Top 9 Books of 2019

I completed 90 books in 2019. If that’s a staggering number to you, I recommend you take my free 5-day challenge to read more books!

While I didn’t hit my goal of 100 books in 2019 (and didn’t match the 103 I read in 2018), I’m content with that number.

We had a lot of life happen in 2019 with homeschooling, foster care, pregnancy loss, and -ahem- video games. 90/100 is still an A in my book.

These books were all new to me in 2019. If I included rereads, this would’ve been more like top 30!


My Top 9 Books of 2019


The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life by Julie Bogart

The Brave Learner is not just my new favorite parenting book. It’s a love letter. An invitation to join your child’s mental life. I recommend it unreservedly to parents using any schooling options (you name it, Julie Bogart has done it too). 


It’s not a “do this” manual. Yes, there are lists of activities in every chapter for the practical application lovers. But the true gems for me are the guidance to parents’ hearts.


“If you believe your child doesn’t have any interests, check yourself. You may be judging the interests as unworthy.”


The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Karyn B. Purvis

When I become Empress of the Known Universe, this will be required reading for potential foster/adoptive parents & other parents of tough kids. I read this as part of our preparation for fostering, but so much is applicable to parenting any child with sensory and communication difficulties.


  1. Control yourself
  2. De-escalate the situation
  3. Coach the child towards a more productive choice


“Don’t take your child’s poor behavior personally. Recognize that tantrums and meltdowns are driven by a deep-rooted survival instinct and physiological processes outside of your child’s conscious control.”

The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders by Mary Barbera

My 5-year-old, Johnny, started 2019 with 2-3 word phrases. He finished the year with small conversations, thanks in large part to

  1.  this book,
  2. a wildly expensive SLP textbook,
  3. and games from Super Duper Publications. 


I thought I understood language. I’m a reader. I’m bilingual. I took linguistics courses in college. I can tell you hundreds of years of language history from tidewater dialects to consonant shifts.


But I didn’t understand why my autistic kiddo knew hundreds of nouns and only a handful of verbs. Or why he’d hold his arms out and plead “Carry you?” Or how screaming for 20 minutes was preferable to just asking for things.


“The fact is that children with autism use behavior as a language and, until you understand theirs, they aren’t going to use yours.”


The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally & Sarah Clarkson

After a few introductory chapters, the authors launch into a month-by-month guide to family traditions and liturgical/seasonal living. Some reviewers get discouraged by the sheer amount of ideas. I take comfort in knowing this is a portrait of a family almost 40 years in the making. Of course my little family isn’t going to have a rich tapestry of traditions yet. That’s why I’m reading the book.


The “how-to” wasn’t even important to me. I read this book with an eye to the “why.”


Why isn’t a perfectly sterile home the be-all, end-all of homemaking?


Why shouldn’t I settle for keeping everyone alive, fed, and clothed?


Why shouldn’t our home be a pass-through to the “real” world out there?


“We were created for belonging, made to behold the heritage of our creative diligence in children and grandchildren and in the legacy of a home forged and tended in a specific place on Earth. To abandon the human identity as communal, relational keepers of the Earth and, with it, creators of home is to lose a core sense of the human self and the God who made us.”

I didn’t hit my goal of 100 books in 2019, or match the 103 I read in 2018. But I’m content with that number. 90/100 is still an A in my book.


Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

I read this book along with the Literary Life Podcast community. The hosts’ insights are immeasurably helpful!


If you only read this as a whodunnit, it’s great. Sayers is a master of the detective novel. Once you find out who is the culprit, you suddenly see how obvious it was. Yet every moment before the reveal, you could have suspected anyone.


But the real treasure of this book is the wrestling over a woman’s role. Are motherhood and career contradictory? Is an education “wasted” when a woman stays home with her children (something I ask myself when the student loan bill comes each month).


It’s fascinating that Sayers was asking this herself 100 years ago. She graduated from Oxford with first-class honors in 1915. Yet had to return in 1920, when they first conferred degrees on women. These are timeless issues, still hotly contended today.


“But suppose one doesn’t quite know which one wants to put first. Suppose,” said Harriet, falling back on words which were not her own, “suppose one is cursed with both a heart and a brain?”

“You can usually tell,” said Miss de Vine, “by seeing what kind of mistakes you make. I’m quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest. In my opinion, that is.”


Quantum Space by Douglas Phillips

Living books for children are all the rage in homeschooling circles. A living book is simply an educational book written out of the author’s true love for the subject. It’s evangelizing done well. This is a living science book for adults. Phillips wants to know particle physics, and make it known.

Quantum Space is fast-paced mystery novel set in Washington DC, Fermilab, and CERN. The characters race against the clock to save lives through particle physics. The great premise off the novel is this: using only what scientists know now, what if inter-dimensional travel was real?


“That’s it, the Standard Model [of subatomic particles]. In this single diagram, you’re looking at the underlying structure of our universe. It’s a parts list, but it’s also an architectural drawing. Everything you’ve ever touched or felt is here. The air you breathe, the ground you stand on, the sunlight that pours down, the stars in the night sky. All in those seventeen boxes. The story of our universe on a single page.”

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden’s second “convent story,” In This House of Brede was one of my top books of 2018. And boy, I thought that was heart-wrenching. It’s got nothing on her final “convent novel.”


Similar to Sister Phillipa in Brede, Elizabeth Fanshawe’s past and present are revealed throughout the book. She enters the convent with a secret from the readers, yet everyone else seems to know her past. Seems to, anyway. Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is a dark story of a woman’s journey to the fringes of society and back.


“It is not what you were, but what you are now and what you want to be, that God beholds with his merciful eyes.” 

Other Non Fiction

What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton

I read some of Chesterton’s novels in 2018, but this was the first time I returned to his nonfiction since reading Orthodoxy. I found this collection of essays an easier read.


The topics of the essays vary among education, socialism, religion, the plight of the poor, industrial society, and gender relations. There’s enough recursion and overlap to read the essays in any order. In true Chesterton fashion, his writing is shockingly prophetic, yet filled with whimsy and good humor.


“I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as Humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals.” 


An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

What makes a good book? What makes a bad book? In the beginning, CS Lewis proposes that is less about the work in question, and more about the reader. The next 140-some pages delve into these questions and apply Lewis’s proposal to the arts, music, cocktail party conversation, and literary snobs.


Even after listening to the Literary Life Podcast cover this book, I know I need to re-read it already.


“We can only find a book bad by reading it as if it might, after all, be very good. We must empty our lives and lay ourselves open. There is no work in which holes can’t be picked; no work that can succeed without a preliminary act of good will on the part of the reader.”


Looking Forward


I’ve dropped my goal to just 52 books in 2020. I’m getting more and more choosy about what I read, so I don’t pound through random Kindle thrillers etc. the way I used to.  I’m also trying to read meatier books. The kind that contain living ideas and poetic phrases that haunt the mind. Quality over quantity is my motto for 2020.

What were your favorite reads of 2019?

One comment

  1. I read the Silmarillion with the Tea with Tolkien book club. Despite being a huge Tolkien fan and having read LOTR many, many times, I had never tackled this before and I felt very satisfied to have read it at last!

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