visit the bakery and the library and the train station and the historic homes; a murder mystery that will have you piecing together the clues; AND a romantic thread that will have you swooning and cheering for Mia in her post breast cancer and post cheating husband fight. I loved this book, and will be adding it to my All-Time Favorite Book List.
Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult– I’ve heard my editor mention several times that this is her favorite book. I now see why. Leaving Time is a masterfully woven tale about grief, love, and our innate desire to belong. Jenna Metcalf lost her mother in a tragic accident when she was only three. Now at thirteen, Jenna longs to know the truth about that accident and why her mother would have abandoned her. Jenna enlists a private detective and a Psychic to help her piece together the detailed memories she has as a little girl, the personal knowledge she’s gained about her mother from her mother’s journals, and the hard evidence Jenna has so keenly obtained about that mysterious night when her mother vanished from her life. In true Picoult fashion, you will go on a journey with these characters as you learn about elephants and research, and relationships and motives, and hard evidence and unexplainable evidence, and how grief and a mother’s love are intertwined.
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova – This masterfully written book takes you inside the gut-wrenching disease ALS. I knew exactly where the story was heading, but I couldn’t look away. I had to keep reading. I had to know if these messy humans with flaws and issues they should have discussed but never discussed, were going to resolve their pain and grief before time ran out and layered on more pain and grief.
Richard is a concert pianist. Karina is a piano teacher, the mother of his only child, and his ex-wife. One of them develops ALS. The other one steps into the caregiver role. Both of them need to make amends before this horrible disease has its way, and Lisa kept me wondering right up to the last page if they would say what they needed to say before death stole the opportunity.
Choose Your Story, Change Your Life: Silence Your Inner Critic and Rewrite Your Life from the Inside Out by Kindra Hall – I’m a fan of stories. I mean, I am writing a novel. But I also try to read at least thirty books a year. I want the experience and the lesson a well-crafted story provides. Kindra is a master storyteller. She captivates you, and the lesson appears with ease. Spoiler Alert: The lesson is the story and how it’s serving you. This powerful book has changed my life, and how I look at stories, especially the stories I tell myself. If you want to finally lose the weight, finish writing the book, save more money, invest more money, land the dream job, guy, girl, family – life, then get your hands on this book. Just be prepared to write a whole new story. The story you really meant to be writing all along. This one is going on my All-Time Favorite Book List.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene’ Brown — I’m a huge Brene’ fan, and this book has been in my TBR for a while. Daring Greatly is like all talks I’ve watched Brene’ give: it is full of inspiring and relatable stories, and eye-opening research around the whys behind our behavior, especially around shame, vulnerability, connection, and belonging. This book should be required reading for all.
The Third Door by Alex Banayan – This extraordinary book left me laughing, crying (The acknowledgment section is a story within a story. Bravo, Alex!), and cheering Alex along on in his quest. Alex, at the tender age of eighteen, had a desire to interview a list of successful people and uncover their secrets to success, which he would take back and share with his generation. The Third Door is the detailing of Alex’s quest and his life philosophy that arose from that long, grueling, hard-fought, perspective changing quest. I was immediately hooked by Alex’s voice and his positive and persistent outlook. Alex kept getting knocked down, but he also kept getting back up again. Alex is an example of the real story (and stories) behind success. I highly recommend this captivating look into Alex Banyan’s experiences along his quest to chase down a dream.
Target 100: The World’s Simplest Weight-Loss Program in 6 Easy Steps by Liz Josefsberg –This is the best health-focused book I have ever read (listened to). Josefsberg worked with celebrity clients at weight watchers, like Jennifer Hudson. Her approach to nutrition and exercise and mindfulness and patterns of behavior is a revolutionary whole-self approach. She helps individuals tune into themselves, and promotes a willingness to experiment and persist until the life, feeling, and healthy body each individual desires becomes a reality. There is no list of food, no prescribed exercise routine, this book is about utilizing six targets (nutrition, hydration, exercise, movement, stress, and sleep) to start changing your habits.
