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?