Top Ten Tuesday: Top Reads from 2020

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl, which I haven’t done in a while now. The topic today is a look back at our favorite books from the past year. After a full year of reading, this was a little more difficult than it was last year, when I’d only been reading for half the year. Last year I had to include some 4-star books too, but this year, I had plenty of 5-star reads to choose from!

After narrowing it down to 10, these are in no particular order. I did clump similar genres together, though. Also, I did not include any re-reads, and I’m lumping series into 1 entry, even if the entire series wasn’t 5 stars.

1. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
I love all of Brant Hansen’s books, and I did give 5 stars to his newest book this year too. However, this one took the edge over The Truth About Us just a bit. Brant has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and is funny to boot. (See my full review here.)

2. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
Continuing in a similar vein to the previous book, considering that Brant and Sherri are radio co-hosts, Sherri’s book is a hilarious take on PMS, the difficulties women face, and how they don’t have to be alone in their misery. (See my full review here.)

3. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
This series of books has dominated my year. I read the entire series of 4 books between January and June, and then listened to the first three again as the author read them live online to beat the quarantine blues. He just started reading book #4, The Warden and the Wolf King, 3 nights ago. My 10-year-old daughter read the series upon my suggestion, watched the live readings with me, and has basically become obsessed. And my husband bought me the entire re-released series, with beautiful new covers and new illustrations inside, for my birthday back in May. It’s been a Wingfeather-heavy year. (See my full review for the first book in the series here.)

4. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
My daughter returned the favor of my recommendation on the previous series with this series. I’ve only read the first one so far, though she’s read all but the newest, and it was so much fun! It’s basically an escape room in a 3-story library with Willy Wonka as the game master. I mean, what can be better than that? (See my full review here.)

5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I love a well-done time travel story, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s written for a younger audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway (I’ve always been a little childish). (See my full review here.)

6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’d never read any Tolkien before this. I have seen all of the movies, though. I love the LoTR movies, though I had only watched the Hobbit movies once (I watched them again after reading the book). I decided to start with The Hobbit, because it’s written for a younger audience, and after enjoying it, I went on to listen to the audiobooks of the LoTR trilogy (on the third one now). It has been very interesting seeing the differences between the books and the movies, and I know I’ll need to read it all again multiple times to really get a decent understanding of the depth. (See my full review here.)

7. The Shepherd’s Wife by Angela Hunt
This is the second book in a series of Biblical fiction set during and after the time Jesus was an adult on earth, from the perspectives of people on the peripheral of his ministry. I liked book #2, Daughter of Cana, but I loved this one. The book is character-driven, inspirational, and so engaging. I’m waiting anxiously for the 3rd book in the series to come out! (See my full review here.)

8. The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer
I so loved the combination of characters and their arcs in this book, and how they brought out the themes of looking for blessings during difficulties and using love and kindness to drive away hatred. A plot that seems complicated was very well written by Sawyer, and I’m now looking into her other works. (See my full review here.)

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
My sister highly recommended this book written entirely in epistolary form, and I wasn’t sure how I’d like it. But I loved it, unsurprisingly mostly due to the characters. But I found that the format of the story being told through letters made it a particularly quick and easy read, because there’s not a lot of description. I know that might bother some people, but I really liked it. (See my full review here.)

10. Sunrise at Normandy trilogy by Sarah Sundin
I read all of this trilogy this year, starting with #3, The Land Beneath Us (shown above), because I got it as an ARC. The third one was my favorite of the trilogy, but only by a little bit. The entire trilogy tells the story of three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. During that time, each of the brothers trained in different branches of the military and became part of the invasion of Normandy. I love the way these books tell each of the brothers’ individual stories during WWII, but also tells the complete story of the broken relationship between the brothers and their family. I can’t wait until I read these books again, in order this time, of course. (See my review of the book shown above, which is third, but I read first, here.)

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Book Review: The Sky Above Us

The Sky Above Us
Sunrise at Normandy #2
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

As D-Day approaches, fighter pilot Adler Paxton is determined to “make ace” (which means shooting down 5 enemy planes), but first has to learn how to be a wingman. While struggling with this lesson and memories of a tragic last day at home, he meets American Red Cross worker Violet Lindstrom. All Violet wants to do is be a missionary overseas, but England isn’t what she had in mind. She’d rather go somewhere that she can make a difference, not serve the Air Force men who aren’t in need. Both Violet and Adler have a lot to learn about themselves and each other, as long as they can survive the war.

This is the second book in a series of three, following three brothers who were separated by a very unfortunate series of events that led to three years of estrangement. I’ve read books #1 (The Sea Before Us) & #3 (The Land Beneath Us), so this was the last of the series for me. I really enjoyed this book, both as its own story and as part of the greater story. I am continually amazed by the level of detail that Sundin has put into these historical books, making me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. And the characters in this book felt very real to me. Adler’s path from the darkness he feels regarding his role in the tragedy that pushed him away from home is one of my favorite things about this book.

Violet’s process through this book is a lot more subtle, but no less important. She learns something about herself and how she views others that might not seem like a big deal to many people, but I think a lot of us actually could see the same concerns in ourselves if we looked very hard. (And on a side note, the woman on the cover is not how I pictured Violet at all. That woman looks way too petite.)

