Book Review: Big and Little Coloring Devotional

I am a fan of coloring books for adults. I think they’re fun, calming, and help me express myself in an artistic way — I can’t draw, but if you give me a page with something already on it, I will go to town coloring it. I was excited to get my copy of Big and Little Coloring Devotional by author Rachel Swanson and illustrator Jacy Corral. They wanted to create a book where mamas and kids could sit together and do the same thing at the same time in a way that engaged each of them in age-appropriate ways. I love that the book is a collaboration between two women who love the Lord.

I think this book is designed perfectly for its intended. Each devotional is a pair of pages — one with a short paragraph as well as a more intricate drawing; the other side of the page is child-friendly with less detailed artwork to color in. The devotionals provide really excellent content for discussion and I can see them working well for little kids as well as older ones. (And you know, I can absolutely picture a teenager sitting with her mama coloring and talking about things based on the content of these devotionals, which is really neat!)

I love how the devotional is bound at the top of the book. It makes it so easy to just grab the book, some pencils or crayons, and color with your little at the same time. Although it’s kid-friendly, I do think that it’s probably better for kids six or older. Some of the little coloring pages would be too complex for two-year-old hands (unless you don’t mind scribbles, in which case I say go for it!).

One thing I must admit: I can totally see myself coloring both the big and little pages. They’re just so fun and well-drawn that it is too hard not to! Also, you should know the pages hold up really well and are pretty thick. I colored with crayon, colored pencil, and Staedler Triplus Fineliner with no bleed through.

Happy coloring!

I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishers in exchange for a review.

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Book Review: This Is How It Always Is

Some books just shock you senseless, you know? This is one of them. It’s very rare that I pick up a book and read it without knowing anything about it, but that’s exactly what I did with This Is How It Always Is. It was not anything like what I expected, and I before I read the dust jacket, I read the author’s note in the back. I was shocked by something that I thought was a plot spoiler, but then I took a moment to read the jacket and I realized that this book was going to be something that ruffled feathers and made people think long and hard.

To oversimplify, this is a book about a little boy who becomes a little girl. But that is just one tiny part of what this book is about. It’s a book about what we expect of people, of what secrets do to us, what normal is, how family functions together in times of struggle… It’s a multi-layered novel and I am so glad I read it. The author’s real life plays into it, but I won’t reveal how (unless you read a part of the author’s note like I did, but it just made the book all the more compelling).

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, which I think was a good thing as a reader in the sense that I was open to everything that was happening as I read. I honestly don’t want to write much more, because I don’t want to spoil anything. That feels like a cheap way to write a book review, but going in blind was awesome and I want you to have that same experience. I just want you to going into it with your mind open, too. It will be so good for you to think and wrestle through.

 

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Book Review: Church of the Small Things

I am a huge Melanie Shankle fan. HUGE. I’ve read her blog since her daughter, who is now a high school freshman, was in preschool — so almost from its very beginning. When Melanie wrote her first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, I devoured it the day it came out. The same thing happened with her next two books The Antelope in the Living Room and Nobody’s Cuter Than You. I have waited for a few years for another book and oh my gosh, I was not disappointed with Church of the Small Things.

CofST released October 3rd, but I was lucky enough to read the book months in advance. I applied to be a part of Melanie’s launch team and I MAYBE shrieked in the grocery store when I saw that I had been selected. I got an ARC of CotST in the mail a few days later and goodness, it did not disappoint.

Melanie is a very, very (I cannot emphasize this enough) funny person and she loves Jesus. This book is both very, very funny and it is such a tender reminder that sometimes Jesus does big things in our lives, but most of the things He does in and through us are small, everyday kinds of things. When I say it’s funny, I mean it’s “I-was-sitting-in-Starbucks-laughing-so-hard-I-was-shaking-and-I’m-still-laughing-at-the-thought-of-that-chapter” funny (you’ll never look at hermit crabs and tadpoles again without thinking of chapter ten!). And several times, I had to put the aside for a few minutes because I was so moved by the understanding of God in the minute of my life that I was moved to tears. I stayed up late thinking about all of the small ways God is so very present and visible in my life.

Like Melanie’s other book, it was sweet and tender and funny. It also made me want to go hang out with Melanie, which I am totally positive would be a nightmare for her because it seems like she is deeply introverted and I am not. I will have to settle on sharing her words and loving the ways they point back to our good God.

I just want to let you know that as a member of Melanie’s launch team, I received a copy of this book for free. No one asked me to give it a positive review; these opinions are all my own! Thanks, Zondervan, for the opportunity to champion Melanie!

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Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I haven’t read many middle grade books as an adult. Most of the ones I read are actually rereads of my favorites (such as the Baby-Sitter’s Club books, Roald Dahl’s novels, and Judy Blume’s books). I have walked past Wonder so many times at Target and just never felt like I needed to read it.

Recently I saw that Wonder has become a move that will be released this November. The trailer looks amazing (although I am a huge sucker for anything Julia Roberts!) and of course the book lover in me had to read the book first. I’m trying really hard this year to be a better patron of the library, so I checked it out.

I sat down with the book and blew through it in a day. I had to put it down a few times because it was just so good that Palacio’s writing made me emotional. What I loved best about the book is that I felt like it was written for its audience. I’ve read middle-grade books and have rolled my eyes because it never felt like those books were written for 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds. This book feels just right for that audience.

Colored chalk on a blackboard background

Wonder also tackles some tricky subjects like self-esteem and bullying in a realistic way. Things aren’t magically solved. Auggie is a tough, brave kid but he also struggles. His sister has struggles. Friendships are tested. We get to hear these struggles from a lot of different points of view. This makes the book seem so real. I can see kids reading this and related to the things Auggie is thinking and feeling as well as the thoughts of the other characters. It’s the kind of book that will lead to really rich and deep conversations.

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Book Review: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

I loved Jim Gaffigan’s first book Dad is Fat so much as I was really excited to read and review Food: A Love Story. As one of Jim’s twitter followers, I can attest to the fat that he posts funny jokes, pictures, and memes all related to one of his loves — food.

Food is fully of funny stories all revolving around… well… if you haven’t guessed it yet, I don’t know what to say. Jim’s voice as a comedian is very present and I read this book imaging him saying the words out loud to me. This is a very genuinely funny book that looks at a culture obsessed with food (the unhealthier the better, it seems) and makes it one long, hilarious joke. He points out things about food and the human condition and

Although I thought this book was hilaious and spent a lot of time reading chunks of it out loud to others, I do think that it could get kind of tiresome read start to finish because it’s like standup comedy. An hour or two is great, but twelve hours straight? You’re over it. I loved that the chapters were bite-sized (do you see what I did there?) so I could read a chapter here and there and get my funny fill without filling too full. (I’m killing myself right now!) I also think this would make a killer audiobook!

If you are in the mood for a funny book and you enjoy stand up comedy, this is a fantastic read!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris – Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

NPHcyoa20170296I got to watch reruns of Doogie Howser in its syndication glory days. As an adult, I watched (off and on) How I Met Your Mother. And that’s basically I knew of Neil Patrick Harris, aside from a few factoids here and there (music background, gay… that’s about it). Reading NHP’s Choose Your Own Autobiography  was like meeting a new friend.

From the start I was excited about the book’s format. First of all, I was a huge Choose Your Own Adventure book reader as a kid, so you can’t really go wrong with that. I really enjoy quirky books with unique structures and I thought this was so creative. Clearly it has some potentially huge downfalls, but thankfully the writing and strong voice prevents it from being too disjointed or difficult to read.

NPH take a peek at his entire life, from childhood to fatherhood, and I loved reading about each season of his life. I loved how he gave his perspective on working as a teenager, working with some PITA actors or other public figures, calling them out on their crap in a way that was firm and honest but not mean for the sake of being mean.

