Guess what! It’s Monday. I’m here with another Penprints post to brighten your day (theoretically it’ll brighten your day… but I may just come across as obsessive and annoying, but brightening is the general idea… emphasis on general).
Today’s post is about books, and more specifically, my favorite fiction books. These are the books that I have read and will reread and reread and reread and keep reading them again and again until I die. They’re my absolute favorite fiction books, and so let’s start building this book stack.
The entire Out of Time series by Nadine Brandes.
Now, did any of us think that all three of these books wouldn’t be in this stack? I mean, really? For those of you who may not know that I’m obsessed with this series who haven’t heard of the Out of Time series, let me give you the premise: a world where everyone knows the day they will die. Parvin Blackwater is seventeen years old, and she has one year left to live. She realizes that she has wasted her life. So, she decides to do something that will leave a mark on the world, something that she’ll be remembered for. Intense things happen as a result.
I will read this series again and again and again because of the powerful spiritual punch each book packs. The story is exciting and the characters are endearing, but it’s the themes that will keep me reaching for these books when I need to see what it means to grow as a Christian and live like I’ve got nothing to lose.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
This was one of the first fairytale retellings I ever read, and it is still one of my favorites. It’s about a girl named Ella who was cursed at birth with obedience. Whatever someone tells her to do, she has to do it. Anything she’s commanded to do. “Ella, fetch me some flour from the cupboard.” “Ella, stop eating and give me your food.” “Ella, chop your own hand off.” These are commands Ella could be forced by magic to obey. We follow her through her adolescence as her mother dies and she is forced to be her stepmother’s servant because of this curse.
As you may have guessed, it is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s set in a medieval world with fairies and ogres and elves, and I’ve been enchanted (hehe) with it for nearly as long as I can remember. I adore the setting, and the characters, especially Ella, are so dear to my heart. This take on the Cinderella story is my favorite because Ella is so entirely human, and she isn’t always very nice. But those she loves she loves with everything. I’ve read this book at least eight times; I typically try to read it every year. I also own three copies.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
This. Book. Okay, it is comprised of a couple dozen letters from a senior demon (Screwtape) to his nephew (Wormwood) who is currently trying to learn the ropes of being a Tempter. I read this for the first time in December of last year, and my mind is still blown by this little book. Since it’s written from the perspective of a demon, everything is flipped on its head. The “Enemy” refers to God, “Our Father Below” refers to Satan, and so forth. Screwtape gives Wormwood advice and insight into the human heart and mind, how easily we allow ourselves to be tossed to and fro in life, getting distracted from the reality of God, being caught up in ourselves, the way we are often so awfully blind to our own sin, how our hearts and minds are constantly trying to return to the flesh, to the old man. It is an incredibly humbling book to read, not only because it is so deep, but because an embarrassingly huge portion of it applies to me. There’s such profound help in this petite book for Christians as we toil along this climbing way. It has helped me better understand myself, the nature of sin, and the holiness of God (if I were to pick only three things). I will be reading it again this year.
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
I blame my burning fascination for ancient Egypt on this book. Seriously, forget the ancient Greeks and Romans, let’s talk about the Egyptians. Mara is a proud and beautiful slave girl who yearns for freedom in ancient Egypt, under the rule of Queen Hatshepsut. Mara is not like other slaves; she can read and write, as well as speak Babylonian. So, to barter for her freedom, she finds herself playing the dangerous role of double spy for two arch enemies—each of whom supports a contender for the throne of Egypt.
If you’re not geeking out already, you should be. There’s nail-biting intrigue, perilous espionage, swoon-worthy romance, noble hearts, and it’s all set against the backdrop of the Nile. I’ve read this one more times than I can count, and part of it’s because I just love Mara and the story (both are the definition of swanky). But what I love best is how this book calls the reader to think beyond themselves and their desires and agendas. It demands that some things are worth dying for and that the end of yourself is where true greatness lies. Now I have to read it again myself because it’s been a year and a half since I drank in those rich lines last, and I’m overcome with the urge to dramatically whisper: “For Egypt”.
Beauty and The Hero’s Crown by Robin McKinley.
I put these two together because I read them for the first time back to back. Now, they are set in completely different storyworlds, but both had heavy influence on my childhood. Beauty is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it is my favorite retelling of said fairytale to date. It’s much the same as the original tale in many ways, but I love the new depth to Beauty’s character. She’s endearing with a dry wit and deep love for her family (and also she has a giant horse that she raised since she was like thirteen, and so that’s also really cool, just saying). She and the Beast are now old friends of mine, examples of learning to look beyond the surface.
The Hero’s Crown is quite different (except it also has a horse, so there’s that; basically, throw a horse at it, and it’s amazing). It’s about a king’s daughter whose country dislikes her because they thought that her mother was a witch. She grew up being disdained by many, and they gave her no reason to love them. But then she starts killing dragons for them, and things start to change. To me, this story is about refusing to wallow in self-pity, about moving on regardless of what people think or say about you, pursuing something diligently, and serving when it’s not appreciated. And also she slew dragons.
