Bookish Question of the Week

QuoftheweekI’ve been wrestling with my passion for books written with a faith framework (aka Christian Fiction) and the considerable sameness of so many of the novels available. CF has come along in leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades and I applaud the opening up of genres and the changes that have taken place which has provided readers with significantly more choice in their reading, and great quality in the writing. That said, I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m reading the same book over and over from many writers. I’m am not saying the books are poorly written, or are uninteresting – in fact, many of them are enjoyable reads – but I yearn for writing with a difference, whether it be unique characters, an international setting, an unexpected plot, or a realistic look at a genuine issue we face in our day to day life.

This is not something that has arisen suddenly, as I’ve pondered it for a number of years. So many books (and I know this is completely true of the general market, too) seem interchangeable, that is only the character names, the setting, and the particular plot driver are changed. Effectively, the story remains the same. Now, I appreciate that there must be a lot of readers out there who love the familiarity, who want to know what they are getting before they even crack open the cover, and that is how they choose their books. And I get that publishers and authors want to ensure that need is filled. Sales targets are achieved that way, I’m sure. I love that there were books that my grandmother could enjoy well into her 90’s, that provided that “comfort” read. I’m in no way disrespecting writers or readers who prefer this method. I love picking up a “comfort” read at certain times, knowing I will get what I expect and it will be comforting, distracting, and enjoyable. That said, more often than not, I want something different, a book that will challenge and evoke a visceral response. So, if I’ve been thinking about this for some time, why the Bookish question now?

Author Sally Bradley, a regular commenter on my blog, asked me if I would be interested in reading her debut novel, Kept. She was a little unsure if it would be something I would like as it is different from much of what is currently published in the CF world. Here’s the synopsis so you can see for yourselves….

KeptKept 

Life has taught Miska Tomlinson that there are no honorable men. Her womanizing brothers, her absentee father, and Mark, the married baseball player who claims to love her—all have proven undependable. But Miska has life under control. She runs her editing business from her luxury condo, stays fit with daily jogs along Chicago’s lakefront, and in her free time blogs anonymously about life as a kept woman. 

Enter new neighbor Dillan Foster. Between his unexpected friendship and her father’s sudden reappearance, Miska loses control of her orderly life. Her relationship with Mark deteriorates, and Miska can’t help comparing him to Dillan. His religious views are so foreign, yet the way he treats her is something she’s longed for. But Dillan discovers exactly who she is and what she has done. Too late she finds herself longing for a man who is determined to never look her way again. 

When her blog receives unexpected national press, Miska realizes that her anonymity was an illusion. Caught in a scandal about to break across the nation, Miska wonders if the God Dillan talks about would bother with a woman like her—a woman who’s gone too far and done too much. 

I love supporting debut authors and I was definitely intrigued by the story, so it was easy to say yes. Well, I had no idea that Kept would be such a keeper! I could not put it down and finally finished it at 3:37am – not kidding! My review will be up later this week so I won’t go into detail here, but the story and writing is excellent, powerful, and DIFFERENT. Here’s some of the reasons I loved this story:

  • Dillan is 6’9″ – for no reason other than he is tall! He doesn’t play basketball, in fact, he’s a little uncoordinated.
  • Sally tackles life in the REAL world, issues – promiscuity, unfaithfulness, dysfunctional family life, emotional trauma – that some believers try to pretend don’t exist, but they do.
  • Miska is a friendly, caring, warm person, trying to help her family reconnect, but is far from being a “nice” girl. The world is running out of “nice” people, so many are wounded and hurting, and desperately need God’s forgiveness and healing.
  • Dillan is judgmental and intolerant.
  • Chicago! Enough said – love the big city feel of this story – it’s different and real.

Now, Sally is not the only writer who is writing beyond the familiar storylines – Ronie Kendig‘s Raptor 6 (The Quiet Professionals) is set in a warzone and I’m ever so grateful to Ronie that she doesn’t shy away from the realities of war – it would be easy to do, dumb it down, ignore the obvious, but that would only miss the whole point of writing a story honouring servicemen and women and all they sacrifice.

[Tweet “Do you prefer a “comfort” read or something “out of the box” in Christian fiction?”]

 

Katherine Reay‘s stories are smart – written in a way that doesn’t insult readers’ intelligence or their ability to “get” a subtle theme or idea – Lizzy & Jane is a must read!

Lisa Samson‘s stories are similar – smart, savvy, evocative, meaningful – and I’m saddened she has stopped writing for publication.

And if you want your brain to do some internal gymnastics, then Jim Rubart is your guy!

And these are just a few…I can’t say how much I admire the courage of these writers to go beyond the “safe zone”.

