Tag Archives: Fantasy literature

Book list from 2014, books planned for 2015

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463While I love to read, 2014 was not a year for lots of books for me. I am lukewarm about several that I read, but other books did impress me–and I am picky about literature. Good literature only whets my appetite for more.

You’ll see what I have read, and then what I plan to read, both in novels and in histories. There’s even a very last, ambitious list at the bottom which I’ve just discovered. What books would you recommend to me?

2014 reads

  • The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek. I’m always intrigued when I learn something new from the tales of history. How surprising to learn of something called the Kindertransport. As Hitler was gaining power and darkness spread through Europe, some Jewish families sought ways to smuggle their most precious possessions–their children–to England. A network of synagogues, charities, and churches formed–the Kindertransport–and found homes for hundreds of Europe’s Jewish children. This book takes the stories of some children placed in a foster home in England and follows them through the war years. Not a brilliantly-written book, this was nevertheless an interesting portrayal of this little-known story from the perspective of one musically-talented young Austrian girl.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Much has been written about this book, and thinking about going to the movie, I decided to break down and read it first. (You may not know that I don’t like following contemporary booklists, because I find much to dislike in what passes as popular “literature.”) The point of view of the narrator–death–took me by surprise, and he didn’t make me comfortable at all. I think that’s the point. This book was beautiful and horrifying, and its heartbreaking conclusion wiped me out. Though I considered it a good book, I decided not to subject myself to the movie. I can recommend this book, but only to folks who are not strongly affected by heart-wrenching drama.
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second book in his Stormlight Archives, after The Way of Kings. He is masterful at creating a fantasy world, as also seen in his Mistborn series. His characters, the magical world they populate, and the good battling evil drew me in and held me captive all the way through. I’m going to blame this book on my reason for not reading more books this year. This is an incredibly long book! Worth every minute, though.
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. His two series, mentioned above, made me want more of his fascinating fantasy storytelling. Steelheart did not disappoint. He definitely wrote this book for a YA (Young Adult) audience, but that doesn’t deter me from reading good novels. The main character, a teenage boy who is awkward and geeky, made me smile frequently. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating compelling and believable characters.
  • The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I thought I was going to read a mystery fiction, but this turned out to be a true story about an infamous crime from the turn of the century. Not a dry history, this story was compelling all the way through.
  • The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd. I’ve enjoyed reading his novel of England’s history (Sarum) and Russia’s history (Russka). His method is unique–telling the history by focusing on one geographic area and creating familes whose descendants interact with one another over more than a thousand years. I loved traveling through Ireland a few years ago, so I looked forward to reading Rutherfurd’s creative history. This was well done, as usual, and I recognized some of the landmarks. His related novel, The Rebels of Ireland, is on my list to read next. I also want to read his novel of Paris, because I dream of going back there someday.
  • The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. This is the latest in the Flavia de Luce novels that have delighted me for the past few years. I love this smart, funny eleven-year-old girl who plays with chemicals in her uncle’s laboratory and dreams of concocting poisons, while she solves mysteries. Bradley’s next novel can’t come too soon!
  • The Girl in the Ice by Jason Vail. I hadn’t realized that this was Book 4 of a series, mysteries solved in medieval England. This one wasn’t good enough to capture my imagination and draw me to read the other books in this series. Though I enjoy fictional history, and especially of medieval Europe, this one just didn’t do it for me. The characters aren’t well developed, and the story itself didn’t hold together well.
  • The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. You might classify this as a romance, but I refuse to call it that. It’s a historical novel, well-written, easy reading. I like the author, and I always enjoy the setting she creates, usually in England or France. Not great classical literature, but every once in a while it’s a light divergence from the norm.
  • The Secret Gospel of Ireland by James Behan. This is basically a history of Christendom in Western Europe, beginning with Augustine. The author’s thesis is that Ireland saved Christianity in Europe. The historical detail is excellent, but he didn’t keep his thesis as a thread throughout the book. From what he described I could not reach the conclusion that he draws.
  • Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t often read devotionals or Christian books. I find them to be less theology, more navel-gazing, less law and gospel, more personality-driven. I prefer to study the Bible itself as the source of all biblical wisdom (funny how that works). This one we read with our small group from church. While it focused on Colossians, which I love, I found it to be pretty much personality-driven. Give me a book of the Bible and let’s discuss it instead!
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Hungry for more Rothfuss (while we await the next book in his fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles), I decided to read this short book that focuses on one character from the Kingkiller Chronicles, Auri. What a disappointment! This is no more than a very long character sketch. I think the author wanted to remind us that he’s around while we wait for his next book. Seems like he was playing with phrases and adjectives, because there is no dialogue, very little action, and lots of introspection.
  • The Finisher by David Baldacci. I have enjoyed Baldacci’s novels of intrigue and mystery. This is a complete departure from his “usual” genre, a foray into fantasy for him. He writes with an entirely different voice and tone. Utterly delightful, this beautifully written novel drew me in from the very first page. Now I cannot wait for the follow-up novel, because this cries out for a sequel. The characters are fully developed, the story exquisite. Probably the best book I’ve read all year.
  • Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour. While driving through the mountains of Colorado last summer, our son had us listen to one of Lamour’s Sacket novels. I can’t remember the title, but it was just the right novel for the rugged landscape that passed outside our window. So my husband picked up the entire (very long) Sackett series and exclaimed how much he enjoyed it last year. While driving again, we listened to Jubal Sackett. I will definitely begin this series on my own, because I’m a Western girl who loves the tone and description of these stories.

