This has been a year of recovery for me.
After being foster parents in 2021, and having a gut wrenching situation the last week of the year, I knew I needed to prioritize my mental and spiritual health. I have spiraled into depression before and I didn’t want to go there if I could help it.
One tried and true way for me to not be utterly consumed by my own pain and grief, is to read soul enriching books.
When I look back on the last year and the stories that have become a part of me, I have to echo what another reviewer wrote about Tolstoy.
In the end, these are books about life, by people who are profoundly in love with life. Reading them makes me want to live.
Note: Last year I read 35 books, so I decided to challenge myself with a goal of 50 books. When I reached that in July, I decided I might as well shoot for 100 because that will never happen again. Well, I made it. There were some truly life changing books in this list. I’m sharing them in reverse chronological order of when I finished them. These are the reviews I left on my Goodreads profile. Happy Reading!
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Five Stars: Keller is king at communicating complicated truths simply yet profoundly. This apologetics book tackled topics I hadn’t seen much of, namely six givens in human life, things we can’t live without: Meaning, Satisfaction, Freedom, Identity, Hope and Justice. He presents how someone who only believes in the material world tries to grapple with these things, and how a Christian can. So well done. I’m going to require my kids to read this before they graduate.
Two Stars: I had much higher expectations for this book. My big beef was how little actual facts were included. This wasn’t a history book as much as an imaginative yet poorly written historical fiction. Nearly every sentence included the words maybe, probably, or perhaps. And then, to be blunt, the plot was so dull, this felt a bit like click bait. “Relentless pursuit “? They knocked on her door twice and asked her to come home. I mean, come on. It also was just poorly written. It felt like one of those childhood papers where the student is desperately trying to reach the word count required. Plus there were word choices that made no sense along with many grammatical errors. I was very disappointed in the whole book. I get that there wasn’t much to go on since Ms. Judge didn’t keep a written record other than two interviews. But still, those were hardly ever mentioned, preferring to make general statements about what the average slave experienced in that time period. I read Washington: A Life and was completely riveted and learned so much more about slavery and Ona and the Washingtons from actual quotes and history. This was just painful.
Five Stars: Compelling and convicting. So desperately needed in today’s church and in my own heart. Gave me lots to think about. I really enjoyed listening to Chan narrate his book. His passion is contagious.
Four Stars: Trippy. Very imaginative, but confusing. One of those that when you finish, you need to then re read it so that it will actually all click together.
Five Stars: Some of the most beautiful prose in English literature. Endearing characters. Read this aloud and revel in the precious laughter and bonding this classic is sure to procure. Note: We LOVE this Illustrated edition by Robert Ingpen.
Five Stars: Read this book as a teen and have now read it as a mother. It spoke to me both times, encapsulating mother daughter relationships in a visceral way. This sparked a love of Chinese culture in me. Now that I’m older, I think it’s the wonder, awe, and fear, the belief in the transcendent, that was so alluring and still is.
Contains two large essays, I only read the first. It was very interesting, yet beyond my intelligence. Lots of Latin! Definitely a new way of looking at and defining much of what it is to be fully human.
Five Stars: This book changed the trajectory of our homeschool and ultimately our lives when I first read it. This is my third read through of this very short book. Now on this read, I’m realizing how very many of the essential things I believe about how to do education comes from this little gem. I’ve read many books on education and homeschooling, but I think this has got to be the one that every Christian homeschooler must read.
If you have little ones who haven’t started formal education. Read this.
If you’re in the throes of educating your three ring circus. Read this.
If you’re close to launching your students into adulthood. Read this.
It is the perfect combo of encouraging, challenging, practical and inspiring.
Looking for more books about homeschooling? Check out my post about books every homeschool mom should read.
Five Stars: Oh Tolkien, how are you so epic yet so hospitable? Hilarious and grand. Can be enjoyed on so many levels by all sorts and ages of folks.
Two Stars: I really enjoyed Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming” So I was really disappointed when the sexual content of this book was too graphic and overshadowed the story.
Pretty funny! Can definitely see how P.G. Wodehouse and his icon creations of Jeeves and Wooster were inspired by this.
Five Stars: First off, this book seemed very middle ground and fair politically. GW’s faults weren’t sanitized but neither was he dismissed or raked over the coals. Read this to fill a category in a reading challenge, expecting it to be a slog. Instead, I found myself completely swept up in the life and times of GW. I was constantly pausing the audiobook to narrate to my husband the fascinating insights I was gleaning. TONS of quotations from first person sources and letters left me trusting the information. The interpretation that the author did take was balanced, willing to show inconsistencies, acknowledged GWs humanity, and neither bashed nor worshipped. I now know I gotta read more biographies!
