Seven Types of “Keeper Shelf” Books

There are some books that are fun to read once…and then you can pass them on to a friend or return them to the library. And then there are the books that you want to treasure forever, displayed on your shelf in a place of prominence. How does a reader create a collection of “keepers”? Well, everyone has different reasons for placing a book there, but here are some categories. Do you have at least one book that falls into each of these?

Personal Connection to the Author

Got an autographed novel from that one time you went to hear a favorite writer speak? No way that one’s leaving your shelf. Or maybe a relative or friend wrote a book and you just have to proudly display it. So go ahead. Name-drop a little. Create a special “I met/know the author” shelf. Put that book in a glass case on a velvet pillow with a heat-sensor alarm system. (Okay, maybe that last one is a little extreme. But we understand your protectiveness.) Those are books worth keeping.

Childhood Favorite

These are “preserve for the next generation” worthy. Some may be tattered, drool-stained, or chewed up, others off-the-shelf new if you repurchased instead of keeping the (ahem) well-loved versions from your childhood. Some might stand up to multiple readings as an adult, and others are mainly nostalgic. They’re like the Velveteen Rabbits of books: you loved them so much as a child that they became real in a special way.

Meaningful Backstory

This often overlaps with other categories, but sometimes a book is a keeper not because it was especially well-written or an all-time favorite, but just because it has an important connection to you. Maybe it was a gift from someone you love, or you read it during a hard time in your life, or you and your teenage best buddy bonded over your shared dramatic crush on the main character.

Listen, no one’s submitting these books to the Powers That Be to be recognized as classics. You might even be tempted to hide a few of them. But you know what? It’s fine to love them, flaws and all. Sentimentality can be enough to land a book on the keeper shelf.

Guilty TBR Book

This one didn’t become a keeper book intentionally. It sort of…stumbled into your life. Maybe a friend kept mentioning it to you, or you saw it come up over and over on bookstagram posts, or it’s on a list of books to read before you die, or it was just on sale. So you bought it, fully intending to read it someday…

And the day has not yet arrived. You feel bad. You really do. It’s just that other books have been a higher priority. And you can’t quite bring yourself to pass it along to another home, so there it is, dust-covered spine staring at you, shaming you.

This sort of book has an agenda, dear reader. It will haunt you. Forever.

Compulsively Re-Readable

Some authors I know re-read an inspiring writing how-to book or a favorite novel every single year. You might not be quite that scheduled, but there are certain books that you know you’re going to return to. Whether you’re the sort to underline, bend pages, or otherwise deface books to call out the most personally meaningful parts, or the sort who thinks that should be an actual prosecutable crime, it’s great to have a stock of books to come back to time and time again. (Just make sure the other books don’t get jealous.)

Pretty Edition of Classic

Admit it. You’ve bought a book just because it’s visually stunning. And if you’re like most of us, that splurge was on a beautifully-illustrated hardcover version of a classic novel. Or several. Dozen.

Sherlock Holmes. The Chronicles of Narnia. JANE AUSTEN. (Yes, I see you there, reader who has, like, six different versions of Pride and Prejudice. No shaming here.) You can find gorgeous versions of each to make your shelves look like a design piece instead of just functional book storage. There’s something irresistible about a fresh design on our most beloved characters.

(Although you should also do a search for ugly covers for classic novels—in the land of Public Domain, people will slap almost any image on a story to sell a few copies, and some are laugh-out-loud funny.)

Just Plain *Fantastic* Book

Here’s what’s hopefully your largest category: beautiful five-star books that you keep because you just love them. Whether it was the compelling characters, the twisty plot, or the perfect ending, these are your most recommended books…if someone tries to borrow them, they’d better be careful. You might need to set down some strict ground rules to make sure you get them back in pristine condition. Or maybe you’ve got a no-lending rule for those fortunate books that make it to the highest tier of your reading experience.

Whatever you decide, it’s nice to know you’re in good company–with both other readers and the fictional friends on your keeper shelf.

Did I forget any “keeper shelf” categories, readers? Tell us about one of the books you would never dream of getting rid of.

