20 Favorites in 2020: John Hugh

– John Hugh

The past year, and now the past week, has been tumultuous for many, in so many ways.  It has brought changes, delays, anxiety, depression, and loss.  As we look ahead to 2021, we do so with hope.  A hope for better days, further healing, and a renewed calling.  Thankfully, we have a hope that will not disappoint (Romans 5:5).

We haven’t wavered in our commitment to move to Paris, knowing there is a great need.   The beginning of a new year always harkens reflections:  I want to highlight my favorites from 2020.  I spent more time indoors this year –  like many of you.  These works gave me hope and respite during this time.  Here are my favorite books, TV shows, and films, in no particular order, other than they’ve been enriching and entertaining.

My 20 Favorites from 2020


The Last Lion:  Winston Spencer Churchill Alone, by William Manchester

This is the second of three books in Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill.  It focuses on the years 1932-1940, when Churchill had been cast out of political power and isolated.  In this time, he continues to write and speak about the threat of Nazism and Hitler.  He was continually disregarded and cast aside.  Ultimately he rose back to lead the nation.  Manchester believes this was the most courageous and heroic period of Churchill’s life, when he stood alone in his beliefs, held onto hope in the gathering storm, became steeled by his trials, and became the leader we know now.


The Splendid and The Vile, by Erik Larson

I love Erik Larson’s works of history.  This may be his best.  It picks up immediately where the “The Last Lion:  Alone”, left off, in May of 1940 when Churchill became Prime Minister.  It then covers one year, from May 1940 – May 1941, as Britain herself was isolated and faced the onslaught of German air raids and threats of invasion.  It depicts how Churchill continued to mobilize a nation with his words and actions, inspiring the English people to “never, never, never, give up.”  It also gives focus to Churchill’s family life during this period, amid the trial of war and separation.  It’s a very personal rendition of this first year of war before America comes to Britain’s aid.

A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel

Mantel is widely known for her trilogy of historical fiction on Thomas Cromwell (“Wolf Hall”, “Bringing Up the Bodies”, and the third volume – “The Mirror and the Light” which came out this year).  This novel on the French Revolution is just as good.  I thought I knew about the French Revolution, but here it’s personalized through 3 central figures in French history:  Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, and Camille Desmoulins.  You see their rise, their fall, why they wanted to overturn a nation, and how they did so.   The French and American Revolutions, although connected, were very different and turned out differently for each country.  This book helps you understand, as you get caught up in the revolution, the lives of its leaders, and how it turned French life upside down, shaping it for the future.

The Order, by Daniel Silva

I believe this is the 20th book of my favorite fictional series.  I recommend starting at the beginning.  Even with 20 books, the pages will fly.  It centers on Gabriel Allon, an Israeli spy, his family & team as they protect Israel and the world, from threats near and far.  In “The Order”, Gabriel is called to Rome by friends in the Catholic Church because of a suspected assassination of the Pope.  It’s all fiction, yet Silva makes it feel real to life, tying in present day events.  I highly recommend the series, you’ll be highly entertained and learn about world affairs.  And yes, you could even start with this one.

A Time of Mercy, by John Grisham

I don’t read all of Grisham.  I do read all his books with Jake Brigance set in the fictional Mississippi town of Clanton (“A Time to Kill” was first of those).  I don’t want to give anything away, so all I’ll say is Jake is called upon to defend the young son of a single mom, with the family living in the worst of circumstances.  It’s highly evocative of place, set in the late 1990’s, and Grisham makes the characters and small town community come alive – and it portrays hope coming out from the harshest of life situations.

Gentle and Lowly, by Dane Ortland

Much has been made of this book as a modern day classic for Christian faith.  It’s justified.  This book looks at Jesus’ saying – “Come to me, all you who are weary for I am gentle and lowly in heart“.  It focuses on how we all can come to Jesus, even at our lowest, as He sympathizes with us and receives us as we are.  More so, He comes to us, and His comings gentle and lowly too.  I’ve spent time with two small groups going through this book and I’m sure I will with many others.  It’s that revelatory and convicting.

Confronting Christianity, by Rebecca McLaughlin

This book covers 12 central questions people could confront Christianity with.  And it’s the hard questions, where you don’t initially have easy answers.  Questions of taking the Bible literally, religion causing conflict, aren’t all religions the same, race, sex, hell, and the providence of God.   I found this book to be great for small group discussion, as each chapter takes one of the questions.  It’s an apologetic work, yet shows that we can give answers to even the hardest of questions coming from those who both believe or those do not believe.

Paul Faber, Surgeon, by George McDonald

This book is also part of trilogy, the Wingfold trilogy, about a country pastor, Thomas Wingfold, in rural England.  McDonald was a Christian and became a great influence to C.S. Lewis in his own writings.  This book is fiction, yet McDonald delves into the central issues of the Christian faith: sin, repentance, coming to know Christ in different ways and through different people.  This book is about the titular character – Paul Faber – whom we meet as an atheist.  The book shows his personal journey and delves into questions we can all have about why we should, in fact, believe in God.


