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The Top 10 Books I Read in 2020

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I set a goal to finish 80 books in 2020. I ended up only finishing 67 books, but I read and listened to some great books, so I’m going to call that a win — even if I fell short of my goal!

I’ve loved using GoodReads to track my reading. It is really motivational to see my progress and to have a one-stop place to see all the books I read + my star rating of them.

Of the 67 books I read in 2020, I picked 10 favorites. These were the 10 that impacted me the most, that I enjoyed the most, that resonated with me deeply, and/or are the ones that I will carry lessons from for years to come.

Here are my Top 10 Picks (in no particular order):

The Giver by Lois Lowry

It’s rare that I re-read books, but every once in awhile, I enjoy a book enough to re-read it. The Giver was one such book. It’s intriguing and makes you think at a deep level.

I don’t know that “enjoy” is necessarily the word I would use to describe my feelings on it. Maybe “genuinely thought-provoking” would be a more accurate phrase.

Kaitlynn and Silas actually suggested that I read it aloud to them, so that’s actually what motivated me to pull it out. Silas hadn’t read it before and it sparked so many great discussions. And when I ended the book this time, I had a different take on the conclusion than I did last time.

Here’s my review that I wrote when I read the book back in 2017 and it’s still valid:

Finally, I read The Giver for the first time. And you guys, I don’t quite know what to say about this book. At first, I was so frustrated by the ending. That’s it?!?! No! There has to be more!

And then I had to ponder and ponder over the book. I couldn’t get it out of my brain. What am I missing? Why is it haunting me?

The more I pondered, the more I really started to love the book and the powerful way it reminds us that without pain and suffering, we can’t experience emotional connection or truly feel at a deep level. If we took all of the pain away from the world, it would also take away so much depth and the ability to experience life in full color.

I wished I would have read this book with a book club. And I totally understand why some people love it and some people don’t like it at all. Have you read it? If so, I’d love hear your thoughts on it.

Note: This book talks about things that could potentially be disturbing or upsetting to sensitive kids. I’d recommend reading it ahead of time and possibly reading it with them.

Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad

I knew within reading just a few pages of this book that I was going to love it. I’m only vaguely familiar with John Eldredge and had never read any of his other books, but I truly found this book valuable and inspiring.

In fact, I found it so helpful, that Jesse and I recorded a podcast together with some of my initial thoughts from the book last week. Then, we invited John to come do an interview with me where he shared even more about what first prompted him to write this book (he was feeling burnt out and addicted to his phone and email) and daily practices that have helped him to regain his perspective, renew his soul, and refresh his spirit.

We recorded the podcast episode with him today and I can’t wait to share it with you next week! I think you’ll find his thoughts on caring for your soul, the power of the one-minute pause, and cultivating beauty in your life to truly be an inspiration!

And, if you can’t tell, I also definitely recommend reading this book! 🙂

Get Out Of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts

Y’all! Do you know how much our thoughts can impact our life — for good or for bad? If we dwell on toxic thoughts, it can ruin so many things in our life — from our perspective to our relationships to our marriage and so much more.

If you struggle with insecurity, stress, frustration, or feeling like you are failing, this book is for you. If you find yourself doubting whether God is good or if He really cares about you, this book is a must read. If you feel like you are stuck, overwhelmed, or constantly frazzled, read this book.

I thought that the first few chapters were especially beneficial. Jennie Allen shares honestly about her own journey with getting stuck in unhealthy beliefs and thought patterns and then shares how she found a way out.

While some of the book seemed a little redundant and like there was some filler information (especially the second half of the book), I found her insights to be very valuable. My favorite part was the illustrations that gave tangible ways to change your thinking.

The Boy on the Wooden Box

We read this aloud as a family and it was a winner book — meaning, all of us enjoyed it and found it engaging. It is the true autobiographical story of Leon Leyson, a boy who survived the holocaust as a result of being on Schindler’s List.

