The Seven Best Things About *Not* Living in a Historical Novel

Have you ever seen a person on the cover of a historical novel and thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a story world like that?”

Me too.

For about five seconds.

After I came to my senses, I decided to make a list of a few things I appreciate about being able to read about historical heroines without actually being one. Enjoy!

One: I can wear sweatpants. (Also pants in general.)

Every now and then I get a twinge of longing looking at pretty dresses on historical novel covers. And then I remember that it would take forever to put on the corset and multiple layers of petticoats and the oppressive heat of that many layers and how did they even use an outhouse properly in those things? And I’m grateful for fleece leggings, sweaters, T-shirts, and jeans.

Downside: This may sound shallow, but the fact that I don’t have to lace myself into a day gown also means that the men around me aren’t obligated to wear suits. And a good-looking man in a suit…well, that might be a strong reason to get a time-travel ticket back to 1900.

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Two: No expectation of constant wittiness/feistiness.

Fictional women are all way better at witty comebacks than I am. Also romantic compliments. And confrontational speeches. And persuasive arguments.

Okay, fine, so they’re just better at talking in general. That said, because I’m not a historical heroine, there’s way less pressure to come up with something dialogue-worthy on the spot. So, that’s good, right?

Downside: Maybe stepping into a historical novel would somehow endow me with the ability to fire back quotable lines all the time. Who can say? That would be pretty great.

 

Three: No chance of becoming a mail order bride.

This is not a particularly viable method of conducting a romance today, which I’m grateful for. Like, I don’t even know what sort of advertisement would apply to me. “Hardworking pioneer seeking directionally-challenged woman who loves eating chocolate and is conversant in moving pictures about legendary super-humans”? Somehow I doubt that one ever existed in history.

Downside: I do like to imagine how that first conversation with my husband-to-be would go if I was a mail-order bride. “Okay, you like to bake, good. But what is this washer and dryer you’re talking about?” “When I asked for experience with chickens, I meant raising them, and anyway, I’ve never heard of Chick-fil-A.” “Sure, I’m very proud of my extensive library, miss. I have four whole books!” (At this point, I’d hop back on that stagecoach and ride away!)

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Four: Low chance of witnessing a murder, getting caught up in a scandal/scheme, fleeing an arranged marriage, or having my house ruined in a bombing raid.

Listen, I love these things in books. If every historical protagonist had a life as boring as mine, no one would read more than a few pages. (“Plot twist: she had yogurt and granola this morning for breakfast instead of a bagel. THE DRAMA!”)

That said, when you really think about it, a boring life isn’t so bad. Anyway, it’s way less stressful not to have an actual plotline.

Downside: Okay, I’ll admit it: every now and then I wonder, “What would it be like to race a carriage through the streets to reach a burning building in time to save a child’s life?” Come on, be honest. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought the exact same thing.

 

Five: I can vote.

Seriously, this took the U.S. way too long, but my pre-1920 counterparts will never know the feeling of participating in the democratic process. Yay, civic duty!

Downside: I’m not saying that I can’t stand political rants and clickbait and campaign ads on social media…but sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when your only contact with a politician would be a whistle-stop speech-giving tour. And you could throw rotten vegetables if you wanted. Hypothetically.

 

Six: No one actively hates me. (As far as I’m aware. If you do, feel free to let me know.)

Seriously, if I were in almost any fictional work, the odds of me having supportive parents, an undramatic romantic life, a circle of encouraging friends, and a healthy community would be very, very low.

I would have at least one of the following to add some drama: a stalker, an estranged sibling, an ex-fiancé (probably rich) who left me at the altar, a shadowy figure from my past, a nagging mother with unrealistic expectations, or a sworn enemy who wants revenge on me for complicated reasons.

So yeah…I’ll pass.

Downside: I’m not actually sure this one has a downside.

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Seven: Regular bathing.

This applies to both my personal hygiene (can you imagine how greasy my hair would be if I only washed it for church on Sundays?), and the general health and pleasantness of such activities as breathing in a public space. Train rides with the barely-washed masses couldn’t have been quite as charming as they seem in books.

And have you noticed that historical romance heroes and heroines usually smell nice regardless of the availability of bathtubs? Like another character will get close and smell a whiff of lavender and a hint of cinnamon, or fresh air and lemongrass, or rosewater and hope. Meanwhile I’m over here like, “You’re on a farm in Nebraska in 1873—if you don’t smell like sweat and lye soap, take me to the general store where you’re buying your perfume, lady, because I want some.”

