Tag Archives: Reviews

3 Challenges of the Christian Book Lover (Guest Post)

3 Challenges of the Christian Book Lover

by Steph Beth Nickel

3 Tips for Book LoversGiving a Kind Critique

Have you ever been asked to critique someone’s writing or been approached to be a beta reader? (A beta reader is given an author’s unpublished manuscript for review.)

Anyone who writes knows how hard it is to allow others not only to read the words they’ve spent hours—sometimes even months or years—grueling over but also to ask readers for feedback, both what they liked and what they didn’t.

As believers, we want to be kind and encouraging. We want to build up rather than tear down. These are godly responses, but we must also seek to be honest.

How can you and I express our opinion in a way that is both honest and encouraging?

Here are three suggestions:

Before you start to read, ask what the writer is looking for in particular. Don’t give them a list of grammatical errors if they primarily want to know if the characters are believable and the storyline plausible, for example.

Remember to list what you liked as well as what you didn’t. Some people use the 2-1 rule: list two positives for every negative. Others simply list the things they enjoyed first and then those they feel could be improved.

Even if you’re an editor, a critique is not the same as an edit. Try to approach the work as a typical reader rather than a professional, although there will, of course, be an overlap. It’s hard to switch off the editor brain even when reading for pleasure.

Tweetable: Build up, don’t tear down, when giving a critique. (click to tweet)

Leaving a Realistic Review

If we’ve been asked to leave a review—or simply if we choose to do so, it can be challenging if we didn’t particularly like the book.

We may not want to hurt the author’s feelings—or their sales—especially if we know them personally.

While we want to be kind to the author, we must also keep in mind those who may choose to read a book based upon our review.

Here are three suggestions:

Deliberately look for something positive to include in your review, especially if you can’t honestly give it four or five stars. Point out what you enjoyed—or what other readers might enjoy—before listing those things you didn’t like.

It’s best to leave a brief review. Even so, take the time to craft it well and read it over a few times before posting.

And when it comes to reviewing books by authors you know, you may not want agree to do so if you think your review may affect their sales and / or your relationship with them.

Tweetable: Give kind but honest reviews. (click to tweet)

Selfless Self-Promotion

Whether we write, edit or proofread, we may have to promote our work. As Christians, we may find this difficult to do. After all, humility is a godly trait. However, humility doesn’t mean denying the gifts and abilities the Lord has enabled us to develop.

I once heard of an author who said if he didn’t believe his book would be valuable to his reader and worth their financial investment, he had no business writing it. What a great perspective!

The same is true of any creative or professional endeavour we are involved in. And if it has value to others, it makes sense to make them aware of it.

How can we do so without coercing others or allowing pride to motivate us?

Here are three suggestions:

Truly consider how others will benefit. Keep them in mind when developing a marketing strategy and promoting your product or service.

Be generous. Many creatives, even those who aren’t believers, give away bonus material that is of significant value. They may offer their first book free. They may record podcasts or webinars that are more than simply promotional tools. Follow their example and seek to bless your readers or clients.

Although this may sound overly “spiritual,” believers ought to pray about this, as they should about all areas of life. God will show you how to engage in selfless self-promotion if you ask.

Tweetable: Consider how your writing will benefit the reader when marketing. (click to tweet)

Will you accept these challenges? What could you add to these lists?

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.




Fiction 101 writing course

Product Review: Fiction 101, by Randy Ingermanson

Fiction 101 writing courseFiction 101, by Randy Ingermanson

Best known as “the Snowflake Guy”, novelist Randy Ingermanson is a popular teacher of fiction writing techniques and marketing. His Fiction 101 is a series of lectures and handouts that writers can use as part of their professional development.

Some of the material included in this course is available on his website: definitions of different writing stages, the Snowflake method etc. I’d recommend checking out what writing level you’re at before buying, although even the most experienced writers can benefit from a refresher of fiction basics.

Fiction 101 is for people who want to write novels, and it looks at the craft and components – and the necessary commitment. Randy’s lectures are easy to follow and laced with humour. He gives practical examples of what works and what doesn’t, and often suggest books for further study.

