Favorite Books I Read During 2020

I read well over 100 books this past year and find it almost impossible to reduce my favorites to an even dozen of both fiction and non-fiction.

So, if you are one of my dear author friends and your book is not on this list, please understand that it is a highly subjective list (especially this year) and anyone who wrote and released a book in 2020 already has my highest praise (and hopefully I did a social shout out to you at some point.)

The following books, however, touched me for very specific reasons. I have written both endorsements and reviews of most of these books, but today I’m just telling you why they are on my top list. Enjoy READING!

Lucinda’s Top 12 NON- Fiction Reads in 2020 (alpha order by title)

Adorning the Dark – Andrew Peterson

This was the very first book I read in 2020 (having heard rave comments all of 2019) and it did not disappoint. What a perfectly exquisite and challenging way to begin a year of what I had hoped would be full of creativity, courage, and crossing into new realms of growth and grace. If you are an artist of any sort, you absolutely must read this book. And also, Peterson and Rabbit Room‘s “Hutchmoot” conference later in the year (and online for the very first time which enabled peons like me to actually procure a ticket) ministered to my soul in ways I will never forget. A FAVORITE QUOTE HERE

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot – Ellen Vaughn

Having known Elisabeth Elliot personally, I was especially prayerful for the author who dared write this stunning biography of a complicated life. I need not have been concerned. Ellen’s work is a tour de force in presenting a larger-than-life person in an authentic and inspiring manner (without the pedestal.) Wow. I challenge you to read this biography and stay the same. I hope a whole new generation will be able to learn from Elisabeth’s remarkable life of courage and commitment. I am looking forward to personal discussions with Ellen this year as she researches the second volume of Elisabeth’s biography. MY REVIEW

Companions in the Darkness – Diana Gruver

Did you know that many of our mothers and fathers in the faith actually struggled with depression and doubt? I am so very grateful that my Redbud Writers Guild friend Diana was willing to share her own struggles as she so beautifully wove the stories of tragedy and (sometimes-but-not-always) triumph in the lives of people who have inspired me through the years. This book personally gave me hope and I know will do that for the one-third of Americans currently struggling with darkness. MY REVIEW

Every Moment Holy  – Douglas McKelvey

Yes, I received this volume of liturgy hot off the press in 2017, but I also kept reading it faithfully throughout this year (and the link is to a 2020 pocket version.) I highly recommend these writings of taking every moment and experience to God in prayer, both individually and corporately. I have shared so very many of these liturgies with others this year and eager look forward to Volume 2 next year. This is a valuable resource from friends at Rabbit Room/Hutchmoot. Read About Every Moment Holy

Staying Power – Gene/Carol Kent and Dave/Cindy Lambert

Yes, I am married (almost 37 years) and yes, I need wisdom for sticking it out during the hard times, but friends this book is for even those not married! Anyone who seeks perseverance or endurance in any area will discover valuable life lessons from these four dear friends – the Kents and Lamberts. Between them, they have experienced many challenges that could have been destructive. But why and how they kept going will stay with the reader for a long time. MY REVIEW

Surrendered – Barbara Roose

If ever there was a year to study the biblical word “surrender” it was 2020! And my friend Barb had just lived through a lifetime of hard learning, so I’m grateful her new Bible Study (and also a devotional book by the same title) came out this year. It is practical and personal. If you have struggled with feeling totally out of control and wondering how God can use that for good, then look no further than here. MY REVIEW

The Stillness of Winter – Barbara Mahany

I knew we were coming up on perhaps the hardest winter of our lives, so when my dear friend Barbara’s beautiful new hardcover released in October, I devoured it. This Chicago Times journalist writes in such lyrically spiritual ways that I feel all comforted and calm just reading her exquisite words. The combination of blessings through silence, service, creativity, (even cooking) all combine to quite literally keep me going throughout December/January/February. When I realized this is what I wish for my dearest friends as well during the months ahead, it became my go-to gift. Savor the serenity. MY REVIEW

The Way Home – Tessa Afshar

Not only is friend Tessa a favorite novelist, but also a favorite Bible teacher of mine, so I was thrilled with her first Bible Study packet on Ruth (book and DVD) which came out this year. Please get both because you definitely want to hear/see Tessa bring Ruth’s story alive as only a middle-eastern born sister can do. Great to do alone or with a group. I was honored to be in the audience and hear all this in person, not to mention the delicious food – my film debut. MY REVIEW

This Life We Share – Maggie Wallem Rowe

Even if the author wasn’t my BFF, I promise this book would be on my top dozen list for any year! It was worth the long wait to see Maggie’s first book of essays which so beautifully take life with God, others, and ourselves and juxtapose those stories with the story of God’s grace, forgiveness, and empowerment. You will be transported and transformed. This is also a beautiful hardcover which became one of my go-to gifts for the whole year. Enjoy. MY REVIEW