On my 2015 list

More ambitious at the beginning of each year than toward the end, I’ll list the ones that intrigue me, and we’ll see if I can maintain this level of ambition.

Novels:

  • More of the Sackett series by Lamour, definitely. It’s best to start at the beginning, way back in the 1600s, I’m told.
  • Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War series, beginning with A Blaze of Glory. I have already begin this one. I love all of his books, so I’m excited to pick up these books. (He has two out and intends one more in this series, which takes place earlier than his Gettysburg trilogy.)
  • More Rutherfurd books, as I described above. Probably the next Ireland one, and then Paris. They are long tomes, and I can only do them with lots of other books in between.
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. It comes out at the end of April, just in time for my birthday. Good planning, Bradley!
  • Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Home Place Carrie LeSeur
  • The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
  • Heretic by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Norsemen by Jason Born
  • The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kaye Penman
  • The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain

Histories (This is where my ambition comes in. I would like to study more histories…)

  • The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
  • A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
  • The Wars of the Roses and The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
  • Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages; How the Irish Saved Civilization; Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter; The Gifts of the Jews; Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus; Heretics and Heroes, all by Thomas Cahill
  • The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey; The Rape of Europe by Lynn H. Nicholas; Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum by Corinne Bouchoux; Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel; The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (all these books have to do with the stories on which the movie The Monuments Men was based.

But wait! Look at this list that my son just sent! I have already read many on this list, but now I want to read several more and then travel to the English counties in which each was based! Behold The Stars

You can suggest more that might be intriguing. Let’s see how many of these I accomplish, or whether my ADD tendencies (Look! A bookstore!) cause me to wander into other titles through the year.

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Books recommended, books panned for 2013

wisemansfear

Wise Man’s Fear gets my vote for favorite book of the year

This year I read a great deal, since I am still on low energy and need plenty of resting time. I chose many books based on recommendations from friends and family. I also went contrary to my nature and followed the recommendations of Amazon, since I read almost exclusively on a tablet device. Amazon and I have a close, enduring relationship. I pay Amazon lots of money, and it feeds my addiction. There might be something wrong about this relationship, but I can quit anytime I want to.

My taste in novels this year has been quite eclectic, such that you cannot pin me down to any one genre for very long.

This year I returned to some of my favorite contemporary authors, like John Grisham, Jeff Shaara, and David Baldacci. I also picked up a newly discovered novel by the late Pearl S. Buck, who has been a longtime favorite of mine. Loved the Grisham, Shaara, and Baldacci novels; grew very bored with Buck.