Book Cover Lookalike Fashion, Part Three

And so we come to what is now an annual feature of the Bethany House fiction blog…pairing the costuming choices of some of our historical book covers with modern fashion! Take a look at these beauties, releasing in 2020 or from early 2021, and their corresponding lookalike dresses. (You can scroll through our first and second years of doing this as well.)

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

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?

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.)

First Line Matching Game

Time for a game, everyone! We have seven (!) new releases from Bethany House this month, so I thought it would be the perfect time to play a round of…Match That First Line!

The rules are simple. I have a list of first lines below, then a list of titles. No searching for any of them online, now, or even looking up back cover copy to find a character’s name. Just give your best guess matching all of them together.

First Lines

  1. “Bella Eden had always known when it would happen—the day before her eighteenth birthday.”
  2. “I did not feel like celebrating.”
  3. “The incessant knocking on her condo door made Layla Karam grumble as she threw off the covers.”
  4. “Wax Mosby was living a life that was going to kill him.”
  5. “Cow manure spewed from the burst pipe and rained down on him like retribution.”
  6. “I want this job.”
  7. “Olivia Rosetti turned up the volume on the radio in the empty parlor.”

Titles

A. The Kissing Tree by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Amanda Dykes, and Nicole Deese
B. Forever by Your Side by Tracie Peterson
C. A Haven for Her Heart by Susan Anne Mason
D. The Shepherd’s Wife by Angela Hunt
E. Her Secret Song by Mary Connealy
F. The Sowing Season by Katie Powner
G. Backlash by Rachel Dylan

Think you might know the answers? Highlight the white text in the brackets to test yourself. You can comment with how many you got right! (No prizes, this is just for fun.)

Answers: [1A, 2D, 3G, 4E, 5F, 6B, 7C]

Five Fall Book and Beverage Pairings

Welcome to autumn, readers! Here in Minnesota, leaves are changing, people are hauling out their packed-away long-sleeved clothes, and coffee shops are bringing out all of their fall beverage menus. It’s the perfect time to sip a hot drink and read a good book.

Obviously, not everyone’s weather looks like this (shoutout to our international friends who are going into spring), but if you’re preparing for some cozy reading time as temperatures drop, here are some suggestions for the perfect drink-book pairings.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

This classic of autumnal flavors will put you in a seasonal mood at one sniff. This coffee drink takes the chill off of even the most gloomy and rainy of fall days.

Genre: Romance

Why: Can’t we all use a little heartwarming goodness in our lives? Romances and their happy-ever-after endings are also classics for a reason.

Recommendation: Love and a Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray

 

Cold Apple Cider

Genre: Mystery or suspense

Why: You’ll need to cool off after getting your heartbeat up reading about chase scenes, mistaken identities, and crime, right? What better way than this apple-orchard favorite?

Recommendation: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

 

Hot Apple Cider

Why does apple cider get mentioned twice? First, because it’s clearly the superior fall drink. Second, because hot and cold apple cider are two entirely different beverages. Hot cider feels like a sweater right out of the dryer, warm and comforting.

Genre: Historical

Why: Hot cider reminds us of barn-raisings or other old-timey goodness, a drink perfect for nostalgia and learning about the events and people of the past.

Recommendation: A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White

 

Cinnamon or Chai Tea

This is the perfect mix of classy-yet-cozy, especially combined with an elegant teacup. It doesn’t water down the fall flavors, though, and usually comes with a kick of caffeine too.

Genre: Contemporary or women’s fiction

Why: You’ve got sophisticated tastes, and like a little complexity in your reads—but still plenty of hope.

Recommendation: The Sowing Season by Katie Powner (releases in October)

 

Hot Chocolate

Is there anything more fun than a rich mug of cocoa, preferably sipped in front of the fireplace? We don’t think so. Especially if you add marshmallows.

Genre: Christmas novella

Why: Come on. We know you’re putting peppermint in this hot chocolate and listening to a playlist with some carols sneaking on it. Just admit it and go full-on holiday cheer.