So, I don’t often wax lyrical on my blog but there you go! So, my genuine and respectful question is this – no right or wrong answer here:

Do you prefer a “comfort” read or are you looking for something “out of the box” in your CF novels?

 

 

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92 Responses to Bookish Question of the Week

  1. Beautiful post, my friend. So glad you’re featuring Sally! It’s tough–I mean, really, hasn’t every “frame” of story been told already? It’s a challenge to find new ways to tell it, to do it and still honor the Lord as you feel He leads.

    • Ronie, I love that you’re getting to write your stories. And Raptor 6–wow. Kudos to your house for letting you go where that story absolutely HAD to go. And you handled it so well. The story wouldn’t have rung true without that, and I’m glad you wrote what we know is very true to life over there.

    • Ronie » And you manage to do that difficult thing over and over again, my dear friend. Love you for being up for the challenge and remaining faithful to the stories The Lord gives you. Hugs xoxoxox

  2. Rel, I think there are a number of books being written that aren’t saccharine-sweet or the “same old thing”, but with millions of books published every year (both via traditional publishers and the self-pubbed route) it’s sort of a long shot that a reader will find them without doing some digging. Thanks for sharing the ones you have found to be worthwhile, and for what you do in educating the reading public on what’s available.

  3. Exactly why I quit reading so many of the typical “Christian Fiction” authors! It seems like so many ignore the fact that life is really messy, people are inherently sinful, and God does not answer prayers on our timeline. I love this post Rel, and I’m off to track down Kept.

    There’s a few mainstream fiction novels currently out that tackle faith in a “real” manner – Ordinary Grace and The Book of Strange New Things immediately come to mind. It’s not that I necessarily don’t want to escape into the pages of a book whenever I pick up Christian Fiction novels but I also want to feel as though I can relate.

    This really is a great post and one worthy of much conversation!

    • Stacy (The Novel Life) » Let me know what you think of KEPT, Stacy! Thanks for your thoughts and recommendations. Always appreciate your insightful input, my friend xo

  4. I’m so keen to read Kept!

    Your book recommendations haven’t disappointed so I know this will be fabulous. Keep them coming. xx

  5. Interesting, well-said discussion, Rel, my friend.

    Okay, I will admit I am the biggest advocate for “comfort reads” because I LIVE life, so when I go to read, I want to be entertained versus brought to tears or have to *think* hard about something – I just want to get lost in happy. That being said, I am also a HUGE supporter of anything clever and “different.” Well said is respect to Katherine Reay – her novels are magic of a new kind and I admire her SO much for tackling the subjects she does while bringing us smart characters we can admire and love.

    I think 2011 or 2012/2013 was “turning point” for me personally in Christian fiction because I read some novels that really resonated with me and took me by surprise on a deeper level – the faith elements in them connected and because of that, the stories seemed more real. Plus I do think Christian fiction has grown leaps and bounds since the days when I first began reading it – it’s really got a lot to offer nowadays. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m in the middle. I still adore and enjoy those comfort reads because of the joy they bring (and some of them offer more than mere entertainment) yet I’m always looking for clever ingenuity.

    Beautiful post, Rel – and oh, my! You have me curious for Kept now! :)

    …and shout-out to Ronie. Well said; it IS tough to find new ways to tell a story. You always do it very well. :)

    • Rissi » I was keen to get your thoughts on this, Rissi, as I know you love a comfort read, as I do, too! As you say, it depends on what we are looking for in our reading experience. Always appreciate your thoughts and encouragement. You bless me!

  6. Rel, What a wonderful, honest and compelling post. I’m eager to read “Kept” now… love your recommendations.

    I agree that there is beauty in stories that we know will satisfy and hit our heart strings just right. “DMK” came out of such a time for me — lots of comfort stories. And yet, I too, am eager for books that push into our realities and turn and twist them so that we not only see what is, but — with hope — what can be. Goodness, this comment needs some good dramatic music to set it off… :)

    … Fade to black.

  7. I’ve also found a lot of ‘sameness’ in the CF books that are available, particularly in the romance genre. It’s like someone has handed everyone the same biscuit (cookie) cutter, so the flavour of the biscuit might be different, but the shape is all the same.

    I like re-reading books, but when I’m buying new books, I want something different. I think that’s why I’m not really interested in historical fiction as much as I used to be and mostly I buy novels in the mystery/suspense genre.

    I am also very particular about not reading certain themes (like rape or really graphic violence).

    • Beth » Thanks Beth – yes, I don’t want to read really graphic stuff, either but realistic, sensitive treatments of some of these issues are a must if we are going to have a level of understanding.

      I’d love to hear what suspense authors you have been reading lately, too!

