a year in books

The year is over and I’m so excited to share the 63 books I read in 2019!

My list will be divided into categories: theology books, spiritual formation books, fiction books, personal development books, non-fiction/memiors, and books on writing. I’ve rated each book (on a scale from 1 to 5) and the books will be listed in each section in order of their rating. You can click on the title of the book to find it on Amazon!

If you’re just looking for a few quick recommendations, the first four books in the spiritual formation category were my absolute favorites. The first book listed under memoirs and the first three fiction books are also my most highly recommended books for this year!

Here’s a quick description of my rating scale:

5: absolutely LOVED it and wholeheartedly recommend it
4: really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a favorite
3: pretty average
2: i have some hesitations about this book
1: i don’t recommend it / don’t waste your time

As always, please comment or reach out to me to let me know what you think if you read any of these books this year! Also ALWAYS send me your book recommendations!

Here’s to another year of reading!

Theology Books:

The Bible: 5 stars – For the first time in my life, I’ve completed a Bible reading plan in one year (cue the confetti). The plan I used was the Bible Project’s reading plan (using the app Read Scripture). Each day included 2-3 chapters, which was totally reasonable, and every few days there was a video, created by the Bible Project team, that set up the chapter, illustrated a specific theme, or clarified the author’s intent in writing the book. I absolutely LOVED this plan and I SO HIGHLY RECOMMEND watching the Bible Project videos to grow in your understanding of the Bible.

Sermon on the Mount study, by Jen Wilkin: 5 stars – This was the first Jen Wilkin study (and the first video study) I’d done with a group and I loved it. Each week we did the homework for the passage. At group we would discuss the homework and watch the video of Jen teaching through the material. We absolutely loved it! Jen teaches in an incredibly helpful way, and the homework that goes along with the reading is thought-provoking and helpful. I loved slowly working through these chapters and I learned so much about the character of God and what it looks like to walk in obedience. I would HIGHLY recommend this workbook for anyone looking for a small group study!

Gospel Fluency, by Jeff Vanderstelt: 5 stars – This book was fantastic. I had already read Vanderstelt’s Saturate, an excellent encouragement to disciples on how to “be the church,” and loved it, so I was excited to read another book by him. Jeff spends about half the book explaining the Gospel in clear and compelling language. He then explains to how the Gospel speaks to particular situations of life and how we can become more “fluent” in speaking the Gospel into those situations. These explanations were extremely helpful and applicable to real-life relationships, which I appreciated so much. His “fruit to root” exercise was particularly helpful.

A little book on the Christian life, by John Calvin: 5 stars – This is a more academic read than the other, more conversationally-toned theology books I normally read. At first I felt overwhelmed by the language and almost gave up on listening to it. However, I’m so glad I didn’t. Calvin’s discourses on suffering, material possessions, and eternity was so well thought out and so helpful. I found myself thinking on his words long after, and I even went back to listen to the last section a second time. I would highly recommend this short book!

Confessions, by Augustine: 5 stars – This book tended more towards the academic, intellectual side, made slightly more difficult to understand because I chose to listen to it instead of reading the physical book. So while I found myself getting lost a few times, there were several moments where I had to stop, re-listen to a section, and write down his words because they were Just. So. Powerful. I highly recommend this classic theological piece. 

The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler: 5 stars – I specifically remember reading this book right before I started seminary (7 years ago now!) and being blown away by the truth and beauty of the Gospel. Chandler describes the details of the Gospel in a way that is clear and, well, explicit. He challenges the church to preach and teach the Gospel explicitly so that people have a chance to see and savor Jesus. He does all this while somehow also weaving humor throughout. All I can say is, if you are hoping to grow your love of God and your awe of the Gospel, please please read this book.

Alive in Him, by Gloria Furman5 stars – This book is basically a commentary on the book of Ephesians (one of my all-time favorite books in the Bible), so obviously I loved it. I listened to the audio version, which usually I love to do, but with this book I think I would have preferred to have read my physical copy. I think this book would be best read alongside the book of Ephesians, as a commentary or supplement to the study of the book. I think listening to it made it a little more difficult to follow along. Regardless, I appreciated the depth that Furman’s book added to my existing understanding of Ephesians.

