It’s a new year, which means it’s time to share my top three reads of 2018 with you all. Goodreads says I’ve read 37 books in 2018. It wasn’t quite as much as last year, but it’s a solid amount, especially considering how much happened. This list was made without regard to publisher, format, or author.
How I did it: I kept track of books I liked and mentally compared one to the other. Without further delay, here’s my list.
#3 Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook: You can find my review for that book here. This book was my at one point my favorite that I read this year. It had a slow start, but man are those characters awesome, and I just love the action in the story. Of the three, I’d want this made into a movie most. I think this is the first in a series, and if it is, I’ll be picking up the other books once the series is over.
#2 The Core by Peter V. Brett: My review for it is here. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again; Brett is the new master of character arc! The Core was a completely satisfying conclusion to a fantastic series. Is it on my list of top series ever? No, but I’m still glad I read it, and if you haven’t, you need to. It’s emotional. It’s full of action. It’s magic system is interesting. And those characters are amazing! I don’t know what Brett has coming next, but I’ll be in line to read it.
#1 The Bible New International Version by God: I haven’t actually posted my thoughts on finishing it just yet since I’m so backlogged with reviews to write. Is this a cheat? No, while I finished the New Testament in late 2017, I finished the Old Testament in August of 2018. I wonder what readers will think of this pick. While I will post a review, I want to make a few things clear. This book well and truly changed my life. Before I started reading it, I thought it was more of a guideline. But after reading it once (and already reading through about 12 percent again, only much more carefully and this time I’m reading the ESV), I’ve come to believe this is the honest, true history of our universe. Some may choose to disagree, and you have that human right. But this book has become what I turn to in times of sadness and stress. It has amazing stories with wonderful characters. What more would someone want from a story? When I felt I was at my lowest, this book has lifted me up, and I’ll love it forever for those reasons. Will I make it #1 every year? No, because I only put books I finished in the year up, and it’ll take me into 2020 to finish it this time around. I would encourage anyone to read this. It’s fascinating. It’s structure is amazing. The characters are brilliant studies. Even if you don’t come to believe, you’ll still have done some of the greatest reading you’ll ever do.
So that’s my top three. What are yours? Why? Do you have a review you can link it to? I’d love to reblog it for you.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder s the 12th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Nik’Thil is a Kra’daar who’s looking to determine the source of a series of fires that have started to haunt his home. Will he be able to learn what, or who, is causing them before on breaks out of control?
Character: I recalled this story a bit more quickly than others. It’s not at the top of my list, but I remember liking the back and forth between Nik’Thil and the creature he’s chasing. This story had a nice sense of tension, and I think the character is the main reason why.
Exposition: As a whole, this anthology was solid in this regard. If I don’t remember much, it means I at least didn’t feel dragged down in a story, and that’s almost always the fault of too much exposition. This story had a good pace with a nice sense of progression. I read it pretty quickly. This whole anthology (of which this story is an example) is custom made for an airplane or long layover. You don’t get bogged down with too much depth. You get entertainment and quick resolutions.
World building: This is the main reason I remember this story. The setting and conflict of this story were memorable. The details were interesting, and I enjoyed an alien perspective in a story featuring an alien character.
Dialogue: This probably wasn’t as strong. I can’t remember a single line. I can’t remember a single situation in which the dialogue added to the plot or drama. It wasn’t bad or thinly hidden exposition; it was just conversation.
Description: This holds true from my last review. Any time I don’t think back in frustration about how many buttons that guy wore or what color the chips in the paint were, I feel like I was happy with the description. This element was a bit stronger than previous stories. I say this because I immediately remembered the overall plot and the world building, which only sticks if a scene or two stick in a reader’s head.
Overall: If you want Sci-Fi that isn’t overcrowded with human perspective, you should give this story a try. I like fantasy that expands beyond the human perspective, and this story does that. Is it an example of everything I want to read ever? No, but it is interesting, and it does have a fairly compelling main character.
Spoiler Free Summary: Night Stalker by TR.L. Weeks was my 2017 September Book Cover of the Month. Casey is a young woman who’s husband died. She’s haunted by reoccurring nightmares in which a stranger inflicts great pain upon her. One day, she rediscovers that not only is the man of her nightmares real, but he’s working against her supernaturally resurrected dead husband, who now only seeks pleasure in the suffering of mortals.
Character: Casey is actually pretty proactive, but that’s what bothers me. She’s too quick to swoon and too quick to accept things for my taste. She also seems incredibly naive, and while that would be okay if that was her character arch in which she grew more discerning, but that’s not the plot. Rather than let the conflict of her clashing worlds drive the story in interesting directions, the character is forced along, which makes her feel hard to believe.
Exposition: I was probably affected by the first person narrative here, but it felt like every conversation in the story was just another info-dump session on the history and world building of this world. This results in getting told a lot, and not much quality seeing.
