Latinx Month Reads

BHS Episode 8: Gathering Around with Betsy Pendergrass

45416221_283412482374345_8166301459126681600_nToday, we’re getting to know Betsy Pendergrass By Her Shelf! Besty is a wife, a mom of four, a writer, and a passionate gatherer. Betsy and her husband Taylor share tips for gathering people and recipes for feeding them in the community they’ve built at gatheringaround.com.

In this episode, Betsy and I discuss:

Plot driven vs. character driven novels
Scary librarians
and One More Page Syndrome.

The Books

Christy by Catherine Marshall (Kindle)

100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs (Kindle)

Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs (Kindle)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Kindle)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Kindle)

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (Kindle)

The Mitford Series by Jan Karon (Kindle)

The Business of Honor by Bob Hasson and Danny Silk (Kindle)

Keep Your Love on by Danny Silk (Kindle)

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan (Kindle)

Betsy-Tacy Series by Maud Heart Lovelace (Kindle)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Kindle)

Mary Poppins by Dr. P.L. Travers (Kindle)

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson (Kindle)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Kindle)

Favorite Assigned Reading:

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Kindle)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Kindle)

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Kindle)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Kindle)

Required Reading that wasn’t for Betsy: Anything with Greek or Roman Gods

Betsy’s Surprising Book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Kindle)

Betsy’s Suggested Reading on Hospitality:

Savor by Shauna Niequist (Kindle)

Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines (Kindle)

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond

The Turquoise Table by Kristen Schell (Kindle)

10 Ideas to Entertain Even If You Can’t Cook

Most Underrated Series: Cultivate by Cageless Birds

Currently Reading: Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (Kindle)

On top of Betsy’s TBR Pile:

The Links

That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs

Dave Ramsey

Shauna Niequist

The Puffy Muffin

The Pioneer Woman

Top Beachy Diverse Vacation Reads

Back to School Diverse Reads

BHS Episode 7: A Place to Land with Kate Motaung

Today, we’re getting to know Kate Motaung by her shelf:

Kate Motaung - 2017 Headshot

Kate Motaung is the author of  A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging, Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and the owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing and editing services. Kate and her South African husband have three children. Find Kate at Heading Home, Five Minute Friday, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In this episode, Kate and I chat about the bookish assignment that made her hate reading, the book that inspired her to restart her book A Place to Land as a memoir, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and so much more.

The Books:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls  (Kindle)

Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa Jo Baker (Kindle)

Atlas: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look by Emily T. Wierenga (Kindle)

Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose by Emily T. Wierenga (Kindle)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Kindle)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Kindle)

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels (Kindle)

Love Letters to Writers by Andi Cumbo-Floyd (Kindle)

The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan (Kindle)

I Call You Mine by Kim de Blecourt (Kindle)

Control Girl by Shannon Popkin (Kindle)

Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy (Kindle)

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner (Kindle)

The Links:

Susie Finkbeiner

Lynn Austin

Susan Meissner

What We’re Reading

By Her Shelf has been suspiciously quiet the last couple of months. My co-contributors and I have all been insanely busy working, writing, creating, teaching, mothering, and, somewhere in the mystical gap in the time/space continuum called “free time,” reading. We’ve been so busy, in fact, we took an unintended extended summer vacation from blogging. While our break was fun, it’s time to get back to bringing you the reading related content you’ve come to expect from us. We’re easing back into regular posting with a brief recap of the amazing things we’ve been working on and what we’re reading these days. 

Contributor Alex participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Her work in progress (WIP), Project Pastelitos, now sits close to 30,000 words! She also purchased her ticket to attend BookNet Fest in September. You can also catch Alex’s book related writing on Frolic. Alex is currently reading Second Chance Summer and Next Year in Havana

Contributor Christina recently launched Other Words Press, offering editing and critiquing services. She’s currently working on her first course, Inspire: From Idea to Draft, which will launch later this year. I’ve had the opportunity to read the modules, and I’m excited for all the aspiring authors who will have their writing lives changed by Inspire. Christina is currently  reading Where the Crawdads Sing and loving it.

I’ve been a busy bee. I released The Speaking Season: Poems and Pieces in paperback and kindle eBook. I’ve continued working with authors to publish their books, mostly through formatting and proofreading. I’ve been working on a super secret suite of author related content since December, and I’m finally ready to start releasing it. I’m announcing the first course this month.

After experiencing a hardcore reading slump, I crawled out of the abyss by picking up My Sister, the Serial Killer. I flew through it in two days and started another. I just finished Personal Protection, and it was really good as well. There are few things better than a Julie Miller romantic suspense to get me out of a reading slump.

And that’s what the ladies behind the shelf have been up to and reading. What are you reading now? What or who is your go-to genre, series, or author when you’re experiencing a reading slump?

