Why Korea

Last month, I took a ten-day trip to Korea.

Seoul’s a fantastic city to visit. It’s easy to navigate, welcoming, and relatively clean and safe. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable and restful trips I’ve taken in a while.

In the run-up to the trip, however, as I announced my plans, I was faced with an almost universal question: “Why?”

Why the Why?

I’ve traveled internationally a bit. Most places I go, nobody asks why.

The last few years took me to Scotland, New Zealand, England, and France. People invariably told me to have fun seeing the castles, say hi to the Hobbits, pack an umbrella, enjoy the cheese, and take lots of pictures.

“You’re going to have so much fun,” they told me, and “That sounds amazing.”

I did, and it was.

Practically no one spoke this way about my trip to Korea. Instead, they asked why I was going.

Beneath the Question

As to what’s driving the why question, I have a theory.

As a member of Generation X, I came of age in a school system teaching a version of World History that was basically Euro-centric with a few global frills. Our curriculum did reference Asian or African countries, but only as their timelines intersected with the overarching Western narrative. Most of the mentions were war-related and negative.

Until I started traveling the world, I had no sense of the gaps in my education.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve been playing catch-up. I read where I travel and travel where I read.  Sometimes I forget how wide my gap used to be.

Until I’m asked repeatedly why I’m going to Korea.

There’s More

Someone actually articulated it to me like this, “The only thing I know about Korea is the Korean War.”

If war is all you know about a place, then sure. The why question makes sense.

But Korea’s more than a place where a war happened.

Most places are.


My next post will be a series of vignettes from the Korea trip. Things we did, what we saw, and what happened along the way. I just want to clear everything with my travel partner first. Though she’s responsible for zero of the truly embarrassing incidents, she deserves a say in what goes public.


For now, please enjoy a few snippets from my daily travelogue.

Friday, September 6, 2019

4-hour flight, then 14-hour flight, then 1-hour bus ride.

Whole day was a blur. More like a smear.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

We only got lost(ish) twice!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

We walked the route down to the main road correctly for the first time, but because we’d done it wrong so many times, we thought we were lost because nothing looked familiar.

Monday, September 9, 2019

My overconfidence got us lost.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

There’s a Popeye’s near the DMZ! Didn’t get to check if they have the sandwich.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ramyun, sweet fried chicken, dumplings, hotteok, bindaetteok, knife-cut noodles. Perfect broth, sublimely chewy! I forgot everything else about today except that I have a huge blister.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A woman in a public restroom at the park gave us paper towels from her purse to wipe our hands with.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Wasted a bunch of time because I thought we were locked out of a building when really the door was push instead of pull. Still want to die as I think about this.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We sucessfully hiked Bukhansan! Well, I bit it pretty early.  But I didn’t hurt myself. So that’s a success.


The whole trip was a success, really. Other than the push/pull situation. And all the times we got lost.

Plus two incidents with umbrellas.

But that’s for next time.

2018: My Year in Books

Total Books: 180

It’s been a while since I read so few books in a year; however, with quite a bit going on behind the scenes with my own writing and in my personal life, this year I decided to prioritize quality over quantity.

Total Pages: 48,817

The longest book I read this year was Stephen King’s The Stand, tipping the scales at 1,153 pages. I regret nearly every one of them. Yes, he’s a genius writer, but his particular brand of genius isn’t for me.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization by Jackson Wu. This is a wonderful introduction to biblical contextualization, especially for Christians trained exclusively within a Westernized theological framework. I particularly love how Wu demonstrates that the gospel is both firm and flexible.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. I had the privilege of leading a group of women through this study early in 2018, and the experience proved much more enriching than when I read/studied the book on my own last year.

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin. A wonderful resource for Western Christians who’ve given little (or no) attention to how their culture inherently influences their basic understanding of Christian faith. An extremely helpful and timely read for me.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations underscoring American Christianity’s poverty of biblical lament and pointing out both the causes for this poverty and its effect. The style’s skewed a bit toward the academy, but if you put forth the work, you will find your efforts rewarded.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Cone and I operate under different biblical hermeneutics, but he brings fresh (and painful) perspective to the Christian experience that should not be missed. Despite not being fully on board with Cone on every theological point, I was still edified, convicted, and challenged by this book.

