I always find it interesting how each season of my reading life is so different. When I do my reading recaps each season, I can tell you exactly what kind of head space I was in the past three months. This winter (December, January and February) reading took the side burner to managing our life. January was a robust work month with several of ministry partners and a short-term interim. For a whole week in February, we had intermittent power and the week after we were in the throes of natural disaster clean up. My reading happened at the margins in fits and starts. My nightstand is littered with half-finished books, abandoned by my lack of focus not the lack of quality of writing and storytelling.
Either way, I read some gems this winter. Two standouts were Highfire, an unexpected contemporary fiction about a dragon and a kid who each needs help and I finally read Toni Morrison’s Sula which was moving and masterful. I also found unexpected delight in the delicate handling of suicide in Matt Haig’s runaway success The Midnight Library and personal change in the small accessible work of 12 Tiny Things. A strange reading season doesn’t mean an ungratifying one as this winter can attest.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Format: Audiobook; Length: 4 hours
I listened to this book in an afternoon and found it so moving with the sweeping nature of the story and the thoughtful reflection it offered. I still don’t feel like I absorbed everything that Coelho layers into The Alchemist so I plan to re-read this moving journey at some point.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9 hours
I found this book to be an unexpected and pleasant surprise, having seen it pop up a few places when it came available through my local library I snagged it. Haig, most well known for his non-fiction books Reasons to Stay Aliveand Notes on a Nervous Planet instead turns to a fictional world in The Midnight Library to explore what it means to take the road not taken and what it means to make a life you love despite the challenges you may face. Bonus, Haig is a delight to follow on social media (a rarity) and works to advocate for mental health.
Highfire by Eoin Colfer
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 377 pages
An ancient dragon living out his older years in the swamp lands of Louisiana and a kid who accidentally witnesses a murder make for an unlikely duo and a strange book. But somehow Hirefire makes it work and delivers the perfect blend of that kids on a heist genre I love and modern lore. The villains are straight up evil, the good guys are quirky and the plot has steady pacing and plenty of action. An unexpected delight in my winter reading this year.
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
Format: Audiobook; Length: 12 hours
This quirky, funny story features something unique–a protagonist who is an older, slightly out of shape single woman for whom none of those facts are a problem to be solved or a hindrance to her adventure. Instead Miss Benson’s Beetle was a delightful, funny and adventurous read about two women who are trying to reinvent themselves and create a sense of excitement all their own.
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 464 pages
I wanted to love this Own Voice historical fiction about a biracial girl in post-WWII Japan but the longer time passes, the more troubled I am with how much trauma the author put her protagonist through. A single one or maybe two would have been enough to drive the plot but instead her main character faces trauma after trauma leading to a payoff that seemed…imbalanced? Fifty Words for Rain is definitely a book I want to talk about with other readers, but I am unsure if I want to recommend it.
Admission by Julie Buxbaum
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9 hours
I normally don’t do novels based on a true story but when I saw Admission at the library I snagged. Did I picture Aunt Becky the whole time? Yep, sure did. But did this surprise me with a sense of nuance I didn’t expect from a story about rich people behaving badly? Also, yes.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 336 pages
A gem of a sci-fi story about multiverse travel, the life we choose and the lives we don’t. Think Blake Crouch but relational, nuanced and with a much more diverse cast of characters. The Space Between Worlds will be a sci-fi book I recommend to readers that don’t read sci-fi for a long time.
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Format: Audiobook; Length: 11 hours
I found The Last Story of Mina Lee one of the more moving stories of the winter. A story of the chasm between mother and daughter, migrant and first generation child, grief and hope, I cant fully relate but Kim managed to do that magical thing books can do–the more specific she became in the Korean immigrant experience, the more universal the themes became to me as a reader.
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 342 pages
Easily my favorite book of all time, The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall felt like the right book to revisit at the first of the year. Being immersed in the story of Nan and James, Charles and Lily as they negotiate their early years of ministry was just what my spirit needed. Tender without being saccharine, fierce and moving, I love this book and the story it tells about ministry and marriage.
This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens
Format: Audiobook; Length: 8 hours
Romance is a genre I have come around to in the past year in small doses. I enjoy that it has the potential to be a light hearted entry point into more serious themes. This Time Next Year balanced issues of family and mental health well and made it onto my list of reads that are lighthearted but still have substance.