The course looks at key issues like characters, motivation, point of view, plot (on three levels: the big picture [beginning – middle – end], the medium picture [scenes and sequels] and the little picture [motivation-reaction units]), dialogue, theme.

Fiction 101 wouldn’t be complete with Randy’s signature “Snowflake” method for novel design. If this course isn’t for you, you might still want to check out his Snowflake method.

He says he doesn’t teach writers to create, but to analyse and organize that creation. This can be done ahead of time or after the first draft, whichever suits your style. He encourages students to adapt the Snowflake stages to suit their needs.

To help you along, the course includes a blank character chart and a sample Snowflake and scene spreadsheet.

As well as the basic craft of fiction, Fiction 101 addresses work habits and conferences. These talks come at the end of the course, after we’ve studied the basics of the craft, and they’re very candid about the work involved. Having come this far, we’re not likely to scare easily, but if we’re to progress we need to be intentional.

Randy Ingermanson bills himself as “America’s mad scientist of fiction writing.” His monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine always contains something helpful. It’s free, and back issues are available on the site. Along with his six novels, he’s also written Writing Fiction for Dummies.

Fiction 101 is available as an electronic download for $80 USD. You can listen to the first Fiction 101 lesson for free.


God bless us each with a fresh year where we grow in awareness of His presence and in trust of His care.

To simplify my life a little, I’ll be dropping to two posts a week here:

Mondays will offer reviews, author interviews, web finds and all the things that used to come on Fridays. This will let me keep up with the reviews I want to do for speculative, sporadic… and slightly odd.

Thursdays will be devotional days now, instead of Wednesdays.

Review: The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee

The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee (Thomas Nelson, 1998, 2003)

“Seeing your true worth through God’s eyes” – a subtitle like that shows why this book would benefit most Christians worldwide. And with over two million copies in print, the demand is clearly there.

The introduction explains, “This book focuses on how our thoughts affect our emotional, relational, and spiritual development.” (p. x) It’s aimed at everyday Christians who may know the truths of Scripture but not know how to “apply God’s solutions to your search for significance.” (p. 6)

Through practical biblical teaching and illustrated by case studies, author Robert S. McGee aims to teach readers that “Our true value is based not on our behaviour or the approval of others but on what God’s Word says is true of us.” (p. 19)

That’s easy to say, but hard to internalize at the deepest level. Robert McGee simplifies the issue to suggest our problems rise from believing this basic lie:

Self-Worth = Performance + Others’ Opinions

And don’t most of us believe it, at least in part?

Is your life inhibited by fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Fear of punishment, or a need to blame others? Shame?

I didn’t realize how much these things affected me until I did the simple self-tests and began applying God’s truth instead of accepting the devil’s lies.

The Search for Significance explores the consequences of believing the false self-worth equation above, and most importantly it offers God’s perspective from His Word, which we can choose to believe instead. With practice, in time, we can replace the lies with truth.

This is one of the most liberating books I’ve read in a long time. My copy is filled with sticky notes highlighting key passages. I have the revised and expanded book and workbook in one volume, a 337-page trade paperback. The first half is the teaching, and the second has questions for reflection and/or discussion to complement each chapter.

Robert McGee has extensive background in counselling, and he’s quick to clarify that the book’s scope doesn’t include problems or disorders tied to physiological issues, which require extra help. Many of us, however, will benefit from a prayerful reading and even from taking this journey in company with a trusted friend.

You can watch a two-part video on relationships and our search for significance at the McGee family’s ministry site, Rapha Resources.

[Review copy from my personal library, and it’s a keeper.]

Interview and New Blog

A while ago I entered my unpublished novel, Praying for the Enemy, in Risen Books’ fiction contest, and the manuscript earned third place! [EDIT Sept. 2013: This story, re-titled Heaven’s Prey, releases from Choose NOW Publishing November 2013… visit my Heaven’s Prey page for more information.] That means I’m watching my mailbox for the two Risen titles (my choice) that are on their way. One of Risen Books’ authors, Yvonne Anderson, interviewed me this week on her blog, Y’s Words.

