Category: Bookish Question

What's one thing you'd like to see less of in Christian fiction? Why?

Bookish Question 117 | What’s one thing you’d like to see less of in Christian fiction?

If you’ve read my posts over the last two weeks, then this week’s answer probably won’t come as much of a surprise.

Two weeks ago, we talked about edgy Christian fiction, and how did I see edgy. My answer: fiction that reflects all of us, not just white middle class feel-good safe fiction.

Last week, we talked about what we’d like to see more of in Christian fiction. My answer: Jesus.

So what do you think I’d like to see less of in Christian fiction?

I’d like to see less cultural Christianity and more real faith. Less WASP and more diversity. Less America and more international. Less sanitised “safe” content, and more delving into real issues affecting real Christians (and non-Christians).

I live in New Zealand, which has been called a post-Christian culture for over twenty years. In New Zealand, people might go to church out of habit, but they don’t go just because all the neighbours go and going to church is the “done” thing. People go to church to meet with God and fellowship with other believers—which isn’t the impression I get from a lot of Christian fiction.

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So that’s what I’d like to see in Christian fiction: less sanitised church and more real Jesus.

What do you think? What would you like to see less of in Christian fiction? Why?

What's one thing you'd like to see more of in Christian fiction? Why?

Bookish Question #116 | What’s one thing you’d like to see more of in Christian fiction?

Jesus.

You’d think that Jesus Christ would be a central feature of a genre called “Christian fiction”.

Yet he’s not. An increasing number of Christian fiction publishers are owned by multinational media corporations, so they have no moral or religious compunction to ensure that “Christian fiction” actually shares Jesus Christ. As a result, I’ve seen an increasing number of “Christ-lite” titles from the larger traditional Christian publishers.

Don’t get me wrong: there is a need for “Christ-lite” titles.

A non-Christian isn’t going to pick up Redeeming Love or This Present Darkness. They’re reading The Da Vinci Code and Fifty Shades. There is a need for Christian authors to write books that appeal to the unsaved, but which thread Christian messages into their stories. There are many Christian authors writing in the general market, sharing messages of love and hope that reference Christianity lightly and will hopefully plant a seed or two.

But I expect more from Christian publishers.

I expect Christian fiction—novels with characters who are definitely (and sometimes defiantly) Christian. Characters who make mistakes and sin, but who experience God’s grace and change. Characters who look to God first, who show what it means to be a Christ follower in an increasingly secular world. Characters who teach us how to better live as Christians—either by what they do, or by what they don’t do.

Once upon a time, Christian fiction that included Jesus was normal. But at some point, it became abnormal, to the point where Christian fiction with an active spiritual thread is practically edgy.

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That’s why I’d like to see more Jesus in Christian fiction.

What about you? What’s one thing you’d like to see more of in Christian fiction? Why?

Do you read edgy Christian fiction?

Bookish Question #115 | Do you read edgy Christian fiction?

Do you read edgy Christian fiction?

If so, how do you define edgy? Who are your favourite edgy authors?

Yes, I read edgy Christian fiction, and I’d like to read more.

How do I define edgy? It’s Christian fiction that isn’t the safe, samey feel-good Christian fiction that dominates the bestseller lists.

Traditional Christian fiction has been safe. Christian fiction is written from a Christian world view, and it’s something you could happily share with your daughter and your mother (and even your grandmother). It reinforced biblical values and even challenged them sometimes—in a biblical way. Christian fiction has traditionally portrayed a solidly white middle class American version of Christianity.

But traditional Christian fiction hasn’t done a good job of portraying the edges.

I want to see different cultures and different races. I want to see people like me. People who don’t live in North America. People who live in multicultural towns and cities and societies. People who don’t speak English as a first language. People who are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually. People who are held hostage by the mistakes of their past, who can’t see a way to their future. 

Christ died for all of us. I’d like to see Christian fiction better reflect the “all of us”.

What about you? Do you read edgy Christian fiction? How do you define “edgy”?

Flashbacks in fiction—do you love them or loathe them?

Bookish Question #114 | Flashbacks in fiction—do you love them or loathe them?

Yes. Both.

Sometimes I love flashbacks in fiction. And sometimes I loathe them.

