Christmas Storytime: Three Holiday Excerpts

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…and if here at Bethany House, we’re celebrating the season with a few holiday scenes from some of our recent novels. Although only one is set entirely at Christmas, these joyful moments show us how others make Christmas merry, and help us learn a little about the main characters, too. Enjoy, and have a very bookish holiday!

From An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

Christmas 1822

A short while later, they all strolled down the drive and up the High Street together, talking softly amongst themselves as they went. Justina and Nicholas shared one lamp, as did Horace and Penelope, Rachel and Sir Timothy, Richard and Arabella, and Murray and Jamie, who seemed happy to be in their company.

Richard looked down at Arabella. “Are you sure you’re not too cold? We could have taken the curricle.”

“I am perfectly well, but thank you for your concern.”

He was concerned about her well-being, he realized. Dash it all.

She smiled, adding, “It was kind of you to invite Jamie.”

He nodded, then winked. “Let’s just hope he sings better than Timothy.”

When they reached the almshouse, the carolers clustered near the door and at Rachel’s signal, began singing, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”

The front door opened, and the matron, Mrs. Mennell appeared. “Please come in!” she beckoned. “Not everyone is able to come to the door.

So the little troupe filed inside, squeezing into the entryway. In the small parlour sat the same elderly women and single man they’d seen on their last visit, lap rugs over their legs, and some with teacups in their gnarled fingers. They all turned eager eyes on the inexperienced but willing carolers, who next sang “The First Noel.”

As the last note fell away, the small crowd clapped appreciatively and Richard noticed tears in more than one pair of weary eyes. Something in his chest cracked, then loosened, and a tendril of joy sprouted in his heart.

From The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark

Christmas 1946

Mrs. Stevens had given Millie an early Christmas gift—some money with which to buy fabric for a party outfit. Day and night for two whole weeks, Millie had dreamed up what to sew. Finally, she decided on a red and green floral that she ruched at the bust, with a full skirt and a trail of buttons along the neckline.

And, of course, her favorite cloche. She never went anywhere without it.

She’s used the last of her money on the fancy buttons, so she had to wear her scuffed-up black Mary Janes. But the goal, of course, was that the guests might be so enraptured by her dress they wouldn’t notice her shoes.

And by guests, of course she meant Franklin.

Two hours later, everyone had eaten their fill, and Mrs. Stevens played her new Benny Goodman record for anyone who wanted to dance.

Franklin wore suspenders, the new hat Mrs. Stevens had given him, and a grin that warmed Milled more thoroughly than the crackling fire beside them. He held out his hand. “Want to dance?”

He knew he needn’t ask. Millie had been less than subtle in expressing how perfect the skirt of her dress might be for dancing. A girl only got the opportunity to dress as a princess once in a blue moon, and Millie had every intention of enjoying her moon before it passed.

From Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Christmas Present Day

The Avery Family Anniversary Christmas Eve Crab Feed could easily be considered last-meal-on-earth material. I’d never buy crab in a can again.

Sometime between Joshua tying a plastic bib around my neck and Emma singing “Jingle Bells” while using the shelled crab legs as her instrument of choice. . . I’d completely fallen in love with the lot of them. I’d laughed my oxygen supply out more than once, sucking wind so badly that my sides ached, especially after Joshua intentionally bumped my shoulder at the exact moment I finally got the perfect grip on the cracking tool. After such an unfair move, I shoved my entire pile of crab legs in front of him, declaring his punishment was to crack them all. He agreed without a fight, and his mother and Rebekah applauded my sass. “Good one, Lauren,” Elizabeth affirmed. “Don’t you let him get away with that.”

Stuffed to the point of not even wanting to discuss dessert, we concluded our evening with George reading us the first chapter of Luke. I could listen to his storytelling voice every day of the week and never tire of it. His baritone was as deep and distinguished as an Oscar-winning actor. Emma interrupted the passage multiple times, fluffing the ruffly skirt of her dress and asking questions like “Where did the wise men buy their gifts, Papa?” and “What kind of wood was the manger made out of—did it have splinters in it?” and “How could a star shine so brightly for all that time?” All the while, her baby brother slept soundly on his mother’s lap, instinctively sucking his fingers every few seconds. The scene burrowed deep into my subconscious.

Even now, hours after the last dish had been washed, dried, and stacked, and long after the fireplace had stopped crackling, I could still see them snuggled together, the image of mother and child. Why wouldn’t God just take my desire away already? If I was supposed to wait, supposed to press pause on my adoption plans, then why did I still feel like my lungs were being pummeled by an iron fist every time I saw a woman around my age with a child?

