New and Improved Romance Tropes: A Valentine’s Day Parody

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, and as a publicist for some fantastic romance authors, I had this thought: why not encourage authors to write some truly unique twists on common romantic tropes?

If you’re intrigued, dear reader, read on to find out my foolproof* suggestions for original heroes and plots!

(*Note: This is entirely tongue-in-cheek, just for a few reader laughs. Writers should apply these tropes only at their own risk…)

Brooding Hero vs. Fooding Hero

And by that, I mean a man who brings his woman food. Homemade food, preferably, and as delicious as the guy making it.

Need some reasoning? Fact 1: the ability to cook is an attractive skill. Fact 2: readers don’t like putting their books down to make dinner. Fact 3: delicious descriptions of food-making heroes in novels might prompt those readers to order takeout, making them able to finish said book, so everyone will be happy. This is a win-win.

And before you try to tell me you can’t have multiple novels where the hero is a culinary genius, let me run some numbers by you. There are 459,000 professional chefs in America alone. There are, by contrast, 2,095 billionaires worldwide and 24 English dukes. So, who’s the more statistically likely hero now, hmm?

Marriage of Convenience vs. Marriage of Conspiracy

Okay, this one is only here because I love all things spy-related. Heists, escape rooms, secret codes, campy treasure hunts with unrealistically-preserved clues from a secret society. More of that, please. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want to be asked to join a plot on a first date?

(Is this just me? Maybe this is just me.)

Enemies-to-Lovers vs. Enemies-to-Polite-but-Distant-Acquaintances

So it’s not quite as catchy. But some of these feuding neighbors/co-workers/business rivals you see in books really need to sit down and engage in clear and mature conversation instead of sabotaging and insulting each other one minute and flirting the next. I mean, maybe there are exceptions, but most of the time, if you can’t stand someone, you shouldn’t marry them, you should put up boundaries and date someone you actually enjoy being around.

Firefighter Hero vs. Plumber Hero

Seriously, think about it. On average, how often does your house burn down? (We’re not talking about how it’s literally impossible for me to make bacon without setting off the smoke detector. Real fire, okay?)

Got that number? Good. Now think about how many times in the past year you’ve dealt with a drain clog, toilet overflow, leak, or other pipe-related problem. (Not to mention attempted princess abductions by video game villains named Bowser.)

It just makes sense, people.

Alpha Male vs. Alpha Centauri Male

Why go with your run-of-the-mill assertive and manly hero when you could actually have an alien main character? Think of the drama! The mystique! The star-crossed pathos of it all! Clearly, this is the ultimate in forbidden love.

Mail-Order Bride vs. Mail-Order Housekeeper

To be clear, I don’t mean that the heroine of the story should fall in love with the hired cleaning help. Nope. Just that she has the means to take out an ad for someone to dust and do dishes while she reads or takes bubble baths or whatever. If we’re talking female fantasies here, I think clean toilets and dog-hair-free furniture might beat rock-hard abs and dramatic declarations of love.

Love Triangle vs. Cheesecake Triangle

Do I even need to explain why this is superior? (Hint: you can only top one of these with caramel, and you never have to worry about your favorite character being heartbroken.) It can even have the drama of the original. “Which flavor do I choose?” the heroine mutters, pacing. “The Cherry Supreme or the Chocolate Mocha? They both have so many amazing qualities!”

Secret Baby vs. Secret Room

I think every romance novel would benefit from at least one secret room. Consider the classics. Like…Jane Eyre. Nancy Drew, probably. Or…Narnia. (That counts, right? Even if the “room” was a world?) The point is, there’s precedent, don’t quibble over the details.

If you really had to work in a secret baby, you could make the secret room a nursery. After all, if the baby is so all-fired secret, why keep him or her out in the open? Time for a concealed panel and a swinging door. Bonus points if it’s hidden behind a bookcase.

Which of these new tropes is your favorite? Do you have any other ideas to contribute?

February 2021 New Releases

Happy February, everyone! Even if some of your new year goals and resolutions have proven challenging, I hope you added an easy one on there: reading more books. If so, here are some great suggestions to help you stay on track. Whether you’re looking for romance, intrigue, or drama, we’ve got a book for you. Enjoy browsing the new releases below, and click on the cover if you’d like to read the first chapter.