I love flashbacks when they are done well—when there is a scene from the character’s history that explains why they’re making the (often stupid) decisions they’re making today. Or a scene that explains the predicament they’re in today, and how they got there.

One novel that does a great job of using flashbacks is Out of the Cages by Penny Jaye. The present story is that of a Nepalese teenager who has just been rescued from sex slavery, and her battle to find a new normal life. The past story is how she got tricked into prostitution in the first place. It’s a tough read, and flashbacks reinforce the current story (click here to read my review).

More often, I loathe flashbacks. Why?

Because the flashback isn’t sharing vital information. Instead, it brings the story to a halt while it takes us back into the past to pass on information that’s only vaguely relevant to the plot at hand.

The worst example was a book I read years ago, where the author kept interrupting the hero and heroine’s story to take us back to how the heroine’s parents met and married … and to how her grandparents met and married. It wasn’t that the writing was bad. It was that I didn’t care—I cared about the hero and heroine, and they were the characters I wanted to read about.

What about you? Do you love flashbacks in fiction, or loathe them?

What makes you click the buy button?

Bookish Question 113 | What makes you click the buy button?

What gets me clicking the buy button?

Lots of things!

  • A new book by a favourite author.
  • A great cover.
  • An intriguing book description.
  • A great first line, as featured in a #FirstLineFriday post.
  • A great review from a blogger I know and trust.
  • A good price, especially a pre-order or new release sale.

There’s not much that gets me clicking faster than a 99 cent sale from a favourite author or an author I’ve heard other bloggers and reviewers rave about (I don’t always enjoy the book, but at least it didn’t cost me much to find out).

But what stops me buying?

A Confusing Cover

One that makes it hard to tell the book’s genre. True story: I went out to dinner with two writer friends last week and showed them the cover of a book I’ve been asked to review. Neither of them could tell whether the book was fiction or non-fiction, let alone what genre. That’s a cover fail.

A Lacklustre Book Description

The book description’s job is to get me to either buy the book, or to check out the first page. It needs to be short and snappy, and introduce readers to the main characters and the central conflict. If there’s nothing interesting in the description, I’m going to assume there’s nothing interesting in the book.

Here’s an example of the opposite: Richard Mabry’s latest Christian medical thriller novella. He’s sold me by the end of the first sentence of the description:

Things were going along just fine. Until the miracle fouled them up.

“Brother” Bob Bannister is content with his life and his itinerant healing ministry, until one night he finds that the woman who walks off the stage under her own power isn’t one of his shills. At that point, doubts begin to intrude on his previously untroubled existence.

Dr. Abby Davis is tired of her family practice and at odds with God. Dealing with critically ill and dying patients has crushed her spirit to the point she’s ready to quit. But she soon realizes that there’s more to healing than ministering to the physical body.

Scott Anderson was the oldest graduate of his seminary class. Then again, most of them hadn’t turned away from a medical practice, hoping to atone for past mistakes (including his wife’s death) by ministering to men’s souls. Now he hopes he hasn’t made a colossal mistake in switching careers.

Each of these individuals becomes linked to the other, and each finds that God has a purpose for them—but, as it often does, the lesson comes with discomfort.

Bad Editing in the Sample

I always check out the Kindle sample of a book from a new-to-me author. I keep reading until I find one too many errors, or until I reach the end of the sample. If I get to the end and am engaged in the plot and haven’t found any basic writing or editing errors, there’s a good chance I’ll buy the book.

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An Expensive Book

I rarely pay more than $3.99 for an ebook, but that’s partly because I already have so many books on the to-read pile. If you don’t believe me, I sorted out my bookshelf a couple of weeks ago, and here’s most of my paper to-read pile. My Kindle pile is even bigger …

What about you? What makes you click the buy button … or not?

Do you read book reviews? Where?

Bookish Question #112 | Do you read book reviews? Where?

Yes, but I’d probably read more if I wasn’t a book reviewer myself!

Why is that?

As I’ve mentioned before, I get a lot of my review copies from NetGalley. I can’t read reviews for these books because there aren’t any (yet). If the author, book cover, or book description are good enough to entice me to read the book, then I’ll download it.

If I enjoy the book, then I’ll review it and share my review for others to read. If not … I’ll probably still review it on NetGalley, but won’t share the review.

When I do read reviews, they tend to be reviews on blog sites.

