Friday, August 04, 2006

Master Book List :: My Recent Reads

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

With a sadonic wit and fine attention to detail, Stephenson weaves together the lives of three characters in a tale spanning three generations from WWII to modern day: Bobby Shaftoe--tough as nails WWII Marine; Laurence Waterhouse--brilliant codebreaker working for the Allies; Randy Waterhouse--computer programmer who finds himself caught up in a plan to establish a data haven (while hunting for Nazi/Japanese gold). The story is noticeably short on plot, however, and quite lengthy. (Rating: B / B.L.: Adult)

Dune - Frank Herbert

Tired of hearing "one of the best science fiction stories of all time" only to waste several days of your life? Sink your teeth into Dune and you'll agree that Herbert has created a masterfully realized world, the perfect stage for the coming of age of the protagonist, Paul. Desolate yet vital, the planet Arrakis shapes the future of the galaxy since it's the mysterious source of melange--an addictive, prophecy-inducing spice. After political intrigue lands Paul's family and friends on this inhospitable planet, Paul must confront the terrible destiny laid before him. (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 6+)

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein

A man raised by Martians returns to Earth and seeks to instruct humans in the path to true happiness: 1) throw away traditional morality, 2) explore physical and mental oneness through telepathy, 3) never forget "thou art god." Tastes a bit like Eastern mysticism. Not one of Heinlein's strongest, Stranger disappoints. (Rating: C+ / B.L.: ADULT)

Shadow Puppets - Orson Scott Card

In a world torn by war, Bean and Petra seek to find meaning in life even as they work to defeat their archenemy Achilles. Not as strong as the previous books, SP feels a bit forced at times. The ending however will satisfy. (Rating: A- /B.L.: 8+)

Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card

The war against the Buggers has ended...Bean and the other Battle School grads now face a threat just as insidious--Achilles. Deftly weaving military strategy with themes of family, ambition, and belonging, Card reveals his skill in creating believable futures. (Rating: A / B.L.: 8+)

Ender's Shadow - Orson Scott Card

Possessed with a terrifyingly powerful intelligence, Bean comes alongside Ender as they give their innocence to protect the human race. Told from Bean's perspective, this novel certainly does enrich the story found in Ender's Game though some readers may chafe as Card rehashes events. (Rating: A / B.L.: 8+)

Once an Arafat Man - Tass Saada

A former sniper for the Palestinian rebel group Fatah, Tass Saada now works to reconcile enemies in the Middle East who have fought for thousands of years. This powerful narrative of his conversion also helps the reader see Muslims and Arabs in a new light. (Grade: A / B.L.: 9+)

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini

Within Paolini's well-crafted fantasy world, Alagaesia, Eragon and Saphira strive to fulfill their promises to the various races united against evil King Galbatorix as his enemy's power begins to grow. Paolini's skill has improved: figurative language and descriptive passages are stronger, the prose is more gripping, and character development succeeds in drawing the reader into the lives of the characters. Story continues in book 4... (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 6+)

The Shack - William Paul Young
After tragedy strikes his family, a grieving father has an encounter with the Heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that reshapes his views of life and the problem of pain. The Shack reads a bit more like a shallow theological discourse than a novel, and Young's characterization of the Father touches on the irreverent side. However, it gets the reader contemplating truths vital to a full life. (Rating: B / G.L.: 6+)

A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

A tale of political intrigue, battles, and becoming, A Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world where the seasons can last a whole decade. Martin follows the lives of a multitude of characters as they each face the fallout of a fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. A bit lengthy...climax could be stronger. (Rating: B / B.L.: Adult)

The Infinite Day - Chris Walley

In the satisfying conclusion to the Lamb Among the Stars trilogy, Merral and the Assembly face their greatest test yet as the Dominion sweeps across the Made Worlds toward Earth. A tale of sacrifice and faith, prayer and redemption, The Infinite Day will be well worth your time. (Rating: A / G.L. 6+)

The Dark Foundations - Chris Walley

Merral and crew discover the truth behind the words, "a house divided against itself cannot stand" even as they wrestle with their own deceptive hearts. The action intensifies in this second of three books as Farholme is lashed by the storms of war. (Rating: A+ / G.L.: 6+)