Four Stars: So many of Sally Clarkson’s books are extremely repetitive. Yet somehow, I keep reading them. I think it’s because her idealist vision is contagious but also something I must constantly remind myself of. (See what other Clarkson books made my list of must reads for homeschool moms)
Five Stars: I think another reviewer put it perfectly. This is a melding of “The Gospel Comes with a House Key” and “The Life Giving Home”. Heavier on the gospel than practical tips. This was a great devotional that was saturated in truths, not guilt trips.
Four Stars: Not what I was expecting. The biblical themes, good versus evil, the band of brothers. It was really lovely. And the epistle form of the writing was well done!
3 Stars: I think I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read this. I started the audio over three times, getting confused and giving up. Then finally just finished it. Normally a book I’m sure I’d enjoy. Maybe if I watched the mini series first. P.S. I loved Gaskell’s North and South, so theoretically I should have liked this one too.
Five Stars: I was impressed with the book and it helped me in the ways I was looking for. I found it to be fair, not overly alarmist, practical, and grace filled. She was honest about the ways the world has actually done good in its reforms. She also addressed when the church has gone wrong (I think there was a whole chapter on purity culture.) What I found the most helpful was ways to talk with your kids even at a young age about non sexual things, that will lead to avenues of talking about things later. Matters of identity, authority and more.
Three Stars: Pretty darn funny. Even though it was short, it still felt too long for the story arc. Dealt with tough divorce issues.
Five Stars: Readable and engaging. Despite knowing the basic plot, I was still on the edge of my seat. Fascinating look into the human heart.
Four Stars: Inspiring and biblically grounded. Not as practical as I would hope.
Two Stars: Ugh. The mystery wasn’t mysterious. I wanted so much more depth in this portrayal of a neurodivergent character. And the author’s diatribe about relative truth was painful as well as terrifyingly false.
Four Stars: Really helpful and personal look at life for the black community during the reconstruction period. Used it to supplement our homeschool history.
Three Stars: Fun look at a unique life and the commonality we all have. Her faith came across as rather hallmarky, full of platitudes that lacked the gospel. Still interesting and plenty to glean.
Five Stars: Beautiful, laugh out loud funny, thrilling and a tear jerker! Such a feel good book and superbly written. Never thought I’d want to remain under “house arrest” but I wasn’t ready for it to end.
Four Stars: Wasn’t expecting to like this one since the subject matter is so different than Ishiguro’s other book I read, “The Remains of the Day”. Sci-Fi and artificial intelligence isn’t really my thing, but I got sucked in. Loved seeing an imagined future not too far distant and easily believable. Little mysteries continued to make me plow through in just two days.
Three Stars: The four perspectives was fun. Definitely made me think, but was hoping for more. Felt predictable yet left a lot of loose ends that seemed wasted.
Four Stars: Such a great way to learn the history. From the eyes of a growing boy you’ll get to see how this war literally set brother against brother, neighbor versus neighbor. There was also battle news and Generals gossip. Loved the interactions with Lincoln too!
Four Stars: Thankful for this glimpse into living life as a black woman. Lovely language and memorable scenes of a woman learning about herself and her world.
Five Stars: ** spoiler alert ** Ugh. I have a serious love/hate relationship with this book.
The characters. Oh the characters! Oh how I believe them to be real. More than real.
But the plot is so so crushing. Like not a single person in the vast cast had anything close to a happy ending. It sucked. It was tragic, EXTREMELY violent and graphic. Yet the writing and the people created will be with me forever. I wanted so much better for them. I think I’ll imagine up a couple redemptive endings for the few left living.
4.5 Stars. Not sure if I loved it because I’ve read Kristin Lavransdatter (which if you haven’t read that trilogy, you must!) and this was like getting to do a quick return to that world that so entranced me before. Without giving spoilers, this was an even heavier book.
Three Stars: Couldn’t get into it, but may have been my own lack of attention. I listened to it and kept getting lost.
3.5 Stars: Important, relevant truths. Repetitive. Could have been a blog series and I think it was originally. I was encouraged by how her kids still struggle. And convicting to look at our own hearts honestly.
Four Stars: Chilling. Wanted to scream at Dorian to turn his life around. The mantras of Lord Henry terrified me with their occasional plausibility. The whole book is a vivid warning.
