Category Archives: Book Reviews

Every Girl Gets Confused by Janice Thompson

every girl gets confusedBased on the cover of Every Girl Gets Confused, I was expecting a fluffy, feel-good Christian romance with a predictable plot and a happy ending. One that I was maybe a little embarrassed to be seen reading because, well, do you see the cover?

When I read books, I want the main character to feel like my best friend. That did not happen. The main character, Katie, was flat. I didn’t get to know her—why she worked at the bridal shop, her passions, what she wanted out of life. I felt like I was getting the life story—Facebook style—of someone I kinda-sorta knew five years ago rather than getting the inside scoop from someone who trusted me enough to let me inside her head.

It was a pretty fluffy book with a happy ending, but there was too much fluff. I didn’t get interested in the story until I had already read three-quarters of it because there wasn’t a plot. I followed Katie, the main character, through a few low- or no-stakes work and relationship “conflicts,” but they weren’t really enough to keep me turning the pages. In the end, it was the storyline of a few secondary characters that drew me in.

There were a few other little things about the book that I struggled with . . .

Nearly ever character had an outside-the-box name: Queenie, Hibiscus, Twiggy, Dahlia, Eduardo . . . I know names in the south (it takes place in Texas) are a little different than here in the midwest, but it was over the top.

Each chapter was named after a Doris Day song and featured a quote by or about her. Every time I started a new chapter, I wondered what she had to do with anything. It wasn’t until at least 150 pages into the book that I found out why Doris Day was significant at all. And it was pretty minor.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I wanted a light, fluffy, happy book. And while I feel like Every Girl Gets Confused got there eventually, it wasn’t worth wading through the first three-quarters.

2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
(Read more about my rating system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.


Do you want the inside scoop? I had a really hard time writing and posting this review.

I recently found out that when I write a review, the publisher adds it to all the other reviews and ships it off to the author. Uggh. If I give a book a less-than-positive review, I do it to help readers make the most of their reading time, not to hurt the writer of the book.

I’m intentional about giving books I love a lot of recognition on my blog and social media, but when I don’t like a book, I gloss over it a bit. I post the review on my blog and Amazon (because I have to) and rate it on Goodreads, but maybe I won’t post the link on social media. And if I do, I certainly won’t tag the author. Writers tend to be the sensitive type, and I’d rather not kill their confidence by letting them know I didn’t like their book. Because even if I didn’t, writing is hard work! I’m still pulling for them.

When I read through the Acknowledgements, I learned that Thompson lost a grandchild while she was writing this book. No wonder it wasn’t as good as it could have been! How can I blame her?

To complicate things further, I discovered one of my college professors is Thompson’s literary agent. Since I keep up with him casually on Facebook, that makes it even harder to share my honest opinion.

Maybe I just care too much about what people think of me? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t like hurting people’s feelings, and sometimes being honest means I have to do that. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

I’ve never read a book by Janice Thompson before. A quick Google search shows me that she’s written A TON of books. I don’t want to judge her based on just this one. So I think I’ll give her another shot and try one of her other books. I’m pretty sure I have one buried in the 2,000+ titles on my Kindle . . .

 

Vendetta by Lisa Harris

vendettaHave you ever watched Castle? It’s a show about a mystery-writer-turned-detective, and I am addicted. (Jonathan and I have been “collecting” the DVDs, and season 7 just showed up on Sunday.) We have a hard time finding shows and movies to agree on sometimes. He, of course, likes manly movies full of action and suspense and I like all the girly chick flicks. So we usually land on comedy, but Castle has a little bit of everything, and I LOVE it. So when I got the list of book review options from Revell, I was drawn to Vendetta. It sounded just like an episode of Castle. Not what I typically read, but why not give it a try?

I’m so glad I did.

When a teenage girl goes missing, the case becomes personal for detective Nikki Boyd, whose own sister disappeared ten years ago. Nikki jumps into action, asking all the right questions and following all the leads, and just when she thinks she’s solved the case, everything goes wrong.

Vendetta is Lisa Harris’ fourth book and the first in the Nikki Boyd Files. It’s the first book by her that I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. I actually read this book in one sitting, something I rarely do. It’s a suspenseful page-turner that would be a great read for anyone who likes a little romance thrown in with their mystery. (And if you love Castle, definitely pick it up.)

FIVE STARS
(Learn about my star system here.)

Buy it on Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

The Chase by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky

the_chaseI stepped out of my box a bit to review this book. I’ve been married for over six years now, so I don’t usually pick up books written for single girls. But since that’s all I used to read, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give this one a try and see if it might be useful for someone else.

The Chase encourages teenage girls to chase after God rather than guys. The authors, Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky, have been married since 2012. They take turns sharing bits of their own love story as they present some important truths about dating.

I really wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. The writing was mediocre and voice-less, the stories weren’t that interesting, and I could tell they hadn’t been married for very long when they wrote it. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the depth that comes with years of marriage just wasn’t there. To be fair, I’m a 28-year-old married woman, not the single teenage girl the book is written for, so maybe that doesn’t matter.) Just a few chapters in, I felt like their platform—Kelsey is the daughter of well-known author Karen Kingsbury and Kyle is a Christian recording artist—is what got the book published, not their skills or experience.

A few worldview things parents may want to know . . . 1) The Kupeckys seem to believe that if God calls you to be married, He has one person chosen for you, as opposed to believing there’s no such thing as a soulmate—that there are multiple people you could build a happy and successful life with. 2) The Kupeckys tell several stories of people they dated before they met. So if you’re opposed to dating, this book may not be a good choice for your kids.

Bottom line: it wasn’t terrible, but there are better books out there for single teenage girls who need a godly perspective on relationships. My favorite is Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris.

2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
(Read more about my rating system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

Taming the To-Do List by Glynnis Whitwer

tamingtodolistThis book is going to change my life. 

That’s what I was thinking just a few chapters into Glynnis Whitwer’s Taming the To-Do List. It was like she was in my head. It went way beyond quick tips for checking more items off your list. It’s actually a book about procrastination—what it is, why we do it, and how to stop. Whitwer didn’t just attribute it to busyness and leave it at that. She dove right into the heart issues, covering things like fear, perfectionism, and willpower.

Each  chapter ended with a practical application section that asks tough questions and provides a framework for tackling some of those tasks you just never seem to cross off your list. By the time I finished reading, I had identified action steps to accomplish two things that have been on my list forever—maintaining a regular blogging schedule and making a dentist appointment.

I chose to review this book because, well, what woman doesn’t think she’s too busy and unorganized at some point in her life? It was so much more than I was expecting. I didn’t even know I had a procrastination issue, but I’ve already made dozens of changes that have improved my day-to-day life. It hasn’t even been two weeks since I finished the book!

I can easily say this is one of the most important books I’ve read this year—and maybe even in my life so far. If you struggle with people-pleasing, perfectionism, self-confidence, or laziness, or even if you KNOW you’re a procrastinator, please read this book. It’s written for women, but I know men who can get past that will benefit from it as well. My husband suggested he’d be interested in reading it after hearing me rave about it.

FIVE STARS
(Learn about my star system here.)

Buy it on Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

I was so, so excited to review this book. I’m in the middle of a hectic season of change at work (our lead pastor just retired in August and I’m switching positions), and I was looking for something that would shine some light onto what feels like a hopeless and overwhelming situation. Just a few weeks ago, I broke down in sobs in the middle of a pretty important meeting. I’ve never lost it like that at work before. But I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I needed this book to meet me where I was and help me dig through all the gunk to get to the root of the issue.

Unfortunately, Girl Meets Change just didn’t do that for me. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I needed practical ways to cope and assurance that I’d come out stronger on the other side. I needed a book that would force me to face the real issue, not just say “Yes, change is hard, but God has a plan and you’re going to be okay.” That’s what my husband is for. I needed someone to problem solve with me. Someone to gently probe and figure out what heart issues I need to be working through right now.

The author, Kristen Strong, did offer a few strategies (I can’t find my copy of the book to give examples), but they weren’t anything new, and they just weren’t enough. I felt like the book just barely skimmed the surface of change and how to grow through it instead of going deep into the things you wrestle with when you’re in the thick of it. Maybe it’s a good read for people who aren’t in a season of change right now, but not for people in the thick of it?

All that said, the book has gotten some pretty positive reviews from other people, so maybe I’m crazy. Every once in a while I come down so hard on a book that I wonder if I missed something while I was reading, like maybe the author did something brilliant and I was too stupid to catch it. That’s how I’ve been feeling about this one. So read it for yourself, I guess, and let me know if you think I’m crazy.

(And in case you’re wondering, God is faithful. He’s helped me dig through all of the stuff that has surfaced in my heart in the midst of this season of change. I’m not out yet, but I’m headed in the right direction.)

One Star
(Learn about my star system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird by Amy Lively

Four Stars
(Learn about my star system here.)

It was a Sunday morning and my mom, aunt, and I were headed to the store. We loved Jesus, but we weren’t regular church-goers at the time. Halfway there, we got a flat tire.

Now, we were capable of taking care of it ourselves. My mom and aunt had probably changed over a dozen flat tires over the years. But when a young family in a minivan pulled over to help us, we were relieved. The husband got out to change our tire while the wife stayed close to the vehicle to keep an eye on the kids. As we handed over our jack, he said, “We were on our way to church, but we figured God would forgive us for being late if it meant helping you.”

That has always stuck with me. I want to be that person who’s willing to put aside my “religious duties” in order to love people the way Jesus wants me to. I want to love my neighbor the same way that family loved us–sacrificially and honestly, with a willingness to talk about Jesus and an ability to behave like a normal human being.

how to love your neighborThat’s what Amy Lively’s book, How to Love Your Neighborhood Without Being Weird, is all about. I’m not sure why I chose this book for a review, especially since Amy says “I should warn you that you’re on the hook now that you’ve read this book. You have no excuse for not loving your neighbor” (pg. 191).

Amy takes Jesus’ command to love your neighbors quite literally. As someone who’s started and sustained a successful neighborhood ministry, she’s excited to share her tips and reasons for reaching out to the people who live next door and across the street.

Not only am I an introvert who treasures my quiet time and space, I just get really uncomfortable around people I don’t know. Meeting someone new is a draining experience, one that I tend to avoid. When you live in an apartment building, sometimes it seems easier to NOT know your neighbors. Sometimes you’d rather not have them know that you know what types of noises they’re making that keep you up all night. Sometimes you just want to pound on the ceiling at three in the morning because they just won’t shut up. It’s a lot harder to do that when you have a personal relationship. And if you have that personal relationship, you probably won’t feel comfortable complaining about that noise at all. At least not if you live in Minnesota, where “Minnesota nice” replaces the Golden Rule.

Anyway, I’d rather just not know my neighbors. But last time I went to the grocery store down the street, I realized something: nearly every time I go there, the family in line in front of me is using some type of government food voucher. That says something about the area we live in–there are a lot of needs, and a lot of ways my husband and I could can bless our neighbors and bring Jesus to our city.

Easier said than done, though, right?

Lively offers some great reasons to reach out to your neighbors and backs them up with spot-on scripture passages that challenged my thinking. She also provided a TON of practical tips for meeting, getting to now, and blessing the people who live near you. And if you check out her website (Ioveyourneighbor.com), you can get great resources including adorable invitations, tips, and planning sheets–all available as free downloads.

While I didn’t like how much this book made me squirm (this stuff is SO outside my comfort zone. Like, I’m Minnesota and this stuff is China), I don’t have many complaints about the book. I did struggle with the organization a bit–the content seemed to jump back and forth, but it didn’t keep me from getting some great ideas.

I’d recommend How to Love Your Neighbor to anyone who needs a little push to get to know the people around them. It’d be a great read for a women’s small group. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter would spur on some great conversations.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

Reviewing Books is Hard

So You Want to Review Books-Can I be really honest with you for a minute?

Writing book reviews is hard.

Especially when you make a personal connection with the author. That happens more than I would’ve thought.

I write reviews primarily to help other readers figure out what to spend “reading hours” on. There are a lot of amazing books out there, and if you spend your time reading the okay ones, you might miss the life-changing ones. (I also love getting free books, but that’s another post.)

But I’m also a writer. Not a book writer (at least not at this point), but a writer just the same. And I have lots of friends who are writers. Writers, like many other creatives, can be sensitive about their work. Sometimes criticism is really hard to take because their art is an extension of them. It’s all personal.

Striking a Balance
So here at Editionally, I’m caught between helping readers find great books and encouraging writers without crushing them. It’s a really, really tough place to be. I’ve been on launch teams, reviewed books written by people I love, and reviewed books upon authors’ requests. In each of those situations, I have a relational investment with the writer. And it’s really hard to be honest when I don’t like something. But I also don’t want readers to waste time reading just-okay books.

So if you’re a reader . . .
Please know that I’m trying to help you out. I’m giving you my opinion as a reader, an editor, and a friend of authors. I have reviewer friends who won’t say negative things about the books they read. I can’t do that in good conscience. But I also know that writers are real people, too. They work hard to write the books I review, and I’d much rather help them make their stories better than tear them to bits. I try to offer helpful feedback in a positive way.

P.S. The new star system I’m rolling out at the end of this post is just for you!

And if you’re a writer . . .
Writing is hard stuff and I’m pulling for you! My reviews aren’t meant to be personal attacks, and I don’t intend to call your ability as a writer into question. I may, however, point out how I would have done things differently. Whenever I write something critical about a book, I try to do it in a way that offers some type of a solution. I don’t say I didn’t like something without giving a reason. And if I do, call me on it! I also always try to find the positives in the books I read, but keep in mind that it’s so much easier to put my finger on the things I don’t like. They stick out. Good writing, however, tends to be “invisible.”

The Star System
Starting immediately, I’m going to assign a star rating to each book I read. It’s about as objective as I can get. You’ll be able to find the rating at the bottom of each book review post. Here’s the breakdown:

5 stars—I loved it and will recommend it to everyone.
4 stars—I liked it and will suggest it to those who might be interested.
3 stars—It was okay and I might recommend it to those who might be interested.
2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
1 star—I didn’t like it and probably won’t recommend it.

Want to learn more about reviewing books? Check out So You Want to Review Books? and How to Write a Book Review

Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Sarah Loudin ThomasUntil the Harvest tells the story of Henry Phillips and Margaret Hoffman. Henry is home from college after the death of his father and is struggling through his grief. Poor judgement and the wrong crowd and lead him to regret choices he can’t even remember making.

Margaret spends her time taking care of her younger sister, Mayfair, who has diabetes and an unusual gift for healing people, and doing housework for Henry’s grandmother. But when Margaret’s mother gives her an ultimatum, she has to choose between her hopes and plans and her parents’ expectations.

Until the Harvest is Sarah Loudin Thomas’s second book in the Appalachian Blessings series. I reviewed her first book, Miracle in a Dry Season, last year.

Like Jody Hedlund, Elizabeth Ludwig, and Julie Klassen, Thomas isn’t afraid to let her characters get messy. They make bad decisions and have to deal with the consequences. Their journey out of those tight spots makes them strong and memorable characters. Their lives are a more accurate picture of what following Jesus looks like than you find in a lot of Christian fiction.

Mysterious gifts seem to be Thomas’ thing (Perla has an unusual gift in Miracle in a Dry Season), which I love because legitimate miracles aren’t very common in historical fiction, especially in the lives of ordinary people. That said, I would have liked to see a bit more solid discussion or explanation of Mayfair Hoffman’s healing gift. It plays a significant role in the story, but everyone’s understanding of it is fuzzy. Miracles are mysterious things to begin with, but there are a lot of questions surrounding her gift that go not only unanswered, but unaddressed.

Unfortunately, as with Thomas’s first book, the historical setting really tripped me up. The story takes place in West Virginia in the 70s, but with the prominent role of moonshine and illegal activities, it felt like prohibition-era fiction. But maybe that’s because I’m a Midwestern girl and don’t know much about moonshine or its history ;)

I enjoyed Until the Harvest, but not as much as Thomas’s debut novel. If you liked that one, read this one to learn about the legacy of the characters. If you haven’t read it yet, go do that first!

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author. 

How to Write a Book Review

So You Want to Review Books- (1)Back in college, my writing professor would leave books in our mailboxes with notes that usually said something like “Review this book for Church Libraries.” More often than not, the books were horrible, and writing the reviews felt a lot like a writing major’s version of hazing. Especially since they didn’t have anything to do with our grades.

