Book Reviews

The Church of Small Things by Melanie Shankle | Book Review

(ICYMI: I switched blogs! I combined my blogs for this new writing and blogging chapter. You can find out all the details here).

What can I say y’all? I’m a big fan of Melanie Shankle. I mean, we both love Jesus, books, tacos and have a soft spot for Texas. That’s a bond Internet. Her blog and her podcast (with Boo Mama) are some of my favorite things. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried (emphasis on the laughing). Seriously, the podcast cracks me up (I mean, her love of Teddy’s Organic Rosehip Seed Oil convinced me to purchase my first non cooking oil ever in my life). But that’s what I love about story – God uses everyone’s story to impact others.

Her latest, The Church of Small Things, is seriously for anyone!

Is my ordinary, everyday life actually significant? Is it okay to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office, and cooking chicken for dinner?

It’s been said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” The pressure of that can be staggering as we spend our days looking for that big thing that promises to take our breath away. Meanwhile, we lose sight of the small significance of fully living with every breath we take.

Melanie Shankle, New York Times bestselling author and writer at The Big Mama Blog tackles these questions head on in her fourth book, Church of the Small Things. Easygoing and relatable, she speaks directly to the heart of women of all ages who are longing to find significance and meaning in the normal, sometimes mundane world of driving carpool to soccer practice, attending class on their college campus, cooking meals for their family, or taking care of a sick loved one.

The million little pieces that make a life aren’t necessarily glamorous or far-reaching. But God uses some of the smallest, most ordinary acts of faithfulness—and sometimes they look a whole lot like packing lunch.

Through humorous stories told in her signature style, full of Frito pie, best friends, the love of her Me-Ma and Pa-Pa, the unexpected grace that comes when we quit trying to measure up, and a little of the best TV has to offer, Melanie helps women embrace what it means to live a simple, yet incredibly meaningful life and how to find all the beauty and laughter that lies right beneath the surface of every moment.

“But true success and prosperity comes when you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He has called you to do.”

Shankle has such a talent of drawing you in as a reader. Even if it’s a topic you don’t think you need – I’m telling y’all, she’s able to keep you interested (Example #234: I loved her books on marriage and motherhood). The overarching theme of Shankle’s latest is much needed. This idea of “church of the small things” is a beautiful reminder that God’s beauty, grace and love aren’t only found in the big moments and things in life. They are in the little pieces – whether those pieces cause you to cry from laughter or cry from hurt. The little pieces seem so simple, yet, all come together to create something beautiful.

I think you’ll be inspired and hopeful in your own story after reading more of Shankle’s story, so if you’re looking for a perfect Fall read (or a gift for someone), be sure to consider Church of the Small Things.

Also, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are quoted, so yep.

Have you had a chance to read any of Melanie’s books? 

(Thank you to Zondervan for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

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Author Interviews

4 Questions With Author Amanda Flower

(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 really feel like this January has been the best January of my blogging life. Based on the author interviews alone, it’s been so great! I can’t thank all of these wonderful people enough :). And today, the radness continues with Amanda Flower on the blog!

As I mentioned in my review of the fabulous Andi Unexpected, there was nothing I enjoyed more than playing detective and figuring out the crimes (usually consisted of my older brother “kidnapping” my stuffed animals). That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed her latest young children’s detective series. I know I would have devoured them even as a kid! I haven’t read any of her other books yet, but I if they’re anything like this one, I promise you should pick up a copy. I’m excited to have her join the blog and 4 Questions!

Amanda Flower, an Agatha-nominated mystery author, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Her debut mystery, Maid of Murder, was an Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel. Amanda is an academic librarian for a small college near Cleveland. She also writes mysteries as Isabella Alan.

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined 5 years ago?
Five years ago, I had just signed my first book contract for my debut novel, Maid of Murder. At that time, all I wanted was to have one mystery published. I never dreamed of the eight I have today, nor that I would have pen name (Isabella Alan).

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
I would allow myself and those around me to enjoy what I have achieved instead of worrying about what comes next. I’m still working on that.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
My new challenge for myself is to find joy in small moments. I had a moment of joy last weekend while running in the snow with my four-year-old niece and talking with her about heaven.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
You can’t know all the challenges the people around you, both friends and strangers, are facing, nor can they know yours. Please be kind.

Thank you so much Amanda for joining in! Be sure to connect with her all over the world wide web!

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads | Pinterest

 

Author Interviews

4 Questions With Award Winning Author Ron Bates

He’s a fellow Austinite, so that little piece of information should solidify that he’s a legit author. He also is author to a witty and hilarious tale of friendship that all kids need to read. As I mentioned in my review, How to Make Friends and Monsters, Bates uses “witty writing, humorous monologue, mischief and mayhem, that will leave you laughing and understanding the true meaning of friendship!”