Recommendation: An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klassen

 

Do you think your go-to genre matches the drink pairing above? Feel free to recommend a book in one of these categories too.

Add a Word, Ruin a (Pandemic) Book

Inspired by this cartoon, the Bethany House fiction team rewrote a few classic novels to better fit our current season.* Since everyone has extra time on their hands, why not make the literary greats more relevant by one tiny little change to the title? Here’s what we mean…

One Hundred Years of 2020 Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A Tale of Two Quarantines by Charles Dickens

Not On the Road by Jack Keroauc

Sense and Sanitation by Jane Austen

Charlotte’s Web Classroom by E. B. White

Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Year by Judith Viorst

Oh, the Places You Won’t Go! By Dr. Seuss

To Kill a Social Life by Harper Lee

The Lord of the Masks by J.R.R. Tolkien

Twenty-Twenty by George Orwell (JUST AS BAD)

But why stop there? Thinking about it, we realized we could update a few Bethany House titles as well.

From a Social Distance by Tamera Alexander

Before I Zoom Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

A Dangerous Cough by Elizabeth Camden

Until the Restrictions Fall by Connilyn Cossette

A Faithful Virtual Gathering by Leslie Gould

Stuck Together (in Quarantine) by Mary Connealy

A Cure Unknown by Roseanna M. White

A Most Inconvenient Mask by Regina Jennings

A Mosaic of Germs by Kimberly Duffy

For Such an Unprecedented Time by Kate Breslin

A Uncommon Skype Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

A Conspiracy of Conspiracy Theories by Ronie Kendig

Outbreak by Davis Bunn (wait, that’s actually the real title…)

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little exercise in re-writing books. May all of your reading be healthy and occasionally hilarious!

(*This is all totally tongue-in-cheek and not intended as actual, serious pandemic commentary. Except if your takeaway is that books are great for social distancing, because they are.)

Okay, your turn, readers! Add or change a word to modify a book to make it more COVID-relevant. Then share it in the comments.

Beach Reads: Books with the Ocean on the Cover

It’s summertime, and while you may not be going to the beach this year, all it takes is a book to bring the beach to you! There are several out there (because who wouldn’t want the ocean in the background if it makes sense for the story?), but here are a few of our recent ocean covers:

 

The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey

Since the series focuses on a Coast Guard Investigation team, an ocean close-up makes perfect sense, and the way it’s shown in this dual-exposure image is breathtaking.

 

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

The ocean against a starry night sky framed by rocky cliffs, with the added bonus of a mysterious ship, makes this cover stand out, especially since a nautical mystery is at the heart of this tale.

 

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

The soft colors and muted lines of this cover make it so I can practically smell the sea salt with our main character as she stands by an unusual backdrop for biblical fiction.

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

There is so much drama to this ocean with the crashing waves and windblown hair! Definitely the most epic-looking ocean in this lot, appropriate for the fantasy genre.

The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis

An Amish woman in a very non-traditional setting lends this simple, elegant cover an intriguing angle, evoking the charming Cape May setting at a glance.

Verity by Lisa T. Bergren

Since the hero of this story is a ship’s captain, the heroine’s look back at a prominent port in the background of this colonial island-set book is perfect to represent the story.

How about you, readers? Can you think of a novel you’ve enjoyed with a prominent view of the ocean?

Pandemic Reading Danger Levels

Everyone on the Internet seems to be posting charts and graphs meant to keep us safe from the latest outbreak. And I don’t know about you, but I just can’t relate to all of the activities they mention. Going to a party? Who has time now that my TBR pile is above my head…and growing? Going grocery shopping? Nope, the latest book mail just got dropped off on my porch. Watching a movie in the theater? Sorry, but the book is always better.

Because of this, I created a chart to help readers like me determine their risk level for various activities. I hope it helps you as we navigate these contagious waters.

(And yes, this is fully tongue-in-cheek. Shockingly, none of the books on my TBR stack are medical ones.)

May your 2020 continue to bring you many books and the social distancing required to read them all!

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?