Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading | Spring 2019 Edition

Books. Books. All the Books! Even though I don’t do book reviews anymore, I still want to keep y’all in the loop of what I’m reading! Here’s the most recent reads – some for the INSPYs, some for the different book clubs I’m in, and some for fun! Have you read any?

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano: An INSPY nominee.

The Reckoning of Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright: Another INSPY nominee.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Y’all know how I feel about this book. I think everyone in America should be required to read this. We read it for one of my book clubs and it was a great discussion. I also did a quote series on Instagram, be sure to check it out!

Thief of Corinth by Tessa Afshar: And another INSPY nominee.

The Land I Lost by Huynh Quang Nhuong: I wrote about this a few weeks back here.

Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse: It’s a series, and I’m not so patiently waiting for the conclusion next year!

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay: I love everything she writes and this was no different! Well worth your time.

How the Light Gets In by Jolina Petersheim: Always love the creativity and her unique take on a story. This is definitely one of my favorites from Petersheim.

Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan: Can murder mysteries be fun to read? I think so! I’m a big fan of Rachel and how she brings important characters and topics to the world. Be sure to check her out if you haven’t yet!

Broken Harbor by Tana French: This is my second book by French and I’m trying really hard to like her books. I like her writing, but the two I’ve read, the endings (and murder mystery reveals) have left me wanting. Usually I give an author two books before accepting we aren’t meant to be, but I’m willing to give her one more shot.

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon: Another INSPY nominee.

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon: I read this for book club and it was such a great discussion. If you’re looking for a good discussion book, I definitely recommend this one. It’s also just a great book, but extra bonus getting to discuss it with friends.

What are you reading?

Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m about to dive a bit more into INSPYs reading, but wanted to share some of my recents reads!

  1. Stuart Little by E.B. White – I blame the puzzle.
  2. Becoming Us by Robin Jones Gunn – One of the fun books I get to work on. Robin is fabulous, so be sure to check it out!
  3. A Song of Home by Susie Finkbeiner – Confession, I’m not 100% done, but am loving this one and have really enjoyed this series, and she’s the best, so buy them all! And maybe follow Susie.
  4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – Loved! More about it here.
  5. My Happy Life by Lagercrantz & Eriksson – Again, the puzzle.
  6. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – Lived up to the hype. So enjoyed this one for book club.
  7. Dangerous Prayers: 50 Powerful Prayers that Changes The World – Read more of my thoughts here!

Have you read any? What are you reading right now?

Book Wisdom

Back to the Basics With Hugo Cabret

“If you lose your purpose…it’s like you’re broken.” Hugo to Isabelle (page 374)

This quote is from a scene in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, where the main character Hugo is figuring out why the various toys he has encountered were made – they all had a reason for existence. As I was thinking more on the quote, the reminder became clear. We all have a purpose on the Earth.

This isn’t earth shattering news, I know. I bring up this truth though, because in a culture that seems to scream that our value alone comes from what big thing we’re doing, our side hustle, how busy we are, our platform (and to be clear, these aren’t bad things), I don’t ever want to forget the basics. Our purpose is living out a life of love. Loving God, loving others. Our purpose is that we each can bring faith, hope, and love to every human we encounter. For some, that will be on a big platform, book, public influence, but for many, it will be on a smaller stage. One isn’t any better than the other.

So never forget that you were made for a reason; that simple beautiful purpose of bringing hope to the world.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

The Greek poet Sappho once penned: “Become a voice.” I encourage you today to continue to be a voice for what matters, because there’s some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for (#SamwiseGamgee).

Book Wisdom

A Few Lessons From Stuart Little About Life, Family, and Friendship

I recently got back into puzzles. Yes, this is also a very random way to start a blog post, but I blame Target. While Christmas shopping, they had puzzles on sale (it was of a tiger) and for reasons I still don’t know, I thought “that sounds fun, I’m going to buy myself a Christmas gift.” It’s been at least two decades since I’ve done a puzzle, but I enjoyed it and found it relaxing, so I bought myself another one. This time featuring covers of famous children’s books. After I finished that one, I did what any book nerd would deem necessary – decided read all the books featured in the puzzle throughout the coming months (It’s gonna be such a struggle when I have to re-read The Hobbit and the two books from The Chronicles of Narnia).

Thus bringing me to a little mouse named Stuart Little. I have a small collection of children’s books and since I already owned this one, it’s the one I started with.

While not Charlotte’s Web nor E.B.’s best work, I think it’s still a fun read for children. It’s a random collection of Stuart’s adventures, with only a few tied together. It ends without some answers, but there are plenty of takeaways. I thought the end quote was quite fitting for life.