While I’ve read a lot of books about World War II, this one brought insight and perspective on some things that I hadn’t heard before. I thought it was an especially good read for our current times as it reminds you of how much we still have, even though it can feel like there is a lot of unrest, unknowns, and upheaval in our lives.

It sparked a lot of great conversation and discussion around the dinner table. Do note that some of the material it covers might be scary or unsettling for kids who are especially sensitive. While it didn’t delve into the atrocities of war and concentration camps in really graphic terms, it did cover some of the hardships and brutality that the Jews suffered.

Raising Worry-Free Girls

Whether you have sons or daughters, I think this is a valuable read. Yes, all of her stories, anecdotes, and advice is more girl-driven, but I think much of it applies to boys (and adults!), too.

There is an epidemic of anxiety going on among our youth. This book will give you some starting places, great tools, and lots of food-for-thought to help you combat your kids’ anxiety.

I found so many new insights, wise advice, and practical ideas for us to implement in our home through the pages. This book is not a replacement for counseling or therapy, but it would be a fantastic starting place if you feel like your child might be struggling with anxiety.

The Whole-Brain Child

I honestly cannot stop talking about this book. Poor Jesse has had to listen to me rave again and again about it! 🙂

This was highly recommended to by one of our kids’ counselors and and one of their therapists in the past few years and I finally read it. It is packed with great suggestions and strategies for helping our kids process the world, relate better with others, and feel more loved and secure.

It is not written from a Christian perspective, but I found the sections on brain science to be fascinating and really enlightening. If you are a parent or work with kids in any capacity, I highly recommend this book to help you better love, understand, teach, and nurture the kids in your life.

Note: I would have given it 5 stars, but I disagreed with some of the points (and felt a few were not entirely Biblical) so I only gave it a 4-star rating.

Romancing Your Child’s Heart

Romancing Your Child’s Heart is a book I think every Christian parent should read. In fact, it’s one of the best parenting books I’ve read.

While some of the illustrations might seem a little outdated or not something that are relatable for your family (the author is very much an outdoorsman type of person and he and his wife raised their kids in the same vein), the premise of the book is something I think we all need to hear.

It’s so easy for us as parents to focus on rules-based parenting and spending our days correcting our kids instead of cheerleading them and learning to communicate well with them. And while boundaries and parameters are important, we can miss relationship in the process, if we’re not careful.

I love how the author really challenges parents to take the time and make the effort to build relationships with our kids, to listen to them, to embrace them for who God created them to be, and not to try to make them into something they aren’t or that we think they are supposed to be.

Catch Me If You Can

I can’t stop talking about this book! It is the fascinating story of Frank Abagnale who was a daring con man and imposter. I listened to the audiobook and kept having to stop it to share yet another unbelievable story with Jesse of something that he did.

Frank traveled all over the world posing as a pilot, cashed 2.5 million dollars in forged checks, and even worked as an attorney and medical doctor (when he hadn’t gone to school for either!).

If you need a good listen of a story that is almost so crazy that you can’t believe it’s true, I recommend this book. It’s also a good reminded that not everything is like it seems and we shouldn’t take everything at face value! It also was such a telling tale about how money can’t buy happiness.

I’m giving it 5 stars because I couldn’t stop talking about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it/listened to it.

Note: There is some language and some PG-13 topics in it.

Standing Strong

I loved this book and gleaned so much from it (as you likely know if you follow me on Instagram since I kept talking about it there!) This book is Alli’s story of struggling through some hard seasons and what she learned about trusting the Lord in the face of adversity.

Here’s one post I shared on Instagram as a result of reading this book:

You aren’t enough — in your own strength. But, in Christ, you can do ALL things!

As @alliworthington goes on to say in her new book, Standing Strong, “You may not feel able to stand strong. You may be filled with self-doubt. When you hear others talk about great women of God, you may say, ‘Oh, that’s not me.’

“But friend, it is you. You are more than you think you are.