World building: I got the feeling this is where the author put the bulk of her energy. The world is as thought out as I’d ask any world to be. The lore seems deep. The society of the creatures was a bit cliche, but it was well-developed.
Dialogue: I touched on this above. I’m of the opinion that every conversation in this story (ok, most of them) consisted of convincing Casey to more or less come to the dark side or explain to Casey this world the author spent ages fleshing out. When the conversation wasn’t about those things, it was the less that subtle Twilightesque love story.
Description: This was well done. I got the imagery I needed without bogging the story down. It had a decent mix of detail and room for imagination.
Overall: First, I have to note that I listened to this book on Audible, and it simply wasn’t well produced. There were lines read multiple times. Some lines were cut off. You could hear the narrator taking breaths. I swear I even once heard a dog barking in the background. The narrator read at this tone that seemed at a constant near-tears whine that got old fast. If I’m being honest, the lack of quality audio engineering probably ruined what fairness I could offer the actual story. I was giving the story a try until I felt like I was reading something that felt too much like Twilight, which I’ve never read, but I hated the movie and don’t particularly want to read a story that feels too much like, “let me love this monster to life.” When it works, it’s amazing, but this story leaves without much resolved, and the main character’s unrealistic reactions just didn’t work for me. That said, if you like melodramatic love stories (and a great many people do) this story is right up your alley, only I strongly recommend you avoid the Audible version.
I don’t typically give reviews like this. Most stories always have something that I can cling to and study. I don’t ever want to bash, and I hope I stopped before I got to “bashing status.” This last section is simply me explaining that even this story deserves a chance if you’re in the writers’ audience. Please don’t let my own biases affect your willingness to give a story a try. No, I didn’t enjoy this story much, but yo might, and I’d like to hear why.
12 Ordinary Men by John MacArthur is a book that looks at the original 12 Apostles. I’ve already read this book twice, and I intend to read it again at some point.
What this book does is help the reader see just how human the Apostles were. They were chosen by God, and developed into the foundations of the Christian church, but they were just men. Not only that, they weren’t from a high station.
I appreciated the person-by-person structure of the book. I was honestly most impressed with Andrew, Peter’s younger brother. Why? Because all Andrew did was introduce people to Jesus. While I wish I had more in common with Andrew, I see more of myself in Peter and John.
Like them, I’m aggressive. I’m task oriented. I’m driven. I have ambition. I value truth over most things. These aren’t inherently sinful traits, but they can lead one to stumble if no one is there to temper those traits into positive leadership.
I’m comforted in that while I see that I need to develop certain skills and bring back others, they are traits that could be useful to my Savior if I seek to serve Him more.
If any are wondering, this book even takes a look at Judas. It’s as comprehensive as it can be. It uses some church history writings to fill in some gaps, but the primary source of reference for the information is, of course, the Bible.
I’d recommend this book to any people in leadership. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to see personal growth. Seeing a detailed character study allowed me to see parts of myself and truly contemplate how I’m acting. This is probably my favorite book by MacArthur to date.
By looking at how Jesus developed his Apostles, we also get a unique view of Him, and that’s always a plus.
I’m honestly a big fan of this particular book. Any Christian looking to evaluate their walk with Christ would do well to read this.
Spoiler Free Summary: Go for Bait by T.C. Bucher is the 11th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Mackey seems to be running a boring operation in a crap location, but when projectiles randomly start flying at his team, he has to discern who’s attacking. Once he does, his team still has to take on the threat.
Character: This is another story that I had to go back and skim just to remember stuff. I remember breezing through the story, but the characters aren’t very memorable. This story is a great action piece. But it’s plot driven, and while I don’t have a single negative memory of the story, nothing stood out either. The characters fell into this category for me.
Exposition: This had to have been done well. If I don’t have memorable characters, the action needs to be fast and the exposition needs to be next to nonexistent for me to be able to read it as quickly as I did. So what this story loses in depth and memorability, it makes up for in pacing and fun.
World building: This was fine. I didn’t get frustrated with any questions (I would have remembered then).
Dialogue: This is sort of up there with character. I don’t remember any, so I know I didn’t hate it, and it didn’t slow me down. However, I can’t recall a single line of spoken word.
Description: If I have trouble remembering it, the description had to have been done right. It was enough to keep my imagination active, but not so much that I felt like I had to slog through it.
Overall: When I went back today to scan this story, I immediately thought, “Oh, this is the story with the enemy in the tunnels!” No, I won’t remember it for years to come, but if I have a long drive or a plane ride I don’t know what to do with, this book was a pleasant, fun way to burn a few hours. Not every story can be super memorable, but this one was at least fun.
(NOTE: Again, if you’re wondering where the other For A Few Credits More stories are, please remember I review all books in the order I read them. Don’t worry! You’ll get the rest of the reviews in time.)