Honorable Mentions:

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms by Jayson Georges

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Nobody’s more surprised than I am to see this book on this list, considering the fact that last year I started it twice without finishing it. Then on my third attempt (after many recommendations from trusted reading friends), I fell completely into the story. This book broke my heart and then put it back together. While the storytelling format has never been a favorite of mine (multiple storylines/narrators), it’s worth it all to get to that last chapter.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I straight-up and unironically love this book. I found it engaging, readable, and super touching. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Honorable Mention:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

General Adult Fiction

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is easily the most absorbing novel I read this year, consumed in two fevered sittings. The protagonist’s descent into Alzheimer’s feels horrifyingly real. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve heard other readers comment on a slow start, but this book hooked me right away, and it hooked me hard. Start to finish, I was totally invested in the story–in all the stories, really. Every single character is the protagonist of his/her own arc, and each thread feels vital and fully fleshed out, yet all the threads weave together perfectly into a unifying narrative. Sure, the characters are not very sympathetic, but they seem very real. I’m not one for book clubs, but I recognize the possibilities for rich, fruitful discussions that could spring from reading this with a group.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. Love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Cover to cover, I was totally engrossed. Though not exactly likable, each character is real to the core, and their problems compelling. [Note for gentle readers: this book has just a touch more sexual content than I normally read, though none is explicit or gratuitous.]

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. When I picked this novel up, I was unprepared for how deeply I’d sink into the narrative, or how large the characters would loom in my imagination. The story carries great emotional resonance.

Honorable Mention:

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. A powerful and moving memoir written by a Haitian-American woman and centering on her complicated relationships with her father and uncle. Danticat’s style is flawless, the story heartfelt and sad. Find this book and read it!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Worth the read for many reasons, one of which is the Appendix, in which Douglass breaks down the “Christianity” of the slaveholders and contrasts it with the true Christianity of Christ.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston.  I’ve not read a book quite like this one before. In effect an oral history collected by Hurston between 1927-1931, this is a powerful firsthand recounting of one man’s experience as the subject of America’s African slave trade.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve seen this book shelved all over the map, everywhere from “Christian Living” to “Social Issues.” When it comes to substance, though, I’d classify this as more of a memoir than anything else, though a memoir that takes full advantage of teachable moments. I can see Perry’s writing style as one people are either going to love or hate, and I land firmly on the “love it” side. Fans of inventive imagery will find a banquet.

Honorable Mentions:

He Included Me: The Autobiography of Sarah Rice as transcribed by Louise Westling.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad.

Young Adult Fiction

Scythe/Thunderhead (Arc of a Sythe, Books 1-2) by Neal Shusterman. I had a bit of trouble getting oriented in this world; but once I did, the story completely took me over. Totally engrossing read, with engaging and sympathetic characters I found myself really rooting for (which doesn’t always happen for me in dystopians). My only regret is that I blasted through the first two books before Book 3 was within shouting distance. Fingers crossed that the story’s conclusion will be as gripping as the first two installments!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The author brought more nuance to the table than I was expecting! This is an absorbing read: the characters are well developed, the dialogue snappy, and the pacing moves at a good clip. Given the timeliness of the subject matter and the skill the author exhibits, I’m not surprised this book has won awards.

History

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Robust, dynamic, and sympathetic–this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I purposefully went slowly to savor in the style and soak in the history. Although encompassing a large-scale, decades-long historical event, Wilkerson’s zoom lens on the personal really drives the message home. Strongly recommended.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book hits hard. Wonderfully researched and written, and terrible in its implications. This is a near-flawless recounting of a chilling conspiracy of murder and greed. If you’re an American seeking to take in the full scope of our country’s history, this is a good place to start.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Of all the books I read this year, this will likely have the longest and deepest impact on me. To quote the author, “no one who reads this book can wonder at the origins, depth, and visceral foundation of so many African Americans’ fundamental mistrust of our judicial processes.” It’s a long book, a heavy topic, and dense prose; but it’s worth the investment.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.  The author’s stated goal is to establish a concrete relationship between African-American suffering and the American nation’s fledgling economic growth. I’d say he succeeded. I found the style tough to wade through, but the information is worth the effort. The book just came out in 2014. It’s to be hoped that, moving forward, this sort of scholarship can pave the way for more balanced an nuanced history textbooks than ones my generation grew up with.

Honorable Mention:

The Blood of Emmet Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Self-Help/Psychology/Misc. Non-Fiction

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I understood more about how trauma affects people physiologically than I did about the various treatments discussed. I’m glad I read this because it’s helped me develop a fuller understanding of the lifetime effects of trauma and how I can understand and show more sympathy for traumatized people.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. Brains are amazing. Among other realizations I had while reading this book, I finally understand why it’s so hard for older people to adjust to new ideas or adapt to change. It’s not just because they’re “set in their ways.” Some of their seeming stubbornness and rigidity is a natural outflow of diminished neural plasticity.