The Mandalorian

So far, I’ve only mentioned books.  Yet I love some good TV and film.  Even though I was late to the game with “The Mandalorian”, I’ve come to love it.  I didn’t know what to make of it at first, didn’t know if it could fit in with the Star Wars universe.  Does it ever!  We get to know the character of the Mandalorian and how it is woven into the larger narrative.  I’m excited about what this series, and others by Disney, will do to shape the whole of the saga.  So good.



This was the last film I saw with my oldest son before the world turned upside down in 2020.   We actually got to see it in Paris in March 2020, at the cusp of the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns and social isolation.  We loved it.  We laughed and were moved.  It’s a wonderful story about family, brothers, and fathers.  It is a great memory for us, but it’s also a great movie too.



This is actually the last film I saw in theaters in 2020, with a good friend.  I love Christopher Nolan movies and was excited to see this one and what it could do for movies this year.  It got mixed reviews.  For me, I still loved it.  Nolan deals with notion of time in almost all his films.  He took it to a different level in this film.  It probably requires multiple viewings.  Yet the idea of time moving backwards is a fascinating one.  He uses this film as a take on the global spy thriller, and I believe he succeeds in capturing the genre.


The Crown

I love this series.  It focuses on the royal family from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.  This year, we got to see Season 4, when Queen Elizabeth is well into middle age.  It covers both national issues and personal family challenges.  We get to see Margaret Thatcher come to the scene, as well as Princess Diana. I won’t rank the seasons in any particular order; I only recommend the entire series so you can see the trajectory of the family through 20th century historical events.


The Last Dance

I’ll remember this series as just what we as a family needed in the spring of 2020.  We all curled up on a couch to watch this entire series – and as I relived key moments, my sons were introduced to history.  An emotional documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the mid to late 1990’s, it brought back so many memories for me.  It reminded us of how good they were and what we might have even taken for granted.  The modern day interviews with Jordan and the other players and coaches made it so much better too.


Major League Baseball Playoffs & World Series

I’m so thankful we got somewhat of a baseball season in this year.  Even though it was different, shorter and no fans, it was great to have baseball.  I didn’t know how involved I would get into the playoffs with the restrictions and emptier parks, so I was surprised at how much I loved it as usual.  The games were still tense, the teams still did all they could to win, and the World Series was great.  And, I was glad to see the Dodgers (and Clayton Kershaw) finally win it.



This was a film by Martin Scorsese from a few years back.  We watched it together as a family.  Our kids loved it.  It’s about an orphan living in a Paris train station, who loves inventing things.  Even more, it’s a tribute to the magic of cinema and how movies can shape us.  It’s moving, delightful, and shows no matter how dark things get, there is always hope.


What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer

I’ve had this book for a long time and finally picked it up in 2020 to read.  Both because I had the time and because 2020 was an election year.  It’s a long read and can look intimidating, yet Cramer is a great writer and you can easily lose yourself in this history of one Presidential race – 1988.  It’s really about the lives of several candidates in that race – George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Richard Gephardt, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, and Joe Biden (he ran in 1988 too).  The book is an attempt to uncover what it takes to become President of the United States.  It’s fascinating and informative.


An Army at Dawn, by Rick Atkinson

This is book one of the Liberation Trilogy, the liberation of Europe in World War II.  I’d actually read book two, “The Day of Battle”, on the liberation of Sicily and Italy several years ago.  “An Army at Dawn” covers the fight for North Africa, the first front, and the invasion by American forces.  I came into this book knowing the least about this part of World War II, and this book shines more than enough light.  I think it’s so good, however, for two reasons.  First, how Atkinson goes into the lives, thoughts, and hardship of the regular GI on the ground.  You see their fear, courage, and resolve as they learn how to fight.  Second, it also shows how the leaders, particularly Dwight Eisenhower, through his mistakes, grows into the central commander of the war.


Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

This novel is set in the early 19th century is about a young boy who escapes from slavery in Barbados.  Along with his rescuer, they travel from the Caribbean to the Arctic, then London, and Morocco.  It’s not only a travelogue, it’s a search for family, meaning, and true freedom.



The Best Picture winner of 2019, I saw it early in 2020, before everything changed.  It was deserving of the accolades.  As I love history, I want to know more about “the Great War” – World War I.  This film puts you in the trenches as you see the scope of the suffering the soldiers went through.  And it’s filmed in real time, which makes it both interesting and more suspenseful.  It will make you want to learn more about World War I too.


A Hidden Life

Probably be the best film I saw in 2020, yet most likely not for everyone.  Directed by Terrence Malik, it’s the true story of  Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic during World War II.  Even more, it’s a depiction of his faith, one that led him to defy the Nazi regime and refuse to swear allegiance to Hitler.  The cost and consequences of this act, for he and his family, were severe.  The title comes from a line in George Eliot’s Middlemarch:

 “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

The film is about a hidden life – his own, yet it’s also about keeping steadfast faith when it seems as if God is hidden from you.  It speaks to Hebrews 11:1 – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  It makes you consider what you would do under such circumstances.  It is powerful, inspiring, and moving.



Yes, we are still planning to move to Paris. We are committed to this mission, regardless of a pandemic or other deterrents.  Our departure date is delayed due to COVID-19.  Thank you to our partners so far!  We are humbled by those who are supporting us.     If you are interested our vision for 2021 (3Ps for Paris),  join us on our journey today.



 Playlist:  Updates on our Move to France 


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