Top Ten Books Read in 2018
Didn’t quite hit 100 books this year (ended in the eighty-something range). I suppose the older you get, the harder it becomes to find time to read. Working two part-time jobs on top of a full-time job probably doesn’t help things either…
Anyways, since I’ve made a tradition of doing this the last several years, here are the top ten books I read over the course of this past year (book titles linked to my longer Goodreads reviews). Got to say, issues with finding time to read aside, I got to read some pretty fantastic works over the course of this year.
10. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes
Christian fantasy is a mixed bag, and modern Christian allegory even more so. But Fawkes did a marvelous job of rising above the top with the first modern allegory I’ve actually enjoyed reading—and a dang good story along with that.
Short Story: A Heretic’s Sacrifice
Emiel was twice a heretic.
When he rejected the Twelve Gods for Adolsin, the church labeled him a heretic. And when he held onto the Twelve Gods’ powers after pledging himself to Adolsin, even his fellow heretics called him a heretic.
The numerous enemies Emiel had gathered over the years caused many near-death experiences. But he didn’t mind. Enemies made escapades more fun.
Emiel landed softly on the cold stone floor, his rope dangling beside him. He scanned the area. No guards this time of night. He stretched. Kesean always said he stretched like a cat. He was never sure whether she meant it as a compliment or not.
His back cracked. He grimaced. Hiding above the chapel’s rafters for seven hours had stiffened all his joints. Orin had suggested that he disguise himself as part of the wall. Unfortunately, Emiel’s shapeshifting powers didn’t work that way.
Emiel padded along the stone floor toward the exit. A chill crept through his socks. He probably should have worn shoes. But shoes were so unnatural. How could he stay on his toes if he couldn’t feel the surface he was standing on?
He arrived at twin doors adorned with fancy carvings intended to honor the Twelve Gods. As if the Twelve Gods gave a rat’s tail for the happenings on earth. Emiel considered finding a knife to make some interesting changes to the carvings. But he wasn’t sure Adolsin approved of vandalism—even if he would be defacing false deities. And Emiel had a job to do. He pushed the doors open and tiptoed into the main hall of the manor.
Should Christian Fiction Genres Exist?
“The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.” – C. S. Lewis
This quote, from one of the literary greats of the twentieth century, is one I’ve heard often in Christian circles. It’s a quote I generally agree with. Christian fiction has historically had quality problems and we need to emphasize the production of good literature rather than just literature with the Christian brand slapped on it.
However, some Christians take this quote in another direction. Not only should we de-emphasize the Christian fiction genre, but according to some, we shouldn’t even have a genre for Christian fiction in the first place. In the minds of some, “Christian fiction” is a retreat from the world where we insulate ourselves in closed communities with sub-par fiction.
Which leads to a question: should we really be avidly reading works of Christian fiction if the genre insulates us from the rest of the world?
Short Story: Visions of Grandeur
By tradition, the healer’s tents were located at the back of the army. When Sian passed through them to enter the playing field of war, screams of pain assailed her.
Images of raw agony, grotesque disfigurements, and gaping wounds flooded her mind and multiplied by the dozens. She pressed her hands against her ears, regretting her blessing from the gods. Some minds she hated seeing into. She crouched, shaking, as the muffled noise caused the images to fade.
“I’m sorry; I’m sorry,” Sian said to Cedric, her escort. “I didn’t expect this to happen.”
Cedric’s youthful golden curls hung in his face as he looked down at her. He gave a reply, but Sian couldn’t make it out with her ears covered.
“Can we move beyond these tents?” Sian gestured with her head. “I can’t be near them.”
Cedric’s lips moved again, then he gently took her elbow. Sian slowly stood and let herself be led away. Once she was far enough from the tents, she hesitantly removed her hands. She could still hear screams, but not enough to visualize the minds of the injured.
Sian exhaled and turned to Cedric. “I’m sorry. If I’d known I would be overwhelmed, I would have warned you.”
Cedric stared at her as if she had been possessed by a demon. “What in Thanax’s name was wrong with you?”
Top Ten Books Read in 2017
After hitting a personal record of 154 books read in 2016, I decided to scale things back this past year. Apparently being a full-time English teacher leaves me with a lot less free time than being a college student teaching on the side. Who knew. I still got to 101 books, but the vast majority of those books were read before August when reading time went out the window.
It was easier to choose my top 10 this year since I was sorting through a lot less books, so here are the top 10 books I read in 2017 (yes; my list is pretty eclectic–I have a lot of varied tastes). I included a brief snippet about the book below, and the titles are linked to my Goodread reviews for the few of you foolish enough curious enough to want to read more of my thoughts on these books.
10. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
This is an odd book in many ways. One of the best works of Christian speculative fiction I’ve read–and it was also written by an atheist. It markets itself as a sci-fi first-encounter-with-aliens book–but it’s really about the trials of a long-distance marriage. It doesn’t fit into many neat categories. But it was also a breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly tragic work. Really fascinating stuff.
Why The Last Jedi Has the Most Thematic Breadth in the Series
I recently saw The Last Jedi over this past weekend. It was one of those films that took me a while to process because of just how many plot twists and surprises were packed into its two and a half hour run-time. The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more it strikes me that The Last Jedi may have the best thematic breadth in the entire Star Wars series. (Warning: Spoilers follow.)
In most Star Wars movies, the thematic aspect of the film seems to be pretty focused on one character. A New Hope focuses on Luke’s character arc as he learns to trust the Force. Han has a character arc as well, but it’s more minor and disconnected. Empire Strikes Back is about Luke being forced to choose between achieving greatness (whether as a Jedi with Yoda or a Sith with his father) or protecting his friends (among other things; there are a couple different themes, but they seem to mainly revolve around Luke). Revenge of the Sith likewise focuses everything around Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. Great themes with a lot of depth. However, all these themes are largely focused on one character in each of the films.
I was surprised to find that this isn’t the case in The Last Jedi.
Short Story: The First God-Blessed
When the gods had begun “blessing” individuals with supernatural powers in exchange for loyalty, Clare was the first.
She hadn’t even needed to swear any devotion.
Because, unlike all the others, she had received blessings from multiple gods at once.
Clare strode out of her chambers. Her violet-tinted knee-high boots clapped against the stone floor, and servants turned their heads to get a glimpse of her. Nilde had recently ordered their craftsmen to design her a new outfit. It was ridiculous. She was supposed to be a warrior-ruler, not an emblem of fashion. But Nilde had insisted the boots and violet tunic would enhance public impressions of her. At least Clare had been able to keep the functional black-leather skirt.
What Fantasy Authors Can Learn from Marvel Studios
If you aren’t much of a superhero movie fan (or even if you are), the upcoming slate of movies Marvel alone is trying to push out may seem rather exhausting. 10 more films in the next three years with plans through 2027? It’s no wonder you have people like Spielberg predicting superhero films will go the way of the Western and burn out in the near future.
Yet, despite all the films churned out by Marvel and DC, moviegoers keep purchasing tickets without any signs of stopping. Superhero stories are a (relatively) narrow genre—and yet many viewers (such as myself) regularly see two to four superhero films a year, despite the criticisms Marvel’s received for weak villains and paint-by-number three-act stories.
How has Marvel been able to keep selling tickets without running into genre fatigue? There are multiple reasons, but there’s one I’d like to focus on: Marvel keeps the genre feeling fresh by mixing it with other genres. This is a skill that not only budding novelists can be taking advantage of—but a skill some of the best fantasy authors today are using to craft unique and brilliant stories.