Top Books I Recommend of 2019

My favorite book recommendations of 2019 are here. I tried to give you only 10 books.

But it couldn’t be done.

Instead, I divided my favorite books into three categories below:

  • 10 Nonfiction
  • 5 Memoir
  • 10 Fiction

Most were published within the past five years.

Did you read any of these? What did you think? What was your favorite book this year? Please share in the comments.

Top 10 Nonfiction Books

1. Atomic Habits
An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

by James Clear

Atomic Habits

If you want to keep good habits, this is a must-read. This book lives up to all its hype (which is a lot). [My 1-minute video review of Atomic Habits is here.]

2. Never Split the Difference
Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It

by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference

Author Chris Voss is a former hostage negotiator for the FBI. He uses his experience (such fascinating stories!) to explain nine strategies to make our lives better (not just for negotiations, but for relationships). So good!

3. Off the Clock
Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
by Laura Vanderkam

Off the Clock

This book is a game-changer on how you use time and how you see time. It helps you see mistakes you make with time and how to correct them. [My 1-minute video review of Off the Clock is here.]

Related . . . 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think also by Laura Vanderkam

4. Happy Money
The Science of Smarter Spending
by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

Happy Money

Another fascinating book, this one suggests how to use your money to be happier in the long run. In a nutshell:

  1. Buy experiences.
  2. Make it a treat.
  3. Buy time.
  4. Pay now, consume later.
  5. Invest in others.

5. Dreyer’s English
An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style
by Benjamin Dreyer

Dreyer's English

Maybe an odd choice for a top 10 list, but this book about English is that good.  Regardless of what you write, this book is a wonderful resource. Plus it’s entertaining. 

6. Enlightenment Now
The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
by Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now

A data-filled book, this one shows us through facts, charts, and graphs that, overall, the world is getting better, not worse.

7. Women Rowing North
Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age
by Mary Pipher

Women Rowing North

I took so many notes from this book, a sure sign of a great book. It gives me much-needed hope about getting older. 

8. Everybody Lies
Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are
by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Everybody Lies

So intriguing! This book is full of interesting tidbits of information. It’s been called Freakonomics on steroids. [My 1-minute video review of Everybody Lies is here.]

9. The Myth of a Christian Nation
How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church
by Gregory A. Boyd

Myth of a Christian Nation

Although published in 2005, this book is a timely wake-up call to the church today. It urges us to rein in our hunger for political power and instead do the things Christ would do. [My 1-minute video review of The Myth of a Christian Nation is here.]

10. How the Bible Actually Works
In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News
by Peter Enns

How the Bible Actually Works

Here is a different perspective on how to read our Bibles. Sometimes the Bible gets a bad reputation simply because we expect things from it that God might not have intended it to deliver.

Related . . . The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enn

Top 5 Memoirs

1. Becoming
by Michelle Obama


Michelle Obama restores my hope; politicians and families can be moral, kind, and likable. She is really honest in this book, both about her years before Barack and about her years in the White House. 

2. What Is a Girl Worth?
My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics
by Rachael Denhollander

What Is a Girl Worth

This is a tragic story about systemic sexual abuse. But thanks to the courage of Rachael Denhollander and others, standing up for justice and doing the right thing wins out. 

3. The Moment of Lift
How Empowering Women Changes the World
by Melinda Gates

The Moment of Lift

Melinda Gates (Bill’s wife) is a stellar example of using money and power for good in our world.

4. Born to Run
by Bruce Springsteen

I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much; Bruce Springsteen is an authentic storyteller. (I listened to him read the audio version; excellent!)

5. Maid
Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
by Stephanie Land


I wish this weren’t a true story because it is a difficult journey for a single mom in America. Even if we aren’t in these shoes ourselves, we know someone who is. A great read.

Top 10 Fiction Books

1. The Nickel Boys
by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys

Loosely basing this story on a real detention center for young boys in Florida, Colson Whitehead writes grippingly from beginning to end about a young African-American boy’s journey through life. [My 1-minute video review of The Nickel Boys is here.]

2. Before We Were Yours
by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours

Revolving around a real-life scandal of a Memphis adoption agency, this novel tells about five siblings living in a shanty boat in Memphis in 1939, and then a present-day family with a yet-to-be discovered past. 

3. Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Kya Clark, the “Marsh Girl,” lives basically alone on the North Carolina coast. When a local boy is found dead in 1969, fingers point to her.

4. Washington Black
by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black

Prepare for a lot of hard and tender stops on this journey with Washington Black, an 11-year-old slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados. His life takes a big turn when he meets the master’s brother, Titch, an inventor and abolitionist.

5. The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn

Two stories intertwine in this historical novel about a female spy in France during World War I and an American girl looking for her cousin after World War II. Each story masterfully unfolds just when you need it too. 

6. The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

When her Vietnam veteran father decides to move the family to Alaska in 1974, teenage Leni isn’t thrilled about it. But there is far more at stake under the surface.

7. I Let You Go
by Clara Mackintosh

I Let You Go

The most shocking plot twist I read all year was in this book about five-year-old Jacob who is killed in a hit-and-run accident. And the mystery that follows.

8. The Death of Mrs. Westaway
by Ruth Ware

Death of Mrs Westaway

Hal, a poor woman in England, receives a mysterious letter saying she has inherited money from her recently-deceased grandmother. Hal, knowing she’s the wrong recipient, shows up to get the money anyway. 

9. Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are three mothers of kindergarten students at a school in Australia. Their interactions are entertaining and light-hearted much of the time, but serious and mysterious at other times.

10. A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place for Us

Centered around a wedding of an Indian couple in America, this is a sweet story of hardships and struggles in a family as they interact with each other and the broader community as Muslims in the United States.

* * *

What’s one of your favorite (or least favorite) books from 2019? Please share in the comments.

I’m looking forward to being a discussion dabbler in the 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge here and here. Join in to talk more about books in 2020.


sharing with Modern Mrs. Darcy

44 thoughts on “Top Books I Recommend of 2019

  1. Maree Dee

    Would you believe I have not read any of the books you mentioned? Thank you for your list. A few of my favorites this year have been: Relentless by Michele Cushat, The Heart that Heals by Patsy Burnette, You Are Free, by Rebekah Lyons.

    Thank you for sharing on Grace & Truth Link-Up.
    Happy New Year!


  2. Martha J Orlando

    The only one of your list that I’ve read, Lisa, is How the Bible Actually Works. Yes, it was great! My favorite read this year, which surprised me, is a little tome entitled I’d Rather Be Reading – can’t recall the author off hand as I passed it on to my daughter, who is an avid reader, but I’m sure you could find it by title at Amazon or your local library.
    Happy New Year!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you liked How the Bible Actually Works too, Martha. It stretched me; I like when authors do that. Oh, and I read AND loved I’d Rather Be Reading, too! I related to SO much of what she shared (Anne Bogel). I listen to her podcast, What Should I Read Next just because I love all the talk about books. 🙂

  3. Laurie

    So many good recommendations, Lisa. I wrote down 5 of these books to read in the coming year. Some I have already read. I am currently reading “Becoming”. One of my favorites this year was “Unlearning God” by Philip Gulley. I didn’t agree with every word he wrote, but the process he writes about – deconstructing his faith, then reconstructing it again – is something I am going through right now, whether I want to or not! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I added Unlearning God to my tbr list earlier (maybe it was from you talking about it?). You sound like me; even when I don’t agree with everything in a book, there is usually something useful to be gained from it anyway. I’ve been through a deconstruction/reconstruction of my faith as well. It’s a painful process in the middle of it, but I’m so grateful now. I imagine I’ll continue to have smaller versions throughout my life as I continue to hear God more clearly. Blessings to you in 2020!

