My Favorite Books of 2019

By Saturday, January 11, 2020 ,

Happy 2020, friends! I hope your early days of the new year and new decade have been filled with good and beautiful things. For the past few Januarys, I’ve taken a post to share my favorite books from the year gone by. I always admire those people who get their thoughts together in time to do a look-back on their books before New Year’s, because I always seem to be reading right down to the wire! It was no different in 2019, as I set a goal to read 50 books and finished the 50th at almost exactly midnight on December 31st/January 1st! I’m taking it. First, for those of you who like bullet points and headings, here are some fun 2019 reading stats from me.

Books read in 2019 (new to me):

Books re-read in 2019: 
13 – before you think that looks wonderfully impressive, know that this is mainly because I re-read all seven Harry Potter books. However, I honestly wish I’d spent more time re-reading favorites this year (more on that soon), because it was oh so nice to go back to these old friends:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
Finding Your Way Through Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot (note: I believe this was an early edition of the book that’s now published under the title The Path of Loneliness)
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Format breakdown

  • Read the physical book: 30/50 – 60%
  • Read on Kindle/e-reader: 6/50 – 12%
  • Listened to an audiobook version: 14/50 – 28%
Number of male and female authors

  • Male: 12
  • Female: 37 (this takes into account that two books on my list were written by a collaboration of multiple women)
    Like last year, my reading slanted quite heavily towards women writers. This is not something I consciously tried to do, but it seems that my subconscious keeps directing me that way!
Most books read by the same author
4 books by Agatha Christie: I do enjoy a good Christie mystery, but I have to confess that she’s also a go-to for when I need a quick audiobook that’ll help me catch up on my goal. I read some great ones of hers this year, but even so, nothing’s come close to Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile for me!

Now for favorites! This was an interesting reading year for me. In my relatively scant recent posts here, I’ve tried to be somewhat transparent about the hard parts of 2019. It was a really hard year, but in the end, also a really good year. But the hard parts manifested themselves in interesting ways, one being that I often felt stuck, fearful, or uninterested when it came to things I normally love, like writing and reading books. It took a lot more effort sometimes to be engaged in what I was reading, to make time for it, or even to find good books. At the end of 2018, I looked back at my year’s reading and was in awe of how many good books I’d read. That isn’t the case for 2019. Though I did read good books, 2019 wasn’t my best reading year – I abandoned quite a few books and felt neutral about many that I did read. In retrospect, I think I put too many expectations on myself. I’ve always been a reader and naturally read quickly, but my 50-book goal still sometimes felt like a weight hanging over me this year, and there were many times that I would have liked to slow down and just re-read old favorites. As discussed above, I did re-read, but I now think it would have done me good to linger a little more in that space. For 2020, I want to do my best to read what I want to read. Yes, I’ll still set a goal, but I want to be more okay with adjusting it if it’s not working for me. Reading should not be rushed or pressure-induced or a race, and I want to remember that and live like it.

That said, I did read some very good books in 2019. Here are some favorites.

Favorite Books of 2019:

These are the books that I can’t stop thinking about, that really got their teeth into me, and that I’ve been talking about and recommending a lot since I read them. And, interestingly, they are all non-fiction! It’s unusual for me to end a year without at least a few new fiction titles among my absolute favorites. Here’s to more and better fiction in 2020. Send me your recs! But in the meantime, these non-fictions are masterpieces and I loved them.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson: During this difficult past year, Andrew Peterson’s music and wider work have carried me and reminded me again and again of the truths I believe in, but still have to fight to believe in. Adorning the Dark is his first non-fiction book. Part memoir, part creative manual, and part letter to fellow artists, this book was like Andrew reaching out a sympathetic hand to those who feel the burn to create, yet also feel paralyzed with weariness or fear of failure. He understands and has been there. But he also knows the joy of persevering in the act of creating and offers deep encouragement to his readers to join him in that perseverance. His words were a balm to my soul, a needful challenge to my writing life, and a hopeful call to create for the glory of the original Creator. The final chapter, Home Is Real, beautifully encapsulates Andrew’s love for God and community and beauty, his humility, and his longing for heaven that permeates all of his work. The chapter made me weep profusely, so of course I have to share some of it. This is one of my favorite parts:

“I want you, dear reader, to remember that one holy way of mending the world is to sing, to write, to paint, to weave new worlds. Because the seed of your feeble-yet-faithful work fell to the ground, died, and rose again, what Christ has done through you will call forth praise from lonesome travelers long after your name is forgotten. They will know someone lived and loved here...This is why the Enemy wants you to think you have no song to write, no story to tell, no painting to paint. He wants to quiet you. So sing. Let the Word by which the Creator made you fill your imagination, guide your pen, lead you from note to note until a melody is strung together like a glimmering constellation in the clear sky. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, too, by making worlds and works of beauty that blanket the earth like flowers.” (Adorning the Dark, Chapter 16)

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop: I had the gift of hearing Mark Vroegop preach on biblical lament this past year, and it’s a sermon that I’m confident will stay with me for life. This book is a more detailed exposition on the topic of lament. It’s honest, thorough, biblical, and a helpful road map for how lament can guide the Christian through suffering. I’m so thankful for Mark Vroegop’s teaching on this topic. There are so many gems to be mined in this book, but here a few:

“Lament is how you live between the poles of a hard life and trusting in God’s sovereignty.”

“Lament stands in the gap between pain and promise.”

“To cry is human, but to lament is Christian.”

“Lament invites us to turn our gaze from the rubble of life to the Redeemer of every hurt.”

“Jesus bought the right to make everything right.”