Hate the Author, Not the Book?: When Horrible People Write Good Books

Erica here! One of the things I hope to do with By Her Shelf is to encourage readers to examine what their reading life says about them, and if it’s reflective of the person they are/want to be. In this vein, I’m opening up a controversial can of worms. This post doesn’t have the answers to the questions it asks…it just recognizes the need to have the questions and have the discussions. 

Although it just came out Friday, May 31st, it seems everyone on my social media has seen and is commenting on When They See Us, the new docu-drama based on the trial of the group of men formerly known as The Central Park 5 (now the Exonerated Five).

When They See Us

Ava DuVernay’s TV mini-series took over social media and Netflix, and has caused at least one key figure in the trial to experience book-related backlash.

The former head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s sex crimes unit, Linda Fairstein, has been receiving backlash for her handling of the trial all over social media and in the media. Many who watched the When They See Us have started campaigns to have the mysteries Fairstein has written boycotted, with calls for booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to stop carrying her books and boycotts of her publishers, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House.

We live in an interesting time when it comes to how we treat the art of people we don’t agree with morally, politically, or religiously, regardless of what their work addresses. Yet many literary works that are considered part of the classic canon or well loved were written by extremely flawed individuals. The cold hard fact is talent isn’t given only to the most virtuous or agreeable among us. But what does this obligate us to as readers, if anything? Can I read literature by people whose personal lives or belief systems are repugnant? Should their work be judged on its merits alone, or must we take the person who created it into account when choosing what we read?

This issue isn’t just affecting readers. The #metoo movement has spotlighted several celebrities in the movie and music industries accused of sexual assault, and many of the accused have been cut out of movies or experienced plummeting sales as consumers make their disgust and outrage felt by not financially supporting their projects. The recent college admissions scandal cost Lori Laughlin several roles, and caused some to wonder about Felicity Hoffman’s inclusion in When They See Us playing the aforementioned Fairstein. Even Chick-Fil-A was allegedly denied a restaurant in an airport due to donations made to Christian groups with “a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.” It seems Americans and decision makers have decided to “cancel” artists over personal beliefs and conduct unrelated to their works.

Yet there are still several in the pop culture and literary canon who, given this line of thought, should be removed from required reading lists. Lists of beloved children’s authors and members of the American literary canon include men and women who were/are attempted murderers, sexual predators, racists, Nazi sympathizers, perpetrators of domestic violence, drug abusers and alcoholics. How far should these campaigns to scrub an author’s work go? What traits should they look for in authors to determine who should be effectively silenced? Who gets to decide?

Ultimately, America is touted as the land of the free. Every American has the right to choose whose books they will read, movies they will watch, and food they will eat (except in public schools with set curriculums in their formative years). You can spend your money and time in support of the things others are in opposition to if you’re so inclined. I’m most interested in the question of reader responsibility: What responsibility do we have to express our personal convictions in our reading lives beyond what we read? Should who wrote the book matter just as much as or more than the content of the specific work? Let me know your thoughts below. 

Articles of interest (not endorsements or agreements):

Respected Writers Who Were Actually Horrible People– Grunge.com

‘When They See Us’ Sparks Boycott of Linda Fairstein Books– New York Post

Central Park 5 Prosecutor Linda Fairstein Faces Backlash after ‘When They See Us’ – AM New York

Wedding Disaster Books

Featured in Frolic Media

Wedding season is ultimately upon us and it’s the perfect time to delve into some wedding-themed books! It’s been two years since my wedding and especially after all the planning and stress I endured with trying to trim down the guest list, table seating arrangements, the restaurant changing the whole menu, and family drama these days I would much rather read about weddings! These are the kinds of books that teach you that weddings aren’t perfect but it is the one day that you will never forget!

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Charlie Grant’s sister is having a wedding coming up and she is excited to escape her impending college plans and leaving her childhood home to have a three day weekend with her big rambunctious family! Her plans for a picture-perfect family wedding go awry when the wedding planner escapes due to fraudulent activity. The wedding service “Where There’s a Will” steps in as replacements to do damage control. Charlie meets Bill who works for his uncle’s company “Where There’s a Will” and Charlie teams up with him to help save her sister’s wedding. Charlie and Bill have no idea the wedding disasters that are in store for them but through the disasters, there is a sweet romance that develops between them. Charlie’s whirlwind wedding weekend helps her realize that things are not always what they seem and that change isn’t always such a bad thing.

