Monthly Archives: December 2013

Ten Achievable New Year’s Resolutions for the Bookworm

With a new year comes a new beginning, and a great opportunity for setting goals. So many times we fall back on making the same resolutions we made the year before. This year, why not shake things up a bit by making an achievable New Year’s Resolution that you’ll enjoy keeping? Since I’m something of a bookworm and this blog is meant for readers, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’re a bookworm too and suggest some ideas for book-ish resolutions you might enjoy keeping in the New Year.  But first a cute New Year’s photo I took a few years ago.

New Year's Baby

New Year’s Baby

1. Read a Certain Number of Books This Year.

The great thing about a resolution or goal like this one is that it’s measurable. At any given time thoughout the year, you can see your progress and how close you are to achieving your goal, which can be a powerful motivator. I like to use Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading and what I thought of each book. The neat thing about using Goodreads, is they’ll let you set your own yearly goal and then track your progress for you, as you update the info on which books you’ve read. Here’s a link to their 2013 Reading Challenge.  I’m assuming they’ll host one for the upcoming year as well. In choosing your number, consider how many books you read last year, and how quickly you generally read. You want a number that’s a little bit of a stretch, but not so much as to become a burden. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

2. Finish the Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read.

I don’t know about you, but I know that no matter how quickly I read, there always seem to be at least a few books languishing on my book shelf or on my eReader. They’re generally ones that I really do want to read, but that I somehow never seem to get around to reading. If that sounds like you, consider identifying a few of those books and resolving to read them in the coming year. Then make them a priority. The great thing about this kind of resolution is you can aim to get it done early in the year while you’re still excited about your resolution.  Then you can have a feeling of accomplishment and not have to worry about trying to keep it up throughout the whole year.

3. Participate in a Book Discussion Group.

As much fun as it is to read on your own, it can be even more fun to discuss what you’ve read with a group. If you’re not already in a book discussion group, consider joining or starting one in the coming year.  Within a book group, with everyone reading the same book at the same time, you’ll find yourself reading and enjoying books you might not have otherwise read, and having the opportunity to share some of your favorite books with others. Plus, you’ll find yourself considering questions and points about the book that might not have occurred to you, and going away with a deeper appreciation for it.  If this resolution appeals to you, be sure to subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss my upcoming posts with tips on starting, joining, and participating in a book discussion group.

4. Find and Follow Some Book Review Blogs.

There are lots of bloggers out there reviewing books. Odds are, if you take a little time to search, you’ll find bloggers specializing in reviewing books within whatever genres and sub-genres you like best, whose taste in books may be very similar to your own. As you follow a particular book reviewer’s blog, you’ll get to know and appreciate his or her unique voice and reading preferences, and you may discover some books you’ll love that you might never have heard about otherwise. If this resolution appeals to you, and if you enjoy reading Christian fiction, I’d be honored if you would consider including my blog among those you follow.

Not sure how to “follow” a blog or even what I mean by that? Wikipedia has a good article on News Aggregators and how they can be used to “aggregate” articles from all your favorite blogs in one place for ease of reading.

5. Connect with Favorite Authors on Social Media.

As social media becomes more popular, more and more authors are connecting with fans on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more. Odds are good that your favorite authors are more accessible online than you may think. Visit their Web sites, check out which social media networks they frequent, and consider connecting with them. You’ll have the chance to let them know how much you love their books and to stay up to date on author events, book giveaways, upcoming books, and the like. Follow your favorite authors on your favorite social networks now and this resolution will take care of itself as you stay connected all year long.

6. Broaden Your Reading.

It’s easy to get into a reading rut, always reading books within the same genre or topic, or books written by the same handful of authors. If you can relate to that, consider resolving to periodically try something new this year. Perhaps you’d like to try a book by an author you haven’t read before. Or a book from a genre you don’t typically seek out. Another time, you might go for a different format such as an audiobook, an ebook, or a graphic novel. Resolving to broaden your reading this way could keep things interesting and you just might discover a new author, genre, or format you love in the process.