To Bless the Space Between Us – John O’Donohue

I discovered this 2008 treasure this June and it has quite literally sustained me for the entire rest of the year. (a random stranger listed it on instagram as “saving her life” which made me order it immediately – isn’t that amazing how God works?) Blessings upon blessings. The way O’Donohue writes speaks to my very soul and touches every single part of me. It has been my joy to gift this book to many who also treasure his words. This book spurs me to want to be a blessing and give a blessing and write blessings as well. Only God. PRAYER FOR LEADERS EXCERPT

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? – Sean Dietrich

Easily my favorite autobiography of the year but, like my own “Soul Strong,” it was released in February just as the world shut down, so might have been overlooked. I read Sean of the South‘s blog every single morning and it was so good to embrace this hard biography of how his life turned out “okay.” I marvel at his honesty and I quite simply love the way Sean turns a word and tells a story. Perhaps not for everyone, but for me, it touched my southern soul and reminded me of amazing second chances with God. I hope to meet him in person one day, perhaps even in Thomasville… MY REVIEW

Your Story Matters – Leslie Leyland Fields

I wanted to for sure add my most favorite writing book of the year, which is written by my Redbud Writers Guild sister, Leslie Leyland Fields. The subtitle is “Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life” an important part of being soul strong (and the 7th key to vibrant living in my own 2020 book.) Fields not only tells us how to share our story, but she shows us through her own authentic life stories. Mostly, she emphasizes why it matters that we do this — why we matter. She also offers online workshops (from her home in Alaska) which are on my own ‘to do’ list this year.

Lucinda’s Top 12 Fiction Reads in 2020 (alpha order by title)

A Long Time Comin’ – Robin Pearson

Long before this book won a Christy Award, my friend Cynthia told me I absolutely must read it. She knew that I grew up in the South and would so very appreciate the “voice” of Robin. I do! I loved her insight into a community and life that is authentic — both in the hard and in the happy. Can’t wait to read her next book coming out soon.

Afraid of the Light – Cynthia Ruchti

Knowing how to handle difficult subjects with just the right mixture of wit, wisdom, and wonder is the hallmark of Cynthia’s novels. This particular one gave me much insight into the deeper issues that prompt people to hoard, and prompt their loved ones to guard. Let’s just say I understand someone better after reading this book. And, oh yeah, the quirky romance helped a lot! MY REVIEW

As Bright as Heaven – Susan Meissner

As soon as we entered a pandemic and everyone kept referring to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, I knew I wanted to read a story set in that time. This well-researched novel that originally released in 2018 was a great insight into another time and place of viral terror. But, the story went beyond the disease, and how people found strength to cope and move forward was especially inspiring. My used copy has made the rounds amongst friends and neighbors. A FAVORITE QUOTE

Bury Your Dead – Louise Penny

I know I’m “late to the party” but whilst in quarantine I FINALLY began the Inspector Armand Gamache series so full of pathos, depth, beauty, and suspense. These books challenge both my intellect and my heart as Penny portrays so many different types of people and emotions and circumstances. This is Book 6 in the 16 book series set in Quebec, and I list it simply because it is phenomenal in every single way and my favorite so far! All I can say, friend, is I’m glad there are 10 books left to read (and that my library reservation service is on speed dial.)

Daughter of Rome – Tessa Afshar

The early church comes alive with this riveting story of Priscilla and Aquilla and Paul and all the scenes, smells, suffering, seeking, and strength of those who chose to follow The Way. In my humble opinion, no one portrays biblical characters so realistically and redemptively as Tessa. And her vast knowledge of the culture, backed by meticulous research, will leave you longing for more. Also, her first novel “Pearl in the Sand” had a new ten-year release this year and is fabulous! MY REVIEW

Into the Free – Julie Cantrell

I have been wanting to read this novel since it received Christy Award Book of the Year back in 2013 (I know, I know…) Finally I ordered a used copy and immediately thereafter the sequel “When Mountains Move.” Cantrell hits all the right places for southern fiction to me and I savored the story of Millie and her hard life. If you liked “Where the Crawdads Sing” (written by my childhood neighbor) please check out these two books as well – you won’t be disappointed! COVERS

Night Bird Calling – Cathy Gohlke

This book actually was RELEASED YESTERDAY! But, since I was invited to do an endorsement, I had the great privilege of reading this story in the Fall of 2020. Oh my. Y’all know Cathy as a multi- Christy Award winner and expert in capturing the heart of historical events and the people who lived through them. I have many Gohlke favorites. But I didn’t realize I was waiting for the hardest story of all — this one set in the Appalachian mountains. It is sad and yet full of strength. I applaud the courage it took to tell it, and pray that many will find healing through these words. Be sure to read “Note to My Readers” at the end. MY REVIEW

