About Me,  book list,  books,  reading

The PG-rated book list you’ve been waiting for {what I read in 2018}

I started this post in November soooooo things are just swimming along for us as we round the bases to close out 2018. Here’s the recap: Christmas: we missed it. Bird flu, we have it. Norovirus: we had that, too. Lots of clorox wipes and bottles of ibuprofen under the Christmas tree, etc, etc.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot this year. Especially since cutting out social media browsing early in November, and more recently in between many middle of the night disruptions requiring new sheets and tylenol disbursements. I have more free time than I ever realized, though the discipline required to sit down with an in process book is a little more than what I’d grown accustomed to with scrolling.

Sometimes I’ll find myself putzing around the kitchen at 9:40 pm looking for something else to clean because I don’t quite feel like crawling into bed with a book, I’m too wired/tired to do my own writing, and I’ve removed that third option of the slump n’ scroll from the evening menu.

Jenny’s have-read list of 2018, in reverse chronological order: (p.s. these titles contain affiliate links from Amazon; if you order through a link, Jeff Bezos will give me a hay penny)

(I’ve kept the reviews uber concise and have also included, at the bottom, the unlucky titles I’ve abandoned for the time being because adulthood means not having to finish a book you start.)

The Obesity Code: 5 stars. Really great read, some fascinating stuff that backs up what I’ve experienced eating keto and dabbling in avoiding sugar.

Tell Me More: 3.5 stars. I really like her writing and this collection of essays was enjoyable, if somewhat depressing at times. Her life kind of reads heavy into “hot mess,” which, I mean, aren’t we all? But light on the redeeming qualities. Call me pollyanna, but I need some morally uplifting denouement in my written word. (I just found out there is literally a name for the kind of reading I gravitate towards: Up-lit. Nailed it.)

Delay, Don’t Deny: 3.5 stars. I’d like to give it more because it has some great information, but it’s so short and it’s written so casually that it didn’t feel worth the $9 purchase price. She extensively referenced Dr. Jason Fung, author of the Obesity Code, so if nothing else she pointed me to a great follow up read.

The Personality Brokers: 3.5 stars. Not the most pleasant reading, and investigative journalism just isn’t my favorite thing to curl up with. It’s definitely interesting and made me re examine a lot of the forgone cultural “truths” we embrace about sorting people, including ourselves, into different categories and types.

These is My Words: 5 stars. Riveting, a grown up version of Little House on the Prairie. I loved it.

Small Animals: Parenting in the Age of Fear 3.5 stars. Some good insights and interesting journalism but tiresomely cluttered by the author’s extreme liberal POV.

Waking Gods: Book 2 of the Themis Files 5 stars. LOVED this book.

Motherless, Fatherless and Childless: Solid 4 stars. Apocalyptic Catholic trilogy. Novelized exploration of the culture of death in full flower. I read these towards the end of the summer once it seemed the Church was in full meltdown and found them oddly comforting. Great character development and arresting content.

Only Human: Book 3 of the Themis Files  Not my favorite. High hopes for the final chapter in this trilogy, but book 2 was the standout in this series.

The Real Presence St. Peter Julian Eymard: 5 stars. Captivating spiritual content necessitating bite sized chunks and time for meditation. Plus the Kindle version is practically free right now.

Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah (dull and predictable but palatable for pre-Christmas bedtime reading)

Waiting for Christ, a collection of meditations for Advent by Bl. John Henry Newman, great read for this season.

Abba’s Heart by Neal Lozano. 4 stars. I’m a big fan of Lozano’s Unbound, and this book is a nice companion to the relational work that most of us need to do in our connection with God the Father.

In Sinu Jesu: 5 stars. best book I read all year, hands down. Will be re-reading it many times again, I can tell. Order a copy for your pastor ASAP.

