27 places to start if you need a really good book {Fave Books – 2019}

In light of all that’s going on in the world, I thought you might appreciate some book recommendations to see you through. I read so much last year and because of a choice to read more diverse authors on purpose, I’ve read soooo many more amazing books. I am excited to share some of them today. Hopefully this list gives you a jumpstart on reading more diversely too.

(If you’re curious, at the bottom of this post I’ve included a few details about what I was paying attention to when choosing what to read and how that turned out.)

Here, in no particular order, are my top 27 (out of 179) books in 2019!

Fiction:

  1. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict – Loved this take on what the life of Albert Einstein’s first wife. Compelling, emotional, relatable, devastating. A must-read.
  2. Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina – (middle grade fiction) – Merci is moving to 6th grade, her beloved grandpa is getting older, and, as a scholarship kid, the kids at her elite private school are hard to deal with. I love the way Merci is so in tune with what is going on with her family and demands honesty even though she is young. Excellent cultural, emotional, and social awareness.
  3. Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown – by Sharon Garlough Brown – wow, this book was so good. It fulfilled my expectations for a more serious read, but it also had so much light, hope, and healing. I appreciated the honest look at the often chronic nature of mental health struggles, how christians can be flippant about it being a faith issue, and the way the mother-daughter relationship evolved over the course of the novel. Really worth reading. Difficult at times, but really good. (Thanks @ivpress for the review copy).
  4. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin – Perfect. A muslim Indian-Canadian Pride and Prejudice retelling. I loved these characters and their worlds. Pretty much just read it. I forgot it was a Pride & Prejudice reimagining until I got to the middle and it really didn’t matter.
  5. Colors of the Rain by R. L. Toalson – (middlegrade) The best book you’ve probably never heard of. I love the insight into this little boy’s feelings as he learns to be a person without the structure of a typical or stable family. Themes: racial conflicts, emotional resilience, and the families we make together. Written in poetry.
  6. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton – A YA trilogy with magic, a touch of falling in love, saving the kingdom, and hilarity with great characters, friendships, and an inhaleable story!
  7. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – An insightful Middle grade novel set in Portland. Major themes: art, friendship, race, economic status, and what it means to be labeled instead of seen. 
  8. With the Fire on High be Elizabeth Acevado – 5 stars. YA. Loved this book about a teenage mom making it work, attending highschool, maintaining friendships, and cultivating her passion for cooking.
  9. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Teherah Mafi – YA. 16 year old muslim american, Shirin, is an epic breakdancer – hijab and all – but it’s 2002 and she’s fed up kids being outright racist so her walls are up when she meet a boy named Ocean. This was just lovely.
  10. Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson – YA. When their friend, a talented but unknown rapper, is murdered two friends and their friend’s sister take on the task of getting his music out there and the whole situation quickly turns into more than they bargained for. Music, words, culture, friendship, secrets, and standing up for what matters.
  11. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas – – 5 stars. YA Inspiring, pithy, artsy, and real. I really appreciated the way Thomas placed Bri with her feet in two places in so many ways. Great poetry, themes worth thinking about, compelling family dynamics.  

Non-Fiction:

  1. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – This beautiful narrative was honest, charming, and gentle yet firm in addressing hard experiences and important issues in international (also transracial) adoption. As a sister to adoption I could not pass this up. I want to read more stories from adoptees, and siblings who are in the middle of it but not yet knowing the weight of it all. 
  2. The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr – I loved this theological deep-dive into the trinity and what it means for us in our everyday. I read it a few pages at a time in the morning instead of a typical devotional and found it so helpful and enlightening.
  3. All The Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo – Beautiful vignettes and stories of a life coming into one’s own while not necessarily belonging in standard definitions of identity and racial constructs. Gopo’s writing is beautiful and picturesque, not only in the scenery but also the feelings in each story. Read this one for sure
  4. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamiriya – I picked this book up thinking it was fiction, but was instead shocked by a story of a little girl bouncing back and forth between refugee camps with her older sister. It was heartbreaking, but also a beautiful display of grit and how she is creating her life still. PTSD, war, childhood trauma.
  5. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – an unsurprising, but at the same time shocking (because of just how deep the problem goes) look at the racial injustice of the U.S courts, law enforcement, the pernicious war on drugs, and overused prison system. Devastating information.
  6. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – Wilkerson tells the stories of three people (out of millions of black people) who migrated or fled from the Jim Crow south to the North and West. This book was long, shocking, heartbreaking, but awe-inspiring because of all the resilient people who rebuilt their lives. A necessary wakeup call about a period of U.S History often white-washed. it reminded me of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand because of its exhaustive research, historical depth, and first person accounts.
  7. Becoming by Michelle Obama – I LOVED this one. Reading about Michelle Obama’s story even before Barack Obama came into the picture was just delightful and the insider peek into White House life and how their family experienced the whole thing was really great. Powerful book.
  8. Introverted Mom by Jamie C. Martin – So useful for introverted, homeschooling moms who just need some tips, strategies, encouragement, and new mindsets to get through the day-to-day.
  9. Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy – This book is powerful, not only because of her Alia Joy’s stories, but because of the way she reframes her life stories to reflect a bigger picture of God that challenges our assumptions about weakness. She exhorts us to faith in a God who is there in the midst of our struggle, instead of faith captivated by our ability to serve God before, after, or in spite of struggle.
  10. The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart – So helpful and practical. I love how she described the way not adhering to any one method of homeschooling really freed up her family to thrive.