John Grisham:  Sycamore Row and The Racketeer. Sycamore Row returns to the same characters as in Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill. Though the new story has nothing to do with the old, I enjoyed revisiting the characters and watching them have a new legal adventure. At times it moved a bit slowly, but the ending was worth it. The Racketeer involves several intriguing characters and weaves a tale that is fun to follow.

David Baldacci: I stopped reading Baldacci a few years ago when he killed nearly everyone I cared about in Last Man Standing. My husband told me that he liked a new series by Baldacci, the King and Maxwell books. We read King and Maxwell on audio during a road trip. The story included many interesting characters and involved a great story of international intrigue.

Jeff Shaara is always good for a wartime history. I have never met a Shaara book I didn’t like, so I read his World War 2 novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. I’ll pick up his newest Civil War books in 2014. His World War 2 series: No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, and The Final Storm.

One of my longtime favorite authors has been Pearl S. Buck. In 2013 her heirs announced that a new manuscript of hers had been found and authenticated. Wanting to see if the book would match her earlier excellence, I read Eternal Wonder. I put it back down about half-read. It was boring and did not hold my interest in the least. What a disappointment.

I was eager to finish the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, so I picked up Allegiant. The novel answered all my questions from the first two books, Divergent and Insurgent, but not well. I was disappointed; it seemed as if the author was in a hurry to finish the novel, and she didn’t wrap things up well.

Patrick Rothfuss has written a fascinating fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind, which I read in 2012 and loved. His next novel, The Wiseman’s Fear, could probably rate as better than the first. The story is brilliant, and its characters are deep and engrossing. With the exception of a strange interlude into a fairy’s lair, the entire story held together extremely well. I can’t wait to read the third, which comes out in 2014.

Brandon Sanderson writes good fantasy novels, such as his Mistborn series. I thoroughly enjoyed Mistborn (book 1) and Well of Ascension (book 2). I thoroughly recommend these to any fantasy fan.

Alan Bradley continues to write an excellent series on the character Flavia De Luce, an 11-year-old prodigy in post-WW2 England. She is delightful, curious, bright, and humorous, and I love how he weaves an excellent mystery into this young girl’s life. His newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones, did not disappoint.

The novel Sarum by Edward Rutherford has long been on my reading list, but it always looked too long and boring. This was the year to read lots of books, though, and I piled them on. Sarum is the novel of England, from ancient times to the present. Since Rutherford has to leap from one age to the next in his novel, he can understandably only focus on a few characters for a brief time. Just as I got to enjoy a character, Rutherford leaped ahead a couple of centuries and I lost the character. However, the book was well-written enough that I wanted to read more of his books. I picked up Russka, the novel of Russia. I will read his novel of Ireland next year.

My favorite genre is historical fiction, so I tend to gravitate in that direction when I don’t know where else to go. I launched into my continued love of the Plantagenet and Tudor rulers of England, and some of the books were well-written. Please keep in mind that some of these novels contain some salacious moments and may not be appropriate for teens. (Some may not be appropriate for me either!)

Worth reading:

  • The Forgotten Queen by DL Bogdan
  • The White Princess by Philippa Gregory
  • The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory
  • Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
  • A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
  • Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham
  • Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Not worth reading:

  • A Daughter of Warwick by Julie May Ruddock

Some miscellaneous novels were recommended simply due to my past reading choices:

  • She Wore Only White by Dorthe Binkert (not worth reading)
  • War Brides by Helen Bryan (slow-moving and disjointed)
  • The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
  • The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
  • The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
  • Blood and Beauty: The Borgias by Sarah Dunant (horrid)
  • Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (boring and predictable)
  • The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
  • Bristol House by Beverly Swerling
  • The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin (predictable)
  • The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett (great book!)

Finally, a friend challenged me to read something not on any of my lists, namely I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Though it was never anything like the movie, the book was interesting. Asimov’s science fiction peered into the distant future but used low technology that was available to him at the time, like slide rules and television tubes and paper books.