Spoiler Free Summary: Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook is the first book in The Ghara Chronicles. Also, it was the M.L.S. Weech 2017 Book Cover of the Year! Humanity has been colonizing planets for generations. Dustin and Melody are newlywed Marines seeking to colonize one last planet so they can retire and start their life together. However, the planet Selva holds a dark, dangerous secret that will change the course of their lives and that of the human race.
Character: So, I have to be honest here, the early pages were a bit hard to stay with. We had a bunch of characters thrown at us very quickly, and it was hard to keep track. Now, I can’t complain; I did the same thing with Caught, and the rewards were similar. Once the characters were introduced, we got great action and wonderfully diverse tension. I love the characters in this story! I thought they were all fascinating and compelling. Once the story got going (and I’d say it took at least 50 pages to get there), I honestly didn’t want to put this book down. The characters were one of two reasons why.
Exposition: This didn’t bother me in the least. It probably wasn’t amazing. I remember an info dump here or there. I’d say the beginning drags a bit because of this, but then it fades, and we’re left to enjoy the action.
World building: So this is my second-favorite part of this book. The way this plot is set up and organized had to have taken meticulous planning. The way this story evolves and the relationship Selva has to the plot is something I don’t honestly like in most stories, but this story did it so well I was pleased. This story isn’t anything like Pernin terms of overall plot, but the way the planet becomes the threat felt akin to the same way Pern’s characters face challenges. Now, the characters in Pern were far more compelling, but it’s honestly unfair to compare my favorite series ever to any other series in that category. Still, the use of science fiction planets as a source of conflict is something rare. Using it in a primarily action-based story is even more unusual, and I loved it.
Dialogue: Philbrook’s characters feel so real, and the dialogue is one of the reasons why. I think service members will feel a connection to mundane conversations in intense situations. I never even saw a hint of combat, but in my work with combat fighters, I noticed a lot of conversation that was oddly common in some pretty miserable situations. This author portrayed that well. No, it’s not the wittiest, sharpest banter you’ll ever read. It might even seem cliche to some, and I don’t know that I’d argue, but I felt right at home with these characters.
Description: This book activated the IMAX high-def, 3-D movie theater in my imagination. It was perfect. If I heard this book got a green light for a movie, I’d oder advance tickets just to see some of the wonderful effects. I honestly felt more in the action than some movies I’ve been to lately. Listen, I hate description. I loath it! Philbrook knows exactly when to provide what detail to keep you interested, squirming, or enraged. It’s not in the amount of description (which is a thing most authors insist on thinking) it’s in the specificity of it. Every sense you have is activated to create a full effect without a half-page tangent on armor, skin, clothes, or whatever.
Overall: If you haven’t already figured it out by now, this book is currently (and likely will be) the best fiction book I’ve read all year! It was compelling and action packed. It has the action and intensity of Aliens, the humorous charm of Tremors, and the world building of Pern. If you like those stories, give this one a shot. I don’t think you’ll regret it. (NOTE: Might have to slog through those first 50 pages, but that’s just par for the course when dealing with scifi.)
Character: What I like about this is that Taylor’s story is powerful even without what I think is context fans of the world will have. This story is strong just on the power of Taylor’s guilt and his memory for his brother. My thought is (and I’d love it if fans of the universe could confirm or bust my theory) that Taylor is a much more relevant character than just a solid solo story. Of all the stories in the anthology (though this isn’t one of my top three) this is the story that made it most tempting to delve into the universe. Taylor’s depth and conflict are the reasons why.
Exposition: When I started reading this, I really thought I was in for ten pages of back story that would really drag the story down, so I was really impressed when I realized that wasn’t the case. Sure, the story does have some info-dumps, but not nearly as much as a lesser writer would have trying to help the reader connect. For any author looking to study “show don’t tell” this is a solid story to read to find out how it’s done.
World building: Honestly, this is where the story fell short. Yes, I’m glad I didn’t get a multi-page pile of exposition on who these guys are and their relevance, I also didn’t really understand the scope of this story. If my theory above is true, than this is just a problem for those who, like me, didn’t read the rest of the saga. However, if the same theory is true, fans of the saga will enjoy this little peak into a character’s origin.
Dialogue: This was also a bit of a low for me. One of the pivotal plot points required dialogue, and it just didn’t hit with me. Perhaps it was the shorter nature of the story. I don’t recall that many internal narrative beats either. Ultimately, the conversation didn’t amp up the emotion, and when your plot point is based on dialogue, you really need that.
Description: This was just fine for me. I could have even used a bit more detail in the scenes, but I’d rather have “a little less than I’d like” than anything close to “more than I need.” It didn’t detract from the story, but I’d be lying if I said it added to it either.
Overall: This is an emotionally powerful story that would be orders of magnitude more powerful if the reader already had a connection with the story. Fans of the series who (perhaps) recognize this character and his unit will truly love this little vignette. However, people who know less will still enjoy it if they like character drama or moment of truth stories. I truly would like to know if my theory is right, and if it is, what was your opinion of this story?