Becoming The One: Heal Your Past, Transform Your Relationship Patterns, and Come Home To Yourself by Sheleana Aiyana –This book is a self-love guide, a book for nourishing tired hearts and minds, and a book for listening to your needs, wants, and desires so that you (me, us) may become the fullest expressions of your true(est) self. Our relationship with our self is the most important relationship to cultivate, but so many of us spend our time desperately looking for love outside of ourselves when true love lies within. I highly recommend Becoming The One as a book for reclaiming your relationship with yourself, and for recognizing all the ways we self-abandon in our quest for love.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene’ Brown – Brene’ Brown is known for her life work researching shame, vulnerability, courage, and leadership. Dare to Lead shares her latest research on these topics through her typical witty and relatable stories, but with a workplace focus. Still, this book is beneficial to all of us no matter where we lead—professional environment, our home, relationships, churches, communities—because this book is really about leading others by first leading ourselves. This book has a corresponding course developed by Brene’ and titled by the same name.
Unf#ck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers by Faith G. Harper — Dr. Faith breaks through the discomfort of topics like trauma and breaks down the complexity of brain science with the use of common language and lots of swearing. She offers many tips and tools for managing a range of emotions and triggers, while also introducing the idea of a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry by Marcia Reynolds –This book is a study in non-reactive empathy. If you want to be present more, receive instead of just listen, release judgements, and change the dynamics of relationships, then dive into this book! (I listened to this book on Audible.)
Get What You Want: How to Go from Unseen to Unstoppable by Julie Solomon – This book is an actionable plan for getting what you really want. Julie helps you get clarity around what you want, and discusses what could be holding you back, such as ingrained parental patterns, beliefs, and fears. She even helps you perfect your pitch! (I listened to this book on Audible.)
Let it Be Easy: Simple Ways to Stop Stressing and Start Living by Susie Moore – I listened to this book as an audiobook. Susie’s delightful British accent combined well with her stories of inspiration and wisdom to show up and live now. Let it Be Easy does not offer a quick-fix remedy or a list of how-to’s for finding sudden ease in this fleeting life. Instead, this book is a captivating compilation of stories and experiences from a Business and Life coach who knows the real-life struggles we all face. Life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to find ease.
What Happened To You?: Conversations On Trauma, Resilience, And Healing by Bruce D Perry & Oprah Winfrey – Trigger Warning: This book contained descriptions of incidents of trauma and abuse that may be triggering to some individuals. I’ve had this book in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for a while. I was captivated by an excerpt Oprah shared from the book about her own personal childhood trauma when the book was first released. This powerful, emotionally grounded woman has experienced trauma and resiliently risen from it. I wanted to hear her story.
This book is written in interview format between Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry, and with the emphasis of shifting our focus from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” This book is a fascinating, albeit difficult, look into the psyche and how our experiences “shape who we are, how we behave, and why we do the things we do.”
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach—A book on grace and our intrinsic worth, goodness, and belonging. This book not only inspires our own self-acceptance, but also the acceptance of others. As Tara so eloquently put it, “Pain doesn’t belong to one individual … We are not alone in our shared suffering and fear.” My takeaway from this book is a loving acceptance and more mindful approach for meeting my own human imperfections and complexities, and feelings and fears, as well as those same human qualities in others. This book was another perfect companion for my blog series on Abundance.
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. This is a timely book with the events (a pandemic, social justice movement, and war) taking place around our world. These three men challenge our belief that joy and happiness are only products of good times–perfection, and journey into discussions about how joy is found in suffering. They even go as far as suggesting that you never know when you would have found joy without suffering. This was a deep and enlightening book.
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy – The body talks to the mind, and this unconscious conversation is keeping us locked in a state of fear and powerlessness. Presence is full of ways we can calm the mind with the aid of the body, so that we can show up as our boldest and truest selves—even in the most difficult situations.
Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dream by Mike Dooley – Thoughts become things. Mike Dooley discussed the world of possibility available to us through our thoughts. Our responsibility is to empower our thoughts, our words and statements, and to cultivate a positive mindset that aligns with our goals and dreams. Infinite Possibilities dives deep into how our beliefs create our realities, and how we can align those beliefs for our highest good. This book was another perfect companion for my blog series on Abundance.
Return to You: 11 Spiritual Lessons for Unshakable Inner Peace by Shannon Kaiser – I heard Shannon speak on Mark Groves’ podcast. She discussed this book, and how it was born out of her desire for peace during a period when she was experiencing panic attacks. I knew this was a book I wanted to read because of my Abundance Blog Series and my own desire for inner peace. Return to You is about the journey within to our soveriegn selves. Per Shannon, when you make peace your priority then negativity can’t exist. I am using many of the lessons within this book as I continue on my journey to understanding emotions and experiences and the role they play in attaining inner peace.
