A Piece of the Moon by Chris Fabry

Amazon.com: A Piece of the Moon: A Heartwarming Novel about Small Town Life  Set in West Virginia in the 1980s (9781496443441): Fabry, Chris: Books

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (.5 point)

A Piece of the Moon is an eccentric novel with an intriguing storyline that, unfortunately, leaves the reader with little in the way of meaningful content.

Like most novels, this one contains both strengths and weaknesses. However, I regret to say that the weaknesses outweigh the strengths. Major strengths of the novel include it’s timely message of finding meaning and hope in the midst of trying circumstances, and the way the story illustrates the importance of learning from past mistakes. Biblical principles like these are a vital part of any story’s foundation, but with the absence of excellent storytelling, the message gets lost in translation. This brings us to the novel’s weaknesses.

First, the storyline’s pace is inconsistent – one minute we’re riding the wave of a tutorial on how to run a radio station, only to fall back into the sea of the story’s overwhelming amount of content. Second, the plot goes in and out of focus as the reader is pelted with different story ideas all rolled into one – is this a story about a treasure hunt in the mountains of West Virginia, an unlikely love story, a broken father-daughter relationship, one man’s path to salvation, how to run an old-fashioned radio station, or a boy who finds redemption and purpose working with his mentor at said radio station? Two or three of these ideas would have fit well together, but all of them in the same novel results in both wordiness and a hasty ending that tries to resolve everything too quickly (and cheesily). Finally, the dialogue and storytelling style are not engaging for multiple audiences.

For these reasons, A Piece of the Moon earns less than an average score in this section.

Character Development (1 point)

Much like the plot and storyline, the story’s characters are also fraught with errors. While there are strengths in this section, they are not enough to outweigh the weaknesses.

Major strengths include the spiritually sound themes and the occasionally meaningful dialogue between characters, along with the author’s use of comedic imagery to build character traits. The biggest weakness in this section is that the reader is basically told what to think about the characters. Using first-person dialogue would have allowed readers to develop an organic understanding of who the characters are and what they learn/experience/feel as the story unfolds – no one wants to feel like the outsider looking in while they’re reading a novel. All-in-all, the characters seem a bit thrown together and needed more depth, and reader engagement is nil.

For these reasons, A Piece of the Moon earns less than an average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

In conclusion, there is really nothing especially creative or original about Moon. We are all familiar with small-town plots like this one – although I must say this novel is in an a category all on it’s own in some areas. When it comes to Moon, this section can be summed up in the following sentence. A plethora of oddities (and eccentric metaphors) is no substitute for great storytelling. This being said, Moon earns zero points in this section. Finally, we do not recommend that anyone make this into a Christian film/series…unless they want to embrace the zany qualities and make it a comedy of errors. ūüôā

Wish List Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Conqueror by Bryan Litfin

The Conqueror (Constantine's Empire, #1) by Bryan M. Litfin

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

In the fourth century Roman Empire, Brandulf Rex grew up as a Germanic barbarian, but he found a new life as a spy for the Roman army. However, not all is well in Rome as Constantine is trying to rise to power. Elsewhere, Junia Flavia, the daughter of a Roman senator, is caught up in local politics as she tries to use her time to help the church. Inevitably, Brandulf and Junia cross paths and are forced to go on a quest together.

Plot & Storyline Quality (0 points)

For all of Bryan Litfin’s assertions about how much of Christian fiction is derivative, The Conqueror follows one of the cheesiest and most worn-out plots ever. It offers nothing new and falls into familiar pits, such as absurd romantic situations, fake death scenes, and villain monologues. Historical information dumps are about the only unique elements in the novel, but they interrupt the story’s flow and make for awkward reading. Also, huge time jumps cause the narrative to hop from one thing to the next. The plot culminates in an outlandish climax scene that leads to a desperate attempt for a follow-up book. In the end, due to all these problems, no points can be awarded here.

Character Development (0 points)

Obviously, the time jumps and information dumps wreak havoc on the novel’s characters. Each character is one-dimensional and stock, offering no reasons for why the reader should care about them. Dialogue is either bland or obvious, ruining opportunities to create realistic conversations. The characters are merely pawns in the narrative, being directed where the author wants to them to go without being naturally developed. Because of these issues, no points are given here.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, The Conqueror offers nothing original or creative despite the author’s complaints about the Christian market’s problems. While we’re in full agreement with his assertions, there’s no evidence that he’s actually trying to do anything about them. Litfin’s first fiction book lazily borrows from age-old fiction tropes and fails to generate anything worthwhile or new. This novel is certainly not ready to be adapted for entertainment, but it’s clear that Christian publishing companies will put out basically anything these days.

Wish List Rating: 0 out of 10 points

The Love Note by Joanna Davidson Politano

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Joanna Davidson Politano’s latest novel is a live coal among so much ash in the Christian romance world. While the story and characters have two small flaws, the beauty and depth of the story is more than enough to render it worthy of the big screen. Willa Duvall is an ambitious, outspoken, big- hearted young woman whose dream is to shake up the 19th century medical field by being one of the first female doctors. The problem is, her physician father and society are desperate to marry her off. After yet another refused marriage proposal, Willa’s father has enough. Just before he puts his foot down, Willa finds a mysterious love letter whose words hold the power to change someone’s fate. After signing an involved contract with her father, Willa chooses to prove her ability to care for a patient alone by choosing the head of the very house to which the mysterious letter belongs. Golda Gresham is a hardened, wealthy socialite who rules her home, Crestwicke, and its inhabitants in a cold, controlling manner. When Willa answers her call for a private nurse, both women will find that there is much more to one another than meets the eye. Gabe Gresham found his true love years ago, the problem is, she’s afraid of marriage. This being so, he waits patiently to be chosen by her, and tries to help out wherever he can in the meantime. As the story unfolds, Willa discovers that Crestwicke is a house with many secrets, and that nothing turns out the way she expects.

The strengths and weaknesses of the novel are as follows. The Love Note has very timely, well-thought out storyline that holds the attention all the way through. Additionally, the plot contains enough twists to keep things interesting, and enough depth to set it apart from nearly all Christian romance novels. The well-crafted twist 2/3 of the way through is particularly notable. Moreover, its consistent themes that build on one another support the strong spiritual message without being preachy. Creative analogies and metaphors are used to deepen the plot and the characters, and the dialogue is excellent and meaningful. Lastly, the first person narrative style is a breath of fresh air for this critic. As for the weaknesses, there is only one in this area. The ending is somewhat rushed and could be expanded on the big screen in a multi-season TV show. This being said, the novel’s plot and storyline score culminates as being just shy of exceptional.

Character Development (4 points)

Politano’s characters are realistically flawed, relatable, and astonishingly deep. Each one has a clearly developed personality, realistic tendencies, and strong ties to the past and present that are built through well-placed flashbacks. Willa is arguably one of the best female protagonists I have ever seen in Christian fiction. Golda is also an excellent character whose arc unfolds in a surprisingly strong way. On the whole, Golda and Willa’s stories are beautifully woven into the fabric of this tapestry using atypical but brilliant methods. In comparison, Gabe could be stronger than he is. To put it frankly, he’s too good and could have used a few relatable flaws. However, he is still an excellent character. Burke and Willa’s father are also great characters. Clara, Aunt Maisie, Essie, and all the other minor characters are exceptional because they all have a memorable role in the story. In summation, this area also receives a perfect score because the minor flaw mentioned above does not affect the overall quality of the cast of characters.

Creativity & Originality (2 points)

It was amazing to see an entire cast of characters with both motive and realistic beliefs/fears/life experiences that drive their choices and reactions. I was also incredulous and happily surprised to see real love portrayed in a Christian novel, not to mention the wisdom of waiting for it indefinitely being promoted. For these reasons and more, this novel earns a full point in creativity and an x factor point in originality. Thus, we here at BOR believe that The Love Note would make an excellent Christian series. Very little content would need alteration, as the dialogue and storyline are already excellent. Christian moviemakers, look no further than this novel for fresh inspiration, and a lesson in proper character development.

Wish List Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

Nothing Short of Wondrous by Regina Scott

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Regina Scott’s latest historical romance, Nothing Short of Wondrous, has a few moments of creativity but is mostly the humdrum norm we see in women’s fiction. Kate is the widowed owner of Geyser Gateway, a hotel in a young Yellowstone National Park. A year ago she lost her husband in a grizzly attack, and now works doubly hard to provide for herself and her son Danny. Will is a U.S. calvary officer who has been tasked with hunting down and arresting buffalo poachers hiding out in the park. The two are instantpy attracted to each other and find themselves spending a lot of time together out of mutual need…or is that the real reason? Will soon learns that Kate and her husband were dedicated to protecting a herd of buffalo from being poached – a project that Kate continues. Will’s presence at the hotel seems to make unsavory characters more eager to cause trouble. As so-called natural disasters and accidents begin to happen more frequently, Will and Kate wonder who they can trust, and who the real troublemakers are. Will their budding love survive adversity?? (insert long-suffering sigh here). The strong points of the plot and storyline are its attention to historical detail and the effort the author made to paint Yellowstone in a realistic, rather than fantastical light. It was also nice to see an attempt at continuity here and there. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue and word pictures are littered with silly romance aspects that need depth and basis. Additionally, the plot tends to be choppy and has an inconsistent pace. These culminate in an average score for this area.

Character Development (1 point)

Scott’s characters show some potential, but are underdeveloped. Kate has relatable tendencies and learns an important spiritual lesson, the third person dialogue makes it hard for us to know who she really is. Will is little more than a plot device, unfortunately, because he lacks motive. Minor characters are textbook and forgettable. It was nice to see the author infusing unexpected spiritual depth in the storyline, but this does not always tie in well with the novel’s themes. In short, the characters lack emotion, personality, and depth. This earns the novel a below average score in character development.

Creativity and Originality (0 points)

Finally, other than the attempt at a spiritual connection we mentioned earlier, there is nothing particularly original or creative about this novel. Thus, we here at BOR do not recommend that it be adapted to screenplay form. Christian screenwriters should look to the novels rated 7 points and above on our site for higher quality content that would make great films or series.

Wish List Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Something Worth Doing by Jane Kirkpatrick

 Something Worth Doing

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

Jane Kirkpatrick’s recent novel, Something Worth Doing, is an intriguing historical account that fails to fully develop fictional aspects of the protagonist’s life. The novel chronicles the life of Abigail Scott Duniway, a journalist, non-fiction author, and early women’s rights suffragist who believed women in her state – Oregon – should be endowed with their God-given right to vote. Abigail was born into a large family of mostly daughters, and grew up watching her mother’s health fade with each child she bore. When childbearing finally became too much for Abigail’s mother, she died. Abigail vowed to never suffer the same fate as her mother, and to stand up for other women who had no voice during the patriarchal trend of the 1800’s. When an unexpected turn of events with her father’s second wife forces Abigail to seek a home of her own, she marries a kind man and starts a family of her own. But unlike many of the other women in her state, she uses her status as wife and mother to spread her message of free thinking and self-respect among women of all social classes. Will her efforts be successful? The plot and storyline in this novel are somewhat well-developed because the author closely follows the real historical account of Abigail’s life. However, the weaknesses in this area exist because the author barely deviated from being historically accurate. In simpler terms, this book is more non-fiction than fiction. All of the facts about Abigail’s life are true, but the story would have been more engaging and meaningful if she was brought to life through first-person. This being said, the narrative third-person writing style makes it hard to get to know the characters and makes the story more of a history lesson than a pleasurable read. While it is interesting to hear about an extraordinary woman who helped other women in Oregon gain the right to vote, it would have been nice to get to know the fictional person as well. For these reasons, this area of the novel earns less than an average score. Had it been in the non-fiction genre, the rating would have been close to perfect.

Character Development (.5 point)

As for character development, readers will find that Kirkpatrick’s characters have a few good moments, but are mostly underdeveloped. Abigail has a clearly defined personality, which makes the protagonist the strongest part of this section. However, too often we hear more about what she is doing when we should be learning more about who she is. Ben, Abigail’s children, and her other relatives are all below average minor characters because none make a lasting contribution to the novel. Thus, this area of the novel receives a below average score overall

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Finally, there is nothing particularly original or creative to note here because the novel did not build on the original historical account through creative license. Therefore, we at BOR do not recommend that this book be made into a film. Christian filmmakers should look to other novels, especially those by relatively new faces in the fantasy genre (Morgan Busse, Patrick Carr) for quality content that would translate well to the big screen.

Wish List Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Jaime Jo Wright’s latest novel, The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus, has an engaging and creative storyline with a few interesting twists along the way. However, some plot choppiness and the inconsistent pace of the storyline set the novel’s rating back to average. The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus has a split storyline with two protagonists, one in the past and one in the present. In the past, Pippa Ripley is the adopted daughter of a wealthy circus owner and his wife. Pippa is engaged to a prominent figure in society and has every creature comfort at her fingertips, but her predictable existence has one abnormality. A mysterious figure who calls himself The Watchman has lurked in the shadows of her life for as long as she can remember, and now he wants to meet in person. Against her better judgement, Pippa meets with him. This act that inadvertently becomes the straw that broke the elephant’s back (pun intended), as it opens the door to a conflict that grows and becomes increasingly complex. In the present, Chandler is a single mother who works for her uncle in his business of renovating old buildings for resale. While surveying a recent purchase – an abandoned train depot – Chandler uncovers a unsolved historical murder mystery. Her renovation project happens to be the site of the famous, decades-ago murder of Patty Luchent, an employee of the Bonaventure Circus. This discovery unfolds into increasing chaos, and Chandler soon finds herself swept along in a strange series of events that will force her to face her greatest fears in the present and reckon with the untold horrors of the past. As we previously mentioned, the plot and storyline in this novel are slightly above average, with interesting plot twists and a detailed storyline that holds the attention all the way through. Unfortunately, there are also errors here. The storyline is a bit scattery and cannot seem to find and hold onto a focal point. (spoilers ahead) One minute we’re witnessing Chandler and or Pippa struggling with their health challenges, then we’re reading interesting dialogue about the murder mystery, but do not fully feel a part of what is happening. This leads me to my final point on errors in this section. Because the novel is written entirely in the third person, the reader feels like a witness to events as they occur, instead of a willing participant. Readers need first person if they are expected to care about the characters and everything that is happening in a novel. In spite of these errors, on the whole Wright’s novel is good for a casual read, and therefore receives the rating we mentioned earlier.

Character Development (2 points)

Much like the plot and storyline, the characters in this novel also hover around the average portion of the rating scale. First, Chandler and Pippa are not bad protagonists, but there is an odd tone with Chandler throughout the novel. Thankfully this is mostly resolved through the lesson she learns in the end. Additionally, Pippa is a mixed character who doesn’t seem to know what she wants out of life. Both protagonists feel thrown together for the most part. (spoiler) In contrast, the antagonists are very well done. They both have realistic motives and backstories, and are realistic in their reactive choices. The minor characters are a mix of good and bad. Some are quite well done and have more depth and motive than the lead characters do, while others (like Pippa’s father and fiance) are stereotypical. Overall, this part of the novel receives an average score because of it’s 50/50 mix of pros and cons.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Wright earns a half point in originality for crafting an interesting storyline that does not condone the sad truth behind circuses, nor does it paint them as the worst evil on earth – her view is balanced. It would have been nice to see more of this theme in the plot. Because of the errors listed above, we here at BOR do not recommend that this story be made into a Christian film, however, it is not a bad read for fans of murder mysteries.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Amanda Cox’s d√©but novel, The Edge of Belonging, has strong characters and a rich, split storyline, with only a few minor errors along the way. In the present, Ivy is a talented young woman who is caught in the web of an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who uses his wealth and position in society as weapons. Following an unexpected episode of physical abuse, Ivy is called home to deal with the sudden death of her beloved grandmother, Pearl. In her hometown, Ivy finds things much the same, expect for one thing. Pearl has left behind a string of clues that promise to lead Ivy to her origin story – who she was before her adoption. In the past, Harvey is a broken, homeless man living in the shadow of his childhood trauma. One day as he goes about his normal routine, Harvey stumbles upon an abandoned baby girl. He decides to care for her as a way to make up for the past. After trying to rob the local church’s supply pantry for single mothers, Harvey gets a job there as a groundskeeper. This step brings Harvey back into contact with people, and he soon finds himself getting in too deep. Will Ivy discover who she is? Will Harvey let Jesus heal his brokenness? To answer these questions, read the book! The Edge of Belonging has a strong, engaging storyline with consistent themes and plot points. The main error to note here is the choppiness in the latter half of the book that unfolds as the author tries to quickly wrap up the main points. This error could have been fixed by splitting the story into a three-part series. The first book could have a first-person dialogue from Harvey, the second could have done the same with Pearl, and the last one could have focused primarily on Ivy, or any other arrangement like this. (spoiler) Additionally, it was a nice idea to explore Ivy’s mother’s backstory, but this wastes valuable time that was needed to deepen the main character’s development. Thus, while the errors are minor, they hold the author back from receiving more than a slightly above average score.

Character Development (3.5 points)

The character development in this novel is well above average. Ivy is a relatable character with a clearly defined personality and consistent traits. Her past, present, and future tie together in a great arc that helps the reader understand who she is and what her character wants. Harvey has a strong arc as well, however, his childhood/adulthood experiences could use a bit more definition, for it is not clear why he has remained in this state of trauma for so long. Pearl is also a great character with a strong arc, but her backstory could use a bit more development as well. Comparatively, each of the characters displays realistic spirituality and views of God. As we mentioned earlier, the biggest error here is the numerous protagonists whose stories cannot be fully explored in one novel. Keeping track of three protagonists in one novel is too much to ask of any author, and though Cox does an admirable job here, the main characters could be just a bit stronger and needed space to grow. Lastly, the minor characters are quite good, and dialogue contains depth and holds the attention. Cox rounds out with a nearly perfect score here.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, the weakest area in this novel is creativity and originality. Cox earns a half point in creativity for her deep and unique characters. However, her plot could use more originality. Despite this, The Edge of Belonging would make a great Christian miniseries or 1-2 season series. The screenwriter would need to deepen all the characters and fill in the plot holes. It might also be nice to add a plot twist or two. On the whole, a great first novel that shows much promise for the future.

