Here at HBTB, we love amazing stories so of course we love Rewired by Dr. Ajay K. Seth - which just released January 8, 2019 from Thomas Nelson. It’s a true story about “an unlikely doctor, a brave amputee, and the medical miracle that made history.” And we love that we have a special sneak peek excerpt to share with you today since reading is kinda what we do around here ;)



A raccoon bite on the arm doesn’t seem that serious, but it soon becomes a life-or-death medical crisis for Melissa Loomis. After days of treatment for recurring infection, it becomes obvious that her arm must be amputated. Dr. Ajay Seth, the son of immigrant parents from India and a local orthopaedic surgeon in private practice, performs his first-ever amputation procedure. In the months that follow, divine intervention, combined with Melissa’s determination and Dr. Seth’s disciplined commitment and dedication to his patients, brings about the opportunity for a medical breakthrough that will potentially transform the lives of amputees around the world.

Rewired is the inspirational, miraculous story of Dr. Seth’s revolutionary surgery that allows Melissa to not just move a prosthetic arm simply by thinking, but to actually feel with the prosthetic hand, just as she would with her natural arm. This resulted in what others have recognized as the world’s most advanced amputee, all done from Dr. Seth’s private practice in a community hospital, using a local staff, and with no special training or extensive research funding.


Dr. Ajay Seth is an orthopaedic surgeon in North Canton, Ohio, whose education includes the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, the Ohio State University, and Allegany General Hospital. Dr. Seth is working on advancements in prosthetics with Johns Hopkins University, in relationship with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and through his company, Bionic Miracle, LLC. He and his high school sweetheart, also a physician, are raising two children. (Besides being a surgeon, he serves as the physician on call for the Canton Regional SWAT team, training the thirty-six members, and providing medical care during raids and calls around the city.)


Twelve hours earlier, I’d been so sure of myself. After doing something hundreds of times, we start to think we’ve seen all there is to see, and that we know all there is to know. But I’d been taken by surprise, and I couldn’t take back my bold promises. You can’t unring a bell once it’s been rung

I could have doubled down on my promise: She’s still not going to lose that arm! I’ll come back and wash it again in a few days, and there will be no bacteria by that time. Everything will heal, folks.

But I knew that wasn’t the truth. The truth was this was the most challenging case I’d ever been presented with since I’d started in orthopaedics—not in relation to technical skill, but because of the still-unknown but powerful, ravaging bacteria confronting us.

I looked at David and gave him a sad-but-honest answer to his question about saving his sister-in-law’s arm. I said, “I don’t know.”

I paused, letting them take in those words, then continued, “I don’t know if she’s going to lose her arm now. But I can tell you one thing: I will work day and night and do everything I possibly can do to see that she keeps it.”

I think they all had some idea of the seriousness of the situation. What we didn’t discuss was the possibility that the infection might continue its journey from Melissa’s wrist to her shoulder and points beyond. I’d made it clear that now the bacteria had an outlet, a place to disembark.

They asked more questions, and I fielded them. We all shook hands, and I hugged Michelle—a worried sister—and told her everything was going to be okay.

Doctors work to heal the body, but a surprising share of our work involves nurturing the spirit. We do all we can to reassure people everything will come out all right, but we always walk that tight line between offering comfort and avoiding harsh reality. The best practitioners find ways to provide an honest prognosis with genuine hope and encouragement. And we hope people understand we’re not God; there are situations we simply cannot master, battles against infections and diseases we cannot win.

I hoped and prayed this occasion was not one of those.

I walked out of the room and down the hallway, into the post-anesthesia care unit. I looked at the clock. By now my family was out of church. They’d surely watched the door, expecting me to walk in at any moment, so they could gesture and show me where they were sitting. I hadn’t made it, but they’d understand. They knew that in the world of surgery, all other bets are off.

To my surprise, Melissa was already awake and resting comfortably. I walked up to her bed and said, as gently as possible, “Melissa, we operated on you for about ninety minutes. Longer than we initially expected because there was more infection there than we thought. It’s a challenging situation, but you’re going to be all right.”

I didn’t yet realize what kind of patient Melissa was. You don’t have to break things to her gently; she has an inner constitution of iron. As I finished saying my piece, Melissa replied, “I hope you got all that raccoon bacteria out of my arm.”

“I looked and I looked, Melissa, and I can tell you I couldn’t find any raccoon left in that arm. I beat every single one of those bacteria out of there.

She smiled, and I was pleased with the conversation. This wasn’t the best time to give her a foreboding preview of what was next. She had twenty-four hours to prepare for the current condition of her arm. Her family would be the ones to talk with her first because they knew her best. I could fill in the details afterward.

Soon I’d changed back into my street clothes and was heading to my car. It was 11:30 a.m. I dialed my wife. “What happened?” she asked.

“Long story,” I said. “Short version: I have an arm to save. It’s in terrible condition, but I’ve got to save it.”

Taken from Rewired by Dr. Ajay K. Seth Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

In Review... January 11, 2019

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Are you hunkered down for the big winter storm? Either way, do you need some ideas on what to read? Check out our 2018 Staff Picks and this week’s batch of reviews!

Inspirational Suspense
Elizabeth Goddard
SERIES: Uncommon Justice #1

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Readers are in for a treat with this sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense novel. Between the romantic tension, surprising twists and turns, and constant danger, there is no time for readers to pause until they reach the end. Goddard presents a common theme throughout the book – not everything is as it seems. Willow’s stubbornness puts her into some tough situations, but thankfully for readers, Austin McKade has been hired for help. Austin has his own demons to face, but watching him sort through them and become more open with Willow in the process will have readers cheering for this destined-to-be-together couple. Austin’s brother Heath is a swoony secondary character that will have readers begging for more by the end. Thankfully his story is coming next! (REVELL, Feb., 368 pp., $10.99)

Reviewer: Jessica Baker


Bookmarked Review

Amish Romance
Laura V. Hilton
SERIES: The Amish of Mackinac County #2

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Readers may want to invest in a big bag of gourmet chocolate or their favorite candy before indulging in this latest sweet-with-a-little-sass-mixed-in story from Laura V. Hilton. The author delves deeper into Agnes’s personality, a character previously a little difficult to connect with, and delivers a heroine who is engaging and very easy to like. Isaac will weaken knees with his winks and flirty behavior, and like Agnes he becomes even more likable as more of his story is revealed. Delightful banter and swoonworthy kisses between the two, as well as the adorable scenes with Isaac’s young charges, will leave a perpetual smile on readers’ faces from start to finish - even though a few tears may be shed as well. Another delicious visit to Hilton’s Mackinac County, in more ways than one! (WHITAKER HOUSE, Feb., 256 pp., $14.99)

Reviewer: Carrie Schmidt


Inspirational Historical Romance
Stacy Henrie
SERIES: Sheridan’s Sweethearts #3

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Sweet and heartwarming, this is a light and entertaining story that readers will delight in from cover to cover.  This novel intricately brings to life what it’s like to live in a Wyoming town in 1902 and the hardships of building up a small business in such a town. The author also beautifully highlights the timeless struggle of people comparing themselves to others - and realizing everyone is special and can succeed in their own and unique ways.  The story of an old and beloved friendship that blossoms into a romance when least expected also plays a large role in capturing the attention of readers.  A fabulous combination of history, friendship, and romance, this splendid book is sure to enthrall readers. (LOVE INSPIRED HISTORICALS, Feb, 288pp., $5.99)

Reviewer: Sydney Anderson


Inspirational Contemporary Romance
V. Joy Palmer

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When Apryl Burns’s life is turned upside down, she finds herself required to work with Chance McFarland, the man she has claimed as her nemesis. Apryl’s big personality includes a humorous sarcastic streak, stubbornness, a love of potato chips, and a fiery temper, but also love for family and a vulnerability which makes her likable. The debates between her and Chance are heated and passionate, foreshadowing what a less tumultuous relationship between them could entail. Palmer includes several fun pop culture references, a few discussions of superheroes, and a bonus romantic storyline for Apryl’s twin sister in this book, but also the challenges of remaining loyal to family when goals and dreams don’t align and leaning into God when storms of change arrive. (WHITEFIRE, Feb., 217 pp., $15.99 )

Reviewer: Suzie Waltner


Inspirational Historical Romance
Kathleen Y’Barbo

SERIES: Daughters of the Mayflower

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The author’s love of Texas history shines from cover to cover with all the drama and action readers would anticipate from a story touting a connection to the Alamo. Ellis is an engaging and independent heroine. Her knowledge of herbs and healing, fierce love of her family and home, and willingness to boldly and courageously do anything in her power to protect and defend them are just some of the many layers which make Ellis such an endearing character. Clay embodies the swoony hero vibes with integrity and vulnerability as his complex mission is compromised by both injury and his distracting attraction to Ellis. Matters of trust, subterfuge, loyalty, and love muddy the waters as they weigh their contributions to the greater good against their individual desires, hopes, and dreams. (BARBOUR, Feb., 256 pp., $12.99 )

Reviewer: Beth Erin


Children’s Picture Book
Christie Thomas

With beautiful, soft pictures and the constant reminder of God’s care over us, young readers will treasure this picture book by Christie Thomas. In a world full of anxiety and fear, adults and children both can be reminded through the gentle guidance of father owl that there really is nothing to fear at all. God loves everyone and strives to keep them safe. The fun examples will entertain young ones, while also teaching the depth of God’s love. Although written for the benefit of young readers, older readers will also find themselves comforted with the knowledge of God’s love as they read. (HARVEST HOUSE, Feb., 32 pp., $16.99)

Reviewer: Jessica Baker


Gold Star Reviews are for those books that are just truly in a class by themselves. Given rarely.

