Books That Will Make Great Christmas Gifts for the Teen In Your Life

Looking for stocking stuffers for your teen? Well, you’ve come to the right place!  Here are a few books I recommend:

Start Here: Do Hard Things Right Where You Are

by Alex Harris and Brett Harris

This book was written by two brothers, Alex and Brett Harris, while still in their teens. They inspire teens to step out today, and make a difference. They encourage them to push past discouragement and just get started.  I love the easy and relatable way they talk to teens. In fact, I think it can inspire “kids” of all ages!




 Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

In her characteristic way, Annie Downs has taken stories from her own past and put in them together in a way that is encouraging and inspiring for teens. Bravery is something that kids long to be but aren’t quite sure what it looks like. Annie lays it out and you’re laughing the entire time!





The Lost Hero: The Heroes of Olympus Book 1


While this book did not come out this year, but the last in the Heroes of Olympus series did:  The Blood of Olympus. I highly recommend this series for younger teens! It’s filled with action, fun, and teen sass, and humor. Not to mention, a little educational information on Greek and Roman Mythology.  I guarantee your reader will be asking for the rest of the books in the series soon!



Live Original: How the Duck Commander Teen Keeps it Real and Stays True to Her Values

by Sadie Robertson

You may know her from the highly popular show Duck Dynasty, or more recently, from Dancing With the Stars, but either way, Sadie Robertson is one teen who is in the public eye.

In her new book, she talks about how she deals with pressure, the things that are most important to her like family, friends, and faith.



The Contract by Derek Jeter

Looking to get boys to read? Nothing works better than the words of their hero! Derek Jeter talks about his childhood in language kids can understand. He lays out the reasons he feels that he was successful in achieving his goal of playing baseball for the New York Yankees. He talks about his parents, the high expectations they put on him as far as school and treating others were concerned. It is sure to get your athlete reading!




Finally, (forgive the shameless self promotion!) but I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Asher, Maclaine, Jackson and their stories at Narthex Academy.  Dreamer (Book 1) and Speaker (Book 2). Dreamer is based on Acts chapter 8 and Speaker is based on the story from Genesis 28 about Jacob’s ladder. Both books are filled with suspense, action, and a sprinkling of the supernatural.



I hope your readers enjoy these selections. Is there something I’ve missed? Leave it in the comments for others to see.

Merry Christmas!


We’re Failing Our Kids

Last week I got the chance to guest blog on one of my favorite blogs ( and then join her on an episode of her podcast: A Call To Courage. (If you aren’t following this podcast, You. Are. Missing. Out. Plain and simple!)

I thought I would re-post the blog post here in case anyone missed it:


We Are Failing Our Kids

I just read a disturbing article that cited a report from the Barna Group for 2014. It found that half of all Americans are in the group “non-Bible readers”, and the age group of 18-29 is considered the least likely to read the Bible or consider it sacred.

It’s no stretch to say that we’ve failed them and their generation. We’ve failed them because we’ve failed to do two things:

  1. We’ve failed to make the Bible interesting to young people, and
  2. We’ve failed to make the Bible relevant.

You’re probably saying to yourself right now:  “Isn’t that God’s job to do that? We’re just called to make it available and teach from it. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. Right?”

I say no. We’re called to do so much more than that. Because Jesus went so much further than that.

Let’s look back to how Jesus did it. Whenever He wanted to make a scriptural truth relatable to the people of his time, he didn’t just hand them a dusty scroll and tell them to read a certain section of it. He went further. He used that truth in a parable. A story. He knew the power stories have on human beings because our entire lives are stories and we are all part of a bigger story. HIS story. Story is a part of us. Jesus is brilliant.

So, how are we doing emulating his methods today?

When you look at how the Christian community teaches the Bible to their children as a whole, it leaves a little to be desired. When kids are little, we do well. The stories we pull out of the Bible to use in our teachings – David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, just to name a few, are wonderful. Presented right, they capture imaginations just as well as the latest greatest Pixar movie, or the new Nickelodeon cartoon can.  And we are happy. We’re doing a great job. Our kids are deeply immersed in the Word. Yay us!

But then they grow.  They start becoming more aware of the world going on around them. This awareness is gradual and the timing is different for every kid, but really, it’s what we want them to do. We want them to notice the world. We want their hearts to begin to break for what breaks His, so that eventually they will consider it a privilege to be sent on their own mission for God’s Kingdom, right? They begin to see the things the world considers interesting, even if they know their own family doesn’t approve of it. A lot of the things they see are the stories the world puts in front of them in the form of movies, TV series, and books. We, as the Christian community, whether or not we agree on the appropriateness of a movie or book, we ALL agree we’d rather see our kids focusing their attention on what God’s Word says than on the world’s media.