Narrative Non-Fiction

Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King. This was a super engaging read, and I felt extra invested since the events took place in my backyard (Florida). Though the narrative is frustrating due to the actual events (criminal conspiracy), the writing’s fantastic.

Essays

Becoming American: Personal Essays By First Generation Immigrant Women edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. Each essay was so unique and different while circling similar questions of identity and belonging.

Literary Criticism/Writing/Craft

Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood. Even if you don’t have a fascination with O’Connor, her beliefs, and their intersection with the culture of the South, this book would be worth reading simply to enjoy Wood’s clean lines of reasoning and delicious vocabulary. This is more of a theological and academic treatment than most casual readers would enjoy; that being said, anyone who’s read a great deal of O’Connor could likely handle this.

Mystery

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. None of the new-to-me mysteries I read this year stood out as much as my re-read of Strong Poison. Whether that says something about my book choices this year or simply the nature of Sayers’s powers as a novelist, you be the judge.

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

The Circle by Dave Eggers. I found this book super gripping and its implications feel-it-in-my-bones scary. The parallels with 1984 are undeniable, and I don’t mean that as a detraction (especially given that I found the writing style more palatable than Orwell’s). It’s not a perfect read, but it’s an intense one.

True Crime

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. While the quality of this read was a bit patchy, that’s understandable given its origins (the author died before completing the manuscript, and the parts she’d left unfinished were completed by a team of friends and editors working from her notes). Reading this, I can’t help but wish she’d lived not only to complete writing it herself but also to see the arrest of the alleged East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo).

Books By Friends

Wildfell by London Clarke. English Gothic escapism with a modern twist. Come for the atmosphere and stay to enjoy the wide variety of men Anne Fleming meets along the way.

Justice by Emily Conrad. I wasn’t sure about this one going in. First, the cover raised a lot of questions, and say what you want about not judging a book by its cover, but I totally do it, and this isn’t a cover that says “Ruth’s Type of Book.” I read the blurb, though, and–most importantly–was privy to some pretty deep discussion regarding the plot via an online forum. After I read what some readers were saying, I decided to give the book a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given that I generally avoid romancy, “book club” type books (which is what the cover suggested to me). The issues raised in the book are handled with nuance, and I can imagine certain story elements sparking robust discussion.

Hello, Goodbye, We Meet Again by Brooke Anderson. This is a sweet little snack of a book. I recommend that you read it in one sitting if you possibly can.

Mistletoe Melody by Stacey Weeks. A heartwarming and sweet holiday novel that acknowledges pain and weakness.

Turtles in the Road by Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea. Sometimes books billed as “funny” overly depend on quirky characters or outlandish situations to try to leverage humor, but I’m delighted to report that this book is actually funny. Sure, there are quirky characters and a few outlandish situations, but what really drives the humor home is the dialogue. This was a super quick and super cute read that kept me engaged the whole way through. Kent Peeper forever!

Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life by Jayme Lee Hull. This is a practical, helpful, and engaging read. Both prospective mentors and mentees will find plenty to chew on here. Personally, I found the first half of the book especially helpful.

A Love Restored by Kelly J. Goshorn. Historical romance isn’t a genre I typically read, mostly because although I do love history, I’m not very romancy. I like that the protagonist is outside the norm for the genre (in that she has a robust figure and isn’t considered attractive by the majority of the other characters). It creates such relatable inner tension, because how many of us haven’t doubted ourselves because of some unrealistic and arbitrary beauty standard? The dialogue is pleasantly snappy, something I don’t always find in inspirational fiction, and I chuckled out loud a few times. If historical Christian romance is your thing, this has what you’re looking for.

Her Good Girl by Elaine Stock. The strength of this book was definitely its unique plot. Not only was the story itself a bit out-of-the-norm, but the characters also threw me a few curves. Although the emotional changes did feel a bit abrupt at times, they make sense in light of certain story developments.

The Revolutionary (The Rogues #2) by Kristen Hogrefe.  I read this book really quickly. It helped that I’d been looking forward to seeing what happened to these characters, and I’m pleased to report that I’m happy with some of the growth arcs and story trajectories. Looking forward to reading Book 3 early in 2019!

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles #1) by Raquel Byrnes. Byrnes successfully infuses steampunk with Christian worldview elements while staying true to the tropes of the genre.