I follow 20+ book blogs through Feedly, and will read reviews for books that catch my eye … but only books that aren’t on my own to-review pile. I don’t like to read reviews of books I know I’m going to read and review, as I don’t like others to influence me. However, I will sometimes read a review, decide I want to read the book, then find it’s still available on NetGalley.

The other main place I read reviews is Goodreads.

It’s kind of like Facebook, in that the latest updates from my friends are front and centre in my updates. I’ll usually skim the updates a few times a week, check out reviews, and add books to my to-read pile (aka Mount TBR).

I’ll also read Amazon reviews if I’m considering buying a book e.g. if I’ve seen the book advertised on BookBub or another online site. But I’ve usually made my buying decision before I get to Amazon—although sometimes I’ll choose not to buy (say, if the ebook is too expensive. I have too many paid-for books in my to-read pile already).

So yes, I do read book reviews, but not as many as I’d read if I wasn’t a reviewer with an overflowing to-read pile!

What about you? Do you read book reviews? If so, what are your favourite review sites?

Which Christian romance has the best first date scene?

Bookish Question #111 | Which Christian romance has the best first date scene?

This question puzzled me at first, because it took me a while to any Christian romances which had an official “first date” scene. Most seem to have the couple meet and spend time together in normal life, rather than in the context of an official date.

They may be thrown together by work, through another character (e.g. a child if one is a parent) or through a crime (especially in romantic suspense). They spend time together, and the relationship develops from there.

This seems more natural to me than the official “date”, which often feels contrived and doomed to failure. (A view which might be affected by the number of characters in Christian fiction who are dating the wrong person!)

But then I remembered True Devotion by Dee Henderson.

Here’s the Amazon description:
Kelly Jacobs has already paid the ultimate price of loving a warrior; she has the folded flag and the grateful thanks of a nation to prove it. Navy SEAL Joe “Bear” Baker can’t ask her to accept that risk again—even though he loves her. But the man responsible for her husband’s death is back; closer than either of them realize. Kelly is in danger, and Joe may not get there in time.

(That’s not the cover on my paperback version. I don’t much like my cover, but I like it better than this cover.)

True Devotion is a slow-build romance between long-time friends, and the first date doesn’t happen until around halfway through the book. But it’s worth waiting for: Joe wants to make it a memorable occasion, but only has three hours to organise the date. He calls a bunch of favours and gets a window table at the classiest restaurant in town, and even manages to buy Kelly flowers and a bear (which is a bit of a pun, as Joe’s SEAL nickname is Bear).

Kelly is suitably impressed, and it’s a great scene.

What’s your favourite first date scene in Christian romance?

Do you like it when a reviewer includes quotes from the book in their review?

Bookish Question #110 | Do you like seeing quotes in a book review?

I’m a reviewer, so my view may well be biased 🙂

I like to include quotes in my reviews. I think a pertinent quote helps break up the text of a review. More importantly, it gives the person reading the review a feel for the author’s writing style and the tone of the book.

I also like including quotes because they’re great for social media.

It only takes a few minutes to turn a quote into a pretty meme that can be shared on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. I think it’s a win-win. I’m promoting the book and the author, but I’m also promoting my own website (because I always include my site address on my memes).

I like reading reviews with quotes for the same reason. It gives me a feel for the author’s writing style, and the choice of quote gives an insight into the mind of the reviewer. What made that line stick out for the reviewer? Does it resonate with me in the same way? If so, I’ll probably enjoy the book.

For example, here’s a quote from Sweet on You by Becky Wade from blogger DailyDoseofSon:
Men who did dishes spoke her love language
via @DailyDoseofSon

Housekeeping is not my spiritual gift, so this quote definitely got my attention and showed me the character could be someone I’d relate to. Here are a couple of my favourite from the same book:

He hadn't worshipped from a place of gratitude. He'd worshipped from a place of duty.

Loving her was his greatest blessing. But it was also his greatest curse.

As you can see, I like quotes to be short and to the point.

I don’t like reviews (or author blog posts) with long passages from the novel e.g. the first chapter. They can be hard to read in a blog post, and they don’t give any more information than someone could get from checking the book out on Amazon.

That’s my view as a reader and as a reviewer. I’d be interested to know what authors think—do they like seeing quotes from their books in reviews and on social media?