Made for This: 5 stars. A must read for all women and anyone who does anything related to birth for a living. (Read: OBs, midwives, doulas, NFP instructors, lactation consultants, RNs, etc. Listen, I am firmly on Team Epidural and this was still such an essential read. Mary knocked it outta the part –  forgot to include this on the initial list because I read it as a physical book, and those are harder to keep track of than my cloud library 😉

Stranger and Sojourners and Eclipse of the Sun: 5 stars apiece. I re-read at least a couple Michael O’Brien books every year. I glean something new from his fiction each time I revisit it; I read once that he writes his first draft in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and it makes total sense when you sink into the depth of his prose.

The Smoke of Satan: 4 stars. Great, fast read. Was surprisingly balanced and level and gave lots of backstory about the present situation in the Church hierarchy. Docking it a star for having a clickbait title that will probably put a lot of people off from reading it. Highly recommend.

The Grace of Enough: 4 stars. I love reading books written by people I know – a solid read that delved into the necessity and beauty of creating an intentional family culture and taking the path of rejecting materialism in our extremely materialistic culture.

China Rich Girlfriend + Rich People Problems: 3.5 stars a piece. (books 2 and 3 of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy – I saw the HILARIOUS movie in theaters so never read the book.) I like these books a lot; they were entertaining, fast paced, and really fun to read. There was a good amount of sexual content and infidelity and some mild cursing, but it wasn’t graphic, you know? I wish modern (well, most modern) fiction wasn’t so hypersexualized. It’s not crucial to the plot and it ends up being distracting and embarrassing and keeping me from finishing and/or recommending a lot of books. This one really was on the tamer side, but it was more quantity over quality, and just had general themes of immorality and secularism.

Leota’s Garden: 3 stars. Guys, I went on a really embarrassing Francine Rivers kick this past year and read basically everything she’s ever written. Her “Mark of the Lion” trilogy is far and away her best work, and gets a solid 5 stars and will probably be worth re-reading in the future. Her other books, like this one, are uplifting, entertaining, captivating, and good. Not great, by any stretch of the imagination, but good. Think Hallmark movies, but more moral. And almost as saccharine in moments. Not all her books are sugary sweet, but this one was.

Her Mother’s Hope + Her Daughter’s Dream: 5 stars. Some disturbing content dealing with child abuse in the first book, but a really enjoyable and historically captivating set of books about the complications of mother daughter relationships. Squeaky clean but not saccharine.

People of the Second Chance: 3 stars? 2.5 maybe. I’m putting this one in the same category as GWYF (though Goff’s theology is vastly superior to Hollis’), and books like Present Over Perfect. I don’t really get this entire genre, so maybe it’s me and not them? It had a good heart, but it was written at like a 6th grade level and sounded more bloggy than a blog, if that makes sense?

Pachinko: 4.5 stars. Guys I LOVED this book, but there was sexual content for sure. Not graphic and sort of matter of factly written, if that makes sense? Such a richly textured and fascinating novel.

Mark of the Lion trilogy: A voice in the wind (5 stars) An echo in the darkness (4 stars) As sure as the dawn (4 stars) I absolutely adored these books, but especially the first one. A fascinating and inspiring historically inspired read of early Christianity with beautifully developed characters.

Codependent No More: LOL. 3.5 stars? I honestly don’t remember much of this one. A friend told me “everyone needs to read this book” and so I did, and she was probably right. She also confessed that telling someone they needed to read it was in and of itself codependent behavior.

The Four Tendencies: 3.5 stars. I’m a bit of a Gretchen Rubin junkie. This was neither her best nor worst work. I can’t remember what, specifically, wasn’t great about it, but it hasn’t stuck with me the way The Happiness Project did.

Reading People: 3 stars, fairly meh. I’ve read a lot of books about temperaments and personality theories, so there was nothing in here that was new information to me. (Skipped the Enneagram chapter bc I’m pretty skeptical that stuff jives with Christianity.)

What We Were Promised : 3.5 stars. Interesting and engaging read but unremarkable characters. I struggled to remember what this one was about.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky: 4 stars. Compelling and occasionally difficult subject matter. I really like Marisa de los Santos’ writing.

One Beautiful Dream: 5 stars. Loved this book. A must read for pretty much everybody, not just moms.

Crossing to Safety: 5 stars. My first foray with Wallace Stanger, it won’t be my last.

The Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living: I honestly don’t remember this one so I’m going to assume it was a solid 2.5 stars.

The Drama of the Gifted Child: 2.5 stars. Really interesting for the first 60% (sorry, I read mostly on Kindle) and then it got vv weird and Freudian.

The Widows of Malabar Hill: 5 stars. I love India and books about India, and especially books about women in India. Clever writing and a surprising plot twist.

Goodbye, Vitamin: 3 stars. A bittersweet (mostly bitter) memoir-esque retelling of an adult child’s coping with a parent’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the relational fallout from the disease progression and the brutal honesty it can bring.

The Last Sin Eater: Another Francine Rivers situation. 4 stars.

The Atonement Child: and another. 3.5 stars.

The Masterpiece: and yet another. 3.5 stars.

Educated: A Memoir: 4 stars. Really disturbing and really captivating.

Finish:Give Yourself the Gift of Done: 4 stars. I listened to Jon Acuff on the Dave Ramsey show back when I had a commute, and I like the guy. This was a good reminder that it’s the little daily habits which add up to big wins.

Anxious for Nothing 3.5 stars. I don’t think I’d ever read an adult Max Lucado book. It was decent. A good little primer for combating anxiety with Biblical wisdom, not in a “think yourself well” vein, but in a truly helpful application of Scripture to daily life.

Adrenal Fatigue: 3 stars. Read like a very long Web MD article.

The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution: Slightly less WebMD-ish.

The Adrenal Reset diet: 3 stars. (LOLOL) turns out having a fifth baby in 6 years will make you vv tired. Also, some hormone stuff that changing up my diet to very low sugar/high fat/low processed foods has helped tremendously with fatigue.

Girl, Wash Your Face: 1.5 stars. I can’t handle the popularity of this book. It was everything self referential and disappointing about millenials with no redeeming qualities that I could discern except for, I guess, her massive Instagram following? Think banal health and wealth gospel + some Christianity flavored seasoning sprinkled on top to get on the right book club lists.

The Scarlet Thread: 4 stars. Another Franny title. I enjoyed the way she toggled between frontier days and modern time (well, the ninetes) with this title.

Lineage of Grace Series: Second to lasts dance with Francine. 4 stars for creativity with biblical content without being offensive. Definitely has helped me read the stories of the Old Testament – particularly the female protagonists – with new eyes.

Sons of Encouragement series: ditto, but featuring men of Old Testament.

The Hideaway: 2.5 stars. For as long as I had to wait on my library’s digital hold list, I expected this book to be better than a mediocre Hallmark movie. Alas, it was not.

Meet the Frugalwoods: 4 stars. Enjoy their blog and found this read pleasantly comprehensive of all her writing there without being overly repetitive. I’m never going to give up living in the suburbs or living with electric heat, but I still find their frugality fascinating and inspiring. Worth the read.

The Perfect You: 2 stars. I didn’t love this book because just as I was getting into it, it become a sort of personality inventory/scoring device and as I was reading on a Kindle, I was not about to start filling it out.

Flyaway: Kristin Hannah, but I literally remember nothing. So, 2 stars for that?

Night Road: I like Kristin Hannah but I don’t think I like like her like so many people do. This novel was darker but not unbearably so. About partying teenagers and the life-altering consequences of youthful misjudgement.

Distant Shores: 3 stars. And another Kristin Hannah title that I don’t remember much about.

Kisses from Katie: 5 stars. It will change your life.

Daring to Hope: 4 stars. The follow up to Kisses from Katie. It wasn’t as authentic or compelling or convicting to me, for whatever reason. Still a good read.

Gilead: 4.5 stars. Luminous prose and an unexpected perspective was employed by the writer. I was shocked to discover that this book was written not 100 years ago, but is actually rather contemporary.

Living Your Strengths: 3 stars. Not life changing or anything, the way I found the Highly Sensitive Person or the Temperament God Gave You to be. Just another personality indicator/type predictor.

A Year of Less: 2.5 stars. I love budget memoirs and I cannot lie. This one was okay. Also she lives alone, so being frugal is just not that impressive to me in those circumstances.

A Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living: 3 stars. Can you tell I go on topical benders, too?

Small Admissions: 3 stars. Moderately entertaining, especially her descriptions of the terrible parents of the prep school babies she manages.

My Life in France: 4 stars. Julia Child was fascinating and before her time, though her writing drags in places.

Dark Matter: 5 stars. I do not love physics, but gosh did I love this book. Read it, you won’t be sorry.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan. 4 stars. I loved this Star Wars fan fic, and my 13 year old self won’t let my 36 year old self pretend otherwise.

Joy to the World3.5 stars. A new-t0-me Scott Hahn title. I’ve read most of his work and had him as a teacher for several years, so there was nothing new here for me, but still a concise and beautiful little book, especially during the Christmas season.

Chestnut Street 3.5  stars. Some sexuality and anti Catholicism. I went on a real tear with this author for the next couple weeks, as evidenced by:

The Return Journey: 3 stars. Did I mention when I “discover” a new to me author, I binge on them? For example:

Minding Frankie: 3 stars. Yep.

A Week in Winter: 3 stars. Yep again.

A Few of the Girls: 3 stars. At this point It was safe to say that I was on a serious Irish chick lit kick. This particular title collection of moderately entertaining short stories with a decidedly anti Catholic bent (written in Ireland in the nineties so I totally get that.)

Circle of Friends: 2.5 stars for moral relativism and being depressing as hell, and for starting me down the road of earnestly questioning the wisdom of continuing to read Miss Binchy.

Tara Road: 3.5 stars. I finally quit Maeve after this one (don’t you just love that name though?) when I admitted to myself that her virulent anti Catholicism and secular sexual morality was affecting my non-Teflon soul. I know some people say they can read anything and let the bad stuff just slide off their backs, but I’m not one of those people. I can’t handle steamy, suggestive and overly graphic sex scenes and I can’t stomach the reality-defying moral relativism of the bulk of modern pop fiction.

The Comfort Food Diaries: I honestly don’t remember this one, so I’m giving it 2.5 stars for being unremarkable. My bff is very into food memoirs, which I totally get, but they usually involve tortured childhoods and resultant adult trauma – at least the ones I’ve read – which kind of stresses me out as a highly sensitive person with tons of little kids at home.

L’appart: I love travel/living abroad memoirs, and this one is definitely that. The author is a little vulgar and a pretty negative guy, but it’s still a good read and gave me some pangs of panic as I thought back to anything home improvement related during our year in Rome.

A Million Junes: 3.5 stars. Moderately well written YA lit.

The Garden of Small Beginnings: 3 stars. Cute, but kind of dull and unremarkable.

Little Fires Everywhere: 3 stars, disappointing treatment of teen pregnancy and abortion that could have been such a great opportunity to deviate from the typical/predictable Planned Parenthood storyline, especially given the character development in this book.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: 5 stars. A completely fascinating exploration of the intersection between different cultures, faiths, and medical science.

Currently reading: Alone Time, This Will Only Hurt a Little (had to bail on this one last night, but I’m SO glad I happened upon a transformative memory she has of JPII before I did. I really like this book, but it’s very, very graphic in parts and I just couldn’t hang), Dopesick, and The Lido.

Abandoned list: either they were boring, trashy, poorly written, depressing, wrong book at the wrong time, or just wildly off the mark for me in some other way. Recording them for posterity’s sake in case I want to revisit a future title – I’m looking at you, Wendell Berry and Julian Fellows

A Quiet Life in the Country, Belgravia, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Rich Mom, Smart Mom, This is How it Always is, Far from the Tree, Bootstrapper, The Well Educated Mind, The Red Tent, Elinor Oliphant, The Betrothed, Beauty in the World, The Dictator Pope, The Glass Castle, Jaybar Crow, Names for the Sea, Number One Chinese Restaurant, I Feel Bad About my Neck, Under the Volcano, Tell Me Three Things, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Start with Why

Whew, that’s a lot of books! How do I achieve these numbers? I’ve found the secret to success is as follows: bring my Kindle everywhere, cut out social media, don’t watch tv (except the occasional football game and medicinal Hallmark movies) and commit to having really no other hobbies. For example, I’ve struggled mightily to get into podcasts because, well, I’d rather be reading. So I read. Go with what works, I guess.