Five Stars: I love this book more each time I read it. As a teen, I adored Anne, as a parent, I relate to Marilla. You know you’ve found a gem of a book when you’ve loved it in every stage of life, and your grade school boys can’t get enough of Anne’s antics , while your husband gets choked up during the heartbreaking chapters. It’s just the most beautiful book. If you want to enlarge your soul, read this book.
Four and a Half Stars: What an incredible treat to get to sit in on a George Saunders class in book form. Makes me long to go back to school, wishing I could interact and discuss these short stories with other readers and writers. First of all, the seven actual short stories which are included in this book were sublime. All of them will linger with me, many for the rest of my life. Secondly, Saunders was an insightful and humble teacher. He clearly adores the craft and the consumption.
A couple things that would cause me to take away a half star if I could. He’s gratuitously crass at times. Not a fan. It doesn’t make me think you’re cool and relatable, it just detracts from it all.
I also disagreed with some of his interpretations, mostly of Tolstoy. So much so that, were I present in his class, shy introverted me would have wanted to raise my hand and explain what the scandalous grace of God has secured for believers and how that wraps up the ending of “Alyosha and the Pot” in an entirely different light than the two options he presented. Ah well, I’ll just talk my husband’s ear off about it instead.
Two Stars: Like a Chick Flick in book form, but with worse writing. I wanted to just enjoy the sweet plot, but the writing was so on the nose, explaining every little thing, stating the obvious rather silly. Honestly, I felt like it insulted my intelligence. Yes, I know that when the store door chimes that means a customer has entered. I don’t need that spelled out for me every. single. time.
Four Stars: As expected. Not its fault that it’s so popular and has become part of pop culture. Plenty to discuss about what each character represents. As a mother of boys, it was eerily accurate. Ha!
Chesterton certainly humbles me with his intellect, but is so approachable because of his humor. He can say something profound about the world, or simple crack me up in an essay about the contents of his pocket. Read 11 essays for the Literary Life Reading Challenge
Four Stars: Episodic. Many sweet or cute, then the occasional thriller! Slightly over the top. Made me nostalgic for an era I never had the chance to experience. Perfect summer book!
Three Stars: Not her best work. The mystery didn’t really grab me. Christie has written far more brilliant plots. The main character was fun, slightly annoying but forgivably so.
Five Stars: Excellent, convicting. Felt like the charge to the Ephesians in Revelation to remember your first love. While I didn’t agree with every application, this short book is definitely worth a yearly re-read, which is high praise when my TBR list is so long.
Four Stars: Not sure how much poetic license Gaiman took, but it was highly entertaining! Fun intro to Norse mythology.
Five Stars: Whether you don’t “get” art or you can’t get enough of it, this book will suck you in. Equal parts biographical, informational, and devotional. I wish this author could write a chapter about every work of art I’ve ever been curious about. And I found myself cheering his ideas regarding art and the way they inform our Christian/human experience.
Four Stars: Made refugee life approachable for my kids. Definitely helped them see how complicated it can be to want to belong in multiple cultures.
Four and a Half Stars: The perfect combo of philosophical and practical. At first I thought I knew the strategies in the book and already practiced them. But it soon became obvious there was a lot of room for improvement. I especially liked the section on avoiding pigeonholing kids and how to dig yourself out of those self fulfilling prophecies we saddle our kids with. I also saw glimmers of Charlotte Mason as they practically insisted that “children are born persons”. I believe speaking this way with my children will also equip them in communication in later relationships.
I knew I was “supposed” to read poetry to my kids, but I was so intimidated. Praise God that I “randomly stumbled” upon “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare as our very first poem. I was hooked. He does mildly spooky so darn well! Read 11 poems for a reading challenge.
Auden is often quoted, so I found it very exciting to read quotes I’ve heard through the years, actually in context. Read 11 poems for a reading challenge.
Four and a Half Stars: Pretty darn fun with themes that will make literature lovers swoon. The mystery had me flipping those pages long into the night. The characters were well drawn. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a modern novel this much.
Four and a Half Stars: Fantastic. Loved the themes, though found them painful as well. Picks at the terror a parent feels over how their kids will turn out. Some of the most well drawn characters ever. Long I will remember amiable Samuel, and twisted Cathy.
Three Stars: Easy short read. I don’t know, I think I just wasn’t at the right season of my life to get into this one. May try again some day.
Four Stars: Loved the movie as a kid, so this felt nostalgic. Solid. I enjoyed Sarah’s character, humble yet confident.
Three Stars: Didn’t grab me. Maybe I don’t like magic realism?
