Reading Review: An End-of-Year Wrap-Up and My 21 Favorite Books of 2015

Reading Review: An End-of-Year Wrap-Up and My 21 Favorite Books of 2015

At the start of the year, I had no idea what my reading life would look like in the coming months. Over the past few years my annual book count has been around the 100-book mark, but I suspected that a new baby—and the subsequent sleep deprivation—might limit the amount of time I’d be able to commit to reading in the coming year.

My reading this year did indeed look different. While I still plowed through quite a few books, the way I’ve been reading has changed. I’ve been listening to more audiobooks, and most of my physical reading has been done on my Kindle, or even on the Kindle app on my phone. I was a slow convert to digital reading, but I’ve grown to appreciate the convenience of an eReader (particularly since most of my reading is done with a wriggling baby in my arms).

My primary reading resolution for 2015 was to read at least one fiction and one nonfiction book per month, a goal that I achieved. I also made a list of 17 titles that I wanted to be sure to read this year, and I managed to read 11 of the books on that list. As for the remaining six books? I purchased two of them but was never in the mood to read them; the rest were unavailable at my library and never came on sale on Amazon. (Maybe 2016 will be the year I finally accept the fact that sometimes you have to pay full price for the books you want to read).

Book Ratings of 2015

Though I didn’t meet all of my Reading Resolutions for the year, I’m not disappointed with my overall reading. I read a total of 90 books, nearly two-thirds of which were “read” via audiobook. I only gave one 5-star rating, but there were several 4-star books, and only nine books fell under 3 stars.

There was a time in my life when I read almost exclusively fiction, but these days I seem to have a preference for nonfiction, especially books of the “self help” variety. This year my reading was still skewed toward fiction (I read 53 fiction books and 37 nonfiction), but the books that made strongest impression were mostly nonfiction. I had a difficult time narrowing down my favorites, but here are my picks for the 21 best books I read this year.

Favorite Books on Pregnancy, Labor, and Parenting

Pregnancy Day by Day: There are SO many pregnancy books out there, and I read quite a few of them while I was pregnant, but this one definitely stood out from the rest. I love how this book literally takes you through each day of your pregnancy. The photographs/ultrasound pics are fascinating, and the content is varied and thorough, covering everything from medical issues to psycho/social concerns related to pregnancy. Some of the content was redundant, but overall this was both a fun and informative read, and one that helped me to bond with Charlie while he was still in my belly. (Since Charlie arrived early, I actually finished this book after he was born, which is why this book is included here, even though I was only pregnant for two weeks of 2015).

Mind Over Labor, by Carl Jones: This book was assigned reading for the Bradley classes Luke and I attended in preparation for labor. The book takes a holistic approach to labor (pretty forward-thinking considering it was written in 1987) and teaches moms how to make peace with their bodies and the labor process, specifically through meditation. I love the overall premise of the book and the way in which it empowers women to see themselves as capable of natural childbirth. I’m disappointed that I didn’t quite finish this one before I went into labor, but I had read enough of the book to implement some of its strategies while I was laboring. It was interesting to read the last few chapters of the book having already experienced the birthing process, as my experience gave me an even stronger appreciation for the author’s message. I will definitely be rereading this one to prepare for my next childbirth experience.

The Science of Mom, by Alice Callahan: In this fascinating and impeccably researched book, PhD Scientist Alice Callahan helps moms sort through fact and fiction regarding many of the topics and challenges new mothers face. Not all of Callahan’s research lined up with the choices we’ve made with Charlie, but I appreciated her insights and her non-judgmental presentation of her findings. I wish that I had had the chance to read this book before becoming a mom, but the book validated a number of my decisions and gave me fuel for thought on how we might do things differently with future children. The research nerd in me simply loved learning the science behind many hot button parenting topics, and I’ve found myself wanting to share this book with every new mom I know. (Original Review)

Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett: Of all the challenges we faced in our first year as parents, it was the introduction of solid foods that frightened me the most. I attended classes and read several articles on the subject, but it wasn’t until reading this book that I was able to develop the skills and confidence I needed to start solids with our guy. We didn’t totally adhere to all of the authors’ recommendations, but their book served as a helpful tool in getting us started, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how well Charlie responded to the process. (Original Review)

How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims: Though Charlie is still just a baby, I can already predict that it will be a struggle for me to avoid the helicopter parenting that is so prevalent in our current society. How to Raise an Adult served as a valuable reminder of why I should avoid the overparenting trap, and offered useful strategies for how to begin fostering self reliance in Charlie. After hearing me excitedly share several takeaways from this book, Luke has added it to his own TBR list; I hope that many more parents will follow suit! (Original Review)

Runner-Up: Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker This book is an excellent exploration of the challenges faced by mothers of sons, and I plan to reread it when Charlie gets older. (Original Review) 

Favorite Faith-Based Books

Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey: After receiving several positive recommendations, I had high hopes for this book, but it blew my expectations out of the water. Bessey masterfully addresses both feminism and faith—two subjects that are infrequently seen together—in a way that is both heartfelt and relevant. I came away from this book feeling empowered in both my faith and my feminity. This is a book that every Christian woman should read. (Original Review)

Love Does, by Bob Goff: Bob Goff is quirky, comical, and unabashedly in love with Jesus, and his collection of essays is equal parts entertaining and inspirational. I loved Goff’s stories and was moved by his example of an active, passionate faith. This book sparked some wonderful discussion in my book club and would be an excellent read for a church group looking to expand their faith beyond the walls of the church. (Original Review)

Simply Tuesday, by Emily Freeman: I was honored to be a part of the promotional team for this latest book from one of my favorite bloggers, but I admit that I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t actually enjoy the book. Fortunately that didn’t prove to be the case. Simply Tuesday elaborates on a theme that is prevalent in Emily’s blog: the ordinariness of the everyday is worthy of celebration, but we have to take a step back from life’s chaos and frantic pace in order to fully appreciate those simple, everyday moments. This is a constant struggle for me, but Simply Tuesday gave me permission to relinquish my sky-high expectations and simply delight in my smallness. (Original Review)

Making Happy, by Les and Leslie Parrott: This book from Christian relationship experts Les and Leslie Parott is filled with fascinating research and excellent tips on developing a happier marriage. I appreciated the science as well as the book’s faith component, and I loved that the authors moved beyond theory to suggest some easily applicable strategies that couples can use to enhance their marriage. I would like to reread this book with Luke and hope he will join me in working our way through the book’s 21-day Happiness Plan. (Original Review)

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp: This was our first Christmas as a family of three, and I was excited to implement some new Advent traditions for our little crew. I searched through several books to use for our nightly readings and am so glad that I settled on Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The beautifully illustrated book expands on the tradition of the Jesse Tree with daily scripture readings, a family-friendly devotion, discussion questions, and suggested activities. Though the content was way too advanced for Charlie, this will be a wonderful book that our family can grow into, and I’m looking forward to making it a part of our annual Christmas celebrations.

Runner-Up: Tune In, by Jen Hatmaker  The women’s Bible study I attend used this study to guide our curriculum this fall, and we all benefitted from Hatmaker’s insights on tuning in to God’s voice. (Original Review)

Favorite Fiction

Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova: The topics that Lisa Genova addresses in her books are difficult to read about, but I always come away from her novels with a greater appreciation for the struggles of others. I was moved to tears by this depiction of a family touched by Huntington’s Disease. I have friends whose mother was recently diagnosed with the diesease, and the O’Briens’ story gave me some valuable insights into their situation.  (Original Review)

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty: I was introduced to Liane Moriarty’s books this year and she has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I’ve now read a handful of her, and What Alice Forgot was my favorite. The story of a woman who has lost all memory of the last ten years is much more thought provoking than one might expect from a piece of Chick Lit.  (Original Review)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple: This epistolary novel is the zany story of a woman’s disappearance and her daughter’s quest to find her. Despite a synopsis that suggests a dark thriller, this book is fun and lighthearted, and I enjoyed its mystery element, sharp dialogue, and satirical tone.  (Original Review)