I also recommend having a bunch of kids and then using a solid hour + of solitary reading each night after bedtime to recover from your day with them.

Hope you find a gem to carry you through the rest of Christmas break, cheers!



  • Lauren

    Great list. I’m bookmarking this for 2019. I just bought Gilead for 50 cents at our library’s used book sale and haven’t started it yet. I’m really looking forward to it! I read the Glass Castle several years ago after it was recommended by many friends and haaaaaated it. I made myself finish it and I don’t even know why. Way too much depravity. I DID recently abandon My Life in France, though. It was interesting enough, but poorly written, I thought. It was all just so awkward. Merry Christmas and happy reading in the new year!

  • Kathryn

    This list came at the perfect time! I’m putting together my reading goals list for 2019 as I type =) I’ll be adding some of your suggestions to my list.

    I’m a Francine Rivers lover, mostly because I couldn’t find any other Christian authors in my teen years and her books were the least predictable and sugary-sweet. I remember liking the Atonement Child and Bridge to Haven and loving Redeeming Love.

    I read a lot of books on this list in 2018 and agree with your sentiments. Especially Girl, Wash Your Face. I am struggling to figure out why this came so highly recommended by so many women I admire?! Its popularity is truly baffling.

  • Kate Bowen

    Just grabbed a ton of titles off this list to hopefully read in 2019-Thanks! Have you read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers? It is definitely one of her best works by far, on par with the Mark of the Lion series.

  • Amanda

    Widows of Malabar Hill was a pass from me. After a couple pages, I called it because I can’t handle any more historical books with a historically inaccurate acceptance of homosexuality. If it wasn’t so prevalent it would annoy me less. And I have read Rivers for years, but I’m all done after The Masterpiece. JESUS ON A WHITE HORSE! She has that Protestant idea that Christian beauty has to be a literal image of Christ/ A church building. Also, very casual attitude towards divorce and remarriage of Christians. (I have a goodreads review where I trash this novel, but also, her one night stand might be her new husband? God only redeems promiscuous sex like that, huh?)

    I’m going to recommend Kristan Higgins over
    Kristin Hannah. Also, she’s vaguely pro catholic, in a secular sort of way.

    • Meg

      Re: The Masterpiece – I read this summer after not having read a Rivers book in 10ish years and I thought, were all her books this bad and my taste/tolerance for cheesy Christian lit has just vastly changed? Glad to hear that it wasn’t a great read for someone else. I found it to be boring and oh so disappointing. The idea that someone like Roman could do a complete 180 on his personality in such a short time also made this ending wildly unsatisfying. *sigh*

        • Jenny Uebbing

          You guys are right! I went back and looked at The Masterpiece and realized I’d conflated it with another one of her books (because aside from Redeeming Love and the Mark of the Lion trilogy, they’re all so similar, lol). Demoting it to 2 stars because you’re right the content was ridic.

  • Ashley

    I’m happy to hear someone didn’t love GWYF. I just can’t see what the fuss is about. I didn’t read it specifically because everyone loved it. But I listened to Jayber Crow twice on audio this year because I loved it so much! I want everyone to love it! 🤷🏼‍♀️ Oh well. I screen shotted a bunch of these to add to my endless and never-attainable TBR list.

  • Caitlin Rushlander

    I love this list and like you even more after seeing how many of the same books we have read, haha! I love Mark of the Lion, am reading Pachinko now and loving it…But what makes me happiest is that you really disliked girl wash your face. I listened to 60% of it for free on the overdrive app and could not take it anymore. One amazon reviewer described it as “one big, long humble brag…” and it kinda seemed that way to me. The message I got from it was to do whatever it takes to make yourself happy and ‘successful’.

  • Lisa

    Good gracious- I made myself finish Eleanor Oliphant and liked it okayish overall, but I was so put off by her from the get go and don’t understand how people LOVE it. Also, I don’t know much about Enneagram but in that book Anne says it was created by a Catholic priest and the 7 deadly sins were derived from it- thought that was interesting! I really liked Crazy Rich Asians but, yes, why so much sexual content, ppl?