We always don’t know what the outcome will be (in Stuart’s case, if he will find his best friend, Margalo), but that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward:

“Stuart rose from the ditch, climbed into his car, and started up the road that led toward the north. The sun was just coming over the hills on his right. As he peered ahead into the great land that stretched before him, the way seemed long. But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.”

Just like a life of faith. Sometimes it’s enough to know you’re headed in the right direction, even if you don’t know the final destination.

Stuart also teaches us how fulfilling life can be when we live it to the fullest, whether that’s seeking adventures in our own backyard or taking some steps a bit further away. He was always up for trying something different or something new.

We also see his love for home. Never is his family and home far from his thoughts, wherever he finds himself and of course there’s friendship. True friendship is one that loves at all times. We see that in his final quest to find his best friend Margalo.

If you haven’t read a children’s book in a while, I invite you to. There’s always something to be gleaned and as my friend C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Finally, if nothing else, how about these life rules? While “substitute teaching” Stuart asks the class what is important:

“A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy,” answered Henry.

“Correct,” said Stuart. “Those are the important things. You forget one thing though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?”

“He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it,” said Mary quickly.

“Exactly,” said Stuart. “Ice cream is important.”

I’m good with that.

Author Interviews

It’s Denver the Guilty Dog | A Book and Interview!

Y’all know Denver right?? RIGHT?? She’s just the star of one of the cutest viral videos of all time! So if you haven’t, please stop reading and watch the following:

I’m telling you, she’s kind of a big deal in the animal kingdom 🙂

The Denver Guilty Video is nearly 3 years old and is more viral today than ever. Her video has gained global recognition both socially and on tv. Currently the hits on YouTube are near 33 million and growing daily! Her Facebook page has nearly 68,000+ fans!! She now has her own Children’s books and can be found at GuiltyDogAdventures.com

Denver’s now famous smile has positioned her as the most popular dog on the planet and even after 3 years her video is winning online contest after contest from MSN to NBC and even on Animal Planet! Since her video aired she has made appearances on Good Morning America, Fox News, Inside Edition, Fox 45 Baltimore, Fox Delmarva News and Fox WTTG DC TV. And, her video has been shown on every news network in the US and across the globe! Denver and family have done several sit down interviews with domestic and international production companies and her complete story aired on Animal Planets, “Bad Dog” TV Show.

Now Denver has a Children’s Book Series out! The first one, Denver Crosses the Creek, is out and I love it! The story is creative and teaches children important lessons about listening, not trusting strangers and being honest. M.B. Vujanic, the author and Denver’s owner, did a fantastic job! Oh and the illustrations? ADORABLE! Seriously, I kinda want a drawing of my cat.

It’s definitely a book you want to have in your kid’s library! Reviewing Denver’s book would be fun enough, but I’m even more excited because joining us today on the blog is Denver’s owner, M.B. Vujanic! I’m excited to have him share about the book series, Denver and of course 4 Questions. Be sure to check out the giveaway at the end too!

1. Where did the idea of a children’s book series featuring Denver start?
I have been a writer most of my adult life and my focus has been on the outdoors. My family and I love the outdoors and we grew up in an area where families depend on the outdoors. Ironically I was actually in discussions with some companies about having Denver featured in a line of coloring books when the idea of Children’s books crossed my mind. Rather than going with a large publisher and waiting perhaps years for an answer or progress, I decided to undergo the project alone and self publish. The only “bad” side of self publishing is that you bear all of the financial burdens and responsibilities associated with it, just like you would with starting a new business. From writing the series myself, finding the right illustrator, the right editor and the best self-publishing company, the process was somewhat long and tedious; yet immensely rewarding.

2. What do you hope children will take away from this book?
Children are able to learn a few life-lessons from Denver’s first Adventure. The story sheds light on the importance of following directions and being honest. The underlying message is to be cautious when speaking with strangers. On the cover of Denver Crosses the Creek you will notice the 4 sneaky characters all pointing in different directions. These are the characters in the story who purposely trick Denver and provide really bad directions when she asks them for their help finding her way home. Although Denver doesn’t recognize any of the sneaky characters when she meets them – they are familiar with her! Each one had been chased out of the yard for trespassing at some point by Denver in the darkness of night when Denver could hear them by not see them. Now that Denver was in “their yard” they attempt to “get her back.” Denver learns first-hand that there are very good reasons for family rules.

“Denver’s life really has never changed…”

3. Are there plans for more adventures featuring Denver?
Yes. There are 10 total books in this series and the first one is Denver Crosses the Creek. The rest of the books are educational field trips across North America to visit the Natural and Made Made Wonders. Denver and the gang will visit these amazing places and share the information they find….how they were formed, what lives there, who, what , why…… There is certainly nothing “new” to this angle of writing but Denver and the gang will take you there in their own special way that is fresh and exciting. Most of the series has been written and book #2 is slated for spring 2014 release.

