A booklist that won’t make you blush

Lately I’ve been throwing my Kindle across the room in frustration (ask Dave) when I get about, mmm, 30% of the way into a book – and sometimes it’s a legitimately intriguing book! – only to get blindsided by a graphic sex scene. I’m not talking heaving bosoms and carefully laced corsets, but straight up graphic, line-by-line descriptions that read like porn scripts. Like, if these scenes were adapted to film, they’d be rated R at least, and possibly X.

I don’t check out obscure, bondage fetish literature either. This is mainstream, NYT bestseller’s list, such-and-such blogger’s book club recommendation stuff. And I look around and I think, I can’t be the only one freaked out by this.

Particularly in light of the damning cultural moment which we presently find ourselves in, I would like to move as far away from sexually compromising content as possible. But you know? Sometimes I don’t feel like reading 400 year old British literature. Or even 100 year old stuff. I don’t want to resign myself to reading subpar Christian fiction, either, which, if I may be frank, I find generally lacking in skill and imagination. Nor do I always feel compelled to read some hefty theological treatise on the Sacraments.

So, what’s a girl to do?

I’m a voracious reader, so with the help of my handy Amazon borrowing history, I thought I’d share a list of the titles I’ve read in 2017 which I would enthusiastically recommend to a friend. And if you have anything you’d like to recommend right back? Please, I’m about to have hours and hours of late night time on my hands and I’m all e-ears.

I’ve tried to break these into rough categories for your convenience, but a fancy book blogger I am not, so consider yourself warned:

Fiction lite (suitable for beach, plane ride, or mindless late-night consumption*)

  • Everything written by Rosamunde Pilcher, but especially: “The Shell Seekers,” “Winter Solstice,” and “Coming Home.”

I discovered her during my first trimester of sloth and nausea and I swear she held my hand and walked me through the long, hot summer. After the first two books I was like, “oh my gosh, I’ve discovered modern fiction that is good and not super slutty but isn’t stilted and weird and baptized by having been run through some kind of media filter that sucks all the soul of the story.” And then I discovered she wrote all her books like, 20-40 years ago and I was like, “oh.” I’m an old soul. And she’s 93 and still alive in UK, so I guess she is, too. Just go ahead and read everything she has ever written and love your life.

  • The Secret Keeper, The Lakehouse, The House at Riverton, The Distant Hours, and The Forgotten Garden: Kate Morton

I love anything Kate Morton has ever written. These novels are the perfect blend of captivating character development and sharp writing. I’d put them on par with Downton Abbey in terms of keeping you intrigued in the story line and progression of the characters lives. She occasionally delves into the split timeline/flashback technique to advance the narrative, but in my opinion, doesn’t over use it. Highly recommend.

  • Within the Walled City: Virginia Evans

Study abroad fictional memoir set in Florence, Italy. Honestly, what else do you need to know? If you love travel/food books but don’t necessarily want to read a straight up memoir, this one’s for you.

  • A Portrait of Emily Price

Sweet, quick-reading, and not too racy. Actually, not much dirt at all, if I’m remembering right. Just the kind of thing for airport reading or a late-night nursing session.

  • What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

An enjoyable offering from this author (and rare for its relative absence of gratuitous sex n violence). The storyline splits between the past and present in a creative and captivating way.

Aspirational self improvement/business memoirs/human interest:

  • Capital Gaines – Chip Gaines

The Fixer Upper backstory, from the male perspective. Either Chip can actually write or his ghostwriter really nailed his voice, but this proved to be an engaging and enjoyable read.

  • The Magnolia Story (is my HGTV freak flag flying high enough?) – Joanna Gaines

And her side of the story, more narrowly focused on the interpersonal details and the spiritual aspects of discernment in their journey. If his is the nuts and bolts side of the story, hers is the heart and soul.

  • The Gratitude Diaries: How a year of looking on the bright side can transform your life – Janet Kaplan

In the style of Gretchen Reuben, but pleasantly less research-y (Though perhaps not quite as insightful for it).

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age – Sherry Turkel

This book is a sobering, somewhat terrifying and absolutely essential read for any human being living in the 21st century.

  • The Highly Sensitive Child – Elaine Aron

She does a good job capturing the nuances of parenting a child who is wound a little “differently,” and makes some interesting observations about human nature. The philosophy/psychology gets a little weird in places, but that’s to be expected without a firm sense of a Christian anthropology.

