Book Reviews, Fiction

The Weaver’s Daughter by Sarah E. Ladd | Book Review

I remember when Sarah E. Ladd released her debut novel and I’ve been a fan ever since then. Her latest release takes you again back to England, with a story of family, changing times and of course, love.

I really appreciated the tension of change and community Ladd looked at. Was there one right answer? How did these communities deal with industrial change that took jobs away from people, but also sought to move industries forward and make them more efficient? I think of the ways life has changed during my lifetime, growing up in such a technological world, and that while it has changed in very different ways, we can see some of the same effect changes have made on industries today. What an interesting and scary time that was for England.

I also really appreciated that the ending was fitting and accurate. A satisfying ending to an entertaining read. If you enjoy historical romances with family and loyalties tested, be sure to snag a copy of The Weaver’s Daughter.

Do you have a recent favorite historical read?

(Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Kate’s loyalties bind her to the past. Henry’s loyalties compel him to strive for a better future. In a landscape torn between tradition and vision, can two souls find the strength to overcome their preconceptions? Loyalty has been at the heart of the Dearborne family for as long as Kate can remember, but a war is brewing in their small village, one that has the power to rip families asunder — including her own. As misguided actions are brought to light, she learns how deep her father’s pride and bitterness run, and she begins to wonder if her loyalty is well-placed. Henry Stockton, heir to the Stockton fortune, returns home from three years at war hoping to find a refuge from his haunting memories. Determined to bury the past, he embraces his grandfather’s goals to modernize his family’s wool mill, regardless of the grumblings from the local weavers. When tragedy strikes shortly after his arrival, Henry must sort out the truth from suspicion if he is to protect his family’s livelihood and legacy.Henry has been warned about the Dearborne family. Kate, too, has been advised to stay far away from the Stocktons, but chance meetings continue to bring her to Henry’s side, blurring the jagged lines between loyalty, justice, and truth. Kate ultimately finds herself with the powerful decision that will forever affect her village’s future. As unlikely adversaries, Henry and Kate must come together to find a way to create peace for their families, and their village, and their souls – even if it means risking their hearts in the process.

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Advertisements
Book Reviews, Fiction

Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano | Book Review

When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.

What a debut! It’s been awhile since I’ve been incredibly impressed with a debut! Mystery, intrigue, more mystery, romance and a totally captivating story.

This was one of those reads I had to finish in one sitting. It was haunting, unique and not all characters turned out as you thought. There were a couple pieces I wanted to know more about at the end, but even with that, I so enjoyed this journey.

I also loved that many characters were not exactly as they first appeared. With each new layer peeled back, Politano revealed deeper levels and deeper reasons for a character’s behavior. Misunderstandings, revelations, and faith all make up this entertaining and fantastic debut!

Have you had the chance to read this debut?

(Thank you to Revell for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 2

Hello everyone! Today Amy Green joins us for my Diversity Series. I’m really enjoying the discussions that are happening and voices that are sharing. This isn’t the most comfortable of topics, but as I’ve said before, it’s too important to stay quiet about. I hope you’ll read it and as always, share your thoughts on it!

Diversity in Traditional CBA Publishing
by Amy Green

The question isn’t really ever phrased, “Is there enough diversity in Christian fiction?” It’s “Why is there a lack of diversity in Christian fiction?” Indie publishing has given us inspirational fiction from authors of color, as well as novels with characters from a wide ethnic and cultural range, but traditional publishing doesn’t seem to be there yet.

There are a few possible explanations. As the fiction publicist of Bethany House, I start with the fact that we only publish about two new-to-us authors a year and maybe one true debut author—with the slots so few, it’s not surprising that authors of color are finding it hard to break in to traditional publishing. Everyone is finding it hard to break in.

Beyond that, it’s speculation on a complex question.

Maybe agents aren’t encouraging authors to write protagonists from diverse backgrounds, knowing it isn’t as safe as the tried-and-true.

Maybe established authors aren’t mentoring authors of color because they don’t run in the same writing circles.

Maybe Caucasian writers don’t feel they have the authentic experience to write from the point of view of someone of a different ethnicity.

Maybe the few times a traditional publisher did go out on a limb and publish a book with non-white protagonists, they got burned with low sales.

Maybe most of the people headed to the inspirational shelves of a bookstore just don’t want to read diverse fiction.

Maybe authors of color gravitate toward certain genres that don’t do as well in CBA.

It’s a tricky question that leads to a series of other tricky questions, but we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them. Because while there is no simple solution, change almost always starts with a conversation like the one we’re having right now. With that in mind, I’ll do my best to add a few thoughts to the discussion.

From time to time, one of our acquisition editors speaks to college students in writing or publishing programs and has them go through an exercise called “Fantasy Publishing.”

To play, you look at descriptions of the pros and cons of manuscripts that might come across your desk, along with the advance money you’d need to pay. Given a certain budget, you pick the projects you want to publish…and then listen to the editor’s verdict on how each of them turned out. None of the books listed were real projects, but all of them could be.