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Nine by Rachelle Dekker

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

UPDATE: After a consultation with our writing team, it was determined that the previous review was too harsh and overlooked some of the superior qualities of this novel. Thus, two points have been added to the overall rating.ūüėÉ

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Rachelle Dekker’s latest thriller, Nine, is a well-crafted and engaging novel that gets off to a rocky start. Zoe is living an average life working as a waitress and living in a hotel room. She has finally gotten a handle on managing the dark forests of her childhood memories, and is generally content to drift through each day. One rainy day, a terrified red-headed girl with an innocent expression bursts into the diner. She says her name is Lucy and claims she can’t remember anything. Zoe is drawn to Lucy’s vulnerability and decides to help her. Little does Zoe know that the price tag for this decision could be her life. Tom Seeley is a hardened FBI agent who threw himself into his work after losing his wife. Seeley found himself deeply involved in The Grantham Project, a top-secret government operation – based out of a campus named Xerox – whose goal is to genetically engineer biological weapons to defend the U.S. on special assignments. When the powers that be begin to do things that go against the few morals Seeley has left, he finds himself torn between obeying orders and exposing criminal activity. Zoe, Lucy, and Seeley find themselves thrown together in an on-again-off-again trio who are each forced to decide between who they are and who they have been trained to be. The strongest point of the plot and storyline is the theme I just mentioned. Deciding to be who God made you to be, no matter the cost, is a vitally important message in today’s world. Dekker beautifully weaves this theme throughout her novel and makes it the defining question amid the madness. This gives her story both depth and a purpose. Another strong point in the plot and storyline are the extremely well-crafted psychological elements. These are mainly showcased in Lucy’s deep and illustrative flashbacks that unfold throughout the middle of the novel. In comparison, this area of Nine also contains weaknesses. There are a few typical thriller elements, like a crazy lady living in a bunker, and the ending of the story is somewhat choppy. On the whole, this area of the novel rounds out with an above average score that could have been perfect if the errors listed above did not exist.

Character Development (4 points)

In comparison, the strongest aspect of the overall novel is Dekker’s character development. Lucy is a very well-crafted character with a fully developed set of emotional, behavioral, social, and spiritual characteristics. Her choices are relatable and, as previously mentioned, the flashbacks Dekker uses with her character add a lot of depth. Zoe is a believable main character who changes in realistic ways as time goes forward. Seeley is a mixed bag. His identity towards the beginning is unclear, but as it unfolds he becomes a strong character. Moreover, the back and forth shift between third and first person in the novel’s dialogue is very creative and illustrates the book’s key themes very well. Additionally, Olivia and other minor characters have clear roles in the story and are well-developed. The antagonist is actually quite good and avoids the typical thriller villian pitfalls. On the whole, a job well done, which earns Dekker a perfect score in this area.

Creativity & Originality (2 points)

Finally, Dekker receives a full point in creativity for her excellent dialogue, and a full x-factor point in originality for her superbly crafted psychological elements – i.e. flashbacks, etc. This being so, we highly recommend that the content in this novel be made into a Christian TV series. By doing this, the screenwriter would have room to do an in-depth exploration of Seeley and Zoe’s pasts, and therefore make their characters as strong as Lucy’s. They would need to tone down the violent torture sequences in the latter half of the story and edit out some of the characters’ brushes with death, but it can be done. To sum up, this novel is a great read for mature audiences and would make a great Christian series in the right hands.

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Chapel Street by Sean Paul Murphy (BTSNBM)

Sean Paul Murphy | TouchPoint Press

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (-1 points)

With a departure from screenwriting and a foray in fiction, Sean Paul Murphy is offering a standard Christian horror fare with Chapel Street. This novel tells the story of Rick, a man with little purpose in life other than uploading information about graves to an online platform that’s designed to aid people in learning more about relatives’ final resting places. Basically his entire family committed suicide due to some demon that’s obsessed with them. However, Rick suddenly finds himself going crazy just like all his relatives did before they ended it all. Then, he starts seeing dead family members and the evil spirit that’s trying to drive him crazy. Will be be able to withstand the onslaught?

The plot of Chapel Street is all over the map: when it’s not dumping tons of information on the reader, it’s fixated on unnecessarily edgy content. There’s far more telling than showing, which is typically what sets average novels apart from the best. However, this one dips below the middle mark due to its bizarre inclusions. The horror is just ridiculous and unrealistic, and storyline goes in endless circles. It feels like the same happenings are on repeat over and over again. Then, it all comes to a crashing conclusion that leaves little impact on the reader other than boredom or disgust. Due to its ridiculous horror elements and off-putting mentions, this section receives negative points.

Character Development (0 points)

Due to the rapid pace and chunky nature of the narrative, characters are completely left by the wayside. First-person point of view isn’t properly taken advantage of as the constant stream of information is a poor substitute for actual character building. This would have been correctly done via substantial dialogue and interactive conversations. When the characters don’t feel like real people, nothing worthwhile can be accomplished. Hence, with no real potential in this section, it receives no points.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Nothing about this novel sets it apart from the market. Christian horror is already a cheap idea in desperate need of innovation, but Chapel Street does nothing to change this image. Instead, it falls right into the same old stereotype and offers nothing new to interest readers. With no standout concepts to discuss, this aspect of the book also receives zero points.

Needless to say, Chapel Street should never be made into a movie in its current state. Sean Paul Murphy may have something to offer in future projects, but this effort is mostly embarrassing. Despite being based on true events, the novel feels slapped together and scribbled out just for the sake of it existing. All that can really be said is better luck next time.

Wish List Rating: -1 out of 10 points

These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker (BTSNBM)

These Nameless Things - Kindle edition by Smucker, Shawn. Religion ...

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (-1 points)

Shawn Smucker’s latest novel delivers the usual dose of insanity that we’ve come to expect from this author. With literally no discernible plot/storyline to follow, partially developed characters, and no creativity/originality, These Nameless Things receives an entirely negative review from us here at BOR. Additionally, it receives the double honor of being the first book on this column to score negative points. Oh, where to start. Before I say anything, let me clarify that we went into this reading experience with an open perspective. Dan and his friends live in a peaceful village in a valley at the foot of “the mountain”. After escaping the mental and physical tortures of said mountain, they came to the valley to forget everything that happened and to try and heal. As members become strong enough, they leave the village and return to normal life. The whole system is pretty perfect if you ask Dan, except the part about people leaving him behind. Dan has been waiting for his brother to come down off the mountain for many years, and is beginning to lose hope that he ever will. When a dear friend decides she is ready to leave the village and a strange woman shows up on Dan’s doorstep at nearly the same moment, Dan is thrown for a loop. The strange woman knows his elusive brother somehow and says she has come to tell him that his brother is alive and needs his help. Dan is reluctant to return to “the mountain” and debates what he should do. (spoiler) After several vague conversations with other members of the community and the strange woman who’s always sleeping in his bed, Dan finally decides to make the journey. Will he survive the perils of “the mountain”!? First of all, the plot and storyline in this novel are very confusing at best. The author starts off the novel with a big information dump about things we’re supposed to know, then nearly lulls us to sleep with boring conversations. Following this, the reader comes fully awake as bizarre, off-the-wall, and sometimes crude things happen. As the reader struggles to climb the cliffs of insanity that are this story, they are continually pelted with rocks in the form of odd flashbacks that don’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the novel. As they reach the top, they will realize that it’s all about to cumulate in an abrupt ending. Furthermore, the world construction is weak because we aren’t told how either the mountain or the valley came to be, what each represents, or what their connection (or lack of for that matter) is to the real world. How does one travel from this unusual place to other locations? In short, the errors are too many to note, and I have more questions about this story than answers. This being said, Smucker earns zero points here.

Character Development (-1 points)

Unfortunately the character development fares much the same. Dan is an semi-interesting protagonist concept, but its hard to understand who he actually is. The antagonist lacks motive and a clear arc, so she is virtually useless. Additionally, the large cast of minor characters are basically blank faces who say their lines robotically, so there’s nothing good to note there either. Dan’s friends are also a huge error because there is no reason given for why he is friends with them. Anyway, I’ll stop while I’m ahead here because there’s just nothing good to say. The irony is that there is also not an extensive list of errors to point out because there is so little development to work with. For these reasons, Smucker earns zero points here as well.

Creativity & Originality (-3 points)

Finally, the creativity and originality are nonexistent in this novel. There is a huge difference between creativity and madness, which I would explain if we had the space. Additionally, I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to be a Christian novel as there are no Christian themes or tie-ins. A very great stretch would identify this novel as an allegory on Hebrews 12:18-19, but that’s the best we could come up with for something in a genre called Magical Realism. Also, this is a PSA, please, please, please don’t try to make this into a movie or series…anyone! The last thing we need is more Christian movies that give the genre a bad name. Christian filmmakers, look elsewhere for much better mystical Christian novels to work with, like The Girl Behind the Red Rope, for example.

Wish List Rating: -5 out of 10 points

Synapse by Steven James

Synapse | Steven James

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Steven James’ latest work is a science fiction/dystopian thriller that contains great dialogue and many creative ideas…along with enough errors to make it a slightly less than average novel. After nine months of carrying her daughter, Kestrel’s child is stillborn. Even though she lives in a world where Naturals (human beings), Artificials (lifelike robots), and Plussers (humans with robotic implants) live alongside one another, Kestrel wanted a human child to love and care for. When this is snatched away from her, she is left feeling hurt and alone. After witnessing a terrorist attack from an unknown source on the way home from the hospital, Kestrel is contacted by Agent Nick Vernon. Nick is investigating the company which creates Artificials, Terabyne, along with the terrorism issue. In the midst of all this, Kestrel’s brother Trevor decides to send her a ‘special’ Artificial named Jordan as a companion. Against her better judgement, Kestrel turns Jordan on and soon finds that he is not what she expected. When Kestrel’s apartment is ransacked and a prized possession of hers is stolen, she realizes she got more than she bargained for when she agreed to help Nick. Nick and Kestrel soon discover a wide-ranging corporate scheme that no one could have foreseen. Will they live to see justice prevail? The plot and storyline in Synapse are engaging, however, there are some moments of choppiness and a few too many meandering philosophical conversations. Additionally, there are several violent combat scenes that don’t fit with the questioning nature of the rest of the novel. The only other error to note is the rushed ending. On the other hand, the dialogue is above average. The discussions between characters about the afterlife, Christianity, and who can be saved are interesting and acknowledge the reader’s intelligence. Finally, it was interesting to build a storyline around the potential dangers of giving AI too much power, but without a strong conclusion this section cannot receive more than an average rating.

Character Development (2.5 points)

In contrast, the characters are the strongest point of the novel. Kestrel is a strong and relatable protagonist who sometimes questions God and the spiritual guidance she offers others. It was a great idea to include the character’s thoughts in the text, as this adds depth and meaning to conversations. Comparatively, the large cast of minor characters is a mixed bag, with some having clear arcs and others seeming to exist only for individual scenes. Additonally, the villian reveal is interesting and outside the box, but there wasn’t much of a lead up to the same. Thus, because this section contains only minor errors, James receives an above average score in character development.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, it was a very creative idea to create an world were humans and AI coexist together. Because James was able to implement this idea in a believable way, he earns a full point in creativity. This being said, it is possible for a Christian filmmaker to adapt this novel into a Christian futuristic/sci-fi film if they wanted to. However, the screenplay would have to focus more closely on the characters from a first-person perspective, and the ending needs some work. Overall, this is an interesting story that could have been a bit more personable.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse (BTSNBM)

Alabama Bookshelf | Alabama Living Magazine

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange to a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Valerie Fraser Luesse’s latest work of fiction is a good coming of age concept that gets a bit lost along the way. Peyton Cabot, a Southern teenager, is currently experiencing the aftermath of his father’s stint in the military and his mother’s grief over these goings-on. His father, Marshall, tries to drown his war trauma in bottles of bourbon, but has so far been unsuccessful. One afternoon when Peyton and his family are at the annual Cabot family picnic at his paternal grandparent’s estate, Peyton’s father has a tragic accident involving a high-strung horse, a tree, a bottle of alcohol, and a dog chasing a squirrel. While the entire clan of Cabots are in the hospital waiting room arguing about what will happen to the inheritance if Marshall, the heir, dies, Peyton’s grandfather suddenly has a stroke and dies instantly. As time moves forward, Peyton will find himself evading his relatives, meeting a long-lost family friend, and embarking on a journey that will change his life forever. To find out how it ends, read the book! The plot and storyline in this novel are average, but not for the usual reasons. The fast-paced storyline gives the reader a lot of information that is delivered through backstories, historical facts, and fact-filled conversations. The major errors in this aspect of the novel include the abrupt shift from a family drama to a coming of age tale, and the way the book loses the reader’s interest as the story continues. Firstly, around a third of the way through the book it’s almost like it changes genres. (spoiler) One minute Peyton is sitting by his father’s deathbed, the next minute he’s in Florida on summer vacation with his Aunt Gert, then he’s embarking on a bicycle quest through the Florida Keys, and the next thing you know he’s taking in orphaned children and falling in love. This being said, it’s hard to understand which one of these four plots is supposed to be the main one. If they are intended to be subplots that tie together, then the author should have taken more time to develop her large cast of characters. Additionally, the dialogue in this novel is above average but doesn’t reach it’s full potential, and Peyton’s character arc falls flat when the author doesn’t state what he learned from the bike quest – especially after she made a big point to reference his search for meaning. Thus, on the whole the plot and storyline feel thrown together and needed closer attention.

Character Development (1.5 points)

The characters in this novel are mixed, with the protagonist being one of the weakest ones. It is hard to get to know Peyton on a personal level as he is thrown about by the confusing plot structure, and most of what we do know is told to us by the author. It would have been better to let readers discover who he is on their own, rather than stating personal traits and interests directly as though we are reading a biography. This being said, the heavy-handed narrative style of writing Luesse uses in this novel acts as clutter that crowds out opportunities for character depth to be developed. Peyton’s mother also feels partially developed as we hear a lot about her from others but don’t get to see her in action very often. Moreover, while the colorful Aunt Gert is a bright spot in the humdrum cast of minor characters, she gets lost in the sea of people in this novel who have only a few lines. In short, while there is some good in every character, it feels like they exist only to connect the dots of the storyline.

Creativity and Originality (.5 point)

Lastly, it was a creative idea to portray how multiple crises effect a teenager mentally and emotionally, but because this idea remains unfinished, Luesse earns only a half point in creativity. As such, we cannot recommend this novel as being good material for Christian film, but believe that Luesse can improve as time goes forward because of her ability to craft original ideas.

Wish List Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

Amazon.com: Stories That Bind Us: A Novel (9780800735708 ...

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Finkbeiner’s latest novel, Stories That Bind Us, is a great depiction of the struggles we all face in the everyday. While the novel is imperfect, Finkbeiner continues to set what should be the standard in Christian fiction. Betty Sweet loves her simple life with her husband Norman. When Norman dies suddenly of heart failure, Betty is thrown for a loop. For the first few weeks after his death, she shuts everyone and everything out, determined to hide from the world until it makes sense again. Shortly after her sister-in-law Marvel intervenes by forcing her out of the house, Betty’s estranged sister Clara and her son Hugo show up on the doorstep one rainy evening. Betty finds a new purpose in caring for the two of them, but soon notices that all is not well. Clara is extremely moody and often spends long hours in bed, and Hugo shows signs of abuse. Clara’s mental state takes Betty back to her difficult childhood with a mother who struggled with the same difficulties. Even though she has the support of her husband’s exceptional family, Betty struggles with loving her sister, caring for Hugo, and dealing with her husband’s death. This leaves her feeling a bit frayed at the edges. In order to go forward, Betty must trust in Jesus, come to peace with the difficult parts of her childhood, and learn to accept the ways her life has changed. What will happen to Clara? Will Betty weather the storm? To answer these questions, read the book!;) The plot and storyline in this novel are well above average. Among the novel’s strengths are excellent dialogue, great continuity, and a strong storyline. Additionally, the poignant messages about perseverance and the healing power of love give the story meaning. In comparison, the weaknesses are minor. First, the plot could have had added depth if we heard a first-person perspective from Clara as well as Betty. Lastly, the first quarter of the book doesn’t always hold the attention, and the ending is a bit rushed. In spite of these errors, Finkbeiner has turned out another great novel that has the potential to be an excellent Christian series. Because of this, she earns an above average score for her plot and storyline.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Similarly, the character development in this novel is also above average. Betty is a realistic and relatable protagonist who has believable responses to life crises. Clara is also an above average character, but as we mentioned earlier, her character could have been even better if she had told the reader her side of the story. Comparatively, Hugo is one of the best characters in the novel. It is refreshing to see a child character who is portrayed as intelligent and fully aware of all the goings-on in his life. There is simply not enough good to say here. The minor and secondary characters are very strong and their subplots make significant contributions to the plot. Other than the minor error with Clara, there are no other flaws to note in this section. For this reason, Finkbeiner earns just shy of a perfect score for her strong character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, it was a very original idea to portray a widow who has to deal with her husband’s death, her difficult childhood, and troubled sister without further complicating things by starting a new romantic relationship. Too many Christian novels make this mistake, as we’ve said before, it is just not a good idea to encourage people to start new relationships during the grieving process. Any-who, we’re very glad Finkbeiner did not do this, and award her a full point in originality for this and other reasons. Likewise, we believe Stories That Bind us would make a great Christian series. The screenwriter(s), one of which should be Finkbeiner, would have very little difficulty adapting this novel for the big screen. The dialogue, character depth, and storyline concept are already there. If the screenwriter made Clara a protagonist alongside Betty and included flashbacks to the girl’s childhood, this content could change American Christian culture for the better. In summary, we commend Finkbeiner on another job well done and recommend this book for filmmakers who want to bring exceptional Christian books to the big screen.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt

Daughter of Cana (Jerusalem Road): Angela Hunt: 9780764233845 ...