[Scene cut off here because SPOILERS and romance and such, ha!]

Can you think of a book that isn’t Christmas-themed from start to finish but that has a fun Christmas scene?

December 2020 New Releases

Happy December, readers! I hope as Christmas comes near that you’re able to celebrate this season in a meaningful way and find time for reflection and peace in the midst of all the chaos. Here at Bethany House, we’re always in favor of quiet evenings with books by the fireside, whether there are stockings hung from the mantel or not. Take a look at these four new novels and read an excerpt of each…we hope you’ll find a new favorite!

Courting Misfortune by Regina Jennings
The Joplin Chronicles #1

Plot Summary: Assigned to find the kidnapped daughter of a mob boss, Pinkerton operative Calista York is sent to a rowdy mining town in Missouri. But she faces the obstacle of missionary Matthew Cook. He’s as determined to stop a local baby raffle as he is the reckless Miss York whose bad judgement consistently seems to be putting her in harm’s way.

To Dwell among Cedars by Connilyn Cossette
The Covenant House #1

Plot Summary: Determined to bring the Ark of the Covenant to a proper resting place, Levite musician Ronen never expected that Eliora, the Philistine girl he rescued years ago, would be part of the family he’s to deceive. As his attempts to charm her lead in unexpected directions, they question their loyalties when their beliefs about the Ark and themselves are shaken.

The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark
Heirloom Secrets

Plot Summary: In 1946, Millie Middleton left home to keep her heritage hidden, carrying the dream of owning a dress store. Decades later, when Harper Dupree’s future in fashion falls apart, she visits her mentor Millie. As the revelation of a family secret leads them to Charleston and a rare opportunity, can they overcome doubts and failures for a chance at their dreams?

A Castaway in Cornwall by Julie Klassen

Plot Summary: Laura Callaway daily walks the windswept Cornwall coast, known for many shipwrecks but few survivors. And when a man with curious wounds and an odd accent is washed ashore, she cares for him while the mystery surrounding him grows. Can their budding attraction survive, and can he be returned to his rightful home when danger pursues them from every side?

What about you, readers? Are you able to read during the Christmas season, or are you planning to curl up with a good book post-holidays?

Deaf Representation in Fiction: A Conversation with Sarah Loudin Thomas

Hello, readers! It’s Rachael, and I’m here to share the conversation I had with Sarah Loudin Thomas about her new release, The Right Kind of Fool. As someone who has studied American Sign Language and Deaf culture over the years, I was thrilled when I found out Sarah would be writing this book, and I really wanted to learn more about her background and what went into her research process! I even got to model signs for her postcard—how exciting is that?

I hope you enjoy learning more about Sarah and her hero, Loyal!

About the Book:

When deaf teen Loyal Raines stumbles upon a dead body in the nearby river, his absentee father, Creed, is shocked the boy runs to him first. Pulled into the investigation, Creed discovers that it is the boy’s courage, not his inability to hear, that sets him apart, and he will have to do more than solve a murder if he wants to win his family’s hearts again.

Rachael: Thanks for chatting with me, Sarah! I’m curious, what inspired you to write The Right Kind of Fool?

Sarah: I was researching a completely different story about the unsolved murder of Mamie Thurman who was killed near Logan, WV, in 1932. As I was reading about it, I found an account that said her body was discovered by “a deaf, mute boy.” And my imagination was off and running! Who was he? What was it like to be deaf in a rural community where sign language wouldn’t have been commonly known? How did he tell the news and did he testify? I eventually found information about the trial that said he used “hand signs” in court. So I abandoned poor Mamie and made a thirteen-year-old deaf boy who is the hero of my story!

Rachael: I love how Loyal’s story drew you in! You’ve said before that the most remarkable thing about Loyal as a character isn’t his deafness. What would you say it is?

Sarah: Loyal is courageous, kind, and . . . well . . . loyal! He doesn’t think of himself as less than or handicapped because he’s deaf. He’s pretty confident about his abilities which just happen to be slightly different. And his goal is to demonstrate just how capable he is to the people he loves the most. And, I think, he’s pretty successful at it in the end!

Rachael: Loyal is amazing. It made me so happy to see you feature a deaf hero in your story! Why do you think deaf representation in fiction is important?

Sarah: If humans experience it, I think it’s fair game for representation in fiction. So much of storytelling is transporting the reader into another time or place or experience. It’s why we tell stories isn’t it? How many of us as kids tried walking around with our eyes closed to see what it’s like to be blind. Or with our hands over our ears to see what it’s like to be deaf. We have innate curiosity that I think can lead to understanding, empathy, and a deeper appreciation for each other. I love writing characters who are different from me so I can walk around in their shoes for a while! 