Making Sense of God, by Tim Keller4 stars – I only docked this book a star because I felt that Keller got a little unnecessarily rambly (I really just love concisely-worded books). A group from our church read this book together to prepare for our mission trip to Italy. Keller’s insight on religion is so incredibly helpful toward creating a framework of God in the modern world. He provides an explanation of Christianity to the “thinking person,” for the one who thinks walking into a church means leaving your brain at the door. His explanation of God to the secular intellect is incredibly helpful. It’s a dense and theological read, so prepare your mind for that, but it’s a worthwhile one to spend the time on.

Spiritual Formation Books:

The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life, by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements: 5 stars – I LOVE THIS BOOK. I wanted to listen to it again immediately after it finished. I read it on recommendation from Jen Oshman’s book post. Dustin and Brandon discussed the how-to’s of hospitality and provided insight into some [not weird] ways to weave the Gospel into your everyday conversations with friends and neighbors. The last half of the book is full of super helpful practical application and ways to invite people into your home and your lives. The culture of hospitality that Willis and Clements describe is exactly what I desire our church plant to reflect. I want everyone to read this book!

You Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith: 5 stars – Matthew read this book twice in 2018 and mentioned it in a few sermons, so I just HAD to read it. This book provides not only a necessary perspective shift, but also guidance for necessary and helpful habit shifts. Smith asserts that our daily practices and liturgies “aren’t just things we do, but things that do something to us,” a concept that made me rethink how the way I spend my time speaks to what I love most. SO GOOD. READ IT.

Gay Girl, Good God, by Jackie Hill Perry: 5 stars – First thing, if you choose to read this book I would HIGHLY recommend listening to the audiobook version! Jackie reads the book herself and she injects the words with such intensity and beauty – it’s like listening to powerful spoken word poetry the whole time. This book is engaging, with powerful Gospel story-telling and an incredible handling of Scripture and truth. She speaks to her personal testimony and the complexities of homosexuality and faith, while clearly explaining the Gospel as the only good thing. I laughed. I cried. I amen-ed. And I definitely want to read it [listen to it] again.

Just Do Something, by Kevin DeYoung: 5 stars – This is a super short book that I would highly recommend to every believer. It’s less than 100 pages and only takes a couple hours (if that) to read. I’ve actually read this book quite a few times, but try to squeeze it into my reading every year or so, because DeYoung’s insight is just so helpful for the Christian life. I find his wisdom to be especially helpful to young adults, college students, and anyone trying to make a big decision and wondering “what is God’s will in this?” GO READ IT NOW!

All That’s Good, by Hannah Anderson: 5 stars – This was the first book I read in 2019 and I absolutely loved it. It was also the first Hannah Anderson book I’ve read and I fell in love with her style of writing: she is encouraging yet convicting, captivating yet not sacrificing of deep theological truth. Her words are clear and direct the reader to self-reflection and growth. This book specifically is a great tool for developing discernment. I’m excited to check out other Hannah Anderson books this year!

Longing for Motherhood, by Chelsea Patterson Sobolik: 5 stars – “You should read this book if you are in the same situation (the author) is in, as I was in, but you should read it even if you are not. There is someone around you right now who is hurting, with dreams deferred, or destroyed, of being a mother or a father. Maybe it’s you or maybe it’s someone who sits beside you..” This quote from Russell Moore echoes my sentiments about this book. Chelsea gently articulates the heaviness and the grief of walking through infertility and childlessness. But she also so confidently points to how our hope in Jesus speaks into our trials. To anyone in the church, specifically to anyone struggling with childlessness, please read this book and be comforted by the hope within.

The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson: 5 stars – This is one of Matthew’s favorite books, and Eugene has quickly become one of my favorite spiritual writers. In this book Eugene tells about his life and formation as a pastor. Eugene cleverly and clearly weaves Gospel truths into his story and experiences, explaining in beautiful detail the things he’s learned over the years, coloring it all with stories from his childhood that somehow always have such an impactful and important theme or lesson tied in.