Sula by Toni Morrison
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 174 pages
I’m not sure what I can say about Sula that hasn’t already been said about this classic. I marvel at the way that every author after Morrison draws on what she does so powerfully in her books. Every time I read something of hers I understand more deeply why I love the storytelling of Jesmyn Ward and the community building of James McBride and so many authors that are shaped by her work. For me, there is none other like Morrison because her influence and impact has shaped so many books I adore.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Format: Audio ARC; Length: 9 hours
Historical fiction with dual timelines are so common, but what makes The Lost Apothecary unique is the exploration of women’s autonomy and power and let’s be honest, the ethical use of poison to address the abuses of men in a world that give women very little power. I found one timeline written strong than the other, which is common in these kinds of books but still found it an enjoyable read. Thanks to NetGalley for the gifted audio ARC.
The Boys Club by Erica Katz
Format: Hardcopy; Length:
This workplace drama centers around the first year of Alex’s time in a big law firm in NYC. I appreciated that Katz didn’t gloss over the perils of this world and didn’t tie everything up in a neat bow at the end. There was excellent plot tension that the author was able to maintain throughout the plot—making me want to keep turning pages/listening. If you like reads that are thriller-esque read about workplace drama with #MeToo themes, then The Boys Club would be a good book to pick up.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 334 pages
The unexpected delight of this book besides its throwback to the food scene in the 1990’s in New York was the many personas and aliases that Reichl creates to evade fine dining establishments and to test whether restaurants are capable of delivering consistent service to all their patrons, not just the critic for The New York Times. I loved the various personalities Reichl tries on in Garlic and Sapphires and what each one reveals about food and about herself. Just like in Save Me the Plums, Reichl is a queen at layering stories to build toward a larger, but not overdone point about how food and the restaurant experience serves as a mirror to who we are and who we want to be.
12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life by Ellie Roscher and Heidi Barr
Format: Hardcopy; Length:
12 TIny Things is a small, yet impactful book that works as a helpful guide to examining the small changes that can make a big impact in your life. I personally found several of the practices easy to integrate into my own life while still being impactful. The most fun, however, was my interview on the blog with co-author Ellie Roscher.
A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal ed Sarah Bessey
Format: eARC; Length: 263 pages
There are a lot of books on prayer—some offer written prayers for the reader to say or adapt to their own circumstances, others attempt to describe the mystery and nuance of prayer and yet others function as a how-to guide. Rarely though do you find a book that is both invitational and informative, instructive and imaginative but Sarah Bessey manages to create a prayer collection in A Rhythm of Prayer that does all these things without being too much. You can read my full review HERE.
Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 208 pages
Barking to the Choir has sat on my shelf for far too long, so I was delighted when it was assigned reading for a course I took over the winter. Boyle strings together stories from his time as the head of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation community in the country. While Boyle’s stories often move from one to the other without little transition, they feel parabolic in the way they inform and instruct readers on the world as it is and the world as it could be.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Format: Hardcopy/Audiobook; Length: 267 pages/7 hours
Having committed to a life of anti white supremacy work for some time, I was delighted by Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism for the way it elevated the conversation on the aims of feminism to create a more comprehensive set of aims that considers the challenges that all women face, not just white women in pursuit of the boardroom. Both broad reaching in terms of scope and highly specific in its commentary and connection, a highly accessible book for readers that want to delve deeper into intersectional work.
Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence Around Mental Illness and Marriage by Sarah Griffith Lund
Format: eARC Length: 96 pages
A short, but impactful read on mental health and marriage that combines personal narrative, mental health research and practical advice. I appreciated how Blessed Union disrupts the “pray it away” mentality of the church, while also taking faith seriously as a tool for a strong marriage and a support for mental health. I had the honor to interview the author Sarah Griffith Lund for my monthly author interview series.
A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings by Rumi
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 432 pages
One of two volumes I read slowly over the course of 2020, I appreciated A Year with Rumi for its brevity as it could be digested in small snippets. The timeless wisdom of Rumi is always a good guide for the year, even if it’s a year we weren’t expecting and didn’t want.
A Poem for Every Day of the Year by Allie Asiri
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 576 pages
My other volume I worked through slowly in 2020, this one I found to be much more hit or miss, which is more likely a reflection on the read than the editing or poems. A broad range of styles and topics make up A Poem for Every Day, however the collection itself felt very Eurocentric in its sections, so don’t let this be the only volume you read in a year.
Check out what I read last winter or you can see what I read (and liked) this fall. If you want to stay up to date on what I am reading from week to week you can follow along on Instagram or subscribe to my twice a month newsletter.