You may remember Yvonne from my review of her novel, The Story in the Stars.

Also… drum roll please… I’m pleased to introduce my new blog, speculative, sporadic… and slightly odd. [EDIT Sept. 2013: I’m phasing out this blog. For now, you’ll still find a few reviews there that I haven’t moved here yet.] The name may say it all. I’ve reviewed the occasional speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy novel here, always with a sense that it didn’t mesh with my main reader audience. So if you like those reviews, hop over to the new blog and subscribe. I won’t just be posting reviews, though. It’ll be my place for indulging my “slightly odd” side.

Happy Friday!

Not-Reviews: Two CDs I Can’t Stop Listening To

I had a wonderful, wonder-filled stretch of days last week but not a lot of reading time. Instead of speeding through the next book I’ll review, I thought I’d share two CDs from 2011 that mean a lot to me.

Saying Grace, by Geoff Moore

Geoff Moore sang “I Believe” and “Saying Grace” at the Nova Scotia stop on the “Evening with Steven Curtis Chapman and Friends” tour this spring. Buying a CD when you’ve just experienced a live performance is risky, as a couple of dusty cases in my stack will prove. But those two songs fit into my soul at first hearing like they’d been there all along.

This album is about love: God’s love for us and our love in response to Him. It’s about gratitude. And it celebrates living a full and simpler life. It’s one of the most soul-encouraging albums I own.

The music is light-to-moderate rock, or perhaps country-crossover. Every song on the album means a lot to me and if I tried to pick a favourite I’d list at least half of them. For a limited time, you can listen to the album on Geoff Moore’s website. Just click the player on the lower left of the screen.

Anyone who didn’t get a copy of the CD at one of the concerts is finally able to pre-order it now through Geoff Moore’s online store. Pre-orders get you an immediate digital download of the entire album, and an autographed CD when it releases at the end of August.


On Fire, by Peter Furler

Okay, anyone who’s a newsboys fan from the Peter Furler days has to get this album. The band is different, so don’t expect classic newsboys sound, but the sound is great.

The CD is filled with Peter Furler’s trademark energy and it’s a lot of fun. And among the clever lyrics, driving vocals and instrumentation are some deeper-meaning moments that encourage my spirit.

A lot of the songs are loud rock, best played with the windows open and the sound cranked, and I’m sure I hear Super Mario-esque music in one of them. There are quieter, worshipful songs too. I love what he does with “Psalm 23”.

Every song on the album makes me smile and sing along, and again it’s too hard to pick an overall favourite. “I’m Alive” is my faith anthem, “Faster and Louder” has my vote for most fun, and “All in Your Head” called me back to writing fiction.

You can read a proper review of On Fire [p. 26] and an interview with Peter Furler [p. 20] in the July/August issue of Christian Musician Magazine. His closing thoughts on gratitude and perseverance encouraged me. The album is available through iTunes or from your preferred music store or provider.

[CDs from my personal library. If you buy On Fire through the above iTunes link, it benefits Peter Furler, not me. So go for it!]

Friday Findings

Happy Canada Day! Here are some posts I’ve seen recently that I want to share:

At Pics ‘n Perusery, Heather posts on faith and life. I particularly like “Hanging on my Prayer Line.”

At Pursuing Heart, Cherry posts soul-refreshing devotional thoughts… and some wonderful recipes.

At The Moonlight Baker, Kim has some tasty-looking recipes, like Nutella Cheesecake Layer Bars.

At The 160 Acre Woods, Amydeanne reviews books and designs Scripture graphics.

And if you’re feeling stressed and want a lift, check out The Jive Aces‘ version of “Bring Me Sunshine.”

Advent Poetry, Writing Advice, and Lightening Up

Can you believe this Sunday’s the beginning of Advent? Over at the Kingdom Poets blog, D.S. Martin will be posting a new poem each Monday for Advent and Christmas reflection. He’s posted one already, to get us into the spirit of things: this week’s Rowan Williams post introduces us to the Welsh poet and shares his poem, “Advent Calendar”.

