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  • Writer's pictureJenna Miller

2020 Books in Review

I read a total of 90 books this year. Some I loved, many were just so-so. This is partly why I am excited to incorporate some of the reading challenges I mentioned from my last post. Here is an abbreviated list of my books from this year. Titles in bold are some of my favorites from 2020. If the review has been posted to my site, it is hyperlinked either by month or title.

January 2020

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle: I picked this up thinking it would be a fun read, but quickly found myself sobbing through the book! You definitely must suspend reality as you read it for the premise is that a young woman is granted a birthday wish to have dinner with any five people living or dead. It was a good read, just not what I originally expected.

The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler: based on a real person named Lulu Hurst who toured the east and south US during the 1880s practicing magnetism, or magic. It was rather eccentrically written.

The Forgotten Room by Lauren WIllig, Beatriz Williams and Karen White: historical fiction novel that follows three women of different generations and their links to the Pratt Mansion. It has art, love, mystery. Very well written and left me in different fits of emotion throughout.

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: a creepy, mesmerizing read. The plot enters around misunderstandings made at a young age that could have been avoided if the characters had been more open and honest with each other. Also, this is why glass homes freak me out!

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys: historical fiction set in 1957 Madrid, and 18 years later. It reveals the trauma that followed in the wake of Generalissimo Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil war. I learned so much history and fell in love with the characters. Probably my favorite read of the month.

February 2020

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson: historical book recounting the first year of WWII and how the British weathered the Blitz. It was a fascinating and inspiring read.

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen: YA novel set in late 1800s England. An avid Jane Austen fan finds herself in her own Austen novel. IT was a fast, fun read!

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin: my second read-through of this book. Jen teaches her method for studying the Bible from its text first, before using concordances and other helpful resources. I highly recommend it!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: the boys and I listened to the audio of this the we first moved to GK. Douglas Hodge is highly entertaining listen to, and the sound effects were fantastic. We will. listen to this again very soon.

The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth: a mystery novel focusing on one main question--What happened to Lucy's mother-in-law? Was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? This was a great read.

March 2020

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: fantasy novel about a middle0-aged man who remembers something about his past too terrifying to be true. At first I was super creeped out, then intrigued. It's very well-written and unlike any other book I've read before.

The Holdout by Graham Moore: fiction following sequestered jurors of a high-profile murder investigation and how their unpopular verdict has affected their lives in subsequent years. Did they make the right choice?

Pitching A Fit: Overcoming Angry and Stressed Out Parenting by Israel and Brook Wayne: my major takeaway from this book--I need to focus on being grateful for my kids in times of hardship; be their encourager and challenger rather than just their behavioral critic.

Whose Waves Are These by Amanda Dykes: At the end of WWII, a grieving brother writes a poem that is then published nationwide. It calls people to send him rocks in honor of their lost loved ones, and he will build a lighthouse in remembrance. It is a beautiful love story. Highly recommend!

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: YA novel where a preteen girl discovers that she has synesthesia. She struggles to find her place between her old life and her new life. A good, short read.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly: set in the late 1880s and socialite Jo Montfort is called home when her father is found dead. Accident, suicide, murder? She determines to find out, bypassing and ignoring the cultural standards for women of her day. This was an addictive read!

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny: A body is found in the bistro of Armand Gamache's friend. Did he do it? is the new competition in town out to ruin his business? An unexpected ending for me!

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson: follows the lives of three young women who enter West Point on the eve of 9/11, and their subsequent military service. Some of the faith aspects left me pleasantly surprised. Don't read if your spouse is deployed.

Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies: 11 famous Christian leaders and the influence their mothers has upon their spiritual walk. Such an encouragement to read!

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenrider: a family of five sells their home and belongings in order to travel the globe for nine months. This memoir was reflective and fueled my desire to travel (when we are allowed again).

April 2020

On the Bright Side by Melanie Shankle: Shnakle's memoirs always make me laugh and tear up. This particular collection of essays is about finding the good in the midst of insecurity, panic, sadness, and other things that happen in a broken world.

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister: sequel to The Kitchen of Essential Ingredients which I also loved. It follows some of the same characters, and how food changes their lives for the better.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings: a mother and son flee Alcapulco for El Norte after their family members are murdered by the cartel. Their is so much tension and suspense in this novel. Things become a bit politicized at the end, which the offer freely admits, but overall this was a fantastic book.

In Pursuit of Love: One Woman's Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant by Rebecca Bender: Bender's memoir was a fantastic read. She focuses on how America's hyper-sexualizedculture has led to the acceptance and glorification of pornography, prostitution, and other forms of sexual slavery. She also compares a pimp's power to that of a cult leader. A must-read.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott: historical fiction that shows how Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago was used by the CIA during the Cold War to fight the USSR. Their were a lot of interesting elements, but I ended the book feeling like it was missing something.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson: two young adults take a cross-country road trip which leads to so much more. This was a fast, fun read.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean of the South Dietrich: this memoir surprised me. He his a southern writer whose life story centers around the tragic suicide of his father and how that has affected his life. It was sad, hopeful, and drew me in immediately.

May 2020

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos: checklist with some great references to classic 1940s movies, but characters I didn't like and an ending that I couldn't see as realistic.

Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler: the Gospel relates to all aspects of motherhood, and this book does a great job fleshing that out. Every Christian mama should pick this up.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: a reread after 20 years, and I still loved it!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: a great Gothic novel set during WWII and the 1990s. I love her books. Definitely pick it up if you enjoy gothic or suspense novels.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super-athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall: I never suspected to love this book as much as I did. Nonfiction about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and their uncanny ability to run long distances. It was fascinating.

Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot: memoir of missionaries to Peru who lost their lives, the God who called them, and the redemption of their killers.

