What Reading Books Means to Me with Rachel Scott McDaniel

Happy Monday! At Hope By the Book we are trying out some new regular features here on the website, and today’s guest - author & avid reader Rachel Scott McDaniel - is someone you need to meet! Her debut novel, Above the Fold, releases December 2019 and she’s bringing us the first installment of “What Reading Books Means to Me” .


What Reading Books Means to Me

by Rachel Scott McDaniel, Author of Above The Fold

Have you ever considered the power of story? How is it possible that words on a page can refresh a wearied soul or bolster a feeble heart? It’s just a conglomeration of sentences and paragraphs. Just a book. Yet within the boundaries of Chapter One and The End lies the potential of something remarkable. What if I told you it holds the capability of bringing to life that which is deemed dead?

Ten years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote Christian romance during my kiddos’ naptimes. Then something occurred in my family that challenged my secure little world. My three-year-old daughter was diagnosed autistic. I wish I could say that I donned my super cape and stood as Faith Woman, but the truth was, I struggled. Everything came to a screeching halt. I closed my laptop, stopped reading Christian fiction, and only concentrated on surviving the day. The following decade was spent focusing on caring for my kids and reorienting myself to life. My daughter was significantly progressing, overcoming delays which were branded insurmountable. Slowly, my brittle faith strengthened, but I allowed my dream to collect dust in the corner of my heart.

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One day, my sister-in-law mentioned a contemporary romance she’d read by some novelist named Rachel Hauck. At that point, I had been so far removed from Christian fiction—hadn’t browsed the inspy aisle at Barnes and Noble, hadn’t fangirled any authors on Facebook, hadn’t even cracked open a book in years. Not to mention, I hadn’t written a single word in my own story. I completely detached myself from my dream—that aspiration which had once sparked my soul. So on a whim, I snagged To Catch A Prince from the local library, yet I was inwardly skeptical. After all I’d experienced, did I even believe in such a thing as happily-ever-after? But the unexpected occurred in the form of me binge-reading the book, taking in the layered characters and absorbing the vivid prose.

Then it happened.

Somewhere between the pages, the dormant ember ignited. The love of story returned. The only way I can explain it is that I had a “God-nudge.” A pivotal mark on my soul where I knew what had to be done. I dug out my laptop and opened my manuscript. It’d been so long that I nearly forgotten what I’d written. I started creating again and immersed myself into the world of storytelling. Before long, I had the entire novel completed and from then on, the dream unraveled before my eyes. That particular story had won a national contest. I signed with an agent and within a year, I’d landed a book contract.

What would’ve happened if I never had picked up that book? Would my lifeless dream have been revived? I’m not certain. But one thing I do know is the power of story. It can fortify what is frail. It can liven what is dull. So what does reading books mean to me? Simple. Reading is—and always will be—a game changer.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rachel Scott McDaniel is an award-winning Christian romance writer. She hopes to inspire the mind and refresh the soul with words infused with faith and heart. Because she could never resist a good mystery, suspense and intrigue routinely sneak into her stories. She currently enjoys life in Ohio with her husband and two children. You can find Rachel at her online home RachelMcDaniel.net or on all major social media platforms.

Look for her debut novel - ABOVE THE FOLD - coming December 2019 from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas!

Bookish Resolutions: Organize Those Shelves

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Give your bookshelves some love

I don’t know about you, but I am swimming in books. More books come in the mail almost daily, and I get a little (ok, a lot) behind on organizing my shelves. Let’s kick off 2019 with revamping, reorganizing, and refreshing our bookshelves together.

Sort by Color

This reader gets a bit of anxiety over this one...While it is aesthetically pleasing and the artist side of me the OCD side says, “but how will you find the book you want???”

Bookstagrammers like @paperfury share GORGEOUS photos usually color themed...and they make me drool. But the thought of doing that with my own books...Scares the daylights out of me.

The “Standard” Method

While we’re on the subject, this is the way I organize my shelves:

I sort the sections of my reading nook by Genre, first. Then I alphabetize by the author’s surname. If that author has any stand-alone books, I place those in alphabetical order by the title. Then if the author has any book series I place those in alphabetical order by series name then Book 1, Book 2, etc. My Nonfiction books are organized by subject and then title.

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Books Read, Want to Read, Favorites, Not Favorites...

