Prayer for Authors: July 2020

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 July:

Misty M. Beller
Jennifer Delamere
Amanda Dykes
Jody Hedlund
Dani Pettrey
Lauraine Snelling

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.

“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For endurance for pressing on, whether it’s through life trials or writing struggles.
  • For words and concepts from these novels to stick with readers and make them think.
  • For focus and the ability to know how to spend their time wisely.

Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to lift these authors, and others, up in prayer. We appreciate you more than we can say!

Dependence Day Giveaway!

Readers, I’d love to have you join me for a very special holiday tomorrow…Dependence Day!

What is Dependence Day, you ask? It’s a completely made-up holiday on July 3rd where we celebrate America’s former dependence on England. Strictly speaking, it’s less pining for the good ol’ days of British colonization and more about having an excuse to eat scones and drink tea, so if you’re an American, you can celebrate with your patriotism intact.

All that’s required is that you participate in some manner of vaguely British-themed activity, such as:

  • Using some Shakespearean insults.
  • Listening to the Beatles (or a more modern British band).
  • Planning a dream trip across the pond.
  • Searching the news for whatever the royal family is up to these days.
  • Watching Pride and Prejudice or anything BBC.
  • Reading a book set in England.

If that last one sounds perfect to you, we’ve got some great recommendations below for all you Anglophiles out there.

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes: Reeling from the loss of her parents, Lucie Clairmont discovers an artifact under the floorboards of their London flat, leading her to an old seaside estate. Aided by her childhood friend Dashel, a renowned forensic astronomer, they start to unravel a history of heartbreak, sacrifice, and love begun 200 years prior—one that may offer the healing each seeks.

The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen: While Benjamin investigates a mysterious death, evidence takes him to a remote island on the Thames. There, Isabelle is trapped by fear and has a recurring dream about a man’s death. Or is it a memory? When a murder brings everyone under suspicion, and the search for truth brings secrets to light, she realizes her island sanctuary will never be the same.

Line by Line by Jennifer Delamere: Years of hard work enabled Douglas Shaw to escape a life of desperate poverty—and now he’s determined to marry into high society to prevent reliving his old circumstances. But when Alice McNeil, an unconventional telegrapher at his firm, raises the ire of a vindictive co-worker, he must choose between rescuing her reputation and the future he’s always planned.

Vying for the Viscount by Kristi Ann Hunter (releases August 2020): When a strange man appears to be stealing horses at the neighboring estate, Bianca Snowley jumps to their rescue. And when she discovers he’s the new owner, she can’t help but be intrigued—but romance is unfeasible when he proposes they help secure spouses for each other. Will they see everything they’ve wanted has been there all along before it’s too late?

The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White: In the midst of the Great War, Margot De Wilde spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But after a sudden loss, her world is turned upside down. Lieutenant Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by a destructive enemy. Immediately smitten with Margot, how can Drake convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart?

To celebrate Dependence Day, we’re giving away the winner’s choice of one of the titles above. To enter, just comment with the answer to the question below: what would be a place in England you’d enjoy visiting? (Or have visited.) We’ll choose a winner next Thursday, July 9th.

Six Dangers of the Reading Life

Some might look at us readers tucked into our cozy armchairs or stretched out on our beach towels with a book in hand and think the book lover’s life is an easy one.

Oh, no. That’s where they’re wrong. If you’re a seasoned reader, I’m sure you’ve realized there are multiple pitfalls and perils that dog the reader’s every step—I mean, page. Here are a few of them, arranged in order of approximate danger level.

Papercuts

Oh, the indignity of that sharp slice of pain, when all you wanted to do was lovingly turn those beloved pages. It’s a wound that cuts deep, even though it cuts shallowly. This is especially common in suspenseful books, when you’re trying to turn pages quickly to see what happens next.

Tip for Combating This Danger: Apply a generous amount of self-pity, then blame your least favorite character in the novel for directly attacking you. This should dull the pain and allow you to move on. If this is a frequent peril, consider using an e-reader instead. Or wear gloves or a handful of thimbles.