Rachael: That’s so true! Had you studied American Sign Language before writing this book? What inspired you to study it?

Sarah: I’d learned the basics thanks to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Lashley, back in grade school. I still knew the alphabet and a handful of signs. I’ve long thought it’s an incredibly beautiful way of communicating, and I love how facial expressions and body language are tied up in it. I’ve always had a terrible poker face so it’s nice to learn a little bit of a language where that’s part of the goal!

Rachael: I agree—it’s a fascinating language! What did your research process look like? Did you learn anything intriguing about the language while researching?

Sarah: I spent time on websites targeting the deaf community and I highly recommend a book called Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks. That notion of SEEING language really resonated with me. I learned that it’s kind of annoying when hearing people do things like yell or talk really slowly. Neither of which helps in the least. And how reading lips is challenging and requires a great deal of focus and energy. Especially when hearing people do things like turn their heads or put their hands in front of their mouths. And while many deaf people CAN talk, they may prefer not to—Loyal expresses that at one point in the story.

Rachael: How did you go about weaving in sign language—a very visual practice—into a written story?

Sarah: I described key signs in a step-by-step way. Often, the signs are seen from the perspective of a hearing person. Like when Loyal’s father, Creed, sees that the sign for yes—a fisted hand moving up and down—looks like a head nodding. So many signs are pretty intuitive. For “hungry” you make a C-shape and touch the open side of the C to your chest, dragging it down toward your stomach, following the path food would go! I was also careful to include signs that could be described pretty simply—I’ll leave the more complex stuff to the experts!

Rachael: It was easy for me to visualize the signs while reading. You did a great job! How would you describe the way that communication is different between spoken and sign language?

Sarah: Wow—that’s a thinker! I can only share my observations since I really don’t use ASL to communicate. But I think sign is more visceral. It’s full-body communication so what a speaking person would put into tone and inflection comes through in facial expressions and body language. And I think when you’re expressing yourself with your whole body it’s just naturally going to be felt more deeply.

Rachael: Yes, it’s so powerful! Do you have any other books to recommend that involve deaf characters?

Sarah: Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof features a deaf hero—plus, it’s set in Appalachia! And Jan Karon’s Light from Heaven includes a deaf woodworker named Clarence. I’m sure there are many more, but those two come to mind . . . 

Readers, do you have any favorite books that involve deaf characters?

Ask BHP: What’s Different in 2020?

Our question today was sent to me in a message to our Facebook page (part of a longer conversation with one of our bloggers), and I thought it would be fun to answer it here. She asked, “How has the pandemic affected Bethany House? Anything readers can do to help authors right now?”

Most of this won’t be a surprise, but if you enjoy keeping up with what’s going on in publishing, here are some broad categories, along with what you as a reader can do.

Book Sales

Generally, print books sales went down in the spring, while ebooks went up, and then both returned to normal levels in the summer and fall. Sales from physical stores (not online sales for stores like Barnes & Noble with a website to order from) are still lower than normal levels. Libraries have stayed constant, and one fun thing is that we’re seeing a rise in non-traditional library sales for services like Hoopla and Overdrive so that libraries can make sure their patrons have ebooks while they’re staying at home.

Reader Takeaway: if you have a local bookstore, please buy a few books from them over the holiday season. Even if you don’t have a store you can walk into, many independent stores have an online sales component. (I just bought some books from Magers and Quinn and The Wild Rumpus here in Minneapolis, not to mention the way I’ve hit up the deals at Baker Book House.) Amazon is going to do just fine without your business, but other retailers might not. Even if you have to pay a little more for shipping, it’s worth it. Indiebound.org is a good resource for finding an independent store in your area.

BHP Office

Most of us at Bethany House are working from home, except for a few people who need to go into the office for their regular work. Things like transferring files to the printers, packing book mailings, and overseeing the front desk are hard to do remotely, but otherwise the office is mostly empty. We’re excited to be back together again sometime, but in the meantime, we’ve figured out how to have cover meetings, brainstorming sessions, and even our monthly prayer meetings and bi-weekly “snack time” updates over Zoom. Now, what we’ll do for our National Oreo Day celebration in March if we’re still at home is anyone’s guess… (Clearly, I have my priorities right.)

Reader Takeaway: Because we’re all still able to do our jobs, none of our books are being rescheduled or cancelled, yay! We’re so grateful for everyone working hard to adapt to new systems.