So, what do we as a community offer them instead? We offer the same Bible stories we offered them when they were little. This time they aren’t so excited. Those stories seem a little babyish to them. Then we offer them sage advice about life from Paul or even get into the Gospels with them. We have them read great non-fiction books written specifically for teens about life, love, and situations they face every day. It’s all very good, but they’re still mesmerized by the stories Hollywood produces. We shouldn’t be surprised. These stories are made to mesmerize and Jesus showed us how important story was a long time ago.

As much as our kids want to please us and focus on the Word, they start to feel split. They want both – good stories and real truth from the Word. And this is where we fail them.

The Christian community as a whole spends most of their time telling our young people to avert their eyes from the worldly media and not nearly enough time on creating quality Christ-centered media to replace it.

God’s Word is filled – absolutely overflowing, to the rim, can hardly contain itself it’s so full – with stories that can compete with the very best of Hollywood’s creations if we just present them in the right way. These stories are stuffed with intrigue, mystery, good versus evil, and the supernatural. Not the fake vampire-kind-of-supernatural, but the real kind of supernatural that happens every day in the lives of Christians as we live out our missions for the Kingdom of God.  These stories are not only REAL, (because they wouldn’t be in the Bible if they weren’t, right?) but they are all chockfull of TRUTH.  It was God’s intention that these stories be used. That’s the reason he bothered to have someone write them down in the first place.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying there’s no good Christian media out there geared toward teens and young people. Far from it. I’m simply saying there’s not enough. When we do produce teen Christian media today, most of the time, we are focusing more on the moral we want to hit them over the head with and less on working to tell a really good Bible based story.

That’s why I started writing. I saw a group of young people where I worked at the time, enthralled with the fake supernatural and it made me sad. And then it made me angry. I sat with a girlfriend over coffee one day and told her, “Someone should start writing books and making movies using Biblical stories that impacts teens as well as Hollywood can.” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Careful, someday that person may be you!”

Truer words were never spoken. I began work on what would be my first novel for teens/young adults and based it on Acts Chapter 8. It’s set in modern times with characters that teens can relate to.  I love that kids and teens are asking me about the stories I use in the book and where they are in the Bible. I know they are looking them up in their Bibles and READING them!  I’m trusting the Holy Spirit to do His thing!

And you know what? It’s getting me deeper into the Bible, too. Not just to the standard places I tend to go when I study the Word, but into places I’ve only read once on a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan and never went back. It gets me into books and stories I’ve never really paid much attention to and I’m really enjoying it!

What about you? Have you found yourself wishing Christian media worked harder to get our kids’ attention with real Biblical stories?



FREE: 1st Chapter of Speaker


Speaker cover

Speaker: The Narthex Academy Series, Book 2

 On Sale Now!

To celebrate, here is a free first chapter!




Chapter 1

I’m not sure which of these I like better: working on a shrimp boat, or the fact that working on a shrimp boat drives my dad crazy. While I love everything about being on the water and fishing, watching that vein in my dad’s neck pop out every time I talk about my job may be just a tad bit more fun.  I mean, my dad requires I have a job; I’ve found a job I like; and it just happens to be a job that he can’t stand me doing. It’s just pure coincidence. A happy, happy coincidence.

I was jerked out of my thoughts by a wrench whizzing by my ear. Two more millimeters to the right and I wouldn’t need a haircut on that side of my head for a couple months.  I turned around to see where the wrench came from and heard Ralph, shrimp boat captain for the day, yell at me from under his Ford F250, “Asher, if you want your truck to last, don’t tow anything with it!”

“Yeah, ok,” I said, just to make him feel like I was listening. It doesn’t really pertain to me. I don’t own a truck, and that’s another point of contention between my dad and me.

For the past forty-five minutes, while I had been taking loads of supplies from the trailer to the shrimp boat, all I had seen of Ralph were his grease-stained pants and mud-covered boots sticking out from underneath his truck. He must have tried to tow the nineteen-foot center-console fishing boat named First Coat from Moultrie Marina; the dry stack marina further down Shem Creek. It’s only about a mile away. We are going to use First Coat today to follow along behind Ashley’s Wind, the eighty-foot shrimp boat we’re taking out. I guess Ralph’s truck broke down again during the towing. Not a surprise. It’s kind of a regular occurrence with his truck.

I delivered two cases of bottled water to the shrimp boat and then stood on the deck looking down Shem Creek toward Charleston Harbor. It was pretty cool being out here so early in the morning with the sun rising over the marsh.

