All posts by Ryan Middlebrook

The Day Between by Abigail Wilson

The Apostle Paul said, “…we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint…” These truths – which are much more easily read on paper than experienced in one’s own life – are given full display in Abigail Wilson’s new memoir The Day Between. The story of a troubled pregnancy with twins is told with an easy pace and sympathetic voice that draws the reader deeper into the life of its author. All the while, the story is continually turned to reveal how God is concerned about the minutiae of every moment. Moving and rich, Wilson’s journey cannot help but make one be thankful for all the good in their life.

A true life account of a mother’s struggle with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome might not make it easily on to your stack of books to read; however, you would be missing on a heartfelt tale of love that is full of suspense and insight. We have all had those moments of waiting – whether it’s for the next shoe to drop or for the next period of life to start. The Day Between shows how even in the most trying times grace and help are able to be found. There are no hollow encouragements here, but strong words borne from experience. The weight of this tough time of life is balanced though by Wilson’s free flowing words and self-effacing humor. The reader never feels like the load is more than they ought to carry even if the author feels that way herself. It’s a testimony to the prayer: “…the nearness of my God is my good…” (Psalm 73:28).

No real spoiler – the story has a happy result. It always does when there’s new life.


8.5 stars out of 10


photo: Anna Middlebrook

2015 Top Reads

Well it’s come to that time where I’m going to attempt to pick my best reads of the year. I reviewed 39 books last year for the site. (I’ve read a couple more than that but for sanity’s sake, these 39 get to be the list for 2015. The others go to 2016.) To be clear, these are books I read during 2015 – not written in that year. They have covered the gamut of writing with a heavy concentration of science fiction.

The full roll call here: 2015 Book List

Just some quick numbers:

26 Fiction Reads – 16 Science Fiction, 5 Fantasy, 5 (let’s call them) Novels

13 Non-Fiction Reads – 8 Christian, 4 History, 1 Biography


I feel for the award givers who have to narrow down their choice to a Book of the Year. I’m not going to do that, but there were three books that really stood out for me this year. Each received 8.5 stars (a stellar rating) from me – and they are all worth the time. They are also all Science Fiction (sorry), but I think anyone will enjoy them. Let’s look at them in the order that they were read.


Chimera (Universe Eventual: Book 1) by N.J. Tanger

My reading year started with a bang when my brother hooked me up with the debut novel by writing team N. J. Tanger. A fresh science fiction landscape that I read with the enthusiasm of one who knows they have something special on their hands. Full of great characters, interplanetary intrigue, and a quick pace, Chimera left me wanting much more. It’s the first installment of what promises to be a great series – just finished the follow-up Helios (spoiler! – it delivers).

I have links on the bar up top to the interview that I got to do with the writers (another special treat) as well as where you can find more information about Universe Eventual. If you’ve been waiting to find the story to share with all your friends, this is it. Chimera is the real deal. Pick it up!


14 by Peter Clines

If you haven’t read Peter Clines yet, then you’ve never read anything like his work yet, and that’s a shame. 14 was far and away the most original story I read this year – and maybe the funniest, scariest, and flat out most enjoyable book as well. A journey that bumbles its way from an interesting observation to a mental itch to a mystery to a conspiracy to…well, you’re just going to have to find out. I thought I had picked up a haunted house story, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Peter Clines got a lot of love when this one came out, and thankfully no one spoiled it for me. I’ve mentioned before that this book made everyone’s Book of the Year award when it came out. Well like usual I’m late to the party, but here it is on mine. This is a well-deserved nod.


The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Another recommendation, this time through a work contact, led me to the sublime novel The Dog Stars. A soulful look at how one finds meaning in life from the lens of one who lives after all things are gone. This post-apocalyptic first person narrative may not seem to be the place to find big thoughts and hard-won insight, but that’s what you get from this unique story. A book that contains hope – that’s my favorite kind – and this one found me at the right time. Put this one on your list to discover somewhere down the line.


Honorable Mentions:

Best Christian Read: The Awakening in Wales by Jessie Penn-Lewis

Must Read Author: Nevil Shute

Best Novella: Parallel by Anthony Vicino


Thanks to everyone that checks in on this page from time to time. I’ve already read some great books this year. I hope to find the time to let you know about them.




The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

Christian apologists come and go with their books of the month, but few 20th Century writers could get to the heart of Christian thinking like G. K. Chesterton. His solid understanding of the world and how it should work provide channels of rationality that have been seeming lost by so much modern rhetoric. In fact, he simply pulls back the curtain on what so many think of as logical facts to reveal that they are, in truth, just crafted suppositions. A book on how to think rightly that ends up pointing to the divinity of Christ might not seem like the next book to put on your shelf, but if you’re a thinker – regardless of viewpoint – it will help you do that better.

In Protestant circles (and without), C.S. Lewis rightfully gets tons of praise as the preeminent apologist for rational Christian thought. However, Chesterton with an equally broad body of work has written some of the most accessible books on the depth of the Christian thought life. His treatise Orthodoxy reveals that truth is always simple and complicated and should not be disentangled. The Everlasting Man at its core is a blueprint for why so much highly touted science is in fact unsupportable by facts. Objective criticism is always needed to make a logical progression, but more and more, thinkers are turning to the subjective whims of thought to provide insight. Chesterton methodically presents why present day thinkers need to return to a true logic to understand our world.

Starting with the caveman, Chesterton reveals how more and more stories are told about the “prehistoric” man – as if the scientists don’t realize that prehistory means that we don’t know the stories. Supposition and conjecture to develop theory is always important in scientific endeavor, but there’s a point where many believe a whole stack of theories equate to reality. Many might believe that Earth resides in the arm of the Milky Way more than they would believe that there’s beautiful gardens in the city. But one you could go and prove, and the other will remain a supposition – even if it is true. While in no way reading like a textbook – it is always engaging – little by little the reader starts to see that there’s purpose behind science. This purpose is not always to reveal truth. You can help make it be though.

I will add that Chesterton does point truth seekers to the fount of Truth. He tries as best he can to show how the divinity of Christ is the logical way to understand the progress of the world. It’s not done in a Josh McDowell-like stacking of facts. He does it by asking you to think objectively and refrain from self-made rhetoric. Whether he ultimately succeeds is your call, but I felt like it was worth reading about.


7 stars out of 10


Photo credit: Irish Dominican Photographers via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars is my favorite kind of book. The kind randomly picked up or recommended that turns out to speak to who you are. I don’t know you or what you do, but if you like this book, then there’s at least a kinship of thought that I can salute. A knowing nod that says “Carry on and good luck.” This is the kind of book that when I get done and recommend to someone else, they look at me funny after a few chapters in. I think it worries my wife a little.

I’m an avid reader of survival stories, both real and fictional. Something about the call to overcome the difficulty that life presents – as if reading about it will make it so for me. I find it unsettling, even in the little parts of life, when I find people resigned to their troubles. I’m not saying I’m better, but there is something in me that says, “I want more. I will not stop. I will overcome this too.”

This story follows Hig – a survivor of the plague that has wiped the world free of all but a few people. He and his misanthropic friend Bangley work to protect their little corner of Colorado. Hig’s dog Jasper is his closest friend and constant companion. This threesome try to live and overcome the challenges of foraging for food, fending off other marauding survivors, and finding meaning in an apocalyptic world that has few answers.

Peter Heller expertly guides you through the inner currents of Hig’s psyche as he deals with the lot life has cast. You root for Hig as he grasps for a hold to control an unwieldy loneliness. His solitary plight is recognizable to many even in our connected age. You wish for him because it’s a wish for yourself. There is plenty of humor, wit, fear, and wisdom – and maybe something like finding love.

Earlier this year I read On The Beach by Nevil Shute. The world is ending and the story follows some normal people through the last oppressive days. While tinged in sorrow, the book is hopeful. The Dog Stars likewise is a search for hope. These are the stories I like best. “and hope does not disappoint…”

The haunting quality of this book reminds me of a movie I watched last year that I will recommend called The Wall. It is based on a German novel Die Wand (The Wall) by Marlen Haushofer.


and SPOILER: Dogs always die. It’s really just a fact to resign oneself to. One day my goal is to write an epic apocalyptic saga where in the end after all the struggles of body and soul, the people don’t make it, but the dog lives.


8.5 stars out of 10


photo: Thomas Shellberg

Now Wait For Last Year by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick has become well known for his books and short stories that have been turned into sci-fi movie blockbusters such as Minority Report, Total Recall, and maybe most famously Blade Runner. However this novel with its intragalactic war, time travel, and aliens will probably never be turned into a huge moneymaking movie. It’s because despite all the outward plot devices that seem ripe for action movie plunder, this book is about an internal war – a war about the depths of love and what is required of that love. PKD takes the reader to a place they may not want to go in a pulp SF novel, but for those who cross through time, you need to get there.

