Tag Archives: Reading

While on Vacation

This spring, I spent a good chunk of time line editing, copy editing, and proofing While on Vacation, a devotional for people who are, well, on vacation. The author, Joe Graves, develops a “theology of play” and explores what the Bible has to say about rest, celebrations, and how God fits into our “breaks.” It even includes a few Sudoku puzzles! It’s up there on my list of favorite projects. If you’re taking a vacation this summer (or even taking some time off to stay home), it would be a great companion. Check it out!

Available June 15 | colorcanvasmedia.com

I’m not receiving compensation for this post. I’m sharing it because it was a fun project that I believe will add value to your life if you take the time to read it :)

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!

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!).

Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubietta

worrylessI thought I would hate this book. That’s actually why I picked it. I thought it would be easy to disagree with, to pick apart, because so many books that claim to be about worry and anxiety offer pat answers that don’t really help—and often disregard completely—the struggle of someone who deals with anxiety at the level of mental illness.

I should know better than to make my judgments based on a generic title—Worry Less So You Can Live More—and vague back cover copy written by the marketing department.

Right away the author (Jane Rubietta) addressed my biggest fear about this book: “If you feel you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, suffer from panic attacks, or deal with other serious problems, then please seek professional hep, and take this book with you (pg. 13).” It felt like reconciliation to see a Christian author recognize that mental illness is a real thing and not brush it off with an “It’s all in your head,” or a quick, “You just need to trust God.” Because, sadly, so many Christians respond that way.

This entire book felt like a giant hug from someone who gets it—one of those hugs that comes right when you need it. I don’t know if Jane has struggled with the level of anxiety that I have, but she certainly writes like she has. She’s specific enough to give concrete ideas for dealing with worry, but vague enough to let you fill in the blanks and apply her insights to your own situation. She shares her thoughts, but she doesn’t preach. I didn’t feel belittled or brushed off.

Every time I picked up this book, I knew I would feel lighter when I put it down again.

Jane wrote about how delight, physical activity, recalling God’s faithfulness, shedding healing tears, understanding your identity in Christ, and anticipating Jesus can slow worry to a crawl and sometimes halt it completely. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers or be able to solve all your problems, but she offers understanding and empathy that brought me more comfort than I could have imagined.

Combine the content with Jane’s lovely, artistic, Annie-Dillard-ish prose (I LOVE Annie Dillard), and you’re left with 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. Even if you aren’t a worrier, Jane will help you recapture the delight of your childhood and harness it to make adulthood a little easier.

Please read Worry Less So You Can Live More. It’s wonderful. You can buy it here.

To read about one way this book has affected me, check out my last post.

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. My opinion is my own and was not influenced by the author or publisher.

Finding God at the End of the Path

trailIt’s no secret that I don’t like where we live. Our apartment is great, but the area leaves a lot be desired. At least for me. When Jonathan took his new job a few years ago, we had to leave St. Louis Park, a lovely suburb where we had a great apartment just blocks from the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. We could walk to Trader Joe’s, Target, the gym—even Lake Calhoun was just a mile away if we took the Greenway. Then we moved here. It’s not walkable. And I don’t feel safe when I’m outside by myself. I never go anywhere.

But then I started reading a book (Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubiettathat contrasted worry with delight. The author asked the question, “Where have you encountered God’s delight through creation?” The answer was easy. I love walks that give me the chance to think and observe details—everything from picker bushes to perfect leaves to the eight-point bucks that like to hang out in our neighborhood.

I decided to get out and go for one of those walks, to put aside my fears—because really, they’re unfounded—and venture out by myself. Well, I only kinda put aside my fear. I told my husband where I was going and walked with my hand around my phone in my pocket. My bluetooth headset was in my ear, and I was ready to click it twice to call Jonathan if I got in trouble. I even debated whether to wear the hood of my puffy winter jacket up or down because, what if someone snuck up behind me and I couldn’t see them because of it? How far around the lake should I go? Should I stay away from the wooded parts of the trail where I was less visible from the road (but still able to be seen because the trees are bare and my coat is a bright color)?

trail2Then I came across a non-paved path that wound down a gradual hill and disappeared into the weeds along the lake. A path I had never noticed before. Spurred on by the idea of delight, my curiosity got the best of my anxiety. You only live once, right? What if I could meet God at the end of that trail, wherever it led? But should I text Jonathan to tell him exactly where I was? What if I unknowingly ventured out on to the ice? What if I fell through? I’m not a yeller. No one would hear me. Should I just turn around and go home?

I didn’t, because I was determined to do something scary, to take a risk, to ask God to use the experience to chip away at the wall of fear I’d put up between us.