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Angela Hunt’s latest work, Daughter of Cana, is the first installment in her new Jerusalem Road series. The novel gives a nice overview of Jesus’s life and ministry from the perspective of Jesus’s brother Jude and Thomas’s fictional sister Tasmin, but fails to offer any groundbreaking or original content. The opening chapters of Daughter of Cana introduce us to Tasmin, who Hunt presents as the disciple Thomas’s twin sister. Tasmin and Thomas live at home with their widowed father and run a wedding party business in Cana. Tasmin has never been interested in marriage and views it as a frivolity, instead preferring to keep busy and act responsible. Thomas enjoys socializing and taking time to relax, and though he is practical, Tasmin feels that he does not take their business seriously. One day while the siblings are hosting a wedding for a friend, Jesus and His mother and siblings suddenly arrive as guests. Thomas is immediately enthralled with Jesus, but Tasmin has heard rumors that He is a radical preacher who shouldn’t be trusted. When Jesus saves the bride and groom’s reputation by turning water into wine, Tasmin is even more confused about Him. Her confusion turns to anger when Thomas agrees to become Jesus’s disciple and leaves suddenly for an extended period of time. Tasmin decides to go after her brother, and departs with Jesus’s brother Jude on a cross-country journey to bring Thomas home. As previously mentioned, the plot and storyline in this novel give us a brief overview of Jesus’s entire adult life and ministry, and detail Tasmin’s journey to find Thomas, and ultimately, her life purpose. The strengths of the storyline include that it moves along at a steady pace, covers a lot of time without being choppy, and gives the reader a glimpse of someone who did not believe in Jesus until after His death. In comparison, the weaknesses are minor, but do pull down the overall quality. First, the novel does not hold the reader’s attention very well, and has a very simplistic, humdrum writing style. This is very unlike Hunt’s past writing style. Second, the storyline tends to plow forward in an attempt to cover all the high points in the Gospels and brushes over character development and depth. Finally, there is not really a personalized spiritual connection for Christian readers – the novel is primarily marketed towards people who are not familiar with the Gospels. In summary, there are no major errors in Daughter of Cana, but there is also no memorable content. For this, Hunt receives an average score for her plot and storyline.

Character Development (2 points)

In comparison, Tasmin is a fairly good protagonist who responds in relatable ways to life’s challenges and has a partially defined personality. Her flashbacks are also a great addition to the story, but needed further exploration. Jude is also a fairly good character who is understandably skeptical that his brother is the Messiah, (spoiler) but aside from loving Tasmin, what is his overarching purpose? Much the same, the reader has no emotional connection to Tasmin or any of the secondary characters. This makes everyone feel a bit like a shell of what they could have been. Unfortunately, this concept also applies to Hunt’s depiction of Jesus, who feels more like a nice concept than the Risen Christ. In contrast, Hunt did well to use first-person for both Tasmin and Jude, and included some interesting minor characters. However, because the strengths and weaknesses are equal in this category, Hunt receives an average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Hunt earns a full point in originality for creating two characters who did not fully embrace Jesus at first, but avoid becoming strawmen. We really appreciated that Hunt portrayed her two main characters as having realistic doubts and honest concerns about how following Jesus would alter their lives. If only more authors would catch on to this concept. Unfortunately, there is nothing especially creative about Hunt’s portrayal of Jesus’s life and ministry, so we leave it up to filmmakers as to whether or not they want to bring this book to the big screen. The book would need several additions, such as bringing Tasmin’s flashbacks to the forefront of the story, but it could be done right in the right hands.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Standoff by Patricia Bradley (BTSNBM)

Author’s note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Standoff, the first book in Bradley’s new Natchez Trace Park Rangers series, gets this new series off to a very, very rocky start. Brooke is a budding park ranger who wants to be taken seriously by her co-workers and do her job well. She has a wealthy boyfriend, a great family, and a promising future ahead of her. Her idyllic lifestyle comes to a screeching halt when her father is murdered and left for dead while in patrol one evening. Luke is a law enforcement officer (of sorts) who is currently working undercover to expose a big drug cartel that is bringing loads of heroin into the U.S. When he hears that Brooke’s father has been killed, he wants to help find the criminal responsible. The problem is, he and Brooke have a bit of a checkered past, and now that she has a corny villian wealthy boyfriend with a big family inheritance package, he believes any future they had together is now out of the question. She hates him, he has commitment issues, it would never work. You can pretty much guess what happens in this tale, so I won’t bore you any further. As to the plot and storyline quality, let’s just say that the only bright spot in this trainwreck are the chapters featuring the ‘unnamed’ villian. This adds an appropriate air of suspense, but unfortunately the concept isn’t fully developed. Other than that, there are only errors to note here. First, the storyline moves at an inconsistent pace, so much so that the reader sometimes feels like they are being jostled from one scene to another before they can fully understand what’s happening. Second, the author tends towards what I like to call the information-dump style of writing, which interrupts the pace of the story and distracts from whatever point she was trying to make. For example, she offers many unnecessary definitions of crime-related terms and foreign foods Americans may not be familiar with that interrupt the flow of the story. Third, heavy-handed narration is used throughout as the reader is force-fed the major plot points. Fourth, I’m not sure how this is suppsoed to be romantic suspense, since it’s made clear that Jeremy only wants Brooke as a babysitter for his daughter and Luke barely spends any time with Brooke throughout the story. Lastly, perhaps the most unusual facet of this novel is the borderline-racist depictions of non-white characters. Every person with a Cajun accent seems to eat only Cajun food (whose composition the author explains to us in detail), and every other non-white person is a drug dealer or other type of criminal. This messaging is very offensive and unprofessional not to mention bizarre. For these reasons, Bradley earns far below an average score in this section.

Character Development (0 points)

Similarly, Bradley’s heavy-handed, third person narrative tone means that character development is pretty much nonexistent. Brooke is a wooden protagonist who doesn’t know what she wants out of life. Despite her character’s feminist undertones, she doesn’t get much accomplished without the help of her male counterpart, Luke. ‘Luke Fereday’ (no I’m not kidding) has chiseled features, drinks a lot of coffee because “caffeine never kept him up at night,” and goes to a lot of mysterious meetings in bars that make him look really cool…NOT. Jeremy, one of the cheesy antagonists, wears a suit and has a double life as a politician and guy with a Cajun accent who runs a drug cartel. The minor and secondary characters are one-dimensional and add little to the plot. There is unfortunately nothing good to note here. This being said, Bradley earns zero points for character development.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

In conclusion, there is nothing creative or original to note in this novel. As such, this book should most certainly not be made into a Christian film or series. It is always our practice to point out the good in every novel and commend authors for their strengths, but there was, regrettably, nothing here to commend. Christian authors, we believe in you and the gifts Jesus has given you. Please, don’t write a story unless you are absolutely certain that you have been called by Him to do so. A book you write with Jesus can change the world for good.

Wish List Rating: .5 out of 10 points

Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith (BTSNBM)

Star of Persia: Esther's Story  -     By: Jill Eileen Smith

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

In Star of Persia, Smith retells the familiar Bible story of Esther in an everyday fashion that contains no conspicuous errors, nor does it contain anything particularly groundbreaking. King Xerxes is a mighty king with ample political power and influence. Though he has two wives and a full harem of concubines, he loves only Vashti. Vashti struggled to have children for some time, and finally succeeded in giving Xerxes a son. However, because Vashti is only half-Persian, her rival’s son will be his successor. One evening when he has been drinking too much wine, Xerxes gives in to social pressure and summons Vashti to appear before his nobles. She refuses, a fact which earns her eternal banishment from the kingdom. King Xerxes regrets his decision the following day and longs for someone to fill the empty space Vashti left behind. Hadassah grew up as an orphan in her cousin Mordecai’s family after her parents died when she was very young. Mordecai’s wife Levia has been like a mother to Hadassah, and though she is not close to his other children, her life has been pleasant overall. As Hadassah grows older, she begins to take on more household responsiblities in preparation for her eventual betrothal to an eligible male in their community. One day Levia suddenly falls ill, and despite Hadassah’s vigilant care, she does not recover. Following Levia’s death, Hadassah and Mordecai are left shocked and saddened. Hadassah is even more confused about her future when her best friend Jola is betrothed to a young man she liked. When King Xerxes issues a decree that will change the lives of all the unmarried women in the empire, Hadassah becomes Esther, and has her future decided for her. Star of Persia’s plot moves along at a steady pace and contains no continuity errors, but sometimes it fails to hold the attention. Additionally, it contains one historical error. (spoiler) The prologue depicts a young Hadassah visiting Queen Vashti on palace grounds at night. It is very unlikely that a peasant girl would be allowed to wander through the palace gate, let alone speak to and touch the queen. In contrast, the storyline follows the Biblical narrative almost to the letter, but tends to romanticize Esther and Xerxes’ relationship, and contains very little depth. Therefore, Smith earns an average rating in this section for writing a story that is fine at face value, but failing include any content that is especially memorable or unique.

Character Development (2 points)

Similarly, the character development in this novel is pretty good, but not great. Esther is the weakest character – not a good fact when she is the protagonist. She is continually portrayed as an almost perfect character who displays almost angelic obedience and complacency even as a child. What we need here is a little spirit and rebellion! Esther was human after all, and it must have taken some kind of gumption to appear before Xerxes uninvited. The girl had spirit I tell ya! Anyway, Xerxes is a slightly better character than Esther because he makes irrational decisions he later regrets and learns from these bad choices. Haman is a partially developed antagonist who lacks motive for his actions. The other characters, like Moredecai and Levia, are fairly good minor characters who have a clear role in the story. Because of this mix of good and bad, Smith receives an average score here.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Finally, there is nothing particularly original or creative about Smith’s depiction, so this section is awarded zero points. Likewise, we do not believe that this novel contains content that should be made into a film or series. There have been many unsuccessful portrayals of Esther in film thus far, and as of now we do not expect this to change. It would be pointless for someone to try again with incomplete content. If someone attempts to make another movie or series about Esther, they will need to avoid making it a romance, think outside the box, and depict the historical setting as it actually was.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Isaiah’s Legacy by Mesu Andrews (BTSNBM)

Image result for isaiah's legacy

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Andrews’ latest novel, Isaiah’s Legacy, takes a different turn than many of it’s counterparts by thinking outside the box regarding Biblical narratives, but falls a bit short in several areas. Manasseh is a young boy who lives mostly in his own little world and struggles to cope with noise and crowds – two things that are very prevalent in the life of a future king. Zibah, his mother, fears for his future and feels helpless to teach him how to cope. Hezekiah, whose is living on borrowed time, doesn’t fully share Zibah’s level of concern about their son, but knows that something must be done if he is to rule Judah successfully. Shebna is a jealous man of Levite heritage who has been scheming for an advantageous political position for many years. On a visit to his brother Haruz’s home, he meets his niece, Shulle, and learns that she has a way with people society rejects. Shebna brings her to the palace under the guise of being a companion for Manasseh, but is secretly training her to influence the future king as he sees fit. As Shulle grows older, Shebna and his servant Belit, a sorceress, lead Shulle astray; and as Manasseh grows older, Shulle leads him astray. By the time Shulle and Manasseh are adults, they are fully immersed in the cuttthroat world of politics and surrounded by bad influences. Will they choose Yahweh’s way before it is too late? As previously mentioned, this story contains both strengths and weaknesses. On a positive note, the latter half of the novel has strong Biblical themes of redemption and forgiveness. Additionally, it is clear that the bad decisions Manasseh makes in this depiction are not related to his disorder, but his bitterness against his Maker. In contrast, the plot and storyline contain four central flaws. First, the storyline starts out on shaky ground with an information dump from Shebna that seeks to give the reader a historical background for coming events – it would have been better to divide the vast content in this novel between it and a sequel. Second, the last third/fourth of the novel tries to cover over ten years of content, which makes the ending a bit rushed. Third, there is too much page time spent explaining how pagan rituals were carried out, and author also dwells on sensual scenes between Manasseh and Shulle (before they follow Yahweh) for a bit too long. Lastly, though it is a noble idea to portray one of Israel’s kings as having Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD], it is not clear why Andrews chose to do this. As a special ed major, I wholeheartedly affirm the inclusion of people who have special needs in literature, and think that they should be represented more than they are. However, every good story needs one or more specific reasons for why it’s characters exist as they do, and great stories will use these reasons as pivotal parts of the plot. If Manasseh having ASD does not directly tie in with the plot somehow, why does he have it at all? The answer to this question is never made clear. In summary, Andrews earns slightly below an average score in this section for numerous plot and storyline errors.

Character Development (2 points)

Comparatively, Manasseh is a fairly good protagonist who has realistic responses to change and tragedy. Shulle is a good secondary main character who makes realistic wrong decisions based on duty and the desire to protect her father. (spoiler) However, at times it is hard to know what her role in the story is, outside of calming Manasseh down and trying not to have children. As for the rest, Zibah is a relatable, flawed mother figure who wants her son to follow God and make good choices. Isaiah is a good minor character, but comes off as a bit too saintly at times. Shebna is a weak antagonist who is usually angry at someone or plotting…something. Lastly an additional error to note here is that Shulle’s father basically disappears shortly after the author introduces him, then reappears at the end of the novel with no explanation. This creates a plot hole. Overall, character development is mixed, which leaves Andrews with an average score here.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Unfortunately, there is not really anything creative or original to note in this novel that has not been done before in varying forms. Needless to say, this was not our favorite book by Andrews. As such, we do not recommend that it be made into a film or series. Early on in Andrews’ career, she had a rare talent for crafting original characters and deep, meaningful dialogue – see Love Amid the Ashes for an example of this. Because of this, we believe that she still has the potential to be a great author, and maybe even a screenwriter. But she, like many other authors, needs to consider collaboration as the key to future writing success.

Wish List Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

Daughter of Rome by Tessa Afshar

Image result for daughter of rome by tessa afshar

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Tessa Afshar’s latest novel is a great concept that does not quite reach it’s fullest potential. The novel covers multiple different timelines, but centers around Priscilla and Aquila’s young adult lives and the early days of their ministry. Priscilla is the daughter of a revered Roman general and a Germanic mother – much to her brother’s chagrin. When her father died, he left her with her freedom, but no real way to make a living. As such, Priscilla lives in her brother’s home. Following a dark period in her youth that still haunts her, Priscilla decided to seek help at a local Jewish synagogue. She soon found that many of the attendees were secretly Christians. Despite her unfortunate home life, Priscilla found sincere friendship and support in this group of people who follow Yeshua. Just when she thinks her life is settling down, Aquila steps into it. Aquila, a recent convert to Christianity, comes from a staunch Jewish background and still has trouble treating Gentiles as equals. He carries his recent hurtful experiences deep inside, and sometimes lashes out at others instead of being honest with himself and God. While he is suspicious of Priscilla at first, he soon finds himself attracted to her against his will. The problem is, both Priscilla and Aquila are afraid to open their hearts to love again. To find out what happens, read the book, and leave your opinions in the comments section below!:) As I previously indicated, the plot and storyline in this novel contain both strengths and weaknesses. The plot starts out strong with a well-placed flashback to a tragic, life-altering decision Priscilla almost made, but fades to a pedestrian pace after that. While the storyline improves greatly in the last two-thirds of the novel, the first third tends to meander along through the daily lives of Priscilla and Aquila, all the while hinting at their shadowy backstories. For example, throughout the first third of the novel backstories are revealed in third person to the reader early on, then from one character to another via dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with this technique, but it does not hold the reader’s attention in this case. Furthermore, the secondary and minor characters’ sub-plots are interesting but feel incomplete. In contrast, the novel contains many well-placed Scripture references and a clear Christian message of Jesus’s grace and redeeming love. It also contains realistic portrayals of marriage relationships and friendships. Lastly, the attention given to historical detail – without lapsing into wordiness or boring narration – is impressive and adds much to the plot. Thus, Afshar earns just above an average score for her plot and storyline that improved as they unfolded.

Character Development (2.5 points)

In comparison, the character development in this novel is also above average. Priscilla is a great protagonist who is portrayed as someone earnestly seeking after Jesus, while also trying to pay penance for past sins. This paradox is a very relatable illustration of how people try to earn Jesus’s free gift of salvation and forgiveness. Antonia is a great antagonist who has a realistic motive and changes in response to her life experiences. Making the effort to craft meaningful antagonists is sometimes what saves Christian novels from obscurity. Aquila is a fairly good character, but throughout the first half of the novel we hear more about his life experiences than who he is. Although this error is nonexistent in the second half of the novel, his character feels incomplete in the end because of it’s rocky beginning. However, the minor and secondary characters are above average and round out the story well. Thus, Afshar earns a slightly above average score in character development as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Afshar’s original idea to portray Priscilla and Aquila before they were married and in the early days of their ministry together earns her a half point in originality, while her effort to bring Biblical accounts to life in meaningful ways earns her a half point in creativity. While the novel could have been better, we here at BOR still think it could make a great Christian series. If the novel was converted to a series screenplay, the screenwriters would have more space to flesh out Aquila’s character and improve both him and Priscilla through the use of flashbacks. It is no great secret that the Christian film world suffers a great shortage of excellent Bible-based films. We sincerely hope that Christian filmmakers will look to Biblical fiction novels like these for inspiration on how to proceed in future.

Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points

From Sky to Sky by Amanda G. Stevens (BTSNBM)

Image result for from sky to sky amanda stevens

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

Stevens’ sequel to No Less Days makes a good attempt at humanizing brokenness and mental health disorders, but falls short when it comes to continuity and a well-constructed plot and storyline. While the novel contains many spiritual truths and fairly good characters, it is hard to understand what the point of this tale is – more on this later. Zac Wilson is having a hard time dealing with the execution he and his fellow longevites were forced to carry out on the previous novel’s antagonist, Colm. The incident has resurfaced all his old trauma flashbacks and is threatening to send him over the edge. However, he is trying his best to keep his inner turmoil buried away so he will not be a bother to his friends. When Zac and his friend David come across two other longevites who need their help, Finn and Cady, they decide to do the honorable thing even though they are suspicious of Finn. When their new relationship with Cady and Finn leads to news of what seems to be a terrible crime, they are thrown headlong into an investigation of the same. Little do they know that this case will not be easy to solve, and that the people they will meet along the way carry information that affects longevites everywhere. To find out what happens, read the book! Or don’t, your choice – this one is an entirely optional read. As I said earlier, the weakest areas of this novel are it’s plot and storyline. The plot limps along on Zac’s panic attacks and references to the previous novel, and unfortunately offers little else besides a few moments of interesting dialogue. In comparison, the storyline follows a lot of rabbit trails that coincide in a choppy conclusion which is both dissapointing and confusing for the reader. (spoiler) Furthermore, the only way to make the longevite concept believable would be to create a plausible explanation for how these characters are still alive, which has not happened thus far. In contrast, the only strength in this area of the novel is Zac’s spiritual journey, but this meaningful sub-plot is buried under a lot of sensationalism when it should have been the driving force behind the story. In summary, this novel had the potential to be better than it is, but sadly it is not.

Character Development (1.5 points)

Comparatively, the characters in From Sky to Sky are an improvement over the plot and storyline. Zac is a somewhat relatable character who makes realistic choices throughout the story, but his development and that of the other characters are continually hampered by the author’s seemingly morbid fixation on Colm’s execution. David is also a good character who displays a great relationship with God and a genuine care and concern for other people, however, his character offers the reader no more than it did in the previous novel. Finn and Cady are good additions to the story, as is Rachel, but all three of these minor characters are left unfinished. The main strength here is the atypical antagonist who has a realistic motive and relatable personal weaknesses, but we are not introduced to her until the story is nearly over. In short, the character development is this novel is sadly lacking as well.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Stevens earns earns a half point in originality for her dialogue between Zac and Jesus. This brief bright spot is the strongest point of the novel, but unfortunately it is too little, too late. Needless to say, we do not recommend that anyone make this novel into a Christian film or series. Christian movie-makers should look to the novels rated seven points and above on this column for ample content that would make a great screenplay. Books like these exemplify the desparate need for Christian authors to let Jesus dictate their writing process. If God does not want you to write a book, please don’t write it. The world does not need more sensation, it needs what is real and true and eternal.

Wish List Rating: 3 out of 10 points

Cry of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (4 points)

The final installment in Busse’s Ravenwood Saga does not disappoint. Cry of the Raven’s well-constructed storyline, deep and relatable characters, and strong underlying message of freedom and light in Jesus cumulate to make an enjoyable read that points you to Him. The opening chapters of Cry of the Raven pick up where the previous book left off – Selene and Damien are both growing closer to the Light and letting Him use their gifts for good. However, their faith and endurance are being tested by worries about how they and the other Houses will fight against the invading Dominia Empire. At a meeting of The Great Houses where everyone discusses their plans for defense, Selene reveals the secrets of House Ravenwood – her dreamwalking gift can and has been used to kill others. In return, Selene finds out that the ancestry of each House – including hers – harbored darker and more complex secrets than she already discovered. Understandably, she is angry, hurt, and reluctant to trust anyone. Damien feels like something inside is keeping his gift of manipulating water to protect others from being all it could be, but isn’t sure what it is. He still struggles with flashbacks of painful events in his past whenever he uses it, and cannot seem to overcome the physical toll it takes on his body. When he is pushed to the breaking point, he must remember Who the Light is and make an important life choice. Will the Great Houses choose to do what is right and break up with the sins of their forefathers? To answer this question, read the book!:) It goes almost without saying that the plot and storyline in this novel are excellent. Busse does an great job of picking up where the last story left off, keeping track of a large number of characters, and utilizing varied settings without being overly wordy or choppy. Thus, she demonstrates above average continuity and fictional world-building skills. Busse also pens an intriguing plot that holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end and even inspires excitement about the conclusion. Thus, Busse earns a perfect score in this section for the reasons listed above.

Character Development (4 points)

Next, Busse’s character development is the strongest point of this book. She has correctly utilized the space given in the series format to deepen already strong characters by exploring their spiritual lives. Selene displays extremely realistic struggles and emotional responses. Moreover, the illustration painted by her arc of how Christians can only be strong through surrendering to Jesus’ strength is very meaningful. Damien continues to be a refreshingly atypical male lead who actually has more to offer to the story than having chiseled features. His spiritual and emotional battles are very relatable and his personality is clearly established. (spoiler) Comparatively, Busse’s use of childhood flashbacks with her antagonist helps this character avoid the pitfall of being a villian just because. Finally, her minor and secondary characters are very well-developed and have clear roles in the story. In short, there is not enough good to say here, and for that reason Busse earns a perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Busse really shines in the areas of creativity and originality. This being so, she earns a full point in originality for crafting intelligent and relatable characters who have realistic emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical traits. Additionally, Busse earns a half of an x-factor point in creativity for her strong plot and storyline. Because of this, we here at BOR feel that Busse’s Ravenwood Saga would make an excellent multi-season Christian fantasy series. Step aside Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, there’s a new story in town!

Wish List Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler-Younts (BTSNBM)

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Plot & Storyline Quality (0 points)

Byler-Younts latest novel is a real doozy. From the confusing storyline that can’t pick an identity to the spastic character arcs, this novel is all bad and no good. The opening chapters of the book introduce the reader to Brighton, the daughter of a longtime patient living at Riverside, a mental asylum. Brighton was born at the facility and is used to hearing the cries of the insane as they undergo ‘treatments’ that are questionable at best. The things she has seen and heard there will never be far from her mind. Her days are spent caring for her mother’s needs, talking to her best friend – a boy named Angel who is called an albino because of his bleached skin tone and features – and finding reassurance in Nursey, a nurse who is a mother figure of sorts for her. When Brighton finds out that one of her friends has built their life on lies and deceit, her life will never be the same. Unlike most of the other titles on this site, I do not recommend that you read this book. At best, it’s a waste of your time, in reality, it’s like a fever dream. As for the specific flaws…oh, where to begin. Earlier I mentioned that the storyline can’t pick an identity – this is a major error for many reasons. Is this an expose of the cruel practices used in historical mental asylums? Is it an honest look at how circus employees were/are manipulated for profit? Is this a coming of age tale in a bizarre setting? What is it? An author should always answer this question before writing a story. In comparison, it almost goes without saying that the plot is extremely discombobulated. As the reader is pulled from one climactic and sensational moment to another, the author forgets to include pertinent information about exactly how key events in the story were accomplished (and do we really need so many scenes of people being dragged kicking and screaming to solitary confinement??). Finally, the dialogue swings back and forth between a melodramatic view on life and an unusual narrative tone that sometimes makes inappropriate, crude remarks about the private aspects of a person’s life. This is not only distracting to the reader, but something that should never be found in a Christian novel. In summation, Byler-Younts receives no points in this section for the reasons listed above.

Character Development (0 points)

Similarly, Byler-Younts’ character development is just good enough to keep this section from receiving negative points, but that’s not saying much. Brighton has the most potential to be a good character because her dialogue gives the reader a first-person perspective on what’s happening. However, her character arc is inconsistent. One minute she’s fighting tooth and nail against everyone, then she’s depressed and crawling back to dysfunctional relationships for comfort. Angel isn’t a bad character concept, but that’s all he is – his character never moves beyond an idea to gain a personality and tendencies. Unfortunately, it seems like Grace only exists so the author has a reason to mention how biracial asylum patients were sterilized at one point in time. Most of minor characters are either forgettable or incomplete concepts because of their short lifespan. It is never a good idea to steadily introduce new minor or secondary characters all the way through the end of a storyline as a way of filling in plot holes – this is nothing more than a lazy method of writing. In short, there’s really nothing good to say here. As such, Byler-Younts earns zero points in this section as well.

Creativity & Originality (-1 points)

Finally, because there is no creativity or originality to speak of here, numerous writing errors, and no spiritually uplifting moments, Byler-Younts earns a negative point in this section. Please know that we tried our best to find something positive about this novel and are always willing to give authors the benefit of the doubt, there just wasn’t anything good here. It is truly disheartening to see how some Christian authors will abandon any talent they had in exchange for a sensational story that will make some fast cash or gain them social recognition. The lesson that the fictional Jo March learned long ago is still true for today’s authors – “aim at the highest, and never mind the money.” If Jesus has placed a story on your heart and compelled you to share it with others, this will be obvious to all who read it, and money will be of no consequence.

Wish List Rating: -1 out of 10 points

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Wright’s latest novel is an excellent example of how to weave life lessons into an intriguing story that would make a great Christian suspense series. The first few chapters of Echoes Among the Stones make it seem like a typical murder mystery, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that there is much more to this book than meets the eye. When Aggie Dunkirk loses her realty job and is left floundering, she receives a letter from her grandmother, Mumsie, saying that she has broken her hip and needs help. As thoughts of her mother’s recent death crowd her mind, Aggie reluctantly makes the journey back to her hometown of Mill Creek, only to find upon her arrival that Mumsie has neither broken her hip, nor does she appear to be in poor health. Aggie is angry with her at first, but her anger turns to concern when she discovers a skeleton lying in Mumsie’s back yard. The local police brush off the incident as ‘kids’ pulling a prank, but she isn’t so sure. At her new job restoring Mill Creek’s flooded cemetery, Aggie observes more unusual occurrences and begins to wonder if something or someone is targeting Mumsie. Imogene Grayson is a young woman living during the aftermath of World War 2 who has just experienced the violent, completely unexpected murder of her younger sister Hazel. With the war barely over and her brothers just home from the same, Imogene is left grasping for sanity. She vows that she will bring Hazel’s killer to justice, and begins to take great lengths to fulfill this mental declaration – but resolving the same will prove to be nigh on impossible. To find out what happens to these women, read the book! Echoes Among the Stones has a very detailed plotline that holds the attention from cover to cover. There are no lull periods as even the slower-paced scenes are full of meaningful dialogue – one of the novel’s biggest strengths. (spoiler) Another big strength is the fact that the killer is a surprise, and they are not the only one at fault. In comparison, the novel contains a few weaknesses. First, the ending feels a bit rushed as the climactic question asked throughout the novel is answered in an old video on someone’s cellphone, and there are a few moments of sensual thought processes on Aggie’s behalf that we could do without. Lastly, Imogene’s mental murder reenactments are extremely raw and may not sit well with younger readers. In spite of this, this storyline has plenty of potential to be a Christian series, thus earning it an above average score.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Similarly, the character development in this novel is very well done. Aggie and Mumsie’s character arcs make a great parallel because they have very similar, if not the same personalities and tendencies, and have made similar choices throughout their lives. The comparison between an older and younger woman who have similar struggles is a much needed message for our times – neither older nor younger people are better than one another. Furthermore, the minor characters add humor and vitality to the story – which is much needed because of the rather morbid subject matter. The twist with the antagonist adds a lot to the conclusion as well. In comparison, there are a two weaknesses in this section as well. First, although Collin’s character is saved from being entirely stereotypical by his above average dialogue, he continually leans towards the fairy-tale hero/good guy role (he’s a British guy named Colin Collin, I mean, come on). Any-who, the other weakness is the fact that Glen’s character is somewhat shoehorned into the plot – we needed to know more about him as a person outside of his father’s looming shadow. In summary, the weaknesses here do not have a major impact on the story as a whole, therefore, Wright earns a nearly perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Wright earns a half point in creativity for writing a suspense story with many meaningful and humorous moments, and a half point in originality for her effort to focus the reader’s attention on Who holds our lives together in the midst of life’s most difficult and dark moments – an aspect that can be seen all throughout the story. As such, BOSs (Box Office Sass) thinks that this would make a great Christian suspense series. Some aspects of the novel would need to be toned down a bit to be palatable on-screen, and Wright would have to be a part of the writing process to ensure that the integrity of her story is upheld, but it can be done. We here at BOR long for the day when Christian movie-makers will start looking for movie ideas in the right place – exceptional Christian novels.

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

When Silence Sings is a very creative novel that displays a refreshing Biblical worldview and an openness to diversity that is rarely seen in Christian fiction; however, the novel is a mixed bag that had the potential to be much better than it is. Colman Harpe is a young man caught in the middle of a clan battle between two prominent mountain families – the McLeans and Harpes. He feels called by God to be a preacher, but isn’t quite sure what to do with that calling…until God tells him exactly what, Tell the McLeans about Me. Colman resists this message because he believes the McLeans don’t deserve forgiveness and love, and when he does, one disaster leads to another until he’s lost in the mountain caves with no hope of escape. On the outside, Serepta McLean is a hardened, bitter middle-aged woman who enjoys establishing control and dominance over everyone and anyone she comes in contact with by any means necessary. At least, that’s what she wants everyone to see. On the inside, Serepta is a hurting, vulnerable young girl who has never been able to escape her past. When Colman and Serepta find their carefully constructed lives shaken by the One who loves them most, will they choose to withdraw or look up? This novel is an interesting mix of excellent characters and a creative storyline and too great of an emphasis on physical attraction paired with some unusual elements. It was a creative idea to parallel Colman’s character arc with the prophet Jonah’s, but while the author seems committed to making this an allegory in the beginning, the Jonah themes fade away and she turns to other Biblical illustrations as the pages go by. Thus, plot inconsistency is the first major error here. The second major error is harder to explain, but is in existence. The author writes in a whimsical, mysterious tone that is not inherently bad, but leans towards sensuality during conversations between characters and their love interests. In contrast, the plot contains several strengths. First, her messaging is very good. The way she illustrates the absurdity of treating so-called different people as such through her dialogue and mental imaging is excellent. Finally, her unique take on both the Gospel message and God’s grace is very meaningful. In culmination, Thomas earns an average score for a plot that had roots but no blooms.

Character Development (2.5 points)

In comparison, Thomas’ characters are her biggest writing strength. Colman is a very human prophet who has just as many strengths and weaknesses as the next person. Serepta is an excellent antagonist whose backstory – while incomplete – gives clear reasons for her behavior. (spoiler) Additionally, the fact that everything in her life isn’t fixed at the conclusion of the tale is much appreciated by us here at BOR (which now stands for Box Office Razzmatazzūüėé). The minor characters are also slightly above average because their character arcs are unpredictable and each one has at least a partial backstory. However, there are a few flaws here as well. First, the romances between characters are portrayed as being based mostly on physical attributes, and some of the same relationships display some unusual behavior. Lastly, while each character displays consistent themes, it is hard to get to know them because of how many there are. This novel would have been better if the content in the same was broken up in a series – we could get to know the characters better if they had an individual voice. Likewise, the third-person narrative style of writing makes all the characters seem a bit impersonal. In spite of these flaws, Thomas shows much potential for future novels and or screenplays because her spiritual foundation is strong. Therefore, she earns a slightly above average score here for making an effort to include substance alongside whimsy.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Thomas earns a full point in originality for her obvious grasp on good character foundations, and for her effort to portray diversity as being multifaceted – as not only involving race inclusion, but acceptance of behavioral, cultural, and other factors that make all people unique. For this reason, we here at BOR feel that Thomas has the potential to be a great screenwriter and recommend that she collab with other good authors like Francine Rivers and Susie Finkebeiner to create scripts based on her novels and creative ideas.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The End of the Magi by Patrick Carr

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Patrick Carr is back and is trying out a new genre – Biblical fantasy. Biblical fiction is a literary genre that desperately needs creativity and new kinds of writers. Thankfully, Carr does both. His story, set around the time that Jesus Christ was born, is a revolutionary idea that paints the traditional, but historically and Biblcally inaccurate “three wise men” in a whole new light. Myrad is the adopted son of Gershom, a secret member of the king’s magi. The magi are an elite group who are advise the king and approve his decisions. However, this is only part of their job. As we all know, they’re keeping track of time to see when the Messiah will come. Myrad has suffered from a clubfoot all his life, and it has kept him one step behind (literally) everyone else. When he has a dream about the future, Gershom sees his gift and takes him to the palace to become a magus. But on the very day when he is to become such, Gershom and the majority of the other magi make a decision King Phaartes and his wannabe queen Musa don’t like. As punishment, the king orders the mass slaughter of all the magi, save for Myrad and a handful of others. Myrad escapes (mostly) and runs into a merchant named Walagash. The two join forces, and Myrad soon learns that life on the road is unpredictable, and the course of his life has been forever changed. After all, he’s following the star. To find out what happens to Myrad and the other characters, read the book!:) No really, read it, it’s actually worth your time.ūüėÉ The End of the Magi wades through this section with few errors. The plot is excellent, per usual for this author, and the storyline holds the attention from cover to cover. There are no continuity errors, and the story takes several unexpected turns up to the very end of the story. Additionally, there are several reveals throughout the plot that make for an exciting read, and the startling attention given to historical detail is impressive. The main error to speak of is minor – the eventual romance feels a bit tacked on, but the dialogue between the two characters in question is so good that there’s not much else to say. Other than that, there is a sequence that it is hard to believe the character lives through – but this is fantasy, after all – and a few dialogue sequences that are just a hair long. In spite of this, there is not space here to list the remaining positive aspects. Suffice it to say, Carr earns just short of a perfect score here.

