New Year, New Challenge

Welcome to a new year!! 

I’ll be honest … I didn’t want 2021 to end. Thanks to several memorable events during the year – launching, releasing, and celebrating Perfectly Arranged, completing the manuscript for Perfectly Placed, partnering with other writers on upcoming projects, and traveling again – it was one of my best years yet!

But since I don’t control time (or a lot of other things for that matter), I had to usher in 2022 along with everyone else and pray that it would be as good to me as its predecessor. 

And as most people do in January, I spent time reflecting on how I’d like to be better or do things differently in the next 365 days. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with all the details, but I do want to share one thing I’m aiming to do this year that I’ve never done before. 

A reading challenge.

While I’m an avid reader, I’ve never participated in a yearly challenge (*gasp*). I always figured I read enough on my own (in 2021 I only logged 33 books which is quite low for me) and didn’t see the need to participate in any. So, I didn’t. 

But after seeing all the different challenge options on my Facebook and Instagram feeds, I realized I was actually missing out on the benefits of such a task:

  • Having more accountability with my reading
  • Stepping out of my comfort zone 
  • Finding new books, genres or authors I may not have otherwise discovered
  • Making reading even more fun for myself

And when my publisher, Scrivenings Press, announced they were hosting a reading challenge, I knew it was meant to be. Although there are many other wonderful challenges I could have chosen, I liked the simplicity and ease of theirs to start this new journey of mine. 

I also decided to blog each month about the different themes for the Scrivenings challenge and provide some titles that go along with that. Whether you’re looking for a book to simply enjoy on the weekend or participating in a reading challenge of your own, I hope this endeavor of mine will expand your reading horizons in 2022.

January theme: Debut Novel

To kick off the new year, January’s theme is to read something that is an author’s first foray into the publishing world. Not only is it a great way to discover new writers, but it’s also a wonderful way to support them on their path to publication!

Getting that first novel out into the world is not for the faint of heart! It takes perseverance, hard work, and lots of prayers for an author to hold his/her first book in their hands. And it’s even better when people read it!

So, whether you chose a writer’s first book that was recently published, or you scour the internet to find your favorite author’s first book, spend some time this month in the pages of a debut novel and appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears it took for that work to come to pass. Oh, and when you’re finished, don’t forget to leave a review!

If you’re needing some help finding some titles in this category, here are a few I’ve curated for you in a variety of genres:

**NOTE: While I try to read and recommend as much clean fiction as possible, know that I haven’t read all of these titles and can’t guarantee there isn’t explicit language, violence, or sex scenes in the titles listed below:

Social Awareness Novel: Beneath the Seams by Peyton Roberts

Fashion designer Shelby Lawrence is launching her mother-daughter dresses nationwide when she receives a photo of the girl who will change her life forever. Runa, the family’s newly sponsored child, is a clever student growing up near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dresses are flying off the racks when a horrifying scene unfolds in Dhaka that threatens to destroy Shelby’s pristine reputation. Even worse—it sends Runa’s life spiraling down a terrifying path. Shelby must decide how far she’s willing to go to right a tragic wrong. Both a gripping exposé of fashion industry secrets and a heartwarming mother-daughter tale, Beneath the Seams, explores love, conscience, hope, and the common threads connecting humanity. Perfect for book clubs, this social impact novel includes a resource list and discussion questions.

Cultural Heritage Novel: The Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah

After her parents moved her and her brother to America, Preeti Desai never meant to tear her family apart. All she did was fall in love with a white Christian carnivore instead of a conventional Indian boy. Years later, with her parents not speaking to her and her controversial relationship in tatters, all Preeti has left is her career at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm.

But when Preeti receives word of a terrible accident in the city where she was born, she returns to India, where she’ll have to face her estranged parents…and the complicated past they left behind. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of her heritage, Preeti catches a startling glimpse of her family’s battles with class, tradition, and sacrifice. Torn between two beautifully flawed cultures, Preeti must now untangle what home truly means to her.

Contemporary: Perfectly Arranged by Liana George

Short on clients and money, professional organizer Nicki Mayfield is hanging up her label maker. That is until the eccentric socialite Katherine O’Connor offers Nicki one last job. Working together, the pair discovers an unusual business card among Ms. O’Connor’s family belongings that leads them on a journey to China. There the women embark on an adventure of faith and self-discovery as they uncover secrets, truths, and ultimately, God’s perfectly arranged plans.

