Top Five Books in 2020 with Phyllis {Book Club}

This week and next we are featuring one of our favorite things: book lists! This week, check out what Phyllis enjoyed reading this year.

This has really been a good reading year for me. Reading was also just what I needed this year. As I began to “crawl out from under the cancer rock” (Letters from the Land of Cancer by Walter Wangerin), I had a lot of time when I couldn’t do much yet, but I could think and read, so I did!

Plus, all over the world, many of us are spending extra time at home, and for me that has meant more books. As of now (at the end of November), I’ve finished 57 books just for myself. (There will be more before the end of the year.) That doesn’t count read alouds and homeschooling. I read a lot about cancer, suffering, and joy, and I was kind of on a Sir Walter Scott run all year.

Also, I was thinking about how my sources for books have changed so much since we first moved overseas. It’s been almost 20 years now. When we started out, Kindles and ebooks weren’t around. I also couldn’t read in other languages. English books were what I missed most. There was a book store that had some, but they were expensive. My husband would buy the fattest one he could find, and we would both savour it as long as we could before even thinking about another. We read a lot of Dickens back then. Or very random books trickled in from odd sources, and we read them, no matter what they were.

Now there’s no dearth of English books, and I enjoy reading in other languages now, too. We don’t have to buy expensive books or scrounge for them. This year has been especially good for me and e-reading. Hoopla raised their limits for a while, at least through the library I have access to, so I got more books that way. Open Library is getting easier to work with. Overdrive is always good. When I look at my list below, the first book was the only one I bought. When someone recommended it to me, I looked, decided it was too expensive, added it to my eReaderIQ watch list… and got a notification that it was on a drastic sale within days! 

So, without further ado, my favourite books from 2020:

1. Best non-fiction: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, by Tim Keller. I savoured this one, reading just a little every day for as long as I could. It’s very comforting and bracing in the midst of trials and probably a good preparation before heading into hard times. Every Christian should read this book. (A high second place on this same topic: When God Weeps, by Joni Erickson Tada)

2. Best fiction: The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. It’s based on a Russian fairy tale that is very familiar to me, but I think anyone would love it, whether or not they have Russian connections. Magical, beautiful, sad, hopeful.

3. Made me think: Ishmael Instructs Isaac, by John Kaltner. We live with a Muslim family, and I really want to understand their beliefs better. This was a good start. Does anyone else have recommendations about Islam and/or the Koran for me? (Also in this category: Stronger than Death, which I read with the VA community. I can’t stop thinking about it.)

4. Just for fun: My daughter got me started on the Max Frei series, and I’ve read several of them this year. (But I really don’t recommend these, unless you can read them in Russian. I saw that the US library we have access to has a few as e-books in English, so I tried one. The translation is awful!) 

And what do I put for fifth?! I have read so many excellent books this year! Since I threw in two extras for my four best books above, I won’t add an official fifth.

Now over to you, reading friends! Do you read books in other languages? Was it a good reading year for you? Share some of your favorites in the comments!

Join us in January as we start off the year reading The Voice of Melody by Kaylene Powell! Here’s the description from Amazon:

“The account that inspired Melville’s masterpiece and shook an island’s reputation only told one side of Captain Chase’s story. In this tale, his wife and daughter tell their side for the first time.

Nantucket whaleman Owen Chase is not at home for the birth of most of his children, including his firstborn, Phebe Ann. Owen’s wife, Peggy, works to maintain a sense of security while hoping and praying that Owen is safe. But as Peggy is quietly marveling at Phebe’s development, Owen’s ship, half a world away, is rammed and sunk by an angry whale.

Against all odds—and contrary to preliminary reports—Owen returns home, seemingly well, to his stunned relatives and neighbors. But will life ever be the same for him and anyone who knows and loves him?

Experiential narratives of both Peggy and Phebe span decades of the Chase family’s story to illuminate life at the height of the whaling era and grace for dealing with significant hardships in a timeless, moving way.”

Here’s the schedule for the book:

January 5th: Chapters 1-4

January 12th: Chapters 5-8

January 19th: Chapters 9-12

January 26th: Chapters 13-15 and Postlude

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash


  1. Rachel Kahindi December 27, 2020

    So interesting to see your list! Thanks for sharing!

    I’m going to have to look into ereaderIQ. I use Open Library, Over Drive, and Hoopla — and I get emails with on sale books from several sources, but none of them have a watch list. That would be really useful!

  2. Sarah Hilkemann December 28, 2020

    Thanks so much for sharing your list with us, Phyllis! Also these great suggestions for ways to access books. 🙂

    After seeing The Snow Child on your list, it has popped up other places for me as a suggestion. It’s is now added to my to-be-read list!

    1. Phyllis January 1, 2021

      There was some really interesting cultural stuff in The Snow Child for me. I was in suspense all the way through about if the author would write in an American ending, or stay with the traditional one. I saved this quote, because it reflected all of that for me: “Was it as Ada had suggested, that we can choose our own endings, joy over sorrow? Or does the cruel world just give and take, give and take, while we flounder through the wilderness?”

      Thank you to Velvet Ashes for letting me talk about books, here in this post and every week in the book club comments!

  3. JoyH January 16, 2021

    Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Kureshi tells of his search to prove Islam is better/true over Christianity, and he finds the opposite.

    1. Phyllis January 20, 2021

      I just started in an online college course about the Muslim world, and one of the first videos was from him. Because of your recommendation, I just put a library hold on the book. Thanks!

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