Bookmarked Reviews are for those books you'll definitely want to put on your 'keepers' shelf! Given sparingly.

For more on our review philosophy, click HERE

Bookish Resolutions: Organize Those Shelves

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Give your bookshelves some love

I don’t know about you, but I am swimming in books. More books come in the mail almost daily, and I get a little (ok, a lot) behind on organizing my shelves. Let’s kick off 2019 with revamping, reorganizing, and refreshing our bookshelves together.

Sort by Color

This reader gets a bit of anxiety over this one...While it is aesthetically pleasing and the artist side of me the OCD side says, “but how will you find the book you want???”

Bookstagrammers like @paperfury share GORGEOUS photos usually color themed...and they make me drool. But the thought of doing that with my own books...Scares the daylights out of me.

The “Standard” Method

While we’re on the subject, this is the way I organize my shelves:

I sort the sections of my reading nook by Genre, first. Then I alphabetize by the author’s surname. If that author has any stand-alone books, I place those in alphabetical order by the title. Then if the author has any book series I place those in alphabetical order by series name then Book 1, Book 2, etc. My Nonfiction books are organized by subject and then title.

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Books Read, Want to Read, Favorites, Not Favorites...

It’s like the real-life version of Goodreads. Sorting your books into these categories will make it easier to figure out what to read next, what books to loan out, which books to reread, and which books are only good for collecting dust (because let’s face it, we all own books we didn’t like but can’t part with, it feels like betrayal).

Frequency of Use

This is good for your reference books, nonfiction, etc. I keep my WWII nonfiction books on the easier to reach shelves because I am more likely to read those ones than the biographies of past presidents. But that’s just me.

Organize by Size

I love that we have an abundance of kids books. But trying to organize them is next to impossible. I keep collections together as much as possible (see below) but the randomness of the rest of the books can just get confusing. So, I have taken to organizing by SIZE. It gives the shelf an organized FEEL and lets it all flow nicely.


Being a homeschool mom, I have my fair share of different collections of books. Eyewitness, geography types, different vintage collections, and reader collections. I always keep these ones together. It just makes life so much easier when I know where to find that geography book about the Appalachian Mountains.


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My bookshelves hold more than just books. Granted the more I acquire the fewer places I have to put pretties on the shelves. But I still make it work. A few things to add a little flavor to your shelves can be:

Storage Books

Framed Quotes

Twinkle Lights

Bookish Candles

Funko POP!


Willow Tree



Send us your beautiful shelfies on social media @hopebythebook

Rachel enjoys reading, reviewing books, and sharing her passion for literature at www.bookwormmama.org. She's a virtual assistant and shares the small-town life with her husband and children.

Bookish Resolutions: Be a Read-Aloud Family

Making Time for Books and Family

 Beginning new traditions can be refreshing...but sometimes we don’t know where to begin. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your everyday routine.

 Read Aloud Revival

Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read-Aloud Family is a book to help us connect with our kids and help prepare them for the future, all through reading books aloud together. With tips and encouragement for families with kids of all ages. But how do we get started?


The Bed-Time Story

I don’t know about you, but when bed-time rolls around I am READY to have some peace and quiet. There are days when my husband and I have to force ourselves to slow down and honor the bed-time story routine that we have established.

Recently we have been reading a little bit of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone each night. We have the illustrated edition which both kids (and us adults) absolutely love. Reading together before bed has become a good way for us to come together at the end of the day, put all electronics aside, calm down the rambunctious children, and focus on a good story.

Whether you set a time limit, chapter limit, or pick a short story book or two, I encourage you to give this a try.


Lunch Reading

The curriculum that we use for our homeschooling (BookShark) incorporates the reading aloud of several books throughout the school year. This is one of the reasons I decided to go with them in the first place. Every day we read a portion of the current book, discuss the vocabulary, talk about what might happen next, ask questions about the setting and people, and we do all of this while the boys are eating lunch.

I have found that this is a really good way to include my youngest (who isn’t quite school age yet) in our daily classroom routine. Whether you are using a curriculum that incorporates reading aloud or not, you can easily begin reading aloud during lunch. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend Little House in the Big Woods or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.


Morning Devotions

A new tradition that we are starting in our home, thanks to a little inspiration from Jessica Smartt’s Memory-Making Mom (watch for my review of this incredible book in our Spring issue), is morning devotions. Now, this is something that I have tried and failed, to do for the past couple of years. The boys were antsy, I was too busy trying to organize the rest of the day, nothing we did made it stick.

And then, I had an “Ah-ha” moment while reading Smartt’s book and I decided to give it another go. Freshly baked muffins, “tea” in fancy cups, candle, flowers, and devotions. And do you know what? It was a huge success. I am super excited to continue this on a daily basis.


Juggling the Age Differences

Luckily, my two boys are pretty close in age. Although, while one is beginning to get a decent grip on reading, the other can’t tell his colors apart yet. So what do you do when you have an extremely varied age range?


The Toddlers

This is an easy age for reading aloud. Although reading the SAME book again for the 17th time that day can get a little rough. Why not take a jaunt over to the library and select a couple new board books to try? Or check out Usborne’s That’s Not My… series. These are some of my all-time favorite toddler books! Sensory, repetition, and OPTIONS! You can have the same style of book in so many different editions, it’s glorious.


Beginning to Read

Like I said earlier, my oldest is just on the edge of getting a good grip on reading. Plainly put, we are in the excruciating period where it takes a painfully long time for him to get through 1 line. But do you know what? I don’t care how long it takes him, because HE IS READING!!! We do use a lot of the I Can Read! books for schoolwork, but my personal favorite is the My First Reading Library. It gets the parent/teacher involved in the reading as well. I read a page, he reads a page, and repeats. It is nice because the stories are able to use a broader range of vocabulary than if he were required to read the book in its entirety. “Cat sat. Cat ran. Cat ran and sat.” type of stuff. 


The Older Kids

I have very distinct memories of sitting around the living room and reading together as a family. We would each take turns reading a chapter and then pass it on to the next family member. We read The Chronicles of Narnia in this fashion and other stories. Looking back, I suppose I should have read-aloud more as a child/teen to help with pronunciation. Because even now, there are several words that I can spell, give you a definition of, and use it in a sentence, but I can NOT say it out loud correctly.  Like “memoir” and “regularly” (and no, I did NOT just practice saying those out loud).


Reaping the Benefits

Do you want to know what is the most wonderful thing as a bookish parent? Seeing your children cherish and adore books just as much as you do. And what better way to encourage their love for literature than by reading aloud together on a regular basis.


Neither of my parents would be considered “bookish” but somehow, through the reading aloud together, Wishbone, and a never-ending penchant for curiosity, I have become THE book nerd of the family. Is it worth taking the extra time to read aloud together? Absolutely!

Do I see a difference in the way my kids speak? YES! My oldest used the word “nearly” in a sentence the other day. He used it correctly and was very intentional about using it. I can only attribute it to the variety of vocabulary he receives on a daily basis.

Do my kids beg to read books? YES! Is their favorite place to go, the library? YES! And through read aloud together, we are preparing them, nurturing them, and instilling a love for books that will be lifelong into those tiny little hearts of theirs.


Get Started Today

Sarah Mackenzie has the Read-Aloud Revival 31-Day Challenge active on her website right now. Sign up for free and jump into reading-aloud today!

Bookish Resolutions: Tame That Teetering TBR Tower

The new year is always a good time to set resolutions that will help make this current year better than the last. Gym memberships and diet program sign-ups increase dramatically every January, and people flood social media with their ‘word of the year’ and resolutions posts.

Bookworms have resolutions too, and one of the most common ones is "taming the TBR (to be read) pile”. Or in some cases, you may need to replace ‘pile’ with ‘tower’ or ‘island’ or even ‘universe’. (Ask me how I know this.) But where do you even start such an impossible feat as taming the amount of books you want to read, especially when irresistible new books pop up every day?!?