      • Currently I’ve been re-reading some of my favourites – Dee Henderson, Don Brown and Mindy Starns Clark (although hers are more mystery than suspense). I’m also still loving Irene Hannon, DiAnn Mills. Noel Hynd and Randy Singer. I’ve read a couple by Jerry Jenkins and find that he can sometimes be too graphic for my liking (couldn’t finish The Brotherhood, and I still get nightmares about it at times).

  8. Both.

    Sometimes, especially after a busy week, I’m all for a comfort read (it coordinates nicely with the comfort food).

    Other times I’m looking for something different, perhaps something a little more challenging. I still want to read fiction that’s consistent with my faith, but something that’s a little out of the ordinary as well.

    At the moment, I’m recommending Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon, The Butterfly and the Violin by Kirsty Cambron, Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall, and Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee. All of them have something about them that makes them different, and that’s what makes them stand out in a positive way.

    And I have to agree about Katherine Reay – I think Lizzy and Jane is even better than her first novel.

    • Iola » My book club recently discussed Saving Amelie – loved it. I’ll be posting our in-depth interview with Cathy soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and recents challenging reads, Iola :)

  9. I find at times I seem to be reading the same book at one stage they all seemed to be secret baby story lines. I do like different but. I think historical can give different reading. recently read one I would love to see as a movie and could see it as a western movie with all the action. I like books that deal with real issues.

  10. Depends on my mood. I do find I enjoy out of the box ones more. They seem to stick with me more than a yummy comfort read.

  11. Leave it to you Rel to voice so eloquently what I have been feeling for a while! As an avid reader and book blogger I have a very large “to be read” pile and I find myself having less patience to see predictable reads through to the end. I crave something fresh in my reading life, especially since I go through books so quickly. This is why I admire and relentlessly follow authors like Ronie Kendig, Katherine Reay, Tamara Leigh, and Lynn Austin.

    I agree that the quality of writing can be wonderful but the story framework itself is lacking. The CF market has come a long way in the past several years, but I still think there is room for growth. The audience is changing and starting to demand stories that resonate with their realness. Thanks for starting this dialogue Rel!

    ps I downloaded Sally’s book based on your recommendation. I know it will be fabulous 😉

  12. I think this is why I’ve stopped reading a lot of Christian fiction, I was getting bored with the sameness of it, although it does depend on my mood :) Kept sounds like an awesome book, must try and get my hands on a copy.

    • Melissa » I don’t think you are alone in stopping reading CF for that reason, Melissa. I hear it all the time. If you feel like diving back in after a taste of Sally’s writing then here’s a few names to check out – I’ve already mentioned Kendig, Rubart, Reay, and Samson but also try Tracy Groot (historical), Tosca Lee (biblical), Robert Liparulo (thriller), Elizabeth Camden (historical romance), Amy Matayo (contemporary romance), Katie Ganshert (contemporary romance), Lynn Austin (historical & Biblical), Tessa Afshar (Biblical), Tamara Leigh (medieval romance), Susan Meissner (contemporary/historical frame stories)…I’ll stop now!!

  13. Definitely prefer out of the box.

    I’ve had a strong sense of my writing being nudged in a certain direction and your post has confirmed it for me, so thank you! After reading the synopsis for ‘Kept’ I can’t wait to get my hands on it. What a great premise.

    There are so many Christians who come from damaged backgrounds. ‘Wholesome’ CF isn’t just going to help them relate, is it? Not saying it doesn’t have its place – it does. But there needs to be real and gritty stories too. Again, thank you.

  14. Rel, great thought provoking post. As Ronie says hasn’t every “frame” of a story already been written?

    I think one of the reasons I enjoy speculative fiction is it challenges my thinking unlike a lot of mainstream fiction I read. I especially read Christian fiction to be stirred in my spirit and I too have been finding that much of what I read doesn’t really do that. It’s one of the reasons I so enjoy Jim Rubart’s writing because his stories draw me closer to the Lord.

    Interesting I was finding Ted Dekker’s were getting same-same but then he starts on a new theme with his Outlaw series which I thoroughly enjoyed and soon we’ll have the AD series which is all new again.

    I’m now enjoying Biblical fiction because it’s having a similar effect by opening my eyes to people in the Bible in a way that I hadn’t previously considered. I expect I’ll start reading more historical fiction because it will enlighten me about times I know little about (cue our friend Dotti, I’m ready for an 1850s gold rush story)

    But there will always be ‘comfort’ authors that I will continually turn to for that sheer predictability of their writing. These tend to be in the general market so authors like Daniel Silva and Matthew Reilly.