Character Development (4 points)

In comparison, Carr’s character development is excellent. Myrad is an imperfect protagonist who learns from his good and bad decisions and – realistically – changes as a person throughout the story. Walgash is a great minor character and father figure who adds a lot to the plot, but in my opinion we could use fewer references to his hugeness and strength. However, as this is not an error, but an opinion, Carr isn’t marked off for it. Rashan is a surprisingly good character who gets better as the story continues. Additionally, the antagonist(s) are believable and the secondary characters make meaningful contributions to the plot. In short, there are no errors to speak of here.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Carr earns a half an x-factor point in originality for actually having the magi visit Jesus when he was a young child instead of an infant, because nobody does this. He also earns a full point in creativity for his unique depiction of the magi and his commitment to historical accuracy. As such, we believe this novel would make an excellent Christian series. The storyline would need very little alteration, and Carr must be involved in the screenwriting process if the characters are to be interpreted properly. Excellent novels such as these leave no excuses for filmmakers to continue to ignore this valuable moviemaking resource.

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

When I Close My Eyes by Elizabeth Musser

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Musser’s latest novel is an intriguing blend of imperfectly unique characters and a creative suspense-style storyline that communicates an outside-the-box message about humanity’s need for God’s grace. While it has several strengths, perhaps When I Close My Eyes‘ biggest strength is how the author humanizes the struggle many people have with depression. Josephine Bourdillon loves to write. For her, writing is more than a hobby, it is how she makes sense of life’s joys and sorrows. Holding onto God’s promises and putting her pain in story form is how she has survived her difficult life. Josephine has a happy existence overall – she has several close friends, a devoted husband, and two loving daughters, Paige and Hannah. Though her troubled older sister is a continual rain-cloud in her otherwise sunny life, she really can’t complain. When Josephine is suddenly shot in the head by a scapegoat named Henry Hughes, her family is horrified and the world wonders if her stories will die with her. Henry is pinned as the key suspect in the case as everyone tries to find out who tried to kill Mrs. Bourdillon, and her family tries to hold onto hope that sue will survive. To find out what happens to the Bourdillon and Hughes families, read the book!:) On the whole, this storyline is a very interesting idea that wasn’t fully carried out. For instance, Josephine and Paige have very well-done stories; the former’s is established with timely and meaningful flashbacks, and the latter has a clearly outlined personality and relatable thought processes. However, Paige’s story is a bit rushed, and the audience needed a bit more information about both her and her love interest as children. In spite of this, the dialogue between characters is exceptional and Henry is a refreshingly original antagonist. In comparison, Josephine’s story tends to be quite morbid at times. (spoiler) Although her flashbacks give ample reason for her struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, the reader is left to assume that this was just a natural tendency for her as a person, rather than a result of her difficult childhood. It is our opinion that the latter plot device needed to be more clearly emphasized for her story to be truly relatable. (spoiler) Lastly, the misdirecting plot twist towards the end of the story is an intriguing idea, but I must say I’m glad the novel ended the way it did for a number of reasons; however, the epilogue is unnecessary. Thus, this combination of strengths and weaknesses earns Musser an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

In contrast, the character development in this novel is better than that of many, but it still leaves some room for improvement. First, the author employs excellent development of Josephine’s through flashbacks and shows how she weaves pieces of herself into her novels as a way of coping with trauma. This is an excellent plot device that humanizes her character and demonstrates the author’s deep understanding of people’s response mechanisms. Furthermore, Musser’s subtle explanation of how Josephine deals with her past by trying to help others reconcile with theirs helps make this character believable. In addition, Paige is a great alternate lead, and minor characters like her boyfriend and Henry’s wife are above average. In comparison, it is hard to get to know Josephine’s husband as a character in the midst of the fast paced plot, so it is clear that he needed a bit more development or an even smaller role in the story. The same is true for Hannah, for though she is an interesting idea, her character never fully comes to fruition. Therefore, Musser earns just under a perfect score here.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Musser earns a half point in originality for writing a true contemporary novel that is not fully a suspense, romance, or thriller. Instead, it contains aspects from all three of these genres in a very surprising way. While this novel is not great, it is good, and there are many recent novels of which we cannot say the same. Likewise, we feel that this novel would make a great Christian drama/biopic film if the screenwriter took a little time to develop the minor characters further and cemented Josephine’s life as the main focus.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

A Single Light by Tosca Lee (BTSNBM)

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

Lee’s latest novel is a far cry from her usual finesse. A Single Light is a bit of a disaster area in general (pun intended). From the meandering storyline, to the meaningless characters, to the Band-Aid style ending that seals the story’s festering wound, there isn’t much good here. Wynter, Chase, and all the rest pick up where they left off in the last novel. Everyone is underground in Noah’s interactive bunker of sorts, hiding from the prion disease and general mayhem above ground. Everything goes well until one day Noah doesn’t show up on the nightly live video feed that is their only contact with the outside. The residents grow restless and anxious, which leads to suspicion and accusation. When a woman goes crazy and stabs a fellow resident to death, her peers decide to serve up justice by locking her in the freezer (!?!?). Needless to say, her husband joins her, making the death tally read three (so far). When someone recognizes Wynter from news specials about her so called crime, she and Chase are put in custody. Wynter soon learns that Chase is not who he appears to be, and begins to wonder who she can trust. As one accident and catastrophe leads to another, Wynter will have to fight tooth and nail to survive. Needless to say, this novel contains endless violence – innumerable fight scenes, impossible survival sequences, and lots of blood and weaponry. If the reader can disregard the novel’s morbid tone and cold attitude towards the value of human life, they may come down with a case of motion sickness from the chaotic storyline. Additionally, the pointless cursing and edgy content do not fit in the supposed inspirational genre. Moreover, the cheap suspense elements, unusual characters, and corny romance scenes are not inspiring. As if this isn’t enough, we experience numerous rehashings about things that happened in the previous novel in the series. The main positive note here is the ending – typical though it may be – because it gives the reader reason to hope.

IT DOES GIVE A PERSON REASON TO DOUBT | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

The novel also has a fairly complex storyline and a few mildly interesting dialogue sequences. These factors earn Lee a below average score in this section

Character Development (.5 point)

Because our goal on this blog is not to spread negativity, this section will be brief. First, Chase, the corny male, seems exist only to be the character with two-day old stubble and military muscles shining in the moonlight. Second, the protagonist is rash and wishy-washy. Wynter seems to teeter between the edge of sanity and a normal person’s conscience throughout the entire novel. While she is the best character, it us hard to get to know her in between explosions and mortal wounds. Third, the antagonists are numerous, but don’t worry, most of them die quickly. Finally, Otto is a great minor character with a senseless tragic end. Absolutely the very last sentence…

ABSOLUTELY THE VERY LAST SHOW WITH THE POSSIBILTY OF A SECOND SHOW TO FOLLOW | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

…Lee earns a half point here for her Otto character and for her reasonably good protagonist.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, there is not much creativity to speak of here. Any that does exist comes from the previous novel and is repurposed in this one – thus earning her a half point in creativity. Lee is better than this. We have seen great work from her many times before, and know she can do it again. But in the meantime, we do not recommend that anyone make this novel into a movie. Instead, they should look at her last novel, The Line Between, for content that would make a great Christian movie or series.

Wish List Rating: 2 out of 10 points

When Through Deep Waters by Rachelle Dekker

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Rachelle Dekker’s first standalone novel is a bittersweet adventure with brilliant underlying themes that hides life lessons in unlikely places. While the story discusses some very gritty topics, it does so with taste and class. Alicen is prosperous by the world’s standards, but spiritually, she is suffering. On the outside, she is a wealthy socialite who doesn’t have a care int he world, but on the inside, she is very unhappy. Alicen married a man she does not love, had a daughter with him she doesn’t have time for, and lives constantly under the fear of what her mother thinks. When her young daughter Jane dies in a sudden drowning accident when Alicen is not watching her, Alicen goes over the edge and tries to take her own life. When this doesn’t work, her best friend from childhood invites her to come stay in their hometown and consider checking herself into a mental health program. Alicen refuses at first, but when she begins seeing Jane and other children that no one else can see, having severe emotional breakdowns, and becoming so lost in her own mind that she loses track of her whereabouts, she reluctantly agrees out of fear. (spoiler) Unfortunately, the mental facility is not entirely reputable, and the path to healing is not as simple as Alicen may think. She will find that she must face her deepest fears and darkest moments to experience the healing light of God’s love. To find out what happens to Alicen, read the book!:) On the whole this storyline is very well constructed – from the intricate plot details to the excellent flashbacks Alicen experiences, Dekker spares no expense when it comes to quality over quantity. Her extremely realistic portrayal of strained and or unhealthy relationships across generations adds depth and relatability to the story, and the time she spent on giving each character a unique personality makes the novel very meaningful. I could continue to praise the novel’s strengths, but it would be best for you to read it yourself. In comparison, the weaknesses here are very minor. First, Victoria (the antagonist) is somewhat unrelatable until her backstory is explained, so Dekker probably needed to give us a few more hints about her past earlier on in the novel. Lastly, some of the fantastical elements are hard to believe, (spoiler) but thankfully these are balanced out by the ending, which depicts Alicen as not being able to enter an alternate reality after being healed. In summary, this is an excellent Christian thriller that I would recommend to a non-Christian – and that’s saying a lot.

Character Development (3.5 points)

In contrast, Alicen is a nearly perfect protagonist because she has realistic perceptions of herself, others, and the world, and her past experiences are inseparably intertwined with her present. Additionally, it is highly realistic that Alicen must face her past in order to move on with her life. Louise is an excellent minor character who has a clear role in the story that goes beyond being simply a best friend to Alicen. It is clearly established that she is someone God uses to help Alicen through her life storm. Furthermore, Alicen’s grandmother is a excellent minor character. Even though she is only in the flashbacks, her personality and role in the story are clearly defined as important by the author. In comparison, although the antagonist is not perfect, her character is rounded out with an unfortunately realistic backstory. It is my opinion that there could have been a greater emphasis on Victoria than her uncle, for her character has a rather hasty development and conclusion. In spite of this, character development is Dekker’s strongest suit. Therefore, she earns just shy of a perfect score in this section as well.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Dekker earns a full point in originality for writing an excellent psychological thriller that stands apart from it’s genre and communicates a unique Christian message. Moreover, she earns a half an x-factor point for her excellent characters and movie-worthy storyline. As such, we here at BOR think that this novel would make an excellent Christian series as it is. Some of the gritty factors, like Victoria’s past, would need to be subtle on screen, but it should be included in the film. Additionally, the screenwriter would need to be experienced with creating excellent flashback scenes, as this is vital to the plot continuity and depth. This would be a great project for a filmmaker who has made a few things before and is looking for something that will get them on the map.

Wish List Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

Unscripted by Davis Bunn (BTSNBM)

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

Bunn’s latest fictional work has a few good ideas but is mostly uninspiring. It was an interesting idea to write a novel about what happens behind-the-scenes while films are being made, but the plot and storyline are hard to decipher at times and the characters are not very easy to relate to. Danny Byrd is a budding movie producer who has already been involved in several successful projects; however, everything goes awry when he’s betrayed by his partner and best friend, JT. When JT makes off with most of the production funds, Danny is ‘left holding the bag’ and thrown in jail under false accusations. Megan Pierce is a lawyer with more than a little experience under her belt and a longing to do something lasting. Frankly, she’s tired of working with the big business goons playing the big city lawyer game. Megan wants to help someone who cares about the everyday person – oh, and if that person also ended up being her boyfriend it would really seal the deal. When she gets involved in Danny’s case, she recognizes that he isn’t just in the movie-making business for himself, but wants to use his talent to help others realize theirs. It doesn’t take long for Megan to fall in love with Danny, and it takes an even shorter amount of time for him to fall in love with her. Danny and Megan soon realize that many of the puzzle pieces surrounding his case have yet to be discovered, and that getting out of his predicament may be easier than they previously thought. Will their love survive the trials ahead? (pun intended) First off, the plot of this novel is very hard to follow. One minute Danny is in jail, and the next minute he’s making a movie with a recently discovered starlet. Additionally, the list of characters keeps growing as the story continues, which makes it hard for the reader to keep up with who is who. (spoiler) Why, even on the last few pages two characters we’ve never heard of before appear. Another reviewer observed that this story began in the wrong place, but we here at BOR think that it continued in the wrong direction. It wasn’t a bad idea to start out with Danny in jail, but why not switch to how he got in their and come back to him in jail later in the novel? The jury’s still out (pun intended) on whether or not that’s what actually happens in this storyline. Anyway, positive aspects of the novel include the creative idea behind the storyline and the author’s detailed descriptions of scenes as they play out. Besides what we’ve already mentioned, other weaknesses include some too-detailed descriptions of female characters appearances and the author’s tendency to make the reader feel like they’re on the outside looking in. Therefore, for these reasons and others, Bunn earns less than an average score in this section.

Character Development (.5 point)

Next, among the long list of characters the good ones are hard to find. The protagonist, Danny, has the most potential because he has an interesting backstory; however, his backstory needed further development. As it is we only get a few snippets of his past that are explained in a heavily narrated style. If Danny and Megan had had fully developed backstories, the novel could have been much better than it is. Megan is a bit of a wooden character who seems to fall very easily for her male counterpart. It is hard to get to know her because of her sudden appearance in the story, and hard to understand her purpose in the story – she is basically just an observer. Furthermore, there are some odd undertones in this area of the novel. For instance, the male lead seems to perceive females and males as only good at certain things – women are good at portraying emotions well on screen, and men are good at being intimidating and or playing the hero (or the no-account). Lastly, the dialogue is very uninteresting. Readers, please know that we really tried to find the good here, but there wasn’t much good to find. Therefore, Bunn earns just short of zero points in this section.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Bunn earns a half point in creativity for his attempt to craft an interesting story, but no point in originality because of the errors listed above. Likewise, we here at BOR do not think a screenwriter should adapt this novel for the big screen because there is really nothing here that will point people to Christ. We encourage Christian filmmakers to look to novels on our Wish List that are scored at six points and above for content that would make a great film.

Wish List Rating: 2 out of 10 points

King’s Shadow by Angela Hunt

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Angela Hunt’s latest novel, the last installment in The Silent Years series, has a pretty good storyline and average characters, but does not reflect the usual pathos demonstrated by this author. Hunt set a high bar for herself with novels like Uncharted and The Offering, a standard that has not been reached by this or her other most recent novels. The Silent Years series as a whole has been a mixed bag; some novels have been better than others, but none have demonstrated the author’s true potential. Egypt’s Sister was a very slow-paced novel, Judah’s Wife was the best of the series but had a predictable ending, Jerusalem’s Queen was wordy, and this novel is average. Salome is the sister of King Herod and the wife of her uncle, Joseph. She navigates tumultuous palace politics by knowing everything about everyone in order to ensure her own survival. Salome is a hard, selfish woman who rationalizes other’s deaths when her life is on the line. Her world is rocked when her longtime servant and friend dies suddenly, but she finds consolation in the young girl who takes her friend’s place. Zara is a young Jewess who has just been betrothed to a shoemaker in her village. She has suffered the loss of her father in the recent war, which also left her mother paralyzed. Though her aunt helps out here and there, Zara shoulders most of the responsibility around the house; however, when the opportunity to leave her mundane life presents itself, she takes it. Zara has always found solace in working with her hands, a talent that serves her well as Salome’s new hairdresser. Together these two women from completely opposite social spheres must carefully navigate the dangerous waters of Herod’s court if they expect to come out alive and sane on the other side. On the whole, this story holds the attention and contains only minor plot errors. Additionally, the unique depiction of Herod as a human, not a tyrant, is much appreciated. Similarly, Hunt makes an effort throughout the novel to portray people as neither all good or bad, a choice that demonstrates her grasp on crafting excellent characters. In comparison, the novel’s pace is inconsistent at times, likely due to the vast amount of time covered in the same. Moreover, there are no ‘wow’ moments here – just a good bordering on average story. Nothing that happens to the characters is unexpected, and nothing that occurs in the plot especially groundbreaking – there is no particular climax. Therefore, Hunt rounds out with just above an average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

In contrast, Salome is a very interesting character with a clearly defined personality and consistent tendencies. Zara is also a good character, but she seems a bit too good at times. It would have been nice if Hunt had made her a little more imperfect like she did with the other characters. Hunt’s portrayal of Herod is one of the best I have seen, but without a first-person perspective from him the novel feels unfinished. It is my opinion that the novel would have been great if it revolved around first-person perspectives from Herod and Salome. The main errors to point out here are few, but they do affect the quality in this section. First, Alexandra is a weak villian who needed further development, and Mariamne needed a bigger role in the story – she has little involvement in the plot overall. Lastly, these characters do not stand out from the others Hunt has crafted in their genre – they are good but not great. Thus, Hunt earns an average score here because we know she can do better.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Hunt earns a half point in creativity for her portrayal of little known pieces of Biblical history, and a half point in originality for her well-balanced characters. Despite the fact that this is not the best novel in the series, we still think The Silent Years book series would make a great Christian series or show. Some of the books would need to be heavily edited and all the characters given greater depth and emphasis. Additionally, the filmmaker would have to give Hunt a place on the screenwriting team to ensure quality is upheld, but such a project is possible. Even when Christian novels aren’t perfect, we continue to hope Christian filmmakers will realize the film potential in the same.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

One More River to Cross by Jane Kirkpatrick (BTSNBM)

Author’s note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Jane Kirkpatrick’s latest novel, One More River to Cross, has an okay storyline, a very choppy plot and partially developed characters. It was a good idea to base a historical fiction novel off of real events and people, but this was not the way to do it. The Steven’s Murphy company had one goal – go down in history as the first wagon train to reach California via the Sierra Nevada mountains. The company contains people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds who all want the chance at a better life in California. The trip goes well at first, but weather conditions soon take a turn for the worse. When an unexpected snowstorm forces the party to make a desparate decision to split the larger party up into three smaller ones, it truly becomes every man for himself. Will the group of men and women on horseback, the men left behind to guard the wagons, and the women and children in a thrown-together shelter by the Yuba riverside live to tell their tales? To answer this question, read the book! While there are both positives and negatives in this novel, unfortunately the negatives are predominant. First, some parts of the novel hold the attention while others do not. Additionally, Kirkpatrick employs an inconsistent storytelling style in the form of randomly jumping between the stories of the three groups with no apparent pattern. Second, an attempt at identifying the negative effects of patriarchy is overshadowed by forced romances and overlong starvation sequences. Finally, the greatest weakness here is that the reader feels like they’re being told a story rather than being free to discover it as it comes and make their own decisions. This could have been remedied with first person storytelling from the perspective of the characters, not the author. In comparison, the historical aspects of the novel are intriguing and some of the character’s stories are engaging; however, these are swept away, so to speak, by the negative elements. Therefore, Kirkpatrick earns a below average score in this section.