Our small group Bible study met regularly to discuss the book The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. I am not, have never been, will never be a fan of the self-help Bible study book or even any topical study book meant for Christians. So getting me to read this book took a lot of effort and coercion on the part of my husband. This book turned out to be pretty good, elaborating on the Reformed view of holiness–sanctification–of the believer.

In all, that looks like 37 books. For a person low on energy, that sounds just about right! Can’t wait to see what I will be reading in 2014! Let me know what you recommend.

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The importance of Fantasy Literature

once upon a timeOne popular television show, entering its third season in 2013, is Once Upon a Time. Its episodes feature many of the familiar fairy tale characters we’ve grown up with. Chock-full of lots of magic and romance, deception and adventure, the show’s popularity proves that the genre of fantasy still captures the imaginations of young and old alike.

The Christian world sometimes (or perhaps often) frowns upon fantasy literature. Shouldn’t we just stay in the world that we see before us? Why do we have to delve into the contrived worlds of someone’s mind? Why elevate and even celebrate magical, mythical creatures–and magic itself? Why present evil in any form in literature or entertainment media?

Fantasy literature has thrived from earliest times, in works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Those stories, as much of fantasy literature, sport mythical creatures and magical beings. A fantasy is told even in the Bible. In Judges 9, Jotham tells a fantastical story of trees that ask other trees to be their king (Judges 9:8-15). Just like the story in the Bible, these tales prove useful in telling a greater truth, or in helping us mere mortals to think through the mysteries of life.

We are storytellers. We love to listen to other people’s stories. We grow up reading fantastical tales–they fuel our imagination and satisfy our desire for adventure. Fantasy, in particular, speaks to our dreams and deepest desires. We cheer for the hero, and we thrill to see the evil Queen vanquished. Fantasy literature contains many universal elements. Not all will have every one of these features, but the universality of these themes points to a deeper message in the stories themselves that Christian readers can appreciate.

Fantasy Literature uses magic. CS Lewis introduces magic in his Narnia series when we first see Uncle Andrew’s magical rings in The Magician’s Nephew. Those rings transport Digory and Polly into other magical worlds, including one called Narnia, where a lion is singing the world into existence. Some of fantasy literature doesn’t necessarily contain magic, but perhaps characters have super-human powers and abilities. Magic might not be used for evil purposes; magic or magical powers might rescue someone, remedy a situation, or change overcome  evil with good.

Is the use of magic wrong? Of course, as the Bible explicitly tells us. However, we are talking about fantasy literature. It is not real, and we understand that from the outset (the talking mice, walking trees or wise mirror might give us the first clue). It is not meant to be taken as real. Grownups can tell the difference between what’s real and what is fantasy; very young children cannot. It is part of human development to begin to distinguish between what’s real from what is not–the concrete from the abstract. That’s why children clap their hands to revive Tinkerbell!

Just like Cinderella, there is something deep inside ourselves that longs for some magical cure to our problems. We are unhappy; we daydream our way out of our unhappiness. Cinderella gets a fairy godmother–someone supernatural–the “hero” who wipes away all her woes. Don’t we long for a time and a place where every tear will be dried? Don’t we ache for someone who will one day bring us a new heaven and a new earth? (Revelation 21:1-2) This does not equate magic to God’s kingdom and to our Savior. Rather, it points out the longing in our hearts for that ultimate act, that eventual and long-awaited triumph, whether or not we know it as such.

Fantasy Literature contains a hero. Fairy tales and other fantasy legends are rich with the depiction of the hero or heroine. As in Sleeping Beauty, the hero is the one who rides in on the beautiful horse and saves the day. Or the unlikely small hobbit who risks everything to carry the ring to the fires of Mount Doom (or, as some may argue, the faithful Sam who carries Frodo part of the last leg of their journey and vows to never leave him).

The archetype of the hero makes for fascinating study. He may or may not be perfect, yet he uses his skills and his passions to rescue the one who needs saving. Despite the odds, he ventures on a quest to find his foe in order to fight him, and he usually finds out important things about himself while on his long quest.

