The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Maggie, a scientist, has written a popular book on the science of being happy, but her recent romantic breakup has done a miserable number on her. When her friends drag her along to be the guest speaker on a singles’ cruise, maybe it’ll help bring Maggie out of the dumps in The Theory of Happily Ever After by author Kristin Billerbeck.

I found the premise of this novel interesting, and I don’t come across many contemporary romances and chick-lit-ish tales with heroines who are doctors or scientists. The first quarter of this book is light reading with a lot of humor but also some serious life issues sprinkled in.

However, a couple jokes are rehashed far too many times, with repeated references to gelato and Hallmark movies, along with Maggie’s bunch of disparaging inner barbs about her ex’s new woman. Plus, I usually can only take so much of a heroine who seems as down on herself as Maggie does, besides how down she is on her ex, as her constant thoughts and mentions of him indicate.

And, in all honesty, as much as I love romantic stories, I think I’m finding I can only take the romance genre in smaller, more concise doses these days, for the most part. Some of the scenes here dragged for me as I waited for the story to move on, and I eventually decided not to continue.

Still, from what I’ve read, I can see how this novel might be right down another ChristFic romance fan’s alley.

 

Ebooks vs. “Real” Books? No.

Nah, this post isn’t a part of the common debate about which is better, ebooks or print books. If you have a preference for one over the other, then, hey, more power to you. Long live reading, either way!

Even so, I notice how readers sometimes frame the debate, or refer to books in general: ebooks versus “real” books—as if to say ebooks aren’t also real. Nothing like the feel of holding a book in your hands, and so forth.

Well. Maybe people who used to read scrolls in the past considered those to be real books, and the idea of printing books with a newfangled press contraption would seem too mechanical to them, too unnatural. “Nothing like the feel of unrolling a scroll and reading script written by the hand of a living, breathing human being, not printed by way of a cold, inanimate machine. If it’s not something handwritten that you can scroll up, it’s not the real thing.”

Maybe people from nomadic cultures with oral traditions would say, “Um…why would you need to hold something in your hands to enjoy a story? It’s much better to hear a story in the presence of the storyteller, to hear it directly from the storyteller’s mouth. It’s the only way you can fully trust the speaker. Reading a story on paper would be impersonal and kind of…weird. If it’s not oral storytelling in person, then it’s not the real thing.”

Whatever the form may be, what makes a book “the real thing” to you is in how you’ve learned to think about books. Digital books are real, too. They just come in a different form than print. All the words are there, and that’s the most crucial part that makes a book a book—the author’s words.

As wonderful as a print book is, without the words inside, you’d just have a bound stack of paper.

People sometimes use the immaterial aspect of ebooks as an argument for their lack of realness. Like, “Ebooks are in an intangible ‘cloud’ somewhere. What if there’s a blackout? Then the ebooks are gone.” I used to say similar stuff myself.

Is it true, though? Think of the nature of the Internet, how pressing a “Delete” button doesn’t really remove data from cyberspace. It’s still there somewhere, even if you can’t personally see it. And if it’s still there, it’s retrievable, even if you’re not the one who knows how to retrieve it.

Yes, incidents like fires or blackouts could be unfortunate, but it’s one thing if print books are totally burned up in a fire. If there aren’t any other copies anywhere, then, tangible as they were, you can’t get those print books back. However, because ebooks are in a cloud where data hangs around, there’s a chance that blacked-out ebooks can pop up again during data retrieval.

Besides, I’d say for many to most of us, we already know from life and experience that just because something isn’t physically touchable doesn’t mean it isn’t real. (When’s the last time you physically held the love you have for your family and friends? Is love not real merely because you can’t pick it up and handle it like an object? Not an exact comparison, I know, but you get it.)

The way I think about ebooks has changed over the years. No, I can’t smell ’em or let their pages flip through my fingers, but once I’m focused on the main part, the words, then I can let the story be the story. Even without a physically present storyteller or a scroll of parchment to unroll.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I myself have an overall preference, and I prefer reading print books, for tactile and sentimental reasons. More power to me, and long live reading!

Still, I don’t think hardbacks and paperbacks are the only real books around. I’ve encountered some amazing books in digital form. And, yeah, they’re the real thing.

Past Annual Book Award winners on my blog.

A Few
Amazing
Ebooks
I’ve Read

 

Dreaming Up Books

Authors get ideas for their books in all kinds of ways. I myself get story ideas from a lovely combo of imagination, life experiences, personal convictions and passion, and, yep–sometimes my story ideas come from dreams.

I don’t just mean dreams as in wishes or aspirations, but the actual dreams I have when I go to sleep. Sometimes they’re nighttime mini-sagas that I find so entertaining or moving, I have to write ’em out!

Come to Yourself, Mr. Jones is heavily based on one such saga where the leading man was originally a music artist, movie star, and professional athlete all rolled into one. It made natural sense in the dream, but I had to iron it out in my mind once I decided to develop the dream into something readable for the public.