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport

This book was a huge impetus behind my decision to scale back on my social media presence and ditch my smartphone (thought that’s not going as well as it was over the summer. Still 100% social media free on the phone though, so I’m counting that as progress.) This book is a powerfully necessary read for the modern age and very engagingly written.

  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Gripping, honest, sad, and beautiful. The author chronicles his own journey with terminal lung cancer. A medical doctor with a surprisingly philosophical and poetic soul.

  • Reading People – Anne Bogel

Bogel’s (of Modern Mrs. Darcy fame) first work, this was an engaging study in various personality inventories and delved a bit into the interpretation of personality theory. I particularly liked her section on the Myers Briggs. (Note: I skipped the chapter on the Enneagram because I’m not convinced that it is harmless).

  • Present over Perfect – Shauna Niequist

I wanted to love love this book, because that’s how I felt about her earlier work, “Bread and Wine,” but it wasn’t quite as engaging. I still gleaned some good stuff from her (occasionally relentless) introspection, particularly her observations on work/life balance and a really poignant and painful depiction of burnout as a mom.

World War II novels set somewhere in Europe:

  • In Farleigh Field – Rhys Bowen

Had a distinctive Downton Abbey vibe, which I found appealing. Dave read it first and convinced me I’d like it too, which I did.

  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky – Mark T. Sullivan

A little grittier than I’d typically tend towards, but not in an inappropriate or unwarranted way. Set in Italy, which is a nice change of pace for a genre that seems obsessively set in either Britain or France.

  • All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr

I’m pretty sure I actually read this one 2 years ago, but it is a masterpiece and was utterly worth paying full cover price for the hardback and eminently worthy of the Pulitzer it garnered Doerr. (Also, be sure to check out his earlier work, “Four Seasons in Rome” a travel memoir of his study abroad year in the Eternal City with his wife and twin baby boys.)

  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

A little rough around the edges in parts, but a good read. Not remarkable enough to differentiate itself substantially from the other books in this genre, but a worthy addition to the list if you love WWII novels.

  • The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Oh my gosh, how many books about WWII did I read in 2017?? I guess …a few. This one was probably second best only to “All the Light,” but quite a bit sadder, if I’m remembering correctly.

YA Lit that won’t make you want to scratch your eyes out: 

  • Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan

Mildly engaging. I wouldn’t call it un-put-down-able by any means, but it was a passable read with an interesting twist. It won a 2016 Newberry Honor.

  • Wonder – Rachel J. Palacio

This book lives up to the hype surrounding it, and I’m interested to see the film adaptation. I really appreciated how well the author captured – and maintained – the innocence of early adolescence while still addressing the brutal and nasty pieces without delving into unnecessary sexualization or precociousness of the characters. Not easy to do.

  • When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhyi Menon

Cute, engaging, not too serious and not too slutty. I dated a lot of engineers in college, for some reason, so this book kind of took me back. Plus, I just love Bollywood.

  • The Selection trilogy and The Heir – Kiera Cass

I’m embarrassed. But whatever. I read them all and if you like/d the Bachelor/ette and the Hunger Games, well, these are the books for you. Don’t judge me.

Religious/Spiritual reads:

  • Waking the Dead – John Eldredge

This guy is Catholic lite, whether or not he realizes it. He has a firmer grasp on spiritual warfare and the reality of the presence of God – and of evil – in the world, than most Catholic or Christian writers I’ve read. Take him with a grain of salt because he’s Protestant, but he has some great content on discernment and cultivating a relationship with God.

Also great:

  • Walking with God – John Eldredge
  • Fathered by God – John Eldredge


  • The Family that Overtook Christ – M. Raymond

Hard to find (I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited for a trial month so I could read it) but it’s a fascinating story of the family of St. Bernard of Clairvoux and the reform of the monastic orders of his time period. 2 enthusiastic thumbs up for this and his subsequent title, “Three Religious Rebels.”

  • Lord of the World – Robert Hugh Benson

I can’t emphasize enough how essential this read is to every Catholic – or every human being – who is currently alive. Rumored to be Pope Francis’ favorite novel (and one he has read half a dozen times) I’ll definitely be reading it again in another couple months.