Lamp Unto Her Feet by Paula Mowery. As the title indicates, the strength of this book is in showing how someone might seek to apply scriptures to daily life. I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good clip. Romances aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but if you’re looking for a clean, light read that can be swallowed whole (or in a few gulps), this would be one to consider.

Providence: Hannah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton. Because of my background and training, whenever I read biblical fiction, I turn off the fact-checking part of my brain so that I’m not distracted by minutiae and hung up on what’s factually historical and what’s artistic/creative license. That’s precisely what I did with this book; and once I did, I found a quick-paced narrative with unexpected splashes of humor and cheek. Probably what I most appreciated was that the author didn’t sugar coat the extremely vulnerable position of a captive slave, forcing readers to grapple with the overt sexual component.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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Sign up for my monthly e-mail series, 2019: A Year of Books!

Each month during 2019, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Come join us!

Let’s make 2019 our best reading year ever.

Christmas in a Minor Key

On Friday, I played the piano at a memorial service. The interior of the building was already decorated for the season, and we sang against a backdrop of velvet, garlands, and twinkle lights. The experience served as a reminder that while we delight in the gifts of the season, an undertow of sadness often pulls beneath the surface.

Any number of special situations might bar us from experiencing the sort of powdered-snow enchantment of greeting cards and Hallmark movies. While we’re aware deep down that spun-sugar holidays exist only in the realm of imagination, we can’t help but want them for ourselves. Such longings intensify when our pain runs counter to these expectations.

Last week, I wrote elsewhere about what Advent means for believers, and how the Christian discipline of meditating on Christ’s work can shift our approach to this season:

Amid all the festivities, it’s easy to forget that while Advent signaled hope for the human race, it also signaled the beginning of sorrows for our Savior. We suffer during the holidays when  the cultural celebrations hold stronger sway in our hearts than the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not come as Incarnate God to secure the fleeting comforts of the “holiday season.” He was born to suffer and die, rejected and alone, to secure eternal comfort for all saints.

For this reason, I’m thankful for Christian writers, musicians, and artists who create works acknowledging these realities. We follow a nail-scarred Savior through a life of tribulation along a narrow way. Works acknowledging sorrow, suffering, grief, and lament absolutely have a place in the life of the Christian–yes, even during Advent.


Goodness gravy, somehow it’s December already!

Two orders of business:

First, if you haven’t had a chance, be sure to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books!joanna-kosinska-470407-unsplashEach month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of fiction and non-fiction titles for you to check out. There won’t be any discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Second, as I was writing this post, I couldn’t help but think about my friend and colleague Stacey Weeks. If you’re the type who likes holiday romances but yearns for something with a bit more substance, Stacey’s new book might be right up your alley. Mistletoe Melody released over the weekend, and one thing I really appreciate is that the storyline acknowledges both physical and emotional pain. I was pleased to get my hands on a pre-publication review copy, and I’m glad this book is now available to everyone.

Finally, I’ve appreciated your patience as my blogging momentum has slowed way down during 2018. As the year draws to a close, I have a few more posts planned. Keep your eyes peeled for some Advent meditations as well as my year-in-review book post, which is currently in draft and spiraling out of control as usual. Because what would this time of year be without its fun traditions?

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot and your hearts warm.

For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out (2018 Update)

I’ve never been one to enjoy being scared on purpose. I don’t watch horror movies, relish psychological thrillers, or visit haunted houses.

Occasionally, however, on a long fall evening, I will curl up with a book that matches the season; or while out on a late-evening walk, I will listen to something that will creep me out–but only a little.

If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been keeping a list for people like us.

Here’s the update.

Books

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

The author had me right where he wanted me, held captive with nothing but my fear of the unknown propelling me forward. I think I read it in a day, finishing during dinner just before it got dark.

Wildfell, by London Clarke

Creepy Gothic suspense with a modern twist. Romance, travel feels, and things that go bump in the night. Yes, please.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

This isn’t the only Stephen King book I’ve read (his book On Writing is excellent) but it was the first, largely because I was told it “wasn’t too scary.” And it really wasn’t. Just super intense and psychologically twisty. Because…Stephen King.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This is not only a vampire book for people who aren’t into vampire books, but it’s also a creepy book for people who can’t handle creepy books. If that sounds like you, go for it.

Podcasts

Lore, hosted by Aaron Mahnke

I actually gave this one up recently because it started scaring me too badly when I was out running in the early morning or late evening. If I only listened to podcasts from the safety of my home, though, I’d probably still be hooked.