The book follows the story of Dr. Eric Sweetscent – a organ transplant specialist that is hired to keep the very rich alive. His wife is an antiquities merchant with a specialization in the mid 1900’s. She loathes him and he is tired of her, but the lasting afterimage of their love for each other keeps them tenuously bound together. They live during a war between two developed interstellar species the Starmen who are allied with Earth and the insect-like Reegs. Eric is drawn into the thick of the political intrigue behind the war when he is assigned to keep the leader of Earth alive.

While Eric is gone, his wife experiments with a new drug JJ-180 that has the side effect of sending the user through time. Unfortunately it is lethal and completely addictive. Eventually most of the main characters are using the drug to try to find something in the past or the present to help them overcome their situations – whether it’s winning the war, becoming wealthy, or healing relationships. PKD drives the story with action and quick pace while jumping in and out of time. The battlefield is always shifting, but can Eric find a reality that is the one he wants?

Was there a golden time in your past? Do you think the future must be better? If you could have everything just as you want, would it really make your life better. Phillip K. Dick wrestles with what it means to be happy and what the nature of true relationships are. Unlike any book that I have read – with outlandish backdrops and political intrigue – Now Wait For Last Year sticks the point to the reader: do you need everything perfect to determine your happiness. Life will never be perfect. Enjoy what you have and forget about the what-might-have-beens or the what-could-bes. Find the way to make this life enjoyable.

Again, this may be more than you’re looking for in a science fiction novel. There’s many things going on in this book that make it very entertaining reading, but you’re going to be left with a question in your heart about your enjoyment of life. Make the answer “Yes.”


6.5 stars out of 10



Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkosigan Saga: Book 3)

Barrayar starts the same day as Bujold’s first Vorkosigan novel, Shards of Honor, leaves off. It fills in the drama that takes place during Cordelia’s pregnancy with Miles that was alluded to in The Warrior’s Apprentice. Written with the typical pace and wit that this series has become known for, this action packed installment won yet another well deserved Hugo Award for Ms. Bujold. If you’ve made it this far into the series, come back to old friends and enjoy the ride.

Cordelia Naismith – now Lady Vorkosigan – takes up the lead role that had been laid down for the future based books about her son. While Miles’ quick thinking and preternatural skill of getting himself into one jam after another can be good reading, it’s a nice change of pace to read how Cordelia solves problems that she did not take part in creating. Her strength and resiliency grounds the story in a way only adults can.

The tale essentially becomes one of survival as civil war breaks out on Barrayar as the old guard of politicians try to keep the newly appointed Regent Aral Vorkosigan out of power following the Emporer’s death. Evading assassination attempts, capture, and betrayal, Cordelia and the faithful Sergeant Bothari must do what they can to remain free – and keep her unborn child Miles alive. The story builds quickly into an all out sprint that doesn’t end until all Barryar has been changed. Yet again, the Vorkosigans are at the middle of events that shake the galaxy. Just a normal tale for this family.

Few authors provide such easy and enjoyable reading as Lois Bujold. Even if you’re not a science fiction reader, these stories are about the inner and outer struggles of life. Plus they’re a whole lot of fun. Highly recommended!


7 stars out of 10



The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold (The Vorkosigan Saga: Book 5)

Some books are fun from first to last. Bujold has a special talent for drawing the reader in quick and not letting go. The Vor Game is no exception, and it’s no surprise why it was selected as the first of her Hugo Award winning novels. (I think it’s just because enough people realized that there was a good series here. The Warrior’s Apprentice was just as strong of a book.) Returning to the unlikely hero of Miles Vorkosigan again, this fast paced adventure begins on an arctic island on Barryar and ends with the fate of this edge of the galaxy being decided. Bujold does not tell small tales when grand ones will do better.

Miles, now a little older and maybe a slight bit wiser, is getting his first assignment as an officer. Unfortunately, it’s to an arctic weather base – where he is to be the weatherman. His dreams of interstellar heroism seem to be smothered by boredom until he starts to uncover a mystery that could end his career as quickly as it started. Plots, political intrigue, and pirates propel Miles to take up his old persona Miles Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries. The real mystery is can he ever let it go again.

There is nothing bland about The Vor Game. Even the exile of Kyril Island is given depth and menace as Miles spends his time there. Without giving anything away, the interactions between Miles and the Emperor were fun and engaging. Especially well done is the grandiose figure of Miles Naismith. How he waltzes back to the head of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet is a tightrope act that Bujold carefully maneuvers him though. In fact, the special talent of the novel is finding the knife’s edge and staying there. As a reader it makes for many a tense page – all the while being immensely enjoyable. Commander Cavilo is Miles’ match, and a beautiful young woman is hard for a young officer to resist. How the web untangles is fun the whole way.

Don’t miss out on this series. It builds with every novel and The Vor Game is a gem.

7 stars out of 10