Yesterday I shared a list of the books I read this year. Now I want to highlight my favorites from that list. Only a few were actually published in 2018, but all but one were new to me.
It’s hard to choose! Some had great subjects, great characters, great plots, or great writing. These are the ones that resonated with me the most.
In no particular order, here are my favorite books read this year:
Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley. Many people are confused about what exactly a conscience is, and what’s for, and how it works. This book was highly helpful, readable, practical, and informative. One quote: “Feeding excuses to your conscience is like feeding sleeping pills to a watchdog” (p. 64).
Trust: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback is a treasure of short but purposeful chapters. “Out of his love for you, he is well able to prevent the thing you are so afraid of, and out of that same love he might allow it. Either way, whatever happens, he only allows what is going to work for your eternal happiness and blessing and his glory” (p. 26).
The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner. Vaneetha is one of those people, like Job or Joni Eareckson Tada, about whom you wonder, “How much more can they take?” She was once bitter toward God for what He allowed. But once she realized He had a purpose in everything and trials were His tools, she began to view them in a different light. “I’ve often been devastated when he tells me no, but as I submit to his will in those situations—even with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials. The Father said no to the Son [in Gethsemane]. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history. God is not capricious. If he says no to our requests, he has a reason—perhaps ten thousand. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us” (emphasis mine).
A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch. Though I wish this had been laid out like the author’s Running Scared (one of my favorite books of 2015), it’s packed full of great and convicting content. “Jesus…enlarged the boundary of murder so that it includes all kinds of anger. In order to do this, He links them at the level of the heart, where they share the same lineage of selfish desire. We want something–peace, money, respect–and we aren’t getting it. The only difference is in our choice of weapons” (p. 18).
Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin was a reread for me, but it’s still my favorite book of its kind.
He Fell in Love With His Wife by Edward Payson Roe. This 1886 novel is not the first or last about a marriage of convenience in which the participants actually do fall in love with each other, but it’s full of humor, warmth, and pathos. I loved the characters and the story and bought more of Roe’s books after reading this one.
The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. An 1894 classic Christmas story that I think could rival Dickens’ Christmas Carol.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I’ve heard for years how good this is, but I just got to it this year. And it’s every bit as good as I’ve heard. An author discovers that the island of Guernsey was occupied by Germans during WWII. A group of neighbors there invented a literary society first as a cover for getting together to eat a pig which was supposed to have been given to the Germans. Then they had to continue meeting to keep up the ruse. In the meantime, they got to know each other. The author comes to visit them and learn more about their stories. (The movie is wonderful. too!)
My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay. This is another that was well-spoken of a few years ago, but I just got to it in time for its re-release this year. A group of teens on a backpacking mission trip to Indonesia is stranded when fighting unexpectedly breaks out and their hosts are killed. The kids have to hike through the jungle, facing all kinds of dangers, pushing themselves beyond their limits, struggling with their faith.
Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly. Set in the Depression, a family without resources whose one hope falls through finds an abandoned house. They ask the owner, an elderly woman who could no longer live there alone, if they could live in the home in exchange for fixing it up. In time they offer for her to come back to the home as well, eventually forming a new family. There are many great layers to this one: the father and husband earning back his self-respect, his wife learning to forgive, neighbors helping even when they don’t have much to give. I loved the way the author got me into the characters’ heads and got them into my heart.
Fly Away by Lynn Austin. An uptight, introverted Christian professor retired against her will is resentful and depressed and doesn’t know what to do with herself. A laid-back, gregarious atheist grandfather pilot finds he has cancer, and plans to “take off and forget to land” rather than put his family through his slow, painful demise. When they meet, sparks fly. But when she learns his situation, she knows she needs to tell him about the Lord. Her various attempts, first to find someone else to do it, then trying and failing to give him a tract, are comical but sad. I loved the journey on both sides.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is based on true circumstances. In the first half of the twentieth century, Georgia Tann operated a children’s home by stealing poor children and brokering adoptions for a price – effectively selling children. This story involves one family’s being torn apart, scattered, and trying to find each other again. Some commented on my review that the book sounded too sad to read, especially when one gets emotionally invested in characters. But it ends in a good place. And, sadly, human trafficking still goes on today, and we need to be aware of it. Besides being a riveting story, the writing is gorgeous.
It took a lot of thought to reduce my favorites to the top twelve above. But there were so many good books I read this year, I can’t help including a few more “honorable mentions”:
- Adam Bede by George Eliot didn’t sound like something I’d be interested in with its love triangle. But I loved Eliot’s other books so much, I gave this one a chance – and I am glad I did. I love the way Eliot gets us into her characters’ heads.
- Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano. True story of a man who went from a conscientious objector due to his faith to winning the Medal of Honor for capturing 132 Germans in WWI. Fascinating story, both for his personal growth, the incident in the Argonne, and his life afterward.
- Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. The author got in the way of his story a bit, but otherwise this was a great biography of Wilberforce.
- Come Back, Barbara by C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani. Father and daughter tell her prodigal story. Probably most valuable for what he learned about his own mistakes and limitations.
- Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped in His Own Body by Martin Pistorius. Hard to read in places, but an amazing story.
- The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron. I love that Kristy tackles subjects no one else in Christian fiction does.
- The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron covers three different timelines, all connected to a castle in France.
- The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser. A maid with a knack for clothing design leaves her employer during a visit to America to try to make her own way.
What were some of your favorite reads this year?