A Fool & His Monet

A Fool and His MonetSandra Orchard’s best book to date. Seriously!

How do you write a lighthearted yet engaging and surprising mystery? I don’t know the answer, but Sandra does. Kudos!

Art theft. Murder. Blackmail. The mob. Authentic characters. Family dinners. And just a hint of romance. You’ll find it all within the pages of A Fool & His Monet.

Award-winning author Susan May Warren calls it “laugh out loud funny” and mystery author Lorena McCourtney advises readers to “be ready for a mind-spinning adventure.” I second both of these observations. Continue reading “A Fool & His Monet”

Book Review of “My Life A.S. Is”

MLAI CoverA definite five-star read!

Have you ever wondered about the thought life of someone on the autism spectrum? Benjamin Collier describes it like this in his book My Life A.S. Is: An Inside Look at Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome: “It’s like the human brain is the garage for a delivery service, and every package is a thought, and each part of the brain is a different terrain vehicle. My brain has to deliver a thought across a desert wilderness, only my desert jeep won’t start, so I’m stuck with a snowmobile. Not only that but the snowmobile already has packages of its own to deliver, so it has to work double-time. The package still gets there, but it’s slower, and because it’s a different vehicle it can’t take the same routes, resulting in a different journey. So whenever someone asks me a question, my thought takes longer to process, and often provides a different perspective because it had to take a different path.”

Continue reading “Book Review of “My Life A.S. Is””

Disciples Indeed Workbook Book Review

Disciples Indeed CoverIn Bobbie Cole’s Disciples Indeed Workbook, she shares how “writing an episode from your walk with God will remind you of what He has done for you … strengthen your faith … and focus your attention on what He is doing in your life.”

The workbook teaches readers how to do so in “a lively and coherent way,” a way that will “draw you closer to others,” who will be “inspired, comforted, and encouraged by your words.” What a great goal for believers!

There are tips for choosing the specific incident you want to focus on, how to draft, prune, hone, and share it. It isn’t about condensing your life story into five minutes, just telling a single vignette.

To walk you through each step, each module, Bobbie uses her own “5-Minute Testimony” and other examples as well, including an incident from the Apostle Paul’s life.

Bobbie’s conviction is that personal stories “cannot be challenged, are entertaining [when well-crafted], and have the power to stir emotions in our listeners.”

Bobbie encourages you to make your stories “authentic, engaging, coherent, lean, and relevant.” Again, through examples, the author shows you what that looks like.

If you’ve read much of my writing at all, you will realize just how important openness, honesty, and authenticity are to me. Though the author states that we don’t have to share a difficult or challenging circumstance from our lives, she does remind us that when we do, we can build a bond with our listeners/readers. They can see how God came through for us in our tough time and draw the conclusion that maybe He will do the same for them.

This resource, when used with the others the author has penned or on its own, will help you recognize what God has done in your life and zero in on one specific story you can share with others, whether how He met you in your dark time or just how He reached down and made Himself known in an everyday situation.

bobbie-ann-coleTeaching others how to tell their story is central to Bobbie’s ministry. She publishes the “Encounters with Jesus Blog” on the Testimony Train site, where you can read stories by people from all around the world. She also offers workshops on the topic of writing and sharing your story.

It’s hard to take off my editing hat when I’m reading a book to review—and there are a few things I would change in the Disciples Indeed Workbook. Even so, if you are looking for encouragement, motivation, and some solid guidelines on writing your story and sharing your faith organically, this would be a very helpful tool. (I think I will reread the workbook myself and as I do, I intend to follow the steps and polish one of the stories from my life.)

Knife – Book Review

Knife Cover“You’ll be sorry.”

Yep, that was the warning a bookstore staff member gave me when he asked if I had only one of R. J. Anderson’s books.

Guess what!

He was right on the money.

Though it took me awhile to get into the book (I had a lot of other things on the go), the more I read, the more I liked it and became anxious to find out how the author would tie everything up.

Knife is written for a YA audience, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy – whatever their age.

I can’t say that I’ve read stories about faeries before, but I would imagine the author has come at the subject from a unique perspective.

I will say again – for the umpteenth time – that I am relationship-driven and, therefore, I enjoy stories with well-defined characters I come to care about. And Knife most certainly delivers. Even less prominent characters are well-crafted and believable.

This character development culminates in the final chapter, which is definitely my favourite. Why?

It includes . . .

– wonderful plot twists

– a farewell to characters I will truly miss

– a cathartic, believable ending

Speech Bubble

And quotes that are just too much fun . . .