7. Visit Your Local Library.

If you don’t already make a habit of visiting your local library, you may want to resolve to start this year. As a librarian myself, I can tell you libraries have changed a lot in the last few years, so your local library may offer services you never would have expected. When you visit, be sure to chat with a librarian and find out which services your local library offers.  Services like:  Downloadable audiobooks, downloadable eBooks, electronic magazines, music and movies, events for kids (not just story time though those remain ever popular), events for adults (book discussion groups, author visits, and a wide variety of programs not necessarily related to books), computer classes, Internet access, 3D printing, interlibrary loan (where the library borrows books for you from other libraries), readers’ advisory services (if you like x, you may also like y and z), and reference services (help finding answers to your information questions).

8. Find a Buddy (or More) Willing to Trade Book Recommendations.

You have friends who like to read too, right? Resolve to talk with them regularly about what they’re reading and share what you’ve been reading. You may discover some books you can’t wait to read, and then you’ll be able to discuss your mutual favorites. You can do this in real life, as well as on Goodreads. When you become “friends” with someone on Goodreads, you’ll see the books they’ve been reading and recommending, and you’ll have the opportunity to comment, and they’ll see whenever you share that you’ve read a book, or reviewed one.

9. Have Children in Your Life? Resolve to Read with them Regularly.

Whether they’re you’re own kids, grandkids, or otherwise related, reading regularly with the children in your life helps to instill a love of reading likely to stay with them throughout their lives.  Whether they’re babies, teenagers, or somewhere in between, it’s never to early or too late to read together.  By sharing your time with them, it’s one more way of showing them just how much you care about them.  Plus, I think you’ll find it can be great fun!

10. Review the Books You Read.

If you haven’t been in the habit of reviewing the books you read, consider making it a New Year’s resolution to start.  Your reviews could help others find books they might enjoy, and in a year or two, when you’ve forgotten exactly what you liked about a given book, you can look back at your review and remind yourself.  Reviews don’t have to be long.  Simply write a paragraph or two answering some simple questions like the following and post your review online, perhaps on a retailer’s web site or on a site like Goodreads.  What did you like?  What didn’t you like?  Who might enjoy this type of book?  It doesn’t take long, and I think you’ll find you enjoy the process.  I know writing reviews has made me think more deeply about the books I read and come to a better understanding of what I do and don’t like about them.

There you have it.  Ten ideas for New Year’s Resolutions.  Thanks for reading!  So, did you decide to make a New Year’s Resolution this year? Please share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. And while you’re here, consider subscribing to my blog to keep updated on new posts including book reviews, discussion questions, ideas for book groups, updates on my writing, and more.

Book Review: Where Courage Calls by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

Title: Where Courage Calls: A When Calls the Heart Novel
Author: Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan
Genre(s): Inpirational Fiction, Prairie Romance
Publisher: Bethany House

Janette Oke has long been considered an influential author within the Christian fiction publishing industry, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review her latest book.  Where Courage Calls, was co-written with her daughter Laurel Oke Logan, and is scheduled to be released in February 2014.  It is described as a prairie romance, and is set in the Canadian west during the early twentieth century.

The story’s heroine, Beth Thatcher is a pampered daughter from a wealthy family from Toronto, and has accepted a year-long teaching position in a humble coal mining town far from the comforts of home.  She believes she is following God’s will for her life and is determined to prove to her overly protective mother that she is equal to the task, even after the conditions in the town prove more challenging and potentially dangerous than she had anticipated.  Her luggage is stolen in her travels, and she arrives to find that modern conveniences like plumbing and electricity are unavailable.  Nevertheless, she is determined to persevere.

The story is inspiring in that Beth adapts to her circumstances, continually seeks God’s will for her life, and ultimately makes a huge difference in the lives of her students and in the community.  Christians looking for a safe and comfortable read, exploring the joys of leading a Godly life will find much to like in this sequel to When Calls the Heart.

