Ask Bethany House: What Marks a Discerning Reader?

It’s a new year, and I’ve gotten some great questions for our Ask Bethany House series in 2018! (If you’d like to contribute a question, it’s not too late. Send it in to our survey.)

Here’s our first one for January: “How would you define a ‘discerning reader’? What kinds of things do they observe about a book, its quality, its depth, its characters that make authors and publishers know that the reader has really invested in the story?”

What a fun question! First, I’d like to start off by saying that authors and publishers love to hear that you enjoyed a story—that it entertained you or took your mind off your worries or made you want to take a trip to the setting or made you think or laugh or cry. All of that is great, and also relatively simple. No need to get fancy.

That said, if you’re looking for ways to read like a writer or editor—either to get better at noticing why you enjoy a book so you can leave more specific reviews on blogs or retail sites, or maybe even to learn how to write a novel yourself—here are my tips.

  • Savor descriptions. It’s gone out of vogue to put in long blocks of exquisite prose describing every blade of grass the hero can see, and that’s probably a good thing. But when you notice some excellently crafted details about the setting or the expression on someone’s face, appreciate them, and maybe jot them down to quote later. (Booklist’s starred review of A Refuge Assured called it “almost overwhelming in its sensory detail,” so that one would be a great place to start.)
  • Notice the symbolism. I remember telling Elizabeth Camden that I loved a moment where her heroine in With Every Breath examines a “paperweight with a daisy blossom that would remain forever frozen in silent perfection inside the glass” because it was a great symbol for the issue that character was struggling with. She was delighted that I’d noticed the little detail she’d slipped into the story. You can obviously go overboard with this to the point where everything is a symbol (when it really wasn’t meant to be), but it’s fun to be on the lookout.
  • Take a look at word choice. I believe it was Melissa Tagg who said at a writing seminar that there’s a big difference between a door “painted a bright cherry red” and one that’s “streaked with blood-red paint, curling off in disrepair.” In one, you’re in a happy scene, in the other…look behind you to make sure the murderer isn’t coming. Often, loaded adjectives and verbs give scenes a certain atmosphere. The author chose those words carefully. Enjoy them!
  • Watch those secondary characters. Most authors have strong, well-developed protagonists, but the novels I love the most spend time making you care about the minor characters too, even if they rarely show up. You get the sense that even they have quirks and histories and personalities. I noticed this in Becky Wade’s True to You in particular with the heroine’s co-workers.
  • Admire a good plot twist. Not every story needs one of these, of course, and they might actually feel jarring in some genres. On the small scale, though, it’s fun when a character says something unexpected but perfect, or a secret is revealed at the end (as in many Beverly Lewis books). For big-scale, jaw-dropping plot twists, I’ll always recommend Patrick Carr…The Wounded Shadow, the last novel in his Darkwater Saga, is coming out in April and I can’t wait!

I could go on and on with often-overlooked aspects of great writing and recommend dozens of books that demonstrate them, but I should probably keep this post to a reasonable length. Whether you are a detail-noticer or just a happy-ending lover, a discerning reader is one who knows just which books to put on the keeper shelf…and which to get out again for a re-read!

Now I’ll turn it over to you, oh readers. Is there an aspect of a story that makes it a standout to you? Anything in particular you love to see in the books you most enjoy?

Bethany House’s 2018 Reading Challenge

We’re now two weeks into the new year, but if you haven’t yet nailed down all of your resolutions (or if you’ve given up on one already and need a replacement), here’s our annual challenge for all of you ambitious readers out there.

Obviously, this is just for fun, and a chance for you to pick up a book that might not have been on your radar before, but the “rules” we usually play by is that one book can only fulfill one category. Take a look and see if you can already think of some titles that would check off these boxes:

 

I’d love for you to recommend titles that fit these categories to your fellow readers. A few that come to mind for me right away: Leslie Gould’s Courtships of Lancaster County series are each inspired by Shakespeare’s plays, Lisa Wingate’s Never Say Never has a car on the cover, Becky Wade’s True to You include snippets of letters and other fun exchanges between characters, and Victoria Bylin’s Someone Like You is also a song.

Help us fill a reading suggestions list—which titles can you think of to add?

Prayer for Authors: January 2018

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in January:

Mary Connealy
Angela Hunt
Melissa Jagears
Regina Jennings
Tracie Peterson
Roseanna M. White
Karen Witemeyer
Kimberley Woodhouse

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

“He has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”—Micah 6:8 (CSB)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For a strong start to a new year and the beginning of good routines and goals.
  • For opportunities to learn from and alongside other writers.
  • For the books going out this month to readers through thousands of different retailers and libraries.

On behalf of all of these authors, thanks for taking time to pray, readers. We appreciate you!

New Releases: January 2018

It’s a brand new year, readers! And with it, I’m delighted to introduce you to four brand new books. (If you have observant family members, you may have received a bookstore gift card for Christmas like I did…so here are some great suggestions for how to use it.) Click on each cover to start reading an excerpt.

I hope the new year so far has been full of hope and excitement for what’s to come!

Out of the Ashes by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Plot: Katherine and Jean-Michel once shared a deep love that was torn apart by forces beyond their control. Reunited in the 1920s at the Curry Hotel in Alaska, have the years changed them too deeply to rediscover what they had? And when Jean-Michel’s nightmares of war return with terrifying consequences, will faith be enough to heal what’s been broken for so long?

 

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White

Plot: At the outset of WWI, high-end thief Willa Forsythe is hired to steal a cypher from famous violinist Lukas De Wilde. Given the value of his father’s work as a cryptologist, Lukas fears for his family and doesn’t know who to trust. He likes Willa—and the feeling is mutual—but if Willa doesn’t betray him as ordered, her own family will pay the price.

 

Judah’s Wife by Angela Hunt

Plot: The miraculous story of the Maccabees told through the eyes of a woman who learns that love requires both courage and sacrifice. Seeking safety after a hard childhood, Leah marries a strong and gentle man of the nation of Judah. But when the ruler of the land issues a life-altering decree, her newfound peace—and the entire Jewish heritage—is put in jeopardy.

Hearts Entwined by Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears

Plot: The path to love is filled with twists and turns in these stories of entangled romance with a touch of humor from four top historical romance novelists! Includes Karen Witemeyer’s The Love Knot, Mary Connealy’s The Tangled Ties That Bind, Regina Jennings’s Bound and Determined, and Melissa Jagears’s Tied and True.

 

What books are on your to-be-read list for 2018?

Author Christmas Tree Snapshots

Most of us love re-living memories of special people and events through the decorations that we put up around the holidays, and our authors here at Bethany House are no exception. Here are some of their favorite ornaments…and the stories behind them. You can find more posted on the Bethany House Facebook page (and more will be added leading up to Christmas, so enjoy!).

“As a young mom I made the mistake of embroidering (actually it’s crewelwork) a Christmas stocking for my precious newborn daughter. Then I had another child, and another and another. It’s like I was TRAPPED in this cycle of CREWEL-WORK. Aptly named! But I used to work with my hands a lot on these things. Crochet, knitting, and such. Now I work with my hands on a typewriter. I wonder if that’s connected somehow. But these stockings, now many years old, remain. And I did my best to make them something beautiful, and now they’ve become a precious keepsake.”—Mary Connealy, author of Too Far Down

“The Lord Takes Broken Pieces and By His Love Makes Us Whole”

“On April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded outside of the Murrah Federal Building in OKC. Among the casualties were the historic stained glass windows of the First United Methodist Church of OKC which sets across the street. This angel is made of that glass. Less than a month after the bombing, our daughter was born and 18 years later her high school graduation was held in the restored church, which bears this motto.”—Regina Jennings, author of Holding the Fort

“I love placing this special ornament on the Christmas tree each year. It’s one my daughter Julie bought with her own money when she was a little girl…a sweet reminder that the best gift any adoptive mother will ever receive is the gift of her precious children. I will always be grateful to the bio moms who gave me these most priceless gifts—our “three J’s”: Julie, Janie and Jonathan.”—Beverly Lewis, author of The Proving

“This ornament looks pretty ordinary, but it’s one of my favorites solely because when my daughter was a toddler, she decided it looked like it was covered with special cupcake sprinkles and tried to take a bite of it (she was SO old enough to know better!). And then, because I laughed, she KEPT trying, until I finally moved it up so high she couldn’t possibly reach it. We laugh about that every year as we hang it (no longer above her head) .”—Roseanna White, author of A Name Unknown

For more glimpses into our authors’ holiday memories, check out the recent posts on our Facebook page. And Merry Christmas!