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan: I am slowly rereading (via audiobook) through the Wheel of Time series. Highly recommend for fantasy readers who aren't afraid of huge books.

June 2020

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley: a journal challenging people to be truly authentic circulates an English town, linking the recipients in unexpected and heartwarming ways, Good read.

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd: Todd's novels are set post WWI and I love them all. Inspector Rutledge stumbles upon a murder that just occurred. A great creepy read.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon: YA chick lit surrounding the issues a son of Korean American immigrants faces. It had the potential to be a great read for me, but unfortunately the amount of cursing turned me off.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon: fantastic WWII historical fiction novel about one of the few female military readers. Nancy Wake Fiocca was an incredibly interesting person. Highly recommend!

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves: this addresses why the God of the Bible must be triune if He is love. I cannot recommend this enough if you are new to the faith, or want to understand the trinity better.

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah: two estranged sisters come together to help a feral child found in the woods. Hannah's books are so good, but hearing about some of the trauma was difficult.

When in Germany, Do As the Germans Do by Hyde Flippo: short one-page essays about different aspects of German culture, law, education, etc. Very interesting for those of us new to Germany.

The Emancipation of Evan Walls by Jeffrey Blount: set during the 1960s-1970s, Evan is a young black boy who wants a better life than what he sees around him. There is obviously racism from white people, but this novel focuses on the hatred he receives from other black people for 'acting white.' Based off of a true story, it was one of the best books I read this year.

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith: YA novel that follows a group of teens after one of them wins the lottery. A fun, quick read!

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas: a very timely book to read. It fleshes out the Golden Triangle of Freedom, the importance of having moral leaders in office, and how it is possible to simultaneously love America and not fail to see its failings.

July 2020

The Last Flight by Julie Clark: suspense. Claire flees her powerful, abusive husband by switching plane tickets with an unknown woman, but the plane crashes. Will she stay hidden? Did the other woman survive? I read this very quickly.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins: precursor to The Hunger Games. It focuses on Corlianus Snow and how he grows from an egocentric teen to a monster. It was hard, disturbing, yet so well-written.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: historical fiction novel about how Jane Austen was forgotten after her death, and how her popularity resurged, and how her works connect unlikely people. Austen's books are often recommended to those dealing with trauma.

Dreams of Falling by Karen White: fiction following three generations of women in South Carolina and the effects of concealing family secrets in the name of 'love'. I read this in a day.

Jane by April Lindner: modern day retelling of Jane Eyre that was interesting, but not for me.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood: fun YA novel about a 15 year old governess who takes on the taming of three young children who were raised by wolves. This will be a fun read aloud with a kids in a couple years.

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton: sequel. Beatriz is the beautiful sister who cannot reconcile having to live in America permanently, so she engages in plots to overthrow Fidel Castro. Set in the 1960s and 2016. Cleeton is a great writer and I really enjoyed learning about this part of history.

August 2020

Beach Read by Emily Henry: chick lit. Two best-selling authors with writer's block challenge one another to write a book in the other's genre. I really wanted to like this book, but some of the themes within really turned me off.

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris: true story of an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor who was then sent to the Vorkuta gulag by the Soviets because she had been 'sleeping with the enemy.' Her life was hard, devastating, but hopeful. So, so good.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: I really wanted to like this book, but it was so slow for me to get into. Not for me.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano: A fun mystery with a 60 year old protagonist. Her plan to drink herself to death flatlines when one of her workers is murdered. I liked it.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: a young girl is abandoned on the marshes to raise herself. A devastating tale of neglect, loneliness, and our need for community. I thought it was great.

In the Woods by Tana French: first book of the Dublin Murder Squad. Three kids enter the woods, one emerges. Decades later and the mystery is still unsolved. This was a rabbit trail of obsession, confusion, unreliability.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: chick lit. A Renowned baker flees the city when her dessert catches the place on fire. With the help of others she learns what it means to truly belong. Fun read.

The Dry by Jane Harper: mystery. A farming family in Australia is discovered in a murder-suicide. Was it the two year drought? Was the death even as it seems? You can feel the desperation and tension in this book. Very good.

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins: magical realism. Two women at odds come together to save their town. Themes of foster care, PTSD, drugs, and dementia. It was heartwarming and charming to read. First in a series.

Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry: memoir of God's transformative power in Hill's life. God is not calling gay people to be straight. He is calling all people to Him. Contains fantastic resources for people with any sin struggle. Highly recommend.

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis: a highly placed demon writes letters to his incompetent nephew, a novice tempter. It is still an incredibly relevant read that opens eyes to spiritual warfare. I will definitely have to reread this.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

The Royal We by Heather Cocks andJessica Morgan

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Stand All the Way Up by Sophie Hudson

The Red Door by Charles Todd

October 2020

1984 by George Orwell

Little Women. by Louisa May Alcott

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

November 2020

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: magical realism. Allen's novels are always lovely and charming, set in small towns, and fun reads. Check them out!

Bearing God's Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Joy Imes

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

The Second Chance Boutique by Louisa Leamen: fiction. A young woman who runs a second-hand wedding gowns store becomes obsessed with a vintage dress she finds at an estate sale. I wanted to love this novel, but found the main characters unlikeable.

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

Happiness for Beginners by Katharine Center

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Joy! Philippians Bible Study by Kari Fulmar

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

One Day in December by Josie Silver: a 12 year love story between two people who cannot get the timing right. There is lots of language, but it was a consuming, emotional rollercoaster of a read. Not sure if I would recommend it.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper: my advent read this year. Piper is so intelligent, and I throughly enjoyed his Christmas sermon at the end of the book.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle: her first of four journals written from her farmhouse. A very calming and thought-provoking read. I found myself reaching for it again and again. Curious to see more of what her religious beliefs were because I felt I was getting mixed messages.

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