Is reading one of your favorite things? This list of my favorite contemporary and inspirational romance books might pique your fancy—and give you ideas for using those gift cards Santa left you!
A Few of My Favorite Things
“What’s your favorite book, Mrs. Ojeda?” one of my students asked the other day.
“I can’t answer that,” I exclaimed. “That’s like asking me which of my kids I like more.”
“Which daughter is your favorite?” she persisted, with a little smirk.
“I can’t answer that. That’s like asking me which of my students I love more.”
“Come on, you can tell me,” she insisted.
“No, I can’t. I love all of my students differently, but equally. And I’ve had thousands of students over the years. I love both our daughters differently, but equally.”
“But what about books? Don’t you have a favorite?”
“The best answer I can give sounds about the same. I love books, and I’ve read thousands of them during my lifetime. But I do have favorites in different genres, and favorite genres. I find it easier if you ask more specific questions.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ask me which book is my favorite this month, or this year. I might come up with an answer to that question.” I decided to turn the tables on her. “What’s your favorite book?”
“Anything by Melanie Dickerson!” she said without hesitation.
“She’s an author. Not a book.”
“You know what I mean. She’s my favorite author,” she admitted with a sheepish grin.
“You see my dilemma when you ask me about my favorite book, eh?”
She giggled and ran off to start reading another book by her favorite author. Her question challenged me to come up with a list of my favorite books for 2019.
Making a List, Checking it Twice
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep my list under 33 books. I’ve divided them into three broad categories, and I’ll share my favorites over the next three weeks. These eleven favorites come from the Inspirational, Sweet Romance, and Contemporary Fiction categories.
I’m leaving Amazon links (I’m an affiliate) and links to a complete book review for each selection. I hope you find something to love!
Inspirational Romances the Bridge Eras
If you like meaty, well-developed books that unravel mysteries over the course of decades or centuries, you’ll love these five books.
The Painted Castle
by Kristy Cambron
“Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the peak of England’s home-front tensions at the end of WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a story of heartache and hope and unlocks secrets lost for generations just waiting to be found.”–from Amazon
Why I love it: Cambron manages to layer textures together like a skillful artist, creating masterpieces with subtle truths about relationships, family, and hope. Her words draw me in and keep me captive. The first two books in the series had the same effect on me.
Echoes Among the Stones
by Jamie Jo Wright
“After Aggie Dunkirk’s career is unceremoniously ended by her own mistakes, she finds herself traveling to Wisconsin, where her grandmother, Mumsie, lives alone in her rambling old home. She didn’t plan for how eccentric Mumsie has become, obsessing over an old, unsolved crime scene–even going so far as to re-create it in a dollhouse.
“Mystery seems to follow her when she finds work as a secretary helping to restore the flooded historical part of the cemetery. Forced to work with the cemetery’s puzzling, yet attractive archeologist, she exhumes the past’s secrets and unwittingly uncovers a crime that some will go to any length to keep quiet–even if it means silencing Aggie.” —from Amazon
Why I love it: I love a well-developed mystery that keeps readers guessing to the end. Wright keeps me guessing and wondering until the last chapter (who wants to figure a mystery out in the first chapter?). The quirky characters and attention to historical details make this book a delight to read.
The Curse of Misty Wayfair
by Jamie Jo Wright
“Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.
A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother–who is battling dementia–compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns–and with it, Heidi’s fear for her own life.
As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?”–from Amazon
Why I love this book: Once again, Wright weaves a hauntingly beautiful mystery that unearths hidden attitudes and assumptions–this time about mental illnesses.
The Bright Unknown
“This poignant and heartbreaking novel explores the power of resilience, the gift of friendship, and the divine beauty to be found in the big, bright world—if only we’re willing to look.” –from Amazon
Why I love this book: I can’t even imagine life inside an insane asylum, especially if my placement had nothing to do with a mental illness. This breathtaking dive into a bygone era (thank goodness) questions how we perceive the world around us the labels we assign to others. Names matter. Stories matter. Each and every one of us matters.
The Secrets of Paper and Ink
by Lindsay Harrel
“Brought together across time by a love of story, three women in England fight to defy expectations, dream new dreams, and welcome love into their lives. “–from Amazon
Why I love this book: In case you haven’t noticed, I love books that combine history with mystery and a little romance. This book inspires me to have hope when things seem impossible, and to allow myself to forgive others, as well as myself. And the story takes place in Cornwall, in a book shop. What more could a book lover wish for?
I don’t read a lot of sweet romance (I confess to a Harlequin Romance addiction as a pre-teen) these days, but I adored both of these books.
Sweet on You
by Becky Wade
“Britt Bradford and Zander Ford have been the best of friends since they met thirteen years ago. Unbeknown to Britt, Zander has been in love with her for just as long.
“Independent and adventurous Britt channels her talent into creating chocolates at her hometown shop. Zander is a bestselling author who’s spent the past 18 months traveling the world. He’s achieved a great deal but still lacks the only thing that ever truly mattered to him–Britt’s heart.
