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Building a Life out of Words

Whenever someone asks me to review a book they’ve written, I approach the task with an equal mix of flattery and trepidation–flattered that my opinion of their work means something to them and wary that I won’t be able to write a glowing, positive AND honest review.

After receiving one book a year or so ago and realizing I couldn’t possibly in good conscious write a positive or even passing review, I made a personal decision that I would rather not write anything at all than write a bad review of something a person has devoted so much of their life to. (For the record, the author of this book is not anyone I’ve ever heard of or had any personal interaction with. It was sent to me by a well meaning publicist who probably assumed because I was a Christian I would give an automatic glowing review for a fellow Christian.)

When I received a request from Shawn Smucker to review his latest book, “Building a Life out of Words”, I was again flattered and wary. I’ve not read any of Shawn’s previous books, but based upon what I’ve read from him online, I know him to be a talented writer. But what gave me pause was the title of his book.

What I’m about to say will probably not win me any friends in the writing community, but here goes.

I’m not a big fan of writers writing about writing.

Unless they’re of the caliber of Stephen King, Steven Presswood or E. B. White, I consider (probably unfairly) whether they have the gravitas required to give advice about the craft of writing or a writer’s life. And yes, I know I’ve written several stories about writing, but I’m just a blogger. Furthermore, my writing posts are primarily from the viewpoint of the reader, not from that of someone who claims to be an expert in the field.

However, a few pages into Shawn’s book I realized that I had been wringing my hands for naught, because Building a Life out of Words succeeded in accomplishing one of the most important goals (for me, anyway) of compelling writing:

Show, don’t tell.

Shawn doesn’t tell you that you will fail and be rejected, he shows you his own failures and rejections with a raw honesty and humility that I rarely ever see in the written word.

He doesn’t tell you the importance of a supportive wife and family, he shows you how his wife Maile believed in what most spouses might consider a silly pipe dream with stories of sacrifice, loyalty, love and understanding that, even now as I think of them make me want to give that woman a giant hug.

But I don’t want to give the impressions that this book is just about the difficulties of life as a full time writer. Shawn also shares his victories–big and small–and reminds us that perseverance is every bit as important as passion, regardless of whether you aspire to write, paint, perform, run your own business or (insert dream job here).

Using first person narrative, personal journal entries and stories contributed by other writers and bloggers, Building a Life out of Words is less of a blueprint of how to write full time and more a reflective and encouraging handbook for anyone who feels like the life they long for is beyond their grasp.

The book is peppered with encouraging quotes from Shawn, all worthy of clipping and pasting onto your refrigerator, but it was his closing words that I found most encouraging:

This is what I hope for you. Not that you would be known as “that person who gave up their job to do what they loved to do.” As good as that sounds, and as exciting as that would be, that step is just the beginning of a wider, deeper, richer story.

I hope that you will be known as a person who lives. Really lives. Someone who makes decisions, not based on what’s expected, but on what’s possible. Someone who does things, not because everyone else is doing them, but because it’s what you want to do more than anything else in the world.

Now that would be a life worth living.

– Shawn Smucker

Got a dream life waiting?

I dare you to move.

Shawn Smucker is the author of several books, and is currently living out of a forty-five foot trailer, traveling the countryside with his wife Maile and their four children. You can catch up with his comings and going at

You can order Building a Life out of Words here.

Dancing Priest

As a life-long reader with a particular love of fiction, it has long been my suspicion that an author will–intentionally or otherwise–infuse the main character with many of his or her own characteristics, flaws and values. Now, having worked with an author through the writing and editing of four books (2 published, 2 yet to be released), I know this to be the case. At least if they’re writing honestly, and fiction doesn’t work for me unless it’s honest.

Which is why I was so delighted to read Glynn Young’s debut novel Dancing Priest.