      • Kristen Marsh

        Thanks for the list! I can tell by your comments that we have similar preferences.
        I 100% agree with your thoughts about Girl, Wash Your Face. I couldn’t finish it. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I had listened to You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero just before it and loved it. She is up front about her uncertainty about religion, but she really challenged the way I look at life, especially a story about about how fearless we can be when we are younger and know less, but scared to try new things as we get older. I’d love to know your thoughts on it. (Warning: more PG-13)

  • Arenda

    I loved reading through your list, and have put a bunch of your recommended titles on hold at the library – thanks! I’ve had the same thing with going on a Francine Rivers kick – pretty sure I read Voice in the Wind 20 times in my teen years.
    RE: Wendell Berry – Jayber Crow is not the best one to start with (I found it pretty boring in parts). Hannah Coulter is so good, and That Distant Land is excellent, esp. as an audiobook.

  • jeanette

    Michael O’Brian’s book, Fr. Elijah: An Apocalypse, is the only one of his books that I’ve ever read, recommended to me many, many years ago, so it is not completely fresh in my mind. As a writer he is very good, the story had lots of good parts and insights (as both my recollection and the highlighted text and dog eared pages tell me), although some content was not appealing to me from my recollection of it, but it was the nature of the story itself to include those aspects. In any case, I think it has something to say about our times in the Church now. If you haven’t read it, or not in awhile, you might wish to.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this–I’ve reserved several at the library and ordered “Made for This” for myself. Surprisingly, though I’m a voracious reader myself (though not so much in the post-baby era) I had only read one on your list–The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I think it should be required reading for anyone in healthcare (which I am) and highly recommended for everyone else.

  • Hannah Gokie

    Glad I wasn’t the only other one disappointed with book 3 of the Themis Files. The other two were SO good, I suppose it was hard to finish the series out perfectly. Other sci-fi I’ve loved recently: The Calculating Stars (tiny bit of sex, but married and non graphic) about a lady astronaut/alternate timeline of the space race (and there’s a sequel just as good). The Expanse series (Leviathan Wakes is #1) is really, really good too – books 1 and 2 are WILD rides, no sex whatsoever, just faced paced space adventure.

  • Diana

    We have surprisingly, largely similar reading tastes! I haven’t read nearly all these books but did read a decent chunk and largely agreed with your ratings/comments. Makes me think I should read some more on the list!

  • Laura Scanlon

    Jenny this is amazing. It’s about 90 books right? I read about 50 last year. I’ve read or want to read a lot of them on your list here. Do you read the book reviews from the Wall Street Journal? I recognize several of your titles from there.

  • Kaitlin Alfermann

    We have VERY different taste but there is a bit of overlapping in there. I loved the Mark of The Lion years ago. Loving the first half of Crossing to Safety so far. I HATED Little Fires Everywhere. But Jayber Crow?? Yikes, I’m pretty sure I recommended that one to you. Try Hannah Coulter instead if you decide to give Berry a second chance.

  • Jeannine Howard

    Thanks for the list. As far as PG, “Dark Matter” has some kind of explicit sex scenes and tons of F and S words. Not PG in any universe–pun intended. The book is a thriller and keeps you guessing to the last page.

  • Amanda McCleery

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this list. I am starting to try and get away from watching television and start reading more. (TV has become boring and I feel like I am wasting life.) But! I am struggling with what to read and I was unaware of how “hypersexulized” modern fiction books are now. I was about to google a Christian approved book list, when I remembered you had mentioned one in your blog. Anyway, I plan to use this list as a guide start trying out some new books! Thanks!

  • Hilary

    Oh, these are older (and YA, sorry not sorry), but Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, or Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. When I read S and G I got really worried part way in because it was one of those books that could have gone really badly depending on what the author wanted to do and I couldn’t tell (usually I can tell). I did not regret finishing it. Both of them are YA but easily good enough to engage an intelligent adult.

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