Is This Wrapped Present a Book? (A Handy Flowchart)

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m on constant Christmas surveillance to detect my favorite presents under the tree…books! After years of careful research, I’ve come up with some ways to be confident in my guessing abilities.

This is Amy Green, fiction publicist…and sneaky book-present detective. Here is my top-secret method for your instruction and use. Enjoy!

Okay, readers, what tips have you used to determine whether you have any book presents under the tree?

Ask BHP: What’s It Like Being Married to an Author?

This question for our Ask Bethany House blog series might just be my favorite yet: “Any chance you can ask some of your authors’ husbands about the interesting/amusing things they’ve lived through while being married to an author? I’d love to know!”

Was this question submitted by a real reader, or a spouse of one of our novelists trying to find out if he’s the only one who finds writers’ quirks strange? We may never know. But I do know that when I asked our authors to submit a line or two from their husbands about being up close and personal to the novel-writing life, I got some great answers! Enjoy.

Dave, husband of Beverly Lewis: “Being married to a novelist means I get to enjoy the roleplaying Bev and I do for some of the protagonist’s scenes and dialogue with her love interest.”

Peter, husband of Leslie Gould: “I get to go along with Leslie on research trips and look, listen, and participate in conversations that turn into stories, from imagining an Amish girl at Gettysburg in 1863 to visiting on the porch with a contemporary Amish family in Indiana.”

Paul, husband of Elizabeth Musser: “As a writer, she guesses (correctly) the ending of every movie we watch. Spoiler alert!”

Ivan, husband of Mary Connealy: “I was reading one of my wife’s books once (I forget which one), but Mary tends to kill off worthless husbands so the hero can come riding to the rescue. Knowing what I’ve heard about authors drawing on their own lives for their books, I couldn’t stop trying to figure out if I was the hero or the worthless husband.”

Mark, husband of Susan Sleeman: “When I come home from work I never know where your mind will be. Sometimes you’re killing people. Sometimes helping people escape from an evil villain, or worse, you’re in the mind of the villain.”

Bill, husband of Elizabeth Camden: “My wife usually has scenes with different ethnic cuisines in her books. Neither one of us are great cooks, so we go out to do ‘research’ at cool restaurants all over town. We’ve been to German beer-gardens, a Polish deli, a Japanese place, and lots of Irish pubs.”

“His Highness,” husband of Becky Wade: “I never get to figure out how a movie ends on my own. She always tells me what’s going to happen before it does.” (From Becky: “I still feel sheepish about ruining The Sixth Sense for him, poor guy!”)

Jacob, husband of Kristi Ann Hunter: “She analyzes. Everything. And I mean e-ver-y-thing.”

Mike, husband of Dani Pettrey: “The most interesting thing is probably drifting off to sleep while she talks herself through the latest way to plot and execute the demise of the victim in her next book. In the morning, my fitness tracker says I basically slept with one eye open the entire night!”

Tim, husband of Nicole Deese: I was married to my wife for over eight years before she started writing her first novel. In that time I witnessed many of the characteristics that contributed to her becoming an outstanding author. Creativity, humor, emotion, passion (and a desire to become an expert in things she was passionate about) and the ability to tell a story that would enrapture any room were on full display before she wrote word one of her first book.

But as she prepares to release her tenth book, the thing that has been the most interesting to me through this whole journey is how…unexpected it was. Hear me. I was first drawn to my wife because of many of the same qualities I just mentioned. I knew she was funny. But I didn’t know she would be able to write humor that would make me snort water out of my nose. I knew she was great at expressing emotion when she told stories, but I didn’t know I’d be sitting on a crowded airplane reading her latest book and trying to cover my man-sobs with a too-small cocktail napkin. No, I didn’t expect that.

I guess I should have seen it coming before she wrote her first book. With her tenth book in process, I definitely should know that anytime I read something she’s written I can expect to be surprised. But the interesting thing is that every time I read something new she’s written I’m totally caught off guard all over again. Maybe I’m just a slow learner. Or maybe she just keeps getting better.

Aren’t these answers heartwarming? What do you think would be an interesting aspect of being family members to a writer? (Or you can speak from personal experience if you are!)

6 Ways Books Are Like Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and with that, I got to thinking about the many similarities between this traditional festive feast and how I approach reading books.

Skeptical? Read on, my friend. Read on.

One: You feel a deep gratitude for the people you spend time with.

Whether they’re your real family gathered for the celebration…or fictional friends who feel just about as real. Who here counts books among their blessings? (Hopefully all of you. If not, you’re not reading the right books.)

Two: There’s always something to pass around.

In my family, the rule of Thanksgiving dinner is “Don’t ask, just pass,” which I feel applies pretty well to the way I foist my favorite books on—I mean, generously share them with—my unsuspecting friends.

Three: Everybody has different (often very strong) opinions on what’s good or bad.

There’s no argument like an argument over whether to serve mashed potatoes and gravy or sweet potatoes with those little marshmallows…unless you watch a die-hard romance lover argue with a literary fiction fan. As with food, to each their own! (Except I think we can all objectively agree that ham is tastier than turkey.)

Four: You’ll be on the edge of your seat, wanting to find out what will happen next.

Books often have cliffhangers and plot twists, much like the moment when your Uncle Larry brings up politics while passing the cornbread stuffing. The drama! The stakes in a book are probably higher, but they’re also slightly less impactful to your real life.

Five: The best part is usually at the end.

Don’t tell me you don’t eye the dessert tray (or table) before budgeting room in your stomach for the rest of the meal. it’s a smart practice. Similarly, the best books are great all the way through…but the real payoff is in those last several chapters.

Six: You finish feeling surprisingly full.

…and maybe a little lethargic. It’s a lot of content to take in, especially if you consume it all (book or Thanksgiving meal) in one sitting. But it’s a great feeling nonetheless. And you can always enjoy leftovers the next day—or re-read the book again.

What books are you thankful for this November, readers?

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?