The Most Eclectic Book Review of 2020

As many of you know, every year I write a book review for every book I read throughout the year. For 2020, my goal was sixty books and I made it! This book review covers everything from Christian theology, nonfiction works on racism and white supremacy, to science fiction, fantasy, young adult romance. This year, I also read comic books! It’s an eclectic mix showing you what I read and what I have thought about them. To read more, follow me on Goodreads as Melinda Mitchell.

By the numbers, in 2020 I read:

34 Fiction, 26 Nonfiction

Fiction breakdown:

Science Fiction: 9
Fantasy: 8
Young Adult Fantasy: 7
Young Adult Contemporary/Romance: 3
Comic Books: 3
Middle Grade Fantasy: 2
Mystery: 1
Science Fiction Anthology (also contains nonfiction): 1

Nonfiction breakdown:

18: Christian theology, inspiration, leadership, prayer, meditation, etc, including 4 that focused on racism and/or decolonization of theology and church
5: Racism/White Privilege (not having to do with church)
1: Memoir
1: Collection of essays/opinions
1: Photo Journalism

Here is my eclectic book review of 2020:

1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Nonfiction: Memoir
I loved reading the story of Michelle Obama’s life, her dreams, goals and passion. Her insights into politics and the presidency were not only insightful, but at times I cried for where we are now as opposed to where we were. I appreciated that she shared her struggles in marriage and with infertility, with figuring out herself and her own dreams and desires, balancing work and motherhood and being the first lady. Highly recommend.

2. The Sacred Valley by Peggy Hahn
Nonfiction: Church Leadership
A companion to Faithful Metrics, the resources from LEAD (Live Everyday As Disciples) are essential for pastors today in casting vision and deepening spiritual life. The resources provide great tools for thinking differently about purpose, values, and how we grow.

3. Noumenon Infinity by Marina J. Lostetter
Science Fiction
The sequel to Noumenon, which I read at the end of 2019, provides some closure as to what happens to humanity a hundred thousand years into the future, through two different timelines. I loved the setup of Noumenon, of convoys from Earth leaving one hundred years from our present and traveling for thousands of years, each chapter jumping ahead to a new generation of the clones, so you are sort of following character lines. However, the conclusion was rushed, and left a lot of unanswered questions and some plot lines that were much weaker than others. I honestly enjoyed it up until the last few chapters, when I could see where it was trying to wrap up and the reader had to make leaps to accept the actions and reasoning of some characters that didn’t seem to mesh with what we’d read to that point.

4. Trauma and Grace: Theology In a Ruptured World by Serene Jones
Nonfiction: Christian Theology
I appreciated this book and an attempt to begin to understand trauma through a theological lens, as these questions are some of the most crucial for the church in these days. The book is from 2009 with the first two chapters written earlier, and I think that in 2020 the author might have new insights into collective trauma from our mass shootings. She does address it in the aftermath of 9/11, but I think the epidemic of mass shootings is a different scenario. It’s no longer terrorists and enemies, but people from our own communities, our neighbors with white supremacist ideology and hate for women. I also felt the author failed to address trauma caused by the church, and how we minister in a world where the church has caused incredible trauma through colonization and abuse. It’s a good start, but we need an update.

5. Pride Wars: The Four Guardians by Matt Laney
Upper Middle Grade Fantasy
The Pride Wars series is an incredible adventure! The people of the Pride Wars are descendants of evolved cat-people, and prince Leo, the main character, is on a quest to find out the truth about his people, his family, and his gifts of being a Spinner, able to bring fiction to life. In this second book, Leo travels across the border with his close friends to the Maugar, a people who are enemies of the Singa, his own pride. But the Singa reject Spinners and fiction, whereas the Maugar embrace these gifts and see Spinners as the way to stop evil in this world. Highly recommend this series!

6. Shameless: A Sexual Revolution by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Nonfiction: Christian Sexual Ethics
Bolz-Weber targets specifically shame surrounding sex through Christian tradition and a new Christian ethic. She doesn’t go too broadly into forming that new ethic, but specifically addresses the harm done by purity culture and the hypocrisy of what has been taught in evangelicalism. The stories she shares in this book offer grace and healing. There are other progressive Christian books that give a broader view of Christian sexual ethics that go beyond the traditional one-man-one-woman no-sex-before-marriage box, but this book is specifically speaking to shame, and on that narrow target, the author hits it directly.

7. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction: inspiration
This was a letdown for me. Anne Lamott was a writer I looked up to for many years. She was an inspiration in my faith journey. But her derogatory remarks towards a transgender person on Twitter and her subsequent un-apology left me holding her works at a distance. Still, I loved her writing. Help, Thanks, Wow was a fantastic read as was Small Victories, among her more recent works. Hallelujah Anyway begins with a great premise and a fantastic first chapter—and then it sort of falls apart with nonsensical ramblings and further attempts to justify her derogatory remarks. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t simply apologize and use it as a moment of stating where she had gone wrong, instead, it was shown as a moment where her son distanced himself from her, while she doubled-down on why she tweeted what she did. I wrote a longer review on Goodreads of what I found problematic.
Nonetheless, what moves me is when she writes of her own, personal experience. Her struggles with sobriety. Her struggles with finding the good, that sometimes God doesn’t have the answers. The way she finds herself in the stories in Scripture—they help us to find our own stories. These are the insights I received from Anne Lamott in the past, and appreciate.

8. Kiska: The Japanese Occupation of an Alaskan Island by Brendan Coyle
Nonfiction: Photojournalism, Military History
Many people don’t know that Attu and Kiska, the furthest reaches of the Aleutian Islands, were occupied by the Japanese in WWII. Kiska had no civilian population at the time when the Japanese occupied it. Coyle’s pictures are incredible, woven in with the history of the occupation, the attack by Allied troops after the Japanese had unknowingly withdrawn, and the environmental impacts almost eighty years later. These harsh, far-flung volcanic islands of Alaska contain some of the most sorrowful stories of war and loss.

9. Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2) by Tomi Adeyemi
Young Adult Fantasy
A thrilling sequel to the first, I love that the story continues to center on Zelie and Amari, two girls shaping the destiny of Orisha. The story is fast-paced and an emotional ringer of betrayal and loyalty, love and mistrust and loss. There were some twists that I think were supposed to be surprises (no spoilers) but once you employ a plot device, we expect it again. I enjoyed the first one more than this, but I’m hopeful for the conclusion when book three comes out.

10. Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Re-Entry by Kelly Thompson (author), Carmen Carnero (Contributor), and Annapaola Martello (Illustrations)
Graphic Novel
I haven’t read many comics but I loved the movie Captain Marvel, so I was delighted to start on this series, beginning with Carol Danvers returning to earth, attempting to mentor a young hero, rekindling a romance with Rhodey (!!!) and having it all sidelined while she takes down Nuclear Man, a 7 foot misogynist. Full of fun girl-power action, celebrating women, non-binary folks, deaf superheroes and friendships, I enjoyed the ride!

11. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Oh my heart! I haven’t read a book that I couldn’t put down in so long. Think Oceans 11 set in a Victorian world from Amsterdam to Denmark with magic. Each of the six main characters set to pull off the biggest heist in their world have flaws and shortcomings, some with horrific pasts. I cared about each one of them, even when I was furious with the choices they made. I didn’t want to stop reading. I immediately downloaded the sequel afterwards. Bardugo is a master of worldbuilding, character arcs, and layering backstory details so they don’t bog you down but make you fall harder for each character. Loved it. Except …

12. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
I loved this one even more than the first. It’s hard for sequels to live up to their predecessor, but Bardugo does it. Relationships are strained, torn apart, and mended. Trust is broken and rebuilt. Love isn’t some rush of the hearbeat or sweaty palms, but what actually saves each other, and saves the people and the city they love. I haven’t loved a book this much since The Poppy War (read in 2018).

13. Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Graphic Novel
Loved this origin story for Kamala Khan, who at first takes on Carol Danvers mantle, but becomes her own superhero—a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl in New Jersey trying to find her way to fit in, and with her new superpowers, finds a bigger role to play.