Character Development (.5 point)

In contrast, One More River to Cross contains so many characters that their respective roles in the story are hard to decipher at times. Moreover, it could be argued that there is no discernible protagonist or antagonist as most characters seem to have equal page time. Additionally, the minor characters are barely in the novel, and on the whole, the characters are very simplistic because their actions and speech are heavily narrated by the author. Lastly, third person did not work here because it enhances the boredom of the story rather than engaging the reader in what’s going on. Overall, it was a good idea to bring real historical figures to life, but none of these characters are relatable or memorable. This being said, Kirkpatrick earns significantly less than an average score in this section.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Finally, it was a creative idea to make a historical fiction novel that is based on real events – a fact which earns Kirkpatrick a point in creativity. In fact, this is arguably Kirkpatrick’s strongest area. In spite of this, the novel should not become a film or series because the storyline is weak and the characters are one-dimensional. Weak characters are a critical error in any novel, but error is even more apparent in the historical genre because stories with a lot of information depend on strong characters for life and vitality. In conclusion, it would be an interesting idea for a Christian filmmaker to make a movie or series based on the real stories of American settlers, but we do not recommend that they use this novel.

Wish List Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

The Girl Behind the Red Rope by Rachelle and Ted Dekker

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Rachelle and Ted Dekker’s latest novel is a very creative take on a simple truth that many Christians never live out. The detailed allegory-like storyline, the relatable characters, and the extreme creativity culminate in an enjoyable, unpredictable read that illustrates key spiritual truths. Grace, her mother, and brother Jamie live in Haven Valley, a place whose borders are closed in by a red rope. The residents of Haven Valley live under the protection of a mysterious being who claims to protect them from the Fury – frightening beings who are always looking for someone to attack – in exchange for unconditional obedience. Among other things, there are strict rules for how men and women can dress, look, behave, and interact with others – and above all there can be no lies or secret sin. Jamie has always questioned the validity of the community’s core beliefs, and one day he acts on this impulse by convincing Grace to journey with him beyond the red rope. What the two see and experience beyond Haven Valley’s borders send them hurrying back to safety and leave them with more questions than before. When Grace returns from her brief venture into the unknown she brings back a friend no one else can see who claims to be a source of wisdom and protection. Against this friend’s advice, Grace keeps breaking rules in her search for truth. When her decisions lead to consequences that she never desired, Grace will have to decide what she believes and who can be trusted. To find out what happens to Grace, Jamie, (and everyone else I didn’t mention ’cause spoilers), read the book!:) On the whole, the plot and storyline in this novel demonstrate excellent continuity and a level of depth not usually seen in this genre. The dialogue between characters contains many thought-provoking dilemmas that we are all faced with at some point in our lives. (spoiler) Additionally, the underlying contrast of legalism as death and grace as life and freedom beyond our wildest imagination gives the plot meaning and will be attractive to non-Christians. On a side note, this is a rare Christian novel that I would recommend to a unbeliever, especially one who was turned off to Christianity by a legalistic church or person. In contrast, there are two errors that keep this novel from a perfect score. First, there are a few too many sensational villian sequences between Rose and said being. Lastly, it is my opinion that Ben’s story was somewhat glossed over compared to the other characters’ stories. In spite of this, the well-placed flashbacks, intelligent characters, and creative undertones round this section out to just short of a perfect score.

Character Development (3.5 points)

In comparison, this novel is a great example of what happens when two good authors collaborate on characters. First, Grace is a nearly perfect protagonist who demonstrates (rarely seen) refreshing intelligence, realistic emotional responses, and relatable thought processes. Second, Jamie is a great secondary character who adds much to the plot because his story takes a realistic turn. Rose is a unique antagonist who is neither a strawman nor a typical villian. This being said, her backstory, current responses to past familial tension and abuse, and dependence on something other than God is a great illustration of someone who feels like they have to earn their salvation. Additionally, the minor characters are above average and have a clear role in the story. Furthermore, the representations of Jesus, his sacrifice on the cross, and live-giving resurrection are well-placed and make the story all that it is. In contrast, the errors here are minor and could be fixed if the novel was adapted to be a screenplay. As previously mentioned, Ben’s story needs more depth and a bigger place in the story because of how his role ends. Finally, some of the characters’ stories are wrapped up rather quickly; however, because the pros outweigh the cons here, the Dekkers earn an above average score in this section.

Creativity and Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, the Dekkers earn a full point in creativity for their great storyline and a half an x-factor point for their original, deep dialogue sequences and for their unique characters. This novel turns over a new leaf for it’s genre by proving that meaning, depth, and spiritual encouragement is possible in a thriller. Because of this, we here at BOR think this book would make a great Christian series. The book would need very little alteration to be converted to screenplay form, and most of the dialogue is good as is. As always, it is our continual hope that someone will recognize exceptional novels such as these and adapt them for the big screen.

Wish List Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills

Author’s note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Diann Mills’ latest novel – Fatal Strike – is a mixed bag that has some good and some bad moments. The strongest part of the novel is the storyline, the weakest part is the character development, and the creativity/originality is average. Leah Riesel, an FBI agent/sniper, is committed to her work and content to live a solitary life when she’s not working. Leah has few close friends, has mixed feelings about God, and continually feels guilt and regret about events in her past. After completing routine sniper work as part of a hostage situation, Leah is unexpectedly given a big assignment with a partner she barely knows. Jon Colbert is an experienced sniper who is confident in his abilities and prefers the comfort zone of work to the unpredictability of relationships. Jon feels guilty about the tragic death of his mentor and is reluctant to form new long-term relationships because he fears loss. When Leah and Jon are forced to work together to solve a string of mysterious gang-related murders, their insecurities and strengths will be tested. As their list of suspects grows and people continue to die, Leah and Jon will have to face their fears and be honest about their feelings for each other if they want to solve the case. On the whole, the plot holds the attention all the way through and the storyline contains some interesting twists and turns. Additionally, Mills does a pretty good job of concealing the villian until the end of the story and throws in a few unexpected puzzle pieces along the way. In comparison, the worst part of the novel is the way one character goes against procedure by being involved in a case that concerns people he knew personally. In the real world, an FBI agent (or otherwise) is not allowed to be involved in cases that are connected to their personal life. Furthermore, sensationalism sometimes replaces depth as the story goes on – lots of action scenes rather than compelling dialogue sequences. Therefore, Mills rounds out with an average score in this section.

Character Development (1.5 points)

In contrast, these characters could use some work. In High Treason, Mills crafted characters that stood out from those in other suspense novels for being very relatable and having identities outside of their jobs. Unfortunately, these characters do the exact opposite. It was a good idea to build characters around events in the past and the present, but the best characters in this genre have an identity outside of their role in the storyline. Leah has several good moments as a character, but it is hard to get to know her in-between action scenes and a semi-forced romance with Jon – we hear about what she does and who she likes, rather than see her develop over time. Jon also has some good moments, but he is given little to no identity outside of his career choice. In comparison, several of the secondary characters are very good and their stories have more meaning than the rest of the plot, but it is hard to keep up with them in the midst of everything else. Likewise, this would have been a very interesting suspense novel if it was written from the perspective of the suspects. (spoiler) For instance, Dylan, Sylvia, and Rachel’s interconnected stories would have made them great protagonists. Thus, because the errors here outweigh the potential, Mills receives a below average score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Mills receives a half point in creativity for her unique secondary characters. Additionally, despite it’s many flaws, Fatal Strike does have potential to be an interesting Christian suspense film. First, the screenwriter would need to restructure the plot so that Leah and Jon become minor characters and Dylan, Sylvia, and Rachel become the protagonists. Lastly, many of the action scenes would need to be replaced with dialogue sequences between the new protagonists. In conclusion, this novel could be a breakthrough Christian movie if it gave non-white people and former criminals a voice and identity outside of social labels.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Susan Meissner’s latest novel is perhaps her best and most creative work to date. The Last Year of the War has a strong storyline, realistic and relatable characters, and a poignant underlying message. Elise Sontag is your average American teenager in the 1940’s. She has a strong and supportive family, good friends, and a positive outlook on life. There’s just one problem – in 1940’s America it is not good to have German ancestry. Elise’s late paternal grandfather was a decorated hero of the first World War, and her paternal grandmother, aunts, and uncles still live in Germany. Her parents immigrated to Iowa before her birth and have only recently applied to become U.S. citizens – a fact they will later come to regret. When the American government comes to a hasty conclusion based on five instances involving Otto Sontag (Elise’s father), Elise’s world is torn apart. Otto is suddenly shipped off to an unknown location out west and the rest of the Sontag family – Elise, her mother, and younger brother Max – are left to fend for themselves. Eventually Elise, Max, and their mother join their father at an internment camp in Texas that is home to Japanese, German, and Irish Americans. Otto and his wife are assigned jobs, Elise and Max are enrolled in a federal school in the camp, and the family is given a small house to live in. In a way, the family’s new daily tasks are not all that different than their old ones, but they are doing them behind a barbed wire fence patrolled by guards and dogs. Elise begins to wonder if her life will ever be normal again – until she makes an unlikely friend named Mariko. Mariko is a second generation Japanese American whose story is similar to Elise’s. She makes a plan for how the two girls will live independent lives going forward and gives Elise hope for a better future. (spoiler) When the war comes to an end, Elise and her family and forced to go back to Germany and Mariko and her family to Japan. As a result, Elise decides that she can no longer rely on her family or Mariko. As one circumstance leads to another, Elise makes a rash decision that will change her life forever. What does Elise decide, and will the two friends ever meet again? To answer both of these questions, read the book! Meissner seems to have hit her stride with this biopic-style novel, a fact that is evident through her use of first-person and her excellent continuity. Likewise, she does a good job of balancing the backstories of multiple characters with the large amount of time covered in the novel. Meissner gives great attention to detail by leaving no plot holes along the way and holds the reader’s attention from cover to cover with her above average dialogue and unexpected twists in the storyline. In contrast, the weaknesses in the storyline are minor. First, the middle of the novel contains a bit too much information, which implies that it needed some more editing. Lastly, the brief language in the latter third of the novel, although realistic in the context it is used, is unnecessary. Thus, Meissner rounds out with slightly less than a perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

Meissner’s character development is also quite good. Elise is an excellent protagonist who displays realistic emotional responses to traumatic events and has above average dialogue for a female lead. Additionally, the hard lessons Elise learns from her mistakes are very realistic and relatable. (spoiler) Furthermore, Meissner’s creative personification of Elise’s illness gives her and the plot depth. Mariko adds a lot to the novel as well and just as good of a character as Elise – this is a rare sighting in this genre. (spoiler) For instance, when asked whether she is a tomboy, Mariko replies: “I am myself.” This response encompasses the whole of her character and demonstrates the author’s grasp on real, authentic people who do not conform to social norms. Much like the last section, the errors here are minor. First, some of the minor characters get lost in the vast amount of time covered in the storyline, thus making it difficult to keep up with roles of secondary characters. Lastly, characters like Pamela and Teddy are only partially developed and needed a bit more depth; however, as their role in the story is very small, the flaw does not have a grest effect on the plot. Therefore, Meissner earns just short of a perfect score in this area as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Meissner earns a half point in creativity for her unique use of plot devices and for the pleasantly unexpected twists in the plot, along with a half point in originality for her exceptional dialogue and outside-the-box characters. We here at BOR think this novel would make a great Christian biopic film or series that depicted the lives of Mariko and Elise. The film would need to pick up the deep yet dubtle themes Meissner weaves through the novel – this could be accomplished through a little editing of the storyline and a great cast. In spite of this, Meissner has set up a great framework for success, so it can be done.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown

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Author’s Note: We received a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Sharon Garlough Brown’s latest novel is a raw look at the everyday life of those who struggle with mental health issues; however, the storyline needed more depth and better continuity. Brown attempts to normalize depression and anxiety by showing how many people struggle with varying degrees of one or both at some point in their lives, but neglects to show the reasons why people struggle with depression, anxiety, and or panic attacks. Wren spends a big part of every day listening to the painful stories of abused women and children who come to find healing at the counseling house where she works. Lately it has been harder and harder for her to see the light amidst all the darkness in the world. When she begins struggling with activities of daily living, she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital with the goal of getting back on track; however, the medications they prescribe don’t help her deal with fellow patients or have good emotional responses. Wren begins to lose hope that she will ever lead a normal life again. When Wren is finally released from the hospital she arrives home to a personal crisis that sends her over the edge. Will she find her way out of the darkness and into God’s glorious light? To answer this question, read the book and decide for yourself.;) On the whole, the novel is an artistic depiction of depression and anxiety that struggles to tie up the fraying edges of the story. The biggest weakness in Shades of Light is the lack of basis for Wren’s condition. According to the professional counselor on our staff, people do not suddenly start having panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and the inability to cope with basic tasks. This type of behavior is usually the result of some sort of trauma in an individual’s past; therefore, a series of flashbacks to a traumatic experience in Wren’s childhood was what was needed here. The implementation of this concept is the only way that her behavior would be believable. Additionally, there are some continuity errors in the form of a scattery beginning and abrupt ending. In comparison, the novel’s greatest strengths are it’s honest look at the flaws in American churches and the outside-the-box spiritual truths that are woven into the fiber of the novel. These strengths give the shaky storyline a boost, but overall it rounds out to a below average score. In summary, were it not for the plot and storyline errors, this novel would have been groundbreaking.

Character Development (2.5 points)

Likewise, Brown’s characters are arguably the strongest part of the novel. Although the storyline does not always give them much to work with, the depth, honesty, and intelligent thinking displayed by Wren, Kit, and Jamie (Wren’s mother) is refreshing. Wren is a true artist because she sees the dark and light parts of life in equal measure (many Christian authors try to craft artistic female leads, but end up with a flighty, ditsy character who searches for substance). Kit is a great example of someone who is letting God use her weakness and past struggles for his glory by helping others in similar states. Jamie is also a good character because her imperfections are equal to her strengths. Furthermore, Jamie’s husband is not the typical pastor character because he has an identity outside of his job. Finally, the minor characters, including Jamie’s other children, are good and have above average dialogue. (spoiler) The main weaknesses to point out here are the ever-changing Casey character whose codependent relationship with Wren is excused, and the fact that arcs of all the characters come to a hasty conclusion. This being said, Brown rounds out with an above average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Brown earns a half point in creativity for her unique storyline and a half point in originality for her great dialogue and outside-the-box characters. We here at BOR think that this novel would make a great Christian drama series that focused on weaving together the storylines of Wren, Jamie, and Kit to show that everyone has their own struggles, but everyone can be used by God in amazing ways. The storyline would need some rewriting, and the characters a first-person perspective, but it can be done. We here at BOR hope that authors like these will recognize their potential to be great Christian screenwriters.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The String by Caleb Breakey (BTSNBM)

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (0 points)
Caleb Breakey’s first foray into Christian fiction has been hyped as a page-turning suspense novel that’s refreshing to the market, but we beg to differ.¬† From start to finish, its plot closely follows an expected progression as the macho male lead and a bunch of extra characters deal with a maniacal madman who’s intent on killing certain people for personal reasons.¬† Literally every other page is either an explosion, a fight scene, or a redundant villain monologue, so it feels like the same things happen over and over again.¬†The repetition is wearing and makes the reader feel like nothing’s really being accomplished as the plot stirs characters in circles ahead of an inevitably predictable conclusion, complete with a dramatic villain reveal and a quick epilogue that reminds the audience how the important characters impossibly survived great peril without much consequence.¬†There’s also the nauseating romantic subplot to contend with that reduces the female lead to an accessory needing to be rescued by the perfect male lead who can do no wrong even when it seems like he has a checkered past.¬†Needless to say, there’s nothing much going for this part of the book. Therefore, Breakey earns zero points in this section for his offensive portrayal of women and his sensational, meaningless storyline.

Character Development (0 points)
As previously alluded to, the character department also suffers for authenticity.¬†Every character fits neatly into a predetermined suspense mold: the chiseled male savior, the funny male sidekick, the mindless, emotionally fragile female lead in need of saving, the stereotypical child, the cheesy, cringe-worthy villain with a vague vendetta against life. Oh, and there’s also the obscure character you don’t notice at first who’s briefly included early on in order to set up a later dramatic scene that shows their connection with the overall plot.¬†Dialogue does nothing but drive home these stereotypes, and all the other characters besides these feel very extra and contrived – the minor characters need serious work. Hardly any of the characters make their own choices; the plot makes them for them.¬†Also, perhaps the worst element of this section is the fact that a dark past for the male lead is teased and then completely explained away in a way that fully absolves him of any wrongdoing. This suggests a fear of having flawed characters and is very offensive.¬†In the end, there’s little good to mention about this unfortunate book.

Creativity and Originality (0 points)
Thus, there’s also virtually no creativity to highlight in The String as this has really been done before ad nauseam.¬†No plot twists are unexpected or well-thought-out, and no characters are dynamic or engaging.¬†Characters survive unrealistically harrowing experiences with little injury or problem, and coincidental connections form the fabric of the storyline.¬†Essentially, if you think of the most predictable suspense plot you can conceive, it’s The String. As you may have guessed, we here at BOR do not recommend The String as Christian film or reading material. If there are future novels in store for Breakey, he should take a page from Tosca Lee’s The Line Between and learn that the secret to a great storyline and realistic characters is the art of subtlety and a little thing called substance.

