Monday, January 9, 2017

Best Books of 2016 – Fiction

My forays into fiction this year were a bit disappointing.  I did read some very good books. I read some fun books.  I discovered a few new authors and I finished a longtime series from one particular author, but very little that I read was truly outstanding.

Here are the best:

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson.  Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite writers at the present time.  This book is the conclusion of a spin-off series set in the same world as his best-selling Mistborn books.  A good story driven by great characters who have an awesome, often hilarious, interplay with each other.

Lamentation by C. J. Sansom.  A year with a new C. J. Sansom book is a good year.  Lamentation stars Sansom’s long time hero, hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who seems to get into some of the murkiest corners of King Henry the 8th’s England.  As usual, great historical research and a fine story make this one of the best fiction books I read this year.

Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, and Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  Preston and Child write fun mystery/adventure stories.  There is nothing too deep here, just lots of action and great story-telling.  Of course, it does not hurt that the stories center on FBI Agent Pendergast, a quirky, wonderful main character.  This trilogy of books focuses on Pendergast’s hunt to find the truth about his wife Helen.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  Probably the best fiction book I read this year.  This is classic, epic fantasy with a twist – the legendary hero of the story does not appear to be what everyone thinks he is.  Book 2 – The Wise Man’s Fear - is almost as good.  I am eagerly awaiting book 3.

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher.  Book 1 of the Codex Alera series, Butcher has created an intriguing world and interesting characters.  I hope to read more of this series in 2017 and I am curious as to where he will take his story.

2nd Tier Reads – very good, recommended (in no particular order):
Ordermaster  by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Recluse series)
Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan
The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan
The Revenant:  A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke
Cyador’s Heirs by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Recluse series)
Heritage of Cyador by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Recluse series)
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
The Death of Chaos by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Recluse series)

3rd Tier Reads – okay, but somewhat disappointing:
The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler
The Lincoln Letter by William Martin

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Best Books of 2016 - History/Biography

I enjoy history and good biography – I have a book like this going all the time.  As you can see, I had a strange fascination with the books of Ken McGoogan and the history of the American West this year.  We will see what next year brings.

Here the books that stood out this year.

Custer’s Trials:  A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles.  I always look forward to a new T. J. Stiles book.  In this book, Stiles portrays George Armstrong Custer, the Civil War hero slain at the battle of Little Bighorn.  Custer is portrayed as a man out of a place in the developing United States.  The only thing he does well is fight, which is what ultimately killed him.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  While I realize the Hamilton is a Broadway sensation, I read this book to learn more about a man who is at times vilified, at other times forgotten as a founding father of America.  Chernow is an excellent biographer – his portrait is exhaustive, highlighting Hamilton’s brilliance as well as his failings.

A Time for Trumpets:  The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge by Charles B. MacDonald.  Written in the 1980’s, MacDonald’s book may have been superseded by newer research, but very few books do as well communicating the storyline of the grimmest battle on the Western Front during World War 2.  MacDonald was a participant, serving as a company commander in the midst of the fighting in Belgium.

One Day In August:  The Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe by David O’Keefe.  The raid on Dieppe during World War 2 is part of the Canadian identity, and one of its tragedies.  Part of the reason for the tragedy is that no one really knows why so many lives were wasted for an operation that seemed to have no purpose.  O’Keefe, using new research, seeks to shed light on the hidden purpose for the costly raid.

Fatal Passage:  The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer who Discovered the Fate of Franklin by Ken McGoogan.  Easily the best history/biography book I read this past year.  I am fascinated by Arctic exploration, and John Rae is one of the unsung heroes of it.  His accomplishments are many, including the first to find evidence of the lost Franklin expedition, even though today he is virtually unknown.
Gettysburg:  The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo.  The second best history/biography book I read this year.  Many people have written many pages about the battle of Gettysburg, few have done it with such an excellent blend of writing and research.  I am looking forward to reading more of Guelzo’s books – I already have Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President on my short list.

The Earth is Weeping:  The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens.  The story of the Indian wars in the west has been told many times, most famously from the perspective of the Indian in books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  Cozzens’ portrayal of this period of American history is brilliant, well-written and profoundly balanced.

Those are the best, here are the rest (in no particular order):

2nd Tier books – very good, recommended.
Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre
Fierce Patriot:  The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell (honorable mention)
Grant’s Final Victory:  Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year by Charles Bracelen Flood
Strangers on a Bridge:  The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers by James B. Donovan (the true story behind the movie)
Last Stand:  George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West by Michael Punke
The Black Count:  Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
Geronimo by Robert M. Utley
Escape from Davao:  The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War by John D. Lukacs
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England by Dan Jones
The Wilderness Warrior:  Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
The Immortal Irishman:  The Irish Revolutionary who became an American Hero by Timothy Egan (Montana’s first governor)
A Decent, Orderly Lynching:  The Montana Vigilantes by Frederik Allen
Astoria:  Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire by Peter Stark
Tragedy at Dieppe:  Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942 by Mark Zuehlke
How the Scots Invented Canada by Ken McGoogan
Wrecked in Yellowstone:  Greed, Obsession and the untold Story of Yellowstone’s Most Infamous Shipwreck by Mike Stark
The Wars of the Roses:  The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones 
The General:  Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved by Jonathon Fenby
Ancient Mariner:  The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor who Inspired Coleridge’s Masterpiece by Ken McGoogan
If You Can Keep it:  The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas
Valour Road by John Nadler (3 World War 1 heroes from the same Winnipeg street)
The Norman Conquest:  The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris
Empire of the Summer Moon by S.  C. Gwynne
Augustus:  First Emperor of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy (honorable mention)
Brilliant Disaster:  JFK, Castro and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger
Lady Franklin’s Revenge:  A True Story of Ambition, Obsessions and the Remaking of Arctic History by Ken McGoogan (honorable mention)
MacArthur at War:  World War 2 in the Pacific by Walter Borneman
The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge

3rd Tier reads – good, but somewhat disappointing:
The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Best Books of 2016 – Christian and Pastoral

It has come to that time of year again when I look back at the books I have read in the past year, and highlight the best ones.  As I have done in the past, I have grouped them into three broad categories – Christian/Pastoral, History/Biography and Fiction.

I had the privilege of reading a number of very good Christian books this year.  The best of them had a profound impact on me personally, which has filtered down to have a profound impact on my ministry and church life.  (That is how it should work, isn’t it?)  Here are 7 I consider the best, followed by a list of the rest.

AWE:  Why is Matters for Everything We Think, Say and Do by Paul David Tripp. Wow – what can I say?  Easily the best book I read this year.  When I read it, Tripp’s biblical teaching coincided with a difficult time in my life, and what that intersection produced was a realization that my eyes, which had been almost exclusively on my difficulties, needed to be almost exclusively on the glories and work of God.

Gospel Treason:  Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney.  Probably the second best book I read last year.  Bigney’s practical, hard-hitting teaching, combined with self-examination, let to some recognition of some of the idols that tend to rule in my life.  I spun off a Sunday School class using Bigney’s sermons, which has impacted many who have attended.

The Unquenchable Flame:  Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves.  I have read 4 Michael Reeves’ books and he is currently one of my favorite authors.  The Unquenchable Flame is a history book filled with great insights and fascinating characters.  I have read much on the Reformation and he taught me some lessons I had not known.

Engendered:  God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship by Sam A. Andreades.  Every pastor needs to be aware of the whole issue of sexual identity and gender in our current society.  Andreades’ book is a remarkable study of the blessing of gender differences.  Yes, those gender differences our spouse displays are meant to bless our marriages and families!  Highly recommended!

The Compelling Community:  Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop.  This is a book, obviously, about community in the church. In many churches, community merely means having others similar to you to fellowship with.  Dever and Dunlop suggest that God would like to see much more than that in the church He placed on earth to display his love for the world.

Finishing Well in Life and Ministry by Bill Mills and Craig Parro.  This was a book suggested to me by my associate Chuck.  Bill Mills is a personal friend and a fine Bible teacher.  I was not sure what to expect from this book about ministry burnout.  After finishing it, I would say that anyone who finds themselves tired and frustrated in life and ministry can gain some great insights from this study of how the characters in Scripture finished well.

The Vine Project:  Shaping your Ministry Culture around Disciple-making by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  This book is the sequel to The Trellis and the Vine, another book I read this year.  The goal of this book is to give church leaders insight into nurturing a culture of disciple-making in their church.  The book is both encouraging and somewhat overwhelming at the same time, and the path it lays down will likely affect our church for years to come.

Those were the best, here are the rest (in no particular order):

2nd Tier Reads – very good reads I would recommend to anyone:
Side by Side:  Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch
Recovering Redemption:  A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer
The Intolerance of Tolerance by D. A. Carson
The Secret of Spiritual Joy by William P. Farley (honorable mention, almost made the best of list)
Justification Reconsidered:  Rethinking a Pauline Theme by Stephen Westerhold
Acts: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Edward J. Schnabel
Acts:  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Darrell Bock
The Acts of the Apostles:  The Pillar New Testament Commentary by David G. Peterson
Acts:  The Church Afire by R. Kent Hughes
After Acts:  Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin
Think:  The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper
Good Faith:  Being a Christian when Society thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves (another honorable mention)
The All-Sufficient God:  Sermons on Isaiah 40 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The Imperfect Pastor:  Discovering Joy in our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zach Eswine
The Prodigal Church:  A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared C. Wilson
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
Is God Anti-Gay?  by Sam Allberry
The Trellis and the Vine:  The Ministry Mind-Shift that changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
Preaching the Cross by Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler and C. J. Mahaney
For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton
Killing Calvinism:  How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside by Greg Dutcher
Zeal without Burnout:  Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice by Christopher Ash
Hidden in the Gospel by William P. Farley
Theologians You Should Know:  An Introduction From the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century by Michael Reeves
The Crescent through the Eyes of the Cross by Dr. Nabeel T. Jabbour

3rd Tier Reads – good, but somewhat disappointing:
The Power of Loving your Church:  Leading through Acceptance and Grace by David Hansen
Acts:  NIV Application Commentary by Ajith Fernando
The Forgotten Awakening:  How the Second Great Awakening Spread West of the Rockies by Douglas McMurry