    • Ian » Ah, Matthew Reilly! Yep, I’m a fan, too 😉

      Like you, Ian, I read novels to spur on my faith and challenge my thinking. It seems that works for me more than reading a non-fiction book, although, I know you read a lot of those, too. I just love story so much – must be how my brain works.

      Thanks for your thoughts, as always!

  15. I love the out of the box stories…I have really loved seeing the “Edgy Christian Fiction” reads hit the market, addressing hard issues. Today, I read “Paint Chips” which was not a “feel good” book.
    However, I like both. There are times after a couple of hard hitting stories, I want a comfort read. But sometimes they just feel boring. They are well written, but just don’t feel realistic enough.
    Valerie Comer is a newer author that has written a new type of fiction, Farm Lit. It is feel good, but also very fresh and different!
    Jim Rubart is really amazing too!

  16. Love your question this week!

    I love grittier stories. It makes it more realistic and I’m able to connect with them so easy. When a book is a comfort read and they are a bit softer, they do tend to follow the cookie cutter pattern and they morph into each other. I think that is the reason that I fell out of reading for a while. There wasn’t a realism and nothing to grab on to.

    I think since I know about more dark things of human nature through my training, I kind of nit pick when a story doesn’t realistically portray people. People are flawed, people sin. I want to see that.

    I loved The Sentinels of Andersonville that showed the horror’s of the camp. The emotional hurt shown in Dear Mr. Knightley was as real as can be. Right now I’m reading Thief of Glory, the life of a young boy in a prison camp from WW2 is on full display and I can’t put the book down. Lynn Austin’s books also are the same way, the ones I’ve read anyway. Those stories stick to me and I can keep going back to them and reread and enjoy them like I did the first time I picked them up.

    Thank you so much for mentioning this new book by Sally! I need to check it out.

    • Katie T » Hi Katie – loved your thoughts. Thief of Glory is up next for me, too. Have been hearing wonderful things about it so good to know you recommend it as well.

      I think you are right – many of us want to know we are not alone in our flawed responses and decisions. That others get that, that we all have to work through outcomes that are not always pleasant.

  17. Great question, Rel.

    I definitely need something different. I don’t want to read a formulaic story, or one whose characters I’ve seen in a dozen other books. Give me unique story lines, ones that challenge my intelligence. Give me fresh characters and authentic settings. Steven James, Laura Frantz, & Becky Wade are three of my favorite authors because they don’t adhere to the CF recipe. And Sally Bradley’s book is on my must-read list precisely because it’s out-of-the-box premise.

    Another author I’d recommend is Carrie Stuart Parks. Her debut, A Cry From The Dust, is one of the best novels I’ve read all year. It was intelligent, had a unique premise, the hero wasn’t at all cliche, and I didn’t feel like I was reading a *formula* book.

    Thanks for you honest & refreshing post!

    • Brenda Anderson » Hi Brenda – appreciate your thoughts! I have Carrie’s book in my TBR and the topic really caught my eye, as well. Woo hoo! Something different. I think Thomas Nelson is a publisher that seems to be a little more willing to take a risk on something different, which is great.

  18. I had the privilege of judging “Kept” a few years ago in a writing contest. I’m so excited to see that Sally has taken the plunge and released it. Can’t wait to read it!

    I’m definitely a something different girl. Even for a “comfort read” I still want something that makes it stand out from the crowd and the author’s previous works, rather than blend in. It doesn’t have to live on in my mind forever, but while I’m reading it it can’t feel like a variation on something I’ve read before. I’ve stopped reading some “big name” authors because their books started feeling samey. Life is too short!

    Recent stand outs for me have included Tracey Groot’s Sentinels of Andersonville, Susan Meissner’s A Fall Of Marigolds, Kristy Cambron’s The Butterfly and the Violin and Katie Ganshert’s A Broken Kind of Beautiful.

    • Kara Isaac » Yay, Kara! Love those choices of books – I would agree wholeheartedly. Groot’s books are alway fabulous – Flame of Resistance, in particular.

  19. I’m going to buy KEPT as soon as I finish this post. The sameness in Christian fiction is one of the reasons I started in the mainstream market.

    If readers are tiring of the same kinds of stories, maybe this is the beginning of a new wave of Christian realism. Not all readers want an edgier book, so maybe new imprints are in order to clearly mark edgier / grittier stories.

    Last, I wish I could find words other than “edgier, grittier and more realistic,” because they’re subjective and sound critical of fiction that’s meant to be lighter and entertaining. I enjoy it all, though I admit to being in the reading doldrums at the moment.

    Thanks for this post, Rel. You’ve encouraged me to push the envelope a little more than I planned!

