Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2019

20 years ago, as of August 2021, I began writing Sonderbooks! To celebrate, I’m making 20 posts, highlighting some of the best books I reviewed each year I’ve been doing Sonderbooks. It’s taking longer than I anticipated, but I’m up to the 19th post, about my favorites from 2019.

for Grown Ups:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

A wonderfully detailed novel about Joy Gresham and her life before she fell in love with C. S. Lewis and eventually married him. This novel looks at many of her writings and shows how she may have profoundly influenced his writing Till We Have Faces.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

This magical novel is loosely based on the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” with a moneylender’s daughter who boasted that she could turn silver into gold and got the attention of the king of the Staryk people.

The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier

The beginning of a new fantasy trilogy by Juliet Marillier! In fact, I’m eagerly awaiting the third volume, which I’ve preordered, coming soon.

Marilla of Green Gables, by Sarah McCoy

A prequel to L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, showing us Marilla’s life was not as commonplace as we might have thought.

Educated, by Tara Westover

The amazing true story of the author’s growing-up years among radical Mormons in the mountains of Idaho and how she managed to get out and get herself educated.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

A story of a young lawyer working to bring justice out of a criminal justice system that doesn’t work as well for poor people. The movie is wonderful, but the book follows many more cases than the main one highlighted in the movie.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story! Of course I loved it!

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

This book looks at design — and how certain choices in the things around you can bring joy.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid

I got to go to Prince Edward Island in 2019! And this book was a perfect memento of the island I will never forget.

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, by Richard Rohr

Strongly based in Scripture, Jesuit priest Richard Rohr makes the case that the Christ principle is eternal and universal, while Jesus was the human embodiment of that principle. He goes deeper than I can explain in a few sentences, but this is a beautiful and revolutionary book which I’m saving to read over repeatedly. It also started me on daily emails from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.

Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire, by Julie Ferwerda

Notably, this is the first book on Universalism I’ve read that was written by a woman. And it’s a good one, with the Scriptural evidence and argument explained well, along with her process of study and how she came to the conclusion – from the Bible – that God will save everyone.

That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation, by David Bentley Hart

Another book on Universalism, but this one is more academic, written by a theologian and a philosopher, making a brilliant and hard-to-refute case.

Creation and the Cross, by Elizabeth A. Johnson

I especially appreciated that this book takes on the Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement proposed by Anselm in medieval times and refutes it — helping me dispose of any uneasiness I had not believing what I was taught from childhood — as well as presenting some beautiful and affirming theology that includes all of creation.

For Teens

Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold

A convention-breaking fantasy tale about a damsel who is told she was saved from a dragon — and ends up deciding to save herself. I also found a new favorite female audiobook narrator, Elizabeth Knowelden.

Stepsister, by Jennifer Donnelly

A story from the perspective of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters — as she learns she does not have to cut off pieces of herself to make her way in the world.

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

A moving and all-too-timely graphic novel memoir about when George Takei’s family was imprisoned in the internment camps during World War II, even though they were U. S. citizens.

Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced, by Laurie Halse Anderson

A memoir in verse about the author’s own experiences with sexual abuse as a teen, and how she learned to make her voice be heard.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, by Nikki Grimes

Another memoir in verse about a difficult childhood. This one is also about rising above and finding joy and light.

For Children

We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

A wonderful tale of a family of refugees from earth’s Mars colony who must take refuge on an alien planet that doesn’t want them. Lan’s family is representing all earthlings, and if they don’t win over the hostile aliens of Choom, all their shipmates will die. Believe it or not, this story is told with lots of humor.

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

A heart-warming immigrant tale — this time to Australia — has the older brother trying to adjust to missing his dad — by baking through his dad’s cookbook of fancy cakes. Doing this while keeping an eye on his little brother and keeping his mother in the dark is challenging.

Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle

A true story of being poor in middle school and all the ways that grinds you down — but told with humor and grace.

Best Friends, by Shannon Hale, artwork by LeUyen Pham

A graphic novel memoir about the challenges of finding friends in sixth grade.

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

A wonderful nonfiction picture book showing how a baby grows in the womb, with just enough detail for a slightly older sibling to read and appreciate.

How Many? A Different Kind of Counting Book, by Christopher Danielson

Such a delightful open-ended book about real world math for preschoolers. It shows kids photos of things to count — but lets the reader decide what should be counted.

Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest, by Peter Wohlleben

This book convinced me to finally read the author’s book for adults, The Hidden Life of Trees. But honestly, the children’s book communicated the main chunks of information in a fascinating and memorable way, with photographs.

Truman, by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

A sweet picture book about a loving and persistent turtle.

Maybe Tomorrow, by Charlotte Agell, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González

A lovely picture book that shows how friends can make your burdens lighter.

And there are more on the 2019 Sonderbooks Stand-outs page! Since this was so recent, it was hard to narrow them down, but if you missed any of these, now’s your chance!

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