“Of all the gnat-witted things to do . . .”

Followed by . . .

“I love you too, Thorn.”

“We’re wasting time . . .”

Followed by . . .

“Then do me the courtesy of not interrupting when I speak!”

“I can’t see worth a squashed berry.”

“All I know is that the dark-haired one said she’d stab my eye out if I didn’t take good care of you . . .”

“But where else will I find a faery who love me enough . . .”

Followed by . . .

“‘Not here, that’s for certain,’ came an irritable voice from below.”

“This is a fine mess of hedgehog droppings if ever I say one.”

And though not “fun,” this is such a great phrase . . .

“. . . her heart crushed between hope and misery.”

Yes

You were right, Brian; I do want to read the other books in the series.

(Read more about R.J. Anderson’s books.)

Mini Reviews

Heaven's Prey

Kidnapping. Torment. Torture. And yes, forgiveness.

Janet Sketchley’s first novel is not for the faint of heart.

Heaven’s Prey is powerful, intense, and gripping. This is definitely not a whitewashed happily-ever-after story.

The author aims straight for the reader’s emotions. Sadness. Empathy. Admiration. Disbelief. Anxiety. Fear. All with a pinprick of hope.

Though I am not as courageous as the protagonist, Janet did an excellent job of transporting me into Ruth’s skin. I was right there with her. She challenged me to become a better person, a braver person.

The characters and the situation are three-dimensional and believable. It was all “very real.”

Even with a cathartic ending, the author  acknowledges that some things this side of heaven cannot be tied up with a pretty bow.

I will be on the look out for Janet’s next novel.

Perilous Waters

“A smile whispered over his lips.”

“Tumbling into her compassionate gaze  . . .”

“He tasted like sunshine and joy and forever.”

I dog-eared pages in Sandra Orchard’s Perilous Waters so I wouldn’t forget the phrases I loved – like those above. (And this is a first.)

“So, what’s the story actually about?” you ask.

What happens when you mix an Alaskan cruise and a mystery about art theft?

Art. Adventure. Attacks.

Family. Falsehood. Fear.

Suspicion. Secrets. Set-ups.

Can Jen trust her uncle? Her sister? Sam, the man she’s falling for?

Perilous Waters would make a great summer read while you’re relaxing on the beach. It might not, however, be your best choice if you’re going on a cruise and have an active imagination.

Enjoy!

What Lies Within

Kyla had it all.

Or did she?

In her novel What Lies Within, author Karen Ball explores one young woman’s journey to discovering what really matters in life.

It has been said that life isn’t worth living until we find something worth dying for.

The protagonist comes face to face with this truth in Book 3 of the Family Honor Series. (As the author notes, you don’t have to read the other two books before reading this one.)

I admire Kyla’s tenacity and Rafe’s commitment, but my favourite character is Fredrik Tischler. I would love to sit down with him and discuss matters of faith. I can hear him say, “I’m Jewish. I’m in a temple. I should do something else?” (This is one of his first lines in the book.)

Each character is unique and well-developed. They are real people.

The story has many twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the end. I love that.

I would very much like to read more of Karen’s books.

I am 100 percent certain I will never get to the end of my To Be Read list, but that’s okay.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Raising Benjamin Frog

 

RBF CoverI am eclectically-interested. I love books. I love books on a wide range of topics. I almost always have several books on the go at once.

When a book grabs me and won’t let go until I finish it . . . now that’s a book I’m going to recommend – highly!

Before I tell you about Raising Benjamin Frog, I want to give you a little background.

I met Benjamin Collier at the Write Canada conference several years ago.

Benjamin struck me as quiet, shy, and reserved. Then I learned he is on the Autism Spectrum and I understood him a little better.

At last year’s conference, we had a wonderful talk right before the first plenary session. I treasured our interaction and was actually disappointed when the session started. That conversation was the highlight of the conference for me.

This year I was pleased to see Benjamin on the first day of Write Canada. However, he wasn’t staying. He was there to drop off his mom, Lynne. I had no idea she was also a writer.

When I saw her book, Raising Benjamin Frog, I thought about picking it up for a friend of mine who recently learned her son is also on the Autism Spectrum.

Even though I didn’t purchase the book during the conference, it seems I was supposed to have it.

On the last day, I was at the front doors of the conference centre when Lynne was headed out. She had a copy of her book right at the top of her suitcase and gladly signed it for me. (And surprise, surprise, I still had some cash in my wallet.)