I (Carrie) have no idea. None. My TBR pile is out. of. control. It has been for quite some time now and shows no signs of diminishing in the foreseeable future.

So I asked my associate editor, Annie, to give some insight here. (Don’t let her great suggestions fool you, though - she’s as hopeless as the rest of us.)

Participate in Reading Challenges/Readathons

This time of year, there are lots of great reading challenges for you to start! Some go all year, and others are more monthly. These can make taming that TBR pile fun - and give you an excuse to finally read that book you’re not sure about (and which would otherwise stay on your TBR list to infinity) - plus they provide great accountability to keep at.

May I suggest Hope By The Book’s reading challenge? We’ve got three levels so you can do as little or as many as you choose! Find out more HERE.

Readathons are typically for a day or a week, though some are seasonal. You can find these on various book blogs and on social media. These are a great way to power-read your way through a chunk of your book stacks.

Buddy Reads

Everything is better with friends, even reading! Grab a friend or two, pick a book or series, read and discuss. Kinda like a book club but more one-on-one - AND it can be done online which is perfect for us introverted readers!

The ‘Reading Nook Stack’ Method

Stack five books at a time by your favorite reading nook (like on your nightstand or next to your reading chair). Read them off one by one, and don’t add any more until the last book has been read. If you change your mind on a book, switch it out instead of adding to the stack. This helps keep your immediate TBR within a reachable goal. Take caution though! If you overachievers out there decide to use more than five books at a time for this method, you might find yourself in trouble!

It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.
— Lemony Snicket


Audiobooks are a great way to knock a book off your list while doing chores or commuting. I've even done it while shopping! Of course there is Audible and Scribd but you can also check out audiobooks through Overdrive and Hoopla, etc. And if Richard Armitage happens to be the narrator, all the better ;)

Set aside reading time

Keep this commitment of at least once a week, even if you are able to add more reading time. That way, even when busyness creeps up, you'll still have this time devoted for reading. Mark it on your planners and Google Calendars and carve out time each week for dedicated reading time.

Cull your Goodreads lists

Goodreads is a handy website that lets us keep track of our books read, series, authors, and what our friends are reading & reviewing. It also, let’s just be honest, adds even more stress to the overwhelmed TBR-owner. My want-to-read list is a metaphysical impossibility, yet I continue adding to it when I see a book on someone’s social media or blog. And sometimes my one-click reflex is faster than my thought process, so it’s prudent every once in a while to go through and make sure you really want to read that book that grabbed your attention.

Make a TBR jar

A) That’s super fun to say - “TBR jar”
B) It’s a super handy way to help yourself over those “I have 5000 books on my TBR list and I have no idea what to read next” dilemmas.

Take strips of paper and write down a TBR title on each one. Fold them up and fill up a mason jar with the papers. Each time you finish a book, reach in the jar and grab another title, and so on. Thanks to one of our reviewers, Andi, for pointing out this idea from BookRiot right as I was finishing up this post! Perfect timing :)

These are all great ideas! But, let’s face it… at some point we just have to surrender to the teetering TBR tower, acknowledge that we’ll never get it read in one lifetime, and hope Heaven has a library :) Until then, happy reading!!

In Review... January 4, 2019

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Happy New Year! Here’s the first batch of reviews for 2019, just in time for your weekend reading pleasure. Want some other great reads? Check out our 2018 Staff Picks!

Inspirational Juvenile Non-Fiction
Trinitee Stokes

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For young readers who have big dreams and some big doubts, this book will help teach that God is bigger than anything the enemy tries to do. With the author’s laid back and open writing style, the reader will feel they are having a one-on-one conversation with her. Going behind the scenes into her hectic life, this Disney Channel star shows us how to live for God even in the spotlight, inspiring young readers to live for God where they are in life. (ZONDERVAN, Dec., 224 pp., $14.99)

Reviewer: Alysha Worthen


Inspirational Contemporary Romance
Danica Favorite
SERIES: Three Sisters Ranch #1

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This small ranching-town romance is a heartwarming retreat! Leah and her sisters are the type of folks who make plans for a lemonade stand when life’s truckload of lemons gets a flat. These ladies are resourceful, and they don’t let the tough stuff keep them down. Leah’s two adorable young sons are the joy of their mommy’s and auntie’s lives and providing them with a secure and happy home is top priority. Big-hearted, handsome, and helpful, cowboy-next-door Shane manages horses and cattle with more ease than the sometimes-prickly and always-independent females next door. His genuinely charming nature is sure to melt readers’ hearts as Shane goes above and beyond his neighborly duties to protect Leah and her boys. This sweet story inspires confidence in faith, trust, and second chances. (LOVE INSPIRED, Jan., 179 pp., $5.99)

Reviewer: Beth Erin


Inspirational Historical Romance
J'nell Ciesielski

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In a world ravaged by war, how can there be hope in the darkness? Ciesielski opens the doors to a setting of WWII not yet fully explored by other authors of this genre, allowing readers to discover the intricacies of occupied France in a new and fresh way. With enough secrets to last a lifetime, readers will be on the edge of their seats, cheering on the heroes. The story wraps up nicely, albeit a bit quickly as there were still details that felt like they still needed to be explored. Action-filled and captivating, readers who enjoy books with espionage, war, and romance should definitely read this one. Get lost in time in this moving story of faith, freedom, and love. (SMITTEN HISTORICAL ROMANCE, Dec, 327 pp., $12.99)

Reviewer: Rachel Dixon


Inspirational Cozy Mystery
Darlene Franklin, Cynthia Hickey, Elizabeth Ludwig, Dana Mentink, Candice Prentice, Janice Thompson

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Six different ladies. Six different mysteries. One small town. Each mystery, told in first person, is written by a different author and focuses on a different amateur sleuth from the town's book club. Every author's individual style is evident, but all six stories flow nicely together, leaving no plot holes. From murder to stolen money, the whodunits all put lives and businesses in danger, and not all of them are easily solved. While the characters could have used some more depth/layers, the quaint shops on Main make a tempting fictional town to visit - minus the sudden rash of crime, of course! Readers who enjoy Joanne Fluke might enjoy this collection of mysteries, too! (BARBOUR, Feb., 448pp., $14.99)

Reviewer: Alysha Worthen


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Children’s Picture Book
Quina Aragon

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Beautiful, bright illustrations by Scotty Reifsnyder perfectly accompany Aragon’s sweet text, the combination of both sure to draw and hold young readers’ attention. The story of creation carries through from the world to a small child, and the text (as told to the child) emphasizes the bond of love in both. Encouraging and worth-giving, this is a colorful, gorgeous rendering of the beginning of the world and God’s creativity, zeroed down to the start of each young life. Children will love the pictures, and parents will love the text. A perfect match! (HARVEST HOUSE, Feb., 32 pp., $16.99)

Reviewer: Carrie Schmidt


And Love loved so much that Love made us, Love caused creation.
— Love Made

Gold Star Reviews are for those books that are just truly in a class by themselves. Given rarely.

Bookmarked Reviews are for those books you'll definitely want to put on your 'keepers' shelf! Given sparingly.

For more on our review philosophy, click HERE

SPECIAL EXCERPT - We Hope For Better Things

Here at HBTB, we are super excited about another debut novel - We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels - which just released January 1, 2019 from Revell. We’re also super excited because we have a special sneak peek excerpt to share with you today!


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When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.


“Bartels is not afraid to tackle adversity, and does so gracefully and poetically. We Hope For Better Things will easily gain favor from readers, and leave them wanting more. “ —Hope By the Book

"We Hope for Better Things has it all: fabulous storytelling, an emotional impact that lingers long after you turn the last page, and a setting that immerses you. I haven't read such a powerful, moving story since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. This book will change how you look at the world we live in. Highly recommended!"--Colleen Coble, USAToday bestselling author of the Rock Harbor series and The View from Rainshadow Bay

"A timely exploration of race in America, We Hope for Better Things is an exercise of empathy that will shape many a soul."--Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials

"Storytelling at its finest. Erin Bartels delivers a riveting story of forbidden love, family bonds, racial injustice, and the power of forgiveness. We Hope for Better Things is a timely, sobering, moving account of how far we've come . . . and how much distance remains to be covered. A compulsively readable, incredibly powerful novel."--Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List

"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review


“Just out of curiosity, why was this stuff at a police station? What are these pictures of?”

Linden looked at his father, who looked down at his plate as if the answer were written there in the smear of coney sauce.

“They’re from the ’67 riots.”

I felt my heart rate tick up, scooted back up to the table, and leaned in. “Did you bring them?”