14. Shadow and Bone (The Grishaverse #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
After reading Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I had to read more of Bardugo’s Grishaverse. We meet Alina, an orphan who discovers her magical powers, is taken by the Darkling to hone her skills for the kingdom, but learns that not is all as it seems. I quickly sped through this one and the next two.

15. Siege and Storm (The Grishaverse #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Alina’s power grows, but so does the Darkling’s pursuit of her to use her magic to rule the kingdom. She is torn by love, loyalty, and a sense of right/wrong, resulting in gut-wrenching decisions. The plot meanders a bit, so I gave this one four stars instead of five, but the character of Alina and the worldbuilding is compelling enough that you have to know what happens next.

16. Ruin and Rising (The Grishaverse #3) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Alina has lost her powers. She has sacrificed everything to save everyone, and has lost everything. It’s gut-wrenching, but so good! What a satisfying ending. I think Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are slightly better stories, but this original trilogy wraps up nicely in this third installment.

17. Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life by Meta Herrick Carlson
Nonfiction: Christian Inspiration/Prayers
This book was a NECESSARY read in 2020. Carlson keeps it real and raw. I have come back to these prayers again and again this year, speaking plainly to the pain that we know and the joy that is sometimes buried deep.

18. The Forbidden Stars (Axiom #3) by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
I LOVE this series. Captain Callie’s wit and determination leads her to discover the truth about their galaxy, the gates, and the aliens that created them and may be waiting to destroy everything again. The crew of the White Raven have become fond friends of mine as I’ve read this series. I’m not sure if there will be more, but I have enjoyed the sharp wit and humor of the narration throughout.

19. Bright and Beautiful: A Reverend Alma Lee Mystery (Book #2) by Amber Belldene
Mystery
I received a copy of Bright and Beautiful in exchange for an honest review.
This is the second installment of Alma Lee’s series—she was a minor character in Belldene’s Hot Under Her Collar romance series. All of the main characters are women Episcopal priests. I enjoy Rev. Alma Lee as a character and this murder mystery series so far, and about halfway through this one I had a good guess (that turned out to be correct) of who the murderer was. However, I did find this book to be a bit preachy compared to others in the series, and there’s a point where Alma breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader, which I didn’t remember happening in the first. But it’s a good cozy mystery with a satisfying ending.

20. I HAVE STRONG OPIONIONS: A Collection of Frothing, Fuming, and Funny by Laura Anne Gilman
Nonfiction Novelette
You have to know author Laura Anne Gilman in order to truly appreciate the humor and wit of this one. But if you follow her on social media, this will be familiar to you.

21. This is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls by Anna Woofenden
Nonfiction: Christian
I know the author and knew of The Garden Church when Anna was envisioning it, but I didn’t know the whole story. This is an excellent read and her narrative draws you in immediately, in her story of God leading her to plant a church right where the people’s needs are. Highly recommend for all pastors and church leaders interested in planting new ministries and communities of faith.

22. Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry by Elizabeth Mae Magill
Nonfiction: Christian
The title is pretty self-explanatory, and is a great resource for anything thinking of or beginning a relational food ministry. Each chapter contains questions at the end and would be a good study for a pastor or ministry team thinking of engaging this kind of ministry. The author shares her experiences as well as research and findings from her doctoral project, sharing the challenges and trials of seven churches she visited and interviewed in the process.

23. Weave the Lighting by Cory L. Lee
Fantasy
I LOVED this story, similar to the Grishaverse in that it’s another Russian-inspired fantasy story, but adult fantasy and not YA. A thriller of magic, revolution against the empire, and learning who to trust. I fell right into this world and loved it. The only critique I have is that I am not 100% sure how the magic works in this world, and would have loved to have a glossary at the end. But I’m sad that it has lower stars on Goodreads because it doesn’t deserve that—it’s well-written and I couldn’t put it down.

24. For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World by Emily M. D. Scott
Nonfiction: Christian
For years, many of us in progressive Christian circles have heard about St. Lydia’s, the dinner church in New York City and it’s wild success. The author is the founding pastor and shares her vision and story. I appreciated her raw authenticity about its failures and false starts. She tells the tenacious truth about starting new ministries and planting new churches, and her own call as it grows and changes. This was a great read, once again, for clergy and leaders considering planting new churches and ministries.

