Well, after a great year of reading new and exciting books, I had to adjust my All Time Favorite Reads List for 2014. Who knows how it’ll change for next year?
I decided to include the top 20 favorite fantasy/sci-fi/horror/historical fiction novels or series that I’ve ever read. Some on this list I read over a decade ago in high school. Others I read as recent as December 2013 and January 2014. One thing I decided to include in this list is my “family friendly” scale. How much violence, sex, drugs, or other behaviors are included? Are these books a parent may want their kid to read? Well, you may, but let me encourage you to discuss whatever it is your child is reading. Not only does this help with critical thinking, but it also deepens your ability to relate with your child. You may even want to pick up the books yourself for an even stronger conversation. The highest Family Friendly rating an entry can receive is 5 out of 5 stars. I will only list the rating for children or YA novels.
::Minor SPOILERS will follow for all novels)::
So, without further ado, let’s begin with number 20.
20. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
A sci-fi classic plot and likely the first of its kind: a comet (the “hammer”) hits earth, creating mass natural disasters and turning civilization on its head. I first read this in high school. It was one of those books on my parent’s shelf that I just couldn’t turn away from. Back before movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon and others, Lucifer’s Hammer was a gripping tale. Despite a massive cast of characters—including a host of minor characters and a few inconsistencies that bother me to this day—I found the novel rich with logic and fascinating. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a huge fan of the “rebuild the world after Stuff-Hits-the-Fan”, and I may have to credit this book for igniting my interest. It’s been a long time since I read it, over 10 years, but the memories of the book are the same. Now, if memory serves me right, warning to all parents with highschoolers wanting to read this now, I believe there is a bit of language and sexuality in it.
Before there was Smaug, there was Hurin’s bane. Set in the world of Middle Earth, long before we come to know it in The Hobbit, this story follows the fall of several ancient civilizations, including those led by Hurin, his wife, and two children. His son, Turin, carries much of the plot. It’s his mistakes that help turn this into a sad, dark, tragic tale. The dragon Glaurung doesn’t help, either, whose under the employ of Sauron’s predecessor, Morgoth. (So, Saruman, there is precedence for Gandalf’s concern in The Hobbit. I thought you owned a library?) The Children of Hurin is haunting, I won’t lie to you, there’s murder, accidental murder, betrayals, magical amnesia, incest, and other yuckiness. However, for the more mature reader, it is a fascinating tale derived from partial completed passages, notes, and filled in by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, to form a complete narrative.
18. The Stand by Stephen King
Well, I couldn’t let this list pass without a Stephen King book, now could I? I was up in the air about which to choose. It almost was Salem’s Lot, but since I don’t like vampires in general, the Lot got the boot into the 20’s, which aren’t listed. The Stand is a tragic tale of what happens after a virus—I think it was a virus—is released into the public and goes pandemic. The few survivors start having visions of one of two individuals: a motherly woman sitting in a rocking chair, or a terrifying biker with a demonic force. Gradually, the survivors begin to find each other, then they begin to polarize. It’s only a matter of time before one camp attacks the other with assassinations until eventually, three members of the woman’s group head to the other, which has taken up residence in Las Vegas. The Stand morphs from a viral thriller and survival story into a supernatural shocker. I may not like the ending. Okay, confession, I didn’t like the ending, but all in all, it is a well-crafted novel. May I suggest the uncut version? One of those I read in late high school that sticks with you, hard to forget. A TV miniseries was made in 1994, which, I watched and later owned back in the day when VHS was still a thing.
17. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Don’t panic! It’s time for some humor in this list. Besides, it’s not like Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic highway, or something like that. Nor will the last two humans alive conveniently know each other as they are swept into intergalactic adventures Chewbacca would envy. Or end differently. I’ve tried for the last few days to find the words to describe this classic sci-fi ridiculous comedy, and all I can come up with is: “Don’t panic.” It is British humor at it’s best. If you begin reading it, may I suggest bringing a towel along with you? Just in case. By the end of it, you’ll have an answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but’s not…well…go read it. Let yourself laugh, especially after the last three books on this list. Mice.
16. The Dragon King Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
A lonely acolyte of a cold and aloof deity suddenly finds himself drawn into a conspiracy against the King, and from there, you have two more delightful novels to follow. This epic fantasy is full of battles, cloaked spiritual truths, rich characters, an evil wizard, warlords, conspiracies, romance, and a magical sword. What more could you ask? Oh, you want a dragon? So did I. But otherwise I loved the series. The title and all the myths they keep purporting about a sleeping dragon was slightly (read: majorly) misleading—but overall a great fantasy epic. The second book was by far my favorite of the three.
