At the beginning of 2016, GoodReads.com challenged it’s users to set a reading goal for 2016. Initially 26 books sounded like a reasonable goal – one book every two weeks – but after giving it a little more thought I decided to push myself and set my goal at 30 books. I didn’t make it, but I did hit the original goal of 26 and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. Setting such an ambitious goal pushed me to read more than I normally would and I’m very pleased with all that I’ve learned during my 2016 challenge.
My full list of all 26 books included a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, averaging about 300 pages per book. I won’t include them all on this blog, but here’s a quick countdown of my Top Ten favorite reads from 2016 and a brief summary of each.
#10 – A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker
Step back in time to the year of our Lord…A.D. 30. The outcast daughter of one of the most powerful Bedouin sheikhs in Arabia, Maviah is called on to protect the very people who rejected her. When their enemies launch a sudden attack, Maviah escapes with the help of her father’s warriors. But Maviah’s path leads her unexpectedly to another man. A teacher who speaks of a way that offers greater power than any kingdom. His name is Yeshua, and his words turn everything she knows on its head. Though following him may present even greater danger, it may be the only way for Maviah to save her people – and herself.
You won’t see any other Dekker books on this list becuase I’ve read so many of them in years past. He’s a brilliant author and this novel is no exception to the rule. This is a fictional story, of course, but it includes biblically accurate accounts of familiar characters such as Jesus, his disciples, Nicodemus, and Herod. It brings the story of Jesus to life in a new and unexpected way from a completely different perspective. Interestingly, all the words that Jesus speaks in this book are taken directly from Scripture.
#9 – Rooms by James L. Rubart
Cryptic letters from a long deceased uncle, a house with hidden rooms, a canvas that paints itself, memories from a life you didn’t live, angels, demons, and life lessons taken directly from God’s Word. Everything that made me want to keep reading until I’d turned the page on the last chapter. This is the kind of book that makes you examine your life and your relationship with God long after you’ve put it back on the shelf.
Honestly, I wanted to like this book even more than I already do. I desperately wanted to rank it higher on my list, but we’re left with a few unanswered questions at the end of the book, possibly a contradiction or two, and my analytical mind just can’t handle it if all the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit neatly into place. Granted, this is the author’s first offering, written over a six year period, and his subsequent books (which are further down this list) are much better. Rubart has quickly become one of my favorite authors.
#8 – Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas
I love biographies, and this book is really seven mini-biographies in one. I was at least familiar with all seven of these men, but knew very little about any of them. Reading about their lives, their struggles, and their character in the face of adversity was a great encouragement to me. I’ll be looking for more of Metaxas’ work in the future.
Each of the seven biographies represents the life of a man who experienced the struggles and challenges to be strong in the face of forces and circumstances that would have destroyed the resolve of lesser men. Each of the seven men profiled—George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson—call the reader to a more elevated walk and lifestyle, one that embodies the gospel in the world around us.
#7 – Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
I know what the Bible says concerning Jesus’ life and death, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning about what was going on in the world during the time of Christ from other reliable historical sources. I didn’t realize many of the things involving the Roman Empire, the death of Julius Ceasar, his struggle for power, etc., that played such an integral part in Jesus’ death.
This book, understandably, omits many of the things that I believe as fact – such as Jesus’ miracles – since they can’t be proven “scientifically”, but the book doesn’t try to disprove them. It just omits them entirely. Overall, a very good read that presents many facts that I did not know.
#6 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
#5 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Can I just group these two together and get them out of the way? I loved reading the first Harry Potter book in 2015, so naturally I wanted to follow up by reading the next two books in the series. Knowing what happens in the subsequent books (from watching the movies), means I probably won’t read past book 3. To the die-hard fans that’s an outrage, but here is my reasoning: I read books to escape reality, I like happy endings, and the main characters should never, never die. Some books are written to evoke emotions of sadness or grief to help us feel the full range of human emotion, but I happen to believe that life can be sad enough already. I’m not going to read a book (or watch a movie) that helps me feel sad. I’ll stop at Book 3, thank you very much.