If I could ever get my dad (General William Haynes of the Army Corps of Engineers) to agree, I would go into a career with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), here in South Carolina, right after high school. The thought of my dad ever agreeing to that is hilarious. I might as well tell him I was going to join the circus after high school. Either way, I would get the same reaction: “No son of mine will waste a top notch education from the Citadel by spending their days doing that.” I could hear my dad’s native Charlestonian accent in my head.

And for that matter, no ‘son of General Haynes’ will attend any other college than the Citadel, so I probably shouldn’t even broach the topic of not wanting to go there. (Well, I guess if I got into Harvard he’d probably make an exception.) I just laughed out loud. Good thing there aren’t many people around the dock this time of the morning or they’d think I was crazy. Me. Making it into Harvard. Now that’s funny. Let’s just say good grades and I don’t get along very well. I do well enough to keep the General off my back (for the most part); but no Ivy League school will be beating down my door anytime soon.

I was really looking forward to being out on my boss’ shrimp boat today. It’s been a while. This summer, I worked at Moultrie’s on Shem Creek, a dry dock where people kept their boats, further down the creek from the harbor (where Ralph picked up the boat). My job mostly consisted of helping the clients that stored their boats there. We would pull the boats out of the stacked storage, gas them up, and have them ready to go when the clients arrived. Then, when they got back from their day on the water, we would sometimes clean their catch for them. That depended on whether or not they were a really good client.  The tips were good, but the money didn’t really matter. Just spending the summer on the water, in the sun, and jumping in the creek for a swim when you got too hot, made it just about the best job ever.

Today, though, I’m going to be part of a five man crew on Ashley’s Wind. He doesn’t do this often, but sometimes my boss gets asked by VIPs coming into Charleston (that means big name celebrities) to arrange a private tour that will give them the “Lowcountry shrimping experience.” So this is going to be a “for show” trip only. There won’t be much real shrimping today.

Ralph has worked for my boss for years and will be our captain for the trip. The rest of us will be casting the nets and pulling them in all day while the VIPs pretty much just sit and watch us. After that, before we come back to the dock, we’ll take them to Little Bull Island, a small barrier island off the coast, and feed them crackers and cheese while they sit on the sand and take pictures with their phones. That’s when I get to fish on my own for a while. Sounds like an awesome way to spend a Sunday to me.

Ralph finally came out from under his truck as the last of our crew showed up. Two of the guys were regulars. I had worked with them a few times before, but there was a new person – Tahani. I’ve never seen her around here before. I mean, not that I don’t think a girl can do this kind of work or anything – but they just don’t typically sign up for it. I know her from my Aramaic class at Narthex Academy, the small private school I’ve attended since six weeks into my freshman year. I wonder how she got hooked up with this?

“Hey Asher,” Tahani said to me.

“Uh, hey, Tahani,” I answered. I hope I didn’t look as confused as I felt about seeing her here.

Tahani is a junior like me. She’s really tall for a girl, probably about 5’11, and has long black hair, almost to her waist, and light brown eyes with really thick black lashes. I heard she moved here from Hawaii. She’s so tall that people at school have questioned why she was attending Narthex (a school without a girls’ basketball team) and wasn’t at Wando, or one of the other large area high schools to play for them. Not that I know if she even likes basketball, but I guess people just assume she should like it and play it if she’s built for it. It’s kind of like the same questions I get all the time about playing basketball. I hate that by the way. Not that I hate basketball, I just hate that everyone assumes because I’m tall I must like and play basketball. No one ever says “Hey, you’re tall; you must play guitar.” That would be more accurate at least.

I soon found out the “special guests” that had requested this trip were a very famous blond actress, her fiancé, and one of her friends. (I can’t say exactly which famous actress it is, because I’m sworn to secrecy when we go on these special tours, but, trust me, you know who she is. She’s the one from the big-stinkin’-deal summer movie. Yep, that actress.) They’re in town because the happy couple is getting married this week at Boone Hall Plantation. Boone Hall is one of the oldest continuously working plantations (farms) in the country. For over three hundred years they have been growing produce, cotton, etc. And that’s your fun fact for the day. You’re welcome.

The VIPs were not dressed in what I would consider “shrimp boat” attire. They showed up in mostly white clothing, no hats, and the women were wearing high-heeled sandals. They looked more like they were dressed for a commercial for a cruise company than for a shrimping trip offshore.

We boarded everyone on the boat, and I worked to untie the ropes holding us to the dock. When the last one was loose, Ashley’s Wind took off. Ralph went about giving our guests an informal tour of the harbor as we passed by interesting sites. Then we spent a couple of hours going through the normal routine of casting the nets and bringing them up again to check for shrimp.  We didn’t go very far out, just stayed kind of close to shore. This was going to be a short easy trip.

