In January 2018, I began to keep a personal booklist. I’ve always been an avid reader, but this was the first year I decided to document what I read. I didn’t have a goal in mind of how many books I wanted to read and I wasn’t taking part in a reading challenge; I simply wanted to track the paperback books I read in their entirety.

By the close of December 2018, my booklist contained thirty-six titles. This didn’t include any of the business/leadership e-books I had read on my computer, the half-finished books for my research or any of the youthful books my ten-year-old son and I read together at bedtime (Hardy Boys, anyone?).

Why I Chose These 36 Books

Since I was starting to write a historical fiction novel — and since I’d only written non-fiction before — I decided that I should attempt to learn what successful novelists do to keep their readers turning the pages. Common writing advice, after all, is to read the genres in which you want to write.

It is also recommended to incorporate popular elements such as suspense, overcoming adversity, and romance. Now, I have never been a Harlequin girl and find most romance novels to be a bit, shall we say, overly sensual. The thought of writing anything like that was out of the question for me.

Then I came across Tamera Alexander’s historical romance series — in my church library. After deciding to give one of Tamera’s books a try, I was hooked. Her romance is a backdrop, not a central theme (and most definitely not explicit), which enabled me to enjoy the historical significance of the stories while also appreciating the characters’ abilities to overcome their personal challenges. Best of all, she incorporates Biblical truths into each of her books.

To help me understand the suspense element, I turned to mysteries. As a girl, I loved Nancy Drew and as a teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed Agatha Christie, but most of the mysteries I had tried to read as an adult tended to be a little too psychological and/or violent in nature for my taste. I was thrilled, therefore, to discover DiAnn Mills’ mystery series at the tail-end of 2017 and then Terri Blackstock’s and Dee Henderson’s mysteries in 2018.

Also important to writing my historical fiction book, which is based on WWII places and events, was to analyze how other authors creatively intertwined WWII facts with fiction. This led me to the incredibly talented Jack Cavanaugh and Anne de Graaf, whose respective series had me devouring the pages.

Finally, I concentrated on memoirs and biographies. This, of course, should come as no surprise since my company, Lasting Legacies, is based on helping people write their life stories. Making Toast, Tuesdays with Morrie, and The Light within Me all made it onto my booklist.

My 2018 Personal Booklist

1. Cape Refuge — Terri Blackstock

2. Southern Storm — Terri Blackstock

3. River’s Edge — Terri Blackstock

4. Breaker’s Reef — Terri Blackstock

5. Seaside — Terri Blackstock

6. Making Toast — Roger Rosenblatt

7. The Things They Carried — Tim O’Brien

8. While Mortals Sleep — Jack Cavanaugh

9. His Watchful Eye — Jack Cavanaugh

10. Above All Earthly Powers — Jack Cavanaugh

11. The Bell Messenger — Robert Cornuke

12. Tuesdays with Morrie — Mitch Albom

13. A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII — Sarah Helm

14. The Child from the Sea — Elizabeth Goudge

15. Cane River — Lalita Tademy

16. Bread Upon the Waters — Anne de Graaf

17. Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates — Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger

18. The Light Within Me — Ainsely Earhardt

19. Where the Fire Burns — Anne de Graaf

20. Out of the Red Shadow — Anne de Graaf

21. Hillbilly Elegy — J.D. Vance

22. United We Stand — multiple authors

23. Danger in the Shadows — Dee Henderson

24. The Negotiator — Dee Henderson

25. The Guardian — Dee Henderson

26. The Truth Seeker — Dee Henderson

27. By Any Means Necessary — William E. Burrows

28. The Healer — Dee Henderson

29. The Rescuer — Dee Henderson

30. A Lasting Impression — Tamera Alexander

31. A Beauty So Rare — Tamera Alexander

32. A Note Yet Unsung — Tamera Alexander

33. Scrap Everything — Leslie Gould

34. To Whisper Her Name — Tamera Alexander

35. To Wager Her Heart — Tamera Alexander

36. A Garden in Paris — Stephanie Grace Whitson

4 Things I Learned from My Booklist

1. Try reading something different

Don’t want to spend money on a book you’re not sure you’re going to like? Check the book out from your local library! Interestingly, I discovered a fabulous creative family history (Cane River) from a tiny free library (see photos) at the beach this summer.

One of many tiny free libraries I found at the beach.

Did I enjoy everything on my booklist? To varying degrees. All of them revealed important truths of the human condition and many of them documented noteworthy historical events, but the authors differed in their styles and use of language. Personally, I don’t appreciate protagonists repeatedly swearing or taking the Lord’s name in vain (sorry, fans of Tim O’Brien and J.D. Vance). Yes, I uphold the First Amendment and yes, I know that’s how many people in the real world speak (especially during war). Go ahead and call me overly sensitive, old-fashioned, or naive, but I believe the English language is full of more creative and less offensive word choices to get the same point across in literature.

2. Balance is key

The only problem with having read so many books last year was that it took away from the time that I could have spent writing — and sleeping. Many were the nights I stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 am. This year, I need to do a better job balancing my reading and writing.

3. “Old” books are still good books

You’ll note that the majority of the books I read last year were not written in 2017 or 2018. In fact, several of them were written more than a decade ago. Well-written stories are timeless. Don’t shy away from yellowed pages or bent covers; the words inside are what matter.

4. Thank the author

I didn’t do that and in retrospect, I should have. It’s partly why I’m writing this post — to publicly acknowledge the role these authors have played in my own reading enjoyment and writing education.

They poured their heart and soul into each book and worked many long, hard hours. It seems only fitting that we should drop them a line on social media or on their website to let them know how much we appreciate their work. Even better, consider writing a book review on Amazon. Wouldn’t you like readers to do the same for you?

If you haven’t already begun a booklist for 2019, I encourage you to do so. Not only can it help you learn about your genre and document your sources as a writer, but it also allows you to reflect back on the books that made an impact on you personally.

Did you keep a booklist last year? Share a couple of your favorite authors and titles in the comments!

Dalene Bickel is an author, book coach and speaker who helps aspiring nonfiction authors through all phases of the writing and self-publishing process. Her passion is helping people of all ages create lasting legacies through life story and offers online and in-person legacy presentations and workshops. Visit Dalene at
Dalene Bickel is an author, book coach and speaker who helps aspiring nonfiction authors through all phases of the writing and self-publishing process. Her passion is helping people of all ages create lasting legacies through life story and offers online and in-person legacy presentations and workshops. Visit Dalene at
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