I read 7 novels and 18 nonfiction books this year.
My top 3 fiction recommendations for this year…
It’s harder to choose my top recommendations for nonfiction books because you will want to choose what you’re looking for. I share below how I was impacted by certain books and what I learned from them. Hopefully, my descriptions will give you ideas of books that might interest you!
1. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa Terkeurst
I have seen Lysa Terkeurst speak and have listened to her share in videos and podcasts for several years. I think this is the 4th book that I have read by her. I always enjoy hearing her heart. She shares many nuggets of important wisdom about forgiveness, healing, and wrestling with God through hard situations.
2. Haven Point: A Novel by Virginia Hume
I really liked this novel! Something about it was really warm and rich to me. The main characters are a lady and her granddaughter. The story of the grandmother starts when she is in her early twenties and working in a hospital during WWII. Then the story goes back and forth between their perspectives over several decades. The grandmother sometimes steps in to help raise her granddaughter because her daughter struggles with addiction. The grandmother wrestles with seeing her daughter in that state, and the granddaughter processes things with her mom as she grows up. But the story is about so much more than having a loved one with addiction. It’s about a community of women and how their friendships show up for each other in different cultures through the different decades. If you like stories about family dynamics and women finding their strength through life’s challenges, you will enjoy this too. This story exceeded my expectations, and I find myself recommending it to others who are willing to invest in a longer read that shows the characters’ growth over time.
3. Do Not Fear: A Biblical Study on Responding to God’s Faithfulness by She Reads Truth
The workbooks by She Reads Truth are a little expensive, but I love the way they bring the themes of Scripture together. I enjoyed this one. The main point of the whole book was that when we trust in God’s faithfulness, we won’t stay in fear.
4. Keep the Doors Open: Lessons Learned from a Year of Foster Parenting by Kristin Berry
I have listened to Kristin Berry speak about foster and adoptive parenting on several podcast episodes and have seen her speak at a conference once as well. This was the second book I’ve read by her, and it was a really good memoir about one particular year in their family’s foster parenting journey. There are a few stories from her book that will stick in my memory because they were so meaningful and/or challenging. I recommend it for other foster parents and anyone who is interested in getting a glimpse into real situations.
5. The Good Sister: A Novel by Sally Hepworth
Oh, goodness, I really enjoyed this novel. I didn’t have any expectations going into it, but even so, this novel kept surprising me. I think I laughed out loud at this book more than any other book I read this year. And you wouldn’t think I would be laughing so much at a book that involves murder, but it has a lot of funny moments. Two twin sisters are the main characters. I really enjoyed the character of the sister named Fern, who is on the autism spectrum and works at a library. As this novel was characterized as a psychological thriller, it was different than most other books I read, and I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot.
6. God Covenant: A Study of Genesis 12-50 by Jen Wilkin
I really enjoy all bible studies by Jen Wilkin. I was able to do this study with two friends for a bi-weekly bible study at my house. We rented access to the accompanying teaching videos, and we learned a lot together. If you want to do an in-depth bible study, I recommend any of the studies by Jen Wilkin.
7. We Died Before We Came Here: A True Story of Sacrifice and Hope by Emily Foreman
This book was really inspiring to me. I actually met the author 3 years ago, and she handed me her book. The story involves her husband’s death on the mission field, so I wasn’t sure if I was up to reading it at the time (when the grief from my brother’s death was so raw). But I picked the book up this year and really appreciated this story of faith. I almost always like missionary stories—learning about another country’s culture, hearing about the person’s decision to leave everything behind and go to a new place, the challenges they face in adapting, etc. I liked the descriptions of the stories in this book as well. Very thankful I had the opportunity to read it. I recommend it for anyone looking for a true story about missions and/or stepping out in faith and trusting God even through tragedy.
8. The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
I have heard so many people say this novel is their all-time favorite book. And I want to know how this is so many people’s favorite book!! It’s an incredible story, but it is so tragic that it really took a toll on my emotions. The story is about two sisters who are living (in separate situations) through WWII in Nazi-occupied France. I’ve read several WWII novels in my life, but this one affected me most deeply. I’m not sure if it was just my emotional health at the time I was reading this and probably because I have recently experienced the loss of my brother, but I cried hard at several points in the book, especially when there was so much death. Here’s what I texted my friend who read it a few weeks after I did: “They experienced trauma after trauma, blow after blow, each time not knowing how they would have the will to live…let alone how their whole community would be able to try to recover. I absolutely loved the growth we saw in these two sisters’ relationship. I loved that it showed the ‘women’s side of war.’ I loved that the two personalities were so different, but they each showed tremendous courage and perseverance in their own way.” If you like WWII novels, and you’re okay with crying a bit, then I definitely recommend this novel because the story is written so well. But I will never say it’s my favorite book of all time!
9. Who Do I Think I Am? by Anjelah Johnson-Reyes
After reading a tragic novel, I wanted to read a light, funny book. So I started this memoir by Anjelah Johnson, who is a comedian. It was okay, but I’ve found that often comedians’ memoirs are just them retelling some of their favorite stories.
10. Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, & the Church That Transforms by Jim Wilder
I’m not sure how I got this theological book, but I kept reading it because of how it explored the idea of attachment in our Father-child relationship with God. I have been exploring this concept for awhile because of my experience as an adoptive mom. One day I’ll write some thoughts about this topic and probably quote this book. (This topic is also addressed in Ann Voskamp’s book Waymaker.)
11. Throw the First Punch: Defeating the Enemy Hell-Bent on Your Destruction by Beth Guckenberger
I read this book in about 5 days when I was visiting my sister Shari’s family in Missouri. It was the perfect book to take on that trip. It has short chapters that start with a Bible verse and end with some reflection questions. I love that each of her chapters start with “Satan wants me … God wants me…” For example:
12. Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry and into the Arms of the Savior by Annie Lobert
I heard Annie Lobert speak on a simulcast in January, and afterwards, I researched her ministry, Hookers for Jesus (https://hookersforjesus.net) in Las Vegas. When I saw she had written a memoir, I knew I wanted to read (listen to) it. This is a well-written, intense but also beautiful memoir that shares Annie’s journey of being trafficked and of coming to faith in Jesus. For anyone who is interested in reading memoirs by trafficking survivors, this is one that I will recommend!
13. At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor by Carey Nieuwhof
I was first introduced to Carey Nieuwhof when I went to the Orange Conference probably in 2012. He now has a leadership podcast that I listen to on occasion. I think I read this book in 2 or 3 settings. It was a very easy read and shares a practical concept of how to best utilize your time and energy in a day.
14. The Girl with the Louding Voice: A Novel by Abi Dare
Wow, this book was very impactful. The story is set in Nigeria with a young girl whose mother has died, and now she is being forced to marry an old man even though she is a young teenager. The first half of the story is intense and at times was hard for me to listen to (the audiobook) because of the many traumatic and unjust things she experienced. But I continued reading this story because I loved the main character and was rooting for her to overcome her circumstances and try to get a scholarship to go off to school. I also continued reading because the first-person narrator voice and dialogue style were really cool to me. I loved the facts about Nigeria that I learned with each chapter, and I loved that there was a good ending. While this was not an easy-breezy book to read, I will be recommending it to others because it’s an important story. Of all the fictional books I read this year, I am most glad that I read this one.
15. Waymaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of by Ann Voskamp
I am sure that I would enjoy being friends with this author, Ann Voskamp. But since I will probably never meet her, I’m going to admit that her writing is often too flowery and too slow for me. (Everyone has different styles and preferences, and that’s fine. Tons of people love reading books by Ann Voskamp—I just haven’t been one of them.) However, I heard Ann Voskamp speak on a podcast about this new book, and as she spoke of exploring attachment with God, I knew I wanted to read more. Ann and her husband recently adopted a daughter internationally. Ann also had some marital struggles during this season. She spoke about both of these experiences and how her experience of forming a bond of attachment with her adopted daughter and her experience of reforming a close bond with her husband taught her about her relationship with God. Because I am also an adoptive mom, I have thought so often about what I have learned in taking years of building the bonds of attachment with my daughters in our parent-child relationship and how that relates to my relationship with God—how God adopted me as His daughter. So this aspect of her book did not disappoint me. In fact, I listened to the audiobook, and I want to order the paperback so I can underline things and probably quote a few of her statements in the future. Ann is, as always, very authentic and humble in sharing the faith lessons she has learned.
16. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
This was the fourth novel that I’ve read by Liane Moriarty, and I’m sorry to say that it was my least favorite. However, it was still interesting (Liane Moriarty is a great fiction writer!). Even though it was a long novel, I still wanted to keep reading to see how it ended. Two of the main characters were a married couple in their sixties. The woman goes missing, and throughout the book, you’re trying to figure out whether she is still alive, if the husband killed her, where did she go, etc. The book follows each of their adult children as they process what has happened with their parents and all the family dynamics. One evening when I was close to finishing this book, I was telling my parents and sisters about it, and they were also very interested to know what happened. So after I finished the book a few days later, they wanted me to tell them how it concluded. :)
(Just FYI, my favorite novel by her is What Alice Forgot. Another great one is Big Little Lies—the book, not the TV series.)
17. I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals
This memoir popped up as a free book for me in my Audible app. I’m so thankful it did! What a gem! Melba was a teenager who was one of the “Little Rock Nine,” who were the nine African American students who were the first to integrate into Little Rock Central High School in 1957. I was sickened and angered by the racism of those who violently opposed this integration—some who tried to harm and even kill the students, and others who did their best to make life miserable for those students. My heart ached for these young high school students who endured the hatred, violence, and pressure of that situation. But wow, am I proud of Melba’s strength and faith in God (that she learned from her grandma!) for persevering through it. I loved hearing Melba’s story that continued into her adult life and how she even went to the White House in 1999 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for her bravery.