Book Description (from Amazon):

Michael Kent… A young man studying to become a priest finds love, and learns that faith can separate. A university cyclist seeking Olympic gold finds tragedy, death and heroism. A pastor thousands of miles from home seeks vocation and finds fatherhood. Sarah Hughes… A young woman living abroad finds love and loses family. A university student meets a faith she cannot accept. An artist finds faith and learns to paint with her soul. Dancing Priest is the story of Michael Kent and Sarah Hughes and a love, born, separated, and reborn, in faith and hope.

I’ve never met Glynn in person, but I feel like I have a sense of the kind of person he is through his online presence: kind, generous, humble with a heart turned towards God.

So much of him seems to be infused into this story. It is a novel in the traditional sense, but it is so much more. It is a testimony of God’s grace and mercy weaved into the lives of its characters. It is a powerful reminder to live intentional lives for Jesus. That while there is loss, heartache and pain for every one of us, there is also great joy.

If your faith is waining and you need a good infusion of hope, I would highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself.

You can find it on Amazon here: Dancing Priest

And while you’re at it, get to know Mr. Glynn a little better through his prose and poetry at his blog, Faith, Fiction Friends. You’ll be glad you did.

Not convinced?

Okay, you twisted my arm. Leave me a comment for a chance to win yourself a copy autographed by the author (Thanks, Glynn!). I’ll choose at random and announce the lucky winner next week.

Crap at my Parents’ house

My copy of "Crap at my Parents' House" which ironically is being propped up on the counter in front of a giant ceramic chicken.

There are many book affectionados who swear they will never come over to the dark side–reading books electronically.

I’m not one of those people.

It took me roughly an hour and a half after charging up my kindle and reading (and highlighting) my first book on there to determine that instant books via Whispernet was the preferred method of reading for me. Oh, sure…you don’t get that comforting “old book smell” from a kindle or a nook. But I can’t say I’ve ever bought a book because I liked the way it smelled.

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63 on my kindle. The print version of that book is around 800 pages. Since I usually fall asleep reading, had I been reading the print version, I could very well be writing this post from a hospital bed whilst recovering from a concussion which occurred when I dropped that thing on my head.

There’s a point in there somewhere…

Oh, yes! Digital versus traditional books. While I prefer MOST books in their digital versions, there are some which don’t translate well. The Art of Looking Sideways for example would be a miserable failure as an e-book. And incidentally, if I dropped that book on my head I’d be dead. But I digress…

One such book (which strangely enough is available on kindle) is one I received for Christmas. A charming little picture book entitled Crap at my Parent’s house. Unless your parents were interior decorators with exquisite taste in decorating, I’m fairly sure you will get at least a few mild guffaws out of some of the items in this book.

The crap in this book is categorized by room. Here’s a small sampling of what you will find:

Crap in the Living Room:

Crap in the Dining Room:

Crap in the Kitchen:

Crap in the Bedroom:

Crap in the Home Office:

Crap in the Bathroom:

Crap in the Basement:

And Crap around the Garage:

Many of you know I’m not a fan of clowns. I felt a certain solidarity with others who shared their disdain for them via pictures and captions. If the following samples don’t convince you that clowns are evil, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you…

And my personal favorite:

In conclusion, I’m giving “Crap at my Parents’ House” my ringing endorsement. It’s not exactly Tolstoy, or even Nicholas Sparks for that matter. But it has certainly given me some much welcome laughter. Fair warning: If you’re easily offended, this book probably isn’t for you. Then again, if you were easily offended, I don’t imagine you’d be reading my blog.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have de-cluttering to do…

UPDATE: There’s a website. I should have known: Crap at My Parents’ House

Does the truth set you free?

Although I’m much better than I used to be, I’m still quick to say yes to requests before giving the process of actually fulfilling the request much thought, especially when the request comes from a person I admire and respect. So when author Mary DeMuth sent me a direct message via the twitter asking if I would be willing to be part of a blog tour for her book Muir House, I immediately said yes. (On the off chance you’ve never heard of Mary DeMuth, she’s a pretty big deal in Christian publishing circles.) Fortunately, the request (and the book) arrived with plenty of time left for me to read it and gather my thoughts about it. What I particularly liked about participating in this blog tour were Mary’s instructions to participants to “simply share their emotional reaction to the book”.