I love a good book—the kind of book that makes the world around me fade away. You know that kind of book; it’s the one that transformed you into someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else. You loved that book. You couldn’t stop thinking about that book while you were at work, or washing dishes, or doing all the other things that keep you from reading.
I’ll talk about all the good books here. Whether they are fiction books, or nonfiction, self-help, spiritual, religious, and/or books on the writing craft. If the book moved me, changed me, or just stuck with me, this is where I will share it.
I’ve once again entered the Goodreads Reading Challenge with the goal of reading 30 books this year. I love reading, so that part is not really a challenge. But the goal of 30 books is, along with my attempt to read a variety of books in a variety genres.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry – I am a hopeless romantic and Henry writes slow burn courtships between oh-so-real-and-humanly flawed characters. Alex and Poppy were quirky and adorable and total opposites, but the banter between these two best friends was sure to heat things up. Every summer they take one week of vacation together, until the one summer when something happens between them that causes them to spend two years apart. No spoilers here, but you don’t want to miss this love story, or Poppy’s attempt to take one more banter-filled trip with her best friend.
Beach Read by Emily Henry – A story about grief and two writers caught in a steamy romance. I loved this book and the way Henry folded in threads of a suicide cult, an affair, the difficulties of the writing process, and the shards of grief into a seamless story that kept me turning pages until the end.
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This book is the perfect example of why I’m a diehard Taylor Jenkins Reid fan. This makes book number three of hers that I’ve read, and I know I’ve got to get my hands on another one of her books. Taylor is a master storyteller hooking me in chapter one with this couple arguing about where they parked the car, while wandering through the parking lot at Dodgers Stadium. The argument is about so much more than the lost car and it leads to a year-long separation where this couple must decide if they want to fight for their marriage or just call it quits. With everything I’ve grown to love about Taylor’s books–romance, real-to-life capitivating characters I feel like I know, a woman finding herself, and love and loss and grief threaded onto the page–After I Do left me crying and laughing and sad this book had to end.
Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid – TJR has done it again. Forever, Interrupted will join One True Loves (another one of TJR’s books) on my All-Time Favorite Books list. Forever, Interrupted is an emotional read that left me sobbing like a baby over several passages within the book, but also laughing and falling in love with Elsie and Ben falling in love with one another. Told in alternating chapters that weave the past (how Elsie and Ben met and fell in love so quickly) and the present (Elsie navigating her grief and the loss of her husband) together beautifully, I became invested in these characters and all that what was at stake for Elsie—and, Susan, her hateful mother-in-law. A tearjerker, for sure, but with a promising and bittersweet dose of hope in the end.
The View Was Exhausting by Mikaella Clements & Onjuli Dalta – Scandalous, steamy, seductive. Win is a star on the rise. Her public image is everything, because being an actress is her everything. Win’s publicist ushers in playboy Leo to help Win keep up appearances after a nasty breakup, and with Leo comes the opportunity for the very thing Win needs the most–to be herself. But being herself is exactly who Win has been trained not to be. You’ll have to read this one to the end to see if Win and Leo will keep putting on a show for the press, or if they will allow themselves to fall head over heels in love when no one is watching.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – After watching Netflix’s version of Rebecca, I knew I had to read the book! I still don’t know which is better, but I can tell you the book (as always) took me deeper into this immersive tale. A true classic with a copyright of 1938, this captivating historical tale about the second Mrs de Winter’s life in the shadow of her predecessor—Rebecca—had me ignoring the world and all my responsibilities (even sleep) until the surprising end. Full of foreboding suspense, high society, a bewitching setting, the hope of love, and a twisting plot this book is joining the ranks of my My All-Time Favorite Books list.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – This book had all the things I love: memorable characters, a protagonist finding herself, a charming town, and ROMANCE! Evvie Drake is finally taking action, but on the day that she gets the nerve to put her suitcase in the car and drive away she gets the call that her seemingly perfect husband has died. Evvie’s best friend Andy helps her navigate her grief and even finds a tenant (former Major League pitcher Dean Tenney) for the apartment at the back of Evvie’s house. Dean is wrestling with a past of his own and Evvie wants to “fix” him, but that would mean breaking the deal Evvie made with Dean not to discuss his baseball career and he wouldn’t discuss her deceased husband. But as their friendship heats up, secrets come out and the deal is broken.