So of course I wanted to host him here! Not only do we get the regular 4 Questions, but a few bonus questions about Howard Boward, inspiration of characters and a love of monsters!

Ron Bates is a writer, journalist and humor columnist who has produced creative work for a variety of mediums. He began his career as a newspaper reporter, and his frequently funny takes on life caught the attention of Legacy Publishing, which hired him as a resident humor-columnist for their three regional magazines. As a freelance writer, Ron’s work include the children’s story Arnold Bought a Bug, and St. Mary’s and the Art of War, the true story of how Italian POW’s transformed in a tiny Texas church. Rob is the author of the Cranium Comics series Brawn, the inspirational play Flight 1615, and Underground Ink, a collection of humorous poems. As an award-winning copy-writer, Ron lives and works in Texas.

1. What is something about your life right now that you would have never imagined 5 years ago?
That anyone would want my autograph. I still feel like I should apologize whenever I sign a book, it’s this sense that I’ve somehow left a permanent blotch on an otherwise perfect page. Getting to do something like that is an honor and one of the most gratifying parts of the book-writing experience but it’s surreal. I guess it’s because authors aren’t accustomed to being onstage — the book is the star, we’re somewhere back behind the curtain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful but I always half-expect people to say they’re joking and then pull the book away.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
The hard part is limiting it to just one thing. But, looking back, my biggest regret is the time I wasted. It’s not a matter of wishing I’d worked harder or longer, it’s more about wishing I’d seen the path earlier. Writing a book was always something I was going to do “someday.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that any day can be someday–it’s not some magical point in the future. In hindsight, there were an awful lot of some days I let slip away while I was waiting for some huge, life-changing moment.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
In college, I joined the speech team mainly because it was a good way to meet people and you got to travel to events around the country. We were at nationals one year in Kansas City and a group of us came up with a game we called “elevator Frisbee.” The name pretty much says it all — we divided and got into elevators facing each other and, when the doors opened on the next floor, we’d throw the Frisbee to someone waiting in the elevator on the other side. This continued all the way to the top floor. The object of the game was to time your throw perfectly so that, the second the elevator doors opened, a Frisbee would come whirling through them. It was stupid. But I remember laughing as hard as I have ever laughed at anything, and the looks on the faces of the hotel guests watching a Frisbee fly out of one elevator and into another was priceless. I don’t really think it was this ridiculous game that made me happy, it was that I’d found a group of really creative people who were just as warped and immature as I was and together we were “greater” than the sum of our parts. It was a special time.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
The world neither starts nor ends with you. That sounds so obvious but every generation seems to struggle with the concept. For some reason, there’s this point in our development where we believe we have to change things, and only we can do it because we have all the answers. That’s not the next generation, that’s every generation. The trouble is, we forget that others felt this way long before our arrival. There’s a reason things are as they are, a reason our predecessors set us on this course. That doesn’t mean it’s the right course but it does mean you don’t change everything just for the sake of change. You owe something to the next generation, just as the previous one owed something to you, so don’t throw away the past carelessly. You might be robbing those to come of something precious.

And now a few about How to Make Friends and Monsters!

5. Where did the idea develop? Are you a big Frankenstein fan?
I grew up a big fan of old monster movies. I’m not just talking about the “classic” monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, I liked them all–Mothra, Gamera, the blob, the giant ants from “Them.” One of my favorite memories is staying up late on Friday nights and watching the cheesy midnight movies that always involved some nuclear mutation bent on destroying the planet. But just when you thought you knew everything about monster history, it changed. Sesame Street gave us Cookie Monster and Grover, Harry and the Hendersons gave us a lovable Bigfoot, and we met Sulley and Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. Suddenly, monsters, which had always been the scourge of mankind, could be friends.

In a lot of ways, the book is an examination of one question — what is a monster? Is it a monster because of the way it looks, because of where it came from, or because of its actions? At its heart, this is a story about a friendship between two kids, one of whom just happens to be a “monster.”

6. Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
Definitely. There are elements of people I know in all of them but they’re not exact copies. My brothers and my sister, for example, have all found instances in the book that happened to them while we were growing up. Those parts were when the story felt most “real” to me because they were real experiences. When I picture Winnie McKinney in my head, I know the face I’m thinking of and it belongs to a real-life person. Is Winnie her? The best answer I can give is “kind of.”

As for Howard, he looks at the world a lot like I do. I think he worries about the same things I worried about at his age, so I know I’m in there, part of the mix. Hopefully no one I grew up with will see themselves in the bullies in the story — but if they’d been on the other end of the wedgie back then, there’s a good chance they might.