Well, heck. I’m all up in that.

First, a brief description of the story from the back cover:

“You’ll find home one day. Sure as sweet tea on a hot afternoon.”

Words from Willa Muir’s sketchy childhood haunt her dreams and color her days with longing, regret and fear. What do the words mean? Willa is far from sure.

So when Hale Landon places a ring on her finger, Willa panics, feeling she can’t possibly say yes when so much in her past is a mystery. Bent on sorting out her history, Willa returns to Rockwall, Texas, to the Muir House Bed & Breakfast, a former funeral home.

But the old place holds her empty memory close to itself. Willa’s mother utters unintelligible clues from her deathbed, and the caretaker of the house keeps coveted answers carefully protected. Throw in an old flame, and Willa careens farther away from ever knowing the truth.

Set in a growing suburb of Texas, THE MUIR HOUSE explores trauma, healing, love new and old, and the life-changing choices people make to keep their reputations intact.

Having spent most of my life growing up in Texas, I immediately identified with the setting of the book. While Rockwall, Texas is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth, it could have been any number of small communities in Texas–one very much like the suburb of Houston I call home–a town commonly identified with the major metropolitan area within close proximity, but also fiercely independent and proud of its own identity and history.

It is from this setting that Mary DeMuth pens the richly worded journey of Willa Muir, a woman whose lost memory from childhood, snippets of which haunt her dreams, renders her unable to commit to a future with a man who loves her completely. She feels incomplete without the knowledge of what she fears is a memory so dark she has blocked it from her mind. MUIR HOUSE invites you to ponder the question, Does the truth set you free?

For me, it seems the answer (or answers) to that question is, It depends on who you ask, and different people have their own interpretation of what is true. Your truth may not be theirs. Willa Muir sets out to uncover the whole truth of her past, but like most of the characters in this story, that truth had strings attached. Her memory of a loving and devoted father needed to remain intact, as did her justifications for avoiding her now dying mother who never loved Willa the way a mother should.

What I loved most about this book was its cast of characters. We’re first introduced to them from Willa’s point of view, and it was easy to categorize them as either “good” or “bad”. But rather than creating one-dimensional characters, the author colors their stories with shades of darkness, light and shades of gray, allowing the reader to come their own conclusions as to whether their hearts are in the right place.

If you’re one of those people who faithfully watched LOST from start to finish then venemently complained after the finale because all of your questions were not answered, this book probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you appreciate and are willing to embrace a little mystery and let some questions go unanswered, I would highly recommend this beautifully written book about coming home, and then I would  invite you to consider where home truly resides.

Wasteland by @lynnrush

I read.

A lot.

I don’t say this to impress, it’s just a statement of fact. And with my favorite shows either off the air or in reruns, I’m reading more than usual lately.

In addition to a never-ending pile of virtual books on my kindle, I also read WIPs for a few writer friends. One in particular keeps me fairly busy. Writing is mostly a solitary, sometimes lonely pursuit, so when I see an opportunity to encourage a writer within my circle of writerly friends, I will typically jump at the chance if time allows.

Which is why when I saw Lynn Rush’s Facebook status update about the upcoming debut of her new book Wasteland, I immediately sent her a message offering to read and review it.

Did I know what the book was about?


Did I even know what genre it was?

Well, no.

But I’ve read her blog. I like Lynn and I like the way she writes. That’s all I really need to know, right? Hmmm…

Lynn sent me a digital copy of the book which I sent to my kindle. I considered visiting Lynn’s blog and getting a description of the book, but I didn’t want to possibly color my impression of the book before I started reading it. I just dove in:

Chapter 1

Another two hundred and fifty years in solitary confinement might be worth the sacrifice if it meant spending five minutes alone with the beauty moving on the dance floor to this strange music.