Mild Disdain from Other Readers

You know who they are. They’re the ones who demand everyone think their book club pick was flawlessly brilliant. The ones who post scathing one-star reviews on your favorite books and tell you to your face how “predicable and trite” they are. The ones who brag about having completed 99 of the “100 Classic Novels to Read Before You Die” list…and they only haven’t gotten to Les Misérables because they’re working on their French so they can read it in the original language. If you venture into the bookish world, be warned: you’ll be sure to encounter these critics and naysayers and their superior looks.

Tip for Combating This Danger: Amazingly, if you simply don’t care what these readers think about you, your favorite author, or your go-to genre, they have no power to ruin your day. Poof. Gone. I mean, I’m all for challenging yourself and occasionally reading outside your comfort zone, but part of the beauty in the world is that we all have different tastes and preferences. There are books out there for anyone, but not every book is for everyone, and that’s more than okay; it’s great!

(Also, the disdainful readers just approved of the fact that I used a semi-colon. They like semi-colons.)

Spoilers

My sister informed me last week that she was reading a kids’ mystery to put in her classroom. When a new character was introduced, she saw, in the margin of a library book, a scrawled, “HE IS THE KIDNAPPER,” rendering the next two hundred pages useless. Can you imagine such dastardly devilry? And at such a young age! But it’s not only tiny troublemakers you have to watch out for here. Indiscreet Amazon reviews that dump the entire plot before your curious eyes, accidentally openings to the wrong page, and excitable friends who just can’t help themselves all fall into this category. Watch out, or you’ll tumble into the Abyss of Knowing, and you’ll never get out.

Tip for Combating This Danger: Pre-order books you don’t want spoiled, and then isolate yourself until you’ve turned past the last page as an extra precaution. A bunker would be nice, if available. And if you’re one of those deluded people who read the ending of a book first…I’m sorry, there’s no help for you.

Natural Forces

This is a broad category, encompassing everything from the force of gravity pulling your cracker crumbs into the binding of the book from which they will never escape to sudden rainstorms when you’re reading outside, forcing you to securely swaddle your book in your hammock and flee a mile back to your vehicle, soaking wet and completely bedraggled while the book remains dry. (If you think both of these are based on personal experience…you’re right.)

Tip for Combating This Danger: There are innumerable forces and factors that might try to keep you from your book or ruin your reading experience (carsickness on a road trip, an unsealed coffee cup lid, library pandemic shut-downs), so it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all solution. The only advice I can give is: be vigilant. Threats to reading are everywhere.

Emotional Exhaustion

Whether you keep the tissue box handy because you’re reading a tear-jerker or just because you hate to say goodbye to beloved bookish friends, the best stories will sweep you up into the characters’ trials and triumphs…and sometimes leave you with a post-book emotional hangover.

Tip for Combating This Danger: Take a deep breath. Then share the book with a friend, gush about it online, thank the author, or otherwise transfer those emotions to the real world. Don’t bother reminding yourself that the characters and their worlds aren’t real; this is no fun and also probably won’t help.

Suffocation by Collapsed TBR Pile

You know how it goes. Your favorite author has a new release, so you order it. Your book club coordinator hands you the novel for next month. Your friend is just dying to talk to you about the latest thriller. A stunning cover practically leaps off the shelf at you when browsing at a bookstore. There’s that one movie adaptation, and of course you have to read the book first. And the next thing you know, the delivery driver knows you by first name and is friends with you on Goodreads, and your house looks like some kind of towering literary maze of madness. If you venture among the stacks of tomes, you could get crushed, especially if you try to pull out a title from the bottom. Will it ever all get read? Who can say?

Tip for Combating This Danger: Keep an emergency whistle around your neck so you can call for help if needed, or find some sort of reinforced steel supports to maintain your stacks of worthy novels. (What, did you think I was going to tell you to read the books you have before buying or checking out more? What do you think this guide is, a humor piece?)

 

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is trying to keep you from your book, but we know that true readers will prevail! Together, we can watch each other’s backs, fight against obstacles to reading, and finish “just one more chapter.”

We’re sure we forgot a few perils, reader. What do you think are the most dangerous parts of living in the book world?

Ask BHP: Humor in Fiction

Totally relate to the reader who submitted the question for this week: “I love books that make me laugh! I’d love to see a post where you (or authors?) tell us what goes into writing funny stories.”