How about you, readers? Is there an ornament you love hanging on the tree because of the memories it contains? Tell us about it.

Seven Ways to Hint that You Want Books for Christmas

Christmas is coming up, and if you’re like me, you want to make sure as many smooth, rectangular packages are underneath the tree as possible. I’m referring to the best presents of all: books. (If you thought I meant gift cards, this probably isn’t the post for you.)

Here are some tips to make sure others get the hint that you’d rather have a new novel or biography than another vial of body wash or pair of socks.

Oh, sure, you could just add a book to your wish list or even outright ask for a particular title as a gift. But come on, readers. We can be more clever than that. Let’s help others in our life realize what we really want for Christmas.

One: Choose a Prominent Place: Tape a picture of a book to a milk carton with the caption: “Have You Seen This Book Under the Christmas Tree?” Add “please” if you’re feeling polite. Other options include: taping a note to a mirror, creating a computer screensaver or lockscreen with a particular book cover, or using up a whole pad of sticky notes with the title’s name and leaving them in frequently-used locations.

Two: Stage an Overheard Conversation. Have a fake phone chat with a friend (for the purposes of this example, we’ll call her Minerva, because why not?). After a bit of small talk with appropriate pauses, wait until you know a friend or family member is nearby, but don’t let that person know you’re aware of their presence. Then say something like, “Can you believe [author’s name] book is coming out just in time for Christmas? Oh, Minverva, I’d be delighted if someone was kind enough to buy me [title] this year!” This has the advantage of being so subtle that the gift-giver will think the present is a total surprise!

Three: Leave a Note for Santa Lying Around. I suggest something like this: “Dear Santa, Whether I’ve been good or not this year is totally irrelevant to the present I’m requesting. Surprised? Well, let me explain. Studies have shown that reading increases empathy and abstract reasoning skills. Also, buying books supports authors, and the following books are written by people who are on the “nice” list (I checked). [Insert title list here] In conclusion: send me books, Santa, not because I deserve it, but because you want to help me become a better person. Sincerely, [your name]” (This is guaranteed to get the attention of someone used to reading saccharine-sweet accounts of exaggerated good behavior.)

Four: Mark the Target Locations: If you’re shopping with a friend or driving through town with your spouse, be sure to sigh longingly whenever you pass a bookstore. Possibly add an indirect, helpful comment like, “If I had a million dollars, I would spend all of them there. On these specific titles. In time for Christmas so I have something to read this January. Hypothetically, of course.”

Five: The Accidental Text. Tell a friend or family member that you’re going to send them a picture of something cute—a puppy with a red sweater you saw on the way to work or your daughter in her angel costume. Instead, text the cover of the book you want. Then say, “Oops! My mistake. I must have that picture on here because I’m hoping someone will buy it for me for Christmas.” Then send the real picture so the person will be in a sentimental mood and buy you the book right away. This works particularly well to influence givers who aren’t in your immediate area.

Six: Enlist the Nativity. Copy some covers of favorite books from the Internet and print them out in miniature. Cut out and fold into a book shape, then insert into the arms of the wise men. (Gold, frankincense, and myrrh can be used to prop them up for the best effect.) Then, dangling from the stable roof, hang up a sign that says, “What Jesus wished the wise men would have brought.” Someone will get the hint.

Seven: Sing. Every time “All I Want for Christmas is You” comes on the radio, change “you” to “books.” If someone corrects you, deny that these are not the original and most logical lyrics. Because clearly this is a very deep and coherent song, so if it’s really “I just want you for my own,” referring to a person, instead of “I just want them for my own” referring to the latest paperbacks, isn’t that a little possessive and selfish? And why would Mariah not need to hang her stocking by the fireplace except because paper is flammable and her precious books could go up in flames? I have questions, my friends. Questions that can only be answered with literature.

