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2012 Year In Review: Fiction

Top Ten

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1. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Now that I’ve finally read this, I can’t help but recommend it to every single person who crosses my path. It is at once a gut-wrenching morality play, a brilliant psychological study, and a gripping crime thriller (not to mention a stunning refutation of Frederic Nietzche’s “Superman”). It’s dark and heavy, yes, but also shot through with hope; a story that affirms both the lostness of the human condition and the power of Christ to save.
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2. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
This acclaimed novel is ostensibly a courtroom drama, but such a description does not really do this profound and multifaceted book justice. Through the eyes of a child, Lee explores the evils of racial prejudice with subtlety and power, gracing her story with an elegance so unspectacular it’s spectacular. More than once, I had to pause and read passages aloud, just for the pleasure of rolling them off my tongue. Full review
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3. ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card
As far as science fiction goes, Ender’s Game isn’t good, nor is it great – it’s brilliant. Winner of the Hugo and the Nebula awards, this bestselling novel by Orson Scott Card is a stellar fusion of action and ideas; a story as intellectually challenging as it is relentlessly entertaining. (The sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is also terrific). Full review
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4. THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien
This is not a novel, nor a memoir, nor a short story collection: it is, instead, an exquisite combination of all three. Through this unique but effective merging of fact and fiction, the author paints a picture of his life (and the lives of his fellow soldiers) before, during, and after the Vietnam war. And what a picture it is. Full review
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5. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s either one of the best novels I’ve ever read… or it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read. They call ‘em classics for a reason, and this one is no exception. Beautiful writing, thought-provoking story.
Continue reading 2012 Year In Review: Fiction

Book Review: Ender’s Game

In the futuristic world of Ender’s Game, an alien race has attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed mankind. To prepare for the next encounter, an international Battle School has been established, where the world’s most talented children are drilled in the arts of war. Their early training takes the form of “games”: simulated battles in null-gravity.

Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggin: a genius among geniuses. His training begins at age six, and when he joins Battle School, his tactical prowess becomes obvious. With humanity’s survival in the balance, everything hinges on Ender’s ability to surmount every challenge he’s given. The authorities are determined to make him or break him. Ender will grow up fast.

As far as science fiction goes, Ender’s Game isn’t good, nor is it great – it’s brilliant. Winner of the Hugo and the Nebula awards, this bestselling novel by Orson Scott Card is a stellar fusion of action and ideas; a story as intellectually challenging as it is relentlessly entertaining.

Card’s prose is of the clear, clean-cut variety, in the tradition of George Orwell, who said that good writing is “like a windowpane.” He doesn’t draw attention to himself as the author; instead, he steps aside and focuses on enveloping the reader in Ender’s world. Crisp dialogue. Taut pacing. Meticulous world-building. Tremendous characterization. What’s not to like about the way this book is written?

The action sequences are absolutely thrilling. In some ways, they reminded me of the zero-gravity combat in Inception (2010), except on a grander and more sophisticated scale. Excitingly-rendered as these sequences are, however, it’s the rendering of the characters that ultimately makes Ender’s Game as good as it is.

This is especially true in the case of Ender himself: since much of the story consists of his own internal dialogue, it’s crucial that we feel a strong emotional connection with him. Card accomplishes this perfectly, making Ender a well-developed and wonderfully sympathetic little hero. We get inside his head, feel him struggle, feel him triumph. We know him. And because of this, his growth in the harsh arena of Battle School is both compelling and painful to watch.

Ender’s Game is home to a multitude of tough and interesting ideas. Exploitation of children. Lost innocence. Abuse of power. Self-sacrifice. Personal responsibility. Family. And the war-time balance between ruthlessness and compassion. You may not agree with everything in the way Card handles these ideas, but he deserves credit for making us grapple with them in the first place.

Of course, Card isn’t touting a distinctly Christian worldview, and readers should keep that in mind. There’s a bit of quasi-religious weirdness at the very end (it’s brief and hardly central to the story), as well as a smattering of crude language, some violence, and quite a few mature themes. Don’t let the hero’s age fool you: this is no children’s book.

Books Every Guy Should Read (Pt. 4)

In the fourth and (for now) final installment of this list, I compiled some of the recommendations I was given by readers. I have not read any of these myself
(with the exception of Old Yeller), but I look forward to doing so in the future…


The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
Recommended by Mike
From Amazon: “In The Gospel According to Jesus, MacArthur tackles the idea of ‘easy believism,’ challenging Christians to re-evaluate their commitment to Christ by examining their fruits. MacArthur asks, ‘What does it really mean to be saved?’ He urges readers to understand that their conversion was more than a mere point in time, that, by definition, it includes a lifetime of obediently walking with Jesus as Lord.”

Meat for Men by Leonard Ravenhill
Recommended by Mike
From Amazon: “This book of revival sermons is Ravenhill’s sequel to the classic book, Why Revival Tarries… a hard-hitting attack upon sin, carnality, and easy undisciplined Christian living.”