4. How has Denver taken all the success? 🙂
Denver’s life really has never changed. The video did expose how overweight she really was so we have helped her shed 30 pounds through diet and exercise! She now gets around better and plays with Masey like a puppy! Despite her celebrity status, nothing really is given to us. We buy her treats, dog food and all the things typical animal loving families get for their pets. It is worth noting that Denver is a very “normal” Labrador Retrieve despite that silly face she makes. But she absolutely does become an entertaining Diva when film crew’s arrive for interviews or even when we have company over. It’s fair to say she won’t leave them alone and hams it up big time!

What interview would be complete without 4 Questions right?

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined 5 years ago?
I never ever imagined that grabbing a video camera and filming a 2 minute video would have changed my life and the life of my family the way it did. It has been almost 3 years and 33+ Million hits since I posted Denver Our Guilty Dog video on YouTube and looking back at all the news interviews, radio interviews, appearances on TV shows like Good Morning America and Inside Edition, and the like, it still all seems so surreal to me (and our family). You look back and say, “What if I never did that?” and life takes on a completely different course to the present. It is really fascinating to think about.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
That is a tough one because I would not want to change anything (or direction) that would alter my life as it is today. One little thing could change family, places and occupations and I am very satisfied with all of the above.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
One of the happiest moments in my life was the birth of my first child, my son. Emotionally it really weighed heavy on me and opened my eyes to life and how important family is. There are several other happy moments but that first one impacts you very heavily!

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
I would like the next generation to know how important the foundation of this country truly is. With technology growing leaps and bounds it creates discussion for changes that can erode the founding blocks of our nation (that some feel are getting in the way of progress). I would like them to know that our country is most different than any other country in the whole wide world (on purpose and by design) and it was the dream of millions that sacrificed their lives so that we can have and preserve OUR today. I am the son of immigrants that came through the front door in 1959…literally with nothing. My parents worked their fingers to the bone to not only achieve the American Dream but provide for their family so they too could live a life without restrictions and tyranny. There are stories like this being buried across the country every single day and I just want the next generation to know and recognize these stories and sacrifices as they move forward in life by living in the greatest nation on earth!

I love it and thank you so much for stopping by! Want to connect with Denver on the web? Here’s the places you can connect!

Facebook | Children’s Book Site | Twitter

Even Max approves of this series.

I can’t wait to read this to my nieces!

Changing the World

Why We Should Change The World

After reading the title of this post did anyone else bust out in dance to Captain E.O.’s “We are here to change the world….gonna change the world!” No? That’s odd.

While it is a worthy topic, MJ’s jams aren’t the topic of discussion today. I’ll save that for another time. As you might have noticed (or not at all 😉 ), this “Why” series is full of posts I do once a month that discuss whatever my heart desires. Sometimes it’s related to books, but most of the time you find things like tv, sports and other such shenanigans. Today it’s about changing the world. Daunting no?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the rather annoying “YOLO” term (if I ever use it, please know it’s in a sarcastic/let’s make fun of this and it usually involves friends and I deciding to eat ridiculous amounts of candy), but I do have to admit, it’s true. You do only live once. So let’s make it count (If you ask me, speeding in fast cars or making as much money as possible isn’t making it count).

Instead I can’t express enough how much more life matters and comes alive when you invest and give to others.

One of the places and organizations I’ve recently partnered with is Reach Out and Read. It’s awesome. Each week I head over to a medical clinic and read to kids in the waiting room. They also get books too. While this might not seem like a big deal, statistics show it is. Having a book of their own, reading more can drastically affect how well they do in school. As they mention on their website: These early foundational language skills help start children on a path of success when they enter school.

I love doing this. It’s fun and when the kids want me to keep reading more, my heart melts a little.

The program in central Austin is starting to gain momentum and it’s a blessing to be a part of! Sometimes there’s a ton of kids, sometimes just one. And don’t worry if you’re not the outgoing-let’s-get-this-party-started type, I promise if I can do it, so can you. I have yet to master the use of the puppet (y’all I.have.tried), but puppets creep me out (which I’m sure can probably be traced back to a creepy 80s film I stubbled upon).

To my fellow introverts, don’t you worry, most of the time when the kids see me, my first thought is “please like me! please come be my friend!” You know, just like any other 31 year old woman. I promise I survived my youth years with no major mishaps.

But internet! Once books start to be read, it’s a whole new world. It’s worth pushing myself beyond my comfort zone every single time! You want to talk about Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed? Got that one down like a lyrical gangsta. Clifford, Dr. Seuss and Llama Llama are my b/f/fs for life.

Seeing kids run to the bookshelf, anxiously picking out their next book, then coming back makes me wish my lunch hour was all day long.