There were portions of the book that were a lot more… vulgar and shocking than I expected, but they were always in jest and poking fun at himself, or at other people. I’d say that they’re sprinkled throughout the book so it probably wouldn’t be a great read for those who don’t like language or sexual imagery.

I will say this as a final note about the structure: I kept reaching the The End parts and couldn’t remember where the fork was that would allow me to go back to pick a new path, so eventually I just started reading the book like a “normal” book. Sure, I jumped back in time and in topic, but NPH has such a strong and witty voice that I still felt like his stories made sense in a cohesive way. I’m very curious to find out what the audiobook sounds like!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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Book Review: The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier

perfect score projectI have a masters degree in college student counseling. Most people in my degree program went on to be, or at least aspired to be, college advisors. I never wanted that job. My (not-so-secret) dream is to spend a year as an admissions officer. I’m fascinated by the history of admissions and all of the different fascets that go into getting into college — grades, references, well-roundedness, and in the case of this book, SAT scores.

I didn’t take the SATs in high school. I took the ACTs, got a very average score on my first attempt, called it good, and ended up going to a totally non-competitive school that was happy to admit me with my average score. I ended up leaving that school only a month in and eventually I graduated from a small CSU (a state school in California). Because I was a transfer student, I wasn’t required to submit an SAT or ACT score; if I’d enrolled as a freshman, my high school GPA was high enough that I would have been admitted regardless of what I scored on either of those tests.

All that to say, I never had any real test anxiety about taking these admissions tests. And honestly, none of my close friends in high school did, either. Oh, they took them, but we didn’t set our sights on crazy competitive schools. And honestly, we have all done just fine for ourselves. I am so thankful that I didn’t use a test to pressure me, that I picked a school that took my ok scores as I sign I was a good fit for them. And eventually, to borrow a phrase from Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, I got to be a big fish in a small pond. Small, average school that didn’t care about my college entrance exam scores meant I could focus on getting educated, having an amazing college experience, and getting into a grad school that was a good fit for me.

I did just that. I graduated with a BA in English with honors after seven years, I completed my masters degree in two years with a 4.0 and received a personal email from my advisor stating that I was the outstanding student who took our comprehensive exam.

Suck it, SATs.

My point is, I am so fascinated by this process because it seems so alien to me since I never needed it to be successful. In her book The Perfect Score Project, Debbie Stier writes about her son, Ethan, “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s,’ and he had gotten an awful lot of them.” She is worried about Ethan, who she feels is unfocused when it comes to taking the SATs and in his study prep for them, so in a quest to assist him in getting the best score he can, Debbie takes the test seven times herself. Yes. Seven. The book is a result of what she’s learned and what she has to share with people.

If I’m being honest, I skimmed the second half of this book. I made it about halfway through before I had to start speed reading and skimming because I couldn’t stand it anymore. First of all, I feel like Debbie is the kind of parent no parent should be: the kind who puts ridiculous pressure on a kid to be the best. She is very concerned when he tells her, in a meeting with school counselors, that he is OKAY WITH GETTING Bs. She doesn’t like it. She thinks he has potential. Which is awesome. But you cannot push your kids to be people they aren’t, potential be damned. And a book that’s all about that makes my heart squeeze sadly for those kids.

Although the book has pointers here and there, I find that overall this is a) not really a book to read about prepping for the test. If you want test prep, you’re better off using SAT materials and tutoring to get a student into the right mindframe (and not worrying about such competitive schools to begin with!) b) regurgitation of information that’s already out there in an attempt to have a voice in the market and as an attempt to profit off of freaked out parents. It is a book written by an obsessive mom who kind of loses her mind over a ridiculous test by the end of the book and instead of being the kind of parent who calms other parents, she really just works them up over and over again. That’s what bugs me the most — this is an anxiety-producing book, not an anxiety-calming one.

Parents, you’re better off skipping the hysteria of a moment hell-bent on getting a perfect score in hopes she can get her son a perfect score and just love your kids through the process instead.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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