Rachel Brand is co-founder of Straight off the Page. She enjoys nothing more than sitting down with a good book and a mug of hot tea, even if her reading time has been seriously disrupted by the recent arrival of her son, Quinn. She’s currently figuring out how to juggle the roles of mother, wife, writer and (most importantly) book addict. When she’s not changing nappies and reading boardbooks, she enjoys experimenting with recipes, playing board games and watching films.
Rachel graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2013 with a Master of Arts (Honours) in English and Modern History, where she wrote an Honours Project entitled Entertainment or Evangelism?: The Emergence of Christian Fiction in the United States and How the Genre and its Aims Have Evolved from 1970 to the Present Day. She currently resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her husband and son.
SOTP: When did you start reviewing, and what is the first book you remember reviewing?
Rachel: I officially began reviewing novels for publishers in August 2010, although I remember writing some reviews for fun on my blog before that. I was in my second year of university with very little money to spend on books when a friend introduced me to NetGalley. I requested a ton of books, and one of the few that I was initially approved to review was A Simple Amish Christmas by Vannetta Chapman.
SOTP: Have your reading tastes changed since you started reviewing?
Rachel: Definitely! I didn’t read much Christian Fiction before I began reviewing, but for some reason, most of the books I got approved to review were from Christian publishers. Four and a half years later, I’m somewhat of an expert on Christian fiction among my friends, and I even wrote my dissertation on the development of the genre. I still read plenty of mainstream fiction, but I accidentally fell in love with Christian fiction when I began reviewing. I also read a lot more romance novels than I used to. I guess my love of a good happily ever after may be a reaction to reading a lot of depressing novels for my degree.
SOTP: What book has surprised you the most in your time reviewing? (Perhaps something you wouldn’t normally have picked up, outside of your comfort genre, etc)
Rachel: I’d have to go with a series rather than a specific book, but I was pleasantly surprised by Tricia Goyer’s Big Sky series. Amish Fiction will probably always be one of my favourite comfort genres, but these books impressed me by going beyond the typical tropes found in genre. Amish life isn’t perfect, and the heroine finds herself questioning the way of life she’s always known, and wondering if there’s more to having a relationship with God than following rules. Not only did these books destroy the popular trope of “Life is perfect now that I met an Amish man and converted to his beliefs to marry him,” but they also contained one of the most believable spiritual journeys I’ve come across in Christian Fiction. The Big Sky series particularly struck a chord with me as I read these books at the time when my husband was becoming a Christian, and I could see his struggles echoed in the challenges Marianna faced.
SOTP: What’s the first book you remember reading? (It still counts if someone else read it to you if you were too young to read!)
Rachel: Either Bedtime for Frances or Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. I have strong memories of both these books, and I can’t remember which one I “read” first. I have a strong suspicion that my parents read these books to me in an attempt to get me to a) sleep better and b) not be such a picky eater. It took about fifteen more years for me to achieve the second one, but at least I have fond memories of these books!
SOTP: If you’re stuck at home on a sick day, what comfort book can you count on to always cheer you up?
Rachel: When I’m feeling down, I tend to turn to children’s books to cheer myself up. Either anything in Hilary McKay’s Casson Family series (fantastic British novels aimed at middle grade kids) or a Baby-Sitters’ Club book will do the trick for me.
SOTP: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life (I know, the horror!), which book do you think you could read a hundred times without getting bored of it?
Rachel: This is a tough one. There are some books that I’ve loved, but only read once, and others that I could probably read once a year, but no more. I might have to go for Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. It’s not normally a favourite among Montgomery fans, but I found it painfully beautiful. Montgomery’s prose is always memorable, but this one spoke to me in an entirely different way, and I’m sure I could get something different out of it every time I read it.