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion: I’m pretty picky when it comes to romantic comedies, but I adored this heartwarming and comical story of an Autistic man’s search for love. Though I was disappointed by the book’s sequel, I felt nothing but love for this charming novel and its unconventional cast of characters.  (Original Review)

Fiction Runners-Up

Best Series: The Inspector Gamache mysteries from Louise Penny. I read three of these mysteries this year, and though I didn’t have a favorite, I am thoroughly enjoying Penny’s writing and look forward to completing the series. (Original Review of Book 1 and Book 4)

Best Children’s Book: The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall I didn’t read much Children’s Lit in 2015, but of the books I did read from the genre, this was a clear favorite for its sweet story and vibrant characters. (Original Review)

Best YA Novel: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead This was a fun mystery that I appreciated even more after learning about the story that inspired the book. (Original Review)

Favorite Books for Personal Growth

Becoming an Idea Machine, by Claudia Altucher: I’ve written quite a bit about how I’m developing my personal creativity through a daily practice of listing 10 ideas within a theme. This book from the wife of the blogger who inspired this habit elaborates on the value of becoming an idea machine and offers 180 suggested idea prompts. Luke and I are working our way through the prompts, and the practice has become one of the highlights of my day. This book, and the practice it describes, is an absolute game changer if you are looking to spark some creativity in your own life.

Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown: Brené Brown has been showing up everywhere lately, and I’ve learned a great deal from her articles and TED talks on vulnerability and overcoming shame. The messages of Daring Greatly are empowering and hopeful, moving beyond feel-good principles to offer advice on how to truly achieve a sense of value and purpose. This is the first of Brown’s books that I’ve read, and I look forward to reading more. (Original Review)

Pray Write Grow, by Ed Cyzewski: This small eBook packs a powerful punch. Cyzewski describes the correlation between writing and faith and shares advice on how the two practices can be developed together. As both a writer and a prayer, I loved the book’s premise and gleaned several valuable takeaways.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: After reading this book, I finally understand why it is loved by so many writers. Lamott is hilarious, and her advice for writing is useful and attainable. The book’s greatest value lies in her insights on life, particularly the strong case she makes for overcoming perfectionism. (Original Review)

Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath: I’m a sucker for anything remotely related to personality styles, and I loved using this book to discover my personal strengths and to learn about the different strengths I see in those around me. This book has helped me to embrace my talents and prompted me to develop them further. Since reading Strengths Finder, I’ve had many wonderful discussions with others who have taken the Strengths Finder test; I’ve enjoyed learning their results and seeing how the strengths exhibit themselves differently in each individual. (Original Review)

Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin: I inhaled this book on how we can harness our everyday habits to promote lasting change and lead happier, more productive lives. Better Than Before helped me understand my own approach to forming habits, and my own productivity has benefited from implementing Rubin’s suggestions. I’m looking forward to Rubin’s next book, which will delve deeper into the habit-forming tendencies described here. (Original Review)

Runner-Up: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo I found the book itself a bit hokey, but I loved Kondo’s minimalist message, which sparked a desire to simplify my household—something I’m hoping to do more of in the coming year. (Original Review)

Favorite Book of the YearThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey: Of all the amazing books I read this year, this is the book that had the deepest impact and the one I hope to revisit again and again. Covey’s approach to achieving personal and interpersonal effectiveness is indeed life-changing, and I found myself highlighting passages on nearly every page. One reading of  this book was not nearly enough, and I hope to return to it (perhaps with an accountability partner or group) to slowly and methodically work my way through the seven steps. (Original Review)

Favorite Books of 2015

What were the best books you read this year? Leave me a comment to let me know which books you loved, which you hated, and which books I should be adding to my list of books to read in 2016!