    I fall

    • Victoria Bylin » Victoria! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that I don’t want to disrespect writers or readers of “comfort” fiction and those terms can sound a little judgmental but I understand what you mean. There’s a big difference between themes genuinely woven into a story that make the reader think about their own responses and actions to inserting “edgy” stuff just as something to do. It’s a bit like the youth pastor getting a tattoo or an earring simply for the sake of supposedly looking “cooler”!

      Hope you enjoy Kept – let me know when you are done!!

  20. Different and true to life’s real challenges is something I love as a reader and a writer. I’ve been blessed to find a small press who actually has that as their mission. HopeSprings Books is dedicated to tackling the realities of living for Jesus in our fallen world. I hope you, and any others who like those reads, will check out their offerings because as an earlier commenter said, it’s hard for readers to find books that veer away from the mainstream in the vast quantity of volumes being published.

  21. I posted a similar question on a FB page concerning reading out of the comfort zone. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of readers seeking something different. My post was prompted by the CBD catalog I received. The first few pages were filled with Amish and historical romance that seemed all the same. Certainly “sellers” that publishers would pursue, but what happened to looking for that which is excellent even if it is out of the box.

    My reading consists of a lot of review books, so sometimes it is hard to get the “something different.” I do get that when authors approach me. The Beloved Daughter by Alana Terry was one of those that didn’t fit the norm of Christian books. It’s subject matter alone (life in prison in N. Korea) labelled it “not your grandma’s fiction”. It was excellent, but, alas, not published by a major imprint.

    Picking books for my book club is also daunting. We like what what we like, but sometimes need a little stretch. We picked Ginny Yttrup’s novel Flames for our November selection. You can imagine my surprise when the book that was advertised earlier in the year was cancelled by B&H.

    So a long comment to say, YES, I want thoughtful, gripping, can’t-put-it-down-because-it-is-so-good fiction that will entertain and make me think, regardless of the genre.

    • Beckie B. » Hey Beckie – yes, book club selections are always fun! I’m delighted that it is no longer too difficult to find some stellar Christian books that fit the bill for book club. We have some go to authors – Tosca Lee, Cathy Gohlke, Susan Meissner, Charles Martin, Ronie Kendig, Angela Hunt, Randy Singer…I could go on!

      Isn’t it good to know you aren’t the only one looking for something a little more challenging?!

  22. I have read Kept and just loved it! It’s certainly a book with an edge and I like that. No fluffy, sugar coated story here and it’s about time. I do tire of the “same old thing”. Once I started it I couldn’t put it down…I actually found myself up until 4 am so I could finish it. The only problem was I found myself wanting more!

    So, to answer your question, out of the box gets my vote!

  23. Rel,

    You spoke my mind. Yes, sometimes I want a comfort read and so I’ll pick up a sweet story. However, living in the Baltimore-Washington area, if I read too many of those things, I get jealous that my world isn’t that way. I want to be inspired in my reading, too. I love to see that people, when given the choice between the “pleasures” of the world and Christ, still choose Christ. I need examples of how to be a Christian in a fallen world. I want to be inspired and encouraged to live for Christ, even when my neighbors think I’m “one of those people.” I LOVED Sally’s book and can’t wait to see what more she has for us!!!

    • Connie Almony » Well, do pick up Amy Matayo’s SWAY, Connie – it is different to KEPT but reflects the things you mention in your comment – certainly, an example of how to be a Christian in a fallen world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  24. Thanks for the recommendation, Rel. I will get a copy of KEPT. I’m one who loves this type of book….one that showcases a woman who wrestles with her bad choices and longs for a new way to live.

    • Kellie Coates Gilbert » I think you will love the book, Kellie. It certainly shows a woman wrestling with her choices and also the hero wrestling with her choices, and his own. Thanks for dropping in!

  25. Love this discussion! I agree that there is a lot of the same ol same (and like you said, it has nothing to do with the writing – just the plot). I do like something that’s different that gets you thinking and is something you can relate to – whether in your own life or someone you know. That doesn’t mean it has to get “shady” in material, but just honest. I read a comment somewhere on some post where a reader complained the material was “too much” for the Christian market because it talked about prostitutes and alcohol. I read the book and loved it (it was done appropriately in my opinion). I was saddened to read that dealing with real life issues and what is out there would be seen as “too much” for Christian readers.

    That’s one reason I love how far biblical fiction has come along – it always gets me thinking about the stories and going back to the Bible. And we all know there were some shady folks there :).

    But I don’t mind a “cookie cutter” every now and then, just like I sometimes like watching a funny romantic comedy movie.

    Oh my goodness, this turned into a novel….hope it makes sense! :)

    • P.S. I have Kept on my Kindle to review for Sally and now I’m extra excited!