Four Stars: Always entertaining and good for a laugh!
Five Stars: I’m usually wary of Christian biographies. I often find these giants of the faith a discouragement when I compare them to my limping walk. I started this book with that attitude. Darlene does relate to God “more easily” than I do. And yet. When I finally took my jealous eyes off Darlene’s faith and instead looked at the incredible God we share… how could I not praise Him. Despite my poor initial attitude, this testimony of the Lord has changed how I relate to Him. What could be more worthy of my time?
Five Stars: Alright Tolstoy, you may have usurped Dostoyevsky in my heart. Maybe. I’ll let you both keep trying to woo me. 😉
I read this as a young adult who didn’t know how to read literature. It took me years and i barely followed the plot. Now, a decade later, I’ve grown. I was ready for Anna, and especially Levin. I was completely swept away and finished in three weeks, wishing for more.
Tolstoy has insight into humanity that seems supernatural. I find myself prone to melancholy, while still wrestling for joy. Tolstoy is a balm to my soul with out any insultingly glib answers.
Another reviewer brought me to tears and sums it up best. “In the end, this is a book about life, by a man who is profoundly in love with life. Reading it makes me want to live.”
Four Stars: Read with my kids. Such a brilliant way of showcasing how power and sin creep in and spoil everything.
Four and a Half Stars: Satisfying and unique love story. Kinda prefer it to Austen. There, I said it. Not as witty though!
Four Stars: Definitely engaging. My boys were all about it!!! Pretty intense with some gore. But the plot sucked us all in.
Five Stars: In 2022, I don’t know how anyone could deny that Lewis nailed our culture on the head! Helped me to understand and put words to a frantic drive I see in the world that will eventually end in us destroying our humanity. Prophetic feels like an accurate term.
Three Stars: Not our favorite. The writing felt a little immature. It was a unique look at Inuit life in Alaska in the mid twentieth century.
Three and a Half Stars: Incredible world building. Unique and immersive. The politics and prophecy was confusing to me and I guess I’m just not invested enough to continue the massive series. I’ll watch the movies and google how the plot continues.
Four Stars: As a Charlotte Mason fan, of course I’ll appreciate a parenting book that emphasizes habits! But these are habits and rhythms for the home. I also enjoyed it coming from a father’s perspective.
Four and a Half Stars: Delight and beauty. Such a happy, lovely book while still having something to say.
Four Stars: Accurate and and more sad than terrifying. Seems we’re pretty much here already. Plot was not as engaging as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.
Parents, volunteers and ministry leaders alike NEED to read this important and sadly needed book. It shows how vital vigilance is, as well as very practical steps to take. Super helpful for me as we revamped our children’s ministry at our church.
Four Stars: It’s hard to say what was so beautiful about this book without giving anything away! The characters and the heartache they go through is poignant and haunting.
Four Stars: So well written and easy to read for a play. The stage directions were so crystal clear and well written that it read like a novel and the action seemed to play out before my imagination. The story was compelling and has a lasting quality. Would love to see done live!
Four Stars: Enjoyable read, believable characters, fun setting. Predictable but still touching.
Four and a Half Stars: Really exceptionally helpful. I’m making it a must read for my boys when they’re teenagers. While not from a Christian perspective, it was full of kindness and grace, reminding the reader to play fair and lay down their selfishness. Definitely worth re-reading.
Four Stars: One of those train wrecks you can’t turn away from. This was my second read and it definitely helped to already know whos who and such. Plenty to discuss afterwards.
Five Stars: We are all obsessed with Tom over here. Hilarious and accurate. Convinced this was a precursor to Calvin and Hobbes. Nick Offerman’s audio performance really added to the hilarity!
Five Stars: Good stuff. So encouraging! I was fascinated as a mother to see how different dyslexics display strengths in different ways. My son doesn’t fit the stereotypical model, but definitely has many of the strengths discussed in this book. I plan to have him listen to the audio soon.
Three and a Half Stars: I enjoyed the break down of different triggers. Not everything is triggering for everyone. And just labeling myself as an angry person isn’t very helpful in fixing the problem. I also found encouragement from the prayers at the end of every chapter. I wasn’t a fan of how everything seemed to boil down to the parent being the problem. I mean, sometimes the kid is the issue too.
Four and a Half Stars: I went into this one blind. It wasn’t what I expected but I did thoroughly enjoy the tone and the romance. Lovely setting too, of course!
Five Stars: My favorite dystopian thus far. Maybe because I’m a book lover. The ending brought me to tears.