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff – Full of humor and the whys behind those unfinished books, crashed diets, and untouched dreams, this book is the wisdom and advice we need to outsmart our sneaky perfectionist and finally give ourselves the gift of done.
The Genius Zone: The Breakthrough Process to End Negative Thinking and Live in True Creativity by Gay Hendricks– Liberate your creativity and reframe your negative thoughts with the lessons and wisdom in this book. Gay Hendricks introduced me to my upper limit (tolerance for how happy I am willing to let myself be) in The Big Leap. In Genius Zone he expands on our resistance to happiness by addressing the negative thoughts that keep us stuck in self-sabotaging patterns, and guides us to positive actions we can take to commit to our creativity. Get ready to embrace the power of wonder and all the joy that is waiting for you inside your genius zone.
The High 5 Habit: Take Control of Your Life With One Simple Habit by Mel Robbins – This book changed how I look at my thoughts, especially my negative thoughts. The High 5 Habit is sixteen chapters of Mel in your head convincing you, inspiring and motivating you to shift those negative thoughts into actions. Life is hard! But instead of seeing the obstacles this book will help you see the opportunities. I listened to the audio version of this book, which Mel narrates. Mel’s charisma, wisdom, and palpable desire to inspire and motivate each and every one of us to take action on the life of our dreams is evident in the words on these pages (or in my case in Mel’s voice in my ears). In one of the final chapters of the audio version Mel tears up sharing a story about the attainment of one of her long-held dreams. I teared up with her–there is so much hope in seeing long-held dreams realized. I can’t recommend this book enough, and especially the audio version. I’m adding this one to My All-Time Favorite Books list.
Powerhouse Woman: How to Get Out of Your Own Way, Fulfill Your Unique Purpose, and Live A Powerful Life by Lindsey Schwartz – This title says it all! This book is a course on how to be a Powerhouse Woman, and Lindsey is your life coach/business coach/health coach (within the pages of this book) who will help you make it happen–IF you follow her words and turn them into a practice. Get your pen, journal, and sticky notes ready because this book is an action plan to navigating the path to your dream self. I’m adding this powerful, inspirational, and motivational read to My All-Time Favorite Books list.
Resisting Happiness: A True Story About Why We Sabotage Ourselves, Feel Overwhelmed, Set Aside Our Dreams, & Lack the Courage to Simply Be Ourselves … and How to Start Choosing Happiness Again! by Matthew Kelly – A book about becoming the best version of ourselves, with a heavy emphasis on Catholicism and our relationship with The Divine. On the surface, Resisiting Happiness is about Matthew’s faith journey but as I was listening (audiobook), I couldn’t help but feel Matthew calling me to something deeper and more meaningful. Yes, Matthew most certainly is inviting us to come into relationship with The Divine, but he is also gently guiding us deeper into ourselves where the answers to joy, gratitude, purpose, and a life full of meaning—happiness is waiting for us to take the first step, and the next, and the next, and …
Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe by Laura Lynne Jackson – Since I am writing a book about a widow looking for a sign from her deceased husband, this book, by a psychic medium, was the perfect way to learn more about signs and expand what I already want to believe. I was pleasantly delighted by this book and the stories of hope. From cardinals to praying mantises, deer to turtles, tattoos to inner nudges, and all out divine encounters, this book made me curious and aware that something grander could be happening around me.
The Confident Mom: Guiding Your Family With God’s Strength And Wisdom by Joyce Meyer – Ask any parent you know about their role as caregiver, nurturer, ATM, disciplinarian, life coach, grace supplier, and prayer warrior over their child—parent—and I’m sure … I’m absolutely positive that parent will tell you how passionate they are about getting this coveted role right. Parenting is the most rewarding and difficult job there is, and this book is an encouraging guide to inspire parents to approach every day of the parenting journey with joy and unshakeable confidence. I will return to the wisdom in this book again and again.
Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum – A handbook writers will return to again and again. Courtney writes with humor and wit about the process from thought to book, to pitching, to representation and publication, and everything in between. Seriously, EVERY thing in between: your inner perfectionist, parenting and writing, multitasking, what to take on book tour. It’s ALL in this book!