The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells
Recommended by Persis
From Amazon: “This book is a broadside against new versions of evangelicalism as well as a call to return to the historic faith, one defined by Reformation solas (grace, faith, and scripture alone), and to a reverence for doctrine. Wells argues that the historic, classical evangelicalism is one marked by doctrinal seriousness, as opposed to the new movements of the marketing church and the emergent church.”

Missionary Patriarch: The True Story of John G. Paton by John G. Paton
Recommended by Mike & Constitution Girl
From Amazon: “Though John G. Paton’s accounts of evangelism among the South Sea Cannibals are extraordinary, what sets this book apart is that it contains one of the finest testimonies of multi-generational love and devotion between a father and son found outside the Scriptures… Because of his father’s faithful example, Paton was able to love and lead to Christ the very people who tried to eat his wife and child.

Heir to a Dream by Pete Maravich
Recommended by Barbara H.
From Amazon: “Heir to a Dream follows the life of Pete Maravich after his retirement from the NBA in 1980 when he was still a top scorer. His faith experience several years later – which literally turned his life around – is chronicled.”

The Autobiography of George Muller
Recommended by Barbara H.
From Amazon: “What can be accomplished in an ordinary man who trusts in an extraordinary God? George Muller discovered the endless possibilities! These excerpts from his diary allow Muller to tell his own story. Join him on his journey from a life of sin and rebellion to his glorious conversion. Share his struggles and triumphs as he establishes orphan homes to care for thousands of English children, depending on God’s response to his prayer of faith to supply all things.”

The Life of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards
Recommended by Persis
From Amazon: “This is a rare, almost forgotten document depicting life in pre-Revolutionary America during the period when religious enthusiasm swept the colonial frontier. From 1743 to 1747 Brainerd had been a missionary to the Indians. Riding alone, thousands of miles on horseback, he kept a journal of daily events that he continued until the week before he died, at the age of twenty-nine, in Edwards’ house.”

Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
Recommended by Barbara H.
From Amazon: “In 1956, five young men, including Elliot’s husband, Jim, traveled into the jungles of Ecuador to establish communication with the fierce Huaorani Tribe, a people whose only previous response to the outside world has been to attack all strangers. The men’s mission combined modern technology with innate ingenuity, sparked by a passionate determination to get the gospel to those without Christ. In a nearby village, their wives waited to hear from them. The news they received – all five missionaries had been murdered – changed lives around the world forever.”

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Recommended by Barbara H.
From Amazon: “When his father sets out on a cattle drive for the summer, fourteen-year-old Travis is left to take care of his mother, younger brother, and the family farm. In the wilderness of early frontier Texas, Travis faces his new and often dangerous responsibilities, with many adventures along the way, all with the help of the big yellow dog who comes to be his best friend.”

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Recommended by Cindy Swanson
From Amazon: “Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them… But even more dangerous are the jealousies and bitterness that threaten to tear them apart, and Janner and his siblings must learn the hard way that the love of a family is more important than anything else.”

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Recommended by Seth
From Amazon: “This futuristic tale involves aliens, political discourse on the Internet, sophisticated computer games, and an orbiting battle station. Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices.”

Shogun by James Clavell
Recommended by Seth
From Amazon: “A bold English adventurer. An invincible Japanese warlord. A beautiful woman torn between two ways of life, two ways of love. All brought together in an extraordinary saga of a time and a place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust, and the struggle for power…”

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Recommended by Sherry
From Amazon: “In 1940s Brooklyn, New York, an accident throws Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a Modern Orthodox Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son and rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship. Together they negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, the crisis of faith engendered when Holocaust stories begin to emerge in the U.S., loss, love, and the journey to adulthood.”

The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara
Recommended by Sherry
From Amazon: “This novel reveals more about the Battle of Gettysburg than any piece of learned nonfiction on the same subject. Michael Shaara’s account of the three most important days of the Civil War features deft characterizations of all of the main actors, including Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Buford, and Hancock.”

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailer
Recommended by Sherry
From Amazon: “The dramatic story of three Polish children during and just after World War II, whose parents are taken away by the Nazis and their house blown up. The children manage to escape over the rooftops and join the gangs of orphans living in the ruins of the bombed city, existing as best they can.”

Life with Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Recommended by Sherry
From Amazon: “Wodehouse is, quite simply, one of the funniest men on the planet, and this latest compendium of his work, Life with Jeeves, is Wodehouse at his best. Here you’ll find Bertie Wooster, a complete gentleman, but the first to admit he’s a bit of a chump; his valet, Jeeves, infinitely sagacious, the source of all solace; and a wild collection of terrifying aunts, miserly uncles, love-sick friends, female authors, crusading communists, troublesome cousins, cantankerous dogs, unwanted fiancés and more-all bound up in plots as impossibly labyrinthine as they are laugh-out-loud funny.”