“Denny didn’t think I should.”

“Why not?”

“Because of that,” Linden said. “Because you weren’t interested until you knew what they were, and I knew it would play out this way.” He turned to his father. “Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I say she’d only be interested in getting her hands on the photos?”

I sat back, trying to play it cool, trying to put that approachable-yet-intelligent smile back on my face. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’ve built my entire reputation on exposing corruption and neglect in this city. Photos of historic significance left to rot in a police station are just one more symptom of the larger problem. And I’m working on a big piece right now on the riots. Those photos have never been published—I assume. I’m sure the Free Press would pay handsomely to have the privilege of sharing them with the world.”

Linden pointed a finger in my direction. “There! There it is! Just like I said.”

Mr. Rich placed a hand on his son’s forearm. “Okay, okay. Just calm down and let me talk a moment.”

Linden withdrew the accusative finger and leaned back on his half of the seat, his million-dollar foot stretching out past my chair, blocking me in even as I knew he must want me out.

His father looked at me with tired eyes. “Miss Balsam, I’m burdened. I been carrying something around for fifty years that I got to let go of. This camera and those photos have to get back to Nora. Not to the paper, not to a museum or a library. To Nora. Now, I can’t take them. But you could. Are you willing to just look into it? Do a little poking around to see if you’re related like we think you are? And if you are, would you be willing to make contact with her? Kind of ease her into the idea slowly? These photos will stir up a lot of hard memories for an old lady. But I know it in my heart—the Lord laid it on my soul—I need to get these to her.”

One of the most important lessons I learned in my first couple years as a professional journalist was not to get emotionally involved with a story. There was simply too much heartbreaking stuff you had to write about. To let yourself empathize with the boy who was being bullied or the man who had lost his business or the woman whose daughter had been abducted, when there was nothing you could do to help the situation beyond making a voice heard—it was just too heavy a burden to bring home with you every night. So I built up a wall around my heart and stayed within it at all times when it came to work.

But there was something about this man’s eyes, the crooked lines on either side of his mouth suggesting he had found as much to frown at in life as to smile about, that chipped away at that wall.

I tapped my finger on the table. “Why do you have them if she’s the one who took them?”

“She didn’t take them. My uncle did. But he’s gone. They belong to her now.”


“She’s his wife.”

An interracial couple in the 1960s? This was getting interesting. Maybe I could work this into my larger series of articles about the riots and the time surrounding them. It had a great human angle, a larger cultural-historical angle, a connection to a beloved NFL player. I could even frame it as a personal family story if I truly was related. The question was, would I have the time? I still hadn’t been able to crack the protective shield around Judge Sharpe, the white whale of my investigative series, and time was running out.

“Okay, let’s say I am related to her. I still don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, so why would she even listen to me?”

“Miss Balsam, do you believe in God?”

The question caught me off guard. “Yes.”

“Do you believe he works all things together for his glory?”

My parents believed that. My sister did. I had once. Before I’d seen just how chaotic and messed up and out of control the world was. If journalism had taught me anything, it was that we were all just out there flailing and stumbling through a minefield of dangers and predators and dumb blind chance. But it was obvious that Mr. Rich believed God had given him a task—return these items—and that he would get no rest until the task was completed.

Instead of answering his question, I asked one of my own. “Why don’t you just ship it to her?”

“No, that ain’t the way.”

I waited for a logical reason why not, but clearly none was forthcoming.

“Would you just look into it?” he said.

Those beseeching brown eyes tugged a few more bricks out of my wall.

“Sure. I’ll look into it,” I said.

Mr. Rich nodded and slid a business card across the table. I avoided Linden’s sharp gaze as I pocketed the card and squeezed out of my chair.

“It was so nice meeting you,” I said. “Thanks for lunch.”

I walked out into the windy, sun-drenched afternoon, handed a dollar to the homeless guy who paced and mumbled a few yards from the door, and headed down the street to the old Federal Reserve building, which had housed the shrinking Free Press staff since 2014, and where a pile of work awaited me.

I tried to concentrate on the unending march of emails marked urgent in my inbox, including one from my editor—My office, ASAP—but my mind was spinning out all the directions this new story idea could go. This was decidedly inconvenient because I needed to focus.

I’d been stalking Judge Sharpe through his affable and unsuspecting son Vic for months, and I finally felt like a break was imminent. Vic had texted me last night to set up a meeting after he, in his words, “discovered something big I think you’ll be interested to know.” I had to get these photos off my mind for the moment, and the best way to do that was to get the research ball rolling.

I slipped out to the stairwell and pulled up Ancestry.com on my phone. A few minutes and thirty dollars later, I was clicking on little green leaf icons that waved at me from the screen. I found my parents and then began tracing my father’s branch back to the family tree. Grandfather Richard, Great-Uncle Warner, and ping, just like that, a great-aunt born Eleanor Balsam.

Taken from “We Hope For Better Things” by Erin Bartels. Copyright © 2019 by Erin Bartels. Used by permission of http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/revell.


Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than fifteen years. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.

Introducing the Hope By the Book 2019 Reading Challenge!

Do you like making lists? I do. And I’ll let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret: My favourite kind of lists are book lists! Even when I was a child I enjoyed making lists of all the books by my favourite authors. And oh, the satisfaction when I could cross another one off my list because it had taken up residence on my bookshelf.

As a book blogger and reviewer, I get plenty of opportunities to make bookish lists, but one of my favourite lists of all is the one I begin making at the end of each year listing all the new releases for the following year. Once I’ve done that, I can begin on my favourite list of all: my TBR!

Despite being my favourite list of all, it’s not an easy one to compile. For starters, there are so many wonderful new releases each month it’s impossible to read them all, even if I devote myself solely to reading new releases. Then there are the books that released the previous year that I didn’t get around to, the books I hear other readers raving about—and, of course, I want to make sure I have variety in my reading diet: different genres, a mix of non-fiction and fiction…

Are you beginning to feel a little overwhelmed?

Take a few deep breaths. Ready? Breathe in…two…three…four, and out…two…three…four. Feeling better? Feel free to keep taking those deep breaths while I share some good news with you!

Here at Hope by the Book, we understand how traumatic it can be to maintain a healthy bookish diet. That’s why we’ve created the Hope by the Book Reading Challenge for 2019. It’s perfectly tailored to meet all your bookish nutritional needs while giving you the freedom to choose the books you read!

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Here’s how it works.

There are three levels to the challenge: Avid Reader (2 books per month), Voracious Reader (1 extra book each month), and Insatiable Reader (2 extra books per month). You choose the level that best suits your reading appetite. So if you class yourself as a voracious reader, for example, you would choose two books from the Avid Reader list each month, plus one additional book each month from the Voracious Reader list.

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Each month, we’ll be talking about the challenge on the blog, sharing some book suggestions and encouragement. And make sure you watch out for us on social media as well. We’ll be using the hashtag #HBTB2019reads, and we’d love for you to do the same so we can see what you’re reading!

Want the whole reading challenge as a PDF? Download it HERE!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and bookish 2019!

In Review... December 28, 2018

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Happy Friday after Christmas! We hope you had a wonderful time with loved ones and moments to reflect on the true meaning of the holiday. As you look ahead to the new year, here’s another round of book reviews to inspire your TBR list! A fabulous batch this week - several bookmarked reviews for you!

Inspirational Historical Romance
Misty M. Beller
SERIES: Heart of the Mountains #5

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In the fifth installment of Beller’s Heart of the Mountains series, she addresses the problem of addiction (rampant even in the 1800's) in a truthful manner, without being graphic. It is refreshing to see a strong female lead with backbone, and Rachel Gray is full of grit and determination to keep herself and her son safe while traveling through the wilds of Montana. While Seth Grant made some bad decisions in the past, he is now a understanding and more approachable person. The description of the Canadian mountains is picturesque, and it is enjoyable to see the interaction between Rachel and Seth during the journey. (MISTY Y M. BELLER BOOKS, INC. Oct., 306 pp., $14.95)

Reviewer: Patsy Glans


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Lynette Eason
SERIES: Blue Justice #3

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An intense beginning followed by an action-filled plot sequence keeps readers riveted in this third book in Eason’s Blue Justice series. What had been a quiet lake-side vacation for Detective Brady St. John turns into a deadly game of protection of Emily Chastain, a woman with a complex past, after several attempts on her life. Readers will enjoy the fast-paced development and unraveling the layers of mystery surrounding the case and, more specifically, the characters. With twists and turns, plus the involvement of a network of law enforcement and medical teams, each chapter of Code of Valor will entertain readers with visual imagery, while impacting them with themes of perseverance, self-image and love. Thrilling and captivating, Code of Valor makes its mark for romantic suspense readers. (REVELL, Jan., 336 pp., $15.99)