So, then. What’s the hero’s career in the story I wrote? I know what it is, and readers may or may not piece it together. But I purposely left it a little ambiguous because the hero’s career is rather beside the point. It’s his status, not his specific job, that matters to the plot. Besides, sometimes it’s fun to leave things up to a little interpretation.

Eminence is based on one of my dreams set in historical Japan, somewhere between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are things I’ve found fascinating about samurai culture over the years, but when I decided to develop my samurai era mini-saga for readers, I didn’t want to tie down or confine its themes about personal identity and the value of humanity to a particular culture.

So, I worked the dreams’ themes and its major scenes into an unidentified (made-up) country with fictional customs during an unspecified historical era, with characters of no specified race(s). I even took the characters’ names from a hodgepodge of origins and incorporated a few different languages into the dialogue and narration, to keep the basis diverse. (Albeit I bent some language rules here and there, since the characters’ language is also unspecified.) It’s humanity, period, not certain races or nationalities, that Eminence means to represent.

And then there’s Love Unfeigned. I gathered key scenes from about twelve dreams and wove them together for this one, with pieces of my own life sprinkled in. Yeah, I know such a mishmash could have the potential to turn into a disjointed mess, but even I marveled at the way the scenes began flowing together, once I realized who the heroine, hero, and villain would be.

It’s like characters lead the way in these matters at times. “You–with the pen. Here’s what we’re gonna do, here. Write it down for us.”

I’ve got several more mini-sagas and saga scenes stashed away that I’ve not developed into publishable material. I keep ’em around just in case a writing project arises to which I can say, “Hey! I’ve got just the dream for that!”

Think about it. Has anything awesome ever come out of one of your dreams?

Christian Fiction That Doesn’t Mention Christ?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for years.

There seems to be a good number of readers who don’t consider a book to be Christian Fiction unless they see something explicitly Christian in it. Characters praying, studying their Bibles, learning from sermons in church, talking about God or coming to Jesus, etc. The basic idea is that if there’s no mention of Christ, then the book may tell a nice story, but it isn’t Christian.

I get it. And a lot of Christian novels that gave this (relatively young) genre its foundation were pretty overt about, well, preaching Jesus through fiction. Hence, I get it even more.

The way we’ve seen things done before frames our thinking about how things should be done. If we’ve seen Christ or Christian lifestyles represented in a certain way in ChristFic, and we approve of what we’ve seen, then we feel assured that that’s the way it “works.” So if we read a piece of fiction and don’t personally see “how it works” as a Christian book, we might feel iffy about it. That’s natural.

Yet, it’s no secret that the biblical book of Esther doesn’t mention God. (Notwithstanding the beautiful book cover here, I’m not referring to novels about Queen Esther but just the biblical book itself.) I’ve never heard a Christian say that Esther shouldn’t be in the Bible, or that the book isn’t reflective of the God Christians worship. Instead, I hear readers make comments to the effect of: “No, Esther doesn’t explicitly mention God, but we see evidence of Him in the book.”

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.

Yes, Christ preached sermons and such, but not every message of His came in the same form. Among other things, Christ was a storyteller, sometimes using fictional stories—parables—to convey truth, without explicitly mentioning God in the stories.

And I’ll bet some people felt iffy about His storytelling. “Um…nice little tale You told us, there. But we don’t see how it ‘works.’ ” Nonetheless, I’ve yet to hear a Christian say that Christ’s stories weren’t reflective of Him, that they didn’t represent God, or that His storytelling was to no avail just because not everyone picked up on the underlying points His stories made.

A story may not work for every single person, or it may not work for everyone in the same way, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work.

I think an author’s intended audience matters. But even within that audience, different readers differ, or they may need different things from ChristFic at different times. For instance, I don’t want to feel as if every Christian novel I read is trying to “get me saved.” It might’ve been something I liked seeing in books more, back when I was younger, but that’s not where I am anymore. So ChristFic readers are fortunate that authors can write various kinds of Christian books for different purposes. Not all Christian Fiction may “work” in the same way, and yet it can all still be Christian Fiction.

Besides, no one book has to fulfill all the purposes of ChristFic by itself, if that would even be possible. Books in the genre work together to meet the different needs of readers. It’s like the biblical principle of how one plants, another waters, and God gives the increase. One book may simply plant a seed, another might just add some water, but both books help lead to an increase, if you will.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t always agree with every publisher’s choices about what they label or market as Christian Fiction. Moreover, sometimes retailers make technical mistakes and put certain books into the wrong categories or on the wrong bookshelves.

Still, if an author has deliberately chosen to call their work Christian Fiction, they’ve done so for a reason. If you say the genre is only for stories that quote scriptures or explicitly talk about coming to Jesus, going to church, etc., then you’re also saying there’s no place in the genre for stories like the ones Christ Himself told. Even if an author’s book may not “work” for one reader, it may be working just the way it’s supposed to for other people.

And there very well may be underlying evidence of God in the book for those who are meant to pick up on it.