Dr. Death, reported by Laura Beil

Fair warning: this is real life. You may find yourself avoiding medical care after listening to this one.

Happy Face, produced by HowStuffWorks with Melissa Moore

In 1995, Melissa Moore learned that her father was the Happy Face Killer. In this podcast, she reviews her childhood and adolescence, analyzing her life through the lens of this knowledge, understanding her past in a new way. It’s early days still (I’ve only listened up through Episode 3) but can already attest that it’s gripping.

Individual Podcast Episodes

From Stuff You Missed in History: “The Hagley Woods Murder” 

Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean…who did put Bella in the witch elm?

From This American Life: “House on Loon Lake” 

Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man’s lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: “A Bump in the Night” 

What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom…and that he might be in the house right now…? As a single woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: “Give Him a Hand” 

A creeptastic modern retelling of the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” I first listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.


Are you the type who can only handle being moderately creeped out? If so, and you give any of these recommendations a try, do let me know how everything works out. I want all the shivery details.

Also, let me know what my lists are missing! I look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comments below. Remember, only medium creepy suggestions.


Happy October! While the majority of North Americans are enjoying sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin spice coffees, we here in Florida are still just sweating it out, dealing with soaring temperatures and tropical storms.

Whatever the weather, the days are getting shorter, both in terms of daylight and the number of squares left on the calendar in 2018.

So.

Two important notes:

  1. This week my debut novel Collapsible is enjoying a publisher’s discount on all major e-book distribution channels, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. From now until October 17, 2018, the e-book is just $.99–spread the word and snap it up!
  2. Very soon, I’ll be sending out my fall update. It will include news about my writing life, publication updates, planned appearances, and some personal stuff. Be sure you’re signed up so that you don’t miss out.

Happy Monday, everyone! May all your sweaters be cozy, your apple-picking delightful, and your favorite seasonal blend brewed to perfection.

Backstage Pass

In celebration of Collapsible‘s One-Year Bookiversary, I’m here to offer you access to a unique, never-before-published scene which was originally cut from the final draft of the novel.

It’s almost pure comedy, yet because the scene appeared early in the story, my editors thought it best to move the narrative along quickly rather than engage in indulgent silliness so soon. (My words, not theirs.)

They were right, of course, but that didn’t keep me from dying a bit inside when I had to say goodbye to the scene.

When you read it yourself, you’ll understand why.

The Scene

In the scene, which was originally slated to be Chapter 2, the girls race from the gym to the hospital. Ann decides to piggyback Rachel into the emergency room, and things go decidedly wrong. Because of course.

The Deal

Once Collapsible has reached 50+ reviews on Amazon, I’ll be releasing the scene right here on the blog.

Why It Matters

Reviews help consumers make purchasing decisions, of course, but they also move books up in Amazon’s rankings. When that happens, Collapsible will be more likely to be recommended by the algorithm when people purchase similar products. Then everyone wins.

How to Help

If you’ve read Collapsible and haven’t already posted an online review, drop by Amazon’s product page and post a short response. One or two sentences with a handful of stars is really all it takes.

Of course, if you haven’t even read the book yet, you also know what to do.

Let’s get cracking!

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Celebrating Collapsible [Events+Video!]

This week, my debut Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder celebrates its first Bookiversary!

Last fall on September 29, 2017, this little gem was first released into the world. I couldn’t have been more vomitously excited.

Join me for a week of events marking this momentous occasion.


Collapsible’s One-Year Bookiversary

Celebrations

Monday – Bookiversary Kickoff & Catch-Up Reading Day

If you’ve been meaning to read Collapsible, or if it’s been a while and you want to brush up on the story before the week’s festivities begin in earnest, today’s your day. Grab a copy and get cracking.

Tuesday – Collapsible-themed Read-and-Tweet-a-Thon

Starting at 3:00pm (EST) and continuing through the evening, I’ll be reading through the novel and live-Tweeting thoughts, insider stories, and favorite lines. I haven’t read the book since final proofs last summer so this will be a treat for all of us. Be sure you’re following me on Twitter to join in.

Wednesday – Books in the Wild

I’ll be posting a thread on Facebook asking for pics of Collapsible going through the day with you. Show us Collapsible in its natural reading habitat! Pictures that earn the most likes will be featured later in the week.

Thursday – Facebook Live Q&A at 4:30pm (EST)

Come with your questions and sassy comments about Collapsible, researching, writing, and whatever else you’d like. It’ll be an open forum. I’m ready! Be sure you’re following me there so you don’t miss out.

