Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction

Some Recent Book Recommendations

While it might take me a minute or two to get to these books, I thought it would be fun to pass along some recent books recommendations sent my way to you guys as well, especially since I sometimes take a while to read them. It happens no?

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker
It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.

After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?
Haunting and hypnotic, The Day the Angels Fell is a story that explores the difficult questions of life in a voice that is fresh, friendly, and unafraid. With this powerful debut, Shawn Smucker has carved out a spot for himself in the tradition of authors Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading. When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, the Queen is transformed as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.

The author of the Tony Award winner The History Boys, Alan Bennett is one of Britain’s best-loved literary voices. With The Uncommon Reader, he brings us a playful homage to the written word, imagining a world in which literature becomes a subversive bridge between powerbrokers and commoners. By turns cheeky and charming, the novella features the Queen herself as its protagonist. When her yapping corgis lead her to a mobile library, Her Majesty develops a new obsession with reading. She finds herself devouring works by a tantalizing range of authors, from the Brontë sisters to Jean Genet. With a young member of the palace kitchen staff guiding her choices, it’s not long before the Queen begins to develop a new perspective on the world – one that alarms her closest advisers and tempts her to make bold new decisions. Brimming with the mischievous wit that has garnered acclaim for Bennett on both sides of the Atlantic, The Uncommon Reader is a delightful celebration of books and writers, and the readers who sustain them.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
“What does it mean to manage well?”
From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.” For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:

• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
• Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.

What’s a book you recommend?

Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction

Recent Reads Roundup | Round #1

Alright, so I’m trying something new with this roundup. I wanted to share some more of the books I’m reading and thought up this idea. Some I may have posted to my Instagram, but there’s some others as well! Be sure to share some of your recent reads!

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner: We have a summer book club for WaterBrook and Multnomah (you should join the fun here!) and this one is our August read. I’m a big fan of Susan’s and this one is a new favorite.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: An important piece people should all read.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber: I remember seeing this book everywhere when it was first released last year (props to the publishing team at Flatirons!). I added it to my list and finally decided to grab a copy and see what the fuss was all about. The verdict? I can’t resist a fantasy book with magic and mystery y’all! With feelings of The Night Circus, this was just the book I needed to escape into. Got the sequel waiting for me!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: I’ve read this a few times, but there’s still bits I forget each time I read it. Just a heads up, if you love the book like I do, don’t see the HBO movie that came out. There were just too many changes. I get there needs to be some to make it work for a movie, but when things/people/events are changed that played a major role in a character’s development, I’m not okay with that.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann: What a fabulous read! There were many things I learned from reading this book, one of the main things being that I’m going to pass on any opportunity to hike through the Amazon for weeks on end. As much as I’d love to encounter a 27 foot anaconda or cyanide-squirting millipedes (and many other nasty nasties that while reading about caused my face to be locked in a perpetual look of horror), I think I’ll just read about them instead. 🙃 Fascinating book though and highly recommend!

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: Part thriller and part sci-fi, but a creative concept that kept me reading. I skimmed over some way-beyond-my-brain-physics-science, but overall I enjoyed it. I was really curious how it would all turn out and liked what the author did. If you like thrillers with hints of sci-fi, this might be for you.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: This one was hard to put words to after I first read it. Many have called it unconventional and that’s spot on. It’s different from what I normally read. It won’t even be for everyone. But! I’ll also say this is the kind of book where 10 different readers will come away with 10 different responses of what hit them the most. Grief, empathy, what could have been…so many themes and pieces. If you want to try something creative and different that hits you deep, check this one out.

Bookish Radness

10 + A Few Books For Your Summer Reading

(So I originally posted this last year, but since life is life, I haven’t had a chance to put together a new list. Instead I added a few to this one. With summer coming though, didn’t want y’all to miss out on any possible new reads!)

