Goodreads tells me that I’ve read 41 books this year. My goal was 52, so I didn’t make that, and for ethical reasons, I couldn’t review all of them. I did want to take a post to recognize some of the truly exceptional stories I’ve read and characters I’ve met throughout the year. Without further ado…
Best Male Character. Without a doubt, this goes to Will of Ashley Townsend’s Shadows Trilogy.
I get Will, and I am so thankful for the grace and empathy Ashlee displayed writing his character. Most Christian writers don’t have the ability to write a character like him without getting preachy, but she did an excellent job. There was actually a point where Will was discussing some of his issues, and I actually cried.
Because besides relating to him, he’s actually this really knowledgeable and skilled character, with an incredible sense of purpose.
“To stop yourself from feeling is like ceasing to live; life no longer holds meaning. Hurt, anger, pain, desire, compassion, love – they’re what make us human. They’re what living is all about. Being able to feel is something we shouldn’t take for granted or push away when offered.”
I truly can’t commend Ashley enough for Will’s character. While very much a hero, Will realizes both his own brokenness and the broken situations around him. He struggles to fight through those situations, and even learns a little bit how to let someone else fight for him.
“I have always wondered,” he began slowly, drawing the words out, “if my failure was because I lacked conviction to follow through, or perhaps I was afraid of death and wasn’t aware of it.”
Best Female Character. The best female character I read this year was Sparrow from Hilarey Johnson’s Sovereign Ground.
I completely identify with Sparrow’s desire to be free (and also, her love of grape pop), so while I have never had to face the choices she faces, I understand why she makes them. Sparrow is direct, smart (an avid reader), and strong, and so not only is Sovereign Ground a great story, Sparrow is a great protagonist.
Best Supporting Character. The Best Supporting Character goes to Addy from Penelope A. Brown’s The Gatekeeper’s Forbidden Secret.
Addy was my favorite character, reminding me of my younger self with her wild imagination and dolls and stories. When I was little I had a fake phone on which I talked to all of my imaginary friends. Anyway, as I got older my grandma told me that the way I talked she would have sworn someone was on the other end. Maybe there was, Grandma. Maybe there was.
The runners up in this category are Macy and Dillon from RJ Conte’s The 12th Girl in Heaven.
Fiction That Needs to Hit the Big Screen. Tabitha Caplinger’s Chronicle of the Three: Bloodline.
It’s a great alternative to much of what exists in the YA market. This is both praise for Caplinger and Vox Dei Publishing (full disclosure: my publisher) because they have managed to bring a story that contains the classic elements of YA fiction (difficulties navigating high school relationships, a romantic element, and intrigue, to name a few), yet manages to empower teens at the same time. The teens in this story are kind and brave and relatable (i.e. not perfect), and they also have mentors who care for them and speak into their lives, something that is all-too-often missing in YA fiction, and perhaps in real life. (Let’s bring that back, shall we?)
Runner up in this category is Heather Huffman’s Ties that Bind.
Best in Fantasy. Best in Fantasy goes to Elise Stephens’ Guardian of the Gold Breathers.
When his mother remarries a disgraced scientist, their new family moves to a country estate where Liam discovers a world beyond his own.This book has the feel of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield and George MacDonald’s At The Back of the North Wind, so I’m not surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s the perfect blend of reality and fantasy, bittersweet in its execution.
Best in Literary Fiction. Best in Literary Fiction goes to Run, River Currents by Ginger Marcinkowski.
This story is harrowing, absolutely harrowing. I cried as it ended, because it was so familiar. I am so, so grateful for its brutal honesty, and yet, it ended in a tone of hope. It gave me courage, and it gave me hope.
Runner up in this category is A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia.
Best Family Saga. Best in Family Saga goes to Last Child by Terry Tyler.
Hannah was my favorite character from Kings and Queens, so I was overjoyed to see her in the role of narrator for this book. I thought Raine, Isabella, and Amy were fantastic characters, but I adored Erin – a woman after my own heart right there, not to mention she was a refreshing change from the “woman scorned” characters that preceded her.
Best Memoir. Best in Memoir goes to The House on Sunset by Lindsey Fischer.
You may wonder why I – a single, independent twenty-something woman – picked up a memoir on domestic violence. It’s simple, really: before Lindsay met Mike, she was a single, independent twenty-something woman, too. I hope this doesn’t sound too terrible, but since I personally dread getting into a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, I was hoping to glean some advice as to how to avoid one.
What I found was a woman looking for love and acceptance, like any of us might be at any given time. What I found was a woman who learned rejection from a mother who learned it from her mother. (Something I deeply relate to). I found was a woman who internalized so much pain for so long she began taking it out on herself. What I found was an optimist, a healer, a lover. What I found was impossibly complex.
Runner up in this category goes to Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter by Sarahbeth Caplin.
Best Non-Fiction. Best in Non-Fiction goes to Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.
I was surprised to find it was very much in line with my theology, which has drastically changed in the past year or so. Shocked, actually. I didn’t expect to be pumping my fist in the air, saying, “Yes! Somebody gets it!” but that’s what ended up happening. And because Foster includes many thoughts from theologians from history, it was comforting to realize that the things I have come to believe about God are not new and untested; in fact, they are ancient and respected. Foster introduced me to concepts I’d never heard of, but that made perfect sense.
Runner up in this category is Pulpits and Pink Lipstick by Tabitha Caplinger.
Best Fiction. Best in Fiction goes to There and Back by George MacDonald.
In There and Back, George MacDonald did for me what Dickens never could: he went to that deepest level and he lived there with the story and characters. The story takes place in nineteenth-century England, and follows the aristocratic Lestrange family and those who cross their paths, from other aristocrats to tradesmen to clergy. MacDonald explores the social, emotional, and spiritual standing and evolution of every character he introduces. It’s a complex look at how people’s philosophies shape how they relate to God and one another. No less important is the gritty look at why a good God allows bad things to happen – an age old question, I think.
I’m actually feeling a little burnt out on reading and reviewing, so I think I’m going to try a different approach – in 2016. I’ll probably still do little reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but reserve blog space for more analytical and critical reviews – maybe once a month or something. I don’t know. I just know I’m not going to attempt 52 books in one year ever again, haha. (Probably).