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller

Gritty, No-holds barred non-fiction from Miller stands as the antithesis to modern Christianity and all its trappings. Read Blue Like Jazz for a challenge to return to the roots of faith, roots sunk deep into the real world yet not tainted by its curse. (Rating: A+ / B.L. 8+)

The Shadow and Night - Chris Walley

Finally! Modern Christian science fiction that can truly claim to be descendant from C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Set thousands of years in the future on a Made World on the edge of the settled universe, Shadow tells the story of a Eden-like world that once more must face the corrupting, insideous evil that spoiled our world so long ago. Hard to summarize...a must read. (Rating: A+ / G.L. 6+)

The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien's storytelling genius first enthralled the world in The Hobbit, full of adventure and danger, elves, dragons, and dwarves. Join Bilbo Baggins as he makes the perilous journey to the Lonely Mountain to recover an ancient dwarven treasure. (Rating: A+ / G.L.: 4+)

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

Top-notch science fiction with a satisfying twist. Ender, boy military genius, the hope of the world, struggles to chart his own course in the universe despite the puppeteer's entangling strings. (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 7+)

That Hideous Strength - C. S. Lewis

Reality, God's grand thoughts played out upon the tapestry of time, invades the lives of three groups of people in THS: the obedient blessed, the cursed blind, and the deciding. Lewis explores angelic influences in the affairs of men culminating in a microcosmic foretaste of the Final Battle yet to come. (Grade: A / G.L.: 8+)

House (audiobook)- Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker

Peretti & Dekker expand the Christian thriller genre with this title, an examination of the horrors of the unregenerate heart. While the authors' prolific imaginations add interest, those looking for spiritual truths will be mildly disappointed. (Rating: B / G.L. 8+)

China Road (audiobook)- Rob Gifford

This former Beijing NPR correspondent travels 3000 miles from Shanghai to the Kazakh border, chronicling China's tumultuous present and pondering its deep historical roots. Gifford provides a balanced view--his love/hate relationship with China spurs him to point out the country's greatness and great vices. (Rating: A / G.L. 7+)

This Present Darkness (audiobook) - Frank Peretti

As a demonic conspiracy builds in Ashton, USA, two newspaper reporters and a preacher seek to save their families and their town. Peretti reminds the reader that spiritual warfare surrounds us all, and prayer can make all the difference. Though a bit aged now, TPD still tops Christian booklists. (Rating: B+ / G.L. 6+)

1984 - George Orwell

Winston Smith, the tragic "hero," rebels against the totalitarian regime which grips his hopeless world, putting him on an inevitable collision course with his destiny in the depths of bureaucratic hell. This tragedy will leave you thinking even as it will leave you cold inside. Certainly, Orwell's classic dystopian nightmare still haunts modern society, especially as surveillance of individuals reaches all time highs and critical thinking all time lows. (Rating: A- / G.L.: 11+)

Perelandra - C. S. Lewis

George MacDonald's influence clearly emerges in this second book of the Space Trilogy. While philosophical discussions do tend to bog down the story, Lewis's exploration of temptation and his imaginative treatment of a world where "Adam" did not sin makes for a worthwhile read. The "Great Dance" narrative will give you a headache, but it does reveal an awe-inspiring glimpse of God's sovereign plan for the universe. (Rating: A- / G.L. 8+)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter demonstrates to the wizarding world the power of sacrifice, loyalty, and love as he battles Voldemort in Rowling's last HP outstanding finale. Parents, screen the book for your children due to language use and some shocking imagery. (Rating: A / G.L. 7+)

Out of the Silent Planet - C. S. Lewis

In the first book of Lewis's Space Trilogy, Dr. Ransom encounters intelligent life on Malacandra (Mars) and gains a deeper understanding of mankind's condition. -- (Rating: A / B.L. 7+)