Save the Date has been described as a “Father of the Bride meets Sixteen Candles” kind of book. It is a book that will make you laugh, drive you insane, and it will most importantly leave you with the heartfelt message of change being inevitable but the love of a family being unchangeable.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren  

Olive is someone who has always felt supremely unlucky. Although her twin sister Ami holds all the luck in the world from meeting her fiancé for the first time in a meet-cute rom-com fashion and financing her entire wedding through Internet contests. Olive’s bad luck carries onto the wedding when she is forced to spend a day with her nemesis Ethan who is the best man. When the wedding guests get food poisoning from eating shellfish they are the only ones who didn’t get affected. And now there is the once in a lifetime opportunity for them to go on a free vacation to Hawaii. Olive and Ethan decide to set aside their hate for one another and pretend to play newlyweds until they realize that they are not pretending anymore.

I am a sucker for the hate to love romance trope and I think that Christina Lauren will create the perfect blend of hot tension that will leave me wanting more. There is just something about a romance set in Hawaii that provides the perfect summer love feels. I know I am going to enjoy cracking open this book by the beach with a margarita in hand.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

Rachel is the girl that has always played by the rules. She is a successful attorney who lives in Manhattan. Her best friend Darcy throws her a birthday party for turning 30 and her best friends fiancée is also in attendance. Rachel has always harbored a secret crush on her best friends fiancée and always feels that she can never measure up to her best friend. Until that night she decides to throw the rules out the window and ends up sleeping with Darcy’s fiancée. When Darcy’s fiancée reveals that he always had feelings for her it puts Rachel in a difficult position and it forces her to choose between the love of her life or her childhood best friend.

When I was planning my wedding, I spontaneously picked up this book thinking it was a fluffy chick lit and I was completely blown away. I saw the movie before I read the book (The horror!) and the amount of emotion and turmoil that the book exhibited was so much deeper than the movie. The indecision that Rachel goes through is so well-written and believable. I love how the topic of cheating isn’t written in a way to paint Rachel as the other woman and it really explores the emotional journey that the character goes through. If you want a wedding-themed book that explores the complicated nature of the relationship between two best friends then pick up this book!

Pay to Peruse?: What ARC-Gate Means to Readers & Reviewers

There’s a little drama playing out all across authortube, and while I realize this is a reading blog, I feel as if I would be remiss if I didn’t address this issue that may affect our reading lives as the book publishing realm continues to change.

For those of you who are unaware, Creative Entrepreneur and Young Adult/Self-Help author Kristen Martin sparked a bit of controversy when she announced how she was going to handle advanced reader copies (ARCs) of her upcoming releases. Martin has started a Patreon community, where fans of an author or artist’s work can subscribe for exclusive content, sneak peeks, and early access to offerings. Martin announced her plans to offer ARCs to those who are subscribed to her Patreon at the highest level of $50/month for at least 3 months, which prompted many to speak out against her $150 ARCs.

#ARCSAreFree
A small portion of the videos that come up when you search “ARCs are free.” Notice 3/4 pertain to Kristen and ARC-Gate

Traditionally, publishers offer advanced reader copies to reviewers, hosts and influencers free of charge. In fact, many send additional gifts to top influencers, all in exchange for mentioning/reviewing the book. The cost of the package they send is their price of admission to access the audience. It should also be noted that the goal of sending out ARCs is to create buzz ahead of a book’s release with honest reviews and endorsements. As the indie publishing sphere has grown, authors who self-published have started offering ARCs as well. The practice isn’t new to either group, and it seemed everyone accepted the fact that ARCs are about exposure and future profit, not a product for immediate profit. Martin’s move shook up the writing and reading community and called us to examine whether the way it’s always been is the way it should continue to be.

As a writer, reader, and reviewer, my thoughts have thoughts on this approach. The first thing I thought was that Martin’s business mentor or coach messed up. Maybe the person/people she’s looking to for guidance on growing her business didn’t fully understand the bookish community and saw an untapped opportunity for profit in a space reserved for exposure and honest early feedback. Maybe Martin focused in on an option offering exclusive access to her most invested fans without realizing how it would appear. Maybe she didn’t think people would conclude she’s charging $150 for access to her ARCs. As far as I’ve seen, Martin hasn’t addressed this at all, so I don’t know what her thoughts are on the backlash. What I do know, is that the rise in indie publishing and changes to the publishing industry in general have allowed us all the ability to question how things have always been done and whether that’s the best course of action going forward, even when it comes to something like this.

In my opinion, the purpose of Advanced Reader Copies is to generate buzz and reviews for a book ahead of its release. In order to keep the review process honest, no one should have to pay for a review copy, and no one should be paid by a publisher or author for writing a review. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving your biggest supporters ARCs of your book first. This is pretty much the purpose of launch teams. Launch teams—and, I would add, influencers, Patreon subscribers and members of similarly exclusive groups—are given other gifts in exchange for promoting the book, but they don’t have to pay for the privilege. I know the inherent cost of producing and distributing ARCs can be prohibitive for some, but this cost shouldn’t be past to those who support you the most.