It’s like the real-life version of Goodreads. Sorting your books into these categories will make it easier to figure out what to read next, what books to loan out, which books to reread, and which books are only good for collecting dust (because let’s face it, we all own books we didn’t like but can’t part with, it feels like betrayal).

Frequency of Use

This is good for your reference books, nonfiction, etc. I keep my WWII nonfiction books on the easier to reach shelves because I am more likely to read those ones than the biographies of past presidents. But that’s just me.

Organize by Size

I love that we have an abundance of kids books. But trying to organize them is next to impossible. I keep collections together as much as possible (see below) but the randomness of the rest of the books can just get confusing. So, I have taken to organizing by SIZE. It gives the shelf an organized FEEL and lets it all flow nicely.

Collections

Being a homeschool mom, I have my fair share of different collections of books. Eyewitness, geography types, different vintage collections, and reader collections. I always keep these ones together. It just makes life so much easier when I know where to find that geography book about the Appalachian Mountains.

Pretties

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My bookshelves hold more than just books. Granted the more I acquire the fewer places I have to put pretties on the shelves. But I still make it work. A few things to add a little flavor to your shelves can be:

Storage Books

Framed Quotes

Twinkle Lights

Bookish Candles

Funko POP!

Cactus

Willow Tree

Shells

Flowers

Send us your beautiful shelfies on social media @hopebythebook


Rachel enjoys reading, reviewing books, and sharing her passion for literature at www.bookwormmama.org. She's a virtual assistant and shares the small-town life with her husband and children.

Andy Stanley's call to Irresistible faith

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Andy Stanley founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995, and today NPM has six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of over 70 churches globally, serivng almost 118,000 people every week. Stanley himself is the author of more than 20 books and, as the host of Your Move with Andy Stanley, his seven million messages each month are reaching viewers and listeners across the globe. Stanley’s newest text, Irresistible, seeks to inform and equip Christ followers to rid themselves and their local church bodies of the anemic version of Christianity which the author believes has undermined today’s believer’s credibility and evangelistic effectiveness. Stanley felt compelled to write on this topic at this time because he was concerned about the next generation’s faith – a generation who has unlimited access to misinformation about faith, the Bible, and Christianity.

Stanley writes, “The rise and influence of the New Atheists have shifted the playing field. In response, students and grads aren’t opting for atheism. They are opting for ‘I don’t know anymore.’ Why? Well, they tell us. They don’t ‘believe’ anymore. They don’t know what to believe anymore. Christianity appears indefensible and untenable in our scientific digital world. But atheism isn’t appealing either. So more and more folks are stepping into what they consider the neutral zone of ‘I don’t know and don’t pressure me to decide.’” In his text, Stanley argues that the faith this next generation has abandoned was a “straw man” version to begin with. The author believes that many individuals have placed their faith in a “text-based version, not the original, event-based version” and thus the need for rethinking what the foundation of the Christian faith originally was and, still is today.

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Stanley cites three main reasons why today’s culture so easily resists Christianity unnecessarily. The author explains, “Christians and our fatally flawed approach to defending and talking about our faith. In the world where people recognized and revered the Bible as a sacred, trustworthy book, it was enough to leverage it as our basis for faith, but those days are long gone. The church has not adjusted. The church hasn’t even responded.” Stanley invites readers to rediscover and embrace the version of faith as presented in the New Testament book of Acts. Stanley cites, “Their faith was based on an event – the resurrection of Jesus.”

Not content to leave Christians wondering how to bridge this gap between an anemic version of Christianity versus a robust, passionate one that will be irresistible to Christ followers as well as non-believers, Stanley shares how today’s believer can become change makers in their communities. Stanley states, “Christianity becomes less resistible when Christians love like they have been loved. I refer to this as the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as God in Christ has done unto you. Christianity becomes less resistible when we shift the foundation of our faith from a true book to a verifiable event. Christians don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible says so. Our case is way better than that. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because Matthew said so. Mark said so. Luke said so. John said so. James, the brother of Jesus, came to believe so. Peter said so. And last and least…according to him anyway…Paul said so. And Paul said so about three years after the actual event.” And because they said so, today’s believer can go out and live and love like these early apostles.

Max Lucado on the need for Unshakable Hope

Max Lucado, best known as America’s favorite storyteller, has written his fortieth book on the desperately needed subject matter of hope…specifically, Unshakable Hope. Lucado, who has been observing how believers and unbelievers alike are succumbing to nightly newscasts’ dismal reports of a world gone crazy, realized everyone needs a fresh dose of hope to face today’s and tomorrow’s personal and global challenges. He accomplishes his objective through, what else? Gripping storytelling that will inspire, equip, and exhort Christians to take their heavy burdens straight to the throne of Christ.