I love a good book—the kind of book that I can’t wait to pick back up when I finally reach my comfy bed at the end of an exhausting day. The kind of book that makes me forget who I am and what I should be doing. You know that kind of book; it’s the one that left you feeling happy, sad, mad, excited, and afraid all at the same time. You loved that book. You couldn’t stop thinking about what that character said or did, about the decision they made, about how they must be doing now.
The novels I list here have all been that book for me. I will also include my favorite nonfiction, self-help, and spiritual books, which usually have that “can’t stop thinking about them” quality.
For the past two years, I have taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge with the goal of reading 30 books a year. This year, I am doing it again. Please connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter and let’s talk about ALL THE BOOKS.
- Life and Other Inconveniences by Kristan Higgins – Grab a box of tissues for this emotional read. Higgins has crafted a story with all the dysfunction of real life and a group of characters that you won’t soon forget. Life and Other Inconveniences explores the heavy themes of aging, death, teen pregnancy, and abandonment … and the grit you need to survive it all.
- Side Trip by Kerry Lonsdale – Have you ever traveled Route 66, the historic highway that runs from California to New York? No? Me neither, until I read Side Trip. Joy, a recent graduate, honors her deceased sister’s dreams when she embarks on a cross-country trip with her sister’s travel bucket list in hand: Drive cross country in a convertible, Do something spontaneous, Do something daring, Do something dangerous, Sleep under the stars, Dance in the rain, Make a new friend, Fall in love. Join Joy on a trip where you’ll not only cross items off of her sister’s bucket list, but fall in love, question the choices of your heart, take risks and play it safe, and put the top down and get lost in some meaningful lyrics. In the end, you will have taken a trip—like all the best trips—that you wished never had to end. Side Trip is an adventure that I won’t soon forget.
- The Family Upstairs: A Novel by Lisa Jewell – This dark and twisty psychological thriller is not my typical go-to read. But, since it was the February pick for my book club, I gave it a try—and I couldn’t put it down. The Family Upstairs is full of suspense, dysfunction, and well-crafted characters that you will root for until the bitter end.
- American Dirt: A Novel by Jeanine Cummins – This highly controversial book grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. This is a fast-paced novel full of action and suspense that begins on page one with the murder of Lydia’s husband and family by a drug cartel. All Lydia has left is her son, and she goes to great lengths to protect him and carry him to safety across the American border. I’ve always known the immigration plight was fraught with pain and hardship, but this fictional book made me feel the ache for freedom (the freedom that I take for granted) in a way that I will never forget.
- The Lost Husband: A Novel by Katherine Center – Katherine Center is my new favorite author. I discovered her last year when my book coach suggested I read How to Walk Away. This is the third book of Center’s that I have read, and I love it just as much as the others. She has a distinctive voice that draws you into her stories about relationships, love, and loss. The Lost Husband captured my attention with goats, a farmhouse in a quaint little Texas town, a narcissistic, controlling mom, a kind and nurturing aunt “who could have easily passed for Mrs. Claus,” a sexy farmhand, and a second chance at love for a widow. I fell in love with these characters and their quest to live in the midst of the struggle.
- The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward –This is another book I couldn’t put down, another book that has continued to stick with me even after I finished it, because The Same Sky is a perspective-altering read. You know, one of those books that places you squarely in someone else’s shoes, someone else’s struggle. I don’t know if I will ever look at food, water, safety, and the God-given blessing of being called Momma the same way again.
- One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I have found my new favorite book! “One true love” is a theme I explore in my novel, so the title already had me hooked. Then I opened the book and Reid’s writing blew me away as she made me feel like I was living the story. Imagine: your husband, the man you adore, your one true love is gone, presumed dead at sea. You pick up the pieces of what is left of your life and you try to move on. Then, suddenly, he calls you. He is coming home again. He is making his way back to you and the life he once knew. Jenkins hooked me from the first line: “I am finishing up dinner with my family and my fiancé when my husband calls.” The flow of the narrative moves back and forth through time with ease, painting a picture of the life these characters lived up until when Emma has to choose between Sam and Jessie. I couldn’t put this one down. I had to know who Emma chose and why. I cried and struggled as Emma made a decision that profoundly illustrated her experience and how it impacted her belief about only having one true love.