Anyway, both of these books are very entertaining, introducing us to some wonderfully memorable characters – Dobby the house elf, Gilderoy Lockhart, Ginny Weasley, Moaning Myrtle, Sirius Black, and Professor Lupin. They keep getting better, but let’s be honest, the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best book in the entire series.
SIDE NOTE: I know some people in Christian circles don’t approve of the Harry Potter series. My wife and I had a discussion just this week with a parent who wanted to know our opinion of the books becuase her 17-year-old daughter wanted to read them for the first time. For a full review I’ll refer you to Andrew Peterson’s blog on the subject, which expresses my feelings more eloquently than I ever could. Patterson points out clearly that “this story isn’t inspired, at least not in the sense that Scripture is inspired; but because I believe that all truth is God’s truth… I have the freedom to rejoice in the Harry Potter story, because even there, Christ is King. Wherever we see beauty, light, truth, and goodness, we see Christ.”
He’s there and this is a good series.
#4 – Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Dr Ransom, a Cambridge professor, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’ – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…
From the creator of Narnia comes a lesser known allegory that is so well constructed that I am now compelled to read the following two books in this trilogy, even though I understand that each book can stand alone. I’m glad that I chose to listen to this one on audiobook, as the names and the made-up Malacandrian language would have been difficult to pronounce correctly if I were reading a paperback. (The pfifltriggi saw the hman, who was a hnau, eating the honodraskrud from the handra). Yikes.
Not only does Lewis have a wonderful way of writing allegory, but he is able to make the reader believe that the fictional story could have really happened. He does this with the wardrobe in Narnia, transporting the children from that world to this. In this novel, Lewis uses the prologue to persuade the reader to believe that this was a factual account, only presented as a fictional work because people wouldn’t believe the truth even if they heard it. Well done.
#3 – The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
The narrator boards a bus on a drizzly English afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, and comes to some significant realizations about the nature of good and evil.
I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before now – especially considering how much I love C.S. Lewis’ other works. One passage in particular, when a ghost with a lizard on his shoulder approaches an angel, was incredibly moving. Their discussion will stay with me always. I’ve read it over and over, contemplating it’s meaning. Lewis was a master of allegory and metaphorical writing. Such a beautiful, wonderful novel that I will revisit again and again.
#2 – The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart
Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days. When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled. Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.
I told you he would show up later on my list. This is Rubart at his best and this is, incidentally, his latest novel. The writing, the depth of insight in his characters and his ability to weave the spiritual and natural together is simply outstanding. He even makes several references to C.S. Lewis and The Silver Chair, one of the Chronicles of Narnia. I loved this novel. You can’t read this and not be impacted by the themes of healing, discovery of identify, where we place our significance and the absolute desire our Creator has for us to know Him more.
#1 – The Five Times I Met Myself
Brock Matthews’ once promising life is unraveling. His coffee company. His marriage. So when he discovers his vivid dreams – where he encounters his younger self – might let him change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance. The results are astonishing, but also disturbing. Because getting what Brock wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn’t know how to let go… and his greatest fear is that it’s already too late.
It’s rare for me to read a book from cover to cover so rapidly, but this page turner was hard to put down. I’ve always been fascinated by time travel (Back to the Future is one of my favorite movie trilogies) so the prospect of visiting your younger self and changing past events was intriguing from the start. I also loved the spiritual aspects of the book – touching on prayer, missions, and God orchestrating events through dreams.
Honestly, I could switch these top two books and still be satisfied with my list. They’re both just so good. Highly recommended reading from James L. Rubart.
That’s it! What do you think? Anything you’ve read? Anything you want to read?
As we begin 2017 I’ve already signed up for the GoodReads.com reading challenge and this year, I am going to hit that 30 book mark.