I want to change the world. I have this crazy idea I’m working on of a fundraising Read-a-thon. I don’t know what it will look like, but why let that stop me right? :). And even if reading isn’t your thing, I bet there’s something out there waiting for you to join and change a person’s life.

So what about you? I’d love to hear what you think and if there’s something awesome you’re connected to!

If you’re wondering who the hey Captain E.O. is (a.k.a Disney’s greatest invention ever) please see below and you’re welcome!

Author Interviews

4 Questions With New York Times Bestselling Author Sally Lloyd-Jones

(This interview is part of my 4 Questions Project, where I get the chance to chat with authors and tell stories of people, life, and adventure. Be sure to check out previous interviews here!)

I’m so excited to share this interview! Why? Because she’s British! I mean really, what more is needed right? There’s that and the fact that she is an award-winning and bestselling children’s author. If you have children and are looking for an amazing bible to share with them, you need to check out Sally Lloyd-Jones’ bestseller The Jesus Storybook Bible. And her newest?? Awesome! And as I mentioned in the review of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, the book is beautiful! It’s a beautifully illustrated and beautifully written collection for children about spiritual/biblical truths and faith. I want one for myself! Besides being British and an incredible author, she was born in Africa. What a story right?!

It’s great to be able to connect with Sally and learn more from this creative and insightful author!

Sally Lloyd-Jones is a leading writer of inspirational books for children, with an expertise in conveying biblical truth to young children. She is the author of three bestselling children’s Bibles, including the Gold Book Award-winning Baby’s First Bible and, most recently, the Moonbeam Award-winning The Jesus Storybook Bible. She has written many picture books for children, including Handbag Friends, Time to Say Goodnight and the critically acclaimed How to Be a Baby: By Me, the Big Sister. A native of England, Sally lives in New York City and can be found at http://www.sallylloyd-jones.com.

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined 5 years ago?
That I would be “Playing the Ryman”.

Musicians say when they Play the Ryman—(because you don’t “play at the Ryman”, you “play the Ryman”)—they are humbled thinking of the legends who trod the same boards before them. Legends including Elvis, Johnny Cash (who met his wife June Carter for the first time back stage at the Ryman) and Patsy Cline. They all played the Ryman. Emmy Lou Harris, Neil Young, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay have all played the Ryman.

And now me. Yes, I “Played the Ryman.”

The last two years, I’ve found myself on that same legendary stage looking out at the audience—standing alongside my wonderfully talented musician friends—and having really no idea how I got there. I’m a children’s book writer. This is not part of what we do.

And yet—there I was “Playing the Ryman.” (Not singing you’ll be relieved to hear—just reading from my books). I was honored to be part of Andrew Peterson’s moving BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD Christmas concert.

I’m still pinching myself and so very grateful.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
Live less afraid. I’d like to have more quickly got to the place where I’m “living out loud”.

But then again how can you really say that? Because all the things you’ve been through have made you who you are today. Grace and joy are at the heart of things. So I prefer not to look back like that. I believe even the awful things are worked together and redeemed and will be turned around ultimately. And the joy will be greater for it all once having been so sad. It’s what Tolkien spoke about—everything sad coming untrue.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
That’s hard. How on earth do you choose? Actually, I can’t. Life is too full. I read a quote this week that said, “Write on your heart that every day is the best day of your life.” And it’s true. I’m happiest when I’m happiest right now today. Some of the happiest moments are the small surprises. One of my favorites? When it snows. My heart leaps. I feel like I’ve been given a free day. I want to run outside and play. I’d like to live every day as if is a snow day.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
That the dream you keep deep down inside your heart—the thing you most want, the dream you may never have told anyone—may just turn out to be the very thing you were born to do. It may be the dream God planted in your heart.

It won’t look exactly the way you imagine it. It may take a long time to come. It may even come in disguise.

But keep your eyes out for it.

Fredrick Buechner says it best when he says: “listen to the voice of your deepest gladness”.

Bookish Radness

Nostalgia Creepin In My Bookshelf

Please tell me they still have summer reading clubs at public libraries. Please!! I hope they do. All I can say is I rocked those. My mission each summer (besides running around causing outside chaos with my cousins and siblings) was to read a ton of books, so I would win prizes at the local library. I was ballin on a budget back then.

I’m moving in the next few weeks, so the OCD in me is already organizing and boxing up what I can. Going through my library, I came across the books I’ve kept from grade school and Jr. High. This discovery made me smile. I loved these books (I guess keeping them for 20 years says something). I think I might re-read them just for kicks. You know how those nostalgia days can go.

If you have young kids who are just getting into reading, I highly recommend these. Take them back a couple of decades.

Here’s the official Books and Beverages favorite Children’s book list:

My branding style back in the day

Do you remember any of these? What are some other 80’s/90’s classics?