Thankfully, we’ve got several author who fit that bill. I just grabbed a few of them who have recent releases and gave them some prompts so you can encounter the behind-the-scenes of writing comedic scenes or whole books. Here are some behind-the-scenes sneak peeks into the writing world from Karen Witemeyer, Nicole Deese, Jen Turano, and Mary Connealy. Enjoy!

Why do you think readers enjoy humorous scenes in a story?

Karen: Readers read to be entertained, and humor is hugely entertaining. Whether it’s witty dialogue, a madcap scene of misadventure, or a comedic one-liner, if it spawns a smile, it also spawns joy. And we all need more joy in our lives, don’t we?

Nicole: I think people enjoy taking a break from tension for a few minuteswhether it’s real-life tension or fictional tension from the story they’re reading, laughter provides a much-needed stress outlet for us all.

Jen: I think everyone loves to laugh, and humor in scenes provide readers with that amusing escape we especially need right now during these trying times.

Mary: The basic reason I write humor is because that’s what I love to read. I do not like books that make me cry. I can attest to the talent of the author when he/she makes me cry, dragging me through emotional agony. That writing has power. But I just don’t like it. Life has enough drama in it. I don’t want to add more by reading about it. I always say, “If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while they’re running for their lives, then I’m happy.” That’s what I read, and that’s what I write.

Have you ever used something funny that happened to you (or someone you know) as a basis for a scene in your book?

Karen: Every time I include a pun of some sort, I immediately think of my son, Wyatt. He and I love a good pun. Or even a bad one. While my other kids groan and roll their eyes, Wyatt always laughs. He’s my humor cheerleader.

Nicole: Absolutely–both! I mean, what’s the point of having relationships with people if you can’t write their most embarrassing moments into your books? Hahaha! Usually, I take a seedling of an idea from a true tale I’ve heard or experienced and then develop it further to suit the scene or the character I’m writing.

Jen: I pull a lot of fodder for my scenes from past experiences. Elmer the chicken being carried around like a football came from real-life, although I wasn’t the one carrying the chicken because chickens don’t seem to like me. Another example would be when peacocks attacked in one of my stories – that happened to me when I took my son to the zoo one day. He thought it was hilarious, whereas I thought I was going to be missing a limb after a particularly fierce peacock wouldn’t let go of my sleeve.

Mary: Absolutely. Much of the humor when men and women misunderstand each other is rooted in my own life. My husband is from a family of seven sons. We have four daughters. He spends plenty of time just absolutely confused at the way they behave. The way they chatter and laugh and (horrors) cry. All within the context of him adoring them. There’s a lot of comedy in the way women vs. men react, in my life and now…in my books.

Which recent character of yours made you laugh while writing?

Karen: Barnabas Ackerly is recent to me, though readers won’t meet him until this fall, but his novella in The Kissing Tree collection is one of the funniest stories I’ve written to date. At least to me. Ha! A self-proclaimed stodgy nag of practicality, he has a great tongue-in-cheek internal wit. He keeps dubbing the heroine’s Kissing Tree Inn with all sorts of silly names like the Inn of Smooching Shrubbery and the Inn of Osculating Topiaries. Made me laugh to write it.

Nicole: There were quite a few moments I laughed while writing Before I Called You Mine–one had to do with the meet-cute in chapter two and a certain character pretending to be a T-Rex, another was when I wrote about an alpaca farmer coming to a dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner as a blind date. I laughed at each of those scenes during the editing rounds, too.

Jen: Miss Daphne Beekman, a character in my new series, The Bleeker Street Inquiry Agency. She’s an unlikely inquiry agent because she has a tendency to swoon whenever danger is near, so she’s had me laughing quite a bit over the past few months.

Mary: The hero, Cam, in The Reluctant Warrior, book #2 in the High Sierra Sweethearts series. He was a tough, order-snapping, former cavalry officer. And his daughter, when he was reunited with her after a long, long time, is terrified of him and clinging to the heroine Gwen, who has been caring for her. Cam needs help. Gwen administers the ‘help’ by slapping him in the back of the head every time he barks at people. She’s enjoying herself a bit too much.

