Category: Bookish Question

What makes you buy or read a book from a new-to-you author?

Bookish Question #100 | What makes you buy or read a book from a new-to-you author?

One of my reading resolutions this year was to try to read more books from new-to-me authors.

Why? Well, I want to support new authors by recommending them to my readers.

And I want to understand trends in Christian fiction, especially when it comes to debut authors from the major publishers. What are they buying? Is there a new direction in terms of genre or location or time setting? Are there trends in writing or editing standards? This helps me give my freelance editing clients better advice.

But how do I find these new-to-me authors?

I often find new authors from traditional publishers through NetGalley. I follow all the major Christian publishers, and am always on the lookout for new names.

Many authors approach me for reviews. If the book is Christian fiction and appears well-written and well-edited, then I’m usually keen to read it.

I also find new-to-me authors through other book blogs, especially through the weekly First Line Friday meme. That usually gives me plenty of ideas for my weekend reading …

The one thing that holds me back from reading more new-to-me authors is that an author can only be a new-to-me author once 🙂

And I love many of the stories I read by new-to-me authors, and want to either read their entire backlist, or (if they’re a debut author) read all their new releases. And I can’t—not unless my existing must-read authors stop writing books (and that would be a tragedy).

What about you? Do you read books from new-to-you authors? What makes you buy or read a title from a new-to-you author?

What is your favourite setting to read about?

Bookish Question #99 | What is your favourite setting to read about?

Setting can be a big part of a novel.

It usually refers to the novel’s geographical setting (place), but can also mean the time setting.

Contemporary Christian fiction currently seems to favour small-town settings.

These can be fun, but they’re not consistent with my own childhood experience of living in a small town in New Zealand. Well, I guess it’s fiction so they make things up, right?

Some Christian fiction is set in big US cities.

Honestly, these all feel the same to me, because I’m not intimately familiar with any of the cities. Sure, I’ve visited many of them, but as a tourist. Tourist LA or Denver is very different from resident LA or Denver. (LA in novels is a lot like LA in the TV series “24”—no one ever gets caught in traffic jams on the 101 freeway.)

While I love reading contemporary Christian romance, I’m almost always reading for the story rather than the setting.

When it comes to setting, I prefer historical settings: Regency London (most of which still exists in real life), or the American West (home to all those mail order brides). In these stories, the setting is vital—almost as though it’s another character. I think my analytical brain prefers these settings because I have no idea if they’re accurate or not, so I can settle in and enjoy the story without thinking about the setting. At the same time, the setting plays a part and adds to the story.

What about you? What’s your favourite setting to read about?

Do you like to read about characters from another race or nationality?

Bookish Question #98 | Do you like to read about characters from another nationality?

I’m from New Zealand, so pretty much every Christian novel I pick up is about characters from another nationality!

I have always enjoyed reading books about other countries—I’ve been an armchair traveller my entire life. I’ve also enjoyed visiting places in real life that I’ve first visited in fiction. (Although it’s a little disappointing to look out for a certain landmark and find that was an area where the author took poetic licence.)

I’ve learned a lot about history from reading historical fiction.

It might not be about people from a different race or nationality, but it often feels like it because their culture and ideas are very different from ours. That can show the good in our culture, and can also highlight the less good.

Diverse fiction—fiction about other people of other races—is harder to find.

I’m a British Kiwi, so my racial background is very much Anglo-Saxon. I’d love to read more fiction about people of other races, but I’d also like it to read more fiction by people of other races (or, at least, by someone with an in-depth understanding about the race they’re writing about). I’d want the stories to be authentic and true to life, not a whitewashed Anglo-Saxon view of someone from another race.

What do you think? Do you like to read about characters from another race or nationality? Do you have any diverse fiction authors you recommend?

What novel has influenced you the most, and why?

Bookish Question #97 | What novel has influenced you the most, and why?

Novels are stories. But novelists can use fiction to illustrate eternal truths, just as Jesus did with the parables. The best novels are those where those eternal truths are woven in so well that we remember them, and they positively influence the way we live our future lives.

So what novel has influenced me the most, and why?

There are many. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti opened my eyes to the reality of spiritual warfare.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers exposed the human cost of lust and greed, and showed the everlasting love of God.

And the Shofar Blew by Francine Rivers showed the danger of putting spiritual leaders on a pedestal. This was written during the excesses of the 1980s teleevangelists, but needs to be reread in the light of our social media and reality TV culture.

Marcus’s mother in An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers showed me how we all have a purpose in live, no matter our situation.

Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite by Lianne Simon reminded me life isn’t always black or white, right or wrong, male or female.

Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon reminded me that Christianity isn’t a free pass to an easy life.

Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter showed for the illustration of God’s sacrificial love.

The list could co on …

Novel? You mean I was only supposed to pick one? Not happening.

What about you? What novel has most influenced your life, and why?

What plotline or trope would you be happy to never read again?

Bookish Question #96 | What plotline or trope would you be happy to never read again?

First, let’s define a trope.

