Category Archives: Book Reviews

Did You Ever Want a Chocolate Milk Cow?

Baxh Chocolate Milk CowsAbout a week ago, I got a package in the mail that I wasn’t expecting, but was thrilled to see. It was an autographed copy of Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows by Burton W. Cole. Yay!

It was almost as good as getting a copy of a book with my name on the cover because I was blessed to be part of the critique group that gave input on all three Bash stories. And I loved every one!

You can read about the first book in the series, Bash and the Pirate Pig, here. Such a great story of fun, adventure, misadventure, and a few lessons along the way.

Weirdness always rules when Beamer visits his crazy farm cousin Bash, and the story about the Chocolate Milk Cows is no exception. This time, Bash is scheming a way for the cows to give chocolate milk on April Fool’s Day — because who wouldn’t want chocolate milk straight from the cow? Add to that the fact that his dad, Uncle Rollie, hasn’t outgrown April Fool’s shenanigans either, and you never know exactly what craziness to expect. Bash and Uncle Rollie are definitely a case of “like father, like son”!

I won’t give away the fun by telling too much of the story — because you (or an upper elementary/middle school kid you love) will want to read it yourself. But having chapter titles like “The Chicken Shuttle Space Coop,” “Run for Your Life or Punishment,” “Hunting Bears and Praying for a Mantis,” and “Gideon’s Kazoo Meets the Goat of Many Colors” gives a good idea of the crazy stuff Bash and the gang are up to. It’s no ordinary spring break! And, yes, the laughs and lessons found in the other Bash stories continue with Chocolate Milk Cows and leave you thirsty for more. 🙂

Burton W ColeTo keep up with Bash and his author (who might’ve filled his farm-boy days a lot like Bash does), visit Burton W. Cole on Facebook. Enjoy!

Your turn: What’s the craziest (but family friendly) April Fool’s prank you ever pulled?

Some Great — and Cheap! — Summer Reads

I love a great book and I love a great deal, so when I find specials that combine those two things I’m especially happy. Here are two fabulous YA eBook deals that will give you a great start on fun summer reading material.

Turning Point SetDeal #1 — Turning Point, a set of 7 — yes, I said 7! — full-length eBooks for only 99 cents! The titles include:

By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson

Whisper if You Have To, by Staci Stallings

It’s Complicated, by Laura L. Smith

Failstate, by John W. Otte

The Wishing Pearl, by Nicole O’Dell

Mardan’s Mark, by Kathrese McKee

Glass Girl, by Laura Anderson Kurk

The genres run from fantasy to contemporary, with both male and female points of view. The theme that ties them together is that they each focus on a turning point in the main characters’ lives. Click on the links to the authors’ websites to learn more about the books, or you can read full descriptions and buy the set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Remember — the set is only in digital format. And even if you’ve read one of them (like I have) or aren’t sure about whether you’d like one, it’s 99 cents for 7 full-length novels! That’s a crazy summertime deal that you don’t want to miss. And, you might find a new author — or genre — that you really like!

In BetweenDeal #2 is … the Kindle version of In Between by Jenny B. Jones is FREE for a limited time! I can honestly say that she’s one of my favorite YA authors and that I loved this series (In Between is the first in her Katie Parker Production series). If you’ve never read any of her books, this is a great place to start.

Both these deals will only be available for a limited time and I’m not sure when they’ll end. So — start clicking those eBook links and get your summer reading stash set!

Your turn — If you buy either of these and like them, come back and let me know! I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Review: Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney

It’s no secret that middle school can be some of the toughest years of many kids’ lives. But the secrets that some middle schoolers hide can shock everyone around them – including the kids they see every day.

Bird FaceThat’s how life is for Wendy Robichaud, the almost-14-year-old girl who tells the story of Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. Unlike some of the kids around her, Wendy doesn’t care much about popularity or being part of the groups she calls the Sticks, Suaves or Brainiacs (I’ll bet you can figure out who’s who by those names — and we’ve all been to school with them). She has her BFF Jennifer by her side, so that’s all that matters.