Let’s talk…talking. Does witty dialogue come to you in the first draft, or is it something you add in as you edit?

Karen: I don’t typically write in layers, so yes, witty dialogue comes to me in the first draft. Nothing feels better than getting on a roll with fun verbal sparing between the hero and heroine. My favorite thing about writing with humor is that here is no kicking myself for thinking of the perfect comeback after the moment passes, which is what usually happens to me in real life. In fiction, I can go back days later and add the perfect zinger to my heroine’s repertoire as if it had been there all along. Yes!

Nicole: For me, humorous dialogue usually comes the easiest in a new scene I’m drafting… it’s all the other stuff (setting, movement, dialogue cues, the five senses, etc.) that takes the most work.

Jen: I don’t get witty until around edit #5. I have the bones of scenes in place, but it’s not until I really know the characters extremely well that their sense of humor comes out.

Mary: Sassy heroines, clueless heroes, that’s dialogue made for humor right there. Usually some of that comes on the first pass, but every time you go through, it grows. So the funnier it is, very likely, the more revisions it’s been through.

Thanks, amazing ladies! Readers, let us know the latest book you read that made you laugh out loud.

Bethany House Reading Road Trip 2020

It’s time for…your guide to some between-the-pages travel all over the country and the world! Especially this year, with restrictions and extra caution, we know lots of readers are excited to escape to a different place by opening a favorite author’s novel (or, even more fun, one by a new-to-them author). The list below includes Bethany House books from July 2019 to June 2020.

This year, for the first time, Oregon is our winning state for most locations. Yay, Pacific Northwest! (This is partly because both Susan Sleeman and Christina Suzann Nelson wrote books set in their home state, which we love.) Not a state, but Washington DC is also getting a lot of love this year, with four books set there. Check out all the rest of these locations, touring them alphabetically.

Alaska: Forever Hidden by Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse

Colorado: Aiming for Love and Woman of Sunlight by Mary Connealy

Georgia: Stay With Me by Becky Wade

Idaho: Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Illinois: Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green

Iowa (And Missouri): Dead End by Nancy Mehl

Minnesota: A Song of Joy by Lauraine Snelling

Montana: Hope’s Highest Mountain by Misty M. Beller

Nebraska: Fire Storm by Nancy Mehl,

New Hampshire: A Perfect Silhouette by Judith Miller

New York: Diamond in the Rough and Storing Up Trouble by Jen Turano

North Carolina: The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey, When I Close My Eyes by Elizabeth Musser

Oklahoma: The Major’s Daughter by Regina Jennings

Oregon: Seconds to Live by Susan Sleeman, More Than We Remember by Christina Suzann Nelson, Secrets of My Heart and The Way of Love by Tracie Peterson

Pennsylvania: The Timepiece by Beverly Lewis, An Amish Christmas Kitchen novella collection by Leslie Gould, Jan Drexler, and Kate Lloyd

Texas: At Love’s Command by Karen Witemeyer

Washington DC: The Spice King and A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden, End Game by Rachel Dylan, A Single Spark by Judith Miller

West Virginia: When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Wisconsin: Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright

Multiple Stop Trips

New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, and Arizona: Serving Up Love novella collection by Tracie Peterson, Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, and Jen Turano

England, Texas, West Virginia, and Washington: The Christmas Heirloom novella collection by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade

California, Texas, Kansas, New York, Montana, etc: What Comes My Way by Tracie Peterson

Maryland, Russia, Israel, Bahamas, Greece, Turkey, Cuba, Burma, Egypt, Angolan Coast, Botswana, Italy, and aboard a ship on several seas: Storm Rising by Ronie Kendig

Maryland, Virginia, New York, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Horn of Africa, China, Italy, Taiwan, France, Afghanistan, Netherlands, and Belgium: Kings Falling by Ronie Kendig

Outside of United States

Canada: The Brightest of Dreams by Susan Anne Mason, The Runaway Bride by Jody Hedlund, Unyielding Hope by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

England: The Bridge to Belle Island by Julie Klassen, A Pursuit of Home by Kristi Ann Hunter, On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White

India (and New York): A Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy

Israel (modern day Palestine and Israel): Until the Mountains Fall and Like Flames in the Night by Connilyn Cossette, King’s Shadow and Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt

Babylon, Israel, and surrounding kingdoms (modern day Iraq and Israel): The End of the Magi by Patrick Carr

West Indies (modern day Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis): Selah by Lisa T. Bergren

Fantasy Realms

Cry of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

For even more reading travel, check out our lists from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

Is there a setting you wish authors would feature more often? Tell us in the comments!

