’18 Great Reads

Every year for the last several, I’ve kept a log of the books I read in my planner. I started tracking them one January when Abigail was a preschooler and I realized that I hadn’t read ANYTHING for fun in ages. I was in a rut — I read parenting books and breastfeeding books (I was a peer counselor for nursing mothers at the time) and Bible study books and that was it. I made myself a goal to read one fiction book per month that year. Not only did I hit that goal, but I got my reading mojo back!

As a kid, I used to check out book stacks as high as my little arms could stretch, pinning the top book with my chin on the walk out to our car. I’d devour them in a few days and beg my mom to go back to the library. (And repeat, ad nauseam.) After that first year making myself a reading goal, I was back, Jack.

Nowadays, I regularly read 60+ books per year. Some of those are parenting, Bible study or spiritual formation still. (I’m no longer a peer breastfeeding counselor, so that topic is off my shelf for now.) Some are craft books, as I try to expand my understanding and skill as a fiction writer. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. I try to hit multiple genres and revisit old favorites for re-reads.

One of the awesome things to come from tracking the books I’ve completed is that it facilitates making book recommendations to friends. I love being able to tell someone to check out certain titles or authors — and before, I was prone to forgetting names. (It isn’t helpful to say, “Oh, Jane, you’d love this book I read last summer! It was about a woman. And there’s a dog in it. And, um, the cover is green. Good luck tracking that down!”)

Here are a few of my favorite reads so far this year, in no particular order. (There’s still a stack about 24″ high on my nightstand, and I usually get several books finished during the lazy days of Christmas break. I guess I’ll have to add those to next year’s list.)

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This author is a masterful at creating characters you’ll love –or at least, won’t be able to look away from, even when they’re making cringe-worthy choices. Evelyn is a glamorous, old-Hollywood star; the character conjured up images of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. There’s a bit of steamy scandal in this one, so if you prefer your books squeaky clean you might want to skip it. But if you do, go check out some of Reid’s other titles – they’re all pretty fabulous.

2. The Hideaway, by Lauren K. Denton

Ahhh. This book is sweet and Southern and full of family drama. I loved the setting, which is practically a character in its own right, and the intergenerational viewpoints are a blast to read.

3. The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin, by Stephanie Knipper

If you enjoy anything by Alice Hoffman, I think you’ll like this story by Stephanie Knipper. There’s an element of magic along with a gripping narrative of a mother and daughter who can’t always communicate – but who need each other in really beautiful ways.

4. The Funeral Dress, by Susan Gregg Gilmore

This book totally slayed me (in a good way). It’s everything I hope to be someday! The folks in the Appalachian town are relatable and realistic. The friendship between two women – one young and one older – is poignant. This book handles pregnancy, loss, grief, and love with skill.

5. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Ms. Eddo-Lodge is British, and her take on race is brutal, honest, and a needed piece of the conversation. Particularly if you’re one of my white friends: go read this book.

6. The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

This novel is historical fiction, and it’s just a ton of fun. Even though the setting is deadly serious (a camp where Americans worked, unknowingly, on the atomic bombs that would later be dropped in Japan), the interplay between characters is dramatic and engaging. Every point-of-view character is well-written and leaves you wanting to hear more from their side of things.

7. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

People of color are disproportionately sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit. This true fact of American life is painted into an incredible novel – it centers around a young Black couple from Atlanta, only married a short time, when the husband is wrong convicted of a crime. Epistolary chapters trace their relationship during his incarceration, and I can’t give away any spoilers but you’ll WANT to hang on until the ending.

8. The Marriage Pact, by Michelle Richmond

I think this one qualifies as a psychological thriller. (If that’s not where they’re selling it, they should!) This story is creepy, in the best possible way. An engaged woman invites a work client to her wedding as a joke, and the gift he gives the new couple spirals them into a cult-like world. Your heart will race and you won’t be able to put it down.

9. The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is one of my favorite Southern writers. This novel has generational secrets and family ties, a surprise pregnancy, and a cosplay Batman at a comic convention. It’s funny and tender and rings true.

10. The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield

This book wrecked me. It challenged every little part of my introverted Christian heart, and has forced me to consider some new ways of living out the Gospel. I highly recommend it.

11. Southernmost, by Silas House

Silas House’s writing is lyrical and magnetic. His southern settings are gorgeous and vivid. This story is about a preacher whose family and congregation condemn him when he refuses to kick a same-sex couple out of the pews of his church. That in turn sends him on a journey that reveals both his past and his future.

12. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Every creative everywhere needs to read this book. Moments of “I’m not alone” abound, along with more than a few kicks in the pants.

13. Every Waking Moment, by Chris Fabry

Fabry is a prolific author, but this is the first of his work I’ve read. It was beautiful and sweet, full of faith without being preachy. I’ll be back for more of his novels.

14. The Sacred Enneagram, by Chris Heuertz

2018 is the year I discovered the Enneagram, which I’ve already blogged about a bit. This book was the first one I read, and it was life-changing (which is not hyperbole). Discover your type, and go deeper than that – discover how Christian spiritual practices can undo the personality mask you’ve been hiding behind, and how you can live more fully as the person God created you to be.

15. Everybody, Always, by Bob Goff

Love ‘em all. I decided that Bob Goff is an all-around Great Guy and Person I Wanna Be Friends With when I read Love Does a few years ago. His newest work confirms that. Love everybody, always. The essays in this book are light in a world full of darkness.

16. A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult

Ms. Picoult has never shied away from tough subjects. This  novel takes place in reverse chronological order, with the first chapter describing a moment with an active shooter at an abortion clinic. Each chapter thereafter spools backward, hour by hour, telling the story of the police negotiator outside, the shooter inside, and a number of others who are in the clinic for varying reasons. People of faith are represented well, and the ending will not be what you thought it was. It’s challenging, but worth the read.

17. Home to Holly Springs, by Jan Karon

I think I read my first Mitford novel back in 2002. I’ve loved Jan Karon’s mythical town since that first moment I met Father Tim, his gigantic dog Barnabas, his boy Dooley, and the rest of the characters who call Mitford home. This book (which was published a few years ago, but I got off track with the series so I’m playing catch-up) carries us along with Father Tim back to his hometown of Holly Springs. It’s more than backstory – this novel stands on its own, but if you love the characters Karon has created, you’ll love this book.

18. Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova

What a story! Irish-American cop stares down a difficult medical diagnosis, and then watches as each of his adult children grapple with what it might mean to have a hereditary condition in their family history. This is a guy you’ll root for.

These aren’t ads or affiliate links, just some books I loved. If you care to share something great you read this year, I’m always adding to my TBR pile! Drop me a comment.

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MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

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