Then eighth grade begins and things start to change. Jennifer’s acting different and Wendy’s convinced she’s keeping secrets. Brainiac bully John “Monster” seems to find even more joy in torturing Wendy than he has in the past. And someone has started leaving anonymous sticky notes for Wendy all over the school.

“Nice face,” the first note says, which sends Wendy into a cycle of paranoia about her looks and how she needs to improve herself. But some of the notes that come later are more encouraging: “Only words.” “Good luck.” “Speak up.” And Wendy needs all the luck and courage she can get since John’s latest nickname for her is Bird Face and he seems to taunt her wherever she goes.
It’s all enough to make a girl want to run away and hide because life is quickly turning into one big mess.

The way Wendy deals with things is true life for an eighth grade girl – sometimes clumsy, sometimes quirky, sometimes more grown up than you’d think she’s ready for. And along the way, Wendy learns some lessons we all need to remember – things aren’t always what they seem and aren’t always better just because someone behaves a certain way. Sometimes the people we think we know the most about are the ones with the most surprising secrets. And the ones we barely pay attention to might be our biggest sideline supporters.


Cynthia T ToneyBird Face is perfect for middle school or early high school kids – they’ll be sure to find themselves somewhere in the crowd of kids surrounding Wendy. It touches on a few mature/more serious issues like anorexia and suicide, but does it in a tasteful way. Wendy’s just trying to figure out life, just like we all are. She’s a good one to spend some time with and maybe learn a few things from while she navigates her crazy world. And with school starting back in just a few weeks, now would be the perfect time to read it.

Learn more about Bird Face at her blog ( or website ( You can also connect on Facebook ( or Twitter (

Coming Soon: Bird Face Review

Bird FaceMy critique partner Cynthia Toney is still celebrating the release of her first novel, Bird Face, and I’m helping extend the celebration. I’m reading it now and am thoroughly enjoying the story of Wendy — partly because it’s a great book and partly because it was snatched up by her publisher before she’d finished sending chapters to us for critique. I want to know what happens just as much as any other reader! 🙂

I’ll be reviewing it soon, but here are a couple of bits to tide you over until then:

The quick back cover blurb: Not-quite-fourteen-year-old Wendy doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her classmates Tookie and the Sticks. That is, until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend is hiding something. While juggling divorced parents, caring for abandoned puppies, and trying to make the high school track team, who has time to play detective?

And a post about Bird Face from The Scriblerians, a group blog where Cynthia writes about MG and YA things.

Have a great day!



14 for 2014

Every January, I think about how fun it would be to keep a list of all the books I read that year. That’s as far as it usually gets – an idea that gets lost in the shuffle of life – but maybe this will be the year I actually do it!


To kick things off, I thought I’d share some books I’m looking forward to diving into this year. 14 books, to be exact – which you probably figured out since this post is titled “14 for 2014.” Some of these books will be new to me even though they’re not necessarily new titles. Others are on my waiting list because they won’t be released until later in 2014. And a few will be re-reads of books I enjoyed years ago.

Of course, I’ll read some nonfiction along the way, too, but this list is focusing on fiction. Partly because I read a lot more of it and partly because it’s easier for me to come up with 14 titles. So, here goes (in no particular order)!


New (or new to me) titles

Bird FaceThe Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson (a medieval retelling of the Cinderella story)

Bird Face by Cynthia Toney (a young adult book by one of my critique group partners; this will be her debut novel – I’m so excited for her!)

Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper by Burton Cole (the second in Burt’s middle grade series about zany cousins Bash and Beamer – and I’m proud to call him a critique group partner, too!)