Prayer for Authors: June 2020

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 June:

Elizabeth Camden
Judith Miller
Tracie Peterson
Karen Witemeyer

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.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”—Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For God’s “very present help” as they write or edit another book.
  • For the booksellers and librarians with a heart for ministry who have been unable to connect with readers for a time.
  • For these books to reach those who need to hear the message they contain.

Whether you’re a regular at these monthly prayer posts or this is the first one you’ve found, we’re glad you’re here. Thanks for praying with us!

June 2020 New Releases

Welcome to summer, readers! I was telling a friend the other day that while a lot of my summer plans have changed, reading books in a hammock is still at the top of my list. If that’s on your summertime agenda too, then I have some adventurous, hope-filled recommendations for you! This month is a powerhouse of historical titles to take you to a different time and place. Read along by clicking on the covers to get to an excerpt.

At Love’s Command by Karen Witemeyer
Hanger’s Horseman #1

Plot Summary: Ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent, but when a rustler’s bullet leaves one of them at death’s door, they seek out help from Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josephine’s brother is abducted and she is caught in the crossfire, Matthew may have to sacrifice everything—even his team—to save her.

 

A Single Spark by Judith Miller

Plot Summary: Wanting to do her part in the Civil War effort, Clara McBride goes to work in the cartridge room at the Washington Arsenal. Her supervisor, Lieutenant Joseph Brady, is drawn to Clara but must focus on preventing explosions in the factory. When multiple shipments of cartridges fail to fire and everyone is suspect, can the spark of love between them survive?

 

The Way of Love by Tracie Peterson
Willamette Brides #2

Plot Summary: Faith Kenner is pursuing her dream to become a doctor and use her gift to help the native populations on reservations. When she meets Andrew Gratton, a handsome riverboat captain who has been injured, a friendship grows between them—but will the secret of her heritage and rising tensions with the native people prevent them from finding true happiness?

 

A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden
Hope and Glory #2

Plot Summary: Secretary to the first lady of the United States, Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of high society—but is hiding a terrible secret. Immediately suspicious of Caroline, but also attracted to her, secret service agent Nathaniel Trask must battle his growing love for her as the threat to the president rises and they face adventure, heartbreak, and danger.

 

What’s your favorite summertime reading spot?

Ask BHP: Should Readers Leave Negative Reviews or Contact the Author?

This week’s question is pretty detailed, and since I’ve seen these conversations going on as well, it intrigued me. The reader said, “In online reader groups, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not it’s okay to leave negative reviews. Those who believe it’s not okay often advocate emailing or messaging authors directly with criticisms of their work, so they can improve future writing. How do authors view such a practice?”

Amy Lokkesmoe (formerly Green) here, fiction publicist at Bethany House, trying to give a good answer to this tough one. I’m not sure what approach I would have taken when I was “just a reader” and hadn’t yet started working in publishing. There are good intentions on both sides, and I can completely understand where people are coming from.

You should also know that just like no book will please every reader, no answer to this question will be right for every situation. I can, though, share from my experience and from what I’ve heard authors say.

The Author Perspective

While authors may not like negative reviews (who would?), most understand that reviews are there from readers for other readers. The pros know that someone leaving a criticism of their book isn’t the same as someone insulting them, their character, or their mom (unless it is, more on that later). Readers are trying to help other readers know when to spend or save their money based on their experience with a book.

Some authors, knowing this, avoid reviews altogether. Others have a writing buddy sift through them to pull out any repeated comments so they can improve their writing without having to directly read the (sometimes blunt) reactions to something they put their heart and soul into. They know themselves, and they wisely decide what they can and can’t handle.