“When Zander’s uncle dies of mysterious causes, he returns to Merryweather, Washington, to investigate, and Britt is immediately there to help. Although this throws them into close proximity, both understand that an attempt at romance could jeopardize their once-in-a-lifetime friendship. But while Britt is determined to resist any change in their relationship, Zander finds it increasingly difficult to keep his feelings hidden.
“As they work together to uncover his uncle’s tangled past, will the truth of what lies between them also, finally, come to light?”–from Amazon
Why I love this book: What girl doesn’t secretly dream of marrying her best friend one day. Wade creates relatable characters and blends sweet romance with mystery with the perfect touch.
A Sandover Beach Christmas
by Emma St. Clair
“Ripley shouldn’t have lied to her family about having a boyfriend. But, like the rest of her life, she had things planned out to the tiniest detail, including a fake breakup before Christmas. So, how did she go from getting pulled over to having a very real FAKE boyfriend?
When Cash pulls over a woman for speeding while talking on the phone, he thought he’d hand out a ticket and be done with it. Instead, he got himself roped into being her fake boyfriend for the holidays he hates.
Sticking a control freak together with a total scrooge should be a recipe for a Christmas disaster. But somehow, their warring personalities light up the right kind of sparks.
Neither one wants to be the first to admit that this fake relationship has taken on a life of its own. What will happen when it’s time to stop pretending? “–from Amazon
Why I loved this book: I don’t often snort out loud from laughter whilst reading a sweet romance (or any book, for that matter), but St. Clair had me laughing, crying, and thinking deeply about the power of forgiveness. If you have a family that baffles and embarrasses you, you’ll especially appreciate the humor of the book.
Favorite Contemporary Fiction Reads
The Girls at 17 Swann Street
by Yara Zgheib
“Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.”–from Amazon
Why I loved this book: Our daughter survived anorexia/orthorexia and any book that helps me understand the nuances of the disease appeals to me. Zgheib’s lyrical words and descriptions pull the reader in and paint a compelling picture for our need to come alongside each other in our struggles.
The Enlightenment of Bees
“At twenty-six, apprentice baker Mia West has her entire life planned out: a Craftsman cottage in Seattle, a job baking at The Butter Emporium, and her first love—her boyfriend, Ethan—by her side. But when Ethan declares he “needs some space,” Mia’s carefully planned future crumbles.
Feeling adrift, Mia joins her vivacious housemate Rosie on a humanitarian trip around the world funded by a reclusive billionaire. Along with a famous grunge rock star, a Rwandan immigrant, and an unsettlingly attractive Hawaiian urban farmer named Kai, Mia and Rosie embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
From the slums of Mumbai to a Hungarian border camp during the refugee crisis, Mia’s heart is challenged and changed in astonishing ways—ways she never could have imagined. As she grapples with how to make a difference in a complicated world, Mia realizes she must choose between the life she thought she wanted and the life unfolding before her.” –from Amazon
Why I loved this book: Believe it or not, people my age (grandmotherly types) can still struggle to understand calling. The book reinforced my belief that Millenials have more on their minds than making money. In fact, they have something important to teach older generations.
Where Hope Begins
by Catherine West
“Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love.
But soon Savannah is given a challenge she can’t run away from: Forgiving the unforgivable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all.”–from Amazon
Why I loved this book: This book started me on a deep soul journey of forgiveness. Although I didn’t have a word of the year, in retrospect, I think ‘forgiveness’ qualifies. I love it when a good fiction book helps me see hidden aspects of my own character that need rooting out.
The Printed Letter Book Shop
It’s not often that a book serves as both entertainment and springboard for soul searching, but The Printed Letter Bookshop qualifies. The story takes us into the angst of a young woman who unexpectedly inherits her Aunt Maddie’s bookstore—an aunt Madeline hasn’t had a lot of contact with since that fateful summer when something happened between her dad and his sister.
Along with the bookstore, Madeline inherits the shop’s two employees. Janet, a bitter divorcée who can’t forgive herself and whose secret estranges her from her adult children. Claire, the consummate stay-at-home-mom who has to go back to work to help ends meet and suddenly can’t figure out how to repair the relationship with her oldest daughter.
The fourth character, Maddie Carter, leaves a legacy in the town that extends beyond the walls of her bookstore. Madeline, Janet, and Claire each seek to discover how Maddie’s legacy will shape her future. An unlikely alliance turns into a friendship as the three women Maddie cared for face their pasts, their dreams, and their futures.
Why I loved this book: Reading this book is like soaking in a hot tub and then stretching out on the massage table. You want it to never end, although at times its honesty makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes, you turn the page and bump into yourself as words and thoughts spill out of Madeline, Janet, and Claire.
Ultimately, books reveal truths about us, and Reay’s masterpiece does this with panache. Book lovers will love this book—not just because of the references to other masterpieces, but because it affirms within the reader the power of story to change and heal.Eleven inspiring books to gift someone (or yourself). #amreading #bookreviews Click To Tweet
I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.
I love Kristy Cambron. I have The Painted Castle but haven’t read it yet (soon, I hope!). I enjoyed The Printed Letter Book Shop earlier this year.
Barbara Harper recently posted…A Perfect Christmas
I’m always happy to see Melanie Dickerson’s name pop up! We live in the same town and used to attend the same church. She is such a sweet Christian woman and mother, as well as writer.