Downside: There’s really no excuse for me not to smell nice in today’s world, what with indoor plumbing and all. But sometimes it’s just so hard to make time to wash my hair in my shiny, indoor, hot-water shower that any self-respecting 19th century gal would kill for, you know?

That’s my list, readers. What reasons do you prefer to live in today’s world while reading about people in the past?

Love Comes Softly Through the Years

Hello, readers! I’m Brooke, the fiction marketing assistant at Bethany House, and I am posting on the blog this week while my colleague Amy Green is on vacation. 

Let’s talk for a moment about the year 1979. The price of a gallon of gas was still under a dollar and big hair styles were trending, but at Bethany House, one of our favorite 1979 things is Love Comes Softly. That’s right, the first edition of the well-loved prairie romance by Janette Oke was published by Bethany House 40 years ago! In celebration, we released a new paperback edition in August of this year, as well as a new hardcover (a special collector’s edition) that released a few weeks ago in early September. With these new editions, I’ve been thinking with nostalgia of the various cover designs of Love Comes Softly that I saw growing up.

Copy of Copy of #DescribeABookPlotBadly

Travel through time with me and take a gander at the Love Comes Softly cover designs through the years. I asked Paul Higdon, our art director, about the changes to the most recent cover – see what he has to say below.

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New in 2019:

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I asked Paul Higdon, art director for Bethany House, about the new cover design and why he and the designers chose this new direction.

“When you think of the prairie, the quintessential feel is the sun beating down on the prairie so that’s why we tended to go with yellow for the warm feel, and why we still went with warm colors,” Paul said. “Into the early 2010s, we had what we call the ‘big head’ trend, where the character’s head takes up most of the cover. This has trended away, and the new trend is a full-figure depiction of the main character. It looks more realistic, and that way you can still capture the setting to pull the reader in. It’s more modern.”

I hope you all enjoy the new cover design (and the story inside the covers) as much as I do!

#DescribeABookPlotBadly

51152198_2055104334570014_2023964099418783744_nHello, readers! I’m Rachael Wing, the copywriter and “Instagram guru” at Bethany House (right). Amy Green is currently travelling the world and living her lifelong dream of searching for elves and Hobbits, so I’m taking over the blog this week!

If you grab a Bethany House book and flip to the back, you will find the recommended titles—or as we call them, the back-of-book ads (BOBs for short). As the company’s copywriter, one of my main responsibilities is to write those short descriptions. I take what has been written by the authors and editorial department for the books’ short summaries (which appears on Amazon and other retail sites), and have to summarize that in 360 characters or less . . . including spaces. Counting the fiction titles only, I write approximately 20 of these every four months—but counting our nonfiction divisions, I spend over a week writing  approximately 60 of these—so as you can imagine, there is always writer’s block involved, and they don’t always turn out poetically.

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Inspired by the old Twitter trend #DescribeAFilmPlotBadly and my personal work struggles, I decided to intentionally write terrible short synopses about some of my favorite classic stories to give you an idea of how my first drafts usually turn out—and hopefully a good laugh!

 

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Broody uptown boy falls for feisty downtown girl, and his knack for throwing money at problems softens his terrible manners.

 

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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: Family drama! Slacking servants! Two teenagers are great at falling in love but terrible at coordinating death plans.

 

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo: Police officer with the greatest thirst for vengeance and the worst tracking abilities hunts the same criminal for years. Also includes a very detailed description of the French sewer system.

 

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: A lonely monster with thrifted body and a murder complex is desperate for the perfect girl.

 

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Boy-next-door loves his neighbors so much that he ends up settling for the worst sister.

 

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Old lady cannot properly handle her breakup, so she keeps her grudges. And her moldy wedding cake.

 

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Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Children are taught about peer pressure through a strange creature who learns why it’s important to accept odd food from annoying strangers.

 

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The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: A group of diverse dudes decide to cash in on a jewelry return in exchange for the fate of the world.

 

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: The classic case of falling in love with your boss, who “forgets” to tell you about his crazy wife in the attic.

 

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Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery: The uplifting story of a girl who poisons her best friend, can’t dye hair, and has questionable fashion sense.

How would you describe some of your favorite classic tales?

Book Cover Lookalike Fashion

Have you ever stared at a novel and wished the beautiful dress on the cover could be yours? Well, we’ve got some good news…they can be! Or, at least the closest modern lookalikes we could find. Last year’s post matching covers with contemporary dresses was so popular that we decided to revisit the bookish fashion runways again to find some modern counterparts to the historical dresses on a few of our 2019 covers. Enjoy!