Remember Me – Sharon Garlough Brown

This short novella by favorite spiritual storyteller Sharon was released just before Ash Wednesday last year and I want to recommend you get a copy before Lent begins this year. The story concerns a Christian woman climbing her way back from mental illness. It is beautiful and heart-breaking, but it is mostly full of new life and hope. The accompanying art and creativity of walking through the stations of the Cross will be just what we all need in a few weeks. MY REVIEW

The Tea Chest – Heidi Chiavaroli

I never even heard of time-slip novels until my friend Heidi began writing them and winning awards! Fortunately I was able to attend her in-person launch party for this one just before the lockdown. What message does the Boston Tea Party have for us today? You might just be surprised to discover that people still struggle with decisions and choices. And that God has not changed. MY REVIEW

The Water Keeper – Charles Martin

Every year around my birthday, Martin comes out with a new novel and I always have it at the top of my wish list. This one began what looks like will be a new series featuring a bit more thrill than tenderness. Still, though it is not my favorite Martin book, I highly recommend this storyteller who presents people in believable situations and then helps them discover more of who they could be. I’d be happy to read a grocery list by this author, but what I really want is to meet him in person. MY SHOUT OUT

What Momma Left Behind – Cindy Sproles

I’m always thrilled to endorse Appalachian novels by a favorite Cindy — I only wish you could hear her accent whilst reading this story (she narrated it in my mind.) Amazingly, it also takes place during a scourge of death and disease, resulting in many orphaned children. The story asks good questions about who is family and what can we do to reach out to the suffering. As someone privileged to have raised several children I didn’t birth, I so embraced every element of this beautiful story of suffering, serendipity, and strength. MY REVIEW

Whose Waves These Are – Amanda Dykes

When this book recently received the Christy Award for Book of the Year, my friend Wendy graciously sent me a copy, knowing how I love stories set here in New England. And I must say, I was so thrilled to discover this new author (a fellow Rabbit…) and to receive her next book for Christmas. Who doesn’t love a story set in Maine, covering several interwoven generations of saints and sinners? Ah yes, but written in Amanda’s careful and compassionate manner, we experience all the feels as God’s grace unfolds. Just beautiful.

Asking for a Friend…

Did you perhaps read MY NEW BOOK of 2020 – “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life?” This interactive life guide is truly my “legacy book” with all the important words I’d like to pass on to daughters everywhere.

If you READ, PURCHASED or GIFTED “Soul Strong” I want to Thank You from the bottom of my heart. Truly, releasing these legacy words into the world was a great cause of rejoicing for me in the year 2020!

May I share 3 things about this 15th book of mine born in an unprecedented year?

  1. If you have a copy of the book and would like to hear my 8-week teaching on “Soul Strong” (complete with videos you can watch any time, outlines and discussion questions) just send me an email with “Soul Strong Study” in the subject line and I will email you the links. Free, but a love offering optional. LucindaSMcDowell at g mail dot com
  2. You heard it here first — the Oasis Audiobook of “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” on CD and Audible will release in February with yours truly as the Narrator. Woo Hoo!
  3. If you have read any part of “Soul Strong” and could leave a 2-3 sentence online review it would greatly help! (I need 33 more to make it to the magic 100 over at Amazon.)

My love and appreciation to all the READERS, WRITERS. EDITORS, and PUBLISHERS. May 2021 be a GREAT YEAR FOR WORDS!

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength”

©2020 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” She has authored 15 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” and “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.” She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com


  1. Jan on January 6, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    Thank your for this list of books, Cindy! Definitely adding some of them to my ‘to read’ list for 2021.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks for reading, Jan, and I hope you enjoy good words in 2021. Love to that “famous American musician” you live with…

  2. Rosie J Williams on January 6, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    Hi . We met years ago briefly at a writer’s conference. I will be purchasing Soul Strong today and will leave a review. I wanted to let you know about a simlilar book,, Soul H2O by by Sherry Stahl (she has a radio program on JOY radio in Toronto.)
    I also wanted to share with you the latest book I wrote (co-authored with my husband), Nine Pairs of Boots in Vietnam: Steps to Healing Every Veteran Needs to Know. Blessings!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:03 pm

      Rosie, how very kind of you to do this! I will definitely check into your story as well and hope to see you again in the future. Blessings for 2021.