Doon by Carey Corp and Laurie Langdon (a young adult fantasy that has two friends traveling to an alternate world in Scotland)

The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill (nerdy girl Ellie writes her first novel and learns that her real and imaginary worlds might intersect more than she thought)

DoonThe Selection by Kiera Cass (dystopian romance that I’ll probably enjoy so much that I’ll read the entire trilogy)

A Beauty So Rare by Tamara Alexander (the latest historical romance from one of my all-time favorite authors)

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (the latest in his Heroes of Olympus series with Percy Jackson and friends – my son and I will probably spar over who gets to read it first)


And a few classics

Pride and Prejudice (I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I’ve seen a couple of movie versions but have never actually read the book)

The Scarlet Letter (I remember loving this book in high school once I slogged through the beginning – we’ll see if that still holds true)

Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time (I read this one, but don’t remember much about it – time to change that!)

Fahrenheit 451 (another one I enjoyed reading in high school – plus my son will be reading it next semester so I thought it’d be fun to run through it again)

The Hobbit (yes, this is partly because of the movie series – it’s been so long since I read the book that I can’t remember which parts of the movies are accurate and which are just Hollywood)

To Kill a Mockingbird (I liked this in high school and my son really enjoyed reading it last year; since it’s on our bookshelf, why not enjoy it again?)


Your turn: What books are you planning to read in 2014? Any particular reason why? I’d love to know, because then I’ll probably add them to my own list! 

Happy New Year! 🙂

Sneak Peek: Spiraling Out of Control

For our final Christmas Book Tour Sneak Peek, I’m featuring Spiralling Out of Control by Michelle Dennis Evans. It’s written from a Christian world view, but does touch on some adult themes and is recommended for readers ages 17 and up.

Michelle Dennis EvansMore about Michelle:

Michelle Dennis Evans writes picture books, chapter books, young adult contemporary novels and enjoys dabbling in free verse poetry. Her debut novel Spiralling Out of Control and poetry collection Life Inspired both reached #1 in subcategories on Amazon in their first week of release. Michelle is passionate about seeing people grow and move forward in their journey. She lives on the Gold Coast with her husband and four super active, super fun and super time consuming children. Find Michelle and all of her social media links at


More about the book:

Temptation, depression, seduction, betrayal … Not what Stephanie was expecting at fifteen years of age. Uprooted from her happy, all-girl high school life with a dream filled future and thrown into an unfriendly co-ed school, Stephanie spirals into depression.

When charismatic high school senior, Jason notices her, Stephanie jumps in feet first and willingly puts all her faith and trust in him, a boy she barely knows.

Every choice she makes and turn she takes leads her towards a dangerous path.

Her best friend is never far away and ready to catch her … but will she push Tabbie too far away when she needs her most?

Spiralling Out of Control PREVIEWExcerpt from Spiralling Out of Control – Chapter 3 part c

“Steph, dinner is ready.” Diane knocked on her door.

Stephanie didn’t reply.

“Look,” her mother opened the door. “I know it wasn’t the best start, but why don’t you come downstairs for dinner. Dad’s just come home and he wants us to eat together.”

Dragging herself off the bed, Stephanie followed her mother.

“Hello, Steph.” Her father spoke while focusing on the newspaper. “Mum said you didn’t have a good day.”

Stephanie wanted to rip the paper from his hands. But didn’t.

They sat at the table while April dissected her fabulous day. “Oh, there’s three girls in my class who do gymnastics,” she said. “They go to the best club. I just have to join it.”

Her father looked up from the paper. “We can book you in for a trial, if you like.”

“There’s a birthday this weekend. Jenna has invited me. Is it okay if I go? Well, I kind of already replied but I … well is it okay?”

John tilted his paper forward, peering over the top. “I hope you didn’t invite yourself.”

April shook her head. “There’s a play coming up and I’m trying out for a part tomorrow.”

Diane smiled. “Do you need help with learning lines? Maybe Stephanie can help.”

Stephanie pulled a face at April and shook her head, rolling her eyes.

“Mum, can you come and help at school?” April asked.

“Yes, I should be able to fit in one or two days.”

“Dad, they’re asking for fathers to help with some of the backdrops and props. Can I put you down for that?”

He folded the paper in half, putting it down. “It depends what time and which day they need me.”

