Most Memorable Reads of 2016

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As we close down another year, I love looking back on the fabulous books I’ve read over the past 365 days. Each January on Goodreads I set up my goal of 52 books, and do my best to meet the goal (while squeezing in as much writing and real life as possible).

Choosing my top five or ten favorite books feels too much like choosing a favorite child or favorite chocolate. I can’t! Each story I read leaves a mark on me in its own way, through the gift of story.

So I decided to list my most memorable reads of 2016–the stories that lingered with me, tugged my heartstrings, gripped my emotions, made me laugh (or cry), and inspired my own writing the most.

(These are in no particular order.)

 

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Shadow of the Storm is book #2 in the Out of Egypt trilogy (book three releases in May), and I loved this and Counted with the Stars equally. Beautiful writing, tender romance, and life-like characters struggling to trust God and survive amidst the turmoil of the Exodus–what’s not to love? A winner for fans of historical and biblical romance.

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I read The Girl from the Train last year and was quite moved by Irma Joubert’s (American) debut, so I quickly picked up Child of the River when it released. I finished the story a few weeks ago and still think of the characters. Her writing is somehow both simple and powerful, the images startling. Many scenes I reread just to soak the words in. This author has a gentle, probing hand with human emotion and a vast understanding of South Africa’s (WWII-era) history, giving readers unique stories that long stay with you.

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Because I’m also writing a middle grade/YA trilogy, I read this genre once or twice a month. Last in a Long Line of Rebels was humorous and touching for kids and adults alike. Strong-willed protagonist, Lou, and her best friends are determined to solve a centuries-old mystery that threatens her family. Though my boys are getting pickier about “girl stories,” they eagerly snuggled into bed at night so I could read another chapter of this southern story chock full of mystery and family drama–and laughs.

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Author Brandy Vallance’s sophomore novel is just as delicious and lovely as its cover. Though quite different than her dazzling debut, The Covered Deep, Within the Veil spills over with beautiful prose and riveting emotion, never giving the reader a chance to pause and catch their breath (which is of course, a good thing.) The romance is both fiery and tender (but remains appropriate), and the fascinating Scottish history fills the pages to the brim. Even better? The sweet salvation message threaded throughout.

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If I were to choose a book that racked up the most tears per page, this one wins the blue ribbon. Not that I cried a lot, just one good, solid time. Oh…the end. That scene. A Flight of Arrows is Lori’s second book in The Pathfingers series, and I recommend reading The Wood’s Edge first to better understand this stunning story. Lori’s breathtaking prose and meticulous research frame a story so spiritually moving that I used at least three tissues. While I loved all of her books so far, this one. Just. Moved. Me. So. Much.

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Such a fun and heartwarming story! I read Rachel McMillan’s debut in one wonderful day, reclining in my comfy reading chair, and I loved every moment of it. Part mystery, part historical, and threaded with sweet romance, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder delivers lovely prose, witty footnotes, and lively dialogue that captivates readers. It’s just a unique story, and I still gaze fondly at this adorable green book gem, set on my ‘favorites’ bookshelf.

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This book still makes me sigh. Author Joanne Bischof is so gifted at creating beautiful scenes and a tender romance. Oh, that Charlie! I dare you to read this and not fall a little bit in fictional love. But The Lady and the Lionheart is much more than a romance–it’s a redemption story with abiding themes of forgiveness and grace. SO beautiful. (Sigh. See?) For fans of inspirational historical romance, The Lady and the Lionheart is a Must-read.

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I’m always on the lookout for appropriate, exciting books for my voracious 12-year old bookworm, and Jill Williamson’s books are just about perfect. Replication is Young Adult,  clean and exciting for ages 12-17, boy or girl. I enjoyed this action-packed story of clone Jason 3.3 (Martyr) and his journey to find out whether his life counts. Humorous and poignant dialogue with new friend Abby mixed with a little bit of romance and lots of action make for a fantastic read for teens.

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It was difficult to choose between author Jody Hedlund’s two phenomenal historicals this year–Luther and Katharina (about Martin Luther and his wife Katharina Von Bora), and Newton and Polly (about Amazing Grace composer John Newton and his wife Polly Catlett.) Both stories are touching tributes to the faith and resilience these four historical figures lived. Polly and Newton’s story in particular grabbed me, the stark but grace-filled portrayal of a likeable, proud young man running from God. Redemption abounds, of course. Hedlund’s meticulous research, vivid characters, and lyrical prose are a well-loved gift to her readers.

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These book beauties are my Most Memorable Reads of 2016. I’d love to know what your most memorable read(s) are from 2016.

I wish you and yours a safe New Year’s and a blessed and healthy 2017! Happy Reading, friends! ❤ 🙂

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Phil. 1:3

 

 

 

Keeping the Star

“Are you keeping that forever?” Chase sidled up next to me in the kitchen. We glanced at the yellow star craft I made with my 2nd-5th grade Sunday school class last December.

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“Maybe.” I stirred the meatballs. “Can you believe it’s been almost 365 days since I put that on the fridge?”

Chase shrugs and scurries away, still in the throes of his first decade, not yet in awe of the brevity of life adults feel more heavily each year.

I continue preparing dinner but glance back at the star, again and again. How often had I noticed and read the words during the year it had graced the side of our fridge?

There’s a small splat of pasta sauce on it and the edges are beginning to curl. The words of Matthew 2:10 tuck neatly into the folds of my heart. “When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

How I’ve needed that star, needed that reminder of GREAT JOY. Foundational joy, because at the end of the day–and at the end of this year–through difficulties, death, and disappointments, we have Jesus.

We have a risen Savior who was a babe in a manger.

One of my favorite worship songs is called Forever, by the talented Kari Jobe. Maybe you’ve heard it, or your church has sung it?

The moon and stars they wept
The morning sun was dead
The Savior of the world was fallen
His body on the cross
His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse upon him
One final breath He gave
As Heaven looked away
The Son of God was laid in darkness
A battle in the grave
The war on death was waged
The power of hell forever broken
The ground began to shake
The stone was rolled away
His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated
Forever, He is glorified
Forever, He is lifted high
Forever, He is risen
He is alive
He is alive

 

There’s a verse nestled in that song, a verse that’s awful and wonderful and achingly beautiful. “One final breath He gave/as Heaven looked away.”

And it always reminds me of Christmas. Weird? Maybe. But it does. Because Jesus didn’t come to earth to hug people. He didn’t come here to make us feel better or to teach fishermen how to catch the most fish (though He did help with that… 🙂 ).

Jesus came to earth because He had to. Separated from His Father–oh, that’s what gets me every time.

Heaven looking away from the Prince of Peace because he wore our filth in order to save us. He was the perfect sacrifice on our behalf, to make God’s creation right with Him again. It’s ugly and bloody and uncomfortable.

It’s the GOSPEL.

He’s the lamb.

And He was tiny once, helpless, born in a stable and laid in a manger. And I’m so incredibly grateful as I gaze at that crinkled yellow star on my fridge. The weight of the year lifts, the worries of the moment evaporate, and the joy of the Lord once again becomes my strength when I have none.

Is He your joy, too? Is the knowledge that He died on the cross for you strengthening your heart this wonderful, difficult season?

I pray that it is. I pray that you’ll take that knowledge–that God sent His only BELOVED Son–to rest among dirty straw and sinners alike, and you’ll praise Him and cling to that in your dark moments.

Keep that star close–keep that truth close.

I pray you and yours have a Jesus-filled season of wonder, peace, and most of all–JOY.

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 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)