  3. Cathy Gohlke on January 6, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful list of books, Lucinda, and for including Night Bird Calling among your favorites for the year! You’ve just increased my TBR list–which gets happily longer every day. Soul Strong is a fabulous book and a true legacy. Your books made my favorite Christmas gifts to give this year. Keep writing, my friend–we so need your words! May God bless your pen that so fills our hearts!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:04 pm

      You are more than welcome. I believe this new book of yours will be greatly used by God for healing in many lives. And thank you for always gifting and lifting my own words… Blessings for 2021.

  4. bam on January 6, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    There are at least 11 titles in this list I am running to read!! And profoundly honored
    To be the 12th. Oh dear gracious!! Thank yiu beautiful LSMcD!!!!❤️❤️❤️

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:05 pm

      You just keep WRITING, Miss BAM, and I will keep reading and shouting out about your wonderful words. Blessings for 2021.

  5. Cynthia Ruchti on January 6, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    This list is such a gift! And to see Afraid of the Light on it touches me deeply. Lucinda, you are such a discerning reader that it means all the more!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:06 pm

      Well, I am all agog that you have called me “discerning reader” so that truly makes my day. Can’t wait to add your newest to my 2021 list (as I know it will be because I was an early reader/endorser). Thank you for sharing words. Always. Blessings in 2021.

  6. Tessa Afshar on January 6, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you so much for including me in this phenomenal list TWICE! And now, I have to go get a second job, because I want to buy most of these books, and read them all. But if I have a second job, I won’t have time to actually read. What a conundrum! Love your website!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      Yeah, you owe me big time for listing ALL THREE of your 2020 releases, but what’s a gal to do when she loves your writing? I’m happy to loan you any of these books here (well, the ones that didn’t come from the library). Just let me know. And so many blessings to you in 2021.

  7. Carol Kent on January 6, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you for featuring my book, “Staying Power.” I’m also very grateful for this remarkable list of books and I’ll be adding several to my reading list for 2021. Your descriptions of each title are so helpful!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you Carol for continuing to share incredible life-changing WORDS in writing and speaking, and for raising up the next generation to go even beyond what we have done! This list was very subjective (just like this year) and I’m very grateful for Staying Power. And you. Blessings all ’round.

  8. Maggie Rowe on January 6, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    Cindy, now I know how Academy Award nominees feel – what a huge privilege to have my first book listed in the company with authors who are literary giants to me, you included! I am rueful that I am off social for the month so I can’t share this immediately, but I will when I return in February. More importantly, I am bookmarking your list so I can add these books to my reading list for 2021. SOUL STRONG was my go-to gift choice for friends this past year.


    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:10 pm

      Even though you are on an online sabbatical, you took time to comment and I thank you, dear BFF. Of course your book is here and what’s even more exciting is that you sent book #2 off to publisher today. Thanks for sharing this list when you can and also for gifting “Soul Strong” so much this year. Blessings and Joy in 2021.

  9. Maggie Rowe on January 6, 2021 at 3:29 pm

    And by the way, this compilation had to take HOURS to put together, and you formatted it beautifully. Your giftedness, as I mention in the Acknowledgements to TLWS, amazes me. Your reviews are also so perceptively written. Thank you again!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 4:10 pm

      Yes, with all the links, this posting took me sort of forever. But I delighted in the process!

  10. Heidi Chiavaroli on January 6, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    I am so incredibly honored to see The Tea Chest on this list, Lucinda! And what a list it is. Wow! I have some reading to do. Thank you again for this honor on your beautiful blog.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 10:45 pm

      I am so very proud of you I could burst. Love your writing and eager for each new masterpiece. Blessings in 2021.

  11. Lisa Larsen Hill on January 6, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    Lucinda, Wow! This is such a gift. Thank you for your book list and great descriptions. I now have great suggestions for my Seeds of Faith reading groups. I love your books and was happy to leave a review on Amazon. Keep writing! Blessings to you.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 10:45 pm

      Thank you so much, Lisa, for your great support of my words. I’m excited about your writing as well. Blessings!

  12. leslie leyland fields on January 6, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    Lucinda—-you’re not only a wonderful writer but a judicious reader. These are some of my very favorites (especially the A.P. book and Every Moment Holy!!) What an act of generosity to your readers to compile this! (I’m honored to be included.)

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 6, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      Wow, Leslie, many thanks! I truly loved your book and have recommended it widely, especially when I speak at Writers Conferences. I hope to meet you in person one day, Blessings from a fellow Redbuddie…

  13. Jennie Afman Dimkoff on January 7, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    Oh, Cindy, you are a gem! I love you list that includes some of my very favorite authors! Your reviews are the BEST! ❤️

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on January 9, 2021 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you dear friend. Blessings for 2021 and hope to see you…

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