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

After delving into the depraved depths of the human heart, Dostoyevsky proves that just a drop of redemptive love can bring heaven to earth and can release a soul from the hellish cage of pride and sin. -- (Rating: A+ / G.L. 10+)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Russia has few authors who can match Solzhenitsyn's power. This account of life in a Soviet labor camp reminds us that you cannot break a man without his permission. -- (Rating: A+ / Grade Level: 10+)

Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe remains the stereotypical Romantic vision of 12th century England, replete with hypocritical monks, desirous knights, treasonous royalty, and the chivalrous protagonist giving his last bit of life to save the day and rescue the girl. -- (Rating: B+ /Grade Level: 10+)

Lilith - George MacDonald

An intriguing and fantastical look at the paradox "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." -- (Rating: A / Grade Level: 11+)

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien

Truly discover Middle Earth and the depths of Tolkien's imagination in this hugely proportioned epic history -- (A+ / 8+)

Paradise Lost - John Milton

Perfection. Temptation. Man sins. Death begins. A difficult read but a beautiful epic. Simply beautiful. (A+ / 11+)

Bruchko - Bruce Olson

Olson's autobiographical account of his work with the reclusive, highly dangerous Motilone Indian tribe in Venezuela is a must read for anyone interested in seeing faith lived out in the flesh --
(A+ / 6+)

The Case for a Creator - Lee Strobel

A fairly in-depth look at the fingerprints of God in light of new scientific evidence (A / 9+)

Black; Red; White (The Circle Trilogy) - Ted Dekker

Modern Christian fantasy at its finest. Thomas Hunter battles the forces of evil in two worlds, discovering the battle within himself in the process. Explore paradise, sin, love, and redemption from a very unique perspective -- (A+ / 7+)

Beowulf (Audio CD--Seamus Heaney) -- Author unknown

One of the most important works in history, Beowulf is the oldest epic poem in the English language. It tells the tale of a hero who travels to a great hall in Denmark to slay two monsters spawned in Hell. For full effect, listen to Seamus Heaney read it -- (A+ / 9+)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain

Twain was well ahead of his time in writing this sarcastic (yet deadly serious) story about a man who awakens in early Medieval England. The hero brings technology to the people, and also a touch of modern horror -- (A- / 8+)

Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile - Joseph Pearce

Few people in America know this man, though he played quite a large part in bringing down the Soviet Union. Persecuted, loved, and hated, he never kept silent, writing such books as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago -- (A / 11+)

The Iliad; The Odyssey - Homer

Few epics surpass Homer in scope and poetic mastery. In The Iliad, Achilles and company battle Hector and the Trojans. The Odyssey portrays Odysseus' journey to his homeland while fighting to survive against the wrathful gods and lesser men -- (A+ / 10+)

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky

A true masterpiece that defies brief summarization...This is Dostoevsky at his finest and one of the world's greatest novels. It is on the surface a tale of a murdered father; underneath, it is a spiritual drama of the moral struggles between faith, doubt, reason, and free will -- (A+/ 11+)


Ariel said...

I like some of the titles you're showcasing. In particular, I'm curious about Christopher Paolini's books...did you come away feeling like you'd just read top-rate fantasy? Or will this youngster need a few years to reach the top of his game?

Tom Spann said...

Thanks for your comment Ariel. I must say that your blog is very well done and an inspiration to me to keep working to get better.

Regarding Paolini, I do think that he will need a few more years to work out some issues before he can be considered at the top of his class. In Eragon, his influences are too visible (Star Wars, Tolkien) but I pardon him due to the fact that he began writing the book when he was 15.

He spends time in his books dealing with religion, but his handling is very poor. His character pursues a new age-type enlightenment, yet at the same time, begins to believe in a version of scientific materialism. The juxtaposition is awkward. In addition, in the books, a claim is made that there is no higher being and no life after death, yet his characters are willing to lay down their lives for others. I see this as inconsistent since there would be no basis for morality in such a world.

The third area that needs improvement is his woeful poetry. I think he spent a lot of time reading fantasy and little reading top-rate poetry. It shows.

Why did I rate the books as highly as I did then? His imagination is very powerful--his landscapes are beautifully rendered, his sense of the epic struggle very strong. I was impressed but do think he has room for improvement.