  • The Benedict Option – Rod Dreher

Guys, just read this book. I’m still scratching my head over the infighting over this one. If you are judging the work on its own merits (which is how I believe books should be evaluated) and not dragging everything Dreher has ever written in his entire life into your calculus, it’s actually a fantastic, inspiring, and deeply practical read.

  • Out of the Ashes – Anthony Esolen

Honestly? This one’s better than Dreher’s. Esolen has a devastatingly sharp mind and a profound grasp of reality. Worth the extra brainpower it requires in terms of vocabulary and attention span (spoken as a dead tired mom).

  • Strangers in a Strange Land – Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Speaking of needing some intellectual chops to digest the content, this is one of those. I’m still making my way through the last 30% of this book, but am confident it’s not going to derail into insanity, so I recommend it with unbridled enthusiasm.

  • God or Nothing – Robert Cardinal Sarah

If you disregard all of my recommendations and take a single book from this list, let it be this one. Trust me.

  • The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality – Paul M. Quay, S.J. (edited by Joseph Koterski, S.J)

This book is phenomenal. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it and just so deeply engaged by the material. He reminds me of a way, way more accessible JPII in terms of his grasp on married love and human sexuality. There is an updated chapter on NFP that I haven’t gotten to yet, but that alone was what convinced me that I absolutely had to get my hands on this book.

  • The Holy Spirit, Fire of Divine Love – Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen

A beautiful meditation on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, and with practical guidance on how to cultivate a relationship with Him. It’s a slim little volume that makes a great prayer time read and can be picked up and read at random. It’s one of my go-to spiritual books now, in the vein of “Imitation of Christ” or “Introduction to the Devout Life.”


  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis  J.D. Vance 

A must read for any Steubenville grad (Ohio River Valley represent). This was a sad, fascinating, simultaneously hopeful and hopeless look at generational poverty in rural America/Appalachia.

  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America – Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

Self explanatory and deeply sad. I couldn’t put it down.


  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

I loved this book. I loved its weirdness, its foreign cadence (the author is Swedish), and its dark and unexpected humor. The movie fell far short of the original, but perhaps the remake will deliver. I read it first and then handed it over to a skeptical Dave with a glowing recommendation. He ended up loving it, too.

  • The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore

Historical fiction (but don’t yawn! Promise.) depicting the battle to electrify America. It’s a novelized telling of the adversarial and occasionally collaborative geniuses of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. This was another one the husband read first and passed along, and I really enjoyed it.

  • The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Can’t believe this was on my “to read” list for so many years, but glad I finally took the plunge. Dark and gritty at times but not without purpose, if that makes sense? Not a book that could be written in 2017, due to a lack of both imagination and delicacy.

Borderline recs (proceed with caution depending upon sensitivity):

  • Small Great Things – Jodi Piccoult

This was a hard read. A fair amount of graphic violence – but not unnecessary, which makes a big difference, in my book (ba dum ching). I thought certain stereotypes/literary techniques were a bit overwrought, but the author was intentionally belaboring the point to get our attention. And it worked.

  •  The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

I was super enjoying this book and then, I kid you not, it got reaaaaaaaal raunchy for about 3 minutes at the end. Like, so abruptly that I thought my Kindle had freaked out and opened another book by mistake. If you can skim past the questionable stuff that barrels out of left field in the very end, it was a charming little novel that I’d have liked to include in my”Fiction Lite” category.

  • Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty

I want to love her stuff, because she’s a talented writer, but she really likes to sprinkle in the raunchy sex scenes. This book almost avoids that entirely, and ends up being what I’d categorize as an engaging lite mystery thriller. Also I’m 90% sure she was raised Catholic, so she just can’t help herself with the self-effacing references to Catholic guilt.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

I loooooved this book. I’m a sucker for self-chronicled cultural immersion documentaries, and she did a fantastic job narrating her year in Denmark. (However, there is an entire chapter you can skip right over. And you’ll know which one it is when you get there.)

  • Before We Visit the Goddess – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I can’t remember why I’m putting this one in the “recommends with reservation” category except, oh, actually, now I do remember, it’s the gay neighbor whose relationship is delved into with a bit of unnecessary detail, plus some domestic violence. But if you love India like I do, you’ll enjoy this one.

  • Sleeping Giants –  Sylvain Neuvel

This was deliciously weird sci-fi with the most intriguing plot twist. There is a smattering of dull, unnecessary raunch (extra-marital sex) but the book is too good to miss.