Included in the list are potential blockbusters, obscure literary works, run-of-the-mill fiction…and two novels relating to the topic of diversity. One is a well-written romantic suspense novel with an interracial romance. Another is a chick lit style novel written by an African American author. Both have race as a factor that might make the books a harder sell.

In the “Results” page, both potentially-controversial books sell a good amount for their genre. The comment beside one of them expresses the hope that many editors have about good books in an unpredictable industry: “It’s hard to keep a truly well-written book down.”

Occasionally, in real life as in Fantasy Publishing, strong stories that aren’t the market’s “usual” will break out with unexpected success, and this is what every editor would love to see happen. This is why you see them contracting the occasional “risky” project.

But often, more cautious sales projections are accurate, predictions about what CBA readers will buy and what they won’t are confirmed, and even stories that editors know are well-written don’t succeed like they’d hoped. I say this not as a way to dodge blame, but just to give you a bigger picture of what’s going on with the books CBA publishers choose to contract.

When I think specifically about why established authors don’t often include a diverse cast in their main characters, I remember the nervous chatter in writing circles when a CBA author whose protagonist was of a different ethnic group was slammed by critics, mostly in the secular world, not for telling a bad story but for venturing into what they felt she didn’t have a right to portray. I can’t help but wonder if authors think, “I don’t have the authority or knowledge to write authentically about people who belong to minority groups.” “What if I get it wrong and it feels like a stereotype?” “Maybe this isn’t my story to tell.” Those, I think, are legitimate concerns, and some genres and stories (Amish or Regency, for example) simply don’t lend themselves to diversity.

Of course, it’s also been fun reading the comments on Jamie’s original post where people share books and series that feature people of color, as well as non-white authors who are traditionally published. At Bethany House, I personally think our most striking cover of 2016 was Angela Hunt’s Delilah, featuring a heroine of mixed race. And Jill Williamson’s new fantasy series, The Kinsman Chronicles, has one white character in the entire saga—for me, the complex cultures she created contribute to the fresh, original feel of the series because it doesn’t take place in the traditional European setting.

When I asked her to talk about this subject with me, Jill admitted that it’s probably easier to write characters of different races and backgrounds in a completely invented world. She said, “I think it’s important for CBA authors to write the stories God puts on their hearts, to write honest stories. Diversity is a huge trend in ABA, and most editors and agents will caution authors against writing to trends. At the same time, CBA authors can write about anything general market authors write about. We just tend to write it differently. The challenge often comes with the treatment. Authors who are going to write about any kind of minority that they are not a part of—racial, disabilities, and others—had better do their research so that the treatment is honest and respectful in how it’s handled.”

That’s where we are right now. I can’t tell the story of where we’re going, except to say this: I’m hearing more and more people who notice a gap and want to do something about it, people who are starting conversations just like this one.

Before I close out, I want to address another line of speculation, one that relates to you. Yes, you, the person reading this post.

Maybe you’re an author whose books haven’t included much diversity, and you have good reasons that haven’t been addressed. Maybe you’re a reader who doesn’t like the comment that publishers shy away from portraying people of color on covers because they have had lower sales. Maybe, like me, you’re a publishing employee who knows the complex backstory behind which projects reach contract stage and which ones don’t.

Maybe reading this series of posts makes you slightly uncomfortable, because you are not racist, and somehow, even talking about this makes you feel like someone’s accusing you of that.

Here’s the thing: we can’t respond well to this issue (or any issue) from a posture of defensiveness.

When you hear that the Christian fiction community might have fallen short in this area, don’t jump to blame someone. I know that was my first reaction, and it’s not helpful.

Just listen. Hear stories that are different from your own, whether it’s by reading the comments on these posts, seeking out novels by minority authors, or following Christians who speak about race and faith on social media. Ask questions of yourself—not how other people or systems out of your control need to change, but what small things you can do to change. And pray for God to bring reconciliation through his church in all areas, but specifically in the area of racial division.

I know that got really big really fast. But I’m convinced we’re not just talking here about why authors of color tend to feel out of place in the inspirational writing community or why covers portray mostly one ethnicity. It’s bigger than that. It’s harder than that.

As racial tensions mount in our country, this feels especially important for Christians to talk about. Let’s not leave it to the pastors and theologians. Don’t get me wrong, their work is critical…but I want to bring in the storytellers and fiction readers too.

You can’t change everything. Neither can I (although sometimes I’d like to). But you can listen to understand, read to learn, love others more, and enter into potentially uncomfortable conversations with grace and humility.

Thank you so much Amy for sharing! I would love to hear what you think about this post and our discussion as a whole. Did you find yourself getting defensive when this was first brought up? Are you more open to discuss these issues? Please share any and all thoughts!

Bookish Radness, Changing the World

Diversity in Christian Fiction – A Series | Part 1

Can we take a moment (or two) and talk about diversity?

Du du du…..I said Diversity. I know.