7. What’s one of the main things you hope your young readers come away with after reading this?
Fitting in isn’t about becoming who you think the crowd wants you to be. It’s about being who you are and finding your place among people who wouldn’t have you any other way. You might make friends by pretending to be someone you’re not, but you’ll never really be one.

8. So is there anything on the horizon for Howard?
Indeed there is. I’m finishing the second book in the series right now and it takes place a little later in the year, during the winter months when the first snow has just fallen. We tend to think of snow as this pillowy layer of fluff that floats down from the sky but Howard sees it as something else entirely. Rolled into a ball, it becomes a cold, hard weapon and he is its unfortunate target. Naturally, with his passion for inventing things, you can count on him coming up with a very unusual snowman. It’s not that Howard means for it to be unusual, it’s just that his inventions never quite turn out as planned. But most of the main characters from the first book are back and Howard is still trying to survive the perilous halls of Dolley Madison Middle School, so hopefully it’ll be a fun read.

Thank you so much Ron! Looking forward to following Howard’s mishaps and adventures!

And if you want to join in Howard’s journey through Jr. High, be sure to connect with Ron on Twitter or his website!

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”.

Author Interviews

4 Questions With Author Rachel Coker

(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!)

Y’all, she’s 17. And she’s published two novels.

Say wha??

What was I doing at 17? Oh you know, just.surviving.high.school. That and counting down the days till I graduated and peaced out! But not Rachel Coker! She’s been writing novels since she was 14. Please don’t even ask about my Jr. High years. But it’s safe to say mine didn’t include publishing books. Plenty of horrendous fashion choices and braces though. So yeah, awesome.

I’m incredibly impressed to say the least. It’s encouraging and awesome to see someone so young create something to share with the world. And something with depth too. I love it! It reminds me of the verse one of my good friend’s mom shared with me after a frustrating time in college with a professor: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Rachel Coker resides in Lanexa, Virginia with her parents, who’ve homeschooled her since she was a child, and two sisters. She is the author of 2012’s Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words. Coker has a passion for great books and has been surrounded by them all her life. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven, at which time her parents, who owned a Christian bookstore, signed her up for a year of lessons with a professional writing coach. http://www.rachelcoker.wordpress.com

I look forward to reading her newest novel (review coming soon) and am so glad she’s here on the blog! I switched it up a bit with 4 Questions and added a few more about her latest novel!

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined 5 years ago?
Wow. Everything! What twelve-year-old honestly imagines that in five short years, her books will be on shelves of young people all over the world, and that she’ll be flying all over the country to do book signings and events? In all honesty, I never expected to be a published author, especially not at fifteen, so everything that happens to me in life is a total surprise and joy.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
Sometimes I wish I had never read all of the reviews for “Interrupted”. On the one hand, it’s totally amazing to read so many sweet people making wonderful comments about my book. 🙂 But, on the other hand, I exposed myself to a lot of negativism that, while it was helpful to me in a constructive way, was also hard to cope with as a sixteen-year-old.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
Gosh, there are so many! The first time I saw my book “Interrupted” in a bookstore—my sister and I totally nerded out and took a million pictures. The morning my dad told me that mine was the best fiction book he’d ever read—which was a big deal since my dad never reads fiction. And all the beautiful moments I’ve spent with my family and closest friends, whether we’re dancing around the living room, laughing uncontrollably at a joke that’s not even funny, or suffering from one of the sugar highs we are all too prone to. 😉 Life is full of so many beautiful, happy moments—It’s hard to pick just one!

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
That they don’t have to be anyone but themselves. There’s so much pressure in this day and age to conform to a certain mold—get the right grades, go to the right schools, and sit at the right office desks. We get so caught up in meeting everyone else’s expectations that we forget to just do what we love.

5. Where did the inspiration for this novel come from?
There was this really sweet autistic boy who used to go to my church that I absolutely loved. I was his helper in Sunday School one morning, and he showed me a list that he had made. It was just like Cliff’s in “Chasing Jupiter”. Right down to the “sixteen rockets to Jupiter”. That boy had always been made fun of by some of the other kids, and for some reason that list just stuck out to me. He had so many big dreams that no one seemed to care about, just because he was different. And that’s when the story for “Chasing Jupiter” was born. Of course, no one knew what autism was in the 1960’s, but Scarlett is just so protective of her younger brother Cliff, and won’t let him feel weird or ostracized. She just wants to help him chase his dreams, whatever that takes.