The Way It Should Be by Christina Suzann Nelson

Plot Summary: Zara Mahoney was enjoying newlywed bliss until her life is upended by her estranged sister, Eve, and Zara must take custody of her children. Eve’s struggles lead her to Tiff Bradley, who’s determined to help despite the past hurts the relationship triggers. Can these women find the hope they—and those they love—desperately need?

Shadows of the White City by Jocelyn Green
The Windy City Saga #2

Plot Summary: When Sylvie Townsend’s Polish ward, Rose, goes missing at the World’s Fair, her life unravels. Brushed off by the authorities, Sylvie turns to her boarder and Rose’s violin instructor, Kristof Bartok, for help searching the immigrant communities. When the unexpected happens, will Sylvie be able to accept the change that comes her way?

The Prince of Spies by Elizabeth Camden
Hope and Glory #3

Plot Summary: Luke Delacroix’s hidden past as a spy has him carrying out an ambitious agenda—thwarting the reelection of his only real enemy. But trouble begins when he falls for Marianne Magruder, the congressman’s daughter. Can their newfound love survive a political firestorm, or will three generations of family rivalry drive them apart forever?

Do you keep track of the books you read each year? If so, how?

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?

Meet an Audiobook Narrator!

Audiobooks have taken off in the past several years, and we love that readers can experience their favorite books while they’re commuting, folding laundry, or working out. Sometimes readers will ask me questions about what goes into recording an audiobook…and I rarely know the answer. At Bethany House, we license our audio rights to places like Recorded Books to create and distribute the content, so there’s no sound studio down the hall from editorial where I can watch the process.

However, I’m excited to share this guest interview with you, from the talented Leah Horowitz. She’s narrated several Bethany House titles, most recently Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green, A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden, and The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright. (You can follow her on Instagram at @theLeahReport.) She graciously agreed to share about some of the behind-the-scenes of how an audiobook comes to be.

Amy: What made you explore audiobook narration? How did you get started?

Leah: I’ve been a professional actor, working in musical theater on Broadway, for (eek) about 20 years. But my very favorite thing has always been reading. I had been interested in narrating books for a long time, and finally got a chance to start about a year ago, through a friend in the business. Since I also have a lot of experience recording music and cast albums, I immediately felt at home in the booth, and I still can’t believe I get to read for a living.

Amy: What do you do to prepare for a recording?

Leah: The very first thing I do is read the book! That often surprises people, but of course I need to get to know the plot and the characters, instead of reading it completely cold. As I read, I keep a list of the characters, and I also jot down any words I’m not sure how to pronounce. These are often place names, character names, and words in other languages. As soon as I finish, I send my word list in to the research department, and they send it back to me with all the words written out in IPA (international phonetic alphabet).

In the meantime, I think about the characters. Sometimes I cast famous actors in these “roles,” or people I know; anything to help me differentiate them for myself and the listener. I have found that getting the essence of a character works much better for me than just thinking, “this character has a very low/high/scratchy voice.” The more specific, the better! Sometimes the author’s descriptions of the characters are so evocative that I know who they are right away. Then I go into the booth with lots of bottles of water and hope for the best!

Amy: What’s something that listeners might not notice about the final audiobook that’s a lot of work on your part?

Leah: Probably how much the narrator stops and starts during the process. I certainly never thought about that before I started narrating. And I do think, the more you narrate, the longer the stretches you can talk smoothly without stopping. But even if you don’t have to stop to drink, cough, or scratch your nose, there are always other reasons to stop. You might come to one of those words you aren’t sure of and have to stop to consult the research list.

Also, during the pandemic I’ve been recording at home, in a closet (yup!), and our house is two blocks from train tracks, so I have to pause a few times an hour to let a train go by. Or my husband will slam a door downstairs, or a motorcycle will zoom by. So you stop, wait, then pick up from right before the pause/disturbance occurred. And because of all this, recording an hour of a book might take 75 minutes or even 2 hours! And the listener will never know. Well, I guess now they do.

Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your world, Leah! Talk to us, readers: when do you enjoy listening to audiobooks?

Ask Bethany House 2021…and a Giveaway!

It’s a new year, readers, and that means that we need new questions from you to answer in our Ask Bethany House Publishers monthly feature. I always enjoy hearing what readers want to know, from the quirky to the informative to the wow-that-one-even-stumped-me.

Take a second and think through this list to generate ideas. Have you ever wondered…

  • Whether the tips about what a writer should “always” or “never” do when interacting with a publisher are actually true?
  • How one of the steps between an author writing a book and you picking it up off a shelf actually happens?
  • What we at Bethany House think about various trends or new developments in publishing?
  • If the nagging question that others have passed around on social media reader groups has an answer?

These are just a few prompts out of many to start your thinking. We welcome any and all questions to our Ask Bethany House poll.

Once you’ve submitted at least one question, just for fun, come back here and comment with a book that you’re looking forward to in the new year. We’ll enter you in a giveaway to win one of our January or December new releases and choose the winner on 1/14/21.

Prayer for Authors: January 2021

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.

Authors with Books Releasing in January:

Misty Beller
Jody Hedlund
Tracie Peterson
Roseanna M. White
Kimberley Woodhouse

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—Matthew 11:28 (KJV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For true and renewing rest after (and even in the middle of) busy seasons.
  • For these authors to be encouraged by messages from readers describing the impact of their books.
  • For all those who work in roles to connect these books to readers, including bookstore owners and employees, librarians, and publishing staff to start the year off with new energy and goals.

As we start this new year, thank you for joining with us in prayer for these authors and their books. We all appreciate it!

January 2021 New Releases

Welcome to a brand-new year! We’re excited for all that 2021 will hold…especially when it comes to filling out many of your “keeper shelves.” If you’re looking to use a Christmas gift card or just need a cozy read to cuddle up with, we’ve got some fantastic releases this January for you to check out. Click on the cover to start reading and see what’s perfect for you!

Endless Mercy by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse
The Treasures of Nome #2

Plot Summary: When Madysen Powell’s supposedly dead father shows up, her gift for forgiveness is tested and she’s left searching for answers. Daniel Beaufort arrives in Nome, longing to start fresh after the gold rush leaves him with only empty pockets, and finds employment at the Powell dairy. Will deceptions from the past tear apart their hopes for a better future?

Faith’s Mountain Home by Misty Beller
Hearts of Montana #3

Plot Summary: Nate Long has always watched over his twin, even if it’s led him to be an outlaw. When his brother is wounded in a shootout, it’s their former prisoner, Laura, who ends up nursing his wounds at Settler’s Fort. She knows Nate wants a fresh start, but struggles with how his devotion blinds him. Do the futures they seek include love, or is too much in the way?

Dreams of Savannah by Roseanna M. White

Plot Summary: After receiving word that her sweetheart has been lost during a raid on a Yankee vessel, Cordelia Owens clings to hope. But Phineas Dunn finds nothing redemptive in the horrors of war, and when he returns, sure that he is not the hero Cordelia sees, they both must decide where the dreams of a new America will take them, and if they will go there together.

A Cowboy for Keeps by Jody Hedlund
Colorado Cowboys #1

Plot Summary: After being robbed on her trip west to save her ailing sister, Greta Nilsson is left homeless and penniless. Struggling to get his new ranch running, Wyatt McQuaid is offered a bargain—the mayor will invest in a herd of cattle if Wyatt agrees to help the town become more respectable by marrying…and the mayor has the perfect woman in mind.

Is there a new or upcoming release in 2021 that you’re excited about? Tell us about it!

Ask BHP: Grab Bag Questions!

Hello, readers! Since it’s almost the end of the year, I thought I’d snag a few questions from our Ask BHP Survey that have shorter answers and get to them all at once. Look for a new chance to ask questions come January!

Q: How does one become a test reader? Is that a job that can be applied for? I only ask because I’ve never heard of this before. It was mentioned in the September Ask BHP post.