But before y’all run out of here faster than how I eat my Del Taco, I want to be real. I want to have a place where we can talk about things that need to be talked about. Where it might get uncomfortable, but we’re willing to stick it through because it will be worth it.

While I know that diversity, rather lack thereof, is an issue across the board of not only books and publishing, but other industries as well, this series will be focusing specifically on traditionally published Christian fiction. I’m know I’m not the only one who has thoughts about the lack of diversity in Christian fiction and I think you’d be hardpressed to find someone who would say that there’s plenty of diversity in Christian fiction. Because there isn’t. We all know this is an issue, but where to even start right?

While we know the questions, the answers aren’t always so easy.

Before I continue with some of the key questions I want to discuss (I’m excited to share from others as well) and why I’m blogging about it, I think it’s important to include some key disclaimers – especially if you have come across my blog for the first time and don’t know me.

  • I love Christian fiction (I read it, I work in it and I blog about it)
  • I will continue reading it.
  • I don’t believe there is one person at fault. It isn’t only the publisher’s fault or the editor’s fault or the author’s fault or the reader’s fault. But we need to be in this together.

So why am I bringing this up? Well first up, I like reading books about different people (my people, my friends’ people, all the people). I’m mixed and I love all the cultures I come from (French, Black, Mexican and Spanish, if you were curious), so it’s discouraging and frustrating that there aren’t many books that feature people of color. Why is that? Of course I haven’t read every book published, but I’ve been reading and blogging about Christian fiction for years now and I can count the number of books on one hand. And honestly, I can’t think of a published person of color in this market (again, traditionally published authors. Please share if you know of any!)

The truth is, there aren’t many. It’s okay to say that out loud (especially since this isn’t only an issue in CBA). It’s important to recognize that most of the novels released in Christian fiction feature Caucasian characters. (And just in case you missed it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these stories. I love them, I read them, and I celebrate their message).

But can we get a brotha up in here? Y’all know what I’m saying? I’m a fan of Asians too. And Mexicans. And anyone else for that matter. And if I read more stories of interracial couples, y’all, I WILL PASS OUT (of excitement!).

How did we get here though? How do we move forward? Are there more stories out there? Do white authors not feel comfortable writing these types of stories? Are there not people of color writing Christian fiction? Does the audience not want these stories? Do they not sale? If not, then why? Because if that’s the case, what does say about readers? Does reading about other people groups make us too uncomfortable? Do people not care?

In different surveys I’ve researched about CBA readership, I haven’t found a survey that asked about race. So while there is plenty of research on the ages, gender, preferred genres, physical or ebooks preferences and what state CBA readers live, we have no information about the racial background of the readers. Why wouldn’t this demographic be helpful? What does this mean, I wonder, if anything? (As before, please share if you have something different!)

I think what finally pushed me to bring my questions and thoughts to the internet was a book cover discussion. You know how I mentioned the novels I could think of that featured people of color? Even though the stories had these characters, the covers didn’t represent that (except one had a Black model on the cover, so yay!). One you could only see the dress, another featured a male lead (who was white) and in a series following ancient Middle Eastern women (an Egyptian, Israelite and Canaanite), each model was 100% White. I was speechless. Please hear this, I have no doubt the stories are wonderful Biblical fiction and yes, the models were great, but I had zero clue it was Biblical fiction until I read the back cover. It could have been a story of Irish and English women based on the models. And the many reactions around the web praised the covers and I didn’t understand why no one else seemed to notice. My first reaction was sadness because I thought man, that was the chance to celebrate a beautiful culture! But instead I thought, well maybe they based it off what would sale. Am I wrong? Is my reaction way off? Maybe. But I can’t discount it.

I posted about this series and so many of y’all provided fabulous feedback. I want to share some initial thoughts and questions that came up:

There was a lot of discussion about staying away from stereotypes. Is “olive” the only way to describe a black person? (Editor note: All you gotta say is the brotha looked like Denzel and people.will.know! ;)) Does the token black kid always have to be from juvie and be “rescued”? Why is there such a lack of main characters who aren’t white?

These things may not have even crossed your mind, but how important is it to recognize how this might hurt our fellow believers and sisters (and brothers) in Christ?

I believe story can truly change people. In a climate that desperately needs to have understanding, empathy, engagement and more love, I believe the Church needs to be leading the way. And not reluctantly, but bravely and boldly leading the march towards reconciliation. The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. The world needs to see that Jesus does that. That is who He is. A reconciler and a redeemer. Call me a dreamer (I’m not the only one), but I believe with all my heart, fiction can help carve that path. Is Aslan still not spoken of in awe and reverence? Has Redeeming Love not touched the hearts of millions and drawn people to God’s unrelenting love?

So yes, I’m sticking to that truth and I’m believing we can bring together the Church and thus change the world….one diverse novel at a time.

I don’t have all the answers – or really any at the moment – but I do know I want to talk about it. So let’s. I hope to have other voices join in and will share those as they come. Please, share your thoughts and don’t be scared. Let’s make a difference together! You can comment below or join in on Facebook!