What is this book about? Vampires? Space aliens? What have I gotten myself in to?

I set the book down, immediately regretting that I had offered to review it. Whatever this genre was, it wasn’t the kind of book I typically read, and regardless of my personal feelings towards a writer, I’m not about to write a positive review if I don’t like the book. But a promise is a promise, so the next day I began reading it again.

And do you want to know something?

I’m so glad I did. Within minutes I was hooked. I still was unclear what the book was about, but that was a big part of its appeal. The author could have told her readers who and what the characters were. Instead she choses to show us.

Wasteland is the story of demons and guardians; of good versus evil; of forced obligation and loyalty versus loyalty freely given and motivated by love. David Sadler is a half-demon bound to his demonic master by a blood contract. After 250 years of confinement, he must capture his next Mark: a fifteen-year old girl he knows nothing about. But as he learns more about the girl, he realizes she may be the key to freedom from his demonic enslavement.

Standing in the way of capturing his Mark is Rebeka Abbot–the girl’s beautiful Guardian. David and Rebeka are inexplicably drawn to one another, but not only is their intense chemistry horribly ill-fated–she being pure and good and he literally housing pure evil in his heart–giving in to his attraction to Rebeka will cost him what’s left of his human soul.

Wasteland is classified in the genre of Paranormal Romance. Would I pick up this book in a bookstore? Never in a million years. But as I told Lynn, even though the genre isn’t something I typically read, a good story is a good story.

This is a fast paced, often steamy storyline with great characters and all the elements of a great work of fiction: Sacrifice, Trust, Hope, Humility and Redemption.

Lynn is currently at work on Wasteland 2, and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to reading it with great anticipation.

For more information about Wasteland and its author, visit Lynn over at Catch the Rush.

You can also order Wasteland on Amazon in paperback or on kindle.

Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool

In my role as a marginally successful blogger, I will occasionally receive requests to review books, specifically non-fiction Christian books. There’s been at least one instance where I disliked the message of the book so much that I chose not to review it. There are plenty of bloggers who will give a book a bad review, I’m just not one of them. I also won’t write a good review for a book I feel doesn’t truly warrant it.

Several months ago, I received a copy of Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool by T. J. MacLeslie for review. When I first began reading it, I thought this book would be in the aforementioned category. It seemed to be another “I once was lost but now I’m found” sort of stories. And while I think it’s important to celebrate the redemptive power of the cross, I wondered if the world needed yet another such story. But as I kept reading, I began to realize that MacLeslie’s honest account of his failures and shortcomings as a child raised in the church could be a helpful one. Christians are quick to forgive the past sins of those coming to Christ for the first time, but forgiving ourselves and other Christians who “should know better” is an area many of us come up short.

One of the themes this book puts forward well is the notion that if we love Jesus we must also love other Christians. MacLeslie makes the following observations after a mountain top conversation with God where he promised to follow Him the rest of his days.

I was embarrassed by my faith and not at all sure I wanted to embrace Christianity, even though I had embraced Christ. I believed in Jesus and wanted to know Him, but I wasn’t at all sure about His people.

I was frustrated by the superior responses of others as the news of my conversion began to get out. I was humiliated as they pointed out that they had been right all along and I had been wrong. I was angry when they told me they had prayed for me to see the light. Their superior smiles and self-satisfied stares were almost too much! Still, I couldn’t go back. Jesus was God. It was undeniable truth. It was the only right way of understanding life, the universe and everything. Where could I go? What could I do?

I was caught by the truth. I couldn’t deny I had been wrong. I couldn’t deny that He was actually God. If God was now my Father then these patronizing and unintentionally antagonizing Christians were now my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t love Him and hate them at the same time. That was probably the hardest part for me about coming to faith. I was ready to humble myself before God, but humbling myself before people was much more difficult.”