Here’s the thing: if a reader directly messages an author, that takes away the author’s ability to make that decision. They can’t have someone else screen it first to find what they think would be helpful rather than hurtful. They can’t choose to look at it on a day when they’re feeling good and have distance from their work. They can’t disagree with the person writing the message, because anything they might say, even politely, will sound defensive.

It’s just there, in their inbox on Facebook or email, waiting for a response. And it’s pretty difficult to think of a good response to someone who, even graciously, told you they didn’t like your book and that you could do better next time when you didn’t request that feedback.

For these reasons, many authors would prefer that readers not send them critical messages directly, especially if that’s the main/only purpose behind writing to them. Same thing with tagging an author in a negative review or posting it to their social media page.

Again, this isn’t true for everyone. A few authors welcome that kind of critique…but there’s no way to know which author will take your note and say, “That fits with other things I’ve heard, better work on that,” and which ones will have no idea how to respond to you and also cry because they’re so invested in the book you just criticized.

 

So…What Should Readers Do?

  • Don’t be mean. This is probably why some people don’t like leaving public negative reviews—they’ve seen ones that felt personal and harsh. There are many ways to mention something you didn’t like about a book without being unkind. And there’s no cause whatsoever to get personal in your negative review and call names.

 

  • Consider not leaving a review. This especially applies if you didn’t finish a book because you realized that it wasn’t your thing (too much war and you like feel-good reads, the narrator’s first-person voice grated on you, you didn’t realize it was going to have a particular kind of content). Or if you’ve disliked the author’s other books and hoped this one was different, and it wasn’t. If you know you’re not the target audience for the book, your review might not help readers who searched for the book because they actually are.

 

  • View one-star reviews as a way to warn people away from buying a book. I’ve personally never bought a book that fits this category, but I’m sure others have. This one is my personal opinion; your mileage may vary.

 

  • Leave a tactful critical review. If you want to help out fellow book-buyers and just didn’t enjoy a book or thought it had flaws that made it uninteresting, I’d suggest an explanation of why it wasn’t for you. You can mention any positives, but at least be polite about the negatives. This will be helpful to other readers.

 

  • Generally, don’t message authors directly with criticisms of their book, even if your goal is to help them improve. For all the reasons I just mentioned, it’s rarely as helpful as you want it to be. Instead, I’d suggest you…

 

  • Find ways to help authors improve their books through other means. If you’re a reader who finds you have a lot of advice to give on how to improve books, I’d suggest taking that passion (which is awesome, by the way) and seeing if you can be a beta reader for authors. There are Facebook groups where authors look for early readers to point out plot problems at a stage where they can actually fix them, and if this is your drive, that might be a good fit for you.

 

That’s my two cents, readers. Do you have thoughts or follow-up questions about this?

Seven Musical Instruments on Book Covers

Tomorrow, May 22, is National Buy a Musical Instrument Day, and to celebrate, I thought it would be fun to highlight some Bethany House books that keep musical instruments front and center. Some of the main characters inside the pages are professional musicians and music teachers, others are amateurs. Either way, I hope you enjoy this collection, especially if you play an instrument yourself.

 

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White

Both violin and bow are visible on this cover (barely), and we love how the instrument draws your attention to the thoughtful gaze of the Edwardian protagonist (and vice versa).

 

Morning’s Refrain by Tracie Peterson

Each book in Tracie’s Alaska Song series has a fun use of close-ups of instruments to frame the main scene, and we love the glint of silver from this flute.

 

Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

This music instructor character doesn’t want to take on a teaching job, but we love the class the ornate piano adds to this historical romance cover.

A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander

Not only does this lovely Belmont mansion novel have a violin, but it also showcases a lovely orchestra performance hall in the background. You can almost hear the music!

 

Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Let’s go all the way back to ancient musical instruments for this shofar, a horn used in Old Testament times. Maybe not one you’d perform with today, but still cool, especially in silhouette!

 

The Fiddler by Beverly Lewis

The difference between a violin and a fiddle is in how its played, and this particular fiddle plays an important part in the Amish community during the story.

 

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

So, this piano needs a little TLC, but you can almost hear its haunting melody on this atmospheric cover, can’t you?

What other covers can you think of that feature musical instruments, readers? And what instrument, if any, do you play?

