The 12 Books Challenge

12 months.  12 books. 12 recommendations. 

I’ve always loved to read. My reading stack contains a hodge-podge of advanced reading copies (ARC) from NetGalley, new books from Catholic publishers, and spur of the moment finds from the library or bookstore.

Generally I read between 35-40 books a year. (More if you count children’s books, although some people argue these shouldn’t count towards my Goodreads Challenge. I disagree, but that’s another post for another time.) Some books are quick reads; others peter out until they disappear at the bottom of a new stack.

To mix things up, this past year I jumped on the 12 Books Challenge: Read 12 books recommended by 12 friends in 12 months. The only rules presented were:

  1. Each person can only make one recommendation.
  2. It should be a book they’ve actually read and love.
  3. If I’ve already read their recommended book, I move on to the next book recommended.

I also established a few parameters – requesting books that were spiritual, fiction, historical novel, biographical, or non-fiction. I didn’t want anything in the romance or horror genre. (As a teenager, I read every Stephen King novel published prior to 1984 and those were sleepless nights I don’t need to revisit. So, no evil thrillers allowed.)

The 12 books my friends recommended!

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah – A sweeping novel following the lives of two sisters during occupied France in World War II. My first Kristen Hannah novel. I think she created her outline from a list of everything that could possibly happen to women at the time from the resistance to concentration camps.

Anything But Groovy by Amanda Lauer – Ask an author friend for a recommendation and she’ll give you one of hers! Young adult fiction about a teenage girl who wakes up on the first day of 7th grade as her mom at the same age in the 1970s. A fun throwback that brings up memories for the over-50 crowd and generates conversation with our teen daughters about “life back then.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith –Semi-autobiographical novel poignantly captures the daily life of Francie Nolan’s family in Brooklyn 1912-1918. I’d heard of this book, but never read it. To get the rhythm and pacing of the author’s voice I listened to the audiobook first, before diving back into the paperback and reading as fast as I could.

In a Book Club Far Away by Tif Marcelo –  Joining a book club helped four military spouses become friends, but something pushed them apart. When they respond to a call for help, can they reconcile? Those of us who’ve never served in the military will enjoy the behind the scenes POV of military life on women and their families.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni – A coming of age story about Sam Hill, a boy born with red irises (ocular albinism). Sam faces bullies, makes friends, and struggles with faith before finding self-acceptance. One of my favorites and this tiny summary does not do the book justice. Read it.

The Well by Stephanie Landsem – Historical novel of redemption and love told through the eyes of Mara, whose mother’s life is changed at the well by Jesus. A well-developed story with multiple characters and subplots that inspire a deeper look at life during this time. Is it ever too late to be saved?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Another classic I’ve never read. A little slow to start, but the tension builds and builds. I kept rolling my eyes at the main character and her many misunderstandings and naivete.

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys – When an ELA teacher known for reading about 300 books every summer recommends a book, you know it’s going to be a good one. But OH MY GOODNESS! Set in Romania, 1989, where the oppressive Communist regime controls…everything. And  everyone is forced to spy against each other, including their own family. Based on first-hand accounts. This should be mandatory reading for everyone under-30.

Mutinous Women by Joan DeJean – Meticulously researched non-fiction about 132 women falsely accused – and never legally convicted – who are “exported” to 1720 Louisiana under the harshest conditions possible. A long read about the 62 survivors and their role as “founding women” in Gulf cities we know and love today.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – Brilliant female chemist in the early 1960s faces discrimination (and worse) in her workplace. An unlikely ally turns into love, but how will she rebuild her life after his death? I loved the main character.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – Honestly, I read half of this book before skimming the last because of the new-age style of writing. The four agreements are all good points: Watch your words, Don’t take it personally, Don’t assume, and Do your best.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Beautiful haunting book narrated by Death who is fascinated with an 11 year old adopted orphan girl in WWII Nazi Germany. Somber, aching, vivid, captivating. My heart was in a vise throughout, but I couldn’t leave the story. Tears.

Your turn!

If you find yourself in a reading rut or wanting to read more, why not start off your year with your own 12 Books Challenge. Most of the books I read are available from the library in paper, e-books, or streaming audio.

What will you read this year?

In addition to the list above, I’ll toss out two more books that I’d recommend for you!

Follow me on Goodreads to see what books I read in this year’s 12 Book Challenge!

Of Sound Mind and Spirit partners with affiliate platforms where commission may be earned based on clicks and or purchases, and we would love it if you decided to use the links above! Affiliate links help bloggers/podcasters like us to fund the free content that we provide on our sites.


Shelly Henley Kelly