A trope is a common plotline used in genre fiction. For example, romance has the mail-order bride trope. These are usually set in the American West in the late 1800s, and feature a woman travelling (often alone) across the country to marry a man she’s met only through letters. They meet and marry, then fall in love after overcoming whatever difficulties the author has lined up for them.

Some people love these stories—as evidenced by the number of mail order bride stories on Amazon. Others loathe them. I’m somewhere in the middle—I enjoy reading them, but I’m not the target reader for the box set of twenty.

There are dozens of other romance tropes: billionaire, rock star, sports star. Brother’s best friend, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers. Secret baby, second chance at love, finding love again.

And that’s the one I get tired of in Christian fiction: Finding love again.

It’s not so bad now, but there was a time a few years back when it seemed every other romance novel I read featured a young widow finding love again. That’s sweet … but it means a lot of dead husbands.

Christian men, your twenties are a dangerous time.

If Christian romance is to be believed, you’re going to die. You might be murdered. You might be the victim of a drunk driver (or a texting driver). You might die for your country. But you’re gonna die, and leave your widow (and possibly one or more children) in a precarious financial state. Because it seems married Christian men in their twenties don’t have life insurance.

But that’s okay, because all those guys who didn’t marry young apparently spent their twenties doing something productive so now they’re financially stable and emotionally available. They are ready and willing to marry your wife. They never have any emotional baggage. No divorces (if they do, it’s because their wife was unfaithful). No problems. And they’re always Christians. Perfect.

Now we’re moving into a variation on the trope.

Instead of dead husbands, the women have loser ex-husbands (or ex-boyfriends), and a child. Sometimes the ex-husband is the father of the child. Sometimes the child is the result of an out-of-character one-night-stand. (It has to be out of character, because this is Christian fiction.) But it always results in an unplanned pregnancy and an unknown father. Charming.

Now I think about it, perhaps I preferred all the virtuous Christian husbands who died through no fault of their own. At least that was presenting a positive picture of modern manhood, not one-night-standers and serial philanderers.

What plotline or trope do you wish you’d never see again, and why?

Do you read "clean reads"? How do you define clean reads?

Bookish Question #95 | Do you read “clean reads”?

Let’s reverse the questions.

I see clean reads as Christian fiction without the Christian world view. Both clean reads and Christian fiction avoid nudity, sexual content, and bad language. Most also avoid violence. But Christian fiction has a Christian thread of some kind: Christian characters or Christian themes. Clean reads doesn’t.

Do I read clean reads?

Yes. Some of it is marketed as clean reads (Amazon has a clean and wholesome category). Some of it is marketed as Christian fiction, but has little or no Christian content. I’m finding an increasing number of novels from the big-name Christian publishers fall into this category, and it’s a trend I have mixed feelings about.

On one hand, I feel slightly disappointed when I pick up a novel expecting it to be Christian fiction, but find it’s “Christian lite”. On the other hand, I believe Christian authors and publishers need to consider how we reach the unchurched rather than preaching to the choir. Non-Christians aren’t shopping in Christian bookstores. They don’t visit the faith or inspirational section of major book chains. So how are we going to reach them?

Here’s an example.

Last year I read a review of The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale, published by Thomas Nelson. The review criticised the novel for not being sufficiently “Christian”. But one of the commenters said that same “not Christian” novel led her to Christ.

Wow.

She said her (Christian) neighbour loaned her the book, but she’d never have read it if it had been obviously Christian fiction.

That example shows me the importance of Christians writing clean reads—novels that often reflect Christian values even if there is no mention of God or Jesus or the Christian faith.

Maybe I should be reading more “clean reads”. What about you? Do you read clean reads? Can you recommend some good authors?

Which author would you like to have coffee with?

Bookish Question #94 | Which author would you like to have coffee with?

All of them? Is that a legitimate answer?

I have met a few authors already. I went to Wellington to visit my parents not long after Close to You released, and Kara Isaac was kind enough to meet a groupie reviewer for coffee so I could get my book autographed.

Candace Calvert called into my home port on her New Zealand cruise two years ago. Ellie Whyte (from Christian fiction site Soul Inspirationz) and Angela Bycroft drove up, and we all had coffee and a chat with Candace after she came back from her tour to Hobbiton.

I’ve also been able to take Australian writers Josephine-Anne Griffiths and Raylene Purtill for coffee (but didn’t get photo evidence).

Who else would I like to have coffee with? The obvious answer is Francine Rivers, but I’d probably be too nervous to talk.

Which author would you like to have coffee with? Or is picking one just too hard? #BookishQuestion #BookChat Click To Tweet

What about you? Which author (or authors) would you like to have coffee with?

If you ever do a cruise around New Zealand and have a couple of hours to spare after your Hobbiton tour, let me know. I’d love to meet you for coffee.
Do you have a book budget? Do you stick to it?

Bookish Question #92 | Do you have a book budget? Do you stick to it?

No, I don’t have a book budget, although perhaps I should.

However, I don’t spend a lot on books because most of the books I buy are Kindle versions, especially when it comes to fiction (which is most of what I buy). The only novels I regularly buy in paperback are those I’ve edited (when the authors don’t gift them to me). I like owning the paperback when it’s something I’ve worked on!