    • Jamie Lapeyrolerie » Makes perfect sense, Jamie. I just want to say ‘ditto’! We live in a world that is ugly and I understand sometimes facing that ugliness is hard but it is not something we can ignore. If some of the “tough” issues are addressed appropriately – not gratuitously, or as Aaron said in a pandering manner – then we shouldn’t always shy away. You are right about the Bible – nothing PG about a lot of it!

  26. I’m definitely looking for something out of the box and surprising in some way. I’m so thrilled you featured Kept, because I loved it too. I feel Christian indie authors are addressing so many issues that have been “kept” silent for too long (bad pun–sorry!). Some indies I highly recommend for out-of-the-box, well-edited, gripping reads are: CJ Darlington, Connie Almony, Becky Doughty, Wendy Paine Miller, Nancy Kimball, and there are SO many more. Indies are breaking the mold and producing high quality books, and they are writing their PASSION, instead of writing to trends, which makes the books all the more interesting to me. I hope you continue to find/review worthy indie authors, Rel! Thanks for featuring Kept as there are many who have already been touched by its story.

    • Heather Day Gilbert » So appreciate you sharing, Heather! I have both your books on my Kindle and do plan to get them read. Sigh! Thanks for sharing the other names of indie authors. It’s so hard to know where to spend our money on books and if we are pursuing a “safe bet” so to speak, the traditional publishers seem to win out in that regard. I think as more and more indie writers bring us excellent quality books, that will change, albeit probably frustratingly slowly for you.

  27. Jacqueline Robertson

    This sounds intriguing. I would like to read it. Thanks for the discussion.

  28. Thank you, Rel, I just purchased Kept. I was trying to decide what to read next and now I have it!

    This was an interesting discussion and I enjoyed reading all of the responses as well as your opinion. I have long since considered myself a picky reader, as there are many authors who just cant hold my attention and I find myself skimming through the pages to read the ending. I enjoy Christian Romance, but there has to be enough of a story there to give it some meaning. A great example would be, For Such A Time by Kate Breslin. I am not normally a fan of war novels, but I devoured this book until the very end. Linda Chaikin is a wonderful author who includes a lot of history and deep plot development in her stories. I don’t hear much about her anymore but her books are on my keeper shelf and I don’t hesitate to recommend her.

    • Rebecca Dewey » Let me know your thoughts on Kept, Rebecca! I’m with you on Kate’s For Such a Time – a beautifully told story and one that makes you ponder many things. Thanks for sharing it :)

  29. I hear you, Rel! From both sides of the camp – from the tents of the readers to the tents of the writers – I hear you. I crossed into the general marketplace for this reason, to expand my literary horizons as crafter and consumer. Sameness dulls the senses. Cookie cutters are great, but that doesn’t meant the same same same same cookie dough has to be mixed over and over and over, unless you like the same cookie every time you have one. I, like you, don’t.

  30. Hey Rel,
    Thank you for always making us think about Christian Fiction. As you allude to, so much of this is subjective (which makes it more fun to talk about in some ways). Much of the type of books you mention actually have a sense of “sameness” to me. Another book with a woman with multiple issues, angst, and so forth. Yawn. I am teasing a bit as I do with lovers of Women’s fiction, as it is often called, in my writers’ group. Then again, I am a man. :) What I think I mean by all of that is one reader’s sameness is another’s different. I agree with Victoria Bylin about some of the words we use like gritty. I think what a lot of people mean is something that pushes boundaries, which is also a cliche. I’m all for pushing boundaries as long as the writer and the story have earned it. Francine Rivers earned it in her book “Redeeming Love” which took a bit to get released at first. Pushing boundaries just for the sake of it is pandering to me, which is what most of secular fiction does. If nothing else, Christian fiction is called out of that mess. Some cookie cutter plots, as another mentioned, especially in romance comes from category fiction. Those titles are written for mail-order club members as well as for the consumer in stores. The editors must be careful with all types of the content of books going to club members as they are selecting the club and not the individual titles. Also, I will say that much of what is considered more of the same today was innovative at one time, such as Janette Oke, who started modern day CF, and Beverly Lewis, who started the first original genre of CF, Amish fiction. I will add that much of what is considered different will have to emerge from different outlets at this time as publishers pull back to the tried and true when the economy is on a downward trend. But at some point in the future the next Peretti will come along…only to one day become the next same old thing.

    • Aaron McCarver » Thanks for your thoughts, Aaron. I understand what you are saying but what I love about Sally’s book is it as much Dillan’s story as it is Miska’s so I’d have to take issue with you on this one being just “women’s angst”!!

