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?


Friday Fun: Book Dominoes

Here’s something for fun on a Friday afternoon — two cool record-setting domino paths of books. The first is from the Seattle Public Library and was a kick-off promo for their 2013 Summer Reading Program. It set a world record!

The second is from a book association in Belgium. It includes almost 5,000 books, so they claim they’ve set a new world record. (Thanks to literary agent Steve Laube for posting this on his blog, where I first saw it.)

Here’s Seattle’s creation:

And here’s the one from Belgium:

Your turn: Which one do you think is cooler? Or, what’s your favorite part of them?

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!

How a Drum Circle Relates to Writing

I did something completely new and different last weekend – participated in a recreational drum circle.

Drum circles have been around for hundreds of years (or maybe even thousands, I’m not sure). It’s a time when people come together to play handheld drums and other percussion instruments as a common group. Circles can be used as celebrations, a way to build community, or just a chance to have fun. Our leader started the baseline rhythm and we were able to add to it with our own instruments.

drum 2The first day we learned about the instruments, the concept of drum circles, and having fun together. I played this really cool Brazilian triple chime and had a blast tapping rhythms that hopefully fit with the bigger sound.

We did different rhythms and activities the next day, but they all had the same purpose – to let us express our individuality while still being part of (and fitting in with) the underlying theme.

We ended on Saturday with a time of making wind chime music. We used the quieter, more subtle instruments and didn’t try to stay in synch with each other as much as let the sound of our instrument grow and fade before we played it again. But, underneath it all, two of us tapped buffalo drums to keep a common beat going. It was one of the most relaxing and peaceful times I’ve ever experienced, and was even more special because of sharing it with friends.

Our leader gave us the chance to share some of our thoughts before we ended the time together each day.  I loved hearing how we found connections personally, spiritually, and as writers (because this was an activity at a writers’ conference). Things like:

  • We all have gifts and songs to share, and ways to express ourselves.
  • It’s OK to celebrate our uniqueness and who God made us to be, as people and as writers.
  • We write about different things, for different formats or in different genres. But we’re all still part of the bigger writing community and have a place to fit into the big picture.  
  • There’s nothing wrong with giving ourselves permission to play sometimes – and most of us probably need to do it more often!


DSC04011All in all, it was a great experience – especially considering I had no idea what to expect! I would love to do something like that again if given the chance.

Your turn: Have you ever been part of a group doing something like that? How do you see your enjoyment of books or writing fitting in with other people?  


Blog Meme: TRUST and Writing Stars

ImageToday I’m joining a blogging meme to get myself thinking about some different things related to this blog. The challenge (thanks to Edie Melson over at The Write Conversation) is to use an acrostic of the word TRUST and how it can tie in with the blog.

So here goes …

T = Teens and tweens, who I write this blog for. And, yes, I’ve been slack about things lately but am really trying to get back on schedule.

R = Reviews of books that are good for teens and tweens. Most of the books I post about and review are written from a Christian perspective because I follow Christ – and because they’re great books written by wonderfully talented authors. I’ll sometimes mention or review books from a secular publisher (as opposed to one that focuses on the Christian market), but will still follow my no-smut-allowed rule.

U = Understanding how much your teachers are trying to cram into your brains, and how limited their time to do that really is. I come from a long line of teachers on both sides of my family, so I’m pretty familiar with their challenges even though I’m not standing in front of a classroom full of you every day. A lot of the writing tips I cover here are straight from my kids’ class curriculums, because I know those are the real-world things you’re expected to know. As I say on my About page, I’m not trying to replace what teachers do in the classroom – I’m just trying to give an extra boost to their lessons and hopefully help you understand things better.

S = Spotlights on authors who might be new to you. Did you know that most authors (except the super big name ones who’ve sold a gazillion books) have to do the bulk of book promotion and marketing themselves? The word gets out about great books because readers who enjoy the stories or who know the authors share it with other readers. They blog, they write book reviews, they tell their friends. My hope is that you’ll get interested in some of the authors I spotlight here and will check out their books for yourself.

T = Tips for becoming a better writer, whether it’s a paper for your English class or that novel you scribble notes about when you’re supposed to be asleep … or studying for that science test … or listening to your mom’s latest lecture.

I guess Writing Stars has more to do with trust than I realized. 🙂 Do you think that’s an accurate rundown? Or, if not, what would your suggestions be?

And since this is a meme … now it’s your turn! Click below to link your own blog post about TRUST.


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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).


Book Cover Sneak Peek — The Captive Maiden

One of the most fun things for an author is getting that first look at the cover for her new book. I’m glad to be one of the “sneak peek” bloggers for Melanie Dickerson today, here with the cover for her novel that will be released in October. It’s called The Captive Maiden, and is a loose retelling of Cinderella set in Medieval Germany.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Captive MaidenHappily Ever After …Or Happily Nevermore? Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke’s son, Valten—the boy she has daydreamed about for years—is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

Isn’t it a gorgeous cover? I love it — and think that Melanie’s book covers have all been really nice but have gotten better with each release. She has some great designers on her team!

This will be Melanie’s fourth book, and I’ve enjoyed all of her others so far. Even though she writes “fairy tale retellings,” they aren’t your standard stories from childhood. There’s enough from the fairy tale to make it familiar, but Melanie adds lots of other characters and plot surprises to keep it interesting. And although they’re all stand-alone books, it helps to read them in the order they’re published because you find some unexpected connections along the way.

Her first title was The Healer’s Apprentice, based on Sleeping Beauty. Then Melanie wrote The Merchant’s Daughter, based on Beauty and the Beast. Last year brought The Fairest Beauty, a retelling of Snow White, and now we’re waiting for The Captive Maiden. If you like sweet romances or are looking for romances to recommend to teen girls, visit Melanie’s website or blog to learn more about all her books. They’re a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to adding The Captive Maiden to my collection. (You can also preorder The Captive Maiden on Amazon)

In Honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day

This Sunday, April 7, will be Holocaust Remembrance Day. Although it might be a time some people don’t want to remember because of the terrible things that happened, that’s exactly why we need to stop and remember — to honor those who went through it, and to remind ourselves that we don’t want to go down that path again. 

If you don’t know much about the Holocaust during World War II, there are lots of books that bring the time to life while still being interesting (and OK for tween/teen readers). Here are three of my favorites I think everyone should read: 

Number the StarsNumber the Stars, by Lois Lowry: The fifth graders at my kids’ elementary school read this every year. It’s told through the eyes of 10-year-old Annemarie, whose family takes in Annemarie’s best friend Ellen Rosen and conceals her as part of the family when German Nazis begin their campaign to “relocate” Jewish families in Denmark. We learn how the Danish Resistance smuggled almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark across the sea to Sweden — almost 7,000 people. Real people can become real heroes. 

Someone Named EvaSomeone Named Eva, by Joan Wolf: Milada’s village in Czechoslovakia is invaded by Nazi troops looking to either kill or imprison citizens. Milada is “lucky” because she has blonde hair and light-colored eyes. She’s taken with some other children to a special camp where they’re “refashioned” to become like German children who can be adopted by German families. Milada’s new name becomes Eva, and she joins the family a high-ranking Nazi official. It was based on actual events, and brought out a side of Nazi Germany that I’d never known. I had the chance to interview author Joan Wolf on another blog a few years ago, if you’re interested in learning more. Read Day 1 of her interview and Day 2 of her interview here. 

Anne FrankDiary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank: This real-life story of surviving the Holocaust has been a classic for years. She and her family lived in the “secret annex” of a government building for 2 years, until they were betrayed to the Germans. It’s a vivid look at how life was when they were cut off from the outside world — hungry, crowded, under constant threat of being discovered and imprisoned or killed. But it’s also a tribute to human courage and determination (and best for older middle school readers instead of younger kids). 

Your turn: Have you read any of these books? Or have you read others about the Jewish people during the Holocaust that you would recommend? Share with us!


Ask Your Question!

answer desk

Tomorrow — March 14 — is International Ask a Question Day. Did you know that? (See, there’s our first question LOL) I’ve never been afraid to ask questions, which I think is partly because I come from a family full of teachers. Wish I had a nickel for every time I heard, “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask” or, “If you have a question, chances are someone else does too.”

So, in the spirit of International Ask a Question Day … what’s your question? What do you want to learn about writing? Or what MG or YA books do you want me to review? Feel free to ask anything, though I won’t guarantee answers. 🙂 I look forward to hearing from you!


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