Four Stars: This book was REALLY hyped up by readers who first read it as teens. I think that would have made a difference for me. Still captivating characters and will lead to great discussions.
Five Stars: I feel like I finally got into the groove of Austen’s humor with this one. Laugh out loud funny. I still like Persuasion the best, but this story is iconic and the movies are pretty awesome too!
Four and a Half Stars: A fantastical trip for the imagination. I will admit to losing interest midway, but got sucked back in and found myself enthralled by the end.
Three Stars: I felt like the ideas in this book could have been boiled down to be more potent (irony?). I also struggled to apply the ideas to my homeschool mom existence as it seemed mostly geared towards the corporate world.
Four and a Half Stars: I was captivated by this tale as a kid and enjoyed get to share it with my boys. I forgot how tragic his life was.
Five Stars: One of my top books of the year! I love Greene and find his floundering, gritty faith relatable. This grace in this book choked me up. “Hatred is a failure of imagination.” I very well may tattoo this on my person.
Five Stars: Oh man. I knew I had an unhealthy dread of death. I was nervous to tackle this book for that reason. I should have known the Tolstoy would be a great choice to hold my hand through such a complicated human experience. Full of grace.
Five Stars: A multi-leveled book to be sure. The plot is fun and engaging, but the beautiful symbolism is where MacDonald really shines. Multiple times my husband and I would make a connection at the same time and just look over at each other with our mouths hanging open. Gives images to the faith and life we live out.
Four Stars: The Clarksons are definitely parents to model yourselves after. This book gave me an insight into the planning and teamwork behind how they designed their lives.
Four and a Half Stars: Classic for a reason. Hard not to love Cassie and her family, bound and determined to live and thrive in the south in the 30s.
Five Stars: Probably my favorite book of the year. I didn’t know what to expect but when he started off with a Dostoevsky quote and some potty humor, I was hooked. I listened to Daniel read his book on the audio and I believe that added a lot to my enamorment. The Persian culture is just so captivating, and I loved seeing it through his eyes as he desperately tried to explain it to some midwestern kids in the nineties. His family was painfully real and believably heroic. I laughed and cried and cried some more. This book made me love life more.
Five Stars: This is a balm for the soul. My mom kept asking/pestering me to read this. Such a beautiful walk through the truths of scripture and how Christ views us. He is FOR us, to the point of death and beyond. This book revealed a lot of subtle untruths I had been buying into that were distancing me from Christ. This is a must read. And I don’t say that often.
Four Stars: This is one of those books I know deserves a re-read. The first time, I mostly read for the plot. But this book clearly has more insight to offer than just a clever plot. Will be coming back!
Three Stars: My kids loved this, I however got bored after a while. I think if it had pared down a bit, I would have enjoyed it much more. Fun premise!
Five Stars: Weird in all the right ways. If it were longer, I might has floundered, but this book came to me at the right time and I devoured it in one day. Southern writers know how bring the absurdity of humanity to life.
Four Stars: Found it so encouraging to hear that when most people responded to WWI with despair, there was an alternative. From their gritty hope came some of the world’s favorite literary dramas like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia series.
Four Stars: Really fun twist on a mystery novel. The book within a book was brilliant. I must say, I prefered the “pretend” book, more than the actual plot. Will probably read more in the series.
Four Stars: Read this at a time when a lot of my major responsibilities suddenly ceased. I found myself with time, and the temptation is always to fill it up quickly. I’m so glad I read this then and have been able to guard my limits this past year. So good and relieving the guilt we and our culture place on us.
Four Stars: What a role model! Malala was already a world changer before the fateful assault on her occured. I learned more about Pakistani history and culture. Also enjoyed seeing a non-western perspective on the US role in the area.
Five Stars: One of the top Christie books in my opinion. The settle was so exotic, the characters had more depth that most of her other books. I DID call the killer ahead of time, but couldn’t figure out the method. As usual, the book was better than the movie. (Though the movie sure looked stunning!)
Four Stars: I only read “The Gambler” but it was enjoyable. Knowing Dostoevsky wrote this under a deadline and extreme duress to settle a debt he gained because of his gambling habits made this quite the psychological study.
Four Stars: The more mature and thought provoking partner to Tom Sawyer. Twain is the master weaver, making us laugh till our sides hurt, yet after the laughter has faded, our thoughts keep turning over questions raised. The language is painful. I understand why it’s there but it smarts. Could work as a read aloud if you skip those words.
Whew, you made it through my longest post ever by far! What great books did you read this year? Recommend some to me in the comments!