Girls’ Club by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson: I sure do love me some Clarkson women. Sally has been ministering to moms through conferences and books and Bible studies for years, Sarah wrote a beautiful book about books that made my 2018 favorites list, and Joy hosts a delightful podcast and remains one of my favorite Twitter follows. Girls’ Club is their first collaborative work, and it felt like a warm cup of tea with a plate of scones. They discuss the beauty of female friendship, of home, of community, and how to do friendship in various seasons of life. I felt fresh gratitude for the wonderful women in my life after reading this book and was inspired to consider how to continue being intentional in my friendships. Here’s hoping I can just have a real cup of tea and plate of scones with the Clarkson women one of these days to thank them for it all.

Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry: What a gift to the church Jackie Hill Perry is. She shares her story of coming to faith in Jesus with such vulnerability and conviction, and her writing is beautiful and thought-provoking. And her focus is wholly on Jesus – she challenged, encouraged, and instructed me with this book.

Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird: Ever eager to further my Anglophile tendencies, I picked up this book after the third season of the period drama Victoria aired last year. Fun fact: it’s the longest book I read in 2019, clocking in at a hefty 752 pages. I was initially a bit intimidated by that, but I quickly forgot about the size because of how it drew me into Queen Victoria’s life. It’s a compelling narrative about this famous monarch who was full of paradoxes and who witnessed a myriad of social and historical change throughout her reign. Wonderful read.

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Oh, where to start with this gem? Anne Morrow Lindbergh was indeed that Lindbergh, married to the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. This book is a collection of her personal reflections, compiled during a contemplative trip to the sea. She writes about the strange shifts of time, friendship, womanhood, solitude, marriage, motherhood, and so much more. Lindbergh wrote this slim volume in 1955, but it feels like it could have been written yesterday. I imagine I’ll be returning to it before long.

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin: Rebecca McLaughlin is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Christian apologetics. This book addresses the most difficult, “hot button” questions about Christianity that a modern-day skeptic could ask, and Rebecca answers them with grace, winsomeness, and a ready arsenal of logical arguments and research. This is a valuable resource for Christians today and an excellent starting point for skeptics. It helped give color and logic to why I believe what I believe, and I feel more prepared for conversations with non-Christians after having read it. 

Honorable Mentions 2019

The Loving Cup by Winston Graham: I’m slowly but surely approaching the end of Winston Graham’s Poldark series, and this one was a standout. Adult Geoffrey Charles is one of my favorite characters now and I’m so glad he came back to Trenwith in this one. The sequence surrounding the ball he gave at Trenwith, as well as the epic fallout fight between George and Valentine were among my favorite parts. And, of course, I can never get enough of Ross and Demelza. Those two have held it together for a long time and I’m not sure what I’ll do without them when I finish the series. 

The Twisted Sword by Winston Graham: And speaking of Poldarks, number 11 in the saga was also a standout! Man, this one brought up so many emotions. Valentine’s conversation with Ross near the end was a nail-biter, as was so much of the drama in Paris. But I might cry if I talk too much about that. I also think this might be my favorite exchange between Ross and Demelza from the later books so far:
“…Ross…” She stopped.
“Yes, my dear?”
“I have come a long way.”
“We have both come a long way. When I met you, I was an inebriate, half bankrupt squireen. You didn’t know what a catch you were making!”
“I didn’t know I was making any catch,” said Demelza.
Ross rubbed his nose. “I didn’t know what sort of a catch I was making either. Dear Heaven, that was the luckiest day of my life.”
(The Twisted Sword; Book 1, Chapter 4) 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: Hot tip – the audio version of this one is amazing! Trevor Noah reads it himself and it’s much more compelling that way. I admit that apartheid in South Africa was mostly a blank spot in my knowledge of history, and learning about it through a personal story like this one made it that much more interesting and poignant. Trevor Noah’s clear admiration and respect for his mother is also palpable and moving.

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson: If I told you that a wrecked WWII submarine had lain dormant and undiscovered a few hundred miles off the coast of New Jersey for a few decades after the war ended, would you have told me there was no way? Well, that’s what this book is about. It covers the true account of the two professional shipwreck divers who risked their lives and sacrificed much in their personal lives (not always for the better) to identify that submarine. A truly compelling and fascinating read. 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: And on the subject of truth being stranger than fiction, this book draws back the curtain on one of America’s most notorious scandals, in which a woman named Georgia Tann kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families under the guise of an adoption agency and with the protection of judges and law enforcement across many states in the 1920s and 30s. This book itself is fiction, but it’s based on those true events and weaves a gripping tale in the process.

Did anything catch your eye here? What were your favorite 2019 reads and what should I read in 2020? I’d love to hear!

Full 2019 book list (in the order I read them): 
Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs by Mary Jane Hathaway
The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley
Yours Forevermore, Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory
Sketching Character by Pamela Lynne
Harry Potters Bookshelf by John Granger
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Girls Club by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson
Two Funerals, Then Easter: A Collection of Poems by Rachel Joy Welcher
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Weavers Daughter by Sarah E. Ladd
Joy: Poet Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
The Governess of Penwythe Hall by Sarah E. Ladd
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey
Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
The River by Peter Heller
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Living Life Backward by David Gibson
The Loving Cup (Poldark Saga #10) by Winston Graham
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
The Likeness by Tana French
Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Wingfeather Saga #1) by Andrew Peterson
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
The Twisted Sword (Poldark Saga #11) by Winston Graham
Live Like a Narnian by Joe Rigney
A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews
God’s Gift of Christmas by John MacArthur
The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
A Reason to Hope by Christie Capps
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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