      Yes, we all have differing views and everyone’s views are entitled to be shown respect. In life, as in reading, we often want what’s “safe” but I’m not sure that “safe” always equates to growth in our personal and faith lives. I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Camden’s With Every Breath – an historical romance – that could have been a “safe” read as it is a genre prone to being heavily weighted to comfort style reading, but it was intense, challenging, and different, with a hero that was austere and aloof for much of the book. Again, something different and extremely well executed by the lovely Elizabeth!

  31. Ooh – I remember reading the first chapter of this over at Novel Rocket. I was hoping to read the rest someday!

    There are days I prefer a comfort read – something easy and familiar, when my mind is stressed and I need the relaxation and comfort. But most of the time I’d rather had something real and unique.

    • sparksofember » Do read the rest! You won’t be disappointed.

      And I agree with you on the comfort read now and then but mostly the desire to discover something more challenging and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing.

  32. I prefer “different”! I love Billy Coffey’s books, for instance. That said, you’re right that some publishers seem to prefer what’s safe and comfortable. I could provide a personal instance, but not online. 😉 Thanks for this subject, Rel. It’s time Christian publishing shook things up a bit.
    I do like a “comfort” read sometimes, but it’s like a steady diet of sweets: It gets tiring quickly and I’m ready for substance.

    • Ann Shorey » Oh, yes, Billy! My dad just finished one of his that I lent him and that was his response, “it was different!”. We discussed Billy’s When Mockingbirds Sing earlier this year in my book club. Excellent writing.

      Given you write historical romance, Ann, how do you try and make your books stand out from the crowd? If that’s not too personal!

      Always appreciate you taking the time to visit, Ann.

      • Rel, I didn’t start out to write historical romance–my publisher asked me to tone down my last series proposal because historical romance sold better than straight historical. I prefer more of the true to life nitty gritty, but toned things down and resubmitted. I do try to make my heroines real and my issues topical, but I’m just not a romance writer at heart. There you have the straight story! :) Am thinking about going back to my straight historical plots and see what happens.
        Thanks for asking! xo

  33. I love a variety of types of books. As long as there’s hope, there’s life (to paraphrase) in the books I read.

    I could read almost any genre if it’s well-written.

    • Laura Chambers » Quality writing is a must, I agree, Laura, but I think real quality has a level of uniqueness built in which makes all the difference. Thanks for stopping by.

  34. I’m so glad to have stumbled upon this blog! I write edgy christian fiction and have struggled with finding my “spot” in the christian genre. My stories include a lot of controversial subjects, but handled with what I hope readers will see as a loving view point. I believe there is a new wave beginning in Christian fiction, one that is a bit more “out of the box”, as you say. I love that you featured such an author! I’ll have to check out the book and I look forward to reading your review!

    • Nicole Jarrell » Hi Nicole, it’s a tough gig for authors who write outside the box but I think there are plenty of readers out there looking for something more than the standard fare. Well, it’s obvious, given the response I’ve had to this post in the comments and also a number of private messages I’ve received. Thanks for sharing.

  35. I’ve been struggling with Christian fiction for a while. For years I had comfort reads authors that even though the story was similar, I enjoyed reading them. But now? I’ve gotten SUPER tired and annoyed with them and have now completely stopped reading. It really is the same story, same characters, same everything. Why aren’t people allowed to go to big cities? Why can’t people go away to college? Why do they have to give up the big job? Why are big mega churches always portrayed as bad? Stuff like that…

    It’s making me seek out newer authors in more contemporary genres (not romance) or historicals (again not romance) vs the old tried and true. Sure they’ll keep selling to the demographic their targeting. But I’ve always felt that I’ve never been and never will be that demographic. I have found some good ones. I just finished Sing to Me by Karen Halverson Shreck and it was so good! Immigrants, blues/jazz music, and an interracial romance! Speaking of which….Christian fiction is so white. Yes you have POC characters every now and then but the majority of the covers is so whitewashed that it makes everyone look the same.

    I just want a good story that is new and different and lately I’m just not finding that in CF anymore.

    • Deborah » Hey lovely Deborah! Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts – you know we agree on a lot of this. I think you will find Kept REALLY refreshing and well worth your time. I’ve also just finished Amy Matayo’s SWAY – excellent, excellent New Adult novel, that deals with different hard-hitting issues and vinyl record love!!!

  36. Depending on what line you write for, there can be real restrictions on the story lines. Although, my February historical features *gasp* a suffragist born to a single mother – who wants to remain single herself. It’s a tough sell, though.