Joseph Campbell authored what is considered to be the seminal work on the archetype of the hero in world literature, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. George Lucas credits Campbell’s work as one inspiration for his epic Star Wars heroes. In an often-quoted passage, Campbell says, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Again, the archetype of the hero–the one who rescues, who rises above other mere mortals, who restores hope or makes everything better–speaks loudly of the yearning of mankind. That desire, buried deep in our hearts, is our longing for a savior. Heroes universally  resonate with us because we have this built-in hunger for a savior who will rescue us from the evil around us, who will make everything whole again. And that universal longing was planted in our hearts, and promised to us, as long ago as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15).

Fantasy Literature contains mythical/magical creatures. Some of them talk, like Aslan the lion or Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat. Some display magical powers, like the genie in Aladdin’s tale. Some are purely other-worldly, like unicorns, wraiths, elves, or chimeras. These spring out of the imagination of the writer or rely on old myths to tell new stories. The genie, for example, is another version of the Djinn, or Jinn, which are referred to in the Qur’an as spirit beings. Of course, we know the genie from the bottle in the Aladdin story, and even CS Lewis refers to Jinns in his Narnia series while describing the origin of the evil witch from Charn, who turns out to be the White Queen.dobby (1)

Christian readers might ask, does the existence of mythical, magical creatures make the story evil, to be avoided? Again, the answer remains the same for all of fantasy literature. The make-believe world springs from the author’s imagination, which knows no bounds, and speaks of the creativity of the human mind. That there are mythical, magical creatures does not mean the story is evil. Their existence simply points out that this is fantasy, meant to entertain and perhaps inspire. And these creatures undoubtedly play a role in that story. They may frighten us, or they might foil the hero’s quest, or they might simply be entertaining for a brief moment in the story.

Fantasy Literature pits good against evil. Jeff Baldwin, in his essay “Twelve Trademarks of Literature,” says about this battle of good versus evil, “the dogma is the drama.” Since the beginning of time our stories have been filled with this epic battle. We want good to triumph over evil. We struggle with the downtrodden good guy who is beset with problems stemming from the evil that dogs him. We need to replay that epic struggle again and again. We cheer for those good guys who win, and we get a thrill when evil is finally defeated.evil queen

Why is the battle of good versus evil so universal? It is in our nature to want good to triumph, just as we want the hero to rescue the fair maiden or the vengeful bad guy to be beaten. We cheer when Gaston is defeated so that the Beast can turn into the prince we all know him to be, and so that he can marry Belle and be happy ever after.

More than just a happy ending, we are gratified by the struggle, that long fight, that rise and fall of every good story. In watching and reading those stories, we work out our own struggle of good versus evil. We can identify with that drama–that fight to overcome the evil power. If the story is not told well, we probably will not have enjoyed the ending. We are aware of our own nature that does evil, and that often distresses us (some of us less than others). So we like to see evil vanquished and for good to come out on top, because we want that to happen in our own lives (see Romans 7). The working-out of this epic struggle reminds us of the worthiness of good and the perversion of evil.

Yes, many evil stories spring from man’s mind and should be avoided, so I caution parents–and adults in general–to beware of stories that glorify evil and perversion, that take long periods of time to dwell on the macabre. We should not dwell on those stories; we are cautioned to run away from evil (Proverbs 2:9-15). Similarly, stories with a message that leads the reader to conclude that the evil in the story is actually good–those too are a perversion of the “dogma is the drama” theme. Run in the other direction!

The universality of themes found in fantasy literature, including fairy tales and epics from long past even up to today, is a reason to celebrate. It teaches us that in our hearts we long for the triumph of good over evil. It shows us that deep down we have a similar longing: we ache for a savior, that hero who will defeat death and rescue us from this world of sin and shame. Stamped upon our hearts is the universal, moral tale we all long to see resolved, even if some of us don’t realize it.

Some well-told fantasy tales (not in order of importance):

  • One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (including the Aladdin story)
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (which I always found a little creepy)
  • Grimm’s fairy tales
  • Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book
  • CS Lewis’ Narnia series
  • George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin
  • Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind series
  • JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy
  • Spencer’s The Fairie Queen
  • Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Legend series
  • JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy

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