And there you have it: the titles that made the cut to the “yeah, you should read this” list in my literary wanderings over the past year. I’m going to leave this as a living document of sorts and plan to update it with new reads as I review them, so hopefully it becomes a helpful resource and perhaps even a good Christmas gift guide.

*not responsible for lost sleep resulting from addictive page turning nature.



  • Sheila Garrett

    I recommend you check out Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss! No sex and limited swearing in the first book, excellent story, fabulous writing. The second one has some weird, but not-explicit sex stuff, but otherwise it is so good.

    Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was also one that I really loved. No sex, some swearing, and some violence.

    • Iara

      YES to both!!! And if I may, suggest also other fiction books:
      Ursula K. LeGuin books. The Left Hand of Darkness is a very rare book, but I found it wonderfull. (And I thinf Terramar saga is very deep despite they are so short stories).
      Also Orson Scott Card’s “Treason”… soooo full of imagination, it still amazes me.

  • Hilary

    I think these are closer to kids’ fiction than YA, but I loved Navigating Early and Splendours and Glooms (and I can’t remember either author–sorry!).

  • Melissa

    The nightengale is one of the best books I’ve read! I am also an avid reader and I am always looking for entertaining (for lack of a better word) theological/spiritual books. I also have to add that since I have read several of these books we must have similar taste. So I’ll be keeping this list.

  • Jenn F

    Something Other Than God is a fantastic book written by a woman who was atheist and then converted to Catholicism with her husband. Highly recommend it!

  • Paul O.

    I’ll second Ender’s Game. Also, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

  • Sara

    I really enjoyed Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski. It wasn’t squeaky clean (some bad words I think) but it’s a fascinating story of Christian missionaries in Thailand – and the author isn’t Christian at all – murder, anthropologists, the spiritual world…really great read from a really different perspective.

  • Miriam Del Hierro

    Alice Thomas Ellis, (anything by her really but her “Home Life” compilations I laughed out loud at) and Isak Dinesen, my favorite being “Winter Tales”, a collection of short stories, and Mary Stewart, “Madam will you Talk.”
    All pretty light reading, Isak Dinesen is old european gothic with less stuffiness, Alice Thomis Ellis: dry humoured and darkly comedic, and Mary Stewart writes just good stories, romantic thrillers.

  • Kathleen

    Ok Jenny! I am laughing at how similar our year of reading is! l read so many of the exact same titles and had similar tales! But Inhave not read Lord of the World yet.. it’s on my list! And Pilcher, too! Thanks for highlighting some of the good stuff. I run a book club every month and it is always a challenge to find good modern lit that skips the graphic and raunchy.

  • Carey

    I really enjoy your blog, but after reading this post, I feel like we could be friends. My two new favourite books are Code Name Verity ( Elizabeth Wein) – a WWII novel that I have been recommending to everyone I can, and The Language of Flowers, which I just finished and really enjoyed. It is by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

  • The English Major

    Elizabeth Goudge: Green Dolphin Street and The Scent of Water. So so good, but DO NOT read the synopsis on the back of Green Dolphin Street. Some moron of an editor decided to give away the biggest twist in the novel in it! Also, maybe Neville Shute, especially The Pied Piper. Historical WWII fiction. I second Alice Thomas Ellis, but NOT the Summer House trilogy if you are at all sensitive or motherly hormonal. Rumer Godden, but I suspect you’re already familiar with her. A really good one, if you like birth stories, is For the Love of Mothers, which is a memoir of a Catholic midwife in pre-WWI Germany. Another one, which you may have already read, is Lois Lowry’s Giver series (YA). For my part, I will have to check out some of the books on your list! I’m only 19 weeks pregnant, but brain shutdown begins to occur in trimester 3, and I usually end up reading some vile stuff, just because the story is engaging. But I can feel the death of brain cells accelerating while I do it, so it’s not an entirely pleasant distraction!

    • The English Major

      Okay, sorry for th moron comment. As a former editor, this sort of thing is a pet peeve for me and I wonder what they are thinking sometimes!

  • Ingrid

    I loved Kate Morton`s The Forgotten Garden and Liane Moriarty`s What Alice Forgot, too. They both do contain references to questionable choices and The Forgotten Garden has an unexpectedly disturbing scene in it. If you can handle those, you might like the following. I don`t necessarily agree with all the choices and moral conclusions in the following books but they do offer a chance to ponder on important matters and are captivating reads.