Read Alouds:

  • Fiction: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – – 5 stars. Ivan is a gorilla living in a mall who uses his art to tell a his story and, with the help of his friends, communicate his desire for a different life. This book really came to life as a read aloud for the kids. They loved the relationships between the animals and the kid humor. I loved how this brought up conversations about animal conditions in zoos, protesting to change things, and stepping in to help where we can.
  • Non Fiction: Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff -– 5 stars. My kids loved this book and it made me so happy to hear how much they loved this book every time. The stories are so fun with just enough Jesus talk to make the kids think. We’ll read this one again.

Other: poetry/visual medium

  1. Dear Mother by Bunmi Latidan – by Bunmi Laditan – so funny, real, and perfectly in touch with the many feelings of motherhood. Loved it. And if you need a last minute present for a mother, get thee to the book store.
  2. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – This was so different than anything I had ever read. It was a graphic memoir. The author drew and wrote the story of her life and her parents lives in Vietnam and then as immigrants to the US. She included general history, family dynamics and trauma, immigration, and how the author began to process it all as an adult all told through illustrations and a graphic story format.
  3. Steal Like an Artist series by Austin Kleon – This book surprised me with how useful it is and I loved the graphic elements. Definitely will be checking out the other similar books by this author.
  4. Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle – So entertaining. You’ve probably seen the comics everywhere or even follow the artist on instagram. I was pleased to see much new content in this book. Perfect to gift to your people with that special sense of humor. ;)

And those are my favorites! What was your favorite read last year? I’d love to hear.

And if you’re interested, here’s a little of how and why I want to read more diversely.

It’s become increasingly important to me to read more equitably. At the end 2018 I went back and counted how many books I’d read with authors who did not look like me. It wasn’t nearly as many as I had assumed. It was humbling, so last year I made a goal to change my own reading habits. Because, even if we don’t publish books, how readers read makes a big difference in who is published and whose books get the most traction. So I consciously changed my reading habits in 2019. To help me change and to be completely aware of my habits, over the course of the year I tracked a few details about who was writing each book I finished. It feels a little weird (sometimes weird is good), but I kept a tally sheet in my bullet journal with columns for racial diversity, gender, and numbers of fiction/non-fiction. Towards the end of the year I realized I was reading way more fiction by diverse authors than non-fiction so I started to shift that a little too and will be paying more attention to that this year.

Here are a few of my numbers with a note about whether or not I’m trying to change that stat this year. Out of 179 books:

  1. 87% by women, 15% by men (coauthorships = % discrepancy)
    • I’m fine with this percentage. I find it interesting, but not worrying that it is so skewed towards women. Though I would challenge men to track if they’re reading many (or any) women on a regular basis.
  2. 37% written by BIPOC (93% by women, 7% by men)
    • I would like to have this number closer to 50% this year and to find read more by men to make it more similar to my overall women/men ratio.
  3. 40% non-fiction, 60% fiction.
    • Completely fine with this number. It is just interesting to track. I think this is my happy place so that reading too much NF doesn’t exhaust me.
    • I didn’t track the percentage for diverse/white authors in my non-fiction. I might do that this year. Being inspired by stories is great, but specifically learning from diverse people in non-fiction is specifically important as well.

So! Have you read any of these? Do you keep track of what you read and who you read? How might you change that? What was your favorite book from last year? I’d love to know!

Come find me on Instagram and join my march photo challenge!


(Disclaimers:
1.This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links
2. I recieved free review copies of:
– A Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy from Baker Books
– Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown from IvPress
– All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo from Thomas Nelson.
All opinions are my own!)

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