I do buy non-fiction books in paperback or hardcover. They are reference books, and I find it’s easier to read and highlight paperbacks, or to search through physical copies of style manuals.

My enormous to-read pile means I try not to buy books (try!) because I already have so many I’ve bought and haven’t read. And it seems wrong to buy more books when I haven’t read the ones I already have.

What about you? Do you have a book budget? Do you stick to it?

Should Christians read fiction? Why ... or why not?

Bookish Question #91 | Should Christians read fiction? Why … or why not?

Yes, some people honestly believe Christians shouldn’t read fiction. After all, they say, fiction is made up and Christians should be focused on truth. Christ’s Truth.

I agree Christians should focus on truth.

But Christ told stories—the parables. Preachers often tell stories—they call them sermon illustrations. Non-fiction writers often tell stories to make a point.

Writing instructor Lisa Cron says this is because our brains are wired for story. As Christians, we believe God wired our brains, not evolution. So if our brains are wired for story, why would listening to or reading stories be wrong?

So, yes, I believe it’s all right for Christians to read fiction.

But not all fiction. And perhaps not all Christians.

The Bible tells us “whatever is right, whatever is pure” (Phil 4:8). I believe this should apply to our reading. What we read can influence what we think and what we believe, so we need to be sure we’re not subconsciously adopting unChristian values and beliefs based on what we read. We may also need to be wary of the sexual content of the fiction we read (Song of Songs), or excessive violence.

Also, not all things are good for all people.

Paul tells Timothy it’s all right to take a little wine occasionally on account of his stomach, but that’s not a license for Christians to get drunk. Indeed, those who are susceptible to alcoholism or addiction would be better to avoid wine or other alcohol, because they can’t stop at “a little”.

Equally, people with some health issues shouldn’t drink alcohol, either because alcohol makes the problem worse, or because the prescribed medication shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol. But that doesn’t make “don’t drink alcohol” into a blanket rule for everyone.

In the same way, there may be some Christians who shouldn’t read fiction—whether that’s general market fiction, Christian fiction, erotica, romance, violent thrillers. But that doesn’t make it a blanket rule for all Christians. The key is to listen to God and be obedient to His calling. If he calls us to not drink alcohol for a year or for life, we should give up alcohol. The same goes for coffee, or chocolate. Or books.

I suspect some of the Christians who say Christians shouldn’t read fiction are those who’ve had a personal directive from God, but who have mistakenly thought it applies to all Christians, not just to them. They shouldn’t read Christian fiction, but that doesn’t apply to everyone.

What do you think? Should Christians read fiction? Why, or why not?

Are you doing a reading challenge in 2019?

Bookish Question #90 | Are you Doing a Reading Challenge in 2019?

Are you doing a reading challenge in 2019?

If so, which challenge are you doing? What are you challenging yourself to read?

I’ve participated in—and completed—the Goodreads Reading Challenge every year since 2011, although my self-selected target has been higher some years than others.

For 2018, I’m aiming for a lower target than 2018: 150 books read. However, this will only include books I actually finish—last year’s total included a bunch of books I started and didn’t finish for various reasons (mostly bad writing, bad editing, or characters I didn’t connect with). I included them on my Goodreads Read list because I didn’t know any other way to get them off my Currently Reading list … but now I do*, so I’ll be deleting DNF books from my Goodreads shelf rather instead.

*To delete a book: go to your My Books table, find the book, and select the cross at the end of the line. That will delete the book from all your shelves, and will also delete your review.

I also have some other self-imposed reading challenges:

Trim the Currently Reading List

Goodreads tells me I have around 50 books on my Currently Reading list. I’d like to get that down to below five (which more accurately represents the number of books I’m reading at once—a novel, a book on writing or marketing, the Bible, and maybe another non-fiction book).

Climb Mt TBR (To Be Read)

I have an enormous pile of unread books (ebook and paperback), so I’ve joined the Mt TBR challenge on Goodreads, and am hoping to clear 48 or more books from my To Read pile. The rules of this challenge are that I have to have owned the book before 1 January 2019 (so no review copies), and have to have read less than 25% of it before the start of the year. I don’t have to finish the books for them to count—deciding I don’t like the book and don’t want to finish it still means it’s off that To Read mountain.

Read Indie

I’d like to read more indie books this year. Reviewing means I tend to prioritise review copies, which are often from the major publishers. I saw one of the admins of the Avid Readers of Christian Fiction Facebook group said she’s going to try to ensure 25% of the books she reads in 2019 are from indie authors. I’m going to aim for 40, which is a little over that 25% mark.

Read New-to-me and Debut Authors

I’d also like to read more new-to-me authors (which includes debut authors). It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of reading all the same authors all the time. Again, I’m going to aim for 40 books from new-to-me authors.

Read Writing Craft

I also want to continue to upskill myself in writing, editing, publishing, and marketing, so I’d like to read more books in those areas. My sensible side says one a month, I have dozens in my To Read pile (and even more I’d like to buy).

Note that some books will count for more than one challenge, and it’s even possible for a book to count towards all four!

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Are you committing to a reading challenge for 2019? If so, what?