Lucado, like many authors, finds interesting ways to parallel biblical accounts of favorite characters from the Old and New Testament into lessons for today’s Christ follower. Here, Lucado, in his characteristically winsome style, describes how the number forty is key. Lucado writes, “Forty. Noah floated for 40 days in the flood. Moses spent 40 years in the desert. The Hebrews wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus endured 40 days of temptation. There’s something significant about the number 40. So, if you’ll allow me to mention the fact, this is my fortieth book. No one could be more grateful than I am. To think that God would let a converted drunk prone to self-promotion and self-centeredness, write one page, much less forty books’ worth, is yet another testimony to his goodness and grace.”

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The author sets the stage for this decidedly uplifting text by sharing the frighteningly high suicide rate in the United States. Since 1999, the rate of suicides has increased an unbelievable twenty-four percent. Lucado notes that despite the fact that modern society has never been more educated; has more technology available; and is saturated with entertainment and recreation, these advances leave individuals feeling hopeless. He writes, “More people than ever are orchestrating their own deaths. How could this be? Among the answers must be this: people are dying for lack of hope. Secularism sucks the hope out of society. It reduces the world to a few decades between birth and hearse. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it. It’s not that good.” Lucado reminds Christ followers that they are the “People of the Promise” who have a distinct advantage because they can, “Determine to ponder, proclaim, and pray the promises of God.”

Lucado’s stories continually serve to remind readers that as believers in Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross, they can choose to view life from a different and eternal perspective. He shares, “When problems surface, People of the Promise can be heard telling themselves, ‘But God said…’ When struggles threaten, they can be seen flipping through Scripture, saying, ‘I think God said something about this.’ When comforting others, they’re prone to ask, ‘Do you know God’s promise on this topic?’ The promises of God serve as an apothecary shelf of remedies. Just as the doctor might prescribe a medication for your body. God has given promises for your heart. He shares them as gifts from friend to friend.”

7 Ways to Make Time to Read

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Designed by Freepik

Is your to do list longer than your TBR (to be read) list? I’m sure it is. Most of us, let’s face it, don’t even have time to be reading this blog post. Here’s a few ways to sneak in some time to read in a schedule that barely allows you to shower.

Read while you wait: Patience a good reader makes. Show up early to your appointments and read while you wait. On hold with Comcast? Pull out your current read. Waiting in the school pickup line? Throw it in park and grab your book. Fill these small bits of time throughout your day with reading, instead of scrolling through Facebook or catching up on news (I’ll give you the recap: the world is a sad and broken place).

Tuck yourself in with a story: Kids get a bedtime story so why shouldn’t you? Set a limit for yourself to read a chapter before bed each night. Not only is this the perfect wind down after a long day, but you will also get great dream inspiration from it.

Listen to audiobooks: Listen to a book during your commute or at the gym. Audiobooks can be somewhat expensive, so make sure to check out free resources like your local library and Librivox for public domain classics.

Don’t be afraid to DNF: If you are struggling to finish a book, do not finish (DNF) it. Read a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Don’t force yourself to slog through something painful. If you don’t like it, just pick up something else. There are plenty of fish in the sea books in the world.

Set yourself a goal: Are you a part of the Goodreads challenge? Set a goal for yourself to see how many books you can read this year. Be realistic and set a goal you know you can complete. Having a reminder of completing a goal will help you make reading a priority.

Grab an ereader: Carry a device with you, whether a smartphone or ereader so you can read anywhere you go. Even if you have a diehard hatred of ereaders, you have to admit, they are handy. If you like the book after you read it digitally, buy a hard copy to display on your shelf.

Quit wasting time: Choose to read a chapter or two instead of watching a rerun or scrolling through social media. Wake up early to read a book and drink coffee, instead of hitting snooze every five minutes until you’re late for work. There are 24 hours in a day and I’m sure there’s something you can stop wasting time on.

Read everywhere: Read wherever you are. Leave books in the bathroom, your gym bag, your car… Keep your mind entertained whenever you have a second free. You’ll soon find yourself enjoying tasks that you once thought mundane.

