The 10 Best Books I Read in 2019

This year, I decided to keep a list of the books that I read.  The primary advantage of this was not knowing how many books I read (which I imagine would just encourage the reading of short books, thus missing out on some great long reads), but rather a chance to look back and consider the best books that I encountered.  So, because sharing a good read is always a worthy task, I give you the 10 best books I read in 2019 (in the order that I read them, not as a ranking).

1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.  
Trevor's storytelling is not only hilarious, but incredibly valuable as a way to see race relations up close and personal, but (since he's mostly talking about South Africa) not so personal that you can't hear what he's saying.

2. The Sacrifice of Africa by Emmanuel Katangole.  
I love reading Africans who are way smarter than me, and Katangole is a joy in that regard.  This Ugandan priest tackles the question of why the Christianization of Africa hasn't transformed African societies like it seems that it should have.  The positive examples that he gives are tremendous, and his treatment of the subject is brilliant.

3. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger.  
Though the title rings of a paperback romance, this beautiful novel is simply a great, American adventure story.

4. Culture Making by Andy Crouch.  
My favorite quote from this one: "What is most needed in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and creating but who wear that seriousness lightly - who are not desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every morning eager to create.  The worst thing we could do is follow that familiar advice to "pray as if it all depended on God, and work as if it all depended on you."  Rather, we need to become people who work as if it all depends on God - because it does, and because that is the best possible news."

5. On Loving God by Bernard of Clairvaux.  
I love being able to read words from 900 years ago, and find them so relatable even today.  A short book that anyone can download for free.  "We must know, then, what we are, and that it is not of ourselves that we are what we are.  Unless we know this thoroughly, either we shall not glory at all, or our glorying will be vain."

6. Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  
This is the only book here that was a re-read for me.  I loved it the first time, but wanted to re-read it prior to heading to South Africa this summer.  There is simply a beautiful mix of poetry, story, and social concern woven throughout that is hard to find replicated elsewhere.

7. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  
I loved Ivey's At the Bright Edge of the World last year, and so I thought I would read Ivey's first book, which had been a finalist for the Pulitzer.  They are both Alaskan novels (which makes it a bit special for me, I suppose), and they both have a wonderful magical realism.

8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  This one is thanks to Rachel.  I hear there is a movie, but haven't seen it.  The novel, at any rate, is about as fun as dystopia can get.

9. The Golden Key by George MacDonald, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson.  Diane Telian gave us this one.  The story is a typically beautiful fairy tale from MacDonald.  The illustrations from Sanderson are gorgeous and worth hanging on a wall to ponder.  The whole story can be read in a couple hours, preferably on a lazy Sunday afternoon, where it's beauty can be properly and leisurely enjoyed.

10. Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson.  I've been trying to decide whether this book would have the same appeal for someone who is not a long-time Andrew Peterson fan like myself.  I'm still not sure, but the book is certainly more than a fan read.  Peterson has fantastic wisdom for the creative process in the world, which it turns out, touches most of our relationships.

BONUS:  Given Rachel and I's longtime goal of reading all the Newbery medal winners and ranking them, we can say a word here at the 2019 winner Mercy Suarez Changes Gear.  Nice story, fairly typical coming of age tale, this time set in a fun Cuban-American family in Florida.  Though it beats Hello Universe from the year prior, it's hard to see what made it stand out to win the medal.  Hoping for something great in 2020.


2016 & 2017 Newbery Thoughts

As longtime readers know, we have made it a hobby to read all the 90+ Newbery medal winners and give our unsolicited opinion.  Click here for our ranking.  The books keep coming, so we keep giving our thoughts.

2016:  January 2016, Last Stop on Market Street won the Newbery Medal.  It was a shock.  It's a read-aloud picture book, utterly unable to be compared to other books.  Sometimes, Newberys have been short (e.g. Sarah, Plain and Tall), but a total read-aloud is a new precedent.  As you can see on the cover here, it not only won the Newbery for best story, but also a honor for the Caldecott for its illustrations (which are fantastic).  Was it good enough for the Newbery?  It's good, but it's not great, and so it was a very confusing choice.
One reason for the confusing choice could have been a lack of competition.  We also happened upon one of the 2016 Newbery Honor books, The War That Saved My Life.  It's a World War II story about a young handicapped girl that is sent out of London during the blitz, and it's fantastic.  Absolutely on par with some of the better medal winners throughout the year.

Thus we have the Newbery motto for 2016:  "What in the world is going on?"


As an aside, roughly twice a decade, the Newbery medal departs from a standard novel to honor a book written in some other literary style, poetry, free verse, hip-hop rap, or the occasional non-fiction work.  Last Stop on Market Place seems to be one of these times.  Though we are generally fans of a fantastic tale more than anything else, these occasional departures have usually impressed us.  The Crossover, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, and Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices are some examples.


2017:  Because of our 2016 experience, we were eager to see the follow-up.  We procured a copy of the winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon as well as the most-appealing Honor book The Inquisitor's Tale.  

Verdict:  Both Awesome.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon is 100% fantasy with truly original characters and a compelling style.  The Inquisitor's Tale is an imaginative yarn out of the Middle Ages that is sometimes silly, sometimes serious, always fun and always wonderfully illustrated.  Very difficult to know which of these two deserved the Medal.  They are both Medal quality.

Newbery Motto for 2017:  Back on Track.


Cape Town Vacation!

The beach 3 houses down from where we stayed

Slangkop lighthouse


V&A waterfront

Table Rock

Hike up Table Mountain (Platteklip Gorge)

Made it to the top! (after only 3 hrs of hiking)

Spot the dassie

Took the cable car down

Long Beach

Cape Point (national park)

Whale rib cage

Spot the eland

Cape Point lighthouse



Tide pools in False Bay

Penguins at Boulders Beach

Boat trip to Duiker Island....

...home to a colony of fur seals!