 

So, the colors are reversed on this one, but we love how the punchy purple of this midi skirt matches the shirt Abigail is wearing in More Than Words Can Say, and the floral necklace hints at the pattern in the material. Although this outfit is dressy enough that you probably wouldn’t want to knead dough while wearing it.

 

The sweater (or “jumper,” if you’re British) that gives a punch of color to The Number of Love‘s cover is updated here with a wine-red sweater dress, and even a necklace reminiscent of the Art Deco style of the era of this novel.

 

Picture this one paired with a purple-striped scarf, but the flowing lines and powder blue of this breezy dress feels like what a modern Rivkah from Until the Mountains Fall might wear (although the current-day sandals aren’t nearly as practical for walking long distances).

 

We loved how the sleeves of this navy semi-formal dress matched Flight of the Raven (okay, maybe they’re a tad less dramatic, but we can’t all be royal dreamwalkers like Selene). The pop of white around the collar imitates the accent color as well.

 

The shade of pink is slightly off—blush vs. peach—but we loved how the lace and bow details on this dress made it seem like an updated version of the gown in Between Two Shores, though with fewer petticoats.

 

From the silky red of this flared dress to the black lace overlay details, we think we’ve found the lookalike for the one Verity is wearing on her cover, although, of course, the length would have been scandalous in the 1700s.

 

Which of these dresses would you be most likely to wear, readers?

Vote in the Inlander’s Challenge!

Here’s something fun, readers: to celebrate their water-themed releases, Dani Pettrey and Amanda Dykes asked their readers to submit pictures for an Inlander’s Challenge.

Photos showing readers plus any body or source of water qualified, and we have lots of fun entries in this photo album on Amanda’s Facebook page.

That’s where you come in. Dani and Amanda are asking readers to “like” their favorite photo (or photos) to vote for them. The winner will receive a copy of The Killing Tide and Whose Waves These Are. So what are you waiting for? Head on over and join in some summer fun.

What is your favorite water-related spot to visit during the summer?

7 Fun Book-Related Activities

Reading is a solitary activity…usually. But in honor of National Book Lovers Day, which is August 9, here are some ideas for games, events, and other outings that you can participate in with your reading friends or book club.

Dramatic Readings

If you have young kids, reading a book out loud might be a regular occurrence, but if you don’t, this can still be a fun way to share a book with others. Even if you’re not usually a dramatic person, you’ll be surprised at how fun it is to read aloud. You might even start slipping into different voices for the characters. This is great in a smaller group, so everyone can pass around the book and read a few pages.

I’d suggest something shorter—such as a middle grade novel, a memoir with episodic chapters, or a novella collection—so you don’t end up scheduling once-a-week readings for a decade to finish Storytime with Tolstoy.

Book Exchange

Gather some friends and ask them each to bring a book or two that they enjoyed but want to pass along to someone else. (Alternately, they can find a book they loved at a used bookstore.) Tell them to wrap up the book and write a few phrases that describe the book on the outside, such as the genre, setting, or the occupation of the main character. Let everyone choose a new-to-them book to take home with them based on those descriptions.

Book Photo Scavenger Hunt

For this, you can use your home library or journey out to a bookstore. Ahead of time, print a list of prompts for each participant (suggestions below, but feel free to add your own). Then set a time limit and gather again at the end to admire all of the bookish photos. For fun, consider giving a bookstore gift card to the person with the funniest or most original shots!

Sample Scavenger Hunt List: a selfie where you are imitating a cover, a book over 1000 page long, an author who shares your first name (or as close to it as you can find), two books displayed next to each other on vastly different topics, a poem made out of a stack of three or more bookspines, a kids’ book with over 20 animals on the cover, a how-to book you’d never personally buy, and the funniest title you can find.

Find a New Local Book Store

I’ve been in bookstores all over the United States on tours with authors, and I can tell you that no other place feels quite so much like home. You probably know if there’s bookstore in your area, but anytime you’re going on a vacation or even a day trip a few hours away, be sure to do a quick Internet search to see what bookish gems you might uncover.

Whenever I’m in Grand Rapids, I always end up buying something at Baker Book Store—their selection and recommendations are amazing. Here in Minneapolis, Wild Rumpus, a children’s bookstore with a variety of pets wandering around, is always fun for a visit.

Recreate a Cover

Pick some favorite books with people on the cover and do your best to recreate them. Bring along someone to serve as a photographer and prop master…or another model if there’s more than one character pictured. Becky Wade has done several of these with the help of her husband and/or kids, and the Bethany House staff even got into our own competition last year.