I liked this one a little more than book #1, and not quite as much as #3 , but it’s still a 5-star read for me. After I finished this book, I had to go back and read parts of the third book to get the full resolution of the Paxton brothers’ story. Though the majority of each of these three books is a standalone story, I would highly recommend reading them in order. I know for sure that I will go back through this series in the future and read them the way they were meant to be read. It’s a great series full of pain and sin, grace and forgiveness. I recommend this book and series to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Sea Before Us

The Sea Before Us
Sunrise at Normandy #1
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Sea Before

Wyatt Paxton is a lieutenant in the US Navy. Dorothy Fairfax is a first officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Both of these divisions of the US and UK military are working closely together to plan the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, which is when Wyatt and Dorothy meet. Dorothy’s job is to piece together thousands of holiday pictures of the beaches of France so that Wyatt can make informed decisions for the invasion. Though Wyatt is drawn to Dorothy, she has her eyes set on another man…who has his eyes set on several other women. Both have to find a way to keep romantic entanglements, as well as other family drama, from distracting them from the ultimate goal–winning the war.

What I liked about this book is that it was not just about the romance. Wyatt and Dorothy both had a lot of other things going on in their lives, and that’s besides the looming invasion. In fact, the romance plot line is what detracted the most, or at least a particular aspect of it, as I’ll explain a bit further below. Overall, though, the book was engaging, enjoyable to read, and clearly well-researched.

The book begins by showing an incident in Wyatt’s past that haunts him throughout the book. It was especially interesting to me, because I’ve already read book #3 in this series and knew of the event, and now got to see it happen. Wyatt himself was a great character–great guy with a lot of depth, and I had an easy time imagining his Texas drawl, because his dialog was well-written. Feeling guilty about his part in the incident that happened before he joined the Navy, Wyatt sees himself as a prodigal son, leaning on God to get him through this tough time, and sharing his faith with Dorothy.

Dorothy had a lot more going on in her story, but I liked her less. She was a good daughter, and not necessarily mean to Wyatt (for the most part). But frankly, it took her way too long to see Eaton, her crush, for what he really was. There were times I was sure she was on the turning point, but she just kept pushing Wyatt aside in her mind and crushing on Eaton. And why was she so set on this? Because of what I felt was the weakest part of the book–her mother once told her that she regretted marrying her father, because he was boring, and she needed excitement. Her mother said that Dorothy was just like her, and warned her to marry someone exciting like Eaton. Why she wrote Wyatt off as “boring” so very quickly, I’m not sure, but she stuck by that assessment for far too long.

Other than a further contrivance later in the book, the rest of it was great. The book follows Wyatt into the invasion, from his position on a naval ship, and though a lot of the terminology was lost on me, I was caught up in it. There were several scenes in the last quarter of the book that made me so happy. In the end, I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance and Christian historical novels.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Land Beneath Us

Finished Reading: The Land Beneath Us
Sunrise at Normandy #3
by Sarah Sundin

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Land Beneath

Clay Paxton is training to be a U.S. Army Ranger in advance of the Allied invasion of France in WWII. Leah Jones is a librarian on the military base where he’s training. He has no future, due to a recurring dream that he sees as a premonition of his death during the invasion. She has no past, orphaned at the age of 4 and torn away from her baby sisters, with no familial connections. A marriage as friends gives them both something they need, and shortly thereafter, Clay ships off for further training, expecting never to return. Neither can anticipate what will happen in the months leading up to D-Day.

This book is just so beautiful in so many ways. The main characters are both so kind and compassionate, so often willing to put others before themselves, and yet both have flaws to try to overcome. The events throughout the book meld together so well, and yet, not everything turns out perfectly. And the writing itself is clear, with a style that I found I particularly enjoyed.

I am not a history buff at all, so understand I have very little basis to say this, but I felt that the book was very well researched. With real events, real locations, and even some real people from history who were participants in this part of the invasion, it all felt very real for me.

As far as the romance goes, I know everyone has their preferences–what they like and don’t like in romance. This one hit all of the right buttons for me. I requested the ARC specifically because of 3 words in the synopsis: “marriage of convenience”. I have always loved stories where a romance develops between two people who married because they felt they had to. And it absolutely did not disappoint. There was something in the last quarter of the book that started to bug me a bit (being vague to avoid spoilers), but it paid off in the best scene ever!

I also love the fact that the romance isn’t right there in your face the whole time. It’s not the main plot, while a few other things happen as a vehicle for it. The rest of the story is full in its own right, and the romance is interweaved into that so wonderfully. I also love how both characters are so incredibly faith-driven and turn to God for help and strength constantly. Both of these characters are paralleled with Biblical characters–Leah with her namesake who was unloved by her husband. And Clay even more strongly with Joseph, who was cast into a pit by his brothers, which is how Clay feels about his own situation.

When I first requested this ARC to read & review, I saw that it was #3 in a series, but it looked to me (with a quick glance) that the novels were stand-alones. While reading, I quickly realized that they aren’t really. The three books in this series are about 3 brothers, and the other two appear in this book in some form too. This book ties up a storyline that I’m sure must thread through the first two books in some way. I’m a little sad that I read the last one first, but I loved this one so much, I’m going to have to read the others very soon! And then I’ll probably go on to try a different series by this author. This book will be the standard by which I measure all Christian romances in the future, and I don’t see it getting much better than this.

In case it’s not clear from my review, I absolutely recommend this book to all who enjoy Christian romance, Christian historical novels, and/or books with a strong focus on forgiveness and finding a place to belong.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review!

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!