Chalice by Robin McKinley.
So, another by Robin McKinley because I’ve read all of her books and own most of them now, and there’s only a couple that I don’t love. This book has a very… understated feel in my opinion. It’s a gentle, rolling story about Marisol, a girl who is pulled from her ordinary life to serve as her people’s Chalice, the right hand the Master. It’s a high honor and also an incredible amount of responsibility, especially since the last Master and his Chalice recently died in a fire and the whole countryside is in upheaval. And it doesn’t help that the new Master happens to accidentally burn people when he touches them (yep, you read that right).
This story taught me a lot about change. Change happens, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. However, you can do your best to grow and adapt to new responsibilities, old (dear) relationships fading away, new (unwanted) relationships beginning, and so many other things that come when life changes. And it’s also simply a lovely story. And there are honey bees.
This Present Darkness and Piercing This Darkness by Frank Peretti.
These books = spiritual warfare. Ashton is just a typical small town. But when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful, hardworking pastor begin to investigate mysterious events, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a New Age plot to enslave the townspeople, and eventually the entire human race. The physical world meets the spiritual realm as the battle rages between forces of good and evil.
These books have incredible insights into spiritual warfare and the roles of angels and demons. It’s especially interesting because it’s told from four main perspectives: the pastor’s, the reporter’s, the commanding demon, and the commanding angel. So, the reader gets to see both sides of the fight. It has greatly impacted my understanding and view on prayer, angels, demons, and our unstoppable God.
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope.
Agh, this book is so enjoyable (and also kind of weird). Here’s a bit of the premise: newly orphaned Peggy Grahame is caught off-guard when she first arrives at her family’s ancestral estate. Her eccentric uncle Enos drives away her only new acquaintance, Pat, a handsome British scholar, then leaves Peggy to fend for herself. The house is full of mysteries (and ghosts), and soon she is told of the unfolding of a centuries-old, Colonial romance against a backdrop of spies and intrigue and of battles plotted and foiled.
Mainly, I love this one because of its ingenuity. See, Peggy is told of this old romance by the ghosts of her Colonial ancestors as they try to help her cope with her father’s recent death by teaching her about their lives (and mistakes). The message is about growing through and past difficult times, and it’s wrapped in a funny, romantic, clever package that I am compelled to read again and again.
Heartless and Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.
It’s hard not to have the entire Tales of Goldstone Wood series in this stack, but if I had to pick favorites, it would be these two. I’m going to skip telling you the premise on these two just because this post is getting long and they’re complicated books (that’s Anne Elisabeth Stengl for you, kids. My words cannot suffice.). So I’ll just say a little of why I will reread them so many times.
There isn’t much I can say about Heartless (besides dragons and faeries) without giving too much away, but I will say this: Heartless is one of the most beautiful portrayals of Christ’s love for us that I have ever read. I will read it again because I often need to be shown another picture of Christ’s work on that cross, and I will read it again because I often need to be reminded that there was nothing good about me or any of us to warrant His sacrifice.
Starflower is about being called to serve, at whatever cost, the only King who is worth living and dying for. It’s about the irresistible calling of God, and how He makes ugly things beautiful. It’s about seeing the image of God in every person you meet and loving them because God loves them. So go look up the Tales of Goldstone Wood series because these books are exquisite.
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne.
This is the closest thing to a classic on my favorites stack. For those of you haven’t heard of it or read it, it’s about a rich Englishman named Phileas Fogg. Now, Fogg’s rich friends bet that it is impossible to travel around the world in only 80 days, but Fogg is convinced that it can be done, and he believes it so much that he stakes a fortune on it. If he can’t travel all the way around the world in 80 days, he forfeits a fortune. He sets off with his French valet, and the adventure that ensues is thoroughly enjoyable.
The first thing that I must say is that Phileas Fogg is the most unflappable, unperturbed, unexcitable character that I have ever read about. Visibly, he always keeps his cool. Oh, let’s go around the world in 80 days. No biggie. Oh, look, there are some natives dragging some people off to be slaves. That’s nothing. We’ll just rescue them. Ah, I might lose this bet. Nothing to sweat about. I just love how chill this dude is! This one is a little like The Sherwood Ring in that there isn’t a particular message that strikes me, but the story as a whole is simply entertaining and enjoyable.
And those, kids, are my absolute favorite fiction books. What about you? Have you read any of these books? Do you think you’ll read any of these books because I say I love them (the correct answer is yes)? What are your favorite fiction books? Why?
P.S. – these pictures were made possible by my wonderful sister-in-law, Janie, who I dragged outside in the cold (because it’s finally cold again) to hold my books so I could take these pictures. And it was cold, and she’s from the south, and so she was very cold, and her hands were blocks of ice by the time we got inside, and so a huge thank you to her for humoring me. :)
P.P.S. – to those of you who made it to the end of this super long post, congrats. You’re probably one of few.