If you post the pictures on social media (which you should, because why keep all the fun to yourself?), tag the authors so they can enjoy what you’ve created…and maybe get a few laughs.

Book Balderdash

This one requires a little prep ahead of time. Search Amazon for some quirky book titles and covers (middle grade and YA books are often good for this, try not to pick anything too well-known). Read the plot description and write out a one-to-two sentence summary. Then gather some friends or your book club and show them, one at a time, just the title and cover of a book. Each person then has a few minutes to jot down their best—or most humorous—plot description of what that book could be about. Then mix the real description in with the fake ones and read them out loud, letting everyone vote on which they think is the actual plot.

Or, if you want to be able to participate too, don’t read the plot description ahead of time, just write your own description and then award points based on who came the closest to the actual plot (read it aloud after everyone submits their answers).

Book Recipes

Some books feature food prominently—you know the ones, with mouth-watering descriptions of flaky pie crust (hello, Beverly Lewis and Leslie Gould’s Amish fiction) or characters who work in the fine dining industry and know their stuff. Others might just mention a region’s traditional dish in passing. Either way, jot down these ideas for later, because nothing helps bring a book to life like eating what the characters ate. (Although I will admit to being disappointed that Edmund sold out his siblings for something as thoroughly un-tempting—to me, at least—as Turkish Delight.)

Or, if you and some friends all enjoy a book set in a particular locale, consider doing a carry-in and bringing dishes that fit the setting. The Mark of the King Cajun Night, or a Julie Klassen Regency tea, anyone? The possibilities are endless.

How about you, readers? Any fun bookish games or trips you’d like to suggest?

Seaside Books Giveaway

We stole this idea from Amanda Dykes, who was a guest on a podcast episode of Read-Aloud Revival, talking about various writerly things, but also recommending some favorite seaside-set books.

We figured, why not do a blog post featuring beach reads—meaning books with actual beach-like words on the cover. We expanded it to include recent titles with a water-related word in the title. Here are a few of them:

The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis
Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes
To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden
The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright
The Lady of Tarpon Springs by Judith Miller
The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey
Between Two Shores by Jocelyn Green
Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin
Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin

(For a bonus, we found a few more that had a watery scene depicted on the front cover, just not in the title: Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano, Keturah by Lisa Bergren, Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette, Flight of the Raven by Morgan Busse, Sweet on You by Becky Wade, and Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson. We’re probably forgetting some!)

And just for fun, a giveaway! We’ll pick three winners on August 1 to win their choice of one of these seaside books. To enter, just comment on this post with a favorite watery vacation spot you’ve been to. (River, ocean, hot springs, indoor pool…anything goes!)

Summer Activities That Are Better With a Book

Libraries all over the country are beginning their summer reading programs, and we here at Bethany House always love encouraging people to dive into their next great book. But let’s face it: summer is a busy season, packed with events and gatherings. Where’s the time for a good summer read?

Right in the middle of all the fun, of course! Here’s how we think a few of your favorite summer fun activities go well with books.

 

Camping

I love swimming, hiking, making pudgie pies while telling stories around the campfire, and all the other staples of a good camping trip. But when it (inevitably) rains one of the days, you can either sit sullenly on your sleeping bag swatting mosquitos and muttering threats at whoever came up with this whole camping idea…or you can pull out the novel you brought just for this occasion. I think you know which options comes recommended by our team.

Oh, and make sure that either your tent is thoroughly waterproof or that you store your books in a plastic gallon bag for safekeeping. Maybe both…you can never be too careful. Let my soggy fourth-grade copy of Stuart Little be a cautionary tale for you.

Road Trips

I like the license plate game as much as the next person, but that’s not going to make for hours-long entertainment the way books will. If you’re not an ebook fan and have family members who complain about the space you’re taking up hauling around your personal library, remind them that each ten-inch block contains an entire world, so you’ve actually economized. Or just ask if they want to get tied to the roof of the car for the rest of the journey to make space, your choice.

To all of you who get car sick when focusing on lines of text: first of all, I’m very sorry. Second of all, audiobooks were invented for just this purpose! I’ve found that, for me, first-person or epistolary novels are especially fun to listen to, since it feels like the characters are talking directly to you.

Bonfires

Just kidding. Don’t put your precious books anywhere near fire! Ash and smoke aren’t good for them either. Sticky s’mores hands are also a no-no. So basically…no bonfire reading.