A Restless Age, by Austin Gohn: 5 stars – I was privileged to help edit the manuscript for this book before it was published, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Austin Gohn does an incredible job of drawing from the themes and insights of Augustine’s Confessions, while also drawing in struggles and common experiences of young adults in their twenties. He is relatable and relevant without compromising an ounce of truth. He exposes the insufficiencies of our culture’s tendencies towards openness, tolerance, and indecisiveness, while providing a life-giving alternative – rest in Christ. Highly recommend!

When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper: 5 stars – Whenever I pick up one of Piper’s books, I am again blown away by his wisdom. In this book, Piper points to Christ as our only true and lasting source of joy, a truth that I constantly need to be reminded of. Like many of Piper’s books, it is a little heavier and more dense than a book you would pick up for casual reading, but the density and weight is worth it. As Christians we will all inevitably face seasons where we don’t passionately desire God, and Piper’s words in this book provide comfort and strength to those currently in, preparing for, or looking back on such a season.

Zeal Without Burnout, by Christopher Ash5 stars – As we’re on the cusp of church-planting, I find myself continually asking how in the world we are going to do everything that needs to be done without killing ourselves. The answer Christopher offers in this book was exactly the grace-filled, gospel-centered truth I needed – that a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice requires HUMILITY, dependence, and trust. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone – pastor, counselor, friend, mom – anyone who is spending themselves for the sake of God’s mission.

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 5 stars – I try to read this book at least once every few years, and each time I read it, my love for the body of Christ is renewed. Scripture says that it is through the CHURCH that the manifold wisdom of God will be made known to the world (Eph. 3:10). It’s through imperfect, messed up you-and-i’s that the world will know God. Bonhoeffer reminds us of the beauty and purpose of community. In this book, he teaches us that we are not able to do this faith-life alone. We desperately need each other.

Identity Theft, edited by Melissa Kruger: 5 stars – “Your identity is grounded in God’s work in you, not your work for God” This book is actually a compilation of short essays from ten theologically-grounded writers (I love when several authors can write cohesively on a singular topic!). Each chapter addresses ways our identities can be “stolen” while also offering identity “truths” to cling to. Ultimately this book urges the reader to remember: you are not your failures, your personality, your job title… you belong to God and you are hidden in Christ. I would definitely recommend this book!

The Pastor’s Wife, by Gloria Furman: 5 stars – The thing I love about reading Gloria Furman is that no matter what topic she is writing on, she manages to effortlessly weave in the message of the Gospel. In this book she writes of exquisite gift that it is to partner with a pastor in ministry, while also bravely acknowledging the specific challenges it poses. I’d HIGHLY recommend this to anyone married to someone in ministry.

Kiss the Wave, by Dave Furman: 5 stars – “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages” – Charles Spurgeon. The title drawn from a famous quote from the one and only Charles H. Spurgeon, this short book on suffering is powerful. Dave Furman is intimately familiar with suffering, and he boldly addresses the painful questions that plague believers as they walk through trials. He is gentle, yet challenging, as he boldly points the reader to the character of God and the work of Christ. I’d recommend this book to anyone walking through a particularly painful season of life.

If You Only Knew, by Jamie Ivey5 stars – “When we hide the mess we’ve been through, we also hide the redemption that God has lavishly poured on us. We can’t proclaim His grace until we expose our mess.” This book. I would recommend this book to every woman in every church everywhere. Jamie shares her own story in a beautiful, redemptive way while also encouraging women to share the brokenness of their own stories in order to point to Christ’s grace and goodness. Jamie shares that our stories are not really as unique as we think; our struggles are quite common. And sharing our broken stories actually sets the table for the redemptive message we seek to declare.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, by Shauna Niequist: 5 stars – “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.” I’ve read Shauna before and have loved her poetic (but not annoyingly poetic) way of writing. She is able to write about deep topics, real pain, and honest struggles in a way that is relatable. The whole time I was reading this book I was thinking in my head “yes, me too,” “yes, that’s so true.” I was reminded of the beauty in the bitter and the hope in the dark. Her words were gently encouraging and convicting. Basically I want to reread this book every month. 