I brought the book home – with the others I had purchased – and it sat in my living room for a couple of weeks until I decided that I wanted to read it before passing it along.

And am I so glad I did.

I began reading the book last Saturday and completed it on Sunday afternoon. I had no desire to read any other book during this time, and that’s rare because I always have several calling my name.

Yes, I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Relationships are of prime importance to me.

As I read Raising Benjamin Frog, I felt that 1) I got to know Benjamin much better and 2) I had the opportunity to also get to know his mom.

The chapters are brief. As Lynne said, if you’re raising an autistic child, you won’t likely have time to sit down and read for long periods of time. (Even though I’m no longer raising any children, I still love books with short chapters. It’s so easy to justify “just one more chapter.”)

The chapters are very much a-day-in-the-life-of. They’re so personal and real. Lynne shares the challenges as well as the joys of raising her son. They include “Where do you go to, My Sunshine?”, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” Evolution of a Writer,” “The Inquisition,” and “The Big Screen Years,” among several others.

Though this book isn’t technically perfect, Lynne’s heart is something many people will be able to relate to. Please note that any “technical imperfections” are far outshone by the quality of the story. I would highly recommend this book not only to parents of autistic children, but to anyone who wants to read a touching story about a mother and her much loved son.

You can purchase Raising Benjamin Frog here and you can visit Benjamin’s blog here.

 

Blind Trust

Blind Trust (sm)You know that post in which I said I don’t give five star reviews? Since Amazon’s five stars means “I love it!” I couldn’t not give Sandra Orchard’s newest book, Blind Trust, their top rating. (And in my own little rating system it gets 4.5 stars – because I think 4.75 would just be silly.)

So, why did I like it so much?

Here are a dozen reasons:

1. It was even better than the first book in the series, Deadly Devotion.

2. Sandra skillfully wove in details from the first book as a refresher. However, instead of making it unnecessary to read the first book in the Port Aster Secrets series, it gives compelling reasons to grab a copy.

3. Since I’m relationship-driven in all areas of life, I very much enjoy a story with three-dimensional characters, those who are authentic and “real.” Blind Trust is populated by just this kind of people – even the ones I don’t like.

4. Relationships begun in the first book progress naturally. It reminds me of watching my favourite TV shows. Even though the episodes are complete in themselves, there is an underlying progression that may or may not take centre stage from time to time.

5. The fact that Sandra built on the characters, relationships, and storyline of the first book was one of the reasons that I read the book so quickly.

6. Characters may edge out storyline on my list of important story elements, but even the most amazing of them can’t make up for a flat, predictable story. No worries there. This story is anything but. It is filled with suspense, twists and turns, and just enough breadcrumbs to make it all believable.

7. One of the secondary characters has become one of my favourites. I want to be like her when I grow up . . . in many ways, at least.

8. One of the things that makes this story so rich in detail without causing it to drag is the amount of research the author obviously did before sending it into the world. (As a writer, this is one of my least favourite parts of the process, so I say, “Kudos!”)

9. The author’s research into things that didn’t previously interest me drew me in. She shared just enough information to give it authenticity without weighing me down with “too many facts.”

10. This may seem like a backhanded compliment, but as an editor, certain things pop out at me while I read. (It’s hard to put the editor’s hat aside completely.) This was not the case with this book, and that is a rarity.

11. Blind Trust reminded me of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I’m sure I have you scratching your head. The first movie was complete in itself. However, the second had to be followed by a third . . . and apparently, a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, but that’s another story. Back to the Port Aster series. Blind Trust is much more open-ended than Deadly Devotion.

Therefore . . .

12. It left me chomping at the bit for the third installment in the Port Aster Secrets series.

To learn more about the author and her other books, pop by Sandra Orchard’s blog.

You can also connect with Sandra by visiting her Facebook page.

In exchange for this review, I received an advance copy of Blind Trust from the publisher, Revell: a division of Baker Publishing Group.

No Five-Star Reviews

Five Stars

If you’re an author, you are now probably reconsidering asking me to review their book. But before you scratch my name off your list, let me explain.

I remember back in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci was awarded a perfect score at the Olympics. Even then I wondered, “Does that mean there is no room for improvement? What would happen if someone did better? How could they be rewarded since there is nothing beyond a perfect score?”

Just so you know, I think it’s odd that you can get 110 percent on a test, especially a math test. (Think about that for a moment.)

At any rate, how does that apply to the books I review?

When it comes to the five-star system, this is where my brain goes . . .

Five Stars . . . no room for improvement (not 80-100 percent as my math-loving friends would conclude)

Four Stars . . . incredibly good; a book I would highly recommend

Three Stars . . . good; I might recommend it, but I found some major shortcomings

Two Stars . . . I probably wouldn’t finish the book.

One Star . . . I probably wouldn’t get past the first page, definitely not the first chapter.

See how restrictive that can be?

The bulk of books I read would get a three or three-and-a-half, and that can be extremely discouraging to the author. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, but it didn’t grab me by the throat either.

Girl on Stack of Books

Perhaps I should develop my own system. How about this?

Wow!

This is reserved for those novels that take my breath away, engage me from the get-go, and keep me turning pages – or, at least, make me wish I could. I would also give a Wow! rating to those nonfiction books that I could describe as life-changing or, at least, make me significantly change how I do something.

You really should read this.

I would have no qualms about recommending this book to others. There may be a hiccup or two within the storyline, but the positives more than make up for them. In the case of nonfiction, these would be the books that I found thought-provoking and made a lasting impression.

Good but not for me.

There are some very well-written books out there that I would recommend to others, but didn’t grab me and with which I didn’t really connect.

Shrug

These books would be those in which I found few redeeming features. They aren’t worth railing against, but I wouldn’t recommend them. In fact, I might point out their flaws when asked my opinion.

Run away; run away now!

This would be reserved for those books that would make me consider advocating book burning. Just kidding . . . sort of.

How about you? How do you interpret the five-star system?

Called to Write

Called to Write

Never was I so glad to spend time at the laundromat! Yesterday, while there, I read the majority of Called to Write: Biblical Truths for Authors and Bloggers. (I finished it after returning home.)

Called to Write was written by bestselling authors Rev. CM and KM Logan.

For such a small book, it is packed with great insights. If you haven’t read it and are a Christian writer – or would like to be, I highly recommend it. You can get it on Amazon . . . for free.

I highlighted several quotes I want to remember.

“If you have a passion to write, it is there because God put it there. He would not have done so if He did not want you to write for His glory.”

No matter what I do, I keep coming back to writing and writing-related endeavours. This quote was confirmation of what I have been sensing for some time.

For all writers . . . “We should ache to change the world with our words.”

Specifically for Christians . . . “We should want God to use our writing in ways beyond what we could ever accomplish on our own.”

It is my responsibility to develop my skills as a writer. No matter how much I do so and how proficient I get at marketing, ultimately, the results are out of my hands.

“Your words could be used by God to change a life, that life could change a family, that family could change a church, that church could change a city . . .”

The truth of this statement boggles my mind. I know the books I’ve read, including the novels, have played a role in my development as a person. It is possible the words I pen could do the same for someone else. Therefore, I’m responsible to use those words carefully.

Called to Write includes the following challenges (rather than chapters), among others:

Committing Your Words to the Lord

When You Feel Like Your Writing Won’t Make a Difference

Making Money

Seeing Success God’s Way and in God’s Time

Developing a Vision

This will be one little book I come back to again and again . . . and that is rare for me.

“Every Christian should have a dream so big, it takes God himself to fulfill that dream.”

Swipe

Swipe CoverSwipe by Evan Angler is a new take on a familiar subject.

What is the real cost to the individual and to society when those who govern demand conformity and imposed unity?

What if the powers that be say that people have a choice, but that choice is to go along with the system or be exiled with no means to legally care for yourself and those you love?

What if those who “fail the test” – marketed as a celebrated right of passage – disappear, reported as the unfortunate minority?

What if children are forced to resort to violence and kidnapping?

And what if one boy and his friend find themselves in the middle of it all?

Can the kidnappers’ next target and the daughter of an important government official really make a difference?

Well, if they had access to high tech gadgets and an ever-increasing amount of boldness and determination . . . just maybe.

I originally purchased Swipe to read for the Book Club for Two I started with a young friend. I have to admit I wondered if it would be like so many other books with a similar theme.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Once I formed connections with the characters, I was eager to see how things played out.

Though Angler wrapped up the story well, it didn’t surprise me to discover Swipe is just the first book in the series. When I shared this with another friend who read and very much enjoyed the book, she said it explained a lot.

While my To Be Read list is extensive, I will likely read the other books in the series. I really do want to find out what happens to my new fictional friends.

This book was written for a YA audience, but I would recommend it to tweens, teens, and adults alike.

What is the last YA novel you read? What did you think of it?