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, I always appreciate your excellent reviews (and simultaneously wonder how you are able to read so many books)! I do read a lot, and more than I think I do (I should keep track this year), but sometimes I circle around to favorites and don’t introduce enough new ones. That said, Robert Benson, a spiritual formation author I love, refers to his Six Wise Guys, six authors whom he reads constantly over and over again. Their writing inspires, encourages, and admonishes him, and he is never without them. I think that is true of me, and likely of many people. I’m wondering if it is for you, and perhaps you would consider a wise-guy post. And I’m always bugging you to write a post about how you make time to read. What are your habits and suggestions? 🙂 A book by Mary Pipher that I found to be life-changing is Writing to Change the World. Her advice was instrumental to me when I wrote a letter to Christian school personnel about really sexually raunchy movies they were showing to our daughter’s Bible class (of all things). Pipher showed me how to invite people to my opinion and deeply held values through story. So rather than write a scathing letter to administrators that I might have done, I engaged them in story, and then gently and firmly made my point, rather than attack. My husband and I ended up in a two-year dialogue w/ administrators, and eventually, those movies were removed. I think her book, while secular, made a vast difference in my approach. You may see it here:
    I’ve already told you how much I loved Peter Wehner’s book, and one that I am currently reading by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, called Openness Unhindered, is excellent. I’m just past the preface and chap 1, but I find it to be principled and biblical . . . thus far, of course. My ultimate verdict is still out until I complete it. Thanks for all you write and read, Lisa. And may I wish you a joyous New Year, and if you are living by your “word of the year,” good wishes w/ regard to it as we!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I always love your comments, Lynn. So informative and interesting! I’ll look up Robert Benson. And I’ll definitely look up the Mary Pipher book on writing. It sounds like it was very influential to your positive outcome about the movies. Good for you! Books that can influence my behavior are the best. 😉

      One day I’ll get around to writing a series about reading. I love it so much. I hope to dabble a little more in discussions about reading in general this year on my blog.

      Praying you have a fantastic beginning to 2020; I can’t believe it is upon us!

      1. Lynn D. Morrissey

        I loved Living Prayer, b/c not only does he talk about prayer (what Christian doesn’t need help praying), but spiritual formation and retreating. He also talks some about writing, I believe. It’s good on journaling, too, if you like to do that. Dancing on the Head of a Pen is his author’s journey. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
        PS When I wrote my book on journaling, my editor recommended I read Living Prayer, and I was hooked on his writing. I love too that he did extensive coursework on spiritual formation w/ the Upper Room (I think… I’d need to look that up again). He also suffers from depression, as I do, so there was another connection. Waiting on your book-reading series! 🙂

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          They both sound good! Thanks for the recommendations, Lynn. I’ll see if my library has any to start off with, but I think Living Prayer will be my first pick if I have a choice.

  5. floyd

    Well… I haven’t read any of them…?

    But the one that I definitely would love to read is “Never Split the Difference”. Especially since most of business day is spent negotiating. I try to create win/win jobs, contracts, and relationships.

    I’m dying to have the time to read again!!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think you would love Never Split the Difference of all these books, Floyd. It’s the one from my list that Jeff is going to listen to. (I got him a 3-month Audible subscription for Christmas, sneaky huh?) 🙂 Then again, you might could have written the book yourself with your experience! I admire those of you who work with the public year after year through difficult projects. I’d be lousy at it.

      Speaking of your writing…can’t wait for your book one day. Could 2020 be the year?

  6. Barbara Harper

    I’m working on my top 10 (or so) list – hopefully for Monday.

    I loved When We Were Yours. That’s the only one here I’ve read. I’ve got a Off the Clock queued up for next year, and I’m thinking about Rachel Denhollander‘s book.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I loved reading your list today, Barbara. So many good books on your list that I’d like to read! I admire you continuing to read through the classics too. I’ll try to tackle one this coming year; not sure which one yet.

  7. Faith

    The best or at least my fave fiction book I’ve read all year was Where The Crawdads Sing. I’ve also read all the ones on your list except 3.
    I read Becoming earlier in the fall and just loved it!! But then again I’m a huge Michelle Obama fan.
    I think my husband and i would really like that one ( non fiction) about our nation….. eco i guess better not worse. Looks good!! Will have to look for it.
    I did read The Nickel Boys but found it difficult for some reason, all the racism I guess.

    I love reading!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, The Nickel Boys was a hard read for me too, as was Washington Black. 🙁 Books about our painful history aren’t easy to hear, but I know I need to keep listening to those authors. Even Where the Crawdads Sing was painful in a lot of places.

      I love Michelle Obama too and even more so after reading Becoming. Looking forward to the good books we’ll both love in 2020! Happy New Year, Faith!

  8. Pingback: Book Lists 2019 | Semicolon

  9. Lesley

    This is a great list! As you know I loved What Is A Girl Worth. I think the only others I have read from your list are Big Little Lies and I Let You Go – I enjoyed both of those too. I keep hearing about Where The Crawdads Sing so I might need to check that out and Off The Clock sounds like it would be helpful too.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, your take on What Is a Girl Worth encouraged me to take the plunge and read it. I cried throughout it. It really sickens me but I applaud Rachael’s courage to tell her story.