It’s almost Summer time!! I’m not sure how I’ll handle summer weather that isn’t the same temperature as the surface of the sun, but I think I’ll manage. I moved mid-August last year and I had to wear a light sweater at night. I still don’t compute that one, but looking forward to zero chance of snow as well (It snowed on May 18th, which is a no for me).

With summer comes lots of reading time! Whether 4th of July by the pool, summer vacations, or finding that extra time we don’t normally have – I’m all about the summer reading lists. I tend to have a pile 5 times the size I know I’ll be able to read, but no matter! I like to dream big. So I put together a list for y’all who are looking for some more books to snag. I decided to stick with books all released in the past few-ish years (Sorry Tollers and Jack, but you know how much I love you).

Maybe next year, I’ll plan ahead and have a list of all new releases, but let’s not be hasty Internet. Also, if you’re wondering why I chose 10, I have no idea. It’s the first number that popped in my head. #Professional

1. Redwall by Brian Jacques. I bought this about 4 years ago. As with many books, I was right on top of getting to it. Anyway, this is for those who have a soft spot for stories like Secret of The NIMH, An American Tail (#FievelLove) and other such animal fantastical stories. An entertaining read and if you enjoy it, there’s about 574,875,439 in the series.

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’m simply going to say it’s a page turner. Also please tell me your thoughts when you finish. That’s pretty much the only reason I’m adding this book, I need more people to discuss this with! That and it’s a great pick for fans of thrillers. (Heads up, there’s language)

3. The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner. If you enjoy time slip novels, definitely add this to your list. The time period she focuses on, is one that I always find fascinating. If you’ve never read a time slip, then here’s a great place to start!

4. Life After by Katie Ganshert. I promise I’m not just saying this since we published it. It’s truly a beautiful story. Truly Katie’s best.

5. The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim. A different take on dystopian that I thought worked really well. Not at all what I was expecting, but enjoyed it quite a bit. Later this week will be my review of the story’s conclusion, The Divide.

6. Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge. Inspired by one of the all time greats and plus it takes place in one of my favorite cities in the Universe, so of course I have to include it.

7. Blur by Steven James. What’s a summer read without a thriller or two? I’ll be reading the third (and final) in the series this summer as well. Don’t read it in the dark by yourself though…

8. A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander. She’s one of my go to for inspirational historical reads. I have yet to be disappointed with her stories!

9. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Judge away, but y’all…I loved this book. It’s by the same author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so if you enjoyed that, this might be one for you.

10. Red Rising by Pierce Brown. It’s The Hunger Games to the third power and it takes place on Mars. It captured my attention and I hope to finish the series this summer as well.

Here’s some 2018 additions:

What are some of the books on your summer reading list?

Bookish Radness

Instagram is My Jam

Even though my blogging has slowed down quite a bit, I’m still reading all the things and wanted to let y’all know where you can find more consistent book reviews and features!

Instagram Account Numero Uno (@jamielynne82)
I post at least once a week about books, but am trying out Instastories more. All that to say: BOOKS! (And occasionally my cat, my favorite humans and adventures.)

Instagram Account Numero Dos (@theinklings1926)
I haven’t told many folks about this yet, but I started an account dedicated to the Inklings. It’s a mix of quotes, mini reviews, fun facts about Tolkien and Jack, and sometimes pretty pictures of books.

And didn’t want to forget Goodreads! If we haven’t connected already, let’s!

Book Reviews

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen | Book Review

(ICYMI: I switched blogs! I combined my blogs for this new writing and blogging chapter. You can find out all the details here).

Where my small town fiction readers at? If that’s you, I think you should keep reading!

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

I’ll start by saying this: this is a page turner. You want to find out what’s next, you want to know what’s going to happen. It kept me reading and if I remember correctly, I finished it in one setting.

It’s very much a small town novel. While there were a couple things I guessed were going to happen (but not in a way that ruined the reading experience), there were a few surprising bits that got my attention (if you’ve read it, message me. There’s one key thing I really REALLY want to discuss!)