This Momentary Marriage, by John Piper: 4 stars – I listened to the audio version of this book and was able to draw so much good wisdom out of Piper’s words. There were times where he was a little repetitive (I took a star off for that), but this circling around the same point from different angles did prove to be helpful at times. All that to say, overall this book was insightful and helped explain the big picture of marriage (for God’s glory) and how that affects different aspects of marriage.

Finding Holy in the Suburbs, by Ashley Hales4 stars – As a wanna-be missionary turned church planter in the suburbs, the topic of this book resonated deeply with me. Ashley’s explanation and exegesis of our contemporary consumeristic culture was fascinating and convicting. One of the most interesting ideas to me was her insight on our longings. She spoke of how the tangible things we long for are but dust, and that what we really crave is the idea that we think is behind them – the peace, the community, the rest we think the tangible thing will bring. But the tangible thing (the house, the perfect family, the spouse, the money) cannot bear the weight of that longing. Instead we should allow our physical things to point us to our future home and rest. We must not allow our hearts to be content with the thing. This book is a fabulous read for anyone living in a suburban context.

Accidental Feminist, by Courtney Reissig: 4 stars – I really enjoyed this book. Courtney addresses contemporary feminist views from a Biblical lens, not in a way that bashes every feminist mindset, but in a way that encourages women to look to Scripture to shape their understanding of what it means to be a woman of God. I especially appreciated the way Courtney addressed both single and married women… women with children and women without children. Her holistic view of womanhood was helpful and encouraging!

The Scars That Have Shaped Me, by Vaneetha Rendall Risner4 stars – “It is as though suffering is a strange sort of gift from God, a gift that we reluctantly receive and constantly want to give back. But it has extraordinary power to change us. It changes our outlook, our faith, our walk with God.” I ordered this book after I listened to Vaneetha speak at a breakout session at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference last year. I was blown away by her perspective and her assurance in the Lord’s character. Vaneetha has been through extreme, painful, unimaginable suffering, and yet she writes so bravely on the unfailing, gracious, and faithful character of God. Regardless of what suffering you are going through [depression, loneliness, illness, death] I am confident that her words will speak healing and truth to your heart.

The Imperfect Disciple, by Jared C. Wilson4 stars – The subtitle to this book is literally “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together.” A fitting read for someone (aka me) who feels so often that I cannot get my act together to achieve the “Christian ideal” of living, whatever that is. Wilson has such a relatable, conversational way of writing that makes him entertaining and compelling to read. He breaks down the intangible, ethereal definitions of discipleship and explains in clear jargon what it means to be a sinner saved by grace. He shares vulnerably of his own experiences and witnesses to how God meets us in difficult times. This book was enjoyable, refreshing, and helpful.

Everyday Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis: 4 stars – We read this book with our church planting Core Team, using our time together to discuss what it means to be a church, what our goals and values are, and how we want to love and serve our community. Tim and Steve so clearly articulate what culture looks like today and what that means for the church. Their perspective and views on what a church should be so closely fit what we hope to be as a church, so this was such a fitting and wonderful read! I took a star off because I felt like the connections to 1 Peter were a little forced and the content got a little rambly at points.

Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung4 stars – I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to slow down and prioritize rest. I find it so easy and natural to fill my calendar and busy myself to the point of exhaustion and neglect of the things and people and I love most. That’s why I chose to read this book. I have absolutely loved every book I’ve read by Kevin DeYoung. He is mercifully concise in his writing, but he still manages to pack in so much theological truth and wisdom. This book was no exception. Kevin spoke to the busy-ness crisis that seems to be rampant in North America, while providing Biblical wisdom and challenges to step off the hamster wheel of prideful busy-ness that we are so prone to. I would highly recommend this short book!