“A superpower exists inside you. If you are a believer, the Holy Spirit lives in you. We can’t keep walking around feeling powerless like life is happening to us, like we are victims. The Spirit of God lives inside us, empowering us for greatness. We just have to tap into it.”

If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this book and hear some of the highlights, be sure to listen to my podcast episode with Alli Worthington.

Atomic Habits

This is, by far, my very favorite book on habits. James Clear, the author, does such a great job of unpacking why and how to build good habits.

I’ve read a lot of book on this topic and I feel like he has a very fresh and encouraging approach. The book is not written from a Christian perspective so I disagree with some of his worldview and conclusions, but there are so many great nuggets of truth and inspiration in this book.

If you feel like you are forever failing at follow through or you just can’t seem to stick with good habits, I highly recommend reading this book.

I listened to it about a year ago and loved it so much that I bought a hard copy and then slowly read it again this year. That tells you how valuable I found it!

Honorable Mentions

Five Days in November — A very intimate and personal look at what it was like to protect Mrs. Kennedy during the days leading up to and after President Kennedy was assassinated

Orphan Train — A must-read for anyone who is considering adoption or foster care. This is well-written and engaging and sheds light on the orphan trains (a part of history I hadn’t heard of) plus modern-day foster care struggles. Note: It contains a few sections on child molestation that might be triggering to some.

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget — A beautiful story of how to practical walk out forgiveness when it feels impossible. Listen to my podcast episode with Lysa TerKeurst on this topic here.

Coming next read: my reading goals for 2021 + a list of books I plan to read.

What were YOUR favorite reads in 2020? I’d love to hear!

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  • Amy B says:

    I reread the first three books in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. So good! #4 just came out, so I can’t wait to read it.
    I’ve added so many of your books to my to-read lists 😊

  • Denise says:

    So I used to love Goodreads, but not as much now. I’m actually switching to The Story Graph for 2021!

    My favorite reads can be found on my Instagram @100_Pages_Hr

    • I’d love to hear why you don’t like it as much, if you feel comfortable sharing.

      • Denise says:

        Sure! Just didn’t want to be pushy before!

        I’ve noticed that since I follow so many people that read/review the same ARCs and authors I do that those are the only books I see – so I rarely they any new ideas for books to read.

        I also feel like it is basically F@cebook for books. I feel like everyone “likes” your posts and reviews by they aren’t actually reading them or trying to build community (some are, but not all).

        And I’d also like to mentioned some of the things I love about The Story Graph. (I only have the free version.)

        1. They have amazing data (graphs obviously!) And you can import your Goodreads data too!

        2. You can still track dates read, TBR, etc.

        3. They have a place for graphic, moderate, and minor content warnings.

        4. You can also rate things like mood, pace, and characterization.

        Overall I just feel like it gives a better depth to reviews even if someone only clicks those boxes and doesn’t write a review.

        I’m just done with fake interaction on Goodreads. For tracking it is okay – but Storygraph gives so many more options!

        • This was super helpful! I hadn’t even heard of Story Graph before so this was very insightful! I don’t use GoodReads for social interaction or to get new book ideas (I don’t even post my reviews there; I just use it for tracking the books I read!), but if I did, I think I would definitely want to switch to The Story Graph. I’ve heard that authors/publishers are working hard to use GoodReads strategically and I wonder if that has sort of changed the experience??

        • Jenni says:

          I can’t find the Storygraph app – is it Iphone only?

  • Maggie says:

    The Power of Habit (which is referenced in Atomic Habits) is one of my favorites! Other favorites this year have been A Woman of No Importance, Nineteen Minutes and Keeping Faith (the last two are ones I have read before, but I love them every time).

  • Jeanette says:

    Loved: American Dirt, Fearless by Eric Blehm, Giver of Stars, The Hired Girl, Water to Wine, Tattooist of Auschwitz and Once we were Brothers were all five stars in my book.