25. The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
Young Adult Fantasy-Western
An interesting premise of five girls who break out of sex slavery and end up on the run in a fantasy/paranormal Wild West world. However, I felt that the fantasy elements detracted from the story rather than enhanced it at points, with a lot of worldbuilding that was wasted. But it has an interesting plot that kept me turning the page. The last third gets a bit rough, with some very predictable plot points and clues that are spelled out more for the reader than necessary, but I want to cheer this author on to go deeper into this world and really make it what it could be in a future story

26. An Illusion of Thieves (Chimera #1) by Cate Glass
Fantasy
A delightful story I didn’t think I would like! I’m so glad to be proven wrong. The first quarter was hard, with some ghastly scenes as Romy lost everything in her life. But there were pleasant surprises, twists and turns, moving from a story of a fall from grace to a righteous heist. A satisfying conclusion and a door open for more. The last quarter I couldn’t put it down and I was thrilled to get the ending the reader deserved. No spoilers, but I really was happy with how things ended up.

27. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Nonfiction
This was a must read for 2020. However, since I read and wrote my original review, I have read some criticism from other Black authors and people of color about his definition of antiracism. But this is a great, thorough overview of the history of racism and racist policies since the creation of the slave trade. Woven in with memoir, Kendi works to tie in how the politics and policies of racism must be dismantled, and that generally speaking in the U.S. we’ve been too focused on individual acts of racism. His argument is that we change the policies and we change the behavior. I’ve read some good critique of this approach since I read this book, but I still think it’s a must read.

28. Riverland by Fran Wilde
Middle-grade Fantasy
I won an ARC of this story in a raffle.
I gave this book a 5 star rating on Goodreads on behalf of my son, because he LOVED this story whereas it was not my usual read (I do read some middle-grade fiction, but tend to read more high fantasy). This is a portal fantasy that deals with domestic violence.
I was worried how my son, AJ, who is autistic and primarily nonverbal, would react. I read it to him most nights (some nights just a page or two, and sometimes we skipped nights) so it took us a long time to read it. I had not planned to read it to him but he picked it up out of my pile of books and was so taken by the cover he would not let go of it.
This is the story of El and Mike, sisters, who discover in their neighborhood of Riverland that there is a dreamlike world that sometimes seeps into theirs, especially when things get bad at home with their abusive father.
There were parts where AJ said “scary” and so we would put the book away for a day or two, and indeed, there is violence and fear. But it is a good story of how to be brave, how to trust friends, and that there is an adult somewhere who will listen and understand.

29. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo
Nonfiction
I gave this book a higher rating than I would today, because I’ve not only read some criticism by Black women authors of DiAngelo, but also have read books on the same subject by Black women authors who do a better job of explaining white privilege, the concept of white fragility, and how white people need to work on this. This is a white person problem. I still recommend this book as a good starting place for white people who are not there yet. Let them read this book and have their beliefs and questions challenged here before going on to learn more from Black women, but you have to move past this book. This cannot be your stopping place, but it can be a starting place.

30. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Fantasy
Think Downton Abbey, except the characters are dragons who occasionally eat each other. This was a delightful surprise to read. It did take me a while to get into the story, but after the first few chapters I was hooked. Proper intrigue, family drama, marriage proposals and rejections, secrets that shock society and truth revealed, with dragon scales, gold, and cannibalism for a bit of flair. A father on his deathbed requests an unorthodox religious sacrament; a greedy son-in-law; young sisters, now fatherless, must be married, and a brother who has secrets of his own tries to do his best to help his family.

31. Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
Young Adult Romance
Thoroughly enjoyable contemporary love story. The author weaves in the practices of Islam by both characters as well as cultural differences (Muslims are not a monolith, there are a variety of cultures and experiences and practices). I highly recommend reading the authors note at the end, especially white readers, because sometimes it’s easy for us to believe patterns of hate are exaggerated, and she shares how the examples in the story come from her own personal experiences. The author especially emphasizes how sexism and Islamaphobia often go together against women who wear the hijab. The bones of this story is a typical YA romance, and it hits all the right notes.