Social Media

We’ve also seen a rise in online events. As more people learn to use Zoom, book clubs are asking authors to drop in and chat about their books, writing groups have asked me to share about marketing strategies, and bookstores and libraries have hosted authors for readings. It’s a fun way to connect readers to authors in a more personal way.

Reader Takeaway: We often announce these events in our Bethany House newsletter—be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!

Fiction Impact

It’s not so much a change as a continuation of something we already knew, but our authors are sharing heartfelt messages from readers they’ve received about how important fiction has been to them in this hard year. That’s so encouraging! We always pray that the message of these books impacts people when they need them most, and several of our 2020 releases have dealt with themes of trust, courage, and hope that applied in a way none of us expected.

Reader Takeaway: If a book has meant a lot to you this year, reach out and the let the author know, either on their social media or through a form on their website. It may very well make their day!

Those are the biggest changes that I can think of. And no, we haven’t had any authors propose a new book series about a pandemic yet. Our instinct is that people might just be a little too close and tired of all of this to want to read a novel about it, even if it released eighteen months from now. What do you think, readers? Would you agree with that?

Christy Award Bingo

Are you a Christian fiction fan? If so, you sign up to watch the livestream of the Christy Awards tonight (11/12) at 7 PM Central. It’s free, but you need to sign up here to get the link. There are some fantastic authors represented in the finalists’ list, including a number of Bethany House authors who we’ll be cheering on!

If you need any more motivation to come, here’s a fun game to play as you watch. Just print off one of these bingo cards and see if you can get five in a row.

Congratulations for the finalists, and enjoy this celebration of Christian fiction!

November 2020 New Releases

As the days get shorter, that just means more time to sit beside a fireplace (or cozy lamp) and read, right? If you’re in the mood for some page-turners, look no farther than these five new releases for the month. We hope you enjoy getting to know the stories within. Click on each cover if you’d like to read the first chapter!

To Steal a Heart by Jen Turano
The Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency #1

Plot Summary: Gabriella Goodhue had put her past as a thief behind her, until a woman in her boardinghouse is unjustly accused and she is caught gathering evidence by Nicholas Quinn, a fellow street urchin against whom she holds a grudge. Nicholas refuses to lose her twice and insists they join forces—but their feelings are tested when danger follows their every step.

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green

Plot Summary: In this epistolary novel from the WWII home front, Johanna Berglund is forced to return to her small Midwestern town to become a translator at a German prisoner of war camp. There, amid old secrets and prejudice, she finds that the POWs have hidden depths. When the lines between compassion and treason are blurred, she must decide where her heart truly lies.

The Promised Land by Elizabeth Musser

Plot Summary: Desperate to mend her marriage and herself, Abbie Jowett joins her son in walking the famed Camino pilgrimage. During their journey, they encounter an Iranian working in secret to help refugees and a journalist searching for answers from her broken past—and everyone is called into a deep soul-searching that threatens all their best laid plans.

Soul Raging by Ronie Kendig
The Book of the Wars #3

Plot Summary: Done waiting for answers, former Navy SEAL Leif Metcalf seizes control and teams up with his greatest enemy—a move that comes with a deadly risk. Torn apart by opposing views on how to handle Leif’s act of treachery, team Reaper hunts one of their own—agreeing only on starting, not stopping, the final battle prophesied in the Book of the Wars.

The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Plot Summary: When deaf teen Loyal Raines stumbles upon a dead body in the nearby river, his absentee father, Creed, is shocked the boy runs to him first. Pulled into the investigation, Creed discovers that it is the boy’s courage, not his inability to hear, that sets him apart, and he will have to do more than solve a murder if he wants to win his family’s hearts again.

What’s the most common way you discover a new author? Recommendation from a friend, an interesting cover, social media?

Prayer for Authors: November 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 Lokkesmoe, 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:

Ronie Kendig
Amy Lynn Green
Elizabeth Musser
Sarah Loudin Thomas
Jen Turano

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.

“They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”—Psalm 145:11-12 (NIV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For people to know more about who God is from these new releases.
  • For perspective to face the disappointments or setbacks in life and writing.
  • For everyday moments of encouragement while writing the next story.

This month, I’m especially grateful to have all of you joining in prayer. I look foward to seeing how God works through these authors’ books!

Vote Books 2020!

Driving around my town yesterday, I had this enlightening thought: what if we had commercials, flyers, and even yard signs…promoting our favorite novels? Wouldn’t that be fun?

From there, of course, I thought of a few “campaign slogans” or platforms for my favorite classics. Two of my coworkers, Brooke and Rachael, also contributed some good ones. Enjoy!