What about you? Do you like it when a reviewer includes (short) quotes in their review?

What's the one genre you can never read enough of?

Bookish Question #109 | What’s the one genre you can never read enough of?

Christian romance 🙂

On one hand, I love Christian romance and I’m always looking for my next great read, there are times when the stories can all start to feel a little samey, a little to formulaic.

Also, Christian romance is a broad genre—more than half of the Christian fiction published is romance in one from of another, from Biblical romance to Regency romance, from Amish romance to contemporary romantic suspense.

If I had to choose one subgenre, I’d have to say contemporary Christian romance.

Why? Because it’s always changing as the world around us changes. Twenty years ago, characters were just getting mobile phones and learning to text. Ten years ago, they got phones with cameras. Now everyone has a smartphone, complete with email and social media.

Online connection means a lot of the plots that used to work and that I used to enjoy (like the secret baby trope I mentioned last week) have fallen out of favour because they don’t work any more. Instead, we have dozens of billionaire romances (because apparently any guy with a six-pack can earn a cool billion by developing some cool new app. No matter that there are so many free apps that I’ve yet to pay for one).

What I like about a great contemporary Christian romance is that it reinforces the importance of real-life connection—with other people, and with God. Great contemporary Christian romance also features flawed Christian characters doing their best to live a godly life in an ungodly world.

And, of course, there’s the romance.

Christian romance is (or should be) focused on the meeting of minds and the development of a three-strand relationship, not on the physical attraction that categorises so many general market (and real-life) relationships. Finally, contemporary Christian romance models romantic relationships built on a firm foundation, and built to last.

And that’s a few reasons why I can never read enough Christian romance.

What about you? What’s the one genre (or subgenre) you can never read enough of?

What's your favourite romance trope?

Bookish Question #108 | What’s your favourite romance trope?

Romance is full of tropes, and this is probably because romance readers can be voracious. If we find a story we like, we want to read all the books by that author. Then we want to read all the books with similar plots—which means we want all the books with that romance trope.

First, what’s a trope?

Reedsy says:

Tropes are plot devices, characters, images, or themes that are incorporated so frequently in a genre that they’re seen as conventional.

For example, the mail order bride is currently a popular trope, especially in Christian fiction.

I’ve seen box sets of fifteen or twenty mail order bride stories for sale on Amazon. I’m a fan of mail order bride stories (e.g. the Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh), but I don’t think I could manage a set of twenty!

Fortunately, there are dozens of popular romance tropes, including:

  • Friends to Lovers
  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Fake Romance
  • Love Triangle
  • Forbidden Love
  • Marriage of Convenience
  • Secret Royal/Billionaire
  • Secret Baby
  • Secret Romance
  • Second Chance Romance
  • Reunited Lovers
  • Trapped in an Elevator/Snowstorm
  • Mail Order Bride
  • Belated Love Epiphany
  • Opposites Attract
  • Soul Mate

I’m not a big fan of the love triangle.

It seems to me that a perfectly nice person ends up getting hurt. Mind you, that’s better than the alternative, where the guy thinks he’s in love with Woman A (who’s a real piece of work) but is also attracted to Woman B (the obvious best choice), but I’m left wishing he’d stick with Woman A because Woman B deserves someone with more depth.

That can also happen in reverse (and I can think of one far-too-long-running Christian romance series where the woman had the choice and chose who I think was the weaker man. One reviewer said that if the character was that shallow, then the second man was better off without her, and I had to agree (#TeamCody).

That’s the other problem with the love triangle: half your audience will be convinced the story ends with the wrong couple getting together.

I went through a phase of reading and enjoying secret baby romances, but then the improvements in technology and social media made it harder to believe that the woman couldn’t tell the father she’d had his baby. This meant she hadn’t, which meant she had to have a good reason for not telling him … and many didn’t. Also, secret baby is a more difficult trope to pull off in Christian fiction.

I’m also a big fan of friends-to-lovers (especially in novellas and short fiction—I’m a little wary of a novella where the couple go from first meeting to marriage in less than a hundred pages), and enjoy the occasional enemies to lovers (Maybe It’s You by Christy Hayes is a fun example).

And I enjoy most other tropes … in small doses.

So what’s your favourite trope, and what’s a great example of that trope in Christian romance?