It’s a page turner for sure and there were times when I wanted to sit characters down and tell them to make better choices, but isn’t that what good novels often do? I also like that it was an honest look at parent’s grief (not matter what you are grieving for). I liked that it showed how people do change and people can work at something they once thought lost.

Have you read any of Whalen’s novels?

(This was a Fall pick for SheReads.org. Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Fiction, Nonfiction, Travel Adventures

10 Books I Want to Read After Visiting D.C.

I thought I’d have a different kind of travel “recap” with my recent adventures to D.C. I’ve been a couple times before, but there’s so much to see that I could visit 10 more times and still have a list! We were able to see the monuments (including the new MLK Jr. memorial), visit Mt. Vernon (home to George Washington), The Holocaust Memorial Museum, The National Museum of African American History and Culture and The National Gallery of Art. I love these type of cities. With such a historical city full of museums and bookstores, I managed to add 54837543957430 more books to my reading list (naturally), so I thought I’d share some with y’all!

1.  My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

2. The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

5. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ve had this book for years and only read bits. He saw early on how the German “church” supported Hitler and gave up everything (including his life) to fight against it. After visiting the Holocaust museum, I really need to finish it.

6. Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith

7. Monet, or the Triumph of Impressionism by Daniel Wildenstein

8. Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

9. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

10. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (there’s three volumes total)

And because you can always add more to the pile, here’s a list of books and movies I’ve read/seen that are worth your time.

I’ll end with a few pics from the trip!

The crew

Another must see – the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Lincoln Memorial is beautiful, especially at night!
A girl can’t resist going to local book stores!
I’ve mentioned before how much I love art, especially Impressionism, so I LOVED getting to see Van Gogh’s self-portrait.
And Monet!!
I’ll close with this one – I didn’t know that there was a second edition of the Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (a memorial to the Massachusetts 54th in the Civil War), but there is! The original is outside The Boston Commons.

What books have you picked up after a trip?

Bookish Radness

14 Books I Read In 24 Hours

It’s no great revelation that I’m a fast reader, but there are some books out there that anyone can read in a 24 hour period. Why? Because certain books simply cannot be put down. So if you’re looking to add a book or two (or 14) to your list for Spring Break or a Sunday afternoon, here’s several to consider!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Rebecca is a work of immense intelligence and wit, elegantly written, thematically solid, suspenseful..” –Washington Post

“Daphne du Maurier created a scale by which modern women can measure their feelings.” –Stephen King

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

The Bones Will Speak by Carrie Stuart Parks

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey has become the target of a serial killer who believes he’s been appointed God’s executioner.

In Copper Creek, Montana, Gwen Marcey is struggling to put together her life after cancer and divorce. When her dog retrieves a skull of a murder victim and leads her to the victim’s grave, Gwen uses her forensic art ability to identify a serial killer. She is horrified to discover all the victims look like her fourteen-year-old daughter.

The murderer is a “lone wolf,” a member of the terrorist group Phineas Priesthood-and he has a score to settle with Gwen. Unraveling the tangled Christian Identity movement, where race-not grace-provides salvation, Gwen is in a frantic rush against time. She must use all her skills to uncover the killer before he can carry out his threat to destroy her and everyone she loves.

Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

In a Drought, It’s the Darkest Cloud
That Brings Hope

It’s 1954 and Perla Long’s arrival in the sleepy town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.

Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor…until he meets Perla. She’s everything he’s sought in a woman, but he can’t get past the sense that she’s hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla’s unique gift divides the town in two, bringing both gratitude and condemnation, and placing the pair in the middle of a storm of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her… and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca’s name, but her home and incomes.

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father’s investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives–does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, would she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

On a rainy afternoon, a mother’s life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . .

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past.

At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them.

The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah E Ladd

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whomever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop on Blinkett Street. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille has no choice but to accept help from the mysterious stranger who came to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content working as a village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may or may not be the answer to his questions.

Curious circumstance throws them together, and an intricate dance of need and suspicion leads the couple from the seedy backwaters of London to the elite neighborhoods of the wealthy to the lush, green Surrey countryside—all in the pursuit of a blood-red gem that collectors will sacrifice anything to possess.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, each will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.

Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen

One final cry…“God almighty, help us!” and suddenly her world shifted violently, until a blinding collision scattered her mind and shook her bones. Then, the pain. The freezing water. And as all sensation drifted away, a hand reached for hers, before all faded into darkness…

Now she has awakened as though from some strange, suffocating dream in a warm and welcoming room she has never seen before, and tended to by kind, unfamiliar faces. But not all has been swept away. She recalls fragments of the accident. She remembers a baby. And a ring on her finger reminds her of a lie.

But most of all, there is a secret. And in this house of strangers she can trust no one but herself to keep it.

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert

Sometimes everything you ever learned about yourself is wrong

Fashion is a fickle industry, a frightening fact for twenty-four year old model Ivy Clark. Ten years in and she’s learned a sacred truth—appearance is everything. Nobody cares about her broken past as long as she looks beautiful for the camera. This is the only life Ivy knows—so when it starts to unravel, she’ll do anything to hold on. Even if that means moving to the quaint island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, to be the new face of her stepmother’s bridal wear line—an irony too rich for words, since Ivy is far from the pure bride in white.

If only her tenuous future didn’t rest in the hands of Davis Knight, her mysterious new photographer. Not only did he walk away from the kind of success Ivy longs for to work maintenance at a local church, he treats her differently than any man ever has. Somehow, Davis sees through the façade she works so hard to maintain. He, along with a cast of other characters, challenges everything Ivy has come to believe about beauty and worth. Is it possible that God sees her—a woman stained and broken by the world—yet wants her still?

Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

An unforgettable story of courage and romance. Will Valancy Stirling ever escape her strict family and find true love?

Valancy Stirling is 29, unmarried, and has never been in love. Living with her overbearing mother and meddlesome aunt, she finds her only consolation in the “forbidden” books of John Foster and her daydreams of the Blue Castle–a place where all her dreams come true and she can be who she truly wants to be. After getting shocking news from the doctor, she rebels against her family and discovers a surprising new world, full of love and adventures far beyond her most secret dreams.

Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta

Having finally discovered the truth of her birthright, Julia Elliston is determined to outwit Chance Macy at his own game. Holding a secret he’d kill to keep, however, is proving more difficult than she imagined.

Just when Julia thinks she’s managed to untangle herself from Macy’s clutches, he changes tactics with a risky ploy. As the scandal of the century breaks loose, drawing rooms all over London whisper what so far newspapers have not dared to print: Macy’s lost bride is none other than Lord Pierson’s daughter–and one of the most controversial cases of marital law ever seen comes before Victorian courts.

Though Julia knows Macy’s version of events is another masterful manipulation, public opinion is swaying in his favor. Caught in a web of deceit and lies, armed only with a fledgling faith, Julia must face her fiercest trial yet.

The Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr

When one man is brutally murdered and the priest he works for mortally wounded on the streets of Bunard, Willet Dura is called to investigate. Yet the clues to the crime lead to contradictions and questions without answers. As Willet begins to question the dying priest, the man pulls Willet close and screams in a foreign tongue. Then he dies without another word.

Willet returns to the city, no closer to answers than before, but his senses are skewed. People he touches appear to have a subtle shift, a twist seen at the edge of his vision, and it’s as though he can see their deepest thoughts. In a world divided between haves and have-nots, gifted and common, Willet soon learns he’s been passed the rarest gift of all: a gift that’s not supposed to exist.

Now Willet must pursue the murderer still on the loose in Bunard even as he’s pulled into a much more dangerous and epic conflict that threatens not only his city, but his entire world–a conflict that will force him to come to terms with his own tortured past if he wants to survive.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

As the twisted truth emerges, Ariel Lawhon’s wickedly entertaining debut mystery transports us into the smoky jazz clubs, the seedy backstage dressing rooms, and the shadowy streets beneath the Art Deco skyline.