The term “self-help Christian book” is a bit of an oxymoron. Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool is no such book. It is an honest, often unflattering personal testimony of a man who is on a journey to find less of himself and more of Jesus. If you’re looking for a 12-step program to becoming a better Christian, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a story of a person who is just as broken as you are yet still finds redemption at the feet of Jesus, it’s definitely worth a read.

For more information about the book, visit Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool.

It’s book review Wednesday! (Repost)

(Okay, I know I told y’all last week that I was resuming guest bloggers every Wednesday LAST week, and I am…just not this week. My fault–got my schedule mixed up and whatnot. Anyhoo, this was originally published in 2008, so probably only a few of you will remember it anyway. To say my taste in books is eclectic would be a bit of an understatement. I recently finished reading Under the Dome by Stephen King and am currently reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Don’t be too impressed, I also read stuff like this):

When I say, “It’s Book Review Wednesday!”, what I mean to say is that I am reviewing a book, and it happens to be Wednesday. As a very profound person once said, “The creative spirit cannot be enslaved by the oppressive chains of reason and logical thinking.” (Who said that? Oh, yeah…it was me.) And by “review”, what I mean to say is that I highly recommend this book, because it’s flippin’ hilarious. (End of review.)

I will now share with you a brief passage which I hope that you will appreciate as much as I have. More so now than when I first read the book, considering that I have recently had some of the very same thoughts and conversations that Ms. Rivenbark writes about.

The princess had just graduated to a size 7 when everything went to sh*t. We headed for our favorite department store, ready to take that leap into the new world of 7-16. Bye-bye, 4-6X, I thought to myself with a tug of sadness. My baby was growing up.

And apparently into a prostitute.

“Where are the sevens?” I asked the sixty-something clerk who wore here glasses on a chain just like me.

“You’re standing in ’em,” she said.

Oh, no, I thought, looking around. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. “There must be some mistake,” I said. “These are, well, slutty-looking. I’m talking about clothes for a little girl in the first grade.”

“That’s all we got.”

“But these look like things a hooker would wear!”
She smiled sadly. “You have no idea how many times I hear that every day.”

Okay, breathe. This is just some weird marketing experiment. Right?

I went to my second-favorite department store and was invited to peruse the awfulness that is Tweenland! A better name would have been Lil Skanks!

Sequins, fringe, neon glitter tank tops with big red lips on them, fishnet sleeves, scary dragon faces lunging from off-the-shoulder T-shirts. Whither the adorable seersucker? The pastel floral short sets? The soft cotton dresses in little-girl colors like lavender, pale pink, periwinkle blue? This stuff practically screamed SYRINGE SOLD SEPARATELY!

I get it. Now that my kid is practically of childbearing age (is six the new seventeen?) I must choose from ripped-on-purpose jeans and T-shirts that scream things like BABY DOLL and JAIL BAIT, not to mention a rather angry GIRLS RULE AND BOYS DROOL! where an embroidered flower with buzzing bee should be.

When did this happen? Who decided that my six-year-old should dress like a Vegas show girl? And one with an abundance of anger issues at that?

And why are parents buying this junk fashioned from cheesy fabrics that surely leave your dryer’s lint filter full of glitter and fuzzy sequined balls?

I hope you won’t take this the wrong way–you, the mom on the cell phone flipping your check card to your kid so she can buy the jeans that say SPANK ME on them –buy you’re going down, b*tch.

No, really. I’m taking you out, putting you on notice, slapping some sense into your sorry ass.

(Okay, guest blogger next week. For reals…)

Read any good books lately?

image courtesy of

Last month my friend and go-to geek extraordinaire Peter Pollock (he helped me create this site and and his web hosting company also hosts this site) asked his readers What book would you recommend and why?