Do you have any favorite techniques on this list, readers? Or any additional ideas?

New Releases: December 2017

It’s almost Christmas time! And if you’re like me, presents shaped like books are the most exciting of all. (Even as a kid, I’d snoop under the tree to count how many perfectly smooth rectangular packages had my name on them.) If you know and love a reader (or want to leave hints for your own wish list) take a look at the books below…there’s a gift for just about every fiction lover’s style releasing this month!

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

by Julie Klassen

Synopsis: In the confines of Ivy Cottage, friendships thrive, romances blossom, and mysteries await! Gentlewoman Rachel Ashford has moved into Ivy Cottage with the two Miss Groves, where she discovers mysteries hidden among her books. Together with her one-time love Sir Timothy, she searches for answers—and is forced to face her true feelings.

Buy for Someone Who: Loves British dramas and all things Jane Austen, enjoys getting to know a delightful cast of characters.

The House on Foster Hill

by Jaime Jo Wright

Synopsis: Fleeing a stalker, Kaine Prescott purchases an old house sight unseen in Wisconsin, which turns out to have a dark history: a century earlier, an unidentified woman was found dead on the grounds. As Kaine tries to settle in, she learns the story of her ancestor Ivy Thorpe, who, with the help of a man from her past, tried to uncover the truth about the death.

Buy for Someone Who: Wants a page-turning suspense novel with lots of twists and turns, can’t choose between historical and contemporary genres.

Holding the Fort

by Regina Jennings

Synopsis: When dance hall singer Louisa Bell visits Fort Reno to see her brother, she is mistaken for the governess that the harried Major Daniel Adams is waiting for. Between his rowdy troops and his two daughters, he has more responsibility than he can handle alone. Eager for the opportunity, Louisa sets out to show the widower that she is a perfect fit.

Buy for Someone Who: Loves to laugh and get to know lovable characters, can’t resist a hard-won happy ending to a delightful romance.

The Probing

by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky

Synopsis: In cycle three of the series, the Harbingers team investigates more mysterious and fascinating supernatural occurrences in Hollywood, a small town in North Carolina, and elsewhere. Can they keep the growing darkness at bay? This fast-paced and ongoing collection reads like your favorite TV series, with each linked episode written by a talented author.

Buy for Someone Who: Enjoys Stranger Things and other speculative stories, wants something a little edgy and fast-paced.

What’s a book that you’d love to receive for Christmas this year?

Prayer for Authors: December 2017

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in November:

Alton Gansky
Angela Hunt
Regina Jennings
Julie Klassen
Bill Myers
Frank Peretti
Jaime Jo Wright

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.–John 1:14 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For balance and moments of peace and reflection even when there are other demands on authors’ time and attention.
  • For freedom from comparison and inadequacy.
  • For booksellers to have a productive holiday season and the ability to deal well with stress amidst the busyness.

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy days to pray for these authors and their books. We appreciate having you join with us!

We Need Your Questions!

Hello, readers!

As some of you regulars may know, we have an ongoing monthly series on the blog called “Ask Bethany House” where I take questions from readers about anything related to BHP, our authors, or book publishing in general.

So that I can plan ahead for 2018 posts, it’s time for me to request questions from you again! If you have a behind-the-scenes type of question, submit it here in our survey, and I’ll choose one per month to answer next year.

You can glance over past questions I’ve answered here, but I’m fine with a slightly different angle on an old question, or even a request for an updated answer to a question I already covered. (A lot can change in two years!)

And, to thank you for being such great question-asking fans, let’s have a giveaway! Next week, I’ll pick two random winners for an early copy of your choice of one our January 2018 books (Out of the Ashes by Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse, A Song Unheard by Roseanna White, Judah’s Wife by Angela Hunt). Enter by commenting with an answer to this question: what is one book you read in 2017 that you really enjoyed?