That said, I was not as impressed with this story as I had hoped I might be, given the author’s reputation.  I found the heroine hard to relate to.  Her continual self-sacrifice and nobility made her come across more as a caricature or an ideal to be aspired to than as a real person.  She is painted as selfless to the point where I’m not sure I could identify anything she wants for herself, with the possible exception of being out from under her mother’s thumb.  Most of her desires seem to be for a better life for her students and to be able to better help her new friends and neighbors.  Laudable, to be sure, but realistic?  I’m not so sure.

The story started out slowly, with a lot of introspection and reflection on the heroine’s childhood as she traveled to her new home.  Her day to day life in the mining town, and the details of what her life and career there turned out to be were very well developed and interesting.  However, for a book described as a romance, the romantic element seemed lacking.  I thought that Beth’s relationships with each of the potential suitors felt underdeveloped and her interactions with each of them limited, to the extent that I wasn’t sure who the hero would turn out to be until the book was nearly over.  Even then, the outcome felt contrived, because it did not hinge on her relationship with either suitor, but rather on an outside circumstance introduced at the last minute, seemingly to tidy things up.

Overall, Where Courage Calls was a thoroughly sweet and innocent story and a pleasant enough read.  Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the historical detail, and Christians seeking a clean and uplifting story about the good that can be accomplished by someone persevering in God’s will, need look no further.  This is your story.  Additionally, fans of Janette Oke’s Canadian West series or the Hallmark Channel’s new When Calls the Heart TV series, will likely want to give this book a read.  Just don’t go into this story expecting a great deal of emphasis on the romance, or you may be disappointed.

I would like to thank the publisher, Bethany House, for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley for my review.

Discussion Questions:

Since I did not find any discussion questions for Where Courage Calls available elsewhere at this time, I have written a few for your consideration.  If additional discussion questions occur to you, feel free to share them in the comments.

  1. How do Beth’s relationships with family and friends help or hinder her ability to reach her goals?
  2. In what ways is Beth’s relationship with Molly similar and different from her relationship with her mother?  How do these relationships compare to mother-daughter relationships you have experienced or observed?
  3. In what ways did Beth change over the course of the story?  In what ways did Edward change?
  4. Was there a moral to the story?  What do you think the intended message is, and do you agree or disagree?  How could this message be applied outside of the context of this story?

Book Review: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Title: Redeeming Love
Author: Francine Rivers
Genre(s): Inspirational Romance, Historical
Publisher: Multnomah Books

Redeeming Love has over a million copies in print and has been through several editions since it was originally published in 1991.  I just finished reading the 2005 edition, which includes a study guide by Peggy Lynch with some really thought provoking discussion questions.  As I write this review in December 2013, Redeeming Love remains on the ECPA and CBA Best Seller Lists.  I think the case can be made that this book has become a classic of Christian fiction.  I am happy to have read it and I would recommend it highly to Christians and non-Christians alike.  It can be read as an allegory with significant Christian themes, exploring God’s unconditional love, even for those who don’t feel worthy of that love.  And it can be read as a beautiful and emotional love story between two very complex and memorable characters.

Redeeming Love is set in California during the time of the Gold Rush.  It tells the love story of a godly man named Michael Hosea who is called to marry a prostitute known as Angel.  She is a beautiful woman who was sold into prostitution as a child, and feels herself incapable of loving Michael back or living any other kind of life than the one to which she is accustomed, despite the unhappiness it brings her.  Michael loves her continually and forgives her repeatedly, despite the pain she brings him, and God uses this to begin the process of redemption in Angel’s life.  But it isn’t until she comes to know God’s unconditional love for herself that her redemption can be complete.

I found this to be an engaging and deeply moving story that dealt with tough issues revolving around sin, shame, and forgiveness in a very tender hearted way. The allegory is there, just as it is in the Book of Hosea from the Bible on which this story is loosely based, but it’s subtly woven into the fabric of the romance and doesn’t feel at all forced or contrived.