      Happy New Year to you and your family, Lesley!

  10. Joanne

    Lots of my fiction favorites made it onto your list and I was so happy to see so many memoirs on this list as I am finding that I really enjoy reading them.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good! I was surprised to see how many memoirs I had read by the end of the year because I don’t intentionally choose that genre. But there were so many good ones this year! Or maybe I was just more aware of them this year. 🙂

  11. bill (cycleguy)

    Welcome to 2020 Lisa! May you know and experience all God has for you in abundance (and no that is not a “prosperity” thing). I just believe followers of Christ have so much to live for and miss out! I have been keeping up with your book lists and have given you mine. Rachel’s book, as you know, is one I highly recommended. I think the Book of the Year ought to be Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin. I’m in the midst of reading some books on Small Churches and what makes them unique and how they can minister since I pastor a church of less than 250. I know they are not up your alley. As for fiction, I have taken a hint from Glynn Young and have read Jonathan Dunsky’s novels. they are great “who-dun-its” from an era long before internet, Google, etc. But it is New Year’s day and I hope to be preparing for a ride so i will cut this short. Again, have a great new year.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for the beautiful welcome, Bill. I look forward to what God will bring to us in 2020; many unimaginable and good things I’m sure. I just added the sample of Confronting Christianity to my Kindle. Book of the Year is high praise; I definitely need to look into it. I’m always interested in what you’re reading because you keep a diverse list, yet stay relevant to your ministry. Blessings on your travels!

  12. David

    Dear Lisa, you’ve mentioned Ruth Ware a few times this year. I almost bought this one at a train station but I was already weighted down. I’m planning to read more lighter stuff on the iPad this year so maybe Ruth Ware might be a candidate (via a Kindle app).

    Last year I read Range by David Epstein just after reading a more academic book on a similar subject (Expertise in Transition by Yrjö Engeström) and the two together had a powerful effect.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I would recommend Ware as one of your lighter reads. I listened to some of her books on audio and the reader was excellent.

      Isn’t it fun when two books that you read close in time are a great match? That doesn’t always happen but when it does, enjoy. 🙂

  13. Lindsay

    Would you say read none of your books on your list here. Though One I was told was really good. The Crawdad Sings (My grandma read it and my cousin to read it. Now I want to read it. The other book that on your top 10 Fiction is Before we were yours is really interesting and would love to pick that book up as well i could find it for decent price..
    If you like you check out my wrap up post for the December: and or my yearly Wrap up: or you can check out my 20 Best Books of a Decade:

  14. Mary

    This post is dated 12/27 but just showed up in my inbox today.

    I always love your books posts. I am reading Atomic Habits now. It is a GREAT book. I love his ideas. I am also reading It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst and it is also very good.

    One of my favorite books of 2019 was Placemaker by Christie Purifoy. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, WordPress, what are you doing to me? Ha. This is the third time it has sent out an old post in the past two weeks. And I have no clue why! 🙂 Sorry about that.

      I’m glad you’re loving Atomic Habits too, Mary. I read a library copy but this is a book I need to buy so I can reread it again later. I’m sure I missed a lot the first time through. I’ve heard good things about Lysa Terkeurst’s book too but I haven’t read it yet. Thanks for recommending Placemaker. I’ll go look it up now!

  15. Elena Wiggins

    I just added so many books from your list to my TBR, such as your first four from your NF list and Maid. Moment of Lift is on queue, borrowed and reads to listen soon through Overdrive once I finish The Dutch House. I loved Becoming, Before We Were Yours, and Crawdads. I haven’t read The Alice
    network yet but enjoyed Quinn’s The Huntress.

    my 2019 favorites are linked in my name if interested!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I just read your list and added some titles to my TBR as well. 🙂 I love running into people with similar tastes in books. Your baby is so adorable. Sweet season!

  16. Danielle Hammelef

    Your nonfiction books listed are all new to me, but most of your fiction list contains books I still really want to read. I enjoyed seeing all the covers and reading the brief synopses. Thank you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Danielle. I tend to read a lot more nonfiction books than fiction books every year so I try to be most selective with the novels. I always listen to recommendations before I choose one so I won’t be wasting my time. 🙂

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