Sports Events

Sure, I understand that you’re probably going to this event to watch what actually happens, but is anyone really going to notice if you glance down at a book a few times during a baseball game? Probably not. Or you can at least get a little reading in during intermission—I mean halftime—I mean…[Googles baseball terms] seventh inning stretch? The point is, having a book handy is never a bad idea. You never know when you’ll be able to sneak in a chapter or two…or twenty.

(This seems like an appropriate time to apologize to my cousin, whose baseball games I completely do not remember because I was reading the whole time. Sorry, Jeff!)

Yardwork

This one is more for audiobooks, but nothing makes pulling weeds more fun than immersing yourself in a fictional world. Plus, you can take out your anger at the fictional villains on those stubborn weeds. “Oh, so you’re going to thwart the couple’s declaration of love again, are you? Take that.” [Yank dandelion out by the roots] Highly satisfying.

Lounging by the Pool/Beach

Sure, it’s nice to get a little sun, with the sound of the waves in the background (or, let’s be realistic, kids hollering and splashing). But that can get boring after the first five minutes, so it’s important to tuck a good summer read in the beach bag on your next trip. As a bonus, if you hold it right, it can serve as a sunblock and a shield from sand getting kicked in your face. Bonus points if you pick a book set by the seaside or during summer (not that you can’t read about pioneers surviving a blizzard while you’re sunning on your beach towel, but it would be a little weird).

One caution: the swimmers and splashers around you will need to be made aware of the serious consequences they will face if they intentionally get your precious pages wet. This is the right time to employ the Death Glare, and if you really want to communicate effectively, That Tone. (You know the one I’m talking about.)

These are just a few ideas—I’m sure you can come up with more. Readers, do you have any tips for getting in some summer reading?

Bethany House Reading Road Trip 2019

Time for your guide for planning a summer road trip. First stop: a bookstore or library! If you’ve ever wanted to travel but didn’t quite have the budget to get to all the locations you’d like, you can explore new places through the pages of some of our books. To make it easy for you, we’ve listed all the settings for Bethany House novels published from July 2018 to June 2019 below.

Need more suggestions, or want to find a specific state not listed here? Check out our archives from 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. Enjoy, readers!

Alaska: Under the Midnight Sun by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

California: In Dreams Forgotten and In Times Gone By by Tracie Peterson

Florida: A Simple Singing by Leslie Gould (also set in Pennsylvania), The Lady of Tarpon Springs by Judith Miller

Georgia: Breach of Trust by Rachel Dylan

Illinois: Caught by Surprise by Jen Turano (also set in New York), Legacy of Mercy by Lynn Austin, Searching for You by Jody Hedlund

Maine: Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes

Maryland: Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey

Minnesota: A Season of Grace by Lauraine Snelling

Missouri: Mind Games by Nancy Mehl

Montana: When You Are Near and Wherever You Go by Tracie Peterson

Nevada: The Reluctant Warrior and The Unexpected Champion by Mary Connealy

New York: A Desperate Hope by Elizabeth Camden

Oklahoma: The Lieutenant’s Bargain by Regina Jennings

Pennsylvania: The First Love and The Tinderbox by Beverly Lewis, Flights of Fancy by Jen Turano, A Faithful Gathering by Leslie Gould

Texas: More Than Words Can Say by Karen Witemeyer

Washington: Sweet on You by Becky Wade

Wisconsin: The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond and The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Bonus! Novella Collections (aka Multi-Stop Trips)

Since these were all set in different locations, we thought we’d break down all of them for you.

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

Illinois, Maryland, and South Carolina: The Cost of Betrayal by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, Lynette Eason

Outside the United States

Canada: The Best of Intentions and The Highest of Hopes by Susan Anne Mason, Between Two Shores by Jocelyn Green, A Reluctant Bride by Jody Hedlund

England: An Hour Unspent and The Number of Love by Roseanna White, The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen, A Return of Devotion by Kristi Ann Hunter, The Artful Match by Jennifer Delamere

France: Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin (also set in Spain)

Gambia: Outbreak by Davis Bunn (also set in other countries in West Africa)

Israel: Jerusalem’s Queen by Angela Hunt

Nevis: Verity by Lisa Bergren

Russia: Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig (also set in Ukraine, France, Republic of the Congo, and more)

Sicily: Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette (also set in ancient Canaan)

Other Realms

Because the only way you can get to these fantastic settings is through the pages of a book.

Mark of the Raven and Flight of the Raven by Morgan Busse

What’s one place you’ve only “visited” through the pages of a book but feel you know well?