Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Favorite Books in 2020

At the end of the year, I love looking back on the list of books I read. Many times just seeing the title brings a flood of memories of where I was and how I felt when I was reading that book. 

I began the year by taking part in the Brighter Winter Book Challenge hosted by Daughters of Promise. I read many more books in January and February than I would have otherwise. Since I was also trying to spend less time on my phone, the book challenge was perfect. I love how they gave me the flexibility to choose my own books. (The 2021 Brighter Winter Book Challenge is now open. Want to join me?)

In the spring with the pandemic news swirling, I struggled to concentrate and read books. I read a few books that were awful, and decided I should never read another book, no matter how good the reviews, unless someone I personally know recommends it. But then I found some real book treasures and fell in love with reading again. 

Here is six nonfiction and seven fiction books that I most enjoyed in 2020.

This post contains affiliate links so if you click over to Amazon and make any purchase a small percentage goes to me without any change to your cost.

Adult Nonfiction

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Doerr was writing his masterpiece (All the Light We Cannot See) and was given a year in Rome with an apartment and a writing office. So he moved to Rome with his infant twins and promptly hit writer's block. I loved this book describing his year as a writer, new father, and traveler. 

Humilty by Andrew Murray

This small book is a classic for a reason. After reading Humily, most other books feel like fluff. Solid and convicting and should become an annual reread.

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

I read numerous books on technology and it is hard to pick a favorite. But if you want to choose one book on technology that will stamp on your toes and could change your life, read this one. Then pick another from my list of books on technology.

The Highway and Me and My Earl Gray Tea by Emily Smucker

I've read Emily's blog for years and feel like I know her though we've never met. This book tells the story of her year of traveling around the US living in various Mennonite communities. But more than a travel memior, Emily honestly shares her struggles with singleness, loss, and illness.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

I've read other books about habits, but I'm not sure any are as practical as this one. I love books that inspire me to change today, and this one does. Easy to read and perfect book for January.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I listened to this book in the spring and thought of it often during the discussions on race this summer, though it isn't a book about race but about communication. Why do we misunderstand people so often? And even worse, why do we think we understand people and then get it so wrong? Gladwell's books are always memorable and the audio of this book is outstanding. Clips from interviews, and even court cases, makes this book unforgetable though some of the content is hard to stomach and is for adults only.

Adult Fiction

I hate spoilers, so I won't share many details on any of these books, but if you like well-written fiction that carries you off to another time and place, try any of these. That is, if your reading tastes are similiar to mine. Probably all of these books contain something that I'd change, but they are reasonably clean of sensuality and language and contain characters and plots that I found edifying. Your tastes may vary.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Enger's book has been on my to-be-read list for over ten years. Maybe I was reluctant because I knew too much about it, but when I finally got into this on audio, I couldn't stop. The writing quality is superb. A perfect read for this winter if you want to travel to the Dakota Badlands in the snow searching for a prodigal son. If you like To Kill a Mockingbird, I think you'll like this one. 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

I enjoy World War 2 books and this one carried me to London during the Blitz and made me cry. Yet, it is more heartwarming than sad. Perfect on audio.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Another book that has been on my list for years. The beginning moves slow as we listen to an old man's letters to his young son, but by the end I was hooked. There is a reason it won the Pulitzer. Some say that Home, the companion book to this one, is even better. I have it on my list to read in January.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Don't bother reading this is you haven't read Jane Austen's books. But if you know Emma, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, and Elizabeth then you'll love this book which follows a young woman who grew up in foster homes who loves classic literature. The plot might be unbelievable, but you'll still be rooting for her. Another book that was great on audio. (I'm wondering, does audio give me a better reading experience? Or did I just do a lot of audios this year? Maybe both.)