- My Last Love Story: A Novel by Falguni Kothari –I loved this love story, which is rich in the culture of Falguni’s South Asian heritage. I can’t get it off my mind! My Last Love Story is a deep immersive read into dying, and living, and loving more than one man—all at the same time. Don’t miss out on the heat and the tension in this amazing book.
- You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer – Grab your box of tissues and get ready to ugly cry. Tommy is Alexis and CeCe’s world. A kind, loving partner and dad, he softens the tension between Alexis and CeCe with his smile and gentle nature. But now that Tommy has a terminal cancer diagnosis, this mother and teenage daughter will have to figure out how to make it on their own. And their journey gives them exactly that, but don’t just take it from me! Get your hands on this book and let Alexis and CeCe tell their story.
- The Salt House by Lisa Duffy – Pandemic be damned, this is the year of all the great books! Another book for my top 10 must-reads. Told in alternating points of view, this engrossing story connects the dots between the past and the present, and between how each family member finally moved forward with their own personal grief and the process of the family’s collective grief over the loss of baby Maddie. Duffy does a wonderful job giving each character their own voice, perspective, and dilemma and creating a plot full of action to keep you turning the pages to the end.
- The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo – A page-turning, I-have-to-know-what-happens-next novel about fate and free will, passion and perseverance, dreams and reality, and the power of first love. This book is an emotional rollercoaster ride that will thrill you and devastate you all at once. I’m adding this sexy read to my top 10 must-read list.
- Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin – Rachel and Darcy have been best friends since grade school. But on Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, Rachel makes a decision that will change their friendship forever—that is, if Darcy finds out that Rachel slept with Darcy’s fiancé. I don’t need to tell you that YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! I loved this book about choices and raising our voice.
- True Places: A Novel by Sonja Yoerg – An engrossing family drama told from multiple points of view about reconnecting with our true selves, True Places is the story of how one family falls apart after Suzanne (the mother who lives in service to her family) takes on the responsibility of an orphaned and abandoned child that she found along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll keep flipping the pages as you wonder what will happen next with the self-entitled rebellious daughter, the withdrawn son, the status-seeking husband, and the orphan that reminds Susan of who she once wanted to become.
- The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan – This timeless tale set in 1950s South Haven, Michigan, will transport you to a lakeside resort run by a Jewish family. You’ll find yourself immersed in main character Betty Boop’s past and present, and her struggle with one summer’s secrets (a beauty pageant, a friend’s affair, a choice that changed everything) that swallowed up all the plans she once made for who she would become. Thanks to this delightful character with a funny and supportive band of friends, I was immersed in Boop’s story until the very end.
- Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King – In this modern-day, coming-of-age story of sorts, Casey Peabody is a 31-year-old writer who is deep in debt, waiting tables, and navigating waves of grief after recently losing her mother. She struggles with her dream to write and publish a book. And she struggles to find love, until she finds herself choosing between two men. I stayed up until 3 AM one morning just to see if Casey finally made it work with the guy I was hoping she would choose (which she did, but you’ll have to read the book to see which guy that was) and if she finished and published her book. Lily King created a real-life world and a sympathetic character that I rooted for until the very end.
- The Girl With The Louding Voice: A Novel by Abi Dare’ – The story of a young Nigerian girl, Adunni, finding her voice in a patriarchal culture is empowering, heartbreaking, and enlightening. The story is told in Adunni’s own Nigerian dialect, and let me just tell you that her broken English gave this story a heartbeat of its own. The content of this book was difficult, but I couldn’t stop rooting for this girl who kept asking questions. Adunni wants more than the violence she suffers, male dominance embodied by a husband old enough to be her grandfather, and gendered oppression (“Girls are only good for marriage, cooking food, and bedroom work”) that so many of the women and young girls around her seem to accept. Adunni wants an education so she can teach the children in her village. The Girl with the Louding Voice is Adunni’s brave journey to finding her voice and using that voice to help others.
- Why Bother?: Discover the Desire for What’s Next by Jennifer Louden – Have you ever wondered, “What’s the point? Why should I even bother?” This timely book will help you navigate these questions and steer you forward into living again. Join Jennifer Louden as she shares her own struggle with letting herself want, and claiming her right to bother again. “What’s next is not a destination, it’s wholehearted immersion in life.” ~ Jennifer Louden
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero – This empowering book was published in 2013, yet it kept popping up in my social circles even in 2020 as a book “you just have to read.” So I did, and I loved it. You Are A Badass is a self-help book that takes a deep dive into self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors, then provides a hefty dose of inspiration that motivates you to work on getting past those beliefs and behaviors so you can create the life you’ve always wanted.