32. The Archronlogy of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim
Fantasy Novelette
A fascinating sci-fi novelette of how digging for clues can destroy what we are trying to discover. Saki, continuing her research into how an entire colony died, also longs to find out what happened to her partner. This volume also contains a flash story with the same characters.

33. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart
Nonfiction: Christian
This is a good starting place for white churches to begin to engage racism within and to move toward being an Antiracist church. The author weaves their personal narrative of experiencing white church spaces. Instead of bringing the Gospel, much of the white Euro church brought western European culture, in everything from practices to images of Jesus. Hart works to remove Jesus and the kingdom of God from the racial structures imposed by the white European church, and gives practical advice along with explanations of what steps need to be done to begin to dismantle racism within white church spaces. Even churches that claim to be multicultural are often steeped in white racial hierarchies, and this is a good beginning book to study, learn about intersectionality, and how to move toward Antiracist church practices.

34. Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson
Graphic Novel
Such a great series! Ms. Marvel discovers the Inventor while fangirling Wolverine, learns of her background with Kree genetics, and gains a new furry, slobbery sidekick named Lockjaw. Great commentary on Gen Z and how society sees kids and how we’ve destroyed the world they are saving. And I love how Kamala’s faith is part of her background. Instead of being lectured, the sheikh at her mosque encourages her to have the right motivation and someone to teach her.

35. The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
Nonfiction
This is a must read. Though the author may draw some conclusions that others might argue, the overview of the history of policing is excellent. His main conclusions are that we need to end the War on Drugs and decriminalize/regulate drugs, and legalize and regulate sex work.
Overall, it is a well-researched argument. However, I believe the author could have delved more into the current systemic racism of policing in the U.S.
One issue I had was in chapter four, on how calling the police for help has resulted in police shootings and death. “Studies show that standard police approaches actually tend to escalate and destabilize encounters.” But there is no footnote, no source to those studies. Given the rest of the book has extensive notes and resources, I hope this is simply an editorial error. I still give it five stars as it is a necessary read for today.

36. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) Rebecca Roanhorse
Fantasy
Started and finished in less than 24 hours. Picks up right after the first book, Trail of Lightning. Maggie, a Diné monster killer, is now known as a Godslayer, and this newfound status comes with unwanted attention, especially from an old “friend.” She’d prefer to work alone, but new people continue to insist on tagging along, as she searches for someone close to her who has gone missing.
The amazing world Roanhorse created in the first book is expanded as Maggie travels outside Dinetah for the first time, traveling to newer communities and peoples, and a villain bent on bringing another catastrophic end to the world.

37. To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Science Fiction Novella
Chambers has a way of telling a story with so much detail perfectly. The worldbuilding is tangible, with all the senses envoked. Maybe it’s due to one of the characters having a name close to Chidi, this felt like The Good Place in space, and at the end, not knowing what comes next is okay. The crew was sent out to explore four planetary bodies, and return to Earth, but Earth has gone silent (similar to Noumenon by Marina Lostetter). After surviving a difficult planet and the uncertainty of Earth, the crew must make a difficult decision for their future–but they cannot make this decision alone.

38. Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
Nonfiction: Christian
A great first read on decolonization. Kaitlin masterfully weaves her personal journey of discovering herself and claiming her identity as both Potawatomi and Christian and the work of revolutionizing her life and faith. Her story is pointed toward those who are white to do the work of decolonization, and to those who are Native American to seek healing. As a woman coded white, she shares her own journey of revolutionizing her own spirituality. It’s a beautiful book, with prose that whispers and carries a call to justice and further work. The author intends this to be a beginning and not the ending, citing other works and a challenge for white readers to continue to do the work.

39. Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies: The Wake-Up Call Guide for White Women who want to become Allies with Black Women by Catrice M. Jackson
Nonfiction
This is the book that made me realize Robin DiAngelo cannot be the voice for white women in learning about white supremacy. White women continue to perpetuate violence, even when trying to learn more about white supremacy. We need to listen to Black women and their experience.
The author distinguishes between three types of white women: antagonists are the type who don’t believe they are racist, they tone-police Black women who share their experiences, and tell Black women they are being racist for bringing racism into the conversation. Advocates listen to Black women’s experiences but often silence or fail to react in meaningful ways to racism. Advocates still care about self-preservation and while they may seem understanding, are unwilling to risk themselves. Allies understand that in order for the world to change they must put their whole lives into racial justice work the way Black women have to in order to survive. Allies must commit themselves and their lives to the work.
Catrice Jackson addresses many of the same concepts and issues that DiAngelo does, except Jackson did this years before her and it’s clear that a white woman is profiting off the labor of Black women. White Fragility be where some white women start, but the rolling up of the sleeves to get to work starts with Jackson, in terms of dealing with fragility.

40. The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Science Fiction
This is my favorite of the series, which takes place in an alternate history of the space race in the 1950’s and 60’s. The previous two were Elma York’s story; this is Nicole Wargin, wife of the governor of Kansas (he’s a potential presidential candidate) who was one of the original six astronauts in this alternate history. She’s more no-nonsense than Elma, and the things that made Elma blush, Nicole doesn’t bat an eye. But tragedy strikes the Moon mission she is on over and over again, and as she still battles sexism, she also battles an unknown suspect of the Earth First movement that is sabotaging their future in space. There’s a whodunit vibe to this story set in an alternate 1960’s, driven by Nicole’s efforts to save the Moon colony and get past the stupid sexism that holds her and other women back. I enjoyed the first two but this story builds off the others in a satisfying spinoff story.

41. Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service as a Spiritual Practice by Meredith Gould
Nonfiction
A short primer on how to get started in service to others, with a framework of healthy practice. There are writing exercises in each chapter to help someone discern their path to service, and it includes helpful tips on setting boundaries, red flags to watch for, and how to determine one’s own gifts and strengths as well as areas where one might not be a good fit. For those outside of the church, especially those who consider themselves spiritual, this is a good starting place for rediscovering values and purpose out of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions toward serving others.

42. White Spaces Missing Faces: Why Women of Color Don’t Trust White Women by Catrice M. Jackson
Nonfiction
A must-read for white women, especially for those who have had “diversity training” and why it doesn’t go nearly far enough. This is a how-to undo our racism. It’s not easy. But white privilege is so entangled in our lives that it’s hard to dismantle even when we know it’s there because we have to give up power to do so, and we don’t want to. I recommend reading her first book Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies first, and then this one. She has also released Weapons of Whiteness and I plan to read it. Her style is no-nonsense, no coddling. We need to get over ourselves and get to work.

43. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Young Adult Romance
Read this all in one evening. Rachel’s characters have such strong voices that I’m instantly drawn in and can’t put it down. A delightful story of two high school seniors in Seattle, academic rivals who discover, on their last day of school, they have more in common than they realized and the things that annoyed them about each other are what spurred them on to do better. A nice swoony teen romance that is relatable and yet unique.

44. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church by James H. Cone
Nonfiction: Christian Theology
Cone wrote this in 1984 and it’s still valid today, especially chapters 1-3 that lay out an understanding of Black Theology as attacking White Theology and as Liberation Theology. He writes extensively about the civil rights movements of the 60’s, police violence, MLK and Malcolm X, and sadly, not much has changed, but Cone’s understanding and theological reflection is still sound and poignant. He writes of Black feminism as it was beginning, but misses a lot of even secular leaders of the time. I imagine he’d write much more extensively on Black Womanist theology today. It’s still an excellent, accessible read with extensive notes for further reading.