15. Genesis of Shannara series by Terry Brooks
Thus far, I’ve only read the first two novels in the Genesis of Shannara series, and they’ve been my only outing into mastermind Terry Brooks’ vast Shannara world. I figured I start at the beginning (mostly). These post-apocalyptic novels have characters facing the doom of both men and elves, and only the Knights of the Word, a creature called the gypsy morph, and some kids of both races stand in the way of demonic (not the spiritual type, but the mislabeled physical fantasy type) forces and their host of twisted and mutated armies. Despite the heavy use of flashback to provide backstories for everyone, including minor characters, and some other elements I’m not particularly fond of (like ghosts and spirits of the dead being brought into play…don’t get me started), this is a thrilling series, thus far. I have to say, Elves of Cintra, the middle novel, was better than the first, so I’m expecting big things out of the concluding work. Unfortunately, just because children are some of the main characters doesn’t make this very high on any family-friendly scale.
14. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
What if there was a world with no superheroes, but only supervillains? In Brandon Sanderson’s recent release, Steelheart, that’s the case, and it’s a terrifying post-apocalpytic reality these characters have learned to endure. Only a select few decide to fight back. This resistance force, though, has its own secrets, and whether or not they can succeed in taking down one of the strongest villains out there, Steelheart, relies on their ability to plan, work together, and capitalize on their secrets (of which they’re not sharing with each other). Steelheart is a gripping YA novel, a stay-up-all-night and read tale. The best news of all: it’s the first book in a series! More late nights and thrilling adventure (and secrets) to come! I laughed, I cried, I talked to the characters, and the book itself is just plain intelligent—all traits I’m looking for in a good read. I do want to mention that during a live-Tweet conversation, Brandon Sanderson answered a couple of my questions, revealing there’s much more going on behind the appearance of the supervillains. On family friendliness, this is a 3 out of 5.
13. Knights of Arrethtrae series by Chuck Black
What if you were chosen by a King whose so far away, most doubt he even exists? What if this King had chosen you specifically to stand against one or more evil, dark knights, with powers and strength that the average person can’t hope to defeat? Enter the YA fantasy world of Arrethrae by former fighter pilot Chuck Black. This six book series is part of an overarching twelve book saga. Each novel focuses on a different main character, mostly all adolescents. The series if filled with epic battle sequences, fantastical monsters (with at least one illustration per novel for all of you who like pictures), and overarching moral lessons per novel. It also includes a study guide as the stories relate to the Bible. I’ve met Chuck Black in person at a fair, and he had his whole family manning the booth, selling a collection of swords and other memorabilia. One of his daughters also wrote an invigorating musical theme, Call to Courage, for the Kingdom Series novel Sir Kendrick. These books are a 5 out of 5 for family friendly fantasy.
12. Inheritance Saga by Christopher Paolini
The first two novels, Eragon and Eldest, left me breathless and excited, though the movie Eragon didn’t live up to its legacy (despite having Jeremy Irons in the cast). The main character, Eragon, stumbles upon a dragon egg that soon hatches, and he and the dragon bond together.
This YA epic fantasy saga is, of course, filled with dragons (more than making up for The Dragon King series oversight), a dark lord, creepy wraith-like henchthings, Elves, Dwarves, and a race of creatures used by the dark lord to fight against the good folk. Did I mention loads of family ties, secrets, and a neat coming-of-age story? The action steps up in the second novel when Eragon’s brother helps save their town and the whole population goes on a mass trek cross-kingdom, just in time for a huge battle. The magic system is also fun and well developed, and there are consequences to Eragon’s thoughtless actions that carry throughout the series. On family friendliness, this is a 4 out of 5.
Let me also add that Christopher Paolini has been very inspiring to me as an author. In college, I wrote to him for a creative writing class about the craft of writing and he responded with a several page letter I still have to this day. I once showed it to my students, too, helping them to realize that it is possible to achieve your dreams if you work towards it. Since both of us are the same age, and his success came so early, it just brings me encouragement knowing that the publishing dream is possible and can be achieved.
11. Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Well, it was about time someone decided to make movies of C.S. Lewis timeless children’s/YA fantasy series in the world of Narnia, parallel to our own. Only in Narnia, animals talk, a witch rules, a lion is the absentee returning ruler, and kids constantly get drawn into adventures of their own. I loved the whole series, with, in my opinion, The Last Battle being the weakest entry (and the last). The Lion The With and The Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as my favorite entries. (It’s sad the latter’s movie didn’t live up to the book.) The Chronicles are a delightful, fun, swashbuckling adventure with cloaked spiritual truths amidst some crazy mythical creatures. In terms of family friendliness, these short books are a 5 out of 5, and written in British style, making them so much fun to read. Anyone want to fake a British accent with me? Mine’s horrible, but my wife can pull off a decent one. The class Chronicles of Narnia has earned its rank as number 11 of my All Star Reads list.
That concludes today’s installment! Which books and authors made the top 10 and why? Are you interested in any of these books? Have you read any? Leave a comment and read tomorrow for my top 10 All Star Read List! Thanks for reading!