The prologue sets up the story by describing Sarah’s childhood and how she came to be the woman Michael would know as Angel and later as Amanda.  It goes a long way toward making her feel real, believable, and sympathetic, even when her actions might tend to make her seem cold-hearted and unsympathetic, much as she is seen by Paul and other characters who do not know her well.

“Head-hopping” is a storytelling technique that has fallen out of vogue in recent years, in which the viewpoint from which the story is told jumps from one character’s thoughts to another character’s thoughts and back within a single scene.  The argument against head-hopping, is that these jumps can confuse the reader and prevent him or her from developing a close rapport with a single character.  In some cases, I think that can be an issue.  In this case, I thought the technique was handled deftly with clear clues provided each time the viewpoint was changed preventing confusion.  And I thought it added depth to the story to be able to see it from multiple viewpoints more or less at once.  Given the dichotomy between Angel’s thoughts and actions and the way her actions were interpreted by other characters, I think the technique played a useful role.

This story moved me to tears at a couple of points near the end of the book.  I felt my heart breaking right along with Michael at some of the decisions Angel made over the course of the story, but I just had to keep reading to see how it would end.  Redeeming Love was a beautiful exploration of love in all its manifestations from the platonic love of friends to the love between a husband and wife, to self-sacrificial love, to the love of God for mankind.  All in all, an enjoyable and thought provoking read. Highly recommended.

Discussion Questions:

As I mentioned before, the 2005 edition of Redeeming Love comes with a study guide with scripture references and some excellent questions for book discussion groups at the back of the book.  Some of the questions deal with the story itself, and others deal with applying its themes to our lives.  For those with a different edition of the book, many of those same discussion questions can also be found on the author’s Web site.

Author Update: Coming in for a Landing, Brainstorming, etc.

When I sat down to write my weekly blog post and looked over the notes I’d been making to myself, I realized I’d spent the preceding week brainstorming and accumulating LOTS of ideas for blog posts, rather than focusing on any one idea. My first thought was to scramble to pick an idea and run with it. But my second thought is the one that won out. Why not do something a little different this week?

Trees in Snowstorm

Today’s Snowstorm, Representing Brainstorming. Get it? ;)

So here goes. A glimpse into the current stage of my writer’s journey, along with a preview of some of what’s to come in this blog.

First off, my work in progress (Stateside Mission, my first novel) has recently reached 73,000 words. Listen carefully. Can you hear me cheering? I am. I’m also currently working on bringing the book in for a landing, allowing my characters to work out their problems, and tying up loose ends. Since it’s a romance, you know it’s going to end happily ever after, right? Well right now, I’m trying to plan the perfect proposal to fit my characters, and I’m acquiring new appreciation for what guys go through! I suppose I’m lucky to be writing a fictional proposal in the sense that I can not only change the proposal to fit the girl, but I also have the option of changing the girl to fit the proposal. Anyway, it’s looking right now like this draft may clock in around 80-85,000 words when all is said and done. We shall see.

I’m looking forward to reaching THE END so I can officially say I’ve done it and celebrate the achievement. Then I’ll be setting this novel aside and starting to work on some other projects for a while, maybe writing a short story or two and beginning to research for my next novel. That way I can come back to this novel fresh and ready to see it with clear eyes. I’ll get to see exactly what I’ve been spending all this time on, and just how much more time it’ll take to make it shine.

Besides working on my current novel, I’ve also been doing a lot of brainstorming, planning, and preparing. Specifically:

  • Reading blogs and books about writing, editing, publishing, and the like.
  • Brainstorming possible short stories and articles to write.
  • Researching magazines in which I may want to publish those stories and articles.
  • Experimenting with using Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads in conjunction with this blog to connect with other fans of Christian fiction.
  • Applying for review copies of books for my blog from publishers of Christian fiction.
  • Reading. Currently, reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, but check my Goodreads profile for updates.
  • And of course, planning the kinds of things, in addition to book reviews, to write about in future blog posts.

