Reading is my favorite hobby, and this year I read over 80 titles! Narrowing down my favorite reads was an agonizing process, but I’d love to share my favorites with you here. I used the following categories to make it simpler: top fiction, best of young adult (YA), best of memoir, best Christian nonfiction, most eye-opening, most likely to make you laugh, most likely to make you love your life, and specific recommendations.
A disclaimer first: I tend to enjoy beautiful and redemptive stories that also include heartbreak, and I don’t shy away from heavy topics! And since everyone has different tastes, please check out the books for yourself before assuming that you will love it as much as I did :). I also wanted to mention that just because I loved a book doesn’t mean I agree with or condone every word in the book!
Talking about books gives me great joy, and if you’d like to connect further, find me on Goodreads and we can be book buddies! In the meantime, enjoy this roundup of the best books I read this year!*
Top Ten Fiction Reads
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai: This was a powerful story about war, resilience, and family in Vietnam. Told across two timelines, some parts were hard to read, but this book was filled with redemption, hope, and love.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau: A compelling coming of age story about a teenage girl in the 1970’s, and how a babysitting position opens wide her thoughts and her world. Funny and poignant, with apt insights into human nature.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger: This was a lyrical tale that transported me back in time to the 1960’s. The writing was exquisite and I loved this story about miracles, faith, and family told in the charming voice of an asthmatic eleven year old.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: I loved this story of bravery in the midst of extreme hardship! This was a new time period in American history for me. And I absolutely fell in love with the characters!
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce: Both a delightful and moving story I couldn’t put down. If you like stories of strong women, character transformation, and a bit of adventure and suspense thrown in, this book is for you!
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim: I enjoyed this powerful story about the immigrant experience: how culture, food, language, family, and friendships impact belonging. Told from both the mother and daughter’s point of view. I chewed on this story long after I finished the last page.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A sweeping, epic novel that follows the generations that come from two half sisters in Africa. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Moving. Important. Hopeful.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Reid Jenkins: Excellent writing in this story about four famous siblings who end the summer with a bang. I fell in love with each character and enjoyed the themes of family, love, and legacy throughout.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune: This book was a joy and a delight to read! Loved the themes of family, love, and acceptance woven throughout this whimsical story. I was so moved by the main character’s transformation.
The People We Keep by Allison Larkin: I very much enjoyed living in April’s head during this story. I loved her journey of finding people and a place to call home. Fantastic writing and lovable characters!
Best of YA (Young Adult)
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: This was a powerful story about identity, loss, healing, and justice in a tribal community set in Michigan. I couldn’t put it down!
The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis: Loved the complex characters in this one, and the twists I didn’t see coming!
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee: This book was absolutely charming, start to finish. The story kept me on my toes and I was rooting for the main character (It’s not often you meet a fierce Chinese girl in the south!)
Best of Memoir
The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball: A fascinating look at subsistence farming and small town living. Beautiful writing and insights into our relationship with the earth, and thoughts on marriage are sprinkled throughout the story. A very immersive experience!
Here for It by R. Eric Thomas: Absolutely delightful read! Equal parts funny and insightful. I enjoyed what he had to say about identity, belonging, and faith!
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb: A fascinating peek into the life of a therapist who needs to see a therapist! By the end, I cared just as deeply for her patients as I did for her.
Best Christian Nonfiction
Abuelita Faith by Kat Armas: This was a different perspective on theology for me and I deeply appreciated her stories and insights about faith. I am now more aware of the effect of the dominant culture’s interpretation of faith on marginalized communities.
A Spacious Life by Ashley Hales: If you’re looking to trade in the hustle and hurry of a productivity-obsessed world with the spacious life that comes from following Jesus, this gentle book is for you!
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund: This was a deep dive into the heart of Jesus, drawing on scripture and the words of Puritan preachers. I thought about this book for a long time afterwards, letting the truth of it sink into my bones.
This Too Shall Last by K.J Ramsey: Thoughts on the role of pain and suffering in the Christian life, especially chronic suffering. She argues beautifully that it should draw us closer to Jesus, closer to others and the church. I wanted to highlight the whole thing!
No Longer Strangers by Gregory Coles: A most beautiful book about what it means to belong. It’s structured in three parts: belonging in, with, and to — the stories were heartfelt in each and the insights were especially moving.
Shoutin’ in the Fire by Dante Stewart: Honest, powerful, moving read about the lived experience of a Christian Black man in America. I’m so glad to have read it, for the chance to see through his lens and to process through my own part in his story.
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez: A thoroughly researched book on the history of white American evangelicalism and how it came to be defined by its militant masculinity. A crucial read to understanding our time in Christian history!
The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr: This the book I hope every Christian reads (men and women). Knowing that our Christian culture’s definition of biblical womanhood is a 19th century construct instead of from Jesus will set women FREE.
Most Likely to Make You Laugh
Take Me Home Tonight (YA) by Morgan Matson: A very entertaining read about two teenage friends who try to conquer NYC without their phones! Such a well-written story of freindship and growing up.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman: Brilliant on audio! This was as funny as it was poignant. I fell in love with each of the characters and was rooting for them all!
Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny: I so enjoyed being insdie Jane’s head. This story was equal parts touching, and funny, with poignant observations about love and family.
Most Likely to Make You Fall in Love with Life
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E Schwab: Slow start but worth the read! This was a fantastic premise to a story about loving life and leaving a legacy. Kept me turning the pages!
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons: A charming story of a cranky octogenarian who rediscovers her love of life. Set in England and the story alternates in time.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: This was an entertaining story with powerful insights into what it means to be human and it means to live your life to the fullest!
If you want to keep writing: The Practice by Seth Godin. An inspiring and motivational guide to doing (and shipping) your creative work. I loved his insights, especially about being committed to the process (what we can control) versus focusing on the outcome (what we can’t control.)
If you want to embrace a hard season: Wintering by Katherine May. I enjoyed her reflections on wintering as the difficult seasons of our lives – what it would mean to lean into them and what they have for us instead of avoiding them.
If you want to be more fully yourself in motherhood: Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon K. Evans: This book is dripping with beauty and insight, and it’s a must-read for any mom seeking a deeper connection with God. The chapters on anger and patience alone are worth the price of the book!
If you want to reclaim a healthier life pace: Growing Slow by Jennifer Dukes Lee. This book was a balm to my soul as I considered the pace of my every day life. It’s been a wonderful reminder that God is growing a good thing in me and good things can’t be rushed!
If you want to make the most of your time as a busy mom of faith: Around the Clock Mom by Sarah K. Butterfield (me!) For any mom with too many demands on her time, this book is full of gentle wisdom and practical strategies to help you be wise (and enjoy!) the time God has given you.
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*The links I share are from Amazon, where I’m an affiliate. This means if you happen to purchase through my link, I’ll earn a few pennies on the dollar at no extra cost to you!
**Feature Photo by Sonja Punz on Unsplash
4 thoughts on “The Best Books I Read in 2021”
Such a great list, Sarah—several books that I enjoyed this year! It was fun to see Greg Coles’ book on there. I grew up with his family.
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Really? That’s amazing! I really related to his stories of growing up as a missionary kid!
YAYYY for this!! I love books and I love a good book list.
Peace Like A River is perhaps my favorite book of all time. It’s at *least* in the top 5. So glad you got that gift in 2021.
For fiction I read The Dutch House, This Tender Land, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Gentleman in Moscow, and 1984, among others. All very worthwhile.
I am reading In Order to Live, Awake Not Woke, and Live Not by Lies for non-fiction this fall/winter.