You know what? I didn’t get attacked from behind. I didn’t get kidnapped or raped. I didn’t fall through the ice. (I did get the poop scared out of me by a fairly large bird that flew right in front of me, however. Not actual poop, since I know some of you are wondering. Geez.) You know what else? I told God I was afraid, and He told me it was okay. I didn’t have any grand epiphanies or see any awe-inspiring views, but I started to see my fear melt away as I took a risk and took God at His word. He’s always with me and I don’t have to be afraid.

lakePerhaps it seems silly to you that I was so afraid to go for a walk by myself. I wasn’t terrified, I wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t convinced I was going to die. But I did ask a whole lot of “what-ifs” as I jumped to the worst possible conclusions and imagined the scariest scenarios. This is just a small glimpse of what it’s like to live with anxiety. This wasn’t even the crippling kind. But I’m hoping I can keep having experiences like this that expose my fears and allow God to chip away at them with His love and kindness and care for me. I don’t want to spend my whole life surrounded by “protective” walls of fear that don’t let me see or experience the world around me. What kind of life would that be?

Actually, I know what kind of life that would be because I’ve been living there. It’s a pretty lonely, boring one. I want more than that for myself.

(Check back in a few days for a full review of Jane Rubietta’s book, Worry Less So You Can Live More.)

Writer Off the Leash by Michelle Griep

writer-off-the-leash-bookOkay, writer friends, I’ve got a great book for you to read—Writer Off the Leash by Michelle Griep.

(Does that name sound familiar? I just reviewed her new novel, Brentwood’s Ward.)

Michelle has been writing for a long time. As a writing teacher, an avid reader and book reviewer, a member of ACFW and MCWG, and the author of four other books (all novels), she knows a few things about writing.

In her endearing and snarky voice, she shares her best advice and favorite tips for writers, alongside a few one-liners that’ll make you giggle.

Writer Off the Leash is geared toward fiction writers, but it’s a quick read for anyone who enjoys (or wants to enjoy) writing. She covers motivation, the creative process, publishing, rejection, perseverence, the basics of putting a good story together, and the responsibilities of a writer.

Now, I have to admit that I edited this book for Michelle. But that doesn’t mean I can’t love it, does it? Because I do. If you’re looking for some writing inspiration, give this book a try. You can buy it here.

And if you want to know more about Michelle or see what else she has to say about writing, head over to her blog (also called Writer Off the Leash). While you’re at it, check out her novels. They’re pretty good, too :)

Living a Portfolio Life

Calling GoinsI’ve spent the last four years (at least) trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I’ve been working at the church, but that didn’t seem like enough, even though I knew I was supposed to be there. And I made it to the last round of interviews for my dream job and then didn’t get it. I just couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Until I read The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. In it, Jeff talks about the significance of calling and explains that it goes way beyond your day job. Your calling is the sum of many things—your skills, your job, your relationships, your interests—it’s the whole picture of your life, how you choose to spend your time and use your gifts.

I realized that I don’t have to spend my days agonizing over the ominous and evasive calling God has placed on my life because I’m living it right now.

My calling is to work at my church, to be a good wife and friend and sister, to spend my free time writing and reading and editing and blogging (and crocheting and sewing). My calling is to embrace where God has placed me, do what He has asked me to do, and give Him the glory no matter what.

And I think I’m okay with that.

Are you trying to wrap your mind around the idea of your calling? Check out Jeff’s book. It’ll get you asking the questions you need to ask to figure out what you’re meant to do. Visit this link to find out how to get a free copy and a ton of bonuses—you just pay shipping.

artofworkfree
*As a member of Jeff’s launch team for The Art of Work, I received a free copy of the book in exchange for spreading the word. 

Brentwood’s Ward by Michelle Griep

brentwoods-ward-cover-peek

Click on the image to see Brentwood’s Ward on Amazon.

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. He figures it’ll be easy money, but before long, two people are dead and he has to figure out why—while also caring for his ailing sister and sorting out his feelings about Miss Payne.

I really enjoyed Brentwood’s Ward. I love the grittyness of Michelle’s writing style. It’s not as fluffy and flowery as most of the Christian fiction out there. And her characters aren’t immune to unfortunate circumstances and they don’t always make it out of danger’s way. They could easily be real people.

And Brentwood’s Ward is just a great story. There’s a lot at stake—beyond the romance—to keep you turning the pages. If you’re a fan of historical fiction (and even if you’re not) this is a great read. Grab a copy, cozy up by the fire (or a candle), and sip some tea while you get sucked in to the story.

Through January 19, you can get it on sale at Amazon!
$4.99  Kindle edition
$10.83 Paperback

And if you’re in the Twin Cities area, head over to the Burnsville Lifeway next Saturday afternoon to meet Michelle and get your book signed!