Sacred Privilege: Your Life and Ministry as a Pastor’s Wife, by Kay Warren: 3 stars – I listened to this book on audio, rather than reading it in print. There were quite a few helpful truths that I drew from this book, including Kay’s admonitions to care for yourself spiritually so that you can pour into others and her emphasis on being vulnerable in relationships within the church. I did feel like this book was a little longer than it needed to be, with lots of extra topics woven in that could’ve been better in a separate book. There were times that I found myself skipping forward when I felt like Kay was going on a tangent. But overall her insight into the life and ministry of a pastor’s wife was great!

Twelve Extraordinary Women, by John MacArthur: 1 star – This was an interesting book, but I did have some reservations. I appreciated MacArthurs scripture references throughout his retelling of each woman’s stories. However, he made several inferences throughout the book about how a woman felt in a certain situation (like how Mary ‘probably’ felt when hearing from the angel that she would bear the Messiah), often using language like “no doubt”, “perhaps”, “apparently”, and “maybe” in order to add more color and emotion to the story (he had no Scripture references for these inferences). I didn’t feel comfortable with his imposing of possible emotions or situations on top of the biblical text. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book.

Non-Fiction / Memiors:

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi5 stars – I can’t recall a single other book I’ve read that has been as heartbreakingly beautiful as Kalanithi’s story as written in this book. As a neurosurgeon who walked through deep pain, shock, and fear with many of his patients, Paul saw death and suffering up close on a day to day basis. But everything changed when he was forced to face death himself. Paul’s language is beautiful and compelling as he details his struggle through the question “What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?” He considers this question when counseling his patients through brain surgeries and thinks about this question when dealing with cancer himself. He finally comes to the understanding that life isn’t about avoiding suffering. Rather life is about living, about embracing the good and the bad, the beautiful and the terrifying. Kalanithi’s words are poignant and powerful. Bottom line: READ IT.

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care: 5 stars -This book was a heartbreaking and challenging read, but I feel that the stories shared are so incredibly important. The Lord has pressed thoughts of foster care into my mind lately, and I have found myself wanting to learn more and pray more for this oft-overlooked population. Cris Beam dived into the world of foster care and tells stories of foster kids and foster parents in a truthful and compelling way. This is one you definitely want to read.

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency:  by Akiko Busch: 2 stars – This book was interesting, but I felt that the most impacting words were all in the introduction. The rest of the book seemed to ramble on a bit. I wouldn’t read it again or highly recommend it, but the idea of “invisibility” promoted in these quotes is powerful and so well articulated. “The impulse to escape notice is…about maintaining identity, propriety, autonomy, and voice. It is not about retreating from the digital world but about finding some genuine alternative to a life of perpetual display.”

Personal Development Books:

The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile: 5 stars – Everyone I know has been talking about the enneagram, so I finally caved and decided to learn more about it so I could have a semi-intelligent conversation about the topic. Turns out, after reading the whole book, I still don’t know what type I am (9w1? 6w7? who knows), and I definitely try to not put too much stock in these things. But regardless, this book greatly increased my understanding of people who think, hurt, and feel differently than I do. So as a tool to develop empathy for others, I highly recommend this book.

Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, by Brene Brown: 5 stars – “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” I’m late to the Brene-Brown-is-amazing train, but I am now wholeheartedly on board. This is an audio of a talk she did based on her book, Rising Strong. I already want to listen to it again to soak it all in. Brene is so knowledgable on the topics she covers, and I was especially struck by her thoughts on forgiveness: “In order for there to be forgiveness – something has to die. It’s about death and rebirth” (see the hints of Gospel-centered goodness there?!)

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter4 stars – “Most people spend between one and four hours on their phones each day—and many far longer. Over the average lifetime, that amounts to a staggering eleven years.” This quote from the book is what first inspired me to read it. The numbers and statistics made me want to cry (and throw my phone away forever). While I didn’t throw my phone away, I did delete most of my social media accounts and have started to become more aware of how much time I spend on my devices. I took a star off because I did feel that this book rambled on with stats and examples a little too much.