Wish List Rating: 0 out of 10 points

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Erin Bartels’ second novel has a strong storyline and good characters that make for a pleasantly imperfect read that shows much potential for the future. Robin has lived an atypical life from the beginning. She spent part of her childhood as the daughter of a U.S. senator and his wife, and the rest of it surviving under different identities with different caregivers. When Robin’s mom and dad are arrested and put in jail indefinitely for murder and other charges, she is shipped off to her grandmother’s trailer in Michigan. It doesn’t take long for her to meet her new neighbor, Peter, who comes to visit his dead mother in the cemetery in her front yard. The two quickly become friends, but Robin holds him at arms’ length, covering her insecurities and lack of identity with sarcasm and resilience. When Robin’s grandmother dies suddenly, she can’t handle the fallout and strikes out on her own. As one circumstance leads to another, Robin will find herself unable to let go of the past, and scared to believe in a better future. Overall the storyline has good continuity, and the author’s attention to detail adds a lot to a basic plot structure. Additionally, the subtle, self-aware observations by the author of typical plot twists that she purposely avoided adds unique humor and displays a refreshing, transparent writing style. The main weakness that keeps this section from a perfect score is the somewhat rushed, Band-aid style ending. In spite of its flaws, this is a unique, enjoyable story that rounds out with an above average score.

Character Development (2.5 points)

Bartels’ character development is also above average. The dialogue between characters is exceptional because it is the core of the developing relationship between the protagonists. Likewise, Robin is the best character because her childhood trauma has lasting effects on her life and shapes who she is as an adult. Additionally, Bartels’ use of first person for Robin adds depth and should be the rule for novels in this genre. (spoiler) In comparison, the weakest part of Robin’s character is the way her long-held trauma seems to be fixed by renewing an old relationship. On a positive note, Peter is a very unique male lead that avoids the usual pitfalls and demonstrates both intelligence and relatability – both hard to find qualities in Christian fiction’s male protagonists. Furthermore, Dawt Pi and Sarah are exceptional minor characters who actually have a real role in the story…and stories of their own! Therefore, Bartels rounds out with an above average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Bartels earns a full point in creativity for her unique storyline and a half an x-factor point in originality for her great characters and dialogue sequences. This being said, we feel that her novel would make an excellent Christian drama film that brought to light everyday trauma(s) that people deal with throughout life and the affect this has on their decisions and relationships. The screenwriter would need to alter very little, as the novel is already written like a screenplay. The main thing to focus on here would be an excellent cast. We hope that a budding or established Christian filmmaker will recognize the great potential this novel has to become a film.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham (BTSNBM)

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Fordham’s latest novel, the second installment in the Azure Springs series, is a bit of letdown after her promising start. Penny has just suffered the death of her beloved father, and as a result, has become the household breadwinner for herself and her mother. The death of her father means that she and her mother have not had the funds to enjoy the high society life they were used to, and her mother has been depressed about this ever since. Her grief over her late husband causes her to treat Penny harshly and without consideration. This has left Penny feeling hurt and somewhat confused as to what the future holds. On the bright side, she enjoys most things about being a clerk in the dead letter office, however, she doesn’t enjoy throwing letters away. One day she stumbles upon passionate letters from a man named Thomas to a woman named Clara. After learning more about him through his writing, she decides to ensure that his letters reach Clara as soon as possible. Thomas is a broken individual with a colorful past who ends up in Azure Springs by chance. When Penny runs into Thomas on her search for Clara, she conceals her real reason for traveling and pretends to be an author. As time goes on, the two get to know each other better, and Thomas falls in love with Penny. On the whole, the storyline is pretty basic and predictable. It was a nice touch to use someone’s journey to Christ as the basis for a storyline, but the whole story seems a bit too good to be true. Additionally, the overused falling-in-love-right-after-breaking-up (or while still in a relationship) plot device is unrealistic and gives hurting people false hope. It is not healthy to seek fulfillment in relationships with people. What the world needs is fiction that points people to God’s healing power. Healing is not found in the arms of a man or woman, but in the arms of Jesus. Therefore, what Fordham is missing is depth and a balanced writing worldview – more reality, less fantasy. For these reasons, Fordham earns a below average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

Fordham’s character development is the strongest point of the novel and saves it from complete mediocrity. Penny is a good protagonist and the best character because other’s actions and decisions affect her own, and she changes in response to her good and bad life experiences. Additionally, the flashbacks to her childhood are a nice touch. It would have been nice to see these as a continual, rather than sporadic feature. Thomas is a character with a lot of potential who feels unfinished. Much like Penny, it would be very helpful to have flashbacks of his past life throughout the novel, for this would give him depth and believability. In comparison, the worst minor characters are Penny’s mother and her boss. Both of these characters seem unpleasant without basis and drag down the overall plot quality. In contrast, Penny’s friend and co-worker Dinah is the best minor character because she is down-to-earth and realistic. Overall, these characters are a good try that need a little more work to be great. Likewise, since Fordham’s characters are better than her storyline, she earns an average score here.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Fordham earns a half point in creativity for her use of flashbacks with the protagonist, and no points in originality for using the same plot structure as this novel’s predecessor. Additionally, this novel turns over a new leaf in the Box Office Wish List section. We will now be including books that should not be movies for the reasons listed in the corresponding reviews. These reviews will be indicated with the initials BTSNBM in parentheses by the book title. It is not our desire to hurt anyone’s feelings or be overly critical. However, the overcrowded world of fiction demands, unfortunately, some negative reviews. This being said, we here at BOR do not feel that Yours Truly, Thomas should be made into a film. The novel is reminiscent of the TV series Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which had potential, but mostly fell flat. Christian filmmakers should spend their time bringing books to the big screen that will change the world, not empower romantic fantasy.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Until the Mountains Fall by Connilyn Cossette

Until the Mountains Fall, #3  -     By: Connilyn Cossette

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Connilyn Cossette’s third installment in the Cities of Refuge series is a mixed bag that shows both potential and room for improvement. Continuing where the last novel left off, this one starts a new plot with more members of Moriyah’s extensive family. Rivkah is a young widow who feels that her father is forcing her to marry her late husband’s younger brother. She feels that her time with Gidal was too short, and her time with his brother Malakhi will be much too long. Rivkah can’t see any way out of the situation, so she goes ahead with the betrothal ceremony, however, during and after the same she does everything she can to discourage Malakhi from marrying her. Malakhi has loved Rivkah since they were children, and doesn’t understand her cold attitude towards him. From his perspective, his continual needling and teasing on Rivkah as a child was to help keep her spirit alive after her mother’s death. However, from Rivkah’s perspective, he has always been a silly boy who can’t take life seriously. Rivkah sees her way out when her friend Nessa announces her plans to escape her own impending arranged marriage to a less than desirable mate by looking for job opportunities at the festival in Laish. The two depart as planned, but the two women soon find themselves in difficult situations that lead to hard decisions. Overall, the plotline continues in a mostly predictable fashion, and unlike the previous novel, this is just a romance. There is no mystery or intrigue to speak of here. The storyline in this novel is not as good as its predecessor, and leaves room to be desired in creativity. While some good ideas are displayed, and at times implemented, the reader is left wanting depth. It was a semi-interesting idea to use a levirate marriage as the basis for a storyline, however, at times this part of the plot feels like a book of Ruth redux. Furthermore, the plot feels a bit rushed – there is a five-year time jump halfway through the book – and the romance a bit forced at times. Cossette has shown us that she has more potential than this, so she earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, Cossette’s characters remain her strongest point. Even though the plot leaves room to be desired, the main characters are quite good. Rivkah is the best character because she makes realistic choices and displays many relatable though processes throughout the story. It is also important to note that Rivkah’s character is based off of real events from Cossette’s life. This gives the protagonist depth and believability. Malakhi is a good character because he has a defined personality and consistent tendencies, however, he seems unfinished in the end. In contrast, Cossette does a good job of contrasting how scenarios are viewed differently by various people throughout the novel. On the whole, Cossette’s female leads are always good, but her male leads always feel unfinished. For instance, Eitan has more depth as a minor character than he did as a protagonist. Furthermore, the other minor characters are a mix of good, average, and unnecessary, so a little more editing was necessary here. These strengths and weaknesses level out to an above average score for Cossette in this section.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Cossette earns a half a point in originality for her good characters. However, there is, unfortunately, not much creativity to speak of here. Most of the storyline feels like it was made with the purpose of writing an epilogue for old characters – I believe Cossette has more to offer than this. This flaw may exist because of contract constraints. Therefore, I still believe that the Cities of Refuge series has potential to be a good Christian series. The screenwriter would need to downgrade Rivkah and Malakhi to minor characters, and use characters from previous novels as protagonists, but it can be done. Additionally, he/she would need to use the potential in the city of refuge foundation to craft a story that contains more than romance.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The House on Lowell Street by Linda A. Keane

Author’s note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Linda Keane’s debut work of fiction has both strengths and weaknesses, but is overall a very intriguing depiction of the strike of the Kalamazoo corset workers in 1912. Mildred and her sister Harriet have been working in one factory or another for most of their lives. Currently they both work in this corset factory with superiors who expect much work for little pay. Rose is a recently widowed mother in her thirties who runs a boarding house. She and her son Don have been struggling to make ends meet ever since the death of her husband, and she fears that without an increase in income they may lose their home. Rose is momentarily distracted from these troubles when Harriet’s bout of influenza leads Mildred to tell all about their past. Rose is horrified at what the sisters have experienced, but her decision to help them may bring her more harm than good. When circumstances seem to go from bad to worse, the characters will find themselves wondering if change is worth the price. Overall, the storyline is well-constructed and accurately reflects factory working conditions during this era. However, the plot is a bit choppy at times. For instance, the story begins with a focus only on Rose and her immediate life happenings, then switches to an almost tunnel-like view of Mildred and Harriet’s lives. These choppy moments are smoothed over as the story continues, however, the reader may find it hard to keep track of who the protagonist is during the first half of the novel. This is the novel’s biggest weakness and the reason why it received an average score in this section. Additionally, the beginning of the story does not fit with the rest of the plot. In contrast, Keane’s biggest strength is that it is not just another historical romance, rather, it is a great attempt at portraying real life. Keane’s effort to portray an often overlooked period of history in a relevant way saves her novel from being commonplace.

Character Development (2 points)

Likewise, Keane’s character development shows promise for the future, but needs depth to be great. Rose’s character arc throughout the book is good because she changes in response to what life throws her way. However, the biggest flaw with her character is the unaddressed death of her husband – the event seems to have no significant impact on her life. Mildred is the best character because the realistic outcome of her rebellion against tradition ups the storyline quality. Additionally, the factory owner is, unfortunately, a strawman villian. Finally, Harriet is a bit one-dimensional, but is fine as a minor character. Overall, Keane’s first attempt at developing fictional characters is better than many in her position, and could improve over time. Therefore, Keane earns an average score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Keane earns a full point in creativity for her unique portrayal of a little-known historical event, and her creative use of real places and people to build her story. Because of this, we here at BOR think that her story could be used as the foundation for a Christian historical drama film that uses characters to drive an awareness-based plot. The characters would need depth for this to be accomplished, but it can be done. This would be a great project for a new filmmaker to start out with because the material is already there.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Susie Finkbeiner’s latest novel has a great multi-dimensional storyline that uses many threads to create a uniquely beautiful tapestry. All Manner of Things portrays the main moral and social issues of the late 60’s and early 70’s in a realistic and non-patronizing way. Instead of using the jump-scare method of issue-based storytelling, Finkbeiner provides a realistic backdrop and a subtle, yet powerful central message. Annie Jacobson is is not your average American high school student. Others may assume that she lives a normal life because she goes to school, works at the local diner, and has late-night conversations with her best friend through their bedroom windows – but appearances can be deceiving. What makes Annie different is this; in the midst of a surface-over-substance culture, she has depth and a life purpose outside of her own interests. This is partly her nature, and partly because she has been forced to grow up without a father. One day while Annie and her older brother Mike are performing their usual tasks at the diner, he confesses that he has secretly enlisted in the U.S. Army because he knew the draft was coming anyway. Annie and her family are shocked, but manage to pull together as they always have to give him a good send-off. Shortly after Mike leaves, Annie’s paternal grandfather dies, which in turn causes Annie’s long-estranged father to show up in town for the funeral. As one event leads to another, the Jacobson family is torn between cautious hope and desparate faith. Will they be able to weather this attack on their lives and their hearts? To answer this question, read the book!:) Throughout the novel, Finkbeiner avoids giving too much information and uses the subtle placement of letters at poignant moments in the story to deepen the characters and the overall message. Additionally, her excellent portrayal of American family dynamics is rarely seen in Christian fiction. The only flaw to point out here is that a few of the minor characters in the story seem to fade away near the end. However, as people do move in and out of one’s life in a seemingly random fashion at times, Finkbeiner earns just shy of a perfect score for her dedication to plot and storyline development.

Character Development (4 points)

Likewise, Finkbeiner crafts excellent and realistic dialogue between her characters, and possesses the rare talent of crafting fictional people who leave the page to become reality…for just a moment. Annie’s first-person perspective on the story drives the plot, and her decisions reflect a perfect balance of strength and weakness, thus making her a perfect character. (spoiler) Frank’s (her father’s) realistic struggle with PTSD, and the long-lasting effects of the same on his life, are never seen in fiction. (spoiler) Additionally, Annie’s realization that Frank has maintained his relationship with God during their estrangement saves him from being a stereotype. Furthermore, the reactions of the rest of the Jacobson family to the issues at hand are realistically varied depending on personality, etc., and add even more depth to the story. In short, there is not enough good to say here. The Jacobsons are a family with a lot of emotional baggage who are doing their best to honor God, love one another, and share His love with others in the midst of it all. For all the reasons listed above (and even more), Finkbeiner earns a perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Finkbeiner’s core message is this: In our lives we will experience periods of light and darkness, and although we assume God has left us in the darkness, it is on the other side of the same that we will realize He was there all along, working for our good. The author does not try to convince the reader that her worldview is correct, rather, she questions many societal norms of the past and speculates as to their impact on the present. In the end, she leaves the reader to make their own decision(s). This fact earns her the rarely awarded x-factor point in originality. Finkbeiner also earns a half point in creativity for her big-picture portrayal of the everyday and creative writing style that avoids many common errors in new ways. Additionally, we here at BOR feel that this novel would make an excellent Christian series based on the content in the same. Excellent job Ms. Finkbeiner! The Christian writing world needs more novels like yours.

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Becoming Mrs. Lewis has a great storyline that holds the attention all the way through. Callahan takes the time to develop deep, relatable characters that leave a lasting impression on the reader. Furthermore, each person is shown as a multi-dimensional figure who weaknesses are covered by God’s grace and whose strengths are a gift from Him. These are the strongest points of the novel. Joy Davidman is an aspiring author who is married to an alcoholic. Bill’s constant emotional swings and verbal abuse keep her on her toes, along with the responsibility of raising two sons. Joy and Bill are both atheists – until the day Joy has an unmistakable encounter with the Holy Spirit. Joy becomes a Christian, but still has many questions about life. After reading a few books by C.S. Lewis, she and Bill agree to write and ask him some of their questions. Lewis’ answers surprise Joy, and as they send letters back and forth, an unlikely friendship develops. Joy comes to depend on Lewis’ wisdom and advice as her home life becomes increasingly chaotic. When poor health sends her to London for better medical care, Joy decides to meet her pen-pal once and for all. Will their friendship develop into something more? As previously mentioned, storytelling is Callahan’s strength. However, the presence of some mild language, alcohol consumption, and sensuality keep this section from a perfect score. In contrast, because these factors aid in giving each character depth, they are not all bad. Callahan understands that imperfect characters and real-life elements are vital to the strength of a story. Her candid and effective depiction of two real people who impacted literature in big ways adds up to an above average score in this section.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Callahan employs a great first-person narrative from Joy throughout the novel. Her comedic and poignant uses of famous literature in conversation and life happenings also add much to the development of C.S. and Joy’s characters. In the same vein, her accurate portrayal of Lewis as an eccentric genius who is afraid of romantic relationships, and of Davidman as someone who struggles with seeking the temporal over the eternal is what makes her characters great. Warnie and J.R.R. Tolkien are also good minor characters that add much to the story. Additionally, all the characters have excellent, steady arcs and realistic relationship development – or detriment – that happens over the course of several years. The main weakness here, as previously mentioned, is found in some unnecessarily sensual thought processes from the characters. Despite this flaw, Callahan earns a nearly perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Callahan earns a half point in originality for giving Joy Davidman a voice and defining her personality. She also earns a half point in creativity for portraying Lewis as more than an author – he was also a friend to many and a devoted husband and stepfather. For these reasons, we believe this novel would make a great Christian drama film based on the content of this book. This would be a great film to add to the roster that Douglas Gresham is currently compiling with Netflix. Good job Ms. Callahan! We look forward to your future novels with interest.

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Wooing Cadie McCaffrey by Bethany Turner

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Bethany Turner’s latest rom-com has interesting storyline that contains a lot of mixed messaging. While the novel holds the attention from cover to cover, when all is said and done the reader is left wanting depth. Cadie McCafferey is a thirty-something redhead whose life is built around her sports reporter career – its just too bad she doesn’t like sports. Most of her friends double as her co-workers, and she even met her current boyfriend – Will Whitaker – at work. After four years of dating Cadie feels the the spark is dying between her and Will and decides that maybe its best for them to break up. Will Whitaker’s life revolves around Cadie, at the end of every long work day he looks forward to spending time with her. When he misses a planned dinner with Cadie one night she takes his slip-up as confirmation that their relationship is over. Shortly after this, in an attempt to revive the spark between them, Cadie and Will make a big mistake that alters the course of their relationship forever. Cadie is left confused and hurt, so Will decides to do anything he can to win her back. Will their love survive? One of the strongest points of this novel is Turner’s portrayal of the realistic fallout that occurs after a couple makes a desparate attempt to stay together. Additionally, there are many humorous moments and an accurate, relatable perspective on a legalistic upbringing. On the downside, there are a few instances of forced humor that could have been better – sometimes the author seems to be trying a bit too hard to use ‘young-people’ dialogue. Furthermore, the story-line’s pace is inconsistent as the central message is sometimes overshadowed by too much filler dialogue. Overall, the novel has a good central point that is downplayed by the weak ending.