“Mum, I can’t believe they gave me readers. They’re so easy. I can read way better than that!”

All Stephanie heard was, “Blah blah blah,” while April continued to prattle on. Argh!

After dinner, Stephanie resumed her position on her bed, staring at the ceiling, letting the loud music thump off the walls until her mother asked her to turn it down for the night. She held her aching head in her hands and cried herself to sleep. That night she had nightmares of up-close faces coming one after the other, laughing.


Stephanie’s mother stopped right in front of the school gate for the third day in a row.

“Mum! Could you stop a little further away from the gate?”

“Why? There’s no other cars right in front,” Diane said. “Saves you the walk.”

Believe me, Mum, you are making my life worse.

Stephanie groaned as she leant against the car door that never closed on the first shove. Before she even looked up, the banter had started.

“Wanna have lunch?” one boy asked, followed by one of his friends with, “Oh, no she already has a lunch date … with herself.”

“Shut up, idiots.” Stephanie urged her feet to move faster.

The boys erupted with laughter. The only difference each day was different boys delivered the lines, adding obscene remarks about her body parts. Wolf-whistle boy was always in the centre, finishing with a whistle each day.

“Get a life,” she told them as she walked away.

Thanks for reading the excerpt, and visit author Michelle Dennis Evans online if you’d like to learn more. And … please pop over to the John 3:16 page and enter the Rafflecopter for your chance to win a $200 Amazon voucher

Sneak Peek: Hobbits, You and the Spiritual World

The countdown to Christmas is officially on, and it’s always good to learn about new books in case someone asks for gift suggestions. Some of the authors of the John 3:16 Marketing Network are taking part in a Christmas Book Launch that runs from December 1 – December 16. Some of those books might be of interest to you if you’re already reading Writing Stars, so I wanted to be sure you know about them.

Hobbits coverThe great part is, the authors are sharing samples of their books so you can try before you buy! And … as part of the event, the Network is offering a $200 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner. For a chance to win, go to and enter the Rafflecopter (toward the bottom of the page).

And now, for today’s sneak peek: an excerpt from Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World by Jill Richardson – an interesting look at how many of the main characters in the Hobbit books by J.R.R. Tolkien have a lot of things in common with today’s real world teens.


: Struck by Lightning!

(biLbO bagginS) part 1

Vital Stats

Favorite Activity: Food. Anything remotely related to it.

Least Favorite Activity: White water rafting.

Most Prized Possession: His vest buttons.

Always on the Lookout For: Those Sackville-Bagginses. And a good piece of cake.


Where to start with Bilbo? If a person even tried to make up a less likely hero, I’m not sure he could.

Bilbo is short, scared, out of shape, and thinking a little more about his dinner than helping out a brother. Who’s betting on him to slay the dragon and save the world? Definitely not the thirteen slightly taller people stuck with him for what they guess will be a long trip with the little whiner. Who even believes in him? He certainly doesn’t.

 ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

“Poor Bilbo couldn’t bear it any longer. At may never return he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel. The poor little hobbit could be seen kneeling on the hearthrug, shaking like a jelly that was melting. Then he fell flat on the floor and kept calling out, ‘Struck by lightning, struck by lightning!’ over and over again; and that was all they could get out of him for a long time.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)

 ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Yep, that’s the first impression we get of the daring adventurer. He’s afraid of the dark corners of his own house; forget facing trolls, goblins, and dragons. And not one of the thirteen dwarves thinks he’s going to survive, much less be of any use.

But in the end, he does a lot more than survive. He saves all their butts–more than once. Through the whole book, he’s knifing giant spiders, going for a wild ride on a wet barrel, and coming up with a plan to save everyone, even if he has to put his own life out there. He proves he’s not that shaking bowl of jelly anymore. He proves he’s what Gandalf said he’d be all along—a hero.

What does this highly unlikely hero have to show by the end of the story? He has amazing courage, uncommon common sense, unbelievable compassion, and brilliant negotiating skills. Not bad for a guy who started out complaining that adventures would make him late for dinner and that missing a meal was the worst fate he could imagine.