  • Jeanette says:

    Loved: American Dirt, Fearless by Eric Blehm, Giver of Stars, The Hired Girl, Water to Wine, Tattooist of Auschwitz and Once we were Brothers were all five stars in my book.

  • Sarah Clews says:

    I read 49 books this year. My favorites were: Killing Lincoln (inspired by your podcast!), Hinds Feet on High Places, The Lazy Genius Way, Welcome Home, and Atomic Habits. I guess that’s only one fiction book! But I wasn’t very impressed by the fiction I read this year. Oh except one I forgot to mention–We Were the Lucky Ones (based during the Holocaust). It was very well written and I can’t stop thinking about it.

  • Cris says:

    Thanks to downloading the Libby app again (the 1st time I did, I didn’t have a cable for my car so didn’t use it as much), I listened to so many books this year! And your suggestion to listen to it at a higher speed is great. I usually listen to most at 1.5x but can even do 1.75 if it’s read really slowly!! Since October 11th, I listened to 23 books, granted some were small. Started with Troublemaker per your suggestion and really liked it. Catch me if you can was amazing like you said. One of my favorites was My Story by Elizabeth Smart. Highly recommend it. She suffered so much trauma during her captive time and overcame a lot, growing into an amazing and inspiring woman. I read very few actual books before that and listened to some others on CD in the car but can’t even remember most so they must not have been that great.

  • Banni says:

    One of the best books I read this year was Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (there are several books with the title Born to Run – this one is actually about running!) It is so, so good! I am a runner, but it was recommended to me by a friend who is definitely not a runner, so you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy it. It is part biography, part anthropology, part running log – it made me laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page – and I find myself still thinking about parts of the book almost a year after reading it.

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing your list! Curious if you have read Discipline that Connects with your Child’s Heart yet? It fits right in with everything you have been growing and learning on your parenting journey written from a Christian perspective. One of my favorites that I refer to regularly. Their Connected Families podcast is really helpful too. It has been such a gift for our family. 🙂

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for posting! I added a few of these to my “want to read” list on goodreads. I love that site that I can go back and recommended to others what books I have enjoyed! I enjoyed ‘The Alice Network’ this year.

  • Annie Kate says:

    Thanks for your list, Crystal! I theoretically love Goodreads but never seem to find time anymore to put books up there. That could be telling me something….

    Best fiction: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. I have been following you for years and I know you will love it.

    Best non-fiction: Embodied Hope: A Theological Mediation on Pain and Suffering. I’m reading it for at least the 4th time, and I think you will find it illuminating as well as deeply moving.

    Second best non-fiction: Improvement of the Mind by Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer. No perfect edition is available, but I advise reading one where the ‘f’ is not shown as ‘s’ as it often is in very old books.

  • Bethany says:

    Thanks for your list!
    (Also love The Giver, The Whole-Brain Child and Atomic Habits!)
    This year I read:
    Dead Wake by Erik Larson (I just really enjoy reading this author, ever since Devil in the White City)
    Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (A popular German author who was short-listed for the German Book Prize. The translator did a wonderful job! It’s about a retired German professor who helps young refugee men in Germany, and subsequently learns so much about asylum/migration bureaucracy and his own implicit biases.)
    Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (We did this one as a family bookclub book. Short book with simple writing, but very significant themes of perseverance and turning one’s hard experiences into something good for others. Really great for us and the kids!)
    Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof (A reread. This book gives a much-needed window to the plight of women and girls (trafficking and maternal death) around the world. Very eye-opening as a privileged American woman. Perspective altering.)
    Happy New Year!

  • Melissa says:

    I really liked Dutch Girl – the story of Audrey Hepburn during WW II. It really gave a different perspective of WWII than I’m used to reading. I’m looking for the book about Jimmy Stewart during WWII by the same author, Robert Matzen.

    Catch me if you Can is one of our favorite movies! I haven’t read the book, and the movie is definitely PG-13, but it’s quite fascinating!

    For the first time – ever – I’m keeping a book list for the year to keep myself accountable to read more. I’ve gleaned a lot of recommendations from your past years posts and comments from readers. Thanks everyone!

