Interestingly enough, I read 20 books in 2020. :) My job called for me to read a handful of business and leadership books, and I enjoyed the insights from them as I try to do the best I can in my position at work. But I also chose to read/listen to more fiction this year as a way to bring some fun into my reading time and my commute to work.
This is my yearly nerdy exercise of sharing my thoughts about books. The books are listed in the order that I read them.
1. Find Your Way: Unleash Your Power and Highest Potential by Carly Fiorina I think Carly Fiorina is worth learning from because she embodies many admirable traits. When I think of her, I think of integrity, strength, courage, realistic yet positive, firm yet kind. From what I know of her, she is a wonderful example of a woman leader. In this book, she shares a few stories of failures she experienced and how she saw them as opportunities to go a new direction. If you have followed her leadership and career at all, then I think you would enjoy this book.
2. Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman I believe I’m going to look back in 10 years and say that reading this book and beginning the Entrepreneurial Operating System with our EOS implementer, Dale Cooper, was the best thing we could do for the leadership of the Hope Center (where I work). We have been following the EOS process for about 18 months now, and I’m a firm believer that it can help any organization grow and be more efficient. (Having your executive team meet quarterly with an EOS implementer is key to making it work.)
3. Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison I listened to a few podcast interviews with Latasha Morrison, which prompted me to order her book and check out her website. I listened to this on audio, and I’m ready to listen to it again. I love her Biblical view on racial reconciliation and want to keep learning from her and the resources she recommends!
4. In Pursuit of Love: One Woman’s Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant by Rebecca Bender If you have an interest in learning about sex trafficking in America, you need to read this book. This is Rebecca’s story of getting trafficked when her boyfriend convinced her to move to Las Vegas with him. What struck me most about her story was how close she was with the other women that were being trafficked by her pimp. They called themselves sisters, and it was beautiful to me to see how they continued their sisterly relationship after they got out of the situation. It was a privilege to learn from Rebecca of all the different aspects of her life and her experience of being trafficked. This book has a happier ending (Rebecca got married to a great guy and is doing great today—leading her own nonprofit!) than most memoirs about trafficking. She is very discreet in how she describes things, so I highly recommend it for those who are just beginning to read stories about trafficking.
5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni For anyone who is leading a team at work, I highly recommend this book! It’s not a boring business book. It’s written in a fun way to help you learn how to be better at leading a team.
6. Unwilling to Concede: Discovering God’s Redeeming Commitment in a Broken World by Brad Stanley I was able to meet this author at Brandywine Community Church when he and his wife came to speak at a missions banquet. Brad has been a ministry leader for YWAM in Chicago for several years. He wrote this book after his first wife passed away of cancer in 2003. This is the deep work of someone wrestling to find the will to live and serve Jesus after tragedy. I started reading this book in November 2019 (only 5 months after my brother’s death) when I traveled with my sister-in-law Stephanie to Tijuana and San Diego. It took me a few months to get through this because of the depth, but it was a great theological read that comforted me. I underlined a lot of things that helped me in grieving.
7. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton Wow, this book was incredible. This is the memoir of a man who was wrongly accused of murder. He was innocent, but he spent 30 years on death row before attorney Bryan Stevenson appealed his case. (Check out more of his story: https://eji.org/cases/anthony-ray-hinton/). A few of the details of this story that I won’t forget:
9. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover Lots of people told me to read this book, and as I read the description, it just didn’t grab my attention, so I didn’t read it for awhile. I’m not sure what eventually prompted me to go ahead and read it, but I am so glad that I did. So many times during this book, as I read descriptions of things her extremist Mormon, bipolar father said and did, I think my jaw hung open as I thought, “Are you kidding me?” There is so much on the internet about this book and Tara Westover (all her awards are well deserved!) that I would recommend you check it out yourself. Tara never went to school as a child, but she found a way to get into college, and she went on to earn her PhD from Cambridge University. If you like memoirs, you have to read this book.
10. Rocketfuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters This book shows how a visionary leader and integrator can work together well to lead an organization. Every great organization needs a visionary, and every visionary needs an integrator. :)
11. Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera I just love this title. Isn’t it beautiful? This historical novel was not the most gripping of the ones that I read this year, but I did enjoy it and would recommend it if you like fictional stories set after the Civil War in the South. It centered around 3 women from different socioeconomic classes and their relationships with their daughters. I was not expecting the ending, but I decided that I loved it.
12. Kingdom Woman by Tony Evans & Chrystal Hurst If you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to put it on your list to read! Dr. Evans writes, “A kingdom woman may be defined as ‘a woman who positions herself under and operates according to the rule of God over every area of her life.’” I underlined a lot of things in this book and will be referring back to it for years to come! Dr. Evans preaches a message called “The Value of a Kingdom Woman” that is posted to his youtube channel. Even if you don’t want to read the book, check the video out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy70aAmYSaU
13. The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment by Karyn Purvis, PhD, and Lisa Qualls Lisa Qualls is a treasure. I love her blog and her podcast, and I value the wisdom she shares about being an adoptive mom. And anyone who knows of Dr. Karyn Purvis knows that she is a treasure too. If you have any friends who are adoptive or foster parents, buy this book for them. Then go watch their child or clean their house while they go to a coffee shop to read it.
14. A Woman Is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum I give this book 5 stars. I didn’t want to stop reading because of the tension and the mystery of the plot. The ending was incredible because 1) I didn’t see it coming, and 2) I still really liked the ending even though it’s not what I would have originally hoped for. I loved learning the family culture of a Palestinian family who immigrated to Brooklyn. I loved the main characters and at some points just wanted to help them somehow or at least give them a hug.
15. Defying Jihad: The Dramatic True Story of a Woman Who Volunteered to Killed Infidels—and Then Faced Death for Becoming One by Esther Ahmad with Craig Borlese A friend gave me this book for Christmas, and I have to say that it truly was inspirational for my faith. To see the way she craved God’s Word and risked her life to study it spurred me to value it even more. I loved hearing how God worked in her life, answered her prayers, and gave her boldness to follow Christ even when it meant that her own father was trying to kill her for it. I guarantee this book will inspire you.
16. 1 Peter: A Living Hope in Christ by Jen Wilkin This might have been the most important book I bought last year! It’s a bible study on the book of 1 Peter. I liked it so much that I ordered more bible studies by this author. This bible study focused a lot of following the example Christ set while he was being persecuted. This was a very timely word for me, and it help me through many challenges.
17. The Giver of the Stars: A Novel by Jojo Moyes Jojo Moyes—that girl can write. All of her novels suck you in and make you want to keep reading. (Sometimes I choose to stop reading some of her novels because I can tell that they are going to end up being rated R. But this novel is NOT rated R, and it’s a fun read.) This book was actually set in southeastern Kentucky in 1930s. I love that fact because my paternal grandparents would have been growing up in that exact region of Kentucky during that time period! :) It’s about a young woman from England who marries an American man, but when she moves back to live with him, she feels unloved by her inattentive husband and alone in a town of strangers. She has the opportunity to join with a few other women in her town to deliver library books by horseback in the mountains. In the midst of all this, there is an unsolved murder. I ordered it because it was on Holly Furtick’s book club. And I loved it!
18. The Husband’s Secret: A Novel by Liane Moriarty This is the third novel that I have read by Australian author Liane Moriarty, and I will continue to read her other novels because I love the way that she weaves storylines together. (Also, I’ve never read other books that took place in Australia, so I like learning about Australian culture.) This novel follows the lives of 3 women. One of the women is Rachel, a school secretary near retirement who is living with the grief of her daughter’s murder 20 years earlier. Rachel's storyline was probably the most impactful to me because of my experience of grieving for my brother.
19. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni I listened to this book in my car. Patrick Lencioni is a great leader to listen to. I certainly recommend this book to anyone in a leadership position in their job. Using real stories from his experiences of acting as a consultant with multiple companies, Patrick describes what organizational health should look like and how it matters because it affects everything the company does.
20. Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward This book includes a lot of tragedy, and it isn’t normally something that I would want to dive into. I intentionally chose this book to read so that I could learn from the life story of a woman of color. I realized that for the most part, I read a lot of books that are written by authors who look like me and/or come from a similar background as me. So I wanted to try to listen and learn from someone like Jesmyn Ward who grew up poor and black in the South. I also decided on this book because it was set near New Orleans. I visited New Orleans with Gabby and Anna in 2017, and I absolutely loved the history of that city and want to go back sometime. I connect with her story because Jesmyn’s younger brother died, and she is trying to process her grief along with her sisters and parents.
I first want to say that Jesmyn Ward is a brilliant writer who has a beautiful, thoughtful way with words. She is the author of several novels, and I have no doubt that her other books also demonstrate how gifted she is as a writer. In this book—her memoir—she writes about her childhood of growing up in a low-income, black family in Mississippi. Her stories of observing her parents’ hard work, discouragement, divorce, and desires for their children were impactful. I liked how she included sociological facts about that area in Mississippi with her stories. She also writes specifically about 5 young men in her family or close circle of friends who have all died while she was in her twenties. Her brother was killed by a drunk driver, one friend overdosed, her sister’s boyfriend was in a car that was hit by a train, and another friend committed suicide. All of these young men (boys, really…only in their late teens or early twenties) meant so much to their loved ones. Yet this reality of tragedy after tragedy is far too common for those living in impoverished areas with broken families. She wrote about her experiences with each of these young men, about the moments that she heard the news of each of their deaths, about some of their funerals, about how she tried to cope afterwards. One story she told brought me to tears. At one of the funerals, she walked up to the sister of the young man who died. Jesmyn hugged her tightly because she had already lost her own brother. Jesmyn told this girl: “You will always be his sister.” And that still makes me want to cry because it’s what my heart feels too after losing my brother.
Here is the list of books I read in 2019. I had started this list of descriptions and had almost completed it by Jan. 1 when I had originally planned to post it. But then I just couldn’t—sometimes when you’re grieving, everything else seems meaningless. It felt inauthentic to post something that didn’t relate to David and my experience of grieving for him during this time.
Even as I was writing the descriptions in this list, it became emotional for me because I see them as two different groups: 1) the books I read before David died, and 2) the books I read after David died. There are a few books on this list that I was in the middle of reading during the days right before his death, and it was a long time before I could pick them up again because they remind me that I had no idea that I was about to lose my brother. In one of them I even found a prayer that I had written for his surgery days before he went into the hospital, and it’s still just really hard.
But this week I decided that I did want to go ahead and post this because each of these books have been a gift of encouragement and/or enlightenment to me. I want to remember that God gave me these books in this season, and I want to share them with others so they can decide if they want to read them too.
Earlier this year I decided to subscribe to the Audible app, which means that I can choose one new audio book to download each month. For me, this has been a great fit because I drive so much, and I like to listen to books in the car. I have found that I don’t like listening to research type of books because they lose my attention if I’m not looking at the words. But I especially love listening to memoirs that are narrated by the author (instead of another person) because when I hear the author’s voice reading the words, it seems more heartfelt. I have marked which books I listened to on Audible.
1. Faith, Hope, & Connection: A 30-Day Devotional for Adoptive & Foster Parents by Melissa Corkum & Lisa Qualls
I loved this little book. Each day’s devotional is written by a different adoptive or foster parent. They share verses that have meant a lot to them in their adoptive/fostering journey. It was really encouraging to me, so I ordered it to give to a few friends who are adoptive & foster parents.
2. Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel by Drew Hill
I want to buy this for all my friends who are teachers in middle schools and high schools. Technically, it’s written for parents and youth pastors of teenagers. This was good for me to read when I felt frustrated as a parent! I liked the prayers at the end of each chapter.
3. Remember God by Annie Downs (AUDIO)
I’ve followed this author for several years, and it was good to hear the life lessons she shares in this book. It’s a memoir, but it held my attention like a novel. Among a lot of other things like work and losses, Annie discusses singleness in her late thirties.
4. Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry (AUDIO)
This author fascinates me. I think I listened to this all in one weekend because I kept wanting to hear more. This is her personal story of coming to know Jesus and trusting Him with every aspect of her life. I encourage everyone to hear her story. And if you’re on Instagram, you should follow her because her videos of her husband and daughters are hilarious.
5. Psalms of Ascents by Beth Moore
I love the book of Psalms, and this Bible study focuses on Psalms 120-135. Beth Moore describes how the Israelites would sing these psalms together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year. I loved the history and studying the meaning of each psalm.
6. Where the River Ends by Charles Martin
I want to read more by this author. This book is fiction, and he has published a lot of fictional books. This was not suspenseful, but it was very good.
7. Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy by Lisa Harper
This is an easy read for a bible study on the book of Job. It meant a lot to me as I studied it in my time of grief this summer.
8. The Book of Comforts by Faires, Faires, Wenet, and Wilder
My friend gave me this book after my brother’s death. It is a beautiful devotional book. I sat on my porch a lot this summer, reading the short stories. It’s not specifically for grieving deaths—although there are stories of people grieving—but it’s also about finding comfort in God through the various hard disappointments and losses in life. It’s a great gift for someone who is going through a difficult season.
9. Psalm 23: The Shepherd with Me by Jennifer Rothschild
I’m so thankful for this book. After my brother died, I felt God drawing me in to learn more deeply about Him in Psalm 23. God was stirring this in my heart, and I watched a video study on RightNow Media on Psalm 23 by Matt Chandler. Then I heard about Jennifer Rothschild’s book on Psalm 23 and decided to order it. I loved it. I worked through the lessons slowly because I didn’t want it to end.
10. The Complicated Heart: Loving Even When It Hurts by Sarah Mae (AUDIO)
This is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching, but redemptive and hopeful story of Sarah Mae’s relationship with her alcoholic mother. She describes her experiences as a teenager living with her mother and how her mother’s alcoholism hindered her mother’s ability to parent and nurture her. Sarah explores how living with the pain of her “mother wound” affected her in her adulthood and how she sought healing from it. At the end of each chapter, Sarah includes portions of her mother’s journals to show a window into her mother’s pain and perspective. Sarah’s mother passed away in 2016, and she shares how God helped bring restoration to their relationship in their last years together.
This book contains some of the tragic realities of their life. Sarah Mae does a good job of handling these parts of the story sensitively.
11. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (AUDIO)
I was hooked on this book. It’s the true story of a young attorney who decides to represent prisoners on death row who have been convicted unjustly. There is a movie coming out on this book, and there is no way the movie will be as good as the book. This would be a perfect book for a book club because it made me want to talk to everyone about the stories in this book!
12. The Bible Experience: A Dramatic Audio Bible Performed by 400 of Today’s Biggest Stars (AUDIO)
I know there are a lot of great ways to listen to the Bible, and this might not be the easiest way because the individual books are not clearly marked. But I do enjoy this version!
13. Start with Amen: How I Learned to Surrender by Keeping the End in Mind by Beth Guckenberger
I heard Beth speak at a conference I went to in March. She and her husband founded Back to Back Ministries, which ministers to orphans in several countries. Between biological, foster, and adopted children, they have raised 10 kids. I loved listening to her and was eager to begin reading her books. I really enjoyed this book, which shared her journey of faith in parenting and ministry in Mexico. I have to say that I almost love hearing her speak even better and would recommend listening to a few of her messages on youtube:
14. Grief Share: Your Journey from Mourning to Joy
My family and I have together gone through the workbook and video series of Grief Share. It as been a helpful tool in giving us understanding of the complex emotions we feel in losing David. It was important for us to talk about these things together, and I'm so glad we have had this resource.
15. Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need by David Platt (AUDIO)
In this book, David Platt tells about his trip to villages in the Himalayan Mountains. I have never studied this region or heard firsthand accounts of conditions from this area, so I was really intrigued to hear the details of his trip. He was very moved and overwhelmed by all the urgent physical and spiritual needs. He is honest with the despair he felt in witnessing this, but he also shares how he plans to respond.
Mary is the Associate Director at Hope Center Indy.. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.