How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price: 4 stars This book was pretty similar to Irresistible – with similar content and the same helpful premise. I did, however, find this book to be a far easier read than Alter’s book. Catherine writes in a much more concise and conversational way, which I really enjoyed. I also appreciated that she included a whole section on practical application of what she talked about throughout the book, which Irresistible did not include. If you’re interested in learning about phone and media usage, how it affects you, and how to change your habits, I would start here!

The Path Between Us: by Suzanne Stabile3 stars – I know, I know, another enneagram book. This is only the second enneagram book I’ve read, the first being The Road Back to You. To be honest, I liked The Road Back to You a lot better. I didn’t necessarily feel that this book added much to my understanding of the enneagram. This book went type by type and explained how each type works and relates to those around them. It could be a good book to read to gain more insight on your specific type, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a go-to book on the enneagram.

Books on Writing:

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser5 stars – I actually listened to the On Writing Well audio collection rather than reading the physical copy of the book, and I’m really glad I did. I love when the author reads the audio version of their own book because it feels so conversational, the words seem to have more personality. William Zinsser explains how the most successful writing is simple, concise, and clear, which is exactly how this book is written and how the audio collection is compiled. His principles of writing were so incredibly helpful, and he delivered them in a way that was engaging and will stick with me for a long time. I definitely recommend this audio collection for anyone looking to develop their writing skills.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott5 stars – This book was gifted to me by a dear friend and it has been such a good one to dive into. As you can see from the quote, Anne has a beautiful and poetic way with words, but she isn’t just a beautiful and poetic writer. She also writes with a clarity and an intimacy that made me feel like I was talking to a friend who just “got” me. This book was rich with advice to the writer and wisdom from an author who has faced the perils of writing and emerged on the other side. I highly recommend this read to all my writer friends!

Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro: 5 stars – “So what is it about writing that makes it – for some of us – as necessary as breathing? It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are our most engaged, alert, and alive.” I picked this one up per the rec of one of my great writing friends, and I was not disappointed. This book reminded me of the beauty of writing. It reminded me of the importance of not just saying something to say something, but of weaving words together in a way that is captivating and compelling. Shapiro accurately describes the joys and frustrations and wonder and loneliness of writing in a way that made me feel understood and hopeful. Such a good read for any of my fellow creatives!

Building a Story Brand, by Donald Miller: 4 stars – I ordered this book to read for my job, but it has proved to be helpful in so many other areas as well. I’ve read a few other book by Donald Miller and have appreciated them for his ability to tell engaging and compelling stories. This book builds off of the “story” concepts in some ways, as Miller coaches organizations and individuals on how to build their own “Storybrand” – essentially the journey you take a customer or reader on when they engage with you or your company. The biggest thing I took away is the concept of making your customer (or reader or client) the hero of the story – what do they want and how does what you sell (or write or offer) meet their need? Overall I would suggest this book for anyone looking to grow their brand, sell a product, or clarify and centralize the message of their writing.

The Storytelling Edge, by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow: 4 stars – I started reading this book for work, as a way to help me grow in my ability to tell compelling stories of what God is doing through our ministry. But I wasn’t prepared for how wonderfully engaging and helpful it would be – every few paragraphs I would yell to my coworkers, “guys, this is so good!” For anyone looking to grow in their ability to write, tell stories, or build an audience for your business, I would recommend reading this book.

Fiction Books:

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: 5 stars – Towards the end of 2018 I decided to reread the Harry Potter series. Don’t ask me how many times I’ve read and re-read them… Sometimes you just need a book you can lose yourself in. All I have to say is that if you haven’t read these books DO IT NOW. As a child, reading these books is what made me fall in love with stories and with reading.

Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson: 5 stars – This is the second time I’ve read this novel, and it was just as captivating and beautiful as the first time. The story is one of heartbreak and love, of bravery and loss. Anderson has a way of weaving words together in such a beautiful way that makes it easy to get wrapped up in the character’s minds and stories. This is one of my favorite fiction books I’ve read recently!

