Sarah’s Top Five Books of 2019 {Book Club}

Sarah's top 5 books

When I was a kid, I wrote down every book I read in a little spiral notebook. I included the title and author, the number of pages and a quick summary. It was Goodreads before the internet!

I love being able to look back at the books, stories and words of wisdom that have been meaningful to me in the past, provided encouragement or entertainment, or even remember the books that I disliked or that just flopped.

2019 was a different book year for me, as I couldn’t get as many books completed as I have at other times. I also am a part of two book clubs, so a lot of my reading time was devoted to those! A few books stood out as I reviewed my list and I want to share those with you, in no particular order.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Miller

I knew absolutely nothing about US President James Garfield, who served only a few months in office before being shot and dying weeks later. The book delved into his care (or how the care he received actually led to his death), the role that Alexander Graham Bell played, and the life of the man who shot the president. It was absolutely fascinating!

What Falls From the Sky: How I Disconnected From the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds by Esther Emory

In a beautiful, poetic and honest way, Emory shares about her year without the Internet. This book made me think seriously about how I use technology and how to make sure I’m intentionally disconnecting. I’m not sure I could make it 365 days with absolutely no internet though!

Becoming Us by Robin Jones Gunn

I sort of feel like I grew up with the characters in Robin Jones Gunn’s books, as each series follows the same set of people through their teenage years into adulthood. This book in her latest series, Haven Makers, revolved around a set of 5 women who forge a really beautiful friendship as they deal with little ones, financial troubles and healing from past hurt. I found myself longing for the kind of friendships I was reading about in this book! This is also the only fiction book that made it on my top five list.

7 Myths About Singleness by Sam Allberry

Oddly, a book about singleness also made my top 5 list last year, and I normally avoid books about singleness. Ha! I absolutely loved the honesty of this book, and the way the author called out the church about the way we connect with and minister to singles. He suggested ways we can communicate better and grow as a community with people in many different life seasons.

Remember God by Annie F. Downs

I generally love any book by Annie F. Downs that I read, but this one scared me before I sat down to read it. She talked specifically about God’s kindness, a concept I’ve wrestled with in my own life as I’ve dealt with a lot of disappointments and broken dreams this year. Her vulnerability and raw hope pointed me back to the truth of our gracious God, and for that I’m so grateful.

What I’m currently reading:

I scored two excellent books from my local library and am wrapping up the year on a good note! I’m almost finished with Synapse by Steven James, a Christian science fiction thriller (did you know all those categories could be in one book?). It’s been fascinating and a really great fiction book to end the year.

I’m slowly working my way through the book Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen, describing the eight vice-presidents who succeeded a president who was assassinated or died in office. It’s a big, fat book chock full of interesting history and I’m loving it!

I would love to hear what you are looking forward to reading in 2020! Did you have a favorite that surprised you this year? Was there a book that you started and just didn’t love or that completely flopped? It’s okay to share those too!

Also a quick note: I know there are two books referenced here that relate to US history, and not all of you live in or are from America. Have you read any good books lately that relate to your country’s history- either where you come from or where you are living now?

Starting in January we’ll be reading the book Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. It is a work of fiction but also relates to the life of the author. It deals with burnout, pilgrimage and the life of Saint Francis of Asissi. There won’t be a book club post next week (December 31) so get a jump start on the book and join us for the conversation in January!

Here’s the schedule for the book:

January 7: Prologue, Chapters 1-3

January 14: Chapters 4-6

January 21: Chapters 7-9

January 28: Chapters 10-12, Epilogue

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash


  1. Amy Young December 23, 2019

    I loved Destiny of the Republic and What Falls from the Sky too :)!!! I’m curious about accidental presidents. Thanks for the list :)!!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2020

      Amy, I ended up loving Accidental Presidents! The author wasn’t completely objective at a few points but I guess he is entitled to his opinion. 🙂 I didn’t finish it until last week but it was one of my favorites for the end of 2019/start of 2020.

  2. Michele December 23, 2019

    Looking at my list from this year, I read the same number of non-fiction as fiction books, but I think I enjoyed and even learned more from more of my fiction choices than my non-fiction! That’s unusual for me. Here are five of my favorites in order I read them:
    1. In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden -I think someone from VA recommended this a couple of years ago. I loved the characters and found myself caught up in it the way you would a British miniseries.
    2. The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck. -I’ve yet to read her more famous The Good Earth, but this came up as a Kindle Deal and I’m glad I grabbed it. I learned so much about Korean history and culture. I recommend it for anyone living in Korea for sure, but if you have lots of Korean co-workers and friends in your host country, as many of us do, you’d probably benefit from this book too. In any case, it’s a great story following a Korean family through three generations.
    3. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry- How did I make it to my fiftieth year of life without ever reading Wendell Berry? Beautifully written and I followed it up with several more of his Port William stories from the library while I was in the US this summer!
    4. Walker of Tinnevelly by Amy Carmichael- I have volume of her early works and read a couple every year. This was a long biography with more detail than most modern readers would probably like. I loved it because it became clear to me this guy was likely an Enneagram 5 like I am and it kind of gave me a vision of what kind of character I could really aspire to as opposed to biographies of people I admire, but could never begin to emulate because they are so far from who I’m called to be.
    5. We are Not Such Things by Justine VanDerLeun- Also very long and detailed, but a very interesting report on her investigation into the Amy Biehl murder in South Africa. Though I’ve never been to South Africa, I found much that related to countries I have lived in and lots to ponder regarding the messiness of racial reconciliation and evolving democracies.

    I’ve been out of the Book Club loop for a while, so can’t wait to read Chasing Francis together!

    1. Amy Young December 24, 2019

      Michele, you know I LOVE book lists :)! The only book I’ve read is House of Brede (I think I might have been the one to mention it, :)). I’ve read other Pearl S. Buck books, but not The Living Reed. She really is able to capture the heart and struggles of a person (or group) and help her Western audience understand. I’ve been meaning to read some Wendell Berry and this might be the nudge I need! Happy reading in 2020 🙂 . . . your Christmas Eve looked nice!

      1. Michele December 25, 2019

        Hi Amy! I wanted to form a list and put it in comments on The Messy Middle, but was busy at the time I read that one and so just finally had time to do it when I read this post yesterday, so I’m glad you found my list here! 🙂 I am drawing from yours, as well. Book lists are one of my favorite things about the end of the year! Thanks also for the O Antiphons and other advent love over at Global Trellis! Have a wonderful Christmas!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2020

      Michele, thanks so much for sharing your list! I haven’t read any of these- but that’s actually fun, because it means I can add them to my to-read list. 🙂

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2020

      Wow, these look really good, Bayta! I read All the Lights We Cannot See a few years ago and it was so good. I’ll have to look into the other ones you mentioned!

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