  • Emily Ekegren says:

    Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese was SO good. Christian fiction, but an adoption story that reflected Nicole’s real life. Dangerous Prayers by Craig Groeschel was good. And for homeschool, we read three YWAM books and I learned so much! We did Corrie ten Boom, John Adams and Alan Shepard, and I can’t wait to read more. OH! And I can’t forget Parenting Beyond the Rules by Connie Albers, so good for me as a mom of teens!

  • Julia Morris says:

    I read several books set during WW II last year that I thought were good:
    The Tatooist of Auschwitz, A Light in the Darkness by Albert Martin, Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright, The Catcher was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff, and The Book Thief.

    A book that I enjoyed during the holidays was The Christmas Quilt by Thomas J. Davis. It’s set in NC during the 1940s.

    I like seeing what other people are reading. The biographies about Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart sound interesting! I may look those up.

    I received Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance for Christmas and plan to start reading it soon.

  • Tammy says:

    I read Hinds Feet on High Places. It was so good! Planning to purchase it. I don’t usually reread books, but can see that one I would.

  • Amy says:

    Two Historical fiction books I enjoyed this year, The Book of Lost Friends and Before We Were Yours both by Lisa Wingate

  • Christi says:

    I’ve never been much of a reader, but I would like to improve on that this year. I asked for and received Atomic Habits for Christmas and have gotten off to a slow start (typical for me). So I’m just wanting to say thank you for inspiring me to read more.

    Also, I have a question. Is the book “Get out of your Head” written specifically for women? I have an adult son who might benefit from it if it is gender neutral so to speak.

    Thanks again!

  • Jenni says:

    I’m really enjoy listening to Tonya Kappes’ mystery books – starting with Beaches, Bungalows and Burglaries.

    I listened to a lot of autobiographies on the Libby App this year – Jessica Simpson, Gabrielle Union, Anna Kendrick, Ali Wong, Elton John, Dyan Cannon, Edward Snowden. (Needless to say, it’s my favorite genre because who can argue with people’s own stories – people are so interesting! I may not agree with how they live(d) their lives, but seeing a little bit behind the curtain was cool).

    Have you heard of Anne Bogel’s What to Read Next podcast? I can’t listen to it often because “So many books, so little time”, but I think it’s interesting!

    Starting off 2021 with Erik Larson x2 – The Splendid and the Vile (from the Book of the Month Club – I’m reading and listening to it – my favorite way to read!) and In the Garden of Beasts. Both about WWII.

    • Thank you so much for all of these book recommendations! And Anne is an online friend of mine and I’ve gotten to have her on the podcast a few times! I’m so glad you’ve connected with her podcast!

  • Emily says:

    Wanted to say thank you for the inspiration to read more! Truly amazed at how many books you were able to read while having TWO infants!

    The Boy on the Wooden Box was very impactful when we read it as a family, thanks for your recommendation!

    Other ones I enjoyed in 2020 were: Sacred Parenting (Gary Thomas); The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers (Chapman); Awaking Wonder (Sally Clarkson); Stepping Heavenward (Elizabeth Prentiss); Decluttering at the Speed of Life (Dana White); and some great family read alouds – Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters (Leslie Blume) & The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.

    Have you heard of “On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books” by Karen Prior? I haven’t but saw it on Kindle Unlimited – which I accidentally discovered is giving me 2 months for $0.99!

  • Lily says:

    I felt much as you did when I finished The Giver, and went away feeling something was missing. The good news is that it’s only one book out of a quartet. The other titles in order are: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. It’s not obvious yet when you read the second book that they build on each other but there’s more meaning and depth when they are taken as parts of a whole. I don’t want to give any spoilers but it’s worth noting that other challenging concepts which may be unsettling to young appear in the other titles. I felt that many elements, though perhaps not all, felt resolved by the conclusion of The Son.
    Happy reading!

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