If you still can’t find time to read, you may have other issues. Remember to breathe now and again. Sometimes it’s important to take  a break and let your mind escape reality into the pages of a good book.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT - In the Shadow of Croft Towers

Here at HBTB, we are super excited about an upcoming debut novel - In the Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail Wilson - which releases January 15, 2019 from Thomas Nelson. We’re also super excited because we have an EXCLUSIVE early excerpt to share with you today!

About the book

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From debut author Abigail Wilson comes a shadowy Regency tale of secrets and spies, love and treachery. 

“Mysterious . . . Melodic . . . Thrilling and original . . . Abigail Wilson has crafted a debut that shines.”—Kristy Cambron, bestselling author of Castle on the Rise 

Croft Towers holds more than its share of secrets . . . and Sybil is determined to uncover them all.

When Sybil Delafield’s coach to Croft Towers was robbed by highwaymen, she should have realized that her new position as companion to old Mrs. Chalcroft would be no ordinary job. Upon Sybil’s arrival, Mrs. Chalcroft sneaks into her room in the dark of night, imploring her to relay messages to town that are to stay hidden from the rest of the family. Who exactly is she working for and what do the messages contain?

When fellow passengers of the robbed coach are later murdered, Sybil’s hunt for the truth takes on a new urgency. The only person she can rely on is Mr. Sinclair, Mrs. Chalcroft’s godson, but under all his charms he too leads a double life. Sybil must decide if he is the one honest voice she can trust, or if he is simply using her for his own advances.

With murderers, smugglers, and spies on the loose, nothing—and no one—in Regency England is what they claim. Can Sybil even trust what she knows about herself? 

What others are saying

“Abigail Wilson's In the Shadow of Croft Tower is the kind of novel I love to recommend. Well written, thoroughly engrossing, and perfectly inspiring. I honestly couldn't flip the pages fast enough.”—New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shelley Shepard Gray

"In the Shadow of Croft Tower is beautifully written, suspenseful, and satisfyingly romantic. Abigail Wilson paints a beautiful picture of pastoral Regency England. This book will keep you riveted to the end, and you'll be rooting for the feisty heroine to get her happily ever after."—Jennifer Beckstrand, author of Home on Huckleberry Hill

“Mysterious . . . Melodic . . . Thrilling and original . . . Abigail Wilson has crafted a debut that shines.”—Kristy Cambron, bestselling author of Castle on the Rise 

"Part mystery and part romance, Abigail Wilson's debut is an atmospheric period novel that will keep readers guessing to the very end."—Amanda Flower, USA Today bestselling author of Death and Daisies

watch for our review in the Launch Issue of HBTB, shipping out later this week!

EXCERPT

The Chalcroft landau rattled to a halt. Beyond the rain-soaked window I saw little but an eerie sky. I told myself not to panic.

The carriage door screeched open to reveal a lanky footman, who stumbled backward at the sight of me. My shaky hand sought the remains of my drenched coiffure, and I forced a measured breath before grasping my reticule.

The wide-eyed young man seemed to recover and extended an umbrella over the carriage’s narrow opening. “Miss Delafield, is it?”

“Yes.” I forced a tepid smile before descending the steps, my wet frock clinging to my legs, the chill wind whipping at my skirt. I’d planned such a different arrival, one meant to impress. One I’d hoped would afford me the answers I’d come for.

The footman led me across a gravel drive and into the lurking shadow of my new home—Croft Towers. The aged structure rose up out of the misty twilight like an old king dressed in black, surveying his kingdom with a cautious eye. My chest tightened.

“This way, miss.” The footman shuffled forward then stopped. “We’d planned for you to come in the front, but considering your, uh, present state, perhaps it’s best—”

“Nonsense, James.” A tall man with a heavy build held the front door wide, his face weathered with age, his eyes shrewd. A smile appeared for a moment then vanished into a stern chin.

“You may address me as Hodge. I am butler here at the Towers.”

I nodded. “Pleased to meet you. Miss Delafield—Mrs. Chalcroft’s new companion.”

“I’m well aware why you are here. It was I who sent the carriage.”

He motioned me through the door. “Come inside, and I will figure out what is to be done with you.”

I crossed the threshold into a dim marble entryway. To the side, a small candelabrum winked in the wind. The wavering light did little to compete with the overwhelming gloom of thick crossbeams and paneled walls.

Hodge frowned. “Would you be so good as to wait here?”

I nodded, wrapping my arms around my middle, a terrible empty feeling settling into my stomach. Hodge ambled off at a brisk pace, and all too quickly I found myself alone. Alone with my thoughts and doubts.