    Amor Towles, Rules of Civility. A Gentleman in Moscow is probably also great, I have just started reading it and so far it is)
    Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
    Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
    Elizabeth Goudge, Eliot Family Trilogy, The Scent of Water
    Sophie Kinsella, The Shopaholic series
    Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals series
    Adriana Trigiani. I have read three parts from her series: Big Stone Gap, Big Cherry Holler and Milk Glass Moon. They don`t contain graphic scenes but occasionally do contain odd views regarding emotional chastity and the main character`s best friend slept with pretty much everyone prior to her marriage. Otherwise great.
    Rachel Simon, The Story of Beautiful Girl
    Kate Kerrigan, Recipes for a Perfect Marriage
    Anita Shreve, Light on Snow (a quietly flowing story about a girl and her father finding an abandoned baby)
    Darcie Chan, The Mill River Recluse
    Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Effect. The first part The Rosie Project might be too much for some. The second part I read several times and loved it to pieces.
    Cecelia Ahern, If You Could See Me Now. One of the main characters is an imaginable friend. But it is warm and funny and clean.

    My favorite book by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farmer Boy

    A very light and fun read with absolutely nothing disturbing and with parts worth imitating: Eleanor H. Porter, Oh Money, Money

    YA novels:
    Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
    Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl

    John Grogan, Marley and Me. Life and Love with the World`s Worst Dog
    Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Sheperdess. How I Left City Life Behind to Raise a Family – and a Flock
    Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes. Nothing like the movie. Hilarious and warm.

    I don`t know if he is popular in the US but for reading with children I`d recommend Sven Nordqvist`s Pettson and Findus series. It`s the sweetest story about an old cranky but caring man living with his hyperactive cat in a small farm and about all the right values in life, including community. Lots of beautiful pictures to study in detail.

    For non-fiction two of the best I`ve read in recent years and easy to read:
    Scott Hahn, The Lamb`s Supper. Mass as Heaven on Earth
    M. Eugene Boylan, This Tremendous Lover

    Also good:
    Emily Stimpson, These Beautiful Bones. An Everyday Theology of the Body
    Laura Kelly Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament. The Messy Grace of Parenting
    Victoria Sweet, God`s Hotel. A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine
    Sally and Sarah Clarkson, The Life-Giving Home. Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming
    Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Family`s Sake
    Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking
    Suzanne Woods Fisher, Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for A Complicated World

    Next up in my reading list after finishing A Gentleman in Moscow are:
    Sherry Boas, Lily series (about a girl with Down Syndrome and the people around her)
    Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede
    Anthony Doerr, About Grace (and also All the Light We Cannot See)
    Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

    Amy Wilson-Carmichael, Lotus Buds
    Mother Teresa, The Simple Path
    Hilaire Belloc, Path to Rome
    G. K. Chesterton, In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton
    Joseph Ratzinger, What It Means to Be a Christian
    I presume these would also qualify though I haven`t read them yet.

    I have also found that Jenny Colgan`s books are great to a certain point and then they go absolutely unbelievably off as if written by someone else about completely different characters. One such book is Rosie Hopkins` Sweet Shop of Dreams. It has very vivid and real characters but they suddenly exhibit values and history opposite to their whole being.

    • Ingrid

      I hadn`t quite finished Rules of Civility when I wrote this list, though I had read the ending and most of the book. I picked it up yesterday and found that unfortunately it does have a few graphic scenes towards the end. That was unexpected and disappointing. It`s a great book that could spark discussions on several subjects, particularly on what it means to be a gentleman and how the lives of all characters might have gone if they had made different choices that one year. Some pages I`d skip.

  • Teresa

    I highly recommend The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. It’s such a charming book! Also All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr…

  • Christina

    I can’t thank you enough for putting together this list. I, too, throw my Nook in despair each time a new book has some graphic scene that is not only useless to the story but ruins it entirely (For me at least.) Now I will happily peruse your selections and pass them along to my family and friends. God bless you!

  • Brigitte

    Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is a children’s book very worth while reading. Also in adult fiction, Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan and other books by her. She addresses middle class Midwest catholic families of mid 20th century. Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote about 100 years ago but her books struggle with issues of women, home, career, and family in general. I like her work. Thanks for the good suggestions.

  • Laura

    This is wonderful, thank you! I’m a lurker (also with an Evie and Luke at home – mine are 3 and 14 months!), but this is so helpful that I had to comment. My husband and I are about to start trying for Baby #3 and in my past two pregnancies I only survived the first trimester thanks to lots of prayer and lots of getting deeply lost in fiction (which I typically never read anymore – mostly because of the exact problem you’ve mentioned!). With Evie it was a reread of “The Lord of the Rings”, with Luke it was various YA series. I’m going to bookmark this page to come back to for the next time!

  • Iara

    Besides Ursula K. LeGuins and Orson Scott Card, some beautiful stories I’ve found are:
    After the snow, by S.D.Crockett (I think it might be a YA book?)
    The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. I love this book, and I come back to it every year.

    I would also like to recommend the “Saga of the borderlands” from Liliana Bodoc. I’m from Argentina so I can’t say if it’s easy or not to get it in english, but… it’s amazing. A latinamerican Lord of the Rings if you want, but on its own narrative, time and colours.

    Thank you so much for this post, Jenny! And to everybody else for their responses! I’m marking this page as favourite 🙂

  • Jen @ Into Your Will

    Seriously, thank you so much for this. I recently stopped 2 very well-written and recommended novels because of the graphic sex scenes too and was wondering if I’m just being too sensitive or a prude…but have since been convicted that I did the right thing by stopping them. (And now I know it’s not just me, thank you! I wonder if they were the same books???) Some books I read somewhat recently and enjoyed: More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Financially Frustrated, Bird by Bird (must read for writers, I tell you), Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.

  • Teresa Grenier

    Wow love this list, thank you for sharing!!

    I also strongly second all books by Elizabeth Goudge, Rumer Godden, and Willa Cather. And Mary Stewart is definitely a go to light beach read (and she was such a prolific writer!!)

    “The Guernsey Lieterary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is a fantastic book set in WWII in the English countryside.

    You have probably read it, but if not the space trilogy by CS lewis is a must read, the third book is unlike the others in that there are sooooo many things that are shockingly relevant to our current state of affairs. It is also far less science fiction-y than the other two (his desciption of eldil or angels is very insightful and worthy of thought!).

    I could write for ages BUT will add one spiritual book- “Joseph of Nazareth” by Suarez. Insightful, prayerful, beautiful ans isnpirimg book on St Joseph. Perfect Advent read.

    • Mary P

      Another thumbs up for Guernsey! I just finished reading it for a second time. Charming and lol funny at parts. Along those lines I’d also recommend Alexander McCall Smith, My Italian Bulldozer and 44 Scotland Street.

  • Sarah M

    THANK YOU for reading my mind. I JUST said to my husband a couple days ago (after also throwing a book across the room) how sick I am of otherwise good books interjecting pointless sex scenes! It has completely ruined at least half a dozen books for me lately. And I feel like all these books would be just as good (um, better in my opinion!) without the graphic sex! And these are best sellers on notable book lists! Anyway, thanks for this and for making me not feel like such a prude!

  • Laurie N.

    I’ve fallen in love with WWII books, but sometimes just need a break from them as they can be quite sad.
    I really liked:
    Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
    We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
    Both my mom and sister loved the two above too. Two must read books!

  • Sarah

    The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
    One In A Million Boy
    What Falls from the Sky

    Anything by Tana French and The Dry – if you like well-written mysteries!
    Agatha Christie

  • Cindy Millen Roberts

    The mysteries written by Josephine Tey are addictive. Anything written by Maeve Binchy is wonderfully Irish and enjoyable. Along the same vein is a series of books about an Irish country doctor by a Canadian named Patrick Taylor. For beautiful and deep writing with a love for Catholicism, you must read anything by Taylor Caldwell and Keys of the Kingdom by AJ Cronin. I reread this last book every year.

  • Nancy Piccione

    So glad I’m not the only one who has this experience with books. It’s just maddening! I noticed you mentioned Katherine Reay–she’s written several books. While they are all enjoyable, the best and most fun is her first, “Dear Mr. Knightley,” an epistolary novel that is mash-up of “Emma” (kind of) and “Daddy-Long-Legs.” Jean Webster, the author of “Daddy-Long-Legs” and “Dear Enemy” wrote in the early 20th century and her novels are just so frothy and fun. There’s just one warning for Jean Webster–nothing sexual or violent. I wrote about it briefly years ago:

  • Maya

    Thank you so much for this! Also, I am curious about your opinion on the Enneagram? I noticed your side comment about it and would love to hear your thoughts!