On a completely different topic, there’s an interesting new blog called Girls With Pens. Co-writers Lisa Hall-Wilson and Marcy Kennedy offer weekly “tips and tricks for writing for a faith-based market”. Not a writer? They’ve also begun posting weekly book reviews.

And recently at Whatever He Says, Susan Stewart shared a challenging post on “Lightening Up“.

CD Review: Born Again, by the newsboys

Born Again, by the newsboys (Inpop Records, 2010)

You know how when you love an album there’s always the fear that the next one won’t hit that same sweet spot? Either the artist(s) or you will have gone in a different direction? Or maybe that one album was a fluke connection with you?

I loved In The Hands of God. I bonded with the music on that album, and it blessed me spiritually in so many ways. I knew it wasn’t a one-time connection with the newsboys’ music, though, because some of their previous songs have reached me the same way.

Along comes Born Again, not only a new album but featuring a new lead, Michael Tait. And although I’d understood that former lead Peter Furler was going to stay part of the writing team, I don’t see much evidence of it this time around.

Thanks to some clever marketing strategy from the band, fans had plenty of opportunities to hear some of the new tracks far enough in advance of the album release that we had a good feel of what to anticipate.

I jumped at the chance to pre-order the CD, thus scoring some track downloads back in the spring. And the single, “Born Again,” had a lot of airplay.

After a lot of time listening to the full CD (including the digital-only bonus songs I had to download separately), I’m ready to add my comments to the mix.

Short version: love it.

Longer version: may still love In the Hands of God a bit more, but that’s just me.

Born Again has it all. Musically the songs range from the driving beat of the title track and “One Shot” to the gentler rhythm of “Running to You” and “I’ll Be”. There’s even some rap in the redone “Jesus Freak”.

And the lyrics that pull it all together. The songs are singable; some are fun and some are healing, and there’s an amazing amount of Scriptural truth. It may not be straight from an official version of the Bible, but it’s there in songs like “Escape” and “Build Us Back”.

Some of the lyrics I couldn’t get, and even with the lyric sheet I have questions. (What does “now you’re in the in-low” mean?)

Michael Tait’s voice gives a way different sound than Peter Furler’s, yet the overall feel of the music is the same and still great. Newsboys, new or old, have my vote for favourite band. To learn more about them, visit the newsboys’ website. You can listen to sample tracks at the newsboys’ MySpace page or the newsboys’ Facebook page.

With Born Again, I’m glad “the boys are back for a second act”.

Friday Findings 2

The Pursuing Purity Project is a three-book Bible study and resource for women. What captures me about the project is that it goes beyond the usual defining of purity in sexual terms. Author Keiki Hendrix draws her premise from Matthew 5:8–“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”–and she asks, “If this is the formula for seeing God, to be pure in heart, then shouldn’t we pursue that? Shouldn’t we set our hearts on path to have this purity of heart?

The site offers a 6-part downloadable Bible study (free!) as well as devotionals on the subject of purity. I haven’t investigated the studies yet, but they’re definitely on my list.

Reflections is a new-to-me blog by Shannon Leibold, on seeing and reflecting the glory of God in our daily lives.

Every Saturday there’s a roundup of book review links at Semicolon. It’s a great way to discover new reading material, and to share a link to any books you’ve posted about in the previous week. Sherry, the blog owner, posts reviews through the week too.

I like to support my local Christian bookstores, but I was happy to learn about BooksforChrist, which bills itself as “Canada’s Discount Christian Bookstore” and offers free shipping within Canada on orders over $50. (Amazon.ca and Chapters-Indigo give free shipping on anything over $40.) My local stores are happy enough to order in books for me, but it’s always good to have options. In the US there’s Christianbook.com, and some of my Canadian friends use them, but I’ve always wondered what the shipping and customs fees would be. They have super-low discount prices on some of their books, though.

Tea lovers will appreciate the lyrics in this song from Canadian jazz singer/songwriter Teresa Doyle: “You’re My Cup of Tea“. You can grab a free download of “You’re My Cup of Tea” from ejazznews.com.