Character Development (1.5 points)

Cadie is the strongest character in the novel for multiple reasons. One, her struggle against social expectations adds much to the novel. Secondly, her character arc is steady throughout the storyline, and it is obvious that her fictional life was based on reality to some extent. Will is two-dimensional rather than multi-dimensional because his character has no foundation. His sudden appearance in the story actually works, but the reader knows neither his family background nor who he is outside of his love for Cadie. In short, his past is only hinted at, rather than woven into his present. Furthermore, the minor characters are forgettable and need further development. On the whole, character development – which should be the forefront of a rom-com – is the weakest area of this novel.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, Turner earns a half point in originality for her realistic portrayal of someone whose legalistic church upbringing has influenced many of their poor choices, and a half point in creativity for creating a rom-com that has an atypical central message – true love is not based on fantasy. This is the strongest area of the novel for Turner because it is here that the central message is found. Through this story, Turner seeks to show the necessity of asking God’s forgiveness, and forgiving oneself. We feel that this the message could be more clearly communicated in a Christian rom-com film. The screenwriter would have to add depth to the characters and ensure the presence of an exceptional cast, however, it can be done. Good job Ms. Turner, I see much promise for future novels!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Dearest Dietrich by Amanda Barratt

My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Lost Love  -     By: Amanda Barratt

Author’s Note: We received a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Barratt’s latest historical has engaging characters and a down-to-earth storyline that give the reader an in-depth look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal life. My Dearest Dietrich goes a step further than other Bonhoeffer depictions by giving his fiance – Maria von Wedemeyer – a voice. Maria is a confident young woman who loves her father dearly and is devoted to her grandmother. While she is staying at her grandmother’s house one day, as she often does, Maria has an unexpected run-in with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, her grandmother’s friend. Despite the significant difference in their ages, she is surprised to find that they have much in common. When Providence continues to bring them together in the most unlikely of places, Maria realizes that a chance encounter has changed her life forever. Dietrich is a scholarly, thirty-something bachelor who lives with his parents and is part of a secret resistance that hopes to assassinate Hitler. His days usually consist of writing, conversing with family members and old friends, and resistance work. This pattern is broken the day he meets Maria. He suddenly realizes what it means to love another person, but fears that a romantic relationship will further complicate his secret life. Despite all that tries to drive them apart, Maria and Dietrich cling to God and their love for each other throughout one of the darkest periods of history. Will Dietrich be found out? Will Maria survive the tragedies that befall her? To answer these questions, read the book!;) A major strength of this novel is Barratt’s portrayal of both Dietrich and Maria as ordinary people who are passionate in their beliefs and in their love for one another. This is a true romance based not on physical attractiveness, but on heart and depth. Additionally, Maria and Dietrich’s realistic defiance against the status quo and gender molds for the era is much appreciated. The only flaws to point out here are minor. First, at times the pace of the storyline is inconsistent, while at other times it flows smoothly. Finally, while the dialogue between characters is quite good, a reader without background knowledge of Dietrich and Maria’s lives may become lost at times. Likewise, because the strengths in this novel outweigh the weaknesses, Barratt earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

Barratt has crafted relatable, real characters with a deeper purpose than falling in love with each other. This is evidenced through the fact that Maria and Dietrich have clearly defined personalities and tendencies that remain constant throughout the storyline. Maria’s unique personality and beliefs that go against social expectation drive the plot. Additionally, Dietrich is seen not as a saint, but as an ordinary, somewhat eccentric man who loved Jesus and believed that a better world could be accomplished through ethical reform. Furthermore, most of Barratt’s minor characters are memorable and add much to the plot. The main flaw to point out here is that the high-ranking members of the Gestapo are basically painted as strawman villains. However, Barratt counteracts this to a degree by including Nazi soldiers who are portrayed as ordinary people. Therefore, Barratt earns just short of a perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

This novel is a creative take on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but it’s greatest strength is found is bringing Maria to life. (spoiler) Because of this, it earns a full point in originality for displaying how Dietrich’s beliefs changed as time went on, and for giving Maria a voice. The author shows great insight into the non-fictional lives of her characters by remaining as true as possible to who they were. For these reasons, we here at BOR feel that My Dearest Dietrich would make a great Christian multi-part series that draws on the content in the same. Good job Ms. Barratt!:)

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Fisher’s first book in her new Three Sisters Island series is a dramedy of sorts masquerading under the guise of a contemporary romance. The storyline is a mixed bag, but it contains many funny sequences and well-placed moments of subtle wordplay that make for an enjoyable read. Cam, Blaine, and Maddie are three sisters who have been trying to survive ever since their family crisis. Each has dealt with the trauma in their own way. Cam by charging doggedly ahead, Blaine by concealing her true feelings under a belligerent attitude, and Maddie by over-analyzing the emotions and actions of others as a distraction from her own. When their estranged father wants to meet with them as a matter of urgency, they all assume that his health is failing. However, the sisters are surprised to discover that Paul Grayson is not dying, but has embarked on his latest adventure – buying a far-off island on Maine’s coastline. At first they all think he’s crazy, but the sisters may discover that their father’s seemingly crazy decision is the best thing that ever happened to them. On a Summer Tide’s main strength is the eccentric humor therein and the subtle parody of commonly known wordplay sprinkled throughout the storyline. In contrast, it’s biggest weakness is the inclusion of overused plot devices – the attractive bachelor who is good with kids, the single overachiever who’s afraid to give her heart away, and the troubled child character, to name a few. However, if these elements are supposed to be viewed in a parody context, then they are the novel’s greatest strength. Overall, Fisher has turned out a nice read for her fans. Still, this novel’s biggest struggle will be standing out in it’s overcrowded genre. Thus, Fisher receives an average score for her storyline.

Character Development (2 points)

Cam, Maggie, and Blaine all have a defined personality and tendencies, yet, each one feels unfinished. Seth is an interesting take on the typical handsome bachelor character, but his late entrance nearly halfway through the story makes it hard for the reader to understand who he is. Paul is an interesting eccentric father character, especially if his character is meant to be comedic. However, if not, then his character is very one-dimensional. Fisher’s greatest strength in character development is her use of flashbacks with Cam. Of all the characters in the story, Cam is the most believable and the most well-developed. In comparison, Fisher has room for improvement with her minor characters. While many of them contribute humorous dialogue, they barely exist outside of these moments. Therefore, Fisher earns an average score in character development for her good ideas.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, the great paradox of this novel is whether or not it is intended to be a parody of all the characters and scenarios found therein. If so, then Fisher earns a full point in originality for her subtle comedy and a bravo from us here at BOR. If not, then she earns a half point in creativity for her use of flashbacks with Cam, and a half point in originality for her unique sense of humor. Either way, Fisher earns an average score in this section as well. However, if our former theory is true, then we believe this novel would make a great Christian dramedy series that emphasized the eccentric humor already in the storyline and parodied contemporary romance stereotypes.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Susan Meissner’s recent novel shows a deep understanding of how people of different personalities think and act, along with an accurate and touching portrayal of familial interaction. As Bright as Heaven is not a typical historical novel, nor does it fall into the usual pitfalls of illness-based storylines. In short, it is a refreshing look at how people in history were not all that different from people today. Pauline and Thomas Bright are a happily married couple living in Quaker-town who have just suffered the loss of their youngest child Henry – a heart donor could not be found. His death has in turn made Pauline open to Thomas taking up his Uncle Fred’s offer to learn to take his place as the owner of his mortuary. The remaining Bright children – Maggie, Evelyn (Evie), and Willa, have mixed feelings about the move, but eventually decide to go along for the ride. When the Brights arrive in Philadelphia they quickly settle into their new roles to fill the void Henry left behind. Thomas works directly with Fred to prepare dead bodies for burial, Pauline does hair and makeup to make the deceased presentable at funerals, and the girls balance school and their social lives. Pauline deals with Henry’s absence by becoming rather obsessed with “Death”. In her mind she has continual debates with this figure and questions many aspects of life. Maggie quickly becomes interested in Jamie – the boy next door – and plans on following her mother’s footsteps in caring for the dead. Evelyn is quiet, reflective, and always tries to find a way to serve others – she is the most responsible of the sisters. Willa is very self-absorbed and cares more about her social life than succeeding in school. On the whole, things are going well for the Brights…until war threatens to tear them apart. The Spanish flu, the Great war, and extraordinary circumstances will change their family forever. Meissner’s creative plot integrates many psychological and philosophical elements that make for a very unique read. While at some time the plot seems morbidly realistic, it is based off of true historical events. Overall, it has a very good character-driven storyline reminiscent of The Book Thief. One critic pointed out that the novel’s biggest weaknesses are “stark realism offset by unreasonable optimism,” and the “denouement” that ties up all loose ends. I must say that I agree with this assessment. A novel such as this needs an ending that leaves much to the imagination. (spoiler) Furthermore, the questionable relationship between Evie and Conrad drags down the plot quality. However, the errors here could be fixed on the big screen, so Meissner rounds out with slightly below an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

The strongest part of this novel is the extremely well-done first-person perspectives on crisis events and other happenings. Pauline, Maggie, Evie, Willa, and Uncle Fred have clearly defined personalities and tendencies – a fact which adds much to an otherwise melancholy storyline. While Thomas and Jamie are somewhat two-dimensional because they comes in and out of the plot, they are also good characters. Meissner did well to focus most of her attention on her main characters, a fact that is evidenced through the way one forgets that this is a book and not the story of a real family. The minor characters are also better than usual for a historical novel and have clear personalities. The only error to note here is that towards the end of the novel it feels like things happen to the characters for the sake of extending the plot. In spite of this, Meissner earns just short of a perfect score in this section because the errors therein could be easily fixed in movie/series form.

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

Finally, Meissner has managed to craft a creative historical novel that is neither boring nor commonplace. Therefore, she earns a full point in originality for her attention to character development. As Bright as Heaven would make a great TV miniseries similar to the famed Anne of Green Gables miniseries. If the screenwriter (hopefully Ms. Meissner) changed the ending so that it left more to the imagination, and tidied up the unnecessary parts of the story to fit into concise episode form, this book could change the face of Christian historical film.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Then Sings my Soul by Amy K. Sorrells

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Sorrell’s recent novel, Then Sings My Soul, is a mixed bag with a lot of potential. The novel has a parallel storyline that features the Ukrainian genocide of 1904 and the American culture of the 90’s. This plot device is very effective because it shows the effects that past events have had on the characters’ present condition(s). Jakob, a recent widower in his nineties, is forced to reexamine his life when his wife dies suddenly. His lifelong avoidance of God and traumatic past are brought to the forefront as death becomes a present reality instead of a distant idea. However, he continues to fight the demons that have plagued him for so long. Nel, Jakob’s daughter, is a middle-aged hippie who has never married. Nel has been mostly estranged from her parents for many years – she followed her dreams at the expense of her relationships. When she arrives back home for her mother’s funeral, she is shocked to find her father much aged and in poor health. She soon discovers that his ‘forgetfulness’ is actually dementia, and that he is haunted by memories of the past. Jakob lives in denial of his failing health – until an accident lands him in a nursing home. Nel’s visit at home becomes an extended stay, during which she will have to face her past decisions. Will Jakob let God heal his brokenness and give him peace? Will Nel discover the love and acceptance she’s always been searching for? To answer these questions, read the book!:) Sorrell’s plot and storyline are the strongest parts of her novel because they hold the attention and share an important message of healing. Furthermore, her character’s experiences draw attention to some important social issues. However, the plot is imperfect because it contains two errors. First, Jakob’s past is explained quite well, but is sometimes choppy and hard to follow. Second, the social issues therein sometimes feel alarmist or sensational. This is because more attention is given to shock and awe than character development. Additionally, it is my opinion that Jakob’s nursing home experience could have been portrayed in a more tasteful way (see Francine Rivers’ Leota’s Garden). Therefore, as this novel has both pluses and minuses, Sorrells earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (1.5 points)

The character development in this novel leaves room for improvement. Jakob is the best character because his arc is consistent, meaningful, and portrays the healing power of Jesus Christ. However, the reader has little to no emotional connection because his story is told in third person. First person is what was needed here. This is because third person storytelling in this genre isolates the audience to a black and white perspective – there is no room for gray. First person leaves more room for independent reader decisions, not to mention more than one perspective on an issue/issues. Nel shows much potential as a character, but she is one-dimensional and her part of the story is choppy. Finally, the minor characters add little to the story and needed more development. However, there is much to work with here, which is why I believe this story would come across better on the big screen.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Sorrells earns a half point in originality for her unique use of a parallel storyline and a half point in creativity for her realistic portrayal of post-war trauma through a child’s eyes. For these reasons, I believe that this novel could make an interesting historical miniseries that focused on Jakob’s lifelong trauma that resulted from his childhood experiences. The screenwriter could fix the character development issues by making the screenplay first person from Jakob’s perspective. Additionally, a miniseries structure would leave more room for the further exploration and development of Nel’s character. We here at BOR continue to hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize the potential found in Christian novels such as these. Good job Ms. Sorrells, I think you have a lot of good ideas that would translate well to the big screen.:)

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Heart of a King by Jill Eileen Smith

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Jill Eileen Smith’s newest novel is unique in many ways and is overall a great portrayal of the life of King Solomon. While the novel is imperfect, it stands out among many works of Biblical fiction for being both honest and relatable. The opening chapters introduce the reader to Solomon, a young man who lives in his father’s shadow and longs to be named co-regent. In the midst of his struggle to climb the political ladder, he runs into a young woman named Naamah who he has not seen in five years. Naamah is a somewhat spoiled and willful Ammonite woman whose one desire is marriage to Solomon. Despite her flaws, Naamah worships Yahweh rather than the gods of Ammon, and believes that love can overcome all obstacles. Solomon and Naamah are wed and soon have a child together – Rehoboam. However, Solomon’s increasing desire for political alliances leads him away from his first love and in many different directions. Abishag is a young virgin who cared for King David until his death. She is devout in her worship of Yahweh and seeks peaceful relationships with others. Now a king, Solomon marries her for reasons both of love and political advantage. Following this marriage, he goes on to wed Siti, princess of Egypt, the queen of Sheba, and many other women. Will Solomon’s wisdom prove to be a blessing or a curse? To answer this question, read the book!;) This plot holds the attention quite well from beginning to end, and is punctuated with creative musings of The Teacher that became the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon). Smith tastefully weaves passages from Song of Solomon into the story and uses them to shape Solomon’s personality and relationship choices. Furthermore, Solomon’s chaotic personal life and wrong choices are portrayed in a realistic manner. The main flaw here is that the five main characters – each with their own story – make for a bit of a choppy read, especially in the second half of the novel. Additionally, the ending, although well done, feels a bit rushed. However, this remains the best fictional work of King Solomon’s life that I have read to date, therefore earning the storyline an above average rating.

Character Development (3 points)

Smith’s character development is the strongest part of her novel because it demonstrates her clear understanding of different personalities and tendencies among people. Solomon is the best character because his arc slowly develops throughout the novel and is punctuated with a creative look at poetry and philosophical musings he actually wrote. Additionally, his rationalization of disobedience and distrust of God’s promises are relatable and add much to the storyline. Naamah’s character is quite good at first, as is Abishag’s, however, both women feel left unfinished. In contrast, Siti has a clearly defined personality, and Smith’s queen of Sheba is unique and realistic. The only other flaw to mention here is that Naamah and Abishag have a somewhat choppy arc. In spite of these flaws, Smith’s portrayal of court politics and royals using one another is quite good and would make a great Bible miniseries. Therefore, Smith earns an above average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Smith earns a full point in creativity for weaving Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon into her story in such a way that the Biblical accounts and her fictional story are interdependent upon one another. The flaws that exist in this novel are mainly a result of it being a standalone work. It is my opinion that these errors could be corrected on the big screen by breaking the novel up into a miniseries. This series should focus on one character at a time and eventually tie their stories together to make for better continuity. It is our hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize unique Christian novels such as these for their potential, and act on this realization soon. Good job Ms. Smith! Your creativity is much appreciated!

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Shadow Among Sheaves by Naomi Stephens

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Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Naomi Stephens’ first novel is an allegory of the book of Ruth set during the long-standing conflict(s) between Britain and India. Stephens makes an effort to stand out in this novel by not adhering fully to either a typical period drama/romance or a standard Biblical fiction plot. In light of this, Shadow Among Sheaves has several good qualities, however, it also has room for improvement. Rena and her mother-in-law Nell have been left starving and destitute by their dead husbands. This fact has forced them to return to Nell’s homeland – England – in hopes of a better future. After surviving a harrowing journey across land and ocean, the two women finally arrive in Britain, and are immediately forced to face the bitter realities of their situation. Rena battles grief for her beloved Edric with fear for her mother-in-law’s life as they are forced to live like beggars. She is finally able to secure Nell a job washing floors and dishes, and shelter in a brothel storeroom. Her search for a job leads her to the fields of a local wealthy landowner – Lord Barric. Barric’s foreman takes pity on Rena and allows her to gather the excess grain from the harvest. When Rena and Lord Barric meet, he takes pity on her situation and allows her to stay. As time goes forward, she fights against pride and he against society’s expectations as they form a friendship. The paths of these two characters will intersect in ways they never imagined. Stephens presents an intriguing take on the story of Ruth, and brings many parts of the story into a more modern light. While the storyline is interesting for the most part, it doesn’t always hold the attention and is meandering at times. Furthermore, there are an equal amount of average and interesting scenes – some of which are left unfinