2020 Reading Challenge List and Recommendations

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Well friends, if there is one positive thing we can say about 2020, it’s that it was a good year for reading! This year’s list was longer than expected, largely due to ALL THAT EXTRA FREE TIME… but I’m not complaining! I am always grateful for more time to read! 

If you are new to my blog, I do a reading challenge every year to help direct and track my reading. I started a few years ago as a way to stretch myself, both in the quantity and quality of books I was reading, and the tradition stuck. I use http://www.goodreads.com to save books I want to read, track my progress, and write reviews (well, sometimes… most of my reviews end up here on my blog!). 

There is no right or wrong way to do a reading challenge—just do whatever works best for you! I try to balance fiction and non-fiction, maybe a few biographies, throw in some books written for younger readers and young adults (YA Dystopian/Fantasy is my jam!), and suddenly, I have a list! If we are travelling (you know, that thing we used to do back before COVID), I might choose books with our destination as the setting. I have read books by local authors, books set in my home state, books with one word titles… there are tons of ways to keep it interesting! And the majority of my recommendations come from many of you, so thanks for sharing!

Enough about that, though. Here is my 2020 Reading Challenge List, along with some brief reviews and recommendations. I definitely recommend all the ** books. If you just want my top picks for 2020, scroll down to the bottom!

Non-fiction (Spiritual/Devotional)

  • **The Armor of God for Teens (Priscilla Shirer)
  • **Be Still My Soul (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)
  • Choosing a Life that Matters (Dennis Rainey)
  • The Gospel According to Satan: Eight lies about God that Sound Like the Truth (Jared C. Wilson)
  • **Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket: 101 Real World Tips for Teenage Guys (Jonathan McKee)
  • **Intimate Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire)
  • A Lamp Unto My Feet (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Living Prayer (Robert Benson)
  • Love Does (Bob Goff)
  • **Made to Move Mountains: How God Uses Our Dreams and Disasters to Accomplish the Impossible (Kristen Welsch)
  • **Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth (Thomas Ashbrook)
  • **Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram (Alice Fryling)
  • Monks and Mystics, Volume 2: Chronicles of the Medieval Church (Mindy & Brandon Withrow)
  • **The Next Right Thing (Emily P. Freeman)
  • **None Like Him (Jen Wilkin)
  • **One Woman Can Change the World (Ronne Rock)
  • Present Over Perfect (Shauni Feldham?)
  • **Secure in the everlasting Arms (Elisabeth Elliot)
  • **Something Needs to Change (David Platt)
  • **The Road Back to You (Ian Morgan Krohn)

Non-fiction (Business/Writing)

  • **Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
  • Debt-Free Degree (Anthony O’neal)
  • **The Entitlement Cure (John Townsend)
  • On Writing (Stephen King)
  • **On Writing Well (William Zinsser)
  • **Start With Your People (Brian J. Dixon)
  • **Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling (Matthew Dicks)

Non-fiction (parenting)

  • **Experiencing God at Home (Tom and Richard Blackaby)
  • **Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)
  • 10 Gifts of Wisdom: What Every Child Should Know Before They Leave Home (Sally Clarkson)

Fiction

  • **The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise (Stephanie Dees)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)
  • Memories of Glass (Melanie Dobson)
  • **Persuasion (Jane Austen)
  • **The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  • **The Tattooist of Aushwitz (Heather Morris)
  • The Wedding Dress (Rachel Hauck)
  • When All is Said (Anne Griffin)
  • **Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

YA Fiction/Fantasy

  • **The Cage Series (3 books, Megan Shepherd)
  • **Four Dead Queens (Astrid Scholte)
  • **Divergent Series (4 books- Veronica Roth)
  • **The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)
  • False Memory Series (3 books, Dan Krokos)
  • The Raft (S. A. Bodeen)
  • **A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes Series) (Sabaa Tahir)
  • **Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked (Book 8.5) (Shannon Messenger)

Middle Grade Fiction/Fantasy

  • **The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • **The Prince Warrior Series (3 books, Priscilla Shirer)
  • **The Winter War (Prince Warrior Series Sequel, Priscilla Shirer)
  • **Dream Traveler’s Quest series (4 books, Ted & Kara Dekker)

(Auto/)Biographies

  • **I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)
  • **Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Ellen Vaughn)
(Most of my top picks… just missing the Armor of God Study for Teens)

My Top 10 Picks of 2020:

(In no particular order… )

Something Needs to Change (David Platt)

If you need a reminder of what our calling is as followers of Jesus, read this book. The quality of writing is not exceptional; it is written more as journal entries detailing the events of David’s trip to ________________.  The content, however, is riveting, convicting, and inspiring. It is good to be reminded that there is still great suffering and persecution in the world, far beyond what we experience or can even imagine in the United States. Perhaps we are here for such a time as this!

Living Prayer (Robert Benson)

If your spiritual life feels a little dry and your devotional time has become more habit than heartfelt, this book might be just what you need. Robert has a folksy writing style that I find endearing, and his words have a way of opening my soul to Jesus. This book left me wanting more— more of his writing, but more importantly, more of Jesus.

Mansions of the Heart (Thomas Ashbrook)

Not everyone is interested in the process of spiritual formation, but if you are, this is an extremely interesting read. It is a modern take on classic writings from Saint Teresa of Avilla and Saint John of the Cross, and does a great job of describing the non-linear process of spiritual growth in different areas. I was especially intrigued by the later stages, as most churches and Christian circles never teach past the first few stages, and so many Christians are then left feeling like, “Is this all there is?” It does drift into some mysticism towards the end, but since God is so much greater than we can comprehend, it makes sense that deeper formation will be less concrete and more of the spirit. That said, if any element of mysticism bothers you, you will not like this book. And if you are a new Christian, this book will likely be more overwhelming than helpful for you. But if you have walked with Jesus for a long time, are consistent in spiritual disciplines, and wonder if you’re missing it, this might give you a glimpse of a roadmap for what lies before you.

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

Most of us appreciate parenting books that are practical in nature. We read them because we are struggling in certain areas of our parenting and we need someone to tell us what to do! This book is more philosophical than practical, but it actually may be my new favorite parenting book. Each of Tripp’s principles are Biblical in nature, and they will directly affect your parenting. More likely, though, God will use them to reveal areas in you that require growth. And when you surrender these areas to Him, He will transform your thinking and change the way you parent. I have found almost all of these principles to be true in my own life, and to impact the way I have parented our children, whether they were itty-bitty or about to fly the coop. I will be re-reading it in 2021, and recommend you do the same!

Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket (Jonathan McKee)

This book is set up in one-to-two page chapters, making it perfect for teen guys to use as a daily devotional. Each chapter includes questions to think about which help the guys apply what they are reading to their daily life. It would be easy for a leader to pull some of these questions out and use this as a guide for a small group or accountability group. The topics are super relevant, and McKee’s approach is both Biblical and authentic. He comes off like a big brother or older friend, giving guidance on subjects such as technology use, friendship, dating, prayer, and making wise choices. I recommend this easily for high school boys and with discretion for younger middle-school boys. (There are a few chapters on girls/sex-related themes that younger teens may or may not be ready for.) Otherwise, keep this in mind for the teen boys in your life!

The Armor of God Study for Teens (Priscilla Shirer)

I cannot say enough about this study! So often I find curriculum written for teens to be cheesy, un-relatable, or unhelpful. This study, however, is well-written, extremely relevant, and will get teens in the Word while teaching them about spiritual warfare and the armor of God. 

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

I loved this book! This is the story of Kya, a young girl who is abandoned by her mother and older siblings and eventually by her abusive, alcoholic father, left to fend for herself in the North Carolina marsh. It is a coming of age tale, a beautiful story of abandonment, love, trust, betrayal, and friendship. Oh yeah, and then there’s a murder mystery, just for kicks! Seriously, the world building, character development, and storyline of this book are all top-notch, and the writing itself drew me in from the beginning. This was easily my favorite fiction book of the year.

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

In this prequel to the original book, Collins takes us back to when President Snow is a teenager, living in the Capitol, struggling to survive after losing both parents in the war. He is chosen to be a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games and is assigned—you guessed it—the girl from District 12. Y’all, I loved this book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll stop there, but Collins does a great job of weaving in so many elements from the original series, which made it an extremely fun read. The climax at the end felt just a little bit rushed (kind of like the end of Mockingjay, IMO), but overall, I definitely recommend it to Hunger Games fans!

(*Honorable Mention goes to A Sky Beyond the Storm because I love the entire Ember in the Ashes series, and to The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise because it is such a sweet story written by my friend, Stephanie Dees!)

The Prince Warrior Series by Priscilla Shirer

This series was not on my reading list for this year. However, our youngest son was given the first book for his birthday, and he enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next two for his Easter gift. They fall in the Christian fiction/fantasy genre for middle readers, and are great for upper elementary through middle school. The story follows a group of middle school boys and girls (and one younger brother) on their journey through a portal into the unseen world of Ahoratos. There they claim their titles as Prince/Princess Warriors and earn various pieces of armor while listening to their Guide and fighting the enemy. These books are full of action and adventure, and will be loved by both boys and girls alike. Priscilla Shirer also has a children’s Bible Study, “Unseen: The Armor of God for Kids,” and a 365 day Unseen devotional, which make great companions to this series.

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn

You can probably tell from my reading list that I am an Elisabeth Elliot fan. Someone gave me Passion and Puritywhen I graduated from college, and her words have been speaking into my life and shaping my faith ever since. I am always shocked when I realize how many people have never read her books or even heard her story. This biography, written by Ellen Vaughn, covers the growing up years, which shaped her faith and personality, through the end of her missionary journey in the jungles of Ecuador. There will be a second volume detailing her later years of life and ministry. 

What I love most about this book is how the author captures Elisabeth as a young adult, totally committed to Jesus but without the spiritual maturity she’s known for from the majority of her writings. It is easy to project the faith of her older years onto the twenty-something widow, but most of the wisdom she shares in her books was gained through her years of suffering. It never occurred to me that someone who lived such a surrendered, inspiring life could feel like she had failed in her mission because she did not accomplish what she thought she was sent for. So what if she and her young daughter were instrumental in sharing the gospel with the tribe of Indians who murdered her husband? She had gone to Ecuador with the intent of translating the Bible for unwritten languages, and was thwarted in all her attempts to do so. In addition, we catch a glimpse of not just her unwavering trust in God’s faithfulness, but the depth of her grief in losing Jim so early in their marriage (and after such a long-awaited union!). While her faith and devotion is clearly inspiring, she became more human to me through this book. 

If I could only recommend one book for the year, it would be this one. There is much for us to glean from her life, faith, and example. This generation needs an everyday hero like Elisabeth Elliot!

*******************

Well, that’s it! Whew! For more info on any of the books on my list, search the title or “book stacks” in the blog search bar for my reviews.

What were your top reads in 2020? I’m always looking for new books, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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