A: In that post (talking about the process a book goes through before publication) the test readers referred to are actually Bethany House staff. Some of them are editors, others are people like me in marketing or our receptionist who just enjoy a particular genre. At that stage in the process, they’re not reading to notice details like grammar, just whether the story works and holds their interest. That said, some (but not all) authors have what they call beta readers, or people who read a manuscript early in the process to give feedback. It usually isn’t a paid position, but many readers find it very rewarding to help improve a book from a favorite author. If you’re interested, be sure to join reader Facebook groups in genres you enjoy and follow your favorite authors on social media and their newsletters–that’s where those rare opportunities are most often shared.

Q: How do you decide how many copies to print of a book from a new (first time published) author?

A: This is often more art than science, but we tend to look at factors like: how many copies do books in this genre usually sell? What kind of audience has the author built up already? (Even debut authors might have a newsletter or an audience they’ve attracted from speaking or writing articles or short fiction.) How many copies have other debut authors in this category recently sold? Are there any endorsements or other potential sales boosts that would raise the numbers? After our VP of Sales gives us a projection and we discuss/debate it, we present it to the whole sales team, including the representatives who will actually be selling the book to buyers at bookstore chains. After hearing a presentation about the book, they can tell us if they think our sales estimates are too high or low. We try to be as careful as possible, but of course, sometimes we over- or under-estimate. That’s part of what makes book publishing an adventure!

Q: What is the average time between concept and publishing for a novel?

A: This depends hugely on an author’s writing speed. Tracie Peterson, for example, releases about four books a year, so you can imagine that her timeline is on the shorter end! But here’s one way to look at it: a year ago this month, December 2019, we approved My Dear Miss Dupré by Grace Hitchcock for a book contract, along with a series set in the Grand Canyon by Kimberley Woodhouse. Because Grace was a new-to-Bethany-House author, a lot of that book was already written before the contract, so she finished it and turned the rough draft in by spring 2020. My Dear Miss Dupré is releasing in March 2021, meaning that from contract to publication date, it took fifteen months (she may have had the idea long before that, though). For Kimberley’s series, we only had a few sample chapters to look over, so she turned in the first book’s rough draft in fall of 2020. Book one (I’m not naming it here because I’m not sure she’s announced it, and we haven’t even designed the cover yet) releases in October 2021, so from contract to publication date, it took 22 months. That’s a lot of time, but we have to make sure a book is well written, edited, designed, and marketed!

Q: How much input in choosing titles do your authors have?

A: Authors always submit a list of titles along with their original proposal for the book to the publishing team. (Well, unless they’re an author who hates coming up with titles and just says, “So-and-So’s Book,” trusting us to come up with something else.) Their editor usually brainstorms too, either with them or separately, and then the Titling Committee, made up of people from editorial and marketing, are given a synopsis of the book, a list of themes/symbols/other important details the author provides, and the potential titles. They meet, discuss, and sometimes pick one of the titles as-is…or they tweak it, combine two, or come up with something totally new. The editor then returns to the author with the title that everyone on the committee agreed on for the author to approve.

Q: How do you (or do you?) interact with the other divisions of Baker Publishing Group?

A: For those who don’t know, Bethany House is part of a larger family-owned Christian publishing company, called Baker Publishing Group. On a big-picture level, we meet with our co-workers from other divisions at our sales conferences three times a year as well as our strategy summit and other video calls for things like brainstorming how to use budget money and sharing marketing ideas. On a micro level, I’m always shooting questions to my co-workers from other divisions, even my “nonfictional coworkers” as I fondly call them, setting up fun collaborations between fiction and nonfiction authors, asking them to recommend podcasts, or seeing if a particular outlet has worked well for them. A special shoutout goes to my “fictional coworkers,” though, our friends on the marketing team at Revell. We often work together for promos, update each other on industry changes, and swap stories of things that worked and things that flopped. That kind of collaborative environment is one of the great things about working at (and publishing with) Bethany House.

Q: So many of my top reads of 2020 were Bethany House Publisher books. Great job!

A: This isn’t a question, but I was delighted to see it (and several other kind comments like it). Thanks so much, and be sure to review those favorite books at the end of the year. It means so much to all of our authors!

Did any of these answers or details about publishing surprise you? If so, which one(s)?

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?