6. In what ways, if any, do you connect with Scarlett Blaine?
Scarlett is seventeen, just like me. And she’s facing so much pressure to grow up and take on all these responsibilities, but she’s scared to do that because she doesn’t know what the future might hold. When I started writing “Chasing Jupiter”, I was on the edge of a cliff, metaphorically speaking. My whole future lay in front of me, big and scary and unlike anything I had ever imagined. I was afraid of what might come next. But as I continued to write that book and grow Scarlett’s character, I felt myself letting go of my fears and just trusting God. Everything that happens to us is for a reason, and life’s all about growing through our good and bad times. It was a growing experience for me.

7. How has this writing and experience been different from your first novel?
“Chasing Jupiter” is definitely very different from “Interrupted”. I think it’s funnier; lighter. But it also has very mature undertones about family, growing, and accepting change. I almost think it’s sadder than “Interrupted” in many ways, even if you might not realize it at first. There’s an underlying sadness in all the joy and laughter, because as the reader you know that things won’t always stay the same they are right now. We have to enjoy every moment, because we never know when things might change.

8. Do you have a favorite between the two?
I always like whatever I’m working on at the moment the best. 😉 I will always have an amazing emotional connection to “Interrupted” as my first novel, but I do think I like “Chasing Jupiter” better. But then when Book #3 comes out, I know I’ll like that one best! I hope my answer will always be changing!

9. What’s one thing you haven’t expected from writing Chasing Jupiter?
The emotional response from readers always shocks and thrills me. I was hoping that some of the fans of “Interrupted” would enjoy my second book, but I definitely wasn’t expecting all the “I loved it even more!” letters that I received. That just made me feel so blessed and happy.

Author Interviews

4 Question with Bestselling Author Robin Lee Hatcher

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

I love food. I do. And I’m very protective of my favorites. Weird, I know, but if you go to Del Taco and hate it, don’t tell me unless you want to lose my friendship. I sometimes get nervous suggesting Del Taco to anyone (especially Texans who sometimes only love all things Texan 😉 ), because what if they don’t like it, my heart might be crushed a little. Also, can you tell by my dramatics I’m the baby of the family?

You know how it can be though, someone suggests a movie, a restaurant and then you go yourself and it’s totally lame…It can be a total let down right?

But when I kept seeing Robin Lee Hatcher’s name and books pop up as must reads, I figured if more than one person talks about how awesome she is (especially from fellow best sellers like herself), then I bet she has some pretty good books. And no let down here folks! I read her book Belonging (review coming soon) and thoroughly enjoyed it! Her newest book Betrayal was just released this Fall, so don’t miss out on that one either.

Hatcher is the bestselling author of over sixty-five books. Her well-drawn characters and heartwarming stories of faith, courage, and love have earned her both critical acclaim and the devotion of readers. Her numerous awards include the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, two RITA Awards for Best Inspirational Romance, Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards for Americana Romance and for Inspirational Fiction, and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Robin currently resides in Idaho.

To connect with Robin, visit www.robinleehatcher.com, her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @robinleehatcher!

And now onto my favorite part! Thank you again Robin for the inspiration and sharing with us!

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined?
I have been bowled over in the past year and a half by the unexpected way God kept a promise. He has done a number of amazing things in my life through the years and has answered many prayers. But five years ago, I would never have even prayed for what He has done because I wouldn’t have thought it possible. I can’t say more because I’m safe-guarding my personal story while I let a fictional story percolate to the top so that it can become a novel.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
Oh, wow! One? Lots of wrong choices that I might want to change. I guess if I could do one thing differently it would be to follow Christ at an earlier age and then to never wander off that path in the years that followed. However, I have learned that those mistakes I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned “the hard way,” have been the tools God has used to refine me. Sometimes the best way to mature in faith is to walk through the fire with the Lord at your side. It is comforting to realize that God knew the choices I would make, and because of His love for me, He used those things for His good purposes in my life. So in the end, I just have to trust that God has been, is, and will be in control and that He won’t let me go too far astray as long as I look to Him.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
So many happy moments in my life to choose from. Asking me to name one of the happiest moments is a bit like asking me to pick my favorite child. Can’t do it. I’ve been blessed with a husband I love (our wedding day), daughters I adore (their births), sons-in-law I treasure (my daughters’ wedding days), and the greatest most beautiful grandchildren ever born (their births, especially the three I got to be present for). Okay, others might argue with me on that last one (most beautiful grandchildren), but I’m sticking to my story.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
Don’t look at your circumstances and judge God based upon what you see happening in your own life or the lives of those around you. He is who He says He is. He sees the whole completed tapestry. We can only see a small piece of the back of it with its messy loose threads. Taste and see that the Lord is good.