Obviously, my first recommendation was Snow Day by Billy Coffey followed by Paper Angels by Billy Coffey (available November 2011). But since Peter has already read one of those, I recommended another book from another great storyteller. His name is Vince Antonucci and the book is called “I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”. Peter asked me to elaborate on why I would recommend this book and has generously offered me a guest post to do so. I’ve also included an excerpt from the book, which I’ve posted here before. Even if you don’t read my review, I encourage you to read the excerpt about Vince’s teddy bear. I’ve read it countless times and it never fails to encourage me.

You can read my full review over at Peter’s place. Hope to see y’all over there.

P.S. – Vince also wrote another book called “Guerilla Lovers”, which is also a great read.

Crave – Wanting so much more of God (review & giveaway)

Excerpts from Crave: Wanting so much more of God by Chris Tomlinson:

“I hate to floss.”

“I don’t like people all that much.”

Not exactly declarations you might expect to read from a book in the “Spiritual Growth” section of your local bookstore.

But what if I told you “I hate to floss” begins a chapter about developing spiritual disciplines, or that Tomlinson’s admission of “I don’t like people all that much”, begins a monologue about putting aside our need to “do big things for God” and embracing the concept that the Story of Jesus is the only one that truly matters?

With no hint of false humility I’ve sometimes sensed in other so called “spiritual growth” books, Chris Tomlinson takes his readers through his own spiritual journey; one which he openly admits he is still struggling through. In one of my favorite, and for me, one of the most relatable passages in the book, he shares one of his prayers, filtered through his rambling thoughts:

God, You are so amazing and majestic. The heavens declare Your glory, and there’s nothing quite like a sunset to show off Your artistry. I love to watch the sun setting over the ocean, God. You know, I love the ocean. In fact, my favorite place to be is sitting on a surfboard in the water at El Porto, gazing over the mountains behind Malibu. Actually, that view is always ruined by the smokestacks at the oil refinery. Who would put a refinery on the beach? I wonder how they actually make gasoline? You know, it cost me $60 the other day to fill up my truck. Why are gas prices so high right now?

I shook it off.

God, I’m sorry I wandered off there. Thank You for Your mercy and for always being there for me.You are such a loving Father, and You are always so incredibly patient with me, even when I’m off doing my own thing or I’m stuck in a rut. You know, Anna was in a bad mood the other night; I said what I said to her to try and help, but it only made things worse. I don’t think she was actually listening to me at all, and it was really hard to be patient with her. But I was. I’m a pretty patient guy; no, I’m am really patient guy. Don’t You agree, God?

If you’re looking for a Sunday School type guide book on how to become a better Christian, this book is probably not for you. However, if you’re looking for a frank, honest and open account of one man’s ongoing journey (and chances are, many of yours) to make less of himself and much more of Jesus, I would highly recommend Crave.

Chris Tomlinson is a businessman and writer. He grew up in Memphis, TN, went to college in Colorado Springs, spent 9 years in Los Angeles, and now lives in Northern Virginia. For more information about Chris Tomlinson and his writing, and for a free download of the first three chapters of Crave, visit him at his website, Crave Something More.

Harvest House Publishing has generously provided me two copies of the book. If you would like to win a free copy, please leave me a comment letting me know. I will choose a winner at random a week from today.

My secret obsession

Hello. My name is Kathy and I am a bookaholic.

No. I didn’t just pull these off my bookshelf and stack them up for a picture. These are the books that waiting patiently to be read. (This doesn’t include the books that friends are borrowing that I haven’t read yet.) I have started reading “Twilight” and “Look Me in the Eye”. “The Joyful Christian” is more of a devotional book made up of short, mostly unrelated chapters, so that one doesn’t really count towards books waiting to be finished.

I bought Twilight because I was very curious about all the hub-bub. I’ll read anything by Stephen King. I have The Shack for the same reason I have Twilight – hub-bub. When I say I don’t really watch television anymore, I don’t do so to sound all enlightened. I honestly would rather read a book than watch TV. I spend enough time staring at a screen. AHEM!

So…What do you think I should read next? Have you read any of these? What say you?

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