A Million Junes, by Emily Henry: 5 stars – “Maybe for some people, falling in love is an explosion, fireworks against a black sky and tremors rumbling through the earth. One blazing moment. For me, it’s been happening for months, as quietly as a seed sprouting. Love sneaked through me, spreading roots around my heart, until, in the blink of an eye, the green of it broke the dirt: hidden one moment, there the next.” I read this book through in about two days. It’s that good. It’s the second time I’ve read it, actually, (also a sign that it’s really good) and it was just as magical as the first. The story is relatable, filled with love and loss; but is also filled with magic and ‘thin places.’ Emily Henry might be the most poetic and captivating writer I’ve read in a long time. Her stories are filled with vivid imagery and they transport you to another time and place.

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen: 5 stars – I was so excited to add a fictional read in this month, especially one that I hadn’t read before. Pride and Prejudice has long been one of my favorite books because of Austen’s wit and writing ability, so I was excited to read another Austen classic. Austen is low-key hilarious and I just love the way she portrays the drama of society and relationships. This book made me laugh, gasp, and realize just how little dating has changed, even in 200 years.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman: 5 stars – This was my first dip back into the fiction world in almost a year and I absolutely loved it. It’s technically a ‘young adult’ read, but the story is comprehensive and doesn’t seem at all limited to that particular genre. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and tells the story of love, loss, and the beauty and bravery of life.

Midnight at the Electric, by Jodi Lynn Anderson: 4 stars – This book is a fascinating story of resiliency, family, and love. The story spans three generations (which I didn’t think I would like, but I ended up being fascinated by), telling all three captivating stories at the same time. It highlights the interconnectedness between people and the way that time, place, and family shape us all. This was a super fun book to lose myself in for a few days.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George: 4 stars – A story about Paris and books and memories and love and beauty. A “love letter to books” and an “encyclopedia of human emotions.” What’s not to love? The storyline is unique and unexpected, yet also so common and relatable. Nina writes with such detail and color that you are easily swept away into the current of the story. Overall such a beautiful story!

The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks4 stars – “I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough..” Say what you will, this story is timeless and beautiful. I mean, just read that beautiful quote and cue the tears! It’s a story about how people change and how love overcomes even the deepest heartbreak. It’s a story illustrating commitment to marriage, even until the bittersweet end. 

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: 4 stars – “I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.” This book was actually written by the two authors sending chapters back and forth to each other, adding to the story bit by bit, which I find to be the most beautiful thing! The characters were unique and the storyline kept me intrigued until the end. Also the setting of Christmastime in New York made it so fun to read during Christmas break! It wasn’t life-changing and wouldn’t make my list of favorite fiction books, but it was a great read!

The Wren Hunt, by Mary Watson: 4 stars – This fantasy book was a fun read, and the modern setting made it unique and more interesting than other fantasy books I’ve read. I especially loved Watson’s writing style, and I loved the way she strung words together to make powerful and beautiful sentences. The storyline was intriguing and kept me captivated until the end as I tried to understand how everything would play out. Overall I’d recommend this book as a fun fantasy read!

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera: 3 stars – “…for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” Kundera’s writing is beautiful, poetic, and robust, but at the same time there is something bizarre about it. There were times where I didn’t love the storyline (and warning: there are some pretty inapprorpiate parts), but the way he explained the emotions and thoughts of the characters was just fascinating to me. People just don’t seem to write like him anymore…

2 thoughts on “a year in books

  1. Kiana says:

    I’m sure I added over half of these books to my reading list. Gay Girl Good God was the best book I’ve read in a while but per your review I’m interested in hearing the audiobook.
    Also I have the Explicit Gospel. For some reason I haven’t been able to finish it. Maybe I’ll give it another whirl.
    Thanks for taking the time to review these books and share!

    • laurenbowerman says:

      Kiana! Thank you so much for your reply! And YESSS I would so highly recommend the audiobook. Her words are wonderful on their own, but when Jackie reads it in her own voice it adds so much power to it! I was in tears at points because it was so beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

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