- The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear And Take Life To The Next Level by Gay Hendricks – I’m so glad I picked up this book about our limiting beliefs and the reasons we don’t allow ourselves to feel good about our success. In this quick read, Gay Hendricks helps you get inside your mind and break down barriers so you can step into your Zone of Genius (the liberating place where you are your most happy and unique you).
- Read Books All Day and Get Paid for It: The Business of Book Coaching by Jennie Nash – I am a huge Jennie Nash fan. The woman is brilliant, and I learn something every single time I hear her speak. I purchased this book because I believe in the power of a good book coach. My story is taking shape and I am becoming a better writer because of my book coach (include Sheila’s link). Jennie Nash trained my book coach and she runs a successful business training other people who want to do what she does (include Author Accelerator Link). Read Books All Day and Get Paid for It is the perfect book for any entrepreneur starting a new side hustle. Yes, this book is geared towards book coaches, but it provides the inside scoop on defining your tribe, your mission, your marketing plan—the startup process for any new business.
- The Three Wells Of Screenwriting: Discover Your Deep Sources of Inspiration by Matthew Kalil – I’m a writer that struggles with resistance. I admit that I have a fragile muse. So, when I say this book needs a place on every writer’s bookshelf, you know that this book resonated with me. Kalil encourages his reader to do what he has done: write an authentic story that connects with their readers. With a deep look into a writer’s imagination, memory, and conditioning (from external sources such as movies and books), The Three Wells of Screenwriting is an acting class in a book. Get ready to tap into the deep wells that enrich our writing and bring meaning to our stories through activities, examples, and the hard work of discovering the story you really want to tell.
- Take Back Your Life: A 40-Day Interactive Journey to Thinking Right So You Can Live Right by Levi Lusko – This isn’t your typical devotional. This is an invitation to go on a transformational journey that will inspire you to show up and battle for your life. Levi walks the walk he is calling you to in this book. His story of losing his daughter is heart-wrenching, but Levi wants you to fight for more. Drenched in grace, full of Scripture and micro-stories, Take Back Your Life will change the way you think, respond, and live your life.
- When The Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction For Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd – This autobiography takes us on a journey within ourselves, past the identities we have created to that still, small space where the divine and our truest selves intertwine. When the Heart Waits is the recounting of Kidd’s spiritual journey within during a midlife period of questioning, waiting, observing, transforming, and becoming her truest self. I dog-eared numerous pages and underlined many passages of deep meaning and inspiration that brought me closer to the core of my faith and my spirit. If you are a Sue Monk Kidd fan, this autobiography will give you a deeper look into Kidd’s writer mind and the religious themes that are so prevalent in most of her books. Note: I found a strong correlation between When the Heart Waits and Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair (which is one of my all-time favorite books).
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.
- Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale – I am a huge Kerry Lonsdale fan. She captured my attention with her Everything series, and she has done it again with this book. Last Summer is a thrill ride from the very first page. Why can’t Ella Skye remember her pregnancy, or the baby she tragically lost in an automobile accident? What is going on with her husband Damien? It seems like he is processing more than just grief over the loss of the baby and his wife’s memory. This unputdownable book is full of drama, love, lust, and plenty of questions to keep you lost in its pages until its surprising end.
- How to Walk Away by Katherine Center – If you loved Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, you will enjoy this book. Katherine Center draws you in with her captivating voice and keeps you turning the pages with twists and turns, gut punches and questions, and stellar storytelling. You will not be able to put this one down until you learn whether Margaret Jacobson, aka Maggie (the main character), is able to walk away.
- Tiger Drive by Teri Case – This novel is a gripping, thought-provoking family drama about addiction, abuse, poverty, and trauma. But more than that, this is a story about hope in the face of adversity: hope that, no matter what we face, we can and should still follow our dreams. Teri’s real-life characters will disappoint you and inspire you at the same time.
- 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.
- Things You Save in a Fire a novel by Katherine Center – A modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a tragedy and a happily ever after. This book let me feel every emotion. I felt the struggle of a woman trying to prove herself in a man’s world. I felt the angst and uncertainty of falling in love after you have been betrayed in the worst way. And, most of all, I felt the struggle in forgiveness and the joy in choosing to love. This book stole my heart and my sleep, and introduced me
to my new book boyfriend!
