Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish; thanks to them for hosting, and thanks to The Secret Adventures of WriterGirl for joining in and bringing this to my notice. I'm happy to present my first - and on such a nice Tuesday!
Top Ten: Freebie
Rina's Top Ten Striking Books
Striking, n.: in this case, unique, unexpectedly beautiful, and with long-lasting echoes.
Come on, I'm sure we've all had at least one - that book you pick up and start reading, maybe with high hopes, maybe with none. And all of a sudden a creeping sensation comes over you saying, this is a good book. This is a really good book. This is a really, really good book. This is a book that I've never seen anything quite like before.
Without further ado (and in no particular order of strikingness):
1. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Okay, perhaps there is an order to this list.
My dad and brother were discussing Tolkien's literature while I was at my formative language stage - I'm surprised I'm not bilingual in Elvish as a result. I had these books read to me when I was eleven.I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it hadn't been what I found.
Bear in mind that my only fantasy novels before then were the Redwall books and the Chronicles of Narnia. I was floored. That any thing of paper and ink could contain the characters, the world, the choices, the magic, the sheer volume that The Lord of the Rings did - no wonder I turned into a fantasy writer that year.
2. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher
This is a pretty recent read. I heard it on audiobook, actually, and I wish I could personally thank Kim Mai Guest for her beautiful narration. Ms. Fisher has spun not one but two worlds in this book, and she's brought them both to bright, breathtaking life.
From the mighty halls of Incarceron, tangled with darkness and mechanical rats; to the soaring point of Blaize's tower, its airy room full of glass globes; to the summer days and carefully-arranged diorama of Protocol - we carry our own crystal Keys along with the characters, peering into their brilliant worlds.
And the breakneck pace of the action hardly drops for a moment. If there was any part of the story that dragged, I didn't notice.
Ms. Fisher has dressed up a dystopian novel as high fantasy, created worlds clear enough to dream into, and managed to write two stunning books with hardly a crumb of romance - someone give her a medal.
3. By These Ten Bones, by Clare B. Dunkle
Part of the wow of this book, I thought in the beginning, was my chosen place/time to read it: the dark backseat of a car heading south to Georgia by night, with a small booklamp shining cold on the pages and Michael Card music playing in the background. But two years later, I've read it in front rooms at church retreats and curled up at the foot of my bed, and I still love it. (Though I would also love to "fix up" a few of the dialogue tags.)
Part of the greatness of this book, I think sometimes, was that it was the first werewolf novel I'd ever read. Now I've read a few more, and heard just about every possible twist on the topic, and I still hold onto this little book as my favorite. (Though I'm nothing loth for a little Jennifer Lynn Barnes on occasion.)
It is written by a Christian author, and is a Christian book, though not of the bland, didactic (or badly-written and barely moral) sort all too often fobbed off on us Christians who only want a little decent adventure.
Since it's so many things, I take it for what it is: a short, dark gem of a tale. A book about a werewolf boy and the plain, ordinary Scottish girl who makes up her mind to save him. A book that prickles up the back of the neck sometimes. A book that speaks, in simple words, of olden-days Scotland and its people, as well as of courage and fear and love and sacrifice. A book that descends almost into hopelessness and ends in - well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?
Go read for yourself. It won't take but a few hours.
4. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mark Twain is credited as saying, "A classic is a book that everyone wants to have read and no one wants to read." Sadly, this book has been placed on that selfsame shelf. True, some of the words may be a little odd to us today; true, the beginning is slow and the tying-up-all-the-threads ending slower; true, we may become tired of the author's intrusions on the narration to highlight a point.
But this isn't the ordinary historical fiction, written when the sins of the past are viewed in 20/20 hindsight. This was written in the very days it describes, by a woman who refused to be silent about the atrocities many in her society accepted as normal. For that, if nothing else, it deserves our attention.
And - I'm afraid this'll be more convincing - it's just a really good book!
(All right, I did give the four best the four first spots. But these other ones are striking, too.)
5. The Great and Terrible Quest, by Margaret Lovett
An old book, both in terms of publishing dates and in how long it's been since I first read it. Back in the day when my mom read books to my brother and me, this was one of my brother's choices. I was skeptical: this was when I preferred animal stories over people stories.
Was I ever surprised!
It's a story of Kings and Lords, of a sort-of Medieval Europe place, of an orphan boy and the forgetful, odd man that he chooses to help - and follows into fear and wonder and a life he's never expected. As a children's book it's unbelievably good; as an adult book it's still amazing.
And, for my animal-loving younger self, there was even a clever jester's dog around.
6. Reaching Dustin, by Vicki Grove
A random library acquisition turned out to be something very special. Local library sadly doesn't seem to be able to locate their copy anymore, so I haven't read it in longer than I'd like. It's about a writer girl (understandably a favorite topic of mine), but so much more than that - it's about acceptance, and reaching out, and long-lasting effects of actions. I love Ms. Grove's mythological references, her beautiful writing style, the leit-motifs of stories and songs and retribution, and a particular set-up of words near the end of the book. I love, also, these books where the past and the future meet in one place, and we watch our handful of characters turn one into the other.
I really need to see if the library has found it yet.
7. The Queen's Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner
I read spoilers for this series, positive that I wouldn't ever read it. A disappointing blurb in the library brochure, not to mention my irrational wariness of Greek or Roman-ish books (maybe I thought they would be like the Greek Myths?), didn't draw me to book 1 at all. But somehow I picked up The Thief anyhow.
Four books into the series, I'm entirely sold. The humor! The unreliable narration! The slightly-spun classical myths! The characters... Tricky Gen. Gallant Eddis. Poor, savage, trapped Attolia. Earnest, shy Sophos. That poor magus who puts up with so much. And those infuriating Mede ambassadors! I don't think I could live in these books - I'm not half clever enough - but I joy to read them.
How I long for the next in the series. Two books more - but how many years?
8. A City in Winter, by Mark Helprin
At first it looks like a picture book. And yes, it does have beautiful painted illustrations every six or ten pages, large type, and glossy pages. But, though I know some eight-year-olds I'd give it to, there's nothing juvenile about this book - even less about its sequel The Veil of Snows. This story of a lost princess and her quest to overthrow the evil usurper is at the same time completely serious and entirely absurd. I might cry, if I weren't so close to laughing; I might laugh, if I weren't so close to crying. All of this makes it sound insane, or else makes me sound insane.
But if you read it with the faith of a child, maybe you'll understand what I mean, too.
9. Dandelion Fire, by N. D. Wilson
This is an odd entry on the list, since it's the second book of a trilogy. The first, 100 Cupboards, is decently interesting, if a little odd in parts: a wimpy boy in Kansas discovers world-gate cupboards in the attic wall of his cousins' house. Not fantastic, but a good book. So when I discovered (at long last) that there was another, I decided to try it out.
Suddenly the black and green of the first book blossoms like a bursting dandelion into the blue and gold of its sequel. The magic reaches through the ordinary and sparks a story full of laughter and love and wonder and danger. The cupboard doors spring open (sometimes literally). A great power is threatening the worlds, and "all who can stand soon shall" against it. And we watch the brave ones fighting bravely - and the cowards becoming brave, and the fools wise. All in N. D. Wilson's deceptively bare prose, acted out on his briefly and vividly described settings.
Somewhere in Heaven, I think, might feel like Badon Hill.
10. Tales of the Resistance, by David and Karen Mains
Time runs short, but then I don't know what to say about this book really. My brother persuaded me to get it from the church library. I didn't have high hopes. But it's the oddest, strangest, loveliest children's allegory I've read since Narnia - and with beautiful pictures, too.