Friday –  Backstage Pass

Here on the blog, I’ll be posting information about how you can access a hilarious deleted scene from Collapsible‘s cutting-room floor.

It’s one of my favorite scenes, but because it fell early in the book and didn’t sufficiently advance the plot, my editors suggested its removal before the final cut. Be sure you’re following this blog to learn how you can get it in front of your beady little eyes.

Saturday – Collapsible officially celebrates its one-year bookiversary! 

Keep your eyes peeled for surprise bonus content to drop through Instagram. Be sure you’re following me there to see it!


As you can see, we have lots to look forward to this week. For everyone who’s already read the book, thank you so much. For everyone who’s intending to, thank you in advance. I know there are many great books out there. I’m grateful you’re spending some time on mine.


Happy Bookiversary, everyone! Settle in, brew a cup of coffee, and enjoy this dramatic reading from Chapter 1. (LOL, that close-up, though!)

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Great Read-Aloud Recommendations for Kids [UPDATED 9/18]

My current day job involves reading aloud to kids. Every few months, I like to update this post to reflect where we’ve been spending our reading time. What we read is not purely my choice but is often responsive to what they’re learning/where they’ve been traveling/what we’ve been discussing. Please make note of the caveats below. Happy reading!


How I Choose Books 

When the time comes to start a new book with the Podlings, my decision process goes something like this:

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can’t over-stress the importance of this step. I don’t care how lauded or “important” or “valuable” the book is. If you don’t care for it, the kids you’re reading to won’t care either.
2) Will they understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones in the group. The littles get what they get — which is generally more than I expect.
3) What does the author do well? Humor, drama, storytelling, dialogue, characterization, suspense, research, twists? I require at least one standout category per book but don’t expect perfection in all areas for every read.
4) Does the book match the season? I’m all about reading the right book at the right time, which is why–as you’ll see below–we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

How You Should Choose Books

1) Take the advice of the readers in your life (under advisement). Definitely accept recommendations from your friends who read, but don’t take them blindly. Not every book is for every person.
2) Read the book first yourself. Don’t skip this step. No matter how highly the book has come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn’t mean a) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or b) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this and only start books with them that you know you’ll have the wherewithal to complete. Stopping halfway through a book and not finishing it breaks a child’s trust.
3) Decide how you’re going to handle questionable elements. I’m not the type to throw the baby out with the bath water, but if I’m going to read children a book with a little language in it (or another brief or mildly questionable element), I definitely take some steps. First, I tell them about it ahead of time (“Jimmy’s grandpa swears a few times.”), and I also tell them how we’re going to handle it (“When that happens, I’m just going to say ‘Grandpa swore.'”) That way they don’t have a false view of the book (or of life, for that matter), but we’re also not normalizing the words themselves. Again, you may decide to take a different approach to this. Bear your approach in mind as you make decisions.
4) Don’t worry too much about whether the book is considered “important” or “educational” or “valuable.” Those categories are so subjective. Just pick a good read and get cracking. Reading aloud to kids has great value in itself.

Books I’ve Read Aloud to the Podlings

  1. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
  17. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again by request)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (again)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged this time; I learned my lesson)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  32. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
  33. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  34. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck
  35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  37. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  38. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  39. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  40. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: Get the updated anniversary edition. Trust me.)
  41. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  42. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  43. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
  44. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  45. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (yes, again)
  47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  48. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  49. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell
  50. The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel, Michael Kogge
  51. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness, Janet & Geoff Benge
  52. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  53. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  54. The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
  55. Bound for Oregon, Jean Van Leeuwen
  56. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician, Laura Baskes Litwin
  57. The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, Suzanne Jurmain
  58. Heroes in Black History: True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes, Dave & Neta Jackson
  59. Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski
  60. The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  61. Life with Father, Clarence Day
  62. Sackett, Louis L’Amour
  63. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis

Possibilities Still on Our Horizon:

  • Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!


In other news, I’m happy to announce that in honor of Pain Awareness Month, I’m offering a free 5-day e-mail course designed to encourage both those who suffer chronic pain and those who support them. It is written from a Christian perspective and will run September 17-21, 2018.

Chronic Pain
Lessons are short, practical, edifying, and designed for discussion and application. Be sure to sign up and refer a friend to take the course with you.

 

Happy Monday, everyone! May your spirits be high, your pain levels low, and your coffee just the right temperature for sipping.