Impostor. The voice whispered from the recesses of my mind, the same one I’d heard this many weeks or more. The voice was followed by the sound of a casement clock, which ticked to life from somewhere in the darkness. Wind gusts surged against the heavy door, clambering for a way in; but the air inside the house remained motionless, heavy with dust. Unable to move or sit, the nagging chill I’d endured throughout the journey returned in full force.

A door slammed in the distance. Uneven footsteps trailed down a far-off hall. I turned, but no one entered the front room, and the steps dissolved into the pervasive darkness around me. A shiver crept up my arms. Standing as still as possible, I inspected the shadows, fighting off the unnatural feeling of being watched.

Taken from “In the Shadow of Croft Towers” by Abigail Wilson. Copyright © 2018 by Abigail Wilson. Used by permission of http://www.thomasnelson.com/.

Christmas According to Hallmark

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and you know what that means…

HALLMARK CHRISTMAS MOVIES!!!

Okay, the movies have been out since September, but the closer we get to Christmas, the more plentiful these sweet, Christmas-y romances become. And since they’re in such abundance, Rachel McMillan and I decided to delve deep into the definition Hallmark gives for a Christmas romance designed by the over 100-year-old company.

There are certain ‘hallmark’ characteristics featured in almost all of Hallmark’s Christmas movies, so for the sake of our article, we’re sticking with the ‘small town’ Christmas movies. Though the city-set ones have many of the same themes, there is a distinct difference with most Hallmark classic Christmas romances that celebrate the small-town life.

So what are some of the ‘must haves’ in most of these movies?

Well, there’s usually some sort of Christmas tree-lighting or festival, a fish-out-of-water hero/heroine. Usually someone has something to lose, like a house or a business…or sometimes “Christmas”. There’s usually a ‘santa’ figure or possible ‘angel’ or at the very least a wise, older mentor to keep the hero/heroine on track (or provide some Christmas magic). Inevitably, there is an overheard partial conversation which leads to a separation between the hero and heroine near the end of the movie ending in a glorious epiphany of understanding.  There are mistletoe kisses and cookie baking aplenty, tree decorations and adorable cafes. White Christmases and musical performances involving children dressed as elves. Snowman building contests or wreath-making. Inevitably there is finding that ‘perfect tree’ which has to be a real tree (if it’s not real you’re probably the villain). Old loves renewed. New loves discovered. All usually set within a quaint, small town, with houses so perfect you might expect Andy Griffith to greet you on the Christmas-lit street.  And, of course, we have the natural predictability of most of the movies. Come on – we’re not too crazy to admit that within fifteen minutes of each show, we can guess the ending.

And YET – we still WATCH them!! Ravenously.

What is it that has caused Hallmark movies to have this incredible edge? Especially the Christmas ones?

Well, they do something universal to our culture.

They celebrate the romance and nostalgia of Christmas.

Rachel says it well: The desire (in Hallmark Christmas movies) is rarely about a person. It’s about Christmas. It is about the holiday.... So the love interest just represents the best of the holiday. They’re not marrying and falling in love with a person so much as a version of Christmas and what it means in its best sense.

Hallmark Christmases are like looking into a snow globe of a perfect Christmas world and watching the inner workings take place. Sure, there are troubles, but none of them are BIG troubles (except in a few cases). The focus becomes celebrating the timelessness of family, traditions, and love (with some vague faith elements thrown in and a few excellent carolers). We fall in love with Christmas by watching two people fall in love with each other.

So… let’s celebrate Christmas with small-towns and sweet romances. Cozy fireplaces and lit trees. Where families laugh together, and people find belonging in community and place. Let’s get lost for a little while in predictable outcomes and conflict that is resolved by the end of the day – because in a world of constant struggles, wars, divisiveness, and heartache, it’s nice to believe in something different. To peer into that snow globe for a few minutes of beautiful Christmas magic and hold on to the miracles, guilt-free. Because, ultimately, isn’t that what we’re all searching for – love and belonging…

Two “hallmarks” of the meaning of Christmas after all.


Looking for some Hallmark-y Christmas Reads?

Check out these great novels & novellas that celebrate small town Christmas romance a la Hallmark movies…


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As a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pepper Basham enjoys sprinkling her Appalachian into her fiction writing. She is an award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance, mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and a lover of Jesus and chocolate. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina with her family.