Reviewer: Annie Sturt


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Contemporary Romance
Jill Lynn
SERIES: Colorado Grooms #2

Fans of “older brother’s friend” or “childhood crush” romance tropes will especially enjoy this delightfully heartwarming ranching duo and the sweet baby bringing them together. Their journey through grief and regrets inspires tears, laughter, and gratitude. Emma’s crush and her resulting anti-stalker self-talks are stiff competition for Gage’s brand-new dad skills and unexpected (and assumedly forbidden) attraction to his friend’s little sister in the levity department. These authentic characters reflect the everyday attraction and connection forged through life’s less than glamorous yet essential pursuits such as housecleaning, cooking, and caring for little ones. Emma’s genuine love of children and compassion for others brings balance and contrast to Gage’s determination to avoid any and all relational entanglements. Lynn skillfully crafts a story that lingers within the heart while championing second chances, forgiveness, priorities, and love. (LOVE INSPIRED, Jan., 224 pp., $5.99)

Reviewer: Beth Erin


...she believed in love with a capital L—the conquer-anything kind.
— The Rancher's Unexpected Baby

Inspirational Non-Fiction/Evangelism & Ministry
LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE: How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home
Shauna Pilgreen

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Part memoir, part instruction manual, and part encouragement, Love Where You Live challenges readers to live out the great commission wherever they call home. Whether handing out free pizza to the neighbors, interceding for the people she sees but hasn’t yet met, or raising their children in a community of faith, Shauna Pilgreen and her family strive to make intentional, authentic connections in a city that thrives on individual expression. It’s not always easy.  The author expresses genuine honesty as she shares some of the challenges and hard conversations she had with God when He called her family from a small southern town to San Francisco. Yet, her joy is evident in the connections she’s made and the faith that is forming in some of the people she’s met in her city. This book is a call to action for all believers to see where God has planted them as a mission field. (REVELL, Jan., 272 pp., $15.99)

Reviewer: Suzie Waltner


If those who live near us are to know we are Christians by our love, it must be on display.
— Love Where You Live

Contemporary Amish Romance
Amy Clipston

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These heart-warming stories of four ‘garden couples’ continue the author’s tradition of well-written sweet romance with a glimpse of realistic difficulties in relationships. They might be young, but these characters learn quickly that compromise is key and faith must be absolute, both in each other and in God. Young adult readers will enjoy the relatable perspective of these young people, who are still managing the difficulties of growing up as they navigate both their new romances and their places in the Amish community. Service to an elderly neighbor and the homeless in their area is a priority for them as well, and Clipston integrates their collaborative efforts with their personal growth flawlessly. (ZONDERVAN, Jan., 386 pp., $15.99)

Reviewer: Kerry Sutherland


Bookmarked Review

Contemporary Amish Cozy Mystery
Amy Lillard
SERIES: An Amish Mystery #3

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Kappy King, her word-of-the-day calendar (and the rest of her endearing quirks), her English sidekick Edie (and Edie’s special needs brother Jimmy - and their endearing quirks), and hunky detective Jack Jones return with all the wit and warmth readers have come to expect from this series. Kappy is genuine and completely lovable, and the author’s portrayal of her is heartfelt if a bit delightfully tongue-in-cheek at times. Her sidekick Edie - Kappy’s direct opposite at least outwardly - provides the perfect counterpart, and this dynamic duo (along with Jimmy) may soon take over Jack’s job if he isn’t careful. The well-plotted case will appeal to cozy mystery fans - even if they aren’t a fan of Amish fiction. Lillard’s dry sense of humor, engaging characters, and on-point comedic timing are ideal for those looking for a book that makes them smile from the first page to the last. (ZEBRA, Dec., 352 pp., $12.95)

Reviewer: Carrie Schmidt


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Colleen Coble
SERIES: Lavender Tides #1

Murder, mystery, mayhem and more! With villains who hide in plain sight, and heroes who don't, readers will quickly fall deep into the reading rabbit hole that is Colleen Coble's newest story. In fact, this book will be almost impossible to set down as Coble handles hard topics such as murder and human trafficking with decorum and ease. With a striking writing style, the author beautifully blends the lives of multiple characters whose every strength and flaw is utilized to create a masterpiece that will linger in readers’ minds long after the book is finished. Awesome read! (THOMAS NELSON, Jan, 352 pp., $16.99)

Reviewer: Alysha Worthen


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Suspense/Time-Slip Fiction
Jaime Jo Wright

The past and present collide in this time-slip suspense, weaving the lives of two women together in a high-intensity thriller. With emotions running wild, readers will get lost in this story from the very first page. While there are several elements that may be triggers for some readers, Wright presents these aspects tastefully and respectfully. One poignant takeaway is the concept that if the secrets of the past are never brought to the surface, history is doomed to repeat itself. Even more importantly though, Wright reminds us that to find true identity, we must first seek The Creator. Prepare for a mystery transpiring through time that will stimulate the senses. (BETHANY HOUSE PUBLISHERS, Jan, 384 pp., $14.99)

Reviewer: Rachel Dixon


We weren’t created to find our identity in life. We were created to discover our Creator. In doing so, our identity is defined.
— The Curse of Misty Wayfair

Gold Star Reviews are for those books that are just truly in a class by themselves. Given rarely.

Bookmarked Reviews are for those books you'll definitely want to put on your 'keepers' shelf! Given sparingly.

For more on our review philosophy, click HERE

Middle-Grade Books Review Round-Up

It’s been a long time since we editors of Hope By the Book have been middle-graders, so when we wanted to know what some of the best middle grade books were right now we turned to someone in this age bracket :) Felicity Younts is the daughter of author Elizabeth Byler Younts, and we’re thrilled to have her on board the HBTB team. Today, she rounds up a few of her favorite reads to share with us…

Bookmarked Review

Middle Grade Fiction
Lois Lowry

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An unforgettable story with the most unconventional plot! The Willoughbys introduces the reader to parents who don’t particularly like their children and children who don’t particularly like their parents and do what they can to get rid of each other—but don’t let that scare you off! In the midst of the hilarity there is a message of hope laced throughout that will make this book a family favorite. While the plot is outlandish it offers readers sibling loyalty and perseverance through hardships. The Willoughby children and the adults that eventually love them create the kind of unconventional family that could even bring a tear to Lemony Snicket’s Count Olaf’s eye. A special story by beloved and award-winning author Lois Lowry is a perfect read-aloud for the whole family. (HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY, Mar 2008, 176 pp., $6.29)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
Lloyd Alexander

From Award winning Lloyd Alexander comes one of his lesser-known books, The Gawgon and the Boy, a coming of age story about an eleven-year-old boy who must be tutored by his unusual great aunt who he calls The Gawgon (referring to a mythological monster). The Boy learns more than dry academics and the two comrades travel to places near and far and even in other times through their imaginations. They form a friendship no one would’ve expected. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You will love The Gawgon and the Boy. It makes for a wonderful read aloud, too! (DUTTON JUVENILE, May 2001, 256 pp., $5.99)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Middle-Grade Historical Fiction

Thanhha Lai

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The protagonist’s distinctive voice offers the reader a profoundly important perspective from a little girl who finds herself as a Vietnam refugee. The Hà family flees their homeland during the Vietnam war only to find that arriving to America brings them an entirely new set of unexpected challenges. This award-winning book is masterfully written in free verse—which moves the story along uniquely and quickly. Readers will cherish the family love and perseverance. (HARPER COLLINS, Jan 2013, 288 pp., $8.99 )

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Bookmarked Review

Middle-Grade Contemporary Fiction
R.J. Palacio


Wonder is a thought-provoking and realistic story about the hardships of a boy, Auggie, born with birth defects that greatly affect his facial features. He’s been generally protected from the all-seeing-eyes of the public until he attends middle school. The reader will hear the unvarnished thoughts and feelings not only from Auggie but his older sister and a few of his friends. Wonder is a story about the strengths and weaknesses of the human heart and friendships when put to the test. (KNOPF BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS, Feb 2012, 320 pp., $16.99)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Middle-Grade Contemporary Fiction
Linda Sue Park

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This gut-wrenching story, based on actual events, takes the reader deeply into Sudan. The dual timeline story joins the physical walks for water and refuge with the mental walks of sorrows and burdens in the young lives of two children during different times in Sudan’s tumultuous history. One thread is about a boy who must run from everything he knows because war is at his doorstep—he’s faced with soldiers, alligators, and even lions. The second is about a girl who must walk eight hours a day just so her family can have clean water. This NYT Bestseller is a take-your-breath-away story. (HMH Books for Young Readers, Oct 2011, 128 pp., $7.99)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Bookmarked Review