  • Sarah

    I have been having this same problem! I pick up a book at the library, then start reading it on the train, only to realize that it is completely inappropriate and I would not want to read it alone, let alone with someone possibly looking over my shoulder! I really appreciate this list and am going to look these books up to check out now. Thank you all for sharing additional suggestions as well!

  • jeanette

    I can second the recommendation on James Herriot. I read his works and enjoyed them very much.

    I used to be a voracious reader of fiction, too. My brother in law used to supply me with stuff when I was young. When I was earning a paycheck, I was a “Book-of-the-Month” club member, so had my own very extensive library, and a trip to the bookstore was a favorite thing as well. I could be found reading a book from cover to cover no matter how late at night (or the wee hours) it took to finish.

    But, by the time I was in my late 20s and a mother, adult fiction lost its allure for me. As did TV. And radio. And movie going in general (though that has a lot more to do with being able to rent occasional videos and not spending much money or getting a babysitter to go to the theater). I didn’t really need those diversions anymore because I found them rather empty.

    It’s been many many years, but the attraction to fiction never returned for me. I just don’t really care much about it…not opposed to reading it, just not particularly interested anymore.

    I questioned myself on what it is I enjoyed most about reading. Sometimes in life we merely do things because we have always done them, and our interests don’t quite grow beyond that. That, at least, was more of what I found about my own reading habit. Questioning my motive helped me to move away from that pattern into other pursuits that I found to be less passive, less of a diversion-oriented/entertainment experience, and more of a personal growth experience. Because, really, how much entertainment do we need in one day? I found I didn’t need as much as I was used to. I think our TV culture that I grew up with kind of cultivated that habit of being passively entertained for multiple hours a day as though it was a “daily required dose” for us, and that habit spilled over into my reading passion.

    I wonder in the pre-TV days, how many hours per week on average people devoted to reading fiction as compared to now.

  • Annie

    Life changing series of books for me prompting me to pick up my bible and dig in! The entire Blessing series by Lauraine Snelling. Think of Little House on the Prairie for us moms. Tells the stories of Norwegian immigrants who settle in the Dakotas. Bible verses throughout each book.
    And I also love the Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oke.

  • Mary

    For light page turning fiction I suggest anything by Louis L’amour. Clean historical fiction, mostly westerns but with a better sense of what real people are like that most western writers. Also if you like them light and fluffy, have you read Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy?

  • Cami

    Am I the only one wondering how/when a mom with young children finds time to read? I have 4 kids under 6 (we also Homeschool) and can barely get showers in on a regular basis. I read a bit (like this blog) on my phone while nursing. The few times I’ve tried picking a book up to read while nursing, a two year old walks off with it, promptly scribbles crayon in it, and then hides it in such a place that only allows its rediscovery weeks or months later. We have a nice Catholic library we started (before kids) but I have a bunch I’ve not read yet and there are an increasing amount of books I wish I was reading now too. Jenny, this list has me so interested! But when does one read in this particular season? My husband prefers to watch an old Star Trek, Cosby, or some type of show together at night to “defrag” which uses up the very little time I might have. I’m usually nursing the baby down at that time also. Ideas, anyone? Oh, and I’ve heard of the mythical children that sleep until 7:30am so their mothers can wake at 6:30am to drink coffee, pray, read, and shower. But those aren’t my kids. My kids wake at 6am (sometimes earlier), no matter what bedtime we’ve adapted to.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Okay so here’s my stupid human trick: I’m a speed reader. I was born that way. But beyond that, we don’t really watch tv. Like, Dave watches some football, but we only watch a single show for an hour a week. We both would just rather read (introverts unite! separately!) and so we spend about an hour every night after the kids go down lying in bed side by side with our Kindle Paperwhites (backlit screen so you can read in the dark, and no blue light so it’s supposed to not mess with your circadian rhythm or whatever). I bought mine a couple years ago for $50 bucks and it is my favorite thing in the world. I add new books to my library hold list as I see them, so I have a steady stream of one or two books always waiting to download for free from my library account to my amazon account. I also bring the Kindle everywhere: carline, the doctor’s office, long drives, coffee shops, etc. So anything I would normally be on my phone, I try to be reading a book instead. Finally, breastfeeding is infinitely easier with a teeny little 5 inch screen than a book. Hope that helps!