- The Girl He Used to Know a novel by Tracey Garvis Graves – Annika is just like you and me. She has hopes and desires; she has fears and feelings. But Annika processes the world differently. She is sensitive to touch, textures, and loud noises. Eye contact makes her uncomfortable, and she has a difficult time reading social cues. Still, Annika is not immune to love. The Girl He Used to Know is a beautiful story about the power of love and a kind young woman’s journey as she learns to navigate a nuanced world.
- Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – This explicit nonfiction book reads like fiction (and, in my opinion, borders on erotica). It stayed with me for weeks after I read the last page, tormenting me to figure out why. Then it occurred to me: sex is something that Christianity and the broader culture teach women not to talk about, and definitely not to desire—which is why I believe this book is a must-read for every woman. Taddeo explores the depths of women’s desire, from the judgments we place on other women for craving fulfillment to the all-out lengths we will go to in order to feel loved ourselves.
- I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell – I did not see this one coming! This gripping nonfiction book about O’Farrell’s lifelong struggle with mortality will definitely take you on an emotional journey. O’Farrell captures you in the first chapter when, on a remote mountain, a man steps out from behind a rock and blocks her path. The buildup to the ending is pure authorial genius! If you are a writer, buy this book and study its structure. If you are a reader, buy this book and immerse yourself in the struggle of the human condition. I Am, I Am, I Am is a life-affirming read.
- 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.
- Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven – On May 17, 2014, Admiral McRaven stood at the podium in front of the University of Texas’s graduating class and gave a commencement speech that was so inspiring and empowering that it went viral on social media, racking up more than 10 million views. Make Your Bed is an expansion on that speech and, in my opinion, a rule-book for not only surviving life, but living courageously. Here is the speech that inspired this book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxBQLFLei70
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 and following him on social media, 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.
- An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake by Srinivas Rao – This book is a powerful inspirational tool for getting your scary sh** done. Rao explores hindrances to our creativity, whether in our environments, habits, or patterns of thinking, and guides us to focus on the joy of creation itself instead of on the judgment of the end product. I highly recommend this book for everyone. Free yourself to create a life you love.
- 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.
- Sweet Tea for the Soul: Down-Home Devotions to Comfort the Heart by DaySpring – This is my new all-time favorite devotional for two reasons: first, because there is a sprinkling of southern humor throughout this book, and second, because each devotional is short, packed with a powerful dose of truth, and full of hope and inspiration. If you have a friend or family member going through a tough time, this book is the perfect companion. If you need some quick words of inspiration before you get out of bed in the morning, during your workday, after that stressful commute, or even before you go to bed at night, this is the book for you. I will read this book again and again and learn something new every time.
- 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.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
My December 1st blog post was about the perfect gift—which, for me, would be a sandy beach on a warm, sunny day with a chair, a cool beverage, and a book. If that sounds like you, you are in luck: I have created a list of some of my favorite books. You know, the kind of book you can’t put down. The kind of book you force on your friends. Those books that you stay up way too late reading and finish within three days!
This, friends, is my 2017 must-read book list.
I love a fictional story I can get lost in. I will cross genre lines if there is a good love story driving the plot. These are some of my favorites in no particular order. Not all of them were chosen because of a love story element, but all of them were chosen because these are the stories that stuck with me days after I had put the book down and in some instances, as you’ll notice, the reason I purchased the next book in the series (I don’t typically read series).
- The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
- Seaside by Terri Blackstock
- Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult
- The Noticer by Andy Andrews (Series)
- The Noticer Returns by Andy Andrews (Series)
- The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
- See Me by Nicholas Sparks
- The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Series)
- After You by Jojo Moyes (Series)
- Still Me by Jojo Moyes (The third book in the series, coming out in 2018!)
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Kandel (Series)
- Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Kandel (Series)
I also love a good self-help book. Many times, my favorite self-help books are the ones with spiritual elements—meaning books with a Christian slant or books that grip me on a soul-deep-discovery level. Here are some of my favorites, again in no particular order.
- The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create by Allen Arnold
- The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
- The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson
- I Am by Michele Cushatt
- We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation by Brian D. McLaren
- Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
- The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa Terkeurst
- Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst
- Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh