Category Archives: Books

My Favorite Reads in 2015

Want to kick off the new year with a good book? Here are my favorite reads from 2015:

  1. Brentwood’s Ward by Michelle Griep
    Nicholas Brentwood’s sister’s health is failing and he’s desperate for funds to move her out of the city. His opportunity arrives when he’s asked to serve as guardian for Emily Payne, a fiery, independent woman who doesn’t like to follow instructions.
  2. Vendetta by Lisa Harris
    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.
  3. Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubietta
    A book that needs to be read by any woman who worries about anything, whether it’s panic-attack-inducing worry or the kind that hides in your check book and jumps out when it’s time to pay the bills.
  4. Taming the To-Do List by Glynnis Whitwer
    This book goes 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.

Literary Gift Ideas

Looking for gift ideas for the readers in your life? Or perhaps you love books and don’t have any ideas for the friends and family begging you for Christmas lists? Here’s my bookish wishlist—things I’ve asked for in the past or would love to find under the tree this year. And I promise, they don’t all cost $100 (though there are a few big-ticket ideas). I know what a budget is ;)

  1. A gift card for an independent bookstore (If you’re in the Twin Cities, Magers & Quinn and Common Good Books are my personal favorites.)
  2. A gift card for a coffee shop or cafe where they can read (Starbucks, anyone? Or, if you’re in the Twin Cities, check out Tin Bins in Stillwater.)
  3. Books (Are they on Goodreads? Look there for ideas!)
  4. Audiobooks
  5. An e-reader (I love my Kindle!)Kindle_Reading
  6. A new e-reader case
  7. A new journal and a nice pen
  8. Literary T-shirts, totes (yes, that is an entire novel printed on a bag!) mugs (this is a British site, but if someone got me this one, I’d love them forever), socks (yes, you read that right), jewelry, etc.
  9. Literary art for home or officeart
  10. A subscription to Audible
  11. A booklight
  12. A collectible or vintage edition of a book they love
  13. A book about books
  14. Books from local authors, or books about the area they live in or would love to visit (bookstores usually have a local/regional section)20150815_135117_HDR
  15. Literary action figures
  16. Literary board games or puzzles (Pride and Prejudice, for example)
    Agree to read their favorite book and then go out for coffee to talk to them about it
  17. Tickets to a play or musical based on a book they’ve read (This one is on my list this year)
  18. A trip to an author’s hometown or other significant place (I want to go here with my sister someday)

There you have it. If this list doesn’t give you any ideas, you might be out of luck . . .

P.S. None of the pages I linked to are reimbursing me for this post :)

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

Summer TBR Pile

I love to read year-round, but summer is really my reading season. Call me lazy, or just un-athletic, but since I hate physical activity and can’t tolerate much heat, I enjoy the warmer weather by finding a shady spot and diving into a good book. Here are some of the books I’m hoping to read this spring/summer. If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear your thoughts (but no spoilers, please!).

Introducing Editionally Editorial Services

Did you know I offer editorial services? Whether you’re looking for proofreading, copy editing, or even help with structure and organization, I’d love to help you polish your writing. Learn more on my editorial services page.