Debate tonight: watch Gandalf and Harry Potter argue about the proper role of magic systems in fantasy novels. (Lucy Pevensie moderates.)

Don’t Reelect Goodnight Moon – It’s time to kick the incumbent out of office and replace it with an actual story. We the people don’t even know what mush is or why kids would want to say goodnight to it. It’s time for bedtime story reform.

If you’re looking for the truest gentleman on the ballot, look no further than Charles Bingley. He is charming without effort, innately good without ulterior motives, and will take care of his people when they fall ill. [Disclaimer voiceover] This slogan not written by Bingley, who would never say such nice things about himself. Vote Bingley.

“If women were allowed to vote, we’d soon see a blessed change.” – Rachel Lynde, endorsing Anne Shirley’s campaign (Good news, Mrs. Lynde! We can now!)

[Unflattering picture of Regency-era man, with voiceover] Edward Rochester has lied to us all. His secrets, crazy ex-wife, and propensity for dressing up as a gypsy to manipulate people mean he’s not the right man for the job. Vote for character. Vote for George Knightley.

[Image of candidate standing on stump] I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees. Don’t vote for another, and save all the leaves.

Love is not all a woman is fit for—we have minds, and talent, ambition. Vote for a clever and natural leader. Vote Jo March.

Elect Shakespeare 2020: Wherefore aren’t thou voting yet?

The election is afoot. Once you eliminate the impossible candidates, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the will of the people. Vote Sherlock Holmes.

Old Yeller. Where the Red Fern Grows. The Giving Tree. These tragedies have marked the current administration of children’s books for decades. We’ve all been caught in the Charlotte’s Web of lies. The Sad Children’s Book Party is against everything we value. Vote yes to Proposition 22: “Let the parent/animal/tree live!”

No wrongdoing shall go unpunished—even the smallest of them. Help decrease crime. Do not forget my name at the polling place. Do not forget me. Vote Javert.

Your turn! Contribute a novel-based slogan, or just tell us which fictional character you’d vote for. (Please, no actual, serious political discussion…this one’s just for bookish fun.)

Ask Bethany House: How About Some Publishing Trivia?

I love the open-endedness of the question I’ll be answering today: “Hmm, maybe…what are some fun facts about publishing that might surprise readers? I don’t even know what I might not know!”

Here are some publishing “fun facts” I gathered from all areas of Bethany House.

“Verso” and “recto” are the formal names for the left and right pages when printing.

Our designers have often used Photoshop to fix small historical inaccuracies in images used for cover, like a model with a tattoo on her wrist in Regency England or some red nail polish in biblical times.

We split the year into just three seasons on our publishing calendar: spring is January through April, summer is May through August, and Fall is September through December. That’s why we sometimes joke that at Bethany House, there isn’t any winter.

Sometimes book sellers and catalog producers want to take photos of the physical books to market them before the book is printed. In order for that to happen, we make a mock-up of the book, which includes printing off the book cover on printer paper, taping it to a different book of a similar size, and some work with an Xacto knife.

At Bethany House, we have a Bell of Triumph in one of our conference rooms that you can ring after any kind of hard-won victory, whether personal or work-related, and record the reason in a notebook next to it.

We have a giant stuffed cat in the office—formerly brought to trade shows when we were publishing the popular Mandie series for kids by Lois Gladys Leppard.

Every year on National Oreo Day (March 6th), we celebrate with a sampling of many varieties of the sandwich cookie and other activities (a bracket, trivia, and, last year, a flowchart personality quiz). It has nothing to do with publishing. We just have two editors, Jeff and Jen, who like Oreos.

Lots of books come in and out of the office doors. On average, Bethany House ships 520 packages every month (not including larger mailings like author copies or influencers, which ship from our warehouse).

Three of the five authors currently in the Christy Hall of Fame are there because of awards won for Bethany House novels: Lynn Austin, Davis Bunn, and Karen Hancock.

How about you, readers? Anything fun or unusual about your line of work that you’d like to share with us?

Prayer for Authors: October 2020

Happy Sunday! 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 Lokkesmoe, 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 October:

Mary Connealy

Nicole Deese

Amanda Dykes

Rachel Dylan

Angela Hunt

Regina Jennings

Susan Anne Mason

Tracie Peterson

Katie Powner

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.

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”—Philippians 4:4-5 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For joy to overflow, both in their writing and their personal lives.
  • For bookstore owners struggling financially to be able to keep their doors open.
  • For the books releasing this month to have a lasting impact on readers who need their messages and stories.

Thank you all for taking a few moments to pray with us. It’s so appreciated!