The Secrets of the Charmed Life by Susan Meisner

Another delightful story set in the London Blitz, this one telling of the circumstances that divided two sisters for decades. The audio had that delightful British accent.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

I've wanted to read a Berry novel for years. His character, Jayber, carries us to the Kentucky riverside, describing his boyhood and the journey that took him away from the river and back again. Don't expect anything dramatic in this book, just delightful characters and Berry's love for the agarian life of the early 1900's. I can't wait to visit Port William in Berry's other books.

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

Another river in the south, this one in Georgia, but a modern time period where a little girl waits for a heart transplant. Another wonderful book on audio at Scribd.

What was your favorite books read in 2020?

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

This has been a unique Christmas to end a unique year. I weep for those who are sick or are anticipating a Christmas without loved ones. 
While some of our plans have had to be adjusted, I'm grateful that one of the things we were able to keep was Christmas caroling. Our family spent two evenings walking the streets of a small city near us, singing Christmas songs with several other families. Some of the people we sang to said they had never heard carolers before.
Carols are always a reminder that Jesus came, not just to give us lights and yummy food each year, but to bring us hope for the future. I don't think we can hardly imagine how much the Jews in Jesus' time were anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. They were in bondage both to sin and to a foreign government and they longed for a Redeemer and Savior.
Hopefully 2020 reminded us that we are not in control of events and that we need hope in Jesus. We need set free from our fears and sins through the power of His blood.
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
by Charles Wesley
Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

Here is a video to hear a virtual choir sing this hymn. (If viewing this by email, click over to the blog.)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Reading Books Together

 In the spring, during the stay-at-home order, my sister chose four books and ordered copies for herself, my daughter, and a friend. She had the books shipped to their house, and, for the next several weeks, they read the books together and discussed them by email. (The books were Mrs. Buncle's Book, Emily of New Moon, The Little White Horse, and Parnessus on Wheels.

I was jealous. I struggled to read books this spring--maybe because of lack of concentration--and if I could do it over, I'd find a way to have a book club.

I've known for years that it is more fun to read books together. When I was a teen, I'd often purposely read the same books as my brother just so we could discuss them. A number of years ago, Ed and I enjoyed a book club with several friends from church. I still think of our energetic discussions when I remember the specific books we read those three years. 

For two summers I organized a teen book club for my daughter and her friends. The last time we chose books from a number of different cultures and then enjoyed Asian-inspired food which we ate on the floor. (The books were Words in the Dust, Inside Out and Back Again, and Homeless Bird.)

This fall, a friend from church asked if any of us would like to read and discuss Surviving the Tech Tsunami. I had enjoyed the book when I was studying the effects of technology, but it was even better to spend an evening discussing it with friends. The topic was intensely practical and the evening was part book club, part Bible study, part ladies-coffe-night, and part accountability. We enjoyed it so much that we chose another book to read and discuss in January.

At the end of each month, a friend emails a list of books that she read that month, along with brief review of each book. She shares this list with a small group of friends which prompts the rest of us to share the books we read that month. It is a simple habit, but one I've come to look forward to. I get many book recommendations and the process of sharing what I've read helps me to get more out of the book itself.

One of the things I miss most about Ed is our book discussions. So I've valued the opportunity to share books with others. If you are looking for ways to enhance your reading life, maybe one of these ideas will be right for you. And, of course, I'd love to hear of the ways you share books with others.

This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Loaded Chicken and Potatoes

 One thing I loved about all the meals we were given during Ed's illness, is finding new favorites. Loaded-chicken-and-potatoes were given to us by my friend Jane and has become a family favorite. I love super simple pan meals. This is very adaptable with different seasonings. You can even replace some of the potatoes with carrots.

Loaded Chicken and Potatoes

1 lb boneless chicken (I prefer thighs, but breasts work too.)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp garlic powder
2 T hot sauce (optional)

2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup crumbled bacon
1/2 cup diced green onion (optional)

Cut up the chicken into bit size pieces. In large bowl, stir raw chicken and potatoes with oil and seasonings. Spread into baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Top with cheese, bacon, and onion and bake five minutes longer. Serve.


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