Is Escapism Through Reading Bad?

I read a Forbes article recently heralding the benefits of romance novels during stressful times, saying they “provide the distraction and balm people crave when the world seems to be falling apart” and “offer diversion, excitement and escapism.”

To which someone on social media said (and I’m toning things down a bit here), “This is exactly the problem. Escapism isn’t a healthy way to deal with anything, much less a pandemic. Romance novels have always been guilty of this, and now isn’t the time to start saying it’s a good thing.”

While I can sort of see the commenter’s point, I think there are two important questions to ask before you can sort reading romance novels—or books of any kind—as helping or hurting during difficult times.

Important Question 1: What are you escaping?

This one’s pretty straightforward. Are your children running starving and ragged in the streets like Dickensonian urchins while you lounge about, entombed in your library for days on end?

That is not good. Reading (or doing any activity in a compulsive way) to avoid responsibility is bad. Check.

Okay, so that’s clearly not something most of us have to deal with. On a deeper level, though, if you’re so desperate to escape reality that you turn to books as the primary way of meeting emotional needs, this is also not good.

In other words, if you have a “book boyfriend” you love more than real people in your life, if you regularly put off processing problems by burying yourself in novels, if you long so much for fictional happy endings that you have no interest in dealing with your own life story and its ups and downs…that’s also not healthy.

But…that is also not where most readers are right now. Choose some random people waiting in a library curbside pickup line and ask about what escapism through books means, and they’ll say things like:

  • “I love journeying to a totally different time period, culture, or country through books, especially when I can’t travel in real life. Sure, I’m learning, but it also makes that history or those places come alive to me.”
  • “I like being able to sigh along as characters find romance, knowing it’s not my life and love at stake. I get all the fun conflict and drama without actually having to deal with any fallout. And it helps to know things will work out in the end.”
  • “It’s good to have something that makes me laugh. I know not everything resolves neatly in the nonfictional world, but wow, in hard times, it sure helps to plop down with a book for a while and smile again.”
  • “Daily life isn’t usually that exciting, so sometimes when I read a thriller or an epic fantasy novel, it makes me want to be braver. Or at least lets me cheer when good triumphs over evil. It’s a quick look at how justice should work, even if it doesn’t always.”

(Okay, so maybe not everyone at the library would be ready with a snappy answer like this on the spot, but they would think of these responses on the drive home and wish they’d said them. Trust me.)

You can disagree if you like, but to me, those seem like pretty good things. Especially when you consider…

Important Question 2: What changes when you “return” from your escape?

It’s a classic “quest” arc: the character is forced to leave the comfort of home and routine to accomplish something great. And after many obstacles, they (usually) triumph and return again. In the best stories, they come back changed in some way. They have new perspectives. They’ve gained allies or found true love. They’ve defeated a lie that’s dogged them their whole life. They now know something true that will impact all of their choices from here on out.

So think of yourself as a character going through a journey when you read a book. Sure, you’re not actually experiencing the action (usually a good thing, given that the number of gunfights, drama, dangerous secrets, ticking time bombs, etc. are usually way higher in fiction than real life), but you’re leaving your normal world on an adventure. And, if the author’s done the job well, you should leave it changed.

It’s not usually a dramatic change, although many of us can name a handful of books that triggered a transformation. Maybe you come away from a novel understanding others better, mulling over a theme or profound line, or filled with less stress and more laughter.

Some kinds of escapism—hello, binge-eating tubs of Chunky Monkey ice cream—leave you changed in a negative way. And hey, if novels (or certain kinds of novels) give you nightmares or unrealistic expectations or an excuse to consistently neglect real-life responsibilities…then avoid them. Read responsibly.

But most of the time, for most of us, reading leaves us changed in a positive way. When we close a book, we’re equipped with extra mental, emotional, or spiritual resources to live our own lives as more thoughtful, relaxed, or compassionate people.

So if you’re feeling stressed, there are lots of things you can do to help, and we could all make different lists of what we find most helpful or productive—but I hope reading books is on yours.

 

What do you think, readers? Do you think there’s such a thing as “good” and “bad” escapism? Why do you read, especially fiction, during stressful times?