This is not the Bilbo who began his journey whimpering about pocket handkerchiefs. Or is it? Gandalf insists from the first night: “I chose Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea. You may, possibly, all live to thank me yet.”

Gandalf seemed to think Bilbo could do it from the start. What did he see inside the hobbit that no one else, not even Bilbo himself, saw there? Did Gandalf know he would learn to leave those handkerchiefs behind and embrace his “herohood” in ways no one ever expected?

 ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Jill RichardsonRead the rest of Chapter One of Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World tomorrow to find out what was inside Bilbo (and you?). Find it here:

You can also learn more about Jill and her book from her interview with author Barbara Ann Derksen.  

And be sure and pick up your Kindle version of Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World at

Your turn: Which character from The Hobbit is your favorite? Why is that? And what kinds of things do you think you might have in common?


Book Review: Bash and the Pirate Pig

Bash and Pirate PigToday I’m reviewing Bash and the Pirate Pig written by Burton W. Cole and published by B&H Kids. You might remember that I mentioned it a few weeks ago after seeing it on the local LifeWay store’s shelf.

I’ll confess that I knew I would love this book before I ever got a copy. Burton Cole is the fearless leader of an online critique group I’m part of, so I’m one of the lucky people who got to read the story from the very beginning. I could hardly wait to get a new chapter every week because I knew something crazy was about to happen. And it never disappointed.

So – now that my disclaimer is out of the way, I’ll tell you about the book.

*     *     *     *     *

Raymond is a video-game loving, chips eating city kid. His plans for a lazy summer with his favorite comic books go kaput when his parents tell him the worst news ever – he’ll be spending the summer with his cousin Sebastian – otherwise known as Bash – on his farm in a town so small that even Google can’t find it.

Bash is a goofy free spirit who’s always looking for something new and fun to try. He just knows that an adventure is always waiting to happen, and he’s ready to find it.

Of course, Bash’s adventures usually turn into misadventures – or even full-blown catastrophes. Things like …

  • Bringing a skunk and brown mice to Sunday school class
  • Late night cow tipping
  • Flying from the barn’s hay loft
  • And his crowning achievement for the summer: transforming Gulliver J. McFrederick the Third – otherwise known as the farm’s hog – into the Pirate Pig on the Lake

Raymond already thinks that Bash is crazy and annoying before he goes for the summer visit. But despite his tendency to be a rule follower and his new belief that Bash is certifiably insane – Raymond usually get stuck going right along with all the crazy ideas. And as scary as it might sound, some of the things Bash says actually start to make sense to Raymond before the summer is over.

Raymond’s self-proclaimed Summer of Doom turns into a summer he’ll always remember – and not just because of the Pirate Pig.

*     *     *     *     *

Burton W ColeI can honestly say I laughed my way through much of this book, and I think kids will too. But the author isn’t trying to just write a story to get some laughs. There are some great messages for kids, too – things about friendship and family and God. The nice part is, they’re not preachy messages that will turn kids off because they’re worked into the story from Bash’s crazy point of view.

Bottom line: This is a book I would highly recommend for upper elementary or middle school readers. Whether they’re city kids like Raymond or small town farm kids like Bash, they’ll find something to laugh at and enjoy. My bet is they’ll keep reading right past the end of the story to the sneak peek at Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper – the next book in the series that will be released in the spring of 2014.

Here’s where you can learn more about Bash and the Pirate Pig or author Burton Cole:

Your turn + giveaway: What’s the craziest adventure you were part of as a kid? Did you do it alone, or drag people along like Bash does Raymond? If at least 6 people share their stories in the comment section by Friday, November 8, one of you will win a copy of Bash and the Pirate Pig!

Look for These New Books!

Bash and Running Lean 2

Bash & the Pirate Pig by Burton W. Cole and Running Lean by Diana L. Sharples

I had a few minutes to stop by the closest Lifeway store and was thrilled to find two special books on the shelf — Bash and the Pirate Pig by Burton Cole and Running Lean by Diana Sharples.