Speaking of which, I promised a preview of some of the topics I may address in future blog posts, didn’t I?  I’ve been brainstorming and researching lots of ideas.  I have a whole series planned on finding, starting, running, and participating in a book discussion group. I’d like to do posts spotlighting each of a variety of subgenres within Christian fiction, with examples of popular authors and titles representing each. I’m also considering interviewing other bloggers who write about Christian fiction, and featuring their blogs in posts here. Then there’s the idea of posting a few short stories here as samples of my writing.  Not to mention the growing list of random post ideas tangentially related to the main focus of this blog.  And of course, I’m going to continue to review Christian fiction as fast as I can read it.

What would you most like to see me write about in future blog posts?  Please share in the comments.

Award Winning Christian and Inspirational Fiction

Award Winners

Award Winners (Image Courtesy openclipart)

Thinking of delving more into the world of Christian Fiction? Wondering where to start? You could read and subscribe to blogs like this one for reviews. You could browse the best seller lists to see what’s been popular recently. And you could ask friends for their recommendations. Personally, I think those are all great options, and I highly recommend them. But there’s another option for finding good Christian fiction that I want to talk about today, and it’s a favorite of mine. Award winners.

The beauty of seeking out award winners in Christian fiction is that the hard work of narrowing down the field to identify some of the best stories has already been done for you. Granted, you may not wind up loving every award winning title, because your tastes may differ from that of the judges. But then again, there had to have been something special about a book for it to rise above the other possibilities and catch the attention of the judges. So if you’re looking for something special, read on to find out about some of the top fiction awards in Christian publishing today, and to find out which novels have won those awards or been featured as finalists.

Christy Awards

The Christy Awards have been described as the “Oscars” of Christian fiction.  They are annual awards to recognize Christian novels of excellence copyrighted in the preceding year in a variety of genres.  The judges are drawn from among librarians, literary critics and others not directly affiliated with a publishing company, and the winners are announced at the annual International Christian Retail Show in June.  I’ve personally found some great reads by browsing their lists of past winners.  The official Christy Award Web site provides additional information about the awards including the origin of the name, as well as a list of past winners.

Carol Awards

The Carol Awards also aim to recognize some of the “best Christian fiction published by traditional publishing houses in the previous calendar year.”  These awards are brought to you by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), and the winners are announced at the annual ACFW Conference in September.  These awards cover a wide range of genres and categories within Christian fiction.  The ACFW Web site includes more information about the awards, as well as annual lists of winners from 2002 to the present.

ECPA Christian Book Awards

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, bestows the honor of the ECPA Christian Book Awards, formerly known as the Gold Medallion.  Their awards cover a wide range of categories including Bibles, Non-fiction, Children’s Materials, and Inspiration.  All genres of Fiction are considered in selecting the winner within the Fiction category.  The Christian Book Awards Web page gives more information about the awards and links to past award winners.

RITA Award, Inspirational Category

The RITA award is given by the Romance Writer’s Association (RWA) “to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published romance novels and novellas.”  This award has been given in a variety of categories since 1982, with the Inspirational category being introduced in 1995.  The winners are announced at RWA’s annual conference in July.  More information about the awards and a list of past winners is available on the RWA Web site.

INSPY Awards

The INSPYs Web site describes the INSPY Awards as “The Bloggers’ Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature.”  These awards are judged by bloggers, and they invite nominations of faith inspired books in a variety of genres, not just from specific Christian publishers, but also from the general publishing market.  Nominations begin in December and the winners are announced in June.  This is a newer award, with winners from 2010, 2011, and 2013 thus far.  Visit their Web site for more about the awards.

Grace Awards

The Grace Awards are a reader driven award for faith-based fiction. This award differs from others listed here in that it considers self-published books in print and/or electronic formats alongside traditionally published books. For more information or to browse award winners, visit the official Grace Awards blog.

Did you find any of your favorite Christian fiction titles on these lists?  Any titles you’re looking forward to reading?  Leave a comment and let us know!  And please take a second to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or by Subscribing to the blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Note: This page was last updated on 1/15/2015.