Middle-Grade Fantasy
Natalie Babbitt

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This fairytale-like story will bring readers on a timeless journey. While Tuck Everlasting is placed in a realistic and historical setting it is laced with the magic of eternal youth. Young Winnie is ripped from her quiet, boring life by a rogue family with an over 100 year old secret. Her adventure, the fountain of youth, a jail-break scheme, a little romance, and perhaps the luckiest toad in the world all together form a fantastical tale. Like a tall glass of cold water on a summer’s day—the reader will be left wanting more and yet will be fully satisfied at the same time. A wonderful read alone or read aloud. (SQUARE FISH, Aug 2007, 160 pp., $7.30)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Middle-Grade Fantasy
Maryrose Wood
SERIES: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1

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This hilarious and mysterious story, noted to be worthy of the Lemony-Snicket fans, will soon be a family favorite. When Penelope, new governess and graduate from Swanburne Academy for Bright Females, arrives to Ashton Place she learns that her three charges are children who were found in the woods—aptly named Alexander, Cassiopeia, and Beowulf. Their academics become secondary to learning to eat and speak properly, and—for goodness-sakes—to stop chasing squirrels! This first installment of the series offers laugh-out-loud and tender moments—and a lot of howling. The hefty amount of intrigue about other characters also helps to keep the pages turning and a quick click to buy book 2. (BALZER & BRAY, Apr 2015, 288 pp., $6.99)

Reviewer: Felicity Younts


Andy Stanley's call to Irresistible faith


Andy Stanley founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995, and today NPM has six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of over 70 churches globally, serivng almost 118,000 people every week. Stanley himself is the author of more than 20 books and, as the host of Your Move with Andy Stanley, his seven million messages each month are reaching viewers and listeners across the globe. Stanley’s newest text, Irresistible, seeks to inform and equip Christ followers to rid themselves and their local church bodies of the anemic version of Christianity which the author believes has undermined today’s believer’s credibility and evangelistic effectiveness. Stanley felt compelled to write on this topic at this time because he was concerned about the next generation’s faith – a generation who has unlimited access to misinformation about faith, the Bible, and Christianity.

Stanley writes, “The rise and influence of the New Atheists have shifted the playing field. In response, students and grads aren’t opting for atheism. They are opting for ‘I don’t know anymore.’ Why? Well, they tell us. They don’t ‘believe’ anymore. They don’t know what to believe anymore. Christianity appears indefensible and untenable in our scientific digital world. But atheism isn’t appealing either. So more and more folks are stepping into what they consider the neutral zone of ‘I don’t know and don’t pressure me to decide.’” In his text, Stanley argues that the faith this next generation has abandoned was a “straw man” version to begin with. The author believes that many individuals have placed their faith in a “text-based version, not the original, event-based version” and thus the need for rethinking what the foundation of the Christian faith originally was and, still is today.

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Stanley cites three main reasons why today’s culture so easily resists Christianity unnecessarily. The author explains, “Christians and our fatally flawed approach to defending and talking about our faith. In the world where people recognized and revered the Bible as a sacred, trustworthy book, it was enough to leverage it as our basis for faith, but those days are long gone. The church has not adjusted. The church hasn’t even responded.” Stanley invites readers to rediscover and embrace the version of faith as presented in the New Testament book of Acts. Stanley cites, “Their faith was based on an event – the resurrection of Jesus.”

Not content to leave Christians wondering how to bridge this gap between an anemic version of Christianity versus a robust, passionate one that will be irresistible to Christ followers as well as non-believers, Stanley shares how today’s believer can become change makers in their communities. Stanley states, “Christianity becomes less resistible when Christians love like they have been loved. I refer to this as the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as God in Christ has done unto you. Christianity becomes less resistible when we shift the foundation of our faith from a true book to a verifiable event. Christians don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible says so. Our case is way better than that. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because Matthew said so. Mark said so. Luke said so. John said so. James, the brother of Jesus, came to believe so. Peter said so. And last and least…according to him anyway…Paul said so. And Paul said so about three years after the actual event.” And because they said so, today’s believer can go out and live and love like these early apostles.

Merry Christmas

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This Christmas, as lovers of words, may you know THE Word, the Hope of the world

In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.

The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

So the Word became human and made his home among us.
He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 1:1, 5, 14 (NLT)

Max Lucado on the need for Unshakable Hope

Max Lucado, best known as America’s favorite storyteller, has written his fortieth book on the desperately needed subject matter of hope…specifically, Unshakable Hope. Lucado, who has been observing how believers and unbelievers alike are succumbing to nightly newscasts’ dismal reports of a world gone crazy, realized everyone needs a fresh dose of hope to face today’s and tomorrow’s personal and global challenges. He accomplishes his objective through, what else? Gripping storytelling that will inspire, equip, and exhort Christians to take their heavy burdens straight to the throne of Christ.

Lucado, like many authors, finds interesting ways to parallel biblical accounts of favorite characters from the Old and New Testament into lessons for today’s Christ follower. Here, Lucado, in his characteristically winsome style, describes how the number forty is key. Lucado writes, “Forty. Noah floated for 40 days in the flood. Moses spent 40 years in the desert. The Hebrews wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus endured 40 days of temptation. There’s something significant about the number 40. So, if you’ll allow me to mention the fact, this is my fortieth book. No one could be more grateful than I am. To think that God would let a converted drunk prone to self-promotion and self-centeredness, write one page, much less forty books’ worth, is yet another testimony to his goodness and grace.”

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The author sets the stage for this decidedly uplifting text by sharing the frighteningly high suicide rate in the United States. Since 1999, the rate of suicides has increased an unbelievable twenty-four percent. Lucado notes that despite the fact that modern society has never been more educated; has more technology available; and is saturated with entertainment and recreation, these advances leave individuals feeling hopeless. He writes, “More people than ever are orchestrating their own deaths. How could this be? Among the answers must be this: people are dying for lack of hope. Secularism sucks the hope out of society. It reduces the world to a few decades between birth and hearse. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it. It’s not that good.” Lucado reminds Christ followers that they are the “People of the Promise” who have a distinct advantage because they can, “Determine to ponder, proclaim, and pray the promises of God.”

Lucado’s stories continually serve to remind readers that as believers in Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross, they can choose to view life from a different and eternal perspective. He shares, “When problems surface, People of the Promise can be heard telling themselves, ‘But God said…’ When struggles threaten, they can be seen flipping through Scripture, saying, ‘I think God said something about this.’ When comforting others, they’re prone to ask, ‘Do you know God’s promise on this topic?’ The promises of God serve as an apothecary shelf of remedies. Just as the doctor might prescribe a medication for your body. God has given promises for your heart. He shares them as gifts from friend to friend.”

In Review... December 21, 2018

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Happy last Friday before Christmas! Can you believe it?!? Here’s another batch of recommended reads for you when you’re ready to take a break this weekend :)

Historical Amish Romance
Virginia Wise
SERIES: Amish New World #1

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An historical Amish debut and the beginning of a new series, this intriguing novel sheds light on the harsh realities faced by the earliest Amish settlers in America. By emphasizing their reliance on God and each other, the story allows these engaging characters to find a place in readers’ hearts. Greta is genuinely likable, despite her frequent cluelessness, and Jacob’s layered backstory adds further dimension to their current situation. Both hero and Heroine are headstrong, and romantic chemistry isn’t the only emotion sparking between them - the author does a good job of keeping both of these elements realistic and not over the top. Some of the editing could be a bit tighter (head hopping, telling vs. showing) but overall the charming plot, lovable characters, and inspiring history overcome these minor issues. Readers will chuckle, smile, swoon, and maybe even shed a few tears, and for sure they will be ready for another trip to the Amish New World. (ZEBRA, Dec. 288 pp., $7.99)

Reviewer: Carrie Schmidt


Bookmarked Review

Amish Contemporary Romance/Novella Collection
Emma Miller, Laura Bradford, Mary Ellis

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Stock up on chocolate before diving into this sweet read or prepare to fight off chocolate cravings throughout! Each of the three stories in this collection have a distinct flavor, per each author’s unique style, but are all tied together through Beechy’s Sweets. “The Sweetest Courtship” by Miller is completely delightful, the perfect blend of wit, warmth, and romance as Jacob and Rose are thrown together with a little help from his mom Clara and a broken knee. Bradford’s “The Sweetest Truth” is a heartwarming story with humor and heart - as well as some sizzling romantic tension. Readers will embrace Sadie’s journey to accepting that she is still worthy of love, and they’ll fall head over heels in love with Amos in the process. “Noting Tastes So Sweet” by Mary Ellis doesn’t have quite the same tone as the other two, and it doesn’t have romance as a focus. Despite this - and a couple of continuity hiccups - it stands well on its own with layered characters and a compelling plot. (KENSINGTON, Dec., 304 pp., $15.95)