While all this was going on, I watched the couple. It was painfully obvious that this day was all her idea. You could tell her fiancé hated every single dirty minute of his time on this boat. He kept dusting off his white pants and hesitated to touch anything. He tiptoed around the deck trying not to get his perfectly white Topsiders ruined. Not to mention, his light blue button down shirt was so tight that he could hardly raise his arms. He couldn’t really reach anything high if he tried. The actress on the other hand was grabbing the shrimp out of the nets with her bare hands and squealing with excitement. (Well, it sounded like squealing. Not sure what else you would call it.) There wasn’t really much shrimp for her to squeal over, though. This trip was solely for the amusement of some Lowcountry tourists, so we, the crew that is, didn’t really care that our catch for the day was low.

Finally we loaded everyone on First Coat, which had been following us for the last couple of hours. (We only brought it along on these tours for the purpose of taking the guests from Ashley’s Wind to the shore of the island.) It was crackers and cheese time. We tied First Coat off to a couple of trees close to the shore and went about the process of getting everyone from the boat to the beach. That wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

Normally our guests come dressed for boating. And for water. And for getting wet. But not these three. The actress’ friend was named Kimberly (though she’s no one famous) and the fiancé (named Dave) were hesitant to get wet, so Dave opted to stay on the boat over the options of jumping in the knee-deep water or being carried to the beach by a crew member. I was glad about that. I definitely didn’t want to be the one to carry the guy to shore. We handed him his cheese and crackers in the boat.  Ralph asked me to carry Kimberly off the boat and take her to the beach. “Ok. No problem,” I said, trying to sound like I carry very pretty women off boats every day. (I don’t.) At least she was a small very pretty woman.

Kimberly smiled down at me as I stood in the knee-deep water looking up at her in the rocking boat. Was she trying to decide if she could trust me not to drop her? “How do you want to do this?” She asked not sounding worried at all. “Should I just jump?” She laughed. That just made me more nervous. My palms started to sweat. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice.

“Uh, you could just swing your legs over the side,” I offered. Great, Asher. Way to sound confident.

“Ok, here goes!” She jumped off the edge of the boat into my arms. I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to make sure I didn’t fall over and didn’t drop her in the water. I moved toward the shore concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. We made it out of the water without both of us going down, so I considered it a success. I set Kimberly on her feet. “Thanks, Asher. You have a very sweet smile by the way.” I couldn’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses, but she was smiling.

I think my entire head turned red. I could feel my ears burning.

“Thanks,” I managed to croak out and then ran away acting like I had a ton of work to do. I wonder if she realized that I didn’t have pretty girls compliment me every day. Well, any day.

As I walked back toward the boat, I watched as the actress kicked off her shoes, rolled up her white pants, jumped into the knee-deep water, and was making her way to the shore like it was the most fun she’d ever had.

After setting up the shade tent on the beach and pulling the coolers off the boat, our guests and crew (minus Dave, of course) sat on the beach of Little Bull Island soaking up the sunshine and eating. I took the opportunity to walk down the beach to find a good place to drop in my line.

I had been at it for about forty-five minutes. As I re-baited my hook for the twentieth time at least, I contemplated giving up. I hadn’t even caught one fish. Unfortunately, that’s not abnormal for me. Even my bait finds a way to get loose from my hook. Fish seem to avoid me almost as much as girls do. I’m just that kind of guy, I guess. Lucky me.

I was mid-cast when I noticed a man standing about ten feet further down the beach. I froze. This wasn’t just any man. This was The Man. The one that appears to me in my dreams. Those dreams. The dreams that tell me when something is going to happen. I’ve had these dreams and seen The Man since I was a little boy. But I’ve never seen him while I was awake. This was a first. In my shock, I dropped my fishing pole and stood there staring at him. He looked the same as in my dreams. His face looked human, but there was something different – something not exactly human about it. He had a chiseled jaw and bright blue eyes. Eyes so bright and compelling, it was hard to look away. They were like magnets that my human eyes didn’t stand a chance against. His clothes looked yellow, but I realized that they were white with a slight glow around them.

“Hello, Asher,” he said, holding his hand out to me. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to shake hands or not, but my hands were not obeying commands from my brain right now, so it wasn’t going to happen. Sorry, guy. Hope you’re not offended. My mouth was frozen, so I didn’t answer him either. I don’t think I could form words if I tried.