Jaded by Varina Denman

Ruthie Turner resents the Christians in her small Texas town, but when she falls for the new preacher, she must release her bitterness…and learn to love. On the surface, nothing seems to change in this dull town-yet God always works beneath the surface.

What are some your favorite quick reads?

Book Reviews, Fiction

Dracula by Bram Stoker | A Discussion

Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, he defined its modern form, and the novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film and television interpretations.

I have long said I hate scary things. Outside of a couple of exceptions in my lifetime, I avoid scary things (and will close my eyes and ears during a scary preview….why do they have to make kids creepy in horror movies?!). But Dracula is its own beast (I’m so clever). Not only because it doesn’t add in what today’s films do, but it truly shows the battle of good vs evil, even how enticing evil might seem. I love everything about this novel and really enjoyed re-reading it.

The story has such bravery and courage. Friendship and love. I think we need those books that display evil so clearly, because it reminds us of the battles out there. Although I have to admit, I have to break up this book with a light novel, otherwise my dreams get all kinds of strange. Not freaky/nightmare, but y’all, weird. I always laugh at myself when I wake up.

When people find out this is one of my all-time favorites, they ask if I’ve seen the movie. To which I answer NEVER! I refuse to taint my love of this book by watching the movie (although I am a fan of many of the actors in the film. Don’t know what I think of Mina’s casting in the 90s version though).

A few thoughts on some characters

Mina: Talk about going through the wringer! She has no idea where he soon-to-be husband is for the early part of the novel, then she finds out he’s been through hell and back, loses her best friend, finds out her best friend became a vampire, is bitten by Dracula and then is forced to drink his blood. That’ll would put me out of the game for a few months. Yet, she’s a strong woman (they couldn’t have beat the Count without her).

Lucy: Every time I think of her, I get sad. One night of sleep walking did her in. Poor Lucy, especially after she found her love. I thought the scene, right before she died, when she thanked Van Helsing for protecting Arthur was a touching last show of her love and devotion.

Jonathan: Same as Mina, he went through the wringer as well – even more so with having to live through the Count’s Castle shenanigans, then fear that he might lose Mina. I do love his bravery, devotion and love of Mina. I mean, if he were real and alive in 2017, I wouldn’t say no. 😉

Arthur: Such a brave soul as well. Imagine having to drive a stake through the undead version of the love of your life? Again, sentences I would never say in real life, but I thought Stoker did an excellent job with his development from then on out – from his commitment to go after Dracula to his weeping with Mina.

Van Helsing: Can I be as rad as him when I’m old?

Renfield: Another soul I felt so bad for.

Dr. Seward was a great character as well, although I don’t have much to say beyond that. Also, why did it have to be the Texan to die? #Hatin #RIPQuincey

Favorite quotes

One of my favorite things about Stoker is his ability to set up the scene. While we all knew what was coming, I enjoyed early on Harker’s observations before he officially met the Count:

“I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many nationalities in the crowd, so I quietly got my polyglot dictionary from my bag and looked them out. I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were “Ordog”–Satan, “Pokol”–hell, “stregoica”–witch, “vrolok” and “vlkoslak”–both mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servian for something that is either werewolf or vampire. (Mem., I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)”

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” Seeing, I suppose, some expression in my face strange to him, he added, “Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city cannot enter into the feelings of the hunter.” Nah, I’m good.

Some lines, just spot on:
“In silence we returned to the library, and after a minute or two I went to my own room. The last I saw of Count Dracula was his kissing his hand to me, with a red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.”

I call this “Worst Nightmare:”
“When I got almost to the top I could see the seat and the white figure, for I was now close enough to distinguish it even through the spells of shadow. There was undoubtedly something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure. I called in fright, “Lucy! Lucy!” and something raised a head, and from where I was I could see a white face and red, gleaming eyes.”

This is one of my all time favorite lines of the book (from Van Helsing)

“Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all, and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.”

Have you read this Classic? Would love for you to share your thoughts, favorite characters, quotes and such!

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!