      • Cami

        Ah! Some good ideas in there! Thanks, Jenny! Yes, I wish I could get husband to read more and watch less. He (we) used to read a lot more. I think unfortunately with the high stress situations we’ve had the last few years he’s been trying to escape it all by watching tv more and more. I’m home all day with small people discussing washing hands after using the potty and why we need to clean up toys so frequently. So I really crave and need the mental challenge and stimulation of a good book! 🤔

    • Jeanmarie

      I just read We Were the Lucky Ones. I couldn’t put it down! Extended late night nursing sessions occurred because of it. I also love The Plague by Camus and Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis (it’s fiction).

    • Jeanmarie

      I read on the kindle app while nursing and keep a book in the car in case there is time. I don’t really watch tv either. No time!

  • Hannah

    Hitting up my Goodreads to add a bunch of these to my list. Not that you were looking for more recommendations, but if you’re into YA that’s not crazy adolescent, John Green’s new one, Turtles All the Way Down, was really good. It’s stuck with me for quite a few weeks. Also Christy’s recommendation of the Louise Penny (Armand Gamache) mystery series has been a HUGE hit with me. Still Life is the first one. Very hygge and cozy but excellent murders without graphic sex or violence. A+. I’ve been recommending them to everyone.

  • Diana

    I LOVE talking books, it’s one of my favorite things! I’ve read quite a few that you mentioned and totally agree that a lot of Christian Fiction is just…dull. I have really enjoyed the Chapel Springs and Summer Harbor series by Denise Hunter, clean without being ” we won’t kiss before our wedding day” squeaky clean. Also if you liked the Selection series I really liked the Lara Jean series by Jenny Han, starting with With The Boys I’ve Loved Before. References to some teenage activity but the main character is pretty admirable, most of the books.
    Loved reading through all your recs and all the comments!

  • Vivian

    Finding interesting, wholesome reads is challenging. You might enjoy the writings of Hillary Manton Lodge, Becky Wade, Nicolle Wallace, and Karen Barnett.

  • JCS

    It’s been mentioned, but I liked the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the first book, but I loved the second (Speaker for the Dead), which was written to be a stand-alone novel. Also, if you like fantasy, you may like the works of Brandon Sanderson. He has a few different series (Mistborn, the Stormlight Archive, Elantris, etc.); each is set in a different ‘world’ with its own magic system, but they are all in the same ‘universe’, so some characters/events affect multiple storylines.

  • Mary

    This is so great!!!!! I’m reaching my first Rosamund Pilcher novel because of your recommendation and it’s so delightful. She reminds me of my favorite Irish author, Maeve Binchy. Anthony Doerr is also one of my favorites and Willa Cather is a master of American literature.

    A really great place to go for book recommendations is Well Read Mom. It’s a monthly book club designed by a Catholic mom for Catholic/Christian women and they have chapters all over the country. If you Google them and go to their website, they keep records of each year’s theme and the corresponding book list. :o)

  • Hannah

    I did not read through all the comments but I highly recommend Charles Martin. He goes more towards the top of your list here.

  • Libby Sellers

    I’m bookmarking this! I was thinking “I wish there was a booklist of great books that wouldn’t make you blush” so I searched for it and your blog post came up! Awesome! So hard to find a person that likes great books and yet doesn’t want to be assaulted in the process! THANK YOU!
    I just finished “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah- there is some strong language and one short , not very graphic sex outside marriage. Not an easy read as it deals with domestic violence but I thought it was worth reading. Have you ever read anything by Charles Martin? Love his books. “Before we Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate. Morning Glory by Jio, Sarah ; The Book Thief. I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read by Rick Aker ( I believe he is Catholic though I’m not positive)
    Books with language warnings:
    Inspector Ganache series by Louise Penny my favorite is The Beautiful Mystery. Again I wished she left out some of the infrequent but strong language! ( I believe the author was at least raised Catholic)
    Lisa Genova’s books are fascinating to me. ( She wrote “Still Alice”) but my favorite is “Left Neglected”.
    Going Underground (Jonathan Roper Investigates, #1) Leese, Michael * This one was fascinating to me because one of the detectives is autistic and I have an autistic nephew whereas this character is a savant. The author’s son is autistic.

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