Reviewer: Carrie Schmidt


Children’s Picture Book
Rebecca Lutzer

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Young readers now have a fun and creative way to learn their ABC’s. Each page is filled with beautiful, vibrant illustrations that will catch the eye of any youngster. Each bible verse presented with the letter is in simple format for young readers to easily understand. Lutzer has provided a lovely, engaging book to introduce little ones to the bible and the Lord. Perfect for little ones, early readers, and even young Christians, this gem has a little something for everyone. (HARVEST HOUSE, Jan., 32 pp., $14.99)

Reviewer: Jessica Baker


Inspirational Historical Women’s Fiction
Erin Bartels

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Debut Novelist Erin Bartels gives readers a compelling story that touches on the difficult topics of interracial marriage, social status, and generational secrets. Although living during different times, Elizabeth, Nora and Mary show similarities that stem far beyond their relation to each other. They each learn the importance of staying true to oneself, defying the odds, and going against the grain of societal pressures. Bartels is not afraid to tackle adversity, and does so gracefully and poetically. We Hope For Better Things will easily gain favor from readers, and leave them wanting more. (REVELL, Jan., 392 pp., $9.99)

Reviewer: Jessica Baker


Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Historical Romance
Jen Turano
Series: American Heiresses #1

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Turano delivers a fresh new story that is filled with laughter, mischief, danger, and romance. Isadora Delafield, an American heiress of the Gilded Age, embarks upon a most peculiar adventure, for the safety of her future and her person. True to the author’s style, this book includes (more than) a few mishaps from the heroine as well as devious antics from the villain. The children will pull at heartstrings, the hero will steal all hearts, and when readers come to the conclusion of this story, they will be begging for more Turano adventures. Written with all the unique flavors of this author’s voice, Flights of Fancy is a light-hearted, fun-filled adventure every reader should experience. (BETHANY HOUSE, Jan., 368 pp., $15.99)

Reviewer: Rachel Dixon


A woman who doesn’t like chickens isn’t to be trusted.
— Flights of Fancy

Bookmarked Review

Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Laurie Wood
SERIES: Heroes of the Tundra #1

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Readers are taken to the dangerous yet beautiful Canadian tundra in Laurie Wood’s debut novel. Packed full of action, romance, and fun, readers will find themselves holding their breath as Kira and Lukas dodge bullets, bombs and more. Woods also brings in a special-needs character, adorable Sophie, adding a much needed bright spot to a novel that is so full of suspense; readers cannot help but fall in love with her sweet spirit. The fierce protectiveness Lukas portrays will have readers swooning as he battles to save his beloved Kira from harm. Wood captures the reader’s attention from page one and doesn’t let go all the way to the end. (ANAIAH PRESS, Dec., 170 pp., $15.99)

Reviewer: Jessica Baker


Inspirational Non-fiction/Christian Living
BRAVE LOVE: Making Space for You to Be You
Lisa Leonard

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Fans of the Lisa Leonard Designs jewelry line will find the founder’s memoir especially appealing. Leonard, remarkably one of three sets of twins, shares how strong a connection she feels to her twin sister Chrissie and describes an idyllic childhood, yet confesses she constantly struggled to be perfect in order to be loved. The author describes her early life, marriage, and how her business started and eventually developed into the multi-million dollar company it is today. Readers, however, will find themselves most connected to Leonard’s struggles as a mom to her oldest son, David, who was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome, and how she worked through grief and shame in order to parent her son with confidence. Leonard’s ongoing theme throughout every chapter is that it takes courage to love and bravery to communicate what one needs most, giving readers much to contemplate. (ZONDERVAN, Jan., 256 pp., $22.99)

Reviewer: Michele Howe


Contemporary Young Adult
Laurie Boyle Crompton

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Many people would love to have a do-over day, and that’s exactly what Andie gets as she starts her senior year … again and again and again. Can a true love’s first kiss stop the endless cycle and allow Andie to see tomorrow? Various social issues and cliques (though there is a lack of diversity) are addressed as Andie struggles to find where she fits in. This book is a blast from the past, which may make it more relatable for an adult audience vs. the targeted YA crowd, who may not understand the 80s movies references. While the characters acted and spoke like teens, they felt more like teens from a few decades ago vs. present day. There is some predictability, especially if you’re familiar with John Hughes’s movies, but it’s a quick, fun, enjoyable read overall. (BLINK, JAN, 304 pp, $17.99)

Reviewer: Leslie L. McKee


Gold Star Reviews are for those books that are just truly in a class by themselves. Given rarely.

Bookmarked Reviews are for those books you'll definitely want to put on your 'keepers' shelf! Given sparingly.

For more on our review philosophy, click HERE

War-Torn During The Holiday Season

Since I was a kid, I have always loved Christmas—not just the day, but the whole season. Even before I really knew God on a personal level, it was still about more for me than gifts and treats and a big dinner—it was family and fun and togetherness and laughter. For me, even now on a closer walk with God where I am intimately aware that we are celebrating the birth of the Savior, it’s still about those things. I really love the music, and the lights, and the excitement, and with four kids still at home, the magic. It is my very favorite time of the year.

But now, as with so many veterans, there is a darkness that can descend over the season if I let it. It wasn’t that long ago that Christmas, more than any other holiday, brought painful memories and images I’d worked hard to forget. For me, it brought thoughts of brothers I’ve lost, who aren’t home anymore with the wives and children they’ve left behind. I think of them every day, but I imagine the loss their families feel at this time of year and it tugs at me harder. For families still on active duty, it can be a very difficult time indeed. I say families, because it’s important to remember that it is not just the warfighter who sacrifices. In many ways it is so much harder a struggle to be the spouse or the children left behind during a deployment. Unlike other types of family separation, the family of a warfighter has the stress of worry and fear added to the loneliness and longing. While it is simple enough to pray about these fears, it is another thing all together to surrender them to God completely. And in the face of real tragedy and loss associated with wartime military service, it can be hard to find God in your situation at all. The horrors of war can bring questions hard to answer to warfighter and families alike. Where is God in all of this death and destruction? Why would He “let” this happen? Why can’t God bring us back together? How can God love me, after I’ve been asked to do the things I’ve done, and where was God in the horror I’ve witnessed?

Those were the feelings I was dealing with a few years ago when I decided that I felt called to write War Torn. I was already having much success with my writing, but I felt strongly that God was calling me to use the gift He has grown in me to serve Him and touch others. At the time, to be honest, I was still probably a long way from home myself. Writing this book was a journey of healing right along side my young protagonist Jake. And I later learned, my wife, Wendy, shared much in common with Rachel, his wife in the novel. Struggling with how to put it all together (in my mind I convinced myself I meant the book, not my own life) I approached Pastor Chris Bonham, the Senior Executive Pastor at Grace Family Church, where we had been attending for a few years by then. His friendship has proven to be such a blessing in my own journey, but his impact on the book was immeasurable. I’ve written before about the important message he shared with me in that meeting—about the loss of hope that occurred at the crucifixion and how those present with Jesus on the at day must have felt torn apart, full of hopelessness, perhaps even betrayed by God on that day. Because they didn’t have what we have now going into Easter—the knowledge that the resurrection was just around the corner and that through Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we can now have a personal, intimate relationship with God—they felt only the pain and loss and horror of that day. That conversation with Pastor Chris changed me and it also changed the framework of War Torn. Instead of writing about unanswerable questions, I learned that it is about surrender of those questions, along with the hurt and loss, to God. It is about finding our way to family and to our faith. It’s about hope.

So, what is Christmas, if not a celebration of the birth of that hope? War Torn is about redemption, and true redemption—and the marvelous release of pain that comes with it—was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. When God decided to come to us in the flesh, to take our failures on himself and sacrifice himself on a cross so that we could be in relationship with Him, our redemption was born.

It still hurts to know that there is grief in this season for the families my brothers left behind. It turns out, unlike my naïve interpretation of the scripture early in my walk, Romans Eight does not promise us freedom from pain or suffering. But it does promise us that, through the hope brought by a relationship with Jesus Christ, we can surrender our suffering and burdens to God and he will ease them—that he will even bring good from them. That is the hope that was born in that manger.

Christmas presents a unique opportunity to share that hope with others—those in desperate need of the hope found in the message of Jesus’ birth and life as well as his death and resurrection. If there are service members and their families in your community, reach out to them this season with that hope. If there are veterans in your community—and with nearly eighteen years of continuous war fighting that is nearly every community in our nation—Celebrate Christmas by bringing the hope of the risen Christ to those who have served and live near you. If your church doesn’t have a support group for these warfighters and their families, ask why. Maybe even help get one launched. If you don’t know how to start, that’s okay. Find us at www.wartornnovel.com and let us help you.