“Don’t worry. This is no different than when you see me in your dreams,” he continued as if realizing this probably wasn’t going to be a two-way conversation. “Asher, we are at a place of urgency. The Beautiful Gate across the sea is under attack and soon the battle will be here.  It will be fierce and you must be prepared. You are being sent another – ‘one set apart’ – to aid you in the fight. You will need her strength if you are to prevail. Don’t be afraid or become discouraged. The circumstances will appear much darker before you begin to turn the tide of the battle. Be courageous, Asher. And remember, you are chosen.” Then he was gone. Not even footprints were left in the sand where he was standing. Was that a heat-induced delusion?

He said something about a battle? What battle? I mean, you would think if there were going to be a battle, meaning fighting and weapons and stuff, he would be over talking to Luke and Drew right now.

Luke and Drew are the sometimes “Narthex-Academy-high-school-students-in-disguise” and the sometimes “massive-warriors-from-the-third-Heaven” creatures that helped my friend Maclaine (friend who is a girl, not my girlfriend) and I defeat Dr. Wragg, our ex-headmaster, and his evil demon helper, Kane, at the beginning of this school year. We couldn’t have defeated Kane without them.

Kane is a grotesque creature that smells, and like Luke and Drew, masquerades as a high school student at Narthex Academy. He’s at Narthex because Maclaine is a very powerful prophet and gets sent on some amazing missions with the protection of Luke and Drew. Kane’s whole job is to prevent her from doing her job. Oh, and just to keep himself entertained, he likes to pick on humans and try to talk them into doing evil things. Unfortunately for us, it’s not always that hard to get people to do evil things. And, when he’s in a really good mood, he tries to kill me just for fun.

Luke and Drew are also huge and scary, but they are all about helping people do well, and not to mention, they wield glowing super-swords. They would be the ones to talk to about a battle. If you need some information from a dream, I’m your guy. You want putrid demon thugs eliminated, you probably should look elsewhere. It’s just the facts.

I looked up toward the sky and threw up a thought, ‘If you want me to start waving a glowing sword, and leading a charge into battle, you’re going to have to give me a sign. And, by a sign, I mean one I can’t miss even If I tried.’ In all honesty, I had no idea which way my visitor went, but the sky seemed a natural direction.



Speaker: The Narthex Academy Series, Book 2:

Order here:

Do Books Really Need Trailers?


Jeremy Ateca, Pat Black, Andrew Conrady, Hannah Tinder

Let me be transparent here: the whole reason I am writing about book trailers is because we are currently working on one for the second book in my series, so it’s a marketing topic on my mind right now.

Book trailers are not necessarily new, but in the past they have been more for non-fiction or how-to types of books. These were trailers that promoted the author/speaker as much as their book. Think Dave Ramsey, Tony Robbins, or Suzi Ormond. These are people who used their speaking skill to promote their written work through short “commercials”.

It really hasn’t been until recently that it has become mainstream for authors of books of all types to jump into video to promote their books.

Since I already told you that I am in the process of creating a trailer for my current novel  – to be honest, I hired a very talented and experienced director to do it for me  – you already know I am ALL FOR THEM.


Director Thomas Keating getting just the right shot.

But how do you know if it’s something that you may want to do, or something that will really help promote your product in the right places?

In order to decide if spending the money to create a well-done book trailer is worth it for your book, I would look at two primary things: your audience and your marketing plan.

For instance, the audience for my novel series is teens. Teens are on primarily on Instagram (and to a lesser degree, Twitter). Instagram is not only visually focused, but allows for (albeit short) videos that can be viewed, shared and commented on. If that is where my audience is, that is where I need to be.

I am going to do a long(ish) version of the trailer to put on YouTube and Facebook. They are lesser forms of social media used by teens but still effective (and free). I can link the YouTube video to tweets I send out. And then a short version (11 seconds or less) for Instagram.

As for my marketing plan,  I have allocated more money to marketing for this second book in the series. Research shows that as more books are added to a series, the more interest in the series grows as readers are purchasing the other books in the series. So, as I add books to this series, I am going to add to my marketing budget. For all of the above reasons, I decided a trailer was the right use of my budget.

And, let’s face it, book trailers are still a bit different. 385While it’s true they are much more mainstream than they ever used to be, they’re still few and far between. People still stop and take notice. Someday they’ll be more commonplace, but until then, it’s fun to play on the edges a little.

If you are considering doing a book trailer, I say GO FOR IT! And, if you’re looking for a director, here’s a really good one with some experience in book trailers: Thomas Keating

Soon I’ll show you the finished trailer and let you know how it’s doing!

Have you ever done a book trailer? If so, how did it work for you?