Let me tell you a bit about them and why I was so tickled.

Diana and I have seen each other’s names through online writing groups and classes for quite a while and have met and had the chance to talk at a couple of writing conferences. She’s a gifted writer and artist with a heart for teens and has worked hard at this publication game. Running Lean is her debut YA novel about Calvin and Stacey, a high school couple who balance each other out while they each battle private demons. Calvin still grieves for his brother’s death in Afghanistan and Stacey is succumbing to anorexia. Tough topics, but very real life for teens today. I’m only a few chapters into the book, but am enjoying it very much.

Burt is the fearless leader of an online writing critique group that started a couple of years ago for a few of us who were writing middle grade fiction. We read and critiqued Bash and the Pirate Pig from page one, celebrated with Burt when he signed with a literary agent, and threw another online party when he signed a publishing contract. Bash is the story of Raymond, a somewhat dull city kid who gets packed off to spend the summer on the farm with his cousin Bash (Sebastian). Nothing is dull after that! Burt uses lots of stories from his own childhood as the basis for escapades Bash and Raymond (aka Beamer) get pulled into. Cow tipping, cow riding, skunk tracking, hayloft flying, and more had me laughing every time Burt sent a chapter for us to read. It’s a book middle school kids (especially boys!) will love — and the best news is, another story about Bash and Beamer is also under contract.

I’ll post more official reviews later, but for now just know that these are two great books you don’t want to miss. If you see either of them in the store or decide to pick up a copy, come back and let me know what you thought!


Dystopian Meets Greek Gods

If school hasn’t started back for you yet, it probably will very soon. Which means you’ll have loads of reading and work to do for teachers, but we still need to squeeze in some books for fun, right?

House of HadesI’m here to tell you that there are two releases coming in October that I can hardly wait to dig into: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. Two very different books that will take me to completely different worlds — Greek and Roman gods and demigods versus teens and 20-somethings in a dystopian version of Chicago. Add those to my to-be-read pile including a goofy MG pirate tale, several Christian historical romances, and the latest David Baldacci (passed along by my dad), and you’ll see that I read a lot of different stuff.

Here are two reasons why I’m really looking forward to The House of Hades and Allegiant:

The series. I love a good series! If an author hooks me on characters and a storyline in his or her first book, then I want more. I’ve followed Percy Jackson and his buddies on every adventure since The Lightning Thief and haven’t tired of them yet because new twists and challenges keep popping up. New characters too, which keeps it interesting. The story of Tris sucked me in from page one of Divergent, with its fine line between the world we know today and how it could conceivably be if certain things happened. She’s a girl I can relate to and love to cheer for.

AllegiantThe writing. In case you didn’t know, writers read differently from regular readers. Once you start learning how to write fiction, reading is never the same. We pick up on show vs. tell, watch for foreshadowing, notice how the author brings things alive with descriptions or dialogue. Sometimes that drives me crazy because I just want to enjoy the book! But most of the time it gives me a chance to learn as I read. It’s been interesting (to me) to see how Riordan’s writing has changed and grown as the Percy series has expanded. It has more depth, more layers between characters, more complex sentences. And Roth? Wow, I can learn a lot from her. I think her writing is top-notch on all levels. Plus, the last book in each series had a tremendous hook that I’m eager to see play out.

This would also probably be a good place to admit that I only started reading both series after my son did. I kept buying the Percy Jackson books for him and the first series was almost complete before I finally picked up The Lightning Thief for myself. He picked up a buddy’s copy of Divergent when they went camping last summer and came home wanting a copy. He gave it such high marks that I might’ve started reading that one before he finished it. 🙂

So what about you? Are you counting down to the release date for these or some other books? If so, which one and why?

P.S. — Just FYI, The House of Hades releases on October 8, and Allegiant releases on October 22. For more info, visit the blogs for Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth (and, no, I don’t get anything for recommending these books or their authors — just sharing a little book love).


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