A long time ago, when CDs were the way we consumed music, I got a bee in my bonnet over Usher’s Confessions album. I went to Best Buy when it came out and bought my copy like a real fan instead of illegally downloading it or waiting for the bargain bin. After the album had been out for a while, an extended version with additional songs was released, and I felt like I’d been punished for buying it earlier. They wanted me to pay the price of another CD for three or four additional songs, and I didn’t think it was fair to do that to real fans of his work. If anything, the first run of CDs should have had the exclusive content, in my opinion.

I feel the same way about ARCs. ARCs are usually uncorrected proof copies, not polished products. They are sent out for critical analysis ahead of the book’s release. True fans who are a part of your launch team or Patreon or other exclusive group should be given more than an ARC to show your appreciation. If I really enjoy an ARC, I buy the book when it comes out, even if only to sponsor a giveaway. I know how much it costs to offer a book for free. I’m committed to being better about reviewing the ARCs I receive for this reason as well. The official position of By Her Shelf is “Keep ARCs free, and reward your supporters with some other exclusive offering.”

What are your thoughts on Advanced Reader Copies? Should authors/publishers be paid for them? As a reader, what do you expect from authors and early reviewers? Let me know what you think below!

The Stories Have Changed, but the Love Remains the Same: Romance Novel Love

Happy Wednesday, Shelfies! I’m making it my mission to start posting regularly here, and while I was sorely tempted to post a simple WWW Wednesday post, this post peeked at me from my draft bin and begged to be shared. I’ve read three great romances lately, so this post seems fitting. I hope you enjoy it!

Romance has been one of my favorite genres since I began reading. I’ve been reading romance novels since my tween years, when I started sneaking my mom’s Harlequins.

In the twenty plus years since I started reading romance (o_O), the genre has changed as dramatically–and in some cases, even more dramatically–as the times we live in. Here are a few of the changes I’ve noted in romance novels over the years:

  1. I can hear men’s thoughts. When I start reading romance novels, they didn’t share the male point of view (POV). The entire story was told from the heroine’s perspective, and the reader was left to guess about the man’s motivations and the reasoning behind his actions just like the heroine. Today, most romances include both perspectives, and readers get to spend time in both characters’ heads. This  has given readers more opportunities to see the black moments and misunderstandings coming, and be even more frustrated they can’t do anything to help the characters avoid them.
  2. Now, that’s a man. In the older romance novels I read, not only was the hero’s POV often absent, he was often cast as cold, aloof, unfeeling, and even vengeful or mean toward the heroine until the last few pages where he confessed his undying love (in a totally masculine way, of course). In today’s romances, men are presented as much more three dimensional. Hardened alpha males with forceful personalities are given dimension and even ask for things. Authors cast men as the “inexperienced” one or give them beta male characteristics more often. Publishing finally realized more than one type of man could be attractive to women. Men are allowed to be concerned about what their romantic counterparts want, which brings me to my next point…
  3. Let’s talk about sex. In romances of old, no one used or discussed contraception, shared health records, or verbalized consent. I read at least a couple romances from earlier decades where the encounters are clearly rapes, and it’s disturbing anyone ever thought this was OK. In the romances of today, most open door sexual encounters address safe sex and consent on the page. Men and women are both given opportunities to state they are willing participants. Women aren’t being “ravished” without saying it’s what they want, which leads me to…
  4. I’m free! If you’ve been reading romances as long as I have, or read older romances, you may have come across the alarming trend of stories with false imprisonment or women forced into marriage. I clearly recall stories in which men kept women against their will to extract revenge for some perceived slight (usually committed by the heroine’s sister or cousin or worldly friend who was nothing like the sweet, innocent woman being held captive). Unlike Belle who chose to give up her freedom to save her father, these stories were women who didn’t have a choice. While there are some romantic suspense or niche stories that feature kidnapping or false imprisonment today, kidnapping isn’t positioned as a perfectly acceptable thing to do when you’d like the pleasure of a woman’s company.
  5. Making the hard choices. In many of the older romances I’ve read, all of the heartache and pain could have been avoided if someone hadn’t missed a phone call, letter, or visitor. Their conflicts could be resolved in seconds if the hero and heroine just sat down and TALKED to each other. Assumptions and misunderstandings abounded. Today, romances are showcasing conflicts that aren’t so easily resolved. Characters have to make real sacrifices or overcome tremendous odds to receive their happily ever after. It’s not always easy to choose to love, but somehow, they do.

There are several other changes I could highlight, but it’s more than obvious even from these few examples that the romance genre is a dynamic one, growing and changing with the times and the readers it serves. If you’ve avoided the genre because you think it’s all bodice rippers and erotica, ditzy dames and toxic masculinity, subpar sentences and too many adjectives for private parts, or where feminism or a moral code goes to die, I encourage you to take another look.

What’s the last great romance you read? For my romance loving readers, what changes have you noticed in the genre, and how do you feel about them? Let me know in the comments below.