  37. I LOVED Kept and I read it all in one shot!! I was ENTHRALLED with Sally’s writing, it was fresh and bright and NOT the same old same old!!!
    Dillan was NOT perfect, he was normal! Garret was that brother we all have, or sister. Or cousin. The idiot with the heart of gold.
    Miska, even her name is fabulous!! Miska wanted so much what was out there, for everyone else. Or was it? She was so totally screwed up! And yet, Sally doesn’t let everything get the “wrapped up in a bow” treatment, no ma’am!
    This story is FRESH and relevant and shocked me at its exact and precise voice, the voice of a hurting woman and man, who would have never found each other , other than by God’s hand.
    FANTASTIC work, Sally!

  38. Thanks for the mention, Rel! I’m so glad you liked SWAY. And you know I’m totally with you on this post. Great discussion.

  39. Like a lot of the commentors, I like an easy read some days, then there are the times I like something different–like Cynthia Ruchtie’s All My Belongings. I loved it and the character still stays with me. Great post!

  40. Great question and discussion! Thanks for asking, Rel. I think my favorites tend to be the ones that go out of the box and do it well, though I enjoy a good comfort read too. You and other commenters gave some great examples. Another one that struck me as very different and enjoyable is Chuck Black’s Cloak of the Light.

  41. Out of the box for sure. I’m new to this blog, but not new to Sally Bradley. KEPT is an exemplary debut that is adding to the wave of realistic, raw, and still redeemed Christian Fiction.

  42. Beautifully said, Rel. And I am so with you on this. And those books and authors you mentioned? I was going down the list going, “Yes. Yep. Absolutely, yes!” :) I am REALLY excited to grab hold of Sally Bradley’s book soon –it had not yet lit up my radar, but it’s shining like a beacon now! Thanks for that tip!

    Sometimes I think perhaps we (as book bloggers) notice the “sameness” of the books we’re sent more than the readers who buy two or three books a month, simply on volume alone. But I can’t help but wonder if they’re starting to notice it, too. I’m going to keep watching this post hoping there is a lot of interaction from readers who are not affiliated with the publishing industry, other than as consumers.

    I’ve started getting really picky with what books I will review. But my ear is to the ground seeking buzz (like this about Sally Bradley’s book!) and I’m always watching for that special something that will make me go “YES! This is what I’ve been waiting for!”

    Thanks for the great post, Rel!

  43. I read these comments with interest. Brenda Anderson (bless her heart and all her vital organs) mentioned my debut novel, “A Cry From the Dust.” I thought you might be interested a bit in the background of this book. I started writing fiction the year I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. My mom was dying of emphysema and I was her caretaker. It might have been an impossible task, but Frank Peretti, my neighbor, decided to mentor me.

    I wrote about what I knew first hand: divorce, cancer, and an unruly child (which was actually me at that age! ) My protagonist was a forensic artist, which I’ve been since 1981. I’m a law enforcement instructor, so my students and colleagues became resources. If I wanted to know about terrorism, I had the former head of the terrorism unit for the FBI I could call.

    I threw the whole Mormon Church into the pot, added the historic Mountain Meadows massacre, and tried to find an agent. Even with an endorsement from Frank, a lot of doors slammed shut. Some never opened. When Terry Burns, of Hartline Agency, signed me, he warned me that I wrote would be a tough sell.

    It turned out it was quite the opposite. Of the original eight major Christian publishing houses he pitched to, five were interested. The book went to auction, and Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins Christian) signed me for a three book deal.

    So Gwen Marcey, forensic artist, was born. My inspiration comes from the real cases I work. There will be a certain “formula” in my books: Gwen will find herself in a heap of trouble. You will learn about a faith/belief/religion that you may not know much about (book #2 is about Christian Identity.) And hopefully you’ll agree with Frank on his comment: “Real life forensic artist Carrie Parks bestows her skills and experience upon a plucky heroine, then sends her rummaging through dark, unresolved history for bizarre possibilities. You haven’t read a story like this one.”

    • Thank you, Carrie! I’m embarrassed I’m only responding to this wonderful comment now. Yikes. It slipped by my radar. I really appreciate you sharing this behind the scenes look at your novel, and your life, as you wrote it – amazing.

      Blessings to you!

  44. This is an interesting question given the topic of my Children’s Literature Studies unit this week!

    I think when you read a lot the sameness becomes more evident in a way that isn’t going to happen when you don’t read as voraciously as some (you know I mean ‘us’ here, right?!). I’ve been reading CF for so long now that I crave and adore things that are completely out of the box. I’m not a particularly fussy reader though, so I’ll pretty much read, and usually enjoy, anything. But I’m so much more likely to go find the spec fiction, or out-there stuff than I ever used to be!

  45. I like both, depending on my mood.

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