So I never thought I would actually seek out book reviews. Yet here I am with a blog that I started just so I could review books.

I’ve developed a basic template for writing reviews that’s based on what I learned in college, what I did when I made manuscript suggestions as an intern at Bethany House, and what works I, as a reader, want to know when I read a book review. Here are the basics:

  1. Take notes as you read. This isn’t really part of the template, but it’s an important step that I always regret skipping. Are there things that cause you to stop and re-read? Things you find confusing? Or endearing? What do you love about the book? How would you have done it differently if you were the writer? Or if you had been allowed to make suggestions to the author before it went to the presses? Are the memorable quotes or passages you want to draw attention to?
  2. Summarize the book in a few sentences. Introduce your reader to the main characters and plot or the thesis and background of the book. Sometimes I introduce the author and talk about whether I’ve read their work before. When appropriate, I explain how their life or experience qualifies them to write the book.
  3. Explain what you liked about the book and why. What worked? What made you turn the pages? (Personally, I think this is harder to pin down than what I didn’t like.)
  4. Explain what you didn’t like about the book and why. I always try to be gentle and give helpful feedback. If the writer actually reads your review (and it’s pretty likely), give something they can use to improve future writing.
  5. Compare the writing to other books and authors. This will help your readers identify it as something they should or shouldn’t read. This is an important part of reviewing a new or unknown author’s work.
  6. Make some general comments about the book. Overall, did you like it or dislike it? Is it something you’d recommend to others? Would you read other books by the same author?
  7. If appropriate, recommend the book for a specific audience. Is it a good choice for women? Moms of  young kids? History buffs? Readers of Ray Blackston*? Fans of Downton Abbey?
  8. Offer any necessary warnings. Are there any elements the reader should be warned about—controversial subjects, graphic scenes, sexuality, politics, language, theology issues?
  9. Make some personal comments about the book. Did it remind you of something that happened in your own life? Did it challenge you or give you a perspective you haven’t considered before? Why did you choose to review it?

Want some examples?
Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig
Gypsy Duke by Felicia Mires
Ten Great Dates by Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp
Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

*Bonus book suggestion: Read Ray Blackston. He’s awesome.

This is the second post in a series on becoming a book reviewer. Check out my first post, So You Want to Review Books?, and stay tuned for new posts about my star system for book reviews and the challenges of reviewing books.

So You Want to Review Books . . .

So You Want to Review Books-

Maybe you’ve read one of my reviews (or someone else’s) and thought, “Hey, I could do that!” Well, if you can read and you know what makes a book good (or awful), you probably can. Here’s how . . .

  1. Start a blog. You need a place to post your reviews. And you need a few followers, too. Don’t worry about the numbers too much, but make sure you ask friends and family members to follow you—especially if they love to read. You can help them discover new books!
  2. Get a GoodReads account. It’s social media for people who love books. You can create “shelves” for your TBR pile, your favorite books, the books you own, etc. Not only is it fun for book lovers, it’s another place you can post reviews.
  3. Join NetGalley. It’s a place to discover new books and request review copies from multiple publishers.
  4. Find out if the publishers of your favorite books have blogger review programs. As you may have noticed, Bethany House Publishers has a special place in my heart (I interned there, after all!), and most of my reviews are of BHP books. Learn more about their blogger review program and check out BookLook, Revell Reads, and Tyndale Blog Network while you’re at it. See what other publishers have to offer, too. And if you find a program I didn’t mention here, let me know so I can check it out!
  5. Contact self-published authors and offer to review their books. Marketing is hard, especially for writers who don’t feel comfortable “selling” themselves and their work. So do it for them! If you find a self-published book you’re interested in, offer to review it on your blog and Amazon in return for a free copy of the book.

Bonus: Follow authors on social media and join their launch teams. A launch team is a group of people partnering with an author and publisher to help promote a book. Usually launch teams ask you to review the book on your blog and other platforms and promote the book in any other way you can, including word of mouth and social media. These are really fun, but make sure you like the author’s work first. There’s nothing worse than having to promote a book you don’t like!

Check back soon—my next post will tell you how I actually write my book reviews!