It is a season for giving, so give what matters most.

Merry Christmas.

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Navy veteran and Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestselling thriller author Jeffrey Wilson is a vascular surgeon who was completing his training when terrorists attacked America on 9/11. Already having served, Jeff immediately rejoined the active duty Navy and served as a combat surgeon with the Marines and then with an East Coast–based SEAL team and a Joint Special Operations Task Force, making multiple deployments. His experiences there—seeing things that cannot be unseen—sent him on his own journey exploring, and at times questioning, his faith, and are the inspiration for this novel. Jeff has also worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, and a diving instructor.

Together with fellow Navy veteran Brian Andrews, Jeff writes the Amazon #1 bestselling Tier One series of military thrillers and (under the pseudonym Alex Ryan) the Nick Foley thriller series. Jeff is also the author of three award-winning supernatural thrillers.

Jeff and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with their four children, Ashley, Emma, Jack, and Connor, call southwest Florida home. When not writing his next novel, Jeff still practices medicine and leads the Men’s Military Ministry at his church, where Wendy leads the Beautiful Moms Ministry, Emma sings on the praise and worship team, Jack works on the AV team, and Connor has volunteered in the children’s ministry.

Learn more at www.wartornnovel.com and www.andrews-wilson.com.

12 Days of Christmas for the Bookish People in Your Life

Do you currently have someone in your family that loves all things bookish? Or maybe you are that person, and you need to somehow hint to your loved one what they can get you for Christmas? Let’s face it, non-bookish people just don’t get it. Yes, of course we want books, I mean that is the point, right? But there’s so much more!!

I’ve taken the popular 12 Days of Christmas and put a little bookish spin on it. I think you’ll find something in one or more of the days that you like!


On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a reader’s nook of my very own.


On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two bookish pillows.


On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three mugs with book quotes.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, four scented candles.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, five magnetic bookmarks.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six book cozies.


On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, seven sticky note pads.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eight book darts.


On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, nine uninterrupted hours to read.


On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten Funko figurines.


On the eleventh day of Christ my true love gave to me, eleven props for Bookstagram.


On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a twelve-month subscription to a bookish box.

What bookish items are on YOUR Christmas wishlist this year? Share in the comments below.

Christmas Cookbooks

Are you ready for the holiday cooking spree to begin?


From cookies for the neighbors to Christmas dinner and New Year’s appetizers, December seems to be filled with all the baking, and cooking, and flour…everywhere…especially if the children are involved. We accomplished our very first sugar cookie baking and decorating as a family this year. It went surprisingly well for having 2 young boys.

Do you have tradtional recipes you use from year to year? Or do you like to shake it up and try new recipes each year? Share your family cooking traditions below and check out these Christmas Cookbooks, maybe you will find a new tradition.

Click on the images below to learn more.

Katie Jacobs

Create beautiful memories for your family and friends with help from Katie Jacobs, a stylist for Reese Witherspoon's lifestyle brand Draper James. In this essential guide to entertaining, Katie reveals her secrets for throwing fantastic parties for any occasion, from a casual backyard movie night to a lavish holiday party. Using Katie’s inspiring ideas and make-ahead tips, you will be so organized that you can minimize the fuss, enjoy the time, and celebrate too!

Brimming with creative party themes for every season, inspiring décor ideas, and delicious recipes, So Much to Celebrate is the perfect book for anyone who appreciates good times, good food, and good celebrations. (From the Publisher)

THOMAS NELSON, May, 224 pp., $29.99

Charles Dickens
A Book-to-Table Classic

A deluxe, full-color hardback edition of the perennial Christmas classic featuring a selection of recipes for your holiday table from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Trisha Yearwood!

Have your book and eat it, too, with this clever edition of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol featuring delicious recipes from celebrity chefs. Plan your perfect Christmas feast with a carefully curated menu of holiday dishes, from succulent baked ham to smashed root vegetables. And top it all off with fruitcake cookies and pecan pie. Celebrate the holiday with a good meal and a good book!

Book includes full, unabridged text of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, interspersed with recipes, food photography, and special food artwork.
(From the Publisher)

PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, Oct, 176 pp., $25.00


Margaret M. Johnson

CHRISTMAS FLAVORS OF IRELAND INVITES READERS — cooks and armchair travelers alike — on a holiday tour of one of Europe’s most beloved destinations. From decking the halls to gathering around the family table, you’ll find timeless classics and exciting new ideas in this full color collection of popular Irish dishes. With easy-to-follow recipes — warming soups and crisp potatoes, wonderful puddings and dazzling desserts — Christmas Flavors of Ireland will awaken your senses to the festive, fun-filled season in Ireland. With over 100 recipes and photos, this colorful collection will become an essential addition to your holiday bookshelf and a gift that family and friends will treasure year after year. (From the Publisher)

AMBASSADOR INTERNATIONAL, Aug 2013, 192 pp., $19.99


Crockpot/Instant Pot


Rachel enjoys reading, reviewing books, and sharing her passion for literature at www.bookwormmama.org. She's a virtual assistant and shares the small-town life with her husband and children.

Hungry, Anyone? Books That Inspire the Foodie In All Of Us


Hungry, Anyone?

Books that inspire cooking, baking, eating, and more than meets the eye.

Books that inspire cooking, baking, eating, and more than meets the eye.

Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.
— CS Lewis

We talk a lot about how books can entertain, but did you know that books can do a lot more?  Books have the magical power to get into our minds, remind us that we’re hungry or spark the hunger that wasn’t there until the words on the page ignited it. And with the holidays upon us, food is usually at the center of our celebrations. Today, we’re going to celebrate food with books that spark the spirit of Christmas even beyond its intention.

Covers that make you hungry

First impressions get us in the door (or beyond the cover)!

Inspires Action

Books with characters that make eating fun, especially with others.

There’s more to baking.

Sometimes there’s more to take away when a little baking is involved!

Food as gifts.

It’s hard to tell who the gift was for, the giver or the gifted.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!

Not a fan of chocolate? How about sugary sweets?

I’d like to enter a confectionary shop like this one!


Are you hungry for food, words, or maybe a little of both?  Either way, as CS Lewis said, “Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” Enjoy.

Annie is an associate editor of Hope by the Book and the mind behind Just Commonly blog, sharing what she loves most – Jesus & all things book and bookish. She is also the co-founder of the Christian Fiction Readers’ Retreat and JustRead Publicity Tours.

7 Ways to Make Time to Read

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Designed by Freepik

Is your to do list longer than your TBR (to be read) list? I’m sure it is. Most of us, let’s face it, don’t even have time to be reading this blog post. Here’s a few ways to sneak in some time to read in a schedule that barely allows you to shower.

Read while you wait: Patience a good reader makes. Show up early to your appointments and read while you wait. On hold with Comcast? Pull out your current read. Waiting in the school pickup line? Throw it in park and grab your book. Fill these small bits of time throughout your day with reading, instead of scrolling through Facebook or catching up on news (I’ll give you the recap: the world is a sad and broken place).

Tuck yourself in with a story: Kids get a bedtime story so why shouldn’t you? Set a limit for yourself to read a chapter before bed each night. Not only is this the perfect wind down after a long day, but you will also get great dream inspiration from it.

Listen to audiobooks: Listen to a book during your commute or at the gym. Audiobooks can be somewhat expensive, so make sure to check out free resources like your local library and Librivox for public domain classics.

Don’t be afraid to DNF: If you are struggling to finish a book, do not finish (DNF) it. Read a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Don’t force yourself to slog through something painful. If you don’t like it, just pick up something else. There are plenty of fish in the sea books in the world.

Set yourself a goal: Are you a part of the Goodreads challenge? Set a goal for yourself to see how many books you can read this year. Be realistic and set a goal you know you can complete. Having a reminder of completing a goal will help you make reading a priority.

Grab an ereader: Carry a device with you, whether a smartphone or ereader so you can read anywhere you go. Even if you have a diehard hatred of ereaders, you have to admit, they are handy. If you like the book after you read it digitally, buy a hard copy to display on your shelf.

Quit wasting time: Choose to read a chapter or two instead of watching a rerun or scrolling through social media. Wake up early to read a book and drink coffee, instead of hitting snooze every five minutes until you’re late for work. There are 24 hours in a day and I’m sure there’s something you can stop wasting time on.

Read everywhere: Read wherever you are. Leave books in the bathroom, your gym bag, your car… Keep your mind entertained whenever you have a second free. You’ll soon find yourself enjoying tasks that you once thought mundane.

If you still can’t find time to read, you may have other issues. Remember to breathe now and again. Sometimes it’s important to take  a break and let your mind escape reality into the pages of a good book.