Romance: Irish Encounter by Hope Toler Doughtery

After almost three years of living under a fog of grief, Ellen Shepherd is ready for the next chapter in her life. Perhaps she’ll find adventure during a visit to Galway. Her idea of excitement consists of exploring Ireland for yarn to feature in her shop back home, but the adventure awaiting her includes an edgy stranger who disrupts her tea time, challenges her belief system, and stirs up feelings she thought she’d buried with her husband. After years of ignoring God, nursing anger, and stifling his grief, Payne Anderson isn’t ready for the feelings a chance encounter with an enchanting stranger evokes. Though avoiding women and small talk has been his pattern, something about Ellen makes him want to seek her—and God again. Can Ellen accept a new life different than the one she planned? Can Payne release his guilt and accept the peace he’s longed for? Can they surrender their past pain and embrace healing together, or will fear and doubt ruin their second chance at happiness?

Mystery/Thriller: Pocket Change by Debbie Archer

When Mary Clare Casteel (Mac) discovers her contractor stuffed in the display coffin of Pocket Change, her soon-to-open eclectic business, it puts the skids on secret plans to use her recent Publisher’s Clearing House winnings to assist at-risk businesses in her small town of Pocket, Arkansas. Enter her quirky family and tantalizing new neighbor, Mick Walker. Murder, techie mishaps, and a host of Southern traditions accompany Mary Clare as she juggles her fortune while dodging demanding deadbeats. What ensues is an investigation led by a new millionaire, her fun-loving family, and a handsome bait shop owner.

Historical: Callie’s Mountain by Kathy Cretsinger

In 1798, Callie Trent travels with her parents in a wagon train to the frontier of Tennessee. Before they reach the settlement where they will live, her father tells her he has arranged a marriage with her and Jacob McGinnis, a man she has never met. Callie objects to the marriage, and when she meets Jacob, he is not so bad, but she has come to the mountains to teach the children in the settlement, not to get married. Before they reach the settlement, they are attacked by three of the meanest men from the ridge, three Melungeons. Callie learns about the Melungeons and becomes interested in their history. No one knows when they came to the ridge. They are strange in physical appearance and in their ways. She befriends one family and teaches them how to read and write. Jacob loves Callie and wants to marry her, but she does not encourage him. She wants to teach school before she marries, but the three Melungeon men have other plans for her.

Fantasy/Sci-Fi: Kingdom of Lies by Megan Lynn Rose

The Dark Witch killed one of Ellie Parrish’s sisters. Now Ellie is determined to save her youngest sister as well. This time from their own vile parents. Through adoption, Ellie can free her from them. But it may require her to enter into that one contract that has screamed of lies and misery her entire life. An offer from her closest friend, Micah, is tempting . . . in so many ways. But his love is only a reminder of what she’s incapable of giving—her heart. However, a chance meeting with the Prince of Terra, and an unimaginable invitation, may give her another option. A chance to convince him to change the law so an unwed woman can adopt. She’ll simply need to keep herself from falling for him while doing so.

Nonfiction/Memoir: A House of Sticks by Ly Tran

Ly Tran is just a toddler in 1993 when she and her family immigrated from a small town along the Mekong river in Vietnam to a two-bedroom railroad apartment in Queens. Ly’s father, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army, spent nearly a decade as a POW, and their resettlement is made possible through a humanitarian program run by the US government. Soon after they arrive, Ly joins her parents and three older brothers sewing ties and cummerbunds piece-meal on their living room floor to make ends meet. As they navigate this new landscape, Ly finds herself torn between two worlds. She knows she must honor her parents’ Buddhist faith and contribute to the family livelihood, working long hours at home and eventually as a manicurist alongside her mother at a nail salon in Brooklyn that her parents take over. But at school, Ly feels the mounting pressure to blend in. A growing inability to see the blackboard presents new challenges, especially when her father forbids her from getting glasses, calling her diagnosis of poor vision a government conspiracy. His frightening temper and paranoia leave a mark on Ly’s sense of self. Who is she outside of everything her family expects of her?

So many great options, how will you choose just one??

I hope you’ll join me for this reading challenge! I think going to be fun and cause me to step out of my comfort zone too. Are you up for the challenge? If so, leave a comment below and let me know! I’d love to know what you read this month, either something from this list or one I don’t have on here!

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