45. The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
Fantasy
I’m pretty generous in my book ratings, and most books get four or five stars from me. It’s rare for me to give three stars. I gave this one two. I really wanted to like this book, and though there were issues starting in the beginning, even 2/3 of the way through I thought they would be resolved. They were not. I almost did not finish this book.
The story is hard to follow. There are two alternate timelines, which I’ve read other stories that do this well, so that wasn’t an issue for me. One timeline is in first person, the other is in third and that timeline switches POV’s on occasion. The major issue is that there is another minor character who is narrating over both and gives lengthy footnotes. It tries too hard to be funny, and instead is annoying and makes it so no narrator is reliable. Also, there are certain characters who can possess other characters, so you think you know a character and it turns out you don’t, and they’ve actually been dead for years. This was really aggravating. A lot of characters had similar names. I couldn’t keep track. Also, a lot of rape, sexual slavery, and unnecessary violence.
There are a lot of loose ends that are not tied up and the last one hundred pages were disappointing. Read my Goodreads review for more information, and some spoilers if you want them.

46. One Breath At A Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation by J. Dana Trent
Nonfiction: Christian
Excellent beginners guide to Christian meditation. I have not completed the 40 days of meditations, but the guide is fantastic. There are five different practices shared, with a guide to do each practice for eight days, plus additional tools and resources to tweak each practice. Begin with three minutes a day. I’m hoping to start this soon once I know our fall schedule more clearly, as the best practice is to use the same time each day. This would make a good communal practice for a small group as well as for an individual.

47. Take This Bread by Sara Miles
Nonfiction: Christian
I wanted to like this book more than I did. So many colleagues have recommended it over the years. Miles writes eloquently of her experiences and conversion to following Jesus through the serving of food, the breaking of bread together. The vivid descriptions ground the theological statements into real lived experience. But I was disturbed by the descriptions of people, using racial stereotypes, negative body image, a transphobic slur and the r word. There was no reason for this. In all circumstances different wording would have led the reader to the same points Miles was trying to make. It was sloppy as a writer and for her editors to allow those remarks to be published, and it made it hard to complete what might otherwise have been an excellent book. It also makes me wary of trusting this author not to cause harm in future works.

48. How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont
Nonfiction: Christian
A good, thoughtful read about sitting in the unknown, finding a way in liminal space. Beaumont doesn’t offer solutions, but tools to use to help congregations with identity and purpose. She doesn’t lead you to the next steps, but helps you to figure out how to get there. This was a good reminder read during this Covid liminal time that the church is becoming something new, but we don’t know what that is yet.

49. Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells
Science Fiction
This is the first full-length novel in this series, the first four are all novellas (and there’s a short story that began it all). I love Murderbot. I won’t post spoilers but the dry humor of SecUnit continues as they are reunited with an old friend, a mystery to solve, pesky humans to rescue and strange human emotions that keep popping up. Start with All Systems Red and keep reading. This is the best installation yet.

50. Tam Lin: A Modern Queer Retelling by T. J. Deschamps
Fantasy Novella
Content advisory for very steamy sex scenes
Fantastic worldbuilding lends to a vivid modern take on old stories of fae, knights, queens, love and betrayal. This short novella packs a punch. The author is one of my critique partners!

51. Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mother God by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
Nonfiction: Christian
A short read that connects mothering and pastoring together, in how God has mothered us and how what we traditionally–and not always traditionally–view as maternal aspects open God’s love to us in new and creative ways. Through this book, I found my own aha moments of mothering experiences that led me to a deeper understanding of myself as a pastor. The author also goes into the challenges that many clergy mothers face, as well as the everyday challenges women in ministry often experience. The author names at the beginning that this is not a book just for mothers, and there are mothers of all kinds, and specifically names those who have experienced fertility struggles and pregnancy loss. This is instead a book of connecting experience traditionally held under the umbrella of motherhood and applying it to all in the ways God mothers us and how we “mother” in our pastoring.

52. The Truth Project by Dante Medema
Young Adult Contemporary
This was my favorite book of the year. Grips your heart and doesn’t let go. As someone who grew up in Alaska it resonates so strongly. It’s so beautifully written, a poetic epistolary of a senior in high school struggling to know who she is while what she has known falls apart. I started it last night and finished in the morning as I could not put it down.

53. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
Nonfiction: Christian
This may have been the most important book I read this year. While I have read about the history of racism in the US before, this book focuses on the white church and the harm done–not just in supporting slavery and segregation, but in the harm done by our compromising, by our feeling that others weren’t ready yet. Pastors in the early 1800’s were afraid of losing their positions so they compromised with segregated pews or notions of sending freed slaves back to Africa. White Christians are still making damaging compromises today instead of working to eradicate white supremacy. Highly recommend this book. There is also a series of videos on Amazon Prime. I haven’t checked them out yet but plan to.

54. Velocity Weapon (The Protectorate #1) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Science Fiction
It took me a while to get into this one, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. The author does an amazing job of setting up an overarching story of mind games, manipulation and twists I didn’t see coming. Similar to Murderbot with a rogue AI and human beings overreaching into realms of control and destruction over the very beings they create.

55. Chaos Vector (The Protectorate #2) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Science Fiction
The author blew my mind with the worldbuilding and the intricate details, from nanotechnology to spaces busting gates, and artificial intelligences that inhabit ships and human bodies. In both this book and the last, a gut-wrenching twist midway through that made it impossible to stop reading. Can’t wait for the third.

56. Queen of None by Natania Barron
Fantasy
A heart-wrenching retelling of Arthurian legends through the eyes of Anna Pendragon, Arthur’s sister. The lyrical writing immediately drew me in and set me right in Arthur’s family and court, but through the eyes of someone oft-forgotten and ignored. As someone who also studied Arthurian legends in college, there was both a familiarity and bright newness to Anna’s Arthurian setting. Brilliant plot twists and turns, and characters that remind us, ultimately, of the sad falling of Arthur’s kingdom before his very eyes, but with a hope of survival.

57. Architect (Last Resistance #3) by Hayley Stone
Science Fiction
This is the third and final installment in a story of the robot apocalypse that takes over the earth and the final showdown. The first two books primarily took place in Alaska, which is why I was drawn to the story to begin with. The worldbuilding rises to another level in the war of machines vs humanity, twisting to remind us that no conflict is simple, and neither are the ways we live our own lives. What version of ourselves do we live out with friends, lovers, others? This third installment takes the reader to a deeper level of questioning what it means to be human. I loved it.

58. Uncanny Magazine Issue 24: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue edited by Elsa Sjunneson, Dominik Parisien, Nicolette Barischoff, S. Qioyi Lu, and Judith Tarr
Science Fiction, Nonfiction Essays, and Poetry Anthology
It takes me a long time to read anthologies (I often have to put the book down after reading a single story or essay to think about it, just like I would with a whole novel) so I started this over a year ago.
This is an excellent collection of short stories, essays, poetry, and interviews, featuring a variety of people with disabilities and their experiences. This is a must read for able-bodied folks. I’m married to someone on the autism spectrum and have a nonverbal autistic son, and this collection opened my eyes to basic representation that is missing often in our science fiction.
Favorites include Birthday Girl and Disconnect, and I especially appreciated the essay “Design a Spaceship.” The personal essays are probably the most important piece in my opinion. There’s so much in one volume. I’ll be coming back to this work for quite a while.

59. The Burning God (The Poppy War #3) by R. F. Kuang
Fantasy
I absolutely loved this series.
I wish for a different ending.
At the same time, this wasn’t my story to tell, and I think the author did an amazing job of showing us through the narrative the horror that is the Doctrine of Discovery (if you don’t know what that is look it up). This is the tragedy of empires, and that violence begets violence and there’s no coming back from it. This is a gory, graphic series. It’s awesome. It’s also heartbreakingly tragic and a roller coaster of a ride. I’ve reread The Poppy War three times because I love it so much. And I’m sad it’s over and sad it ended the way it did.

60. Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary by Frederick Beuchner
Nonfiction: Christian
I’d been told to read this since I graduated seminary 18 years ago, so I finally did. I have not ready any of Buechner’s other works though he’s been highly recommended. My lower star rating is mainly due to the outdated nature of some of these essays, now 35+ years old, written when I was a child. Some, like Advent and Lent, are timeless, whereas I rolled my eyes at the essay on female and his outdated understanding of feminism, outdated even for the 80’s though he may have held a more mainstream opinion. Still, there was much I enjoyed, and I’ll keep a few of these essays handy for sermon illustrations.

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