18. The Rock, The Road, and The Rabbi: My Journey into the Heart of Scriptural Faith and the Land Where It All Began by Rabbi Jason Sobel and Kathie Lee Gifford
A friend recommended this book to me. Because I visited Israel in 2009, I wanted to read this to remind me of the historical sites in Israel and their biblical significance. I loved the insights from Rabbi Sobel, as many of the things he shared gave me a deeper meaning to some common bible stories. If you have any interest in visiting Israel—or if you have been before and you want to relive your trip—I think you will enjoy this book.
19. Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel by Bonnie Garmus
Wow, super intriguing read that engages your interest the whole time. This would be a great novel to have a book club discussion about, particularly about the way women have been viewed and treated in the workplace since the 1960s. (Invite me if you’re doing this book club!) I absolutely loved the main character—Elizabeth Zott—because she is so unique, intelligent, and devoted to what she has declared as her values. I loved how the author decided to have a dog be one of the main characters. The author lets us “hear” what the dog is thinking, and that was very endearing. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the novel.
It’s a very cool story, and it seems unique from other novels I’ve read. But I will say that my heart often felt grieved as I read it because of how Christians are portrayed in this novel. A major theme in this book is that the main character is an atheist, and it seemed to me all Christians in this book are shown as deceptive, greedy, womanizers, etc. (It’s been a few months since I’ve read it, but I believe that’s what I remember.) I know that unfortunately, many Christians are this way, so it just really grieved my heart that this is what some people have experienced and know of Jesus. (If you have read it and felt differently, please share your perspective with me. I may listen to this audiobook again and see how I feel during the second read.)
20. You’ve Been Chosen: Thriving Through the Unexpected by Cynt Marshall
I listened to two podcast interviews with Cynt Marshall, and I was inspired by her resilient, hopeful attitude and strong faith through various losses and challenges. Cynt is now the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, which I think is awesome. I decided to read her book because I wanted her attitude to rub off on me. :) I enjoyed her “overcomer" stories through difficult challenges of her father’s physical abuse during her childhood, the grief of 10 years of infertility and infant loss, the adoptions of 4 children, and beating colon cancer. (The book focused a lot on her cancer journey.) I also liked hearing about her career and her views on leadership.
21. Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family Through Foster Care by Tori Hope Petersen
I heard Tori speak in a podcast interview. As someone who spent several years in the foster care system, she shares her experiences of what it felt like to be separated from her sister, moved to different foster homes, and having to abide by all the foster care rules as a teenager. She shared about her biological mom, who is a survivor of sex trafficking. One cool part of the story is when as a teenager living in a group home, she was in group therapy with other teenage girls, and hearing their stories made her have more empathy and respect for her mom. Also, I liked reading about Tori’s success as an athlete in track.
22. What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry
I liked this book. The scientific and psychological explanations of the effects of trauma were shared in understandable ways. With Oprah Winfrey sharing her personal stories and observations alongside Dr. Perry’s more scientific approach, it is a very readable book. (I didn’t know very much about Oprah before reading this book, but I enjoyed hearing her sections in this book.) If you want to learn more about the effects of trauma and the hope of how to heal from trauma, I encourage you to read this book. I specifically loved all the examples Dr. Perry shared that emphasized how healing comes through connection. This is something that I believe very strongly.
23. Jude: Contending for the Faith in Today’s Culture by Jackie Hill Perry
I had never done a study on Jude before. I’m glad this workbook gave me a chance to study it in depth!
24. The Last Thing He Told Me: A Novel by Laura Dave
I don't read very many mystery novels, so I enjoyed this as something I don't do very often. This novel isn't very long, and it kept my interest. It was a good amount of suspense, but it didn't stress me out. I felt like I really wanted to get to the end to see what happened. I loved how the main character struggled to bond with her new teenage stepdaughter and the way their relationship grew throughout the novel. I loved the last line of the book..If you enjoy mysteries, then I think you will enjoy this one.
25. Hope for a Lifetime by Hubert Nolen
I helped my dad write his recently published book, Hope for a Lifetime. I read it multiple times as I was revising and editing it, so I’m counting it as one of my 2022 reads. Dad’s book is so heartfelt and faith-building. I hope many people will read it and be encouraged! Here is a link for a blog post I wrote about writing with my dad. Here is the link to purchase it. We appreciate everyone who purchases it because all the proceeds go directly to Hope Center Indy.
As some of you know, over the past 2 years, I have been working with my dad to write his book. I joke that we still had full-time jobs and family lives to take care of during that time, so sometimes we weren’t able to make progress as quickly as we’d hoped. Often when I was working on revisions for the book, I would need to block out several hours of a day to be able to get in the groove of writing, focus my mind on making each paragraph sound better, and crank out the work. I was often babysitting my two grandsons in the evenings and on the weekends, so it was difficult for me to find those blocks of time for writing. (However, we had a few months break when the book was with the editor on two separate rounds of editing.)
Over the past few weeks, it has felt really good to finally be able to hold his book in my hand and to have copies of his book available for others to read! Now that we have the book in print, I can look back over the last 2 years and feel proud that…
I’d like to write another blog post soon about the process of writing about my brother in my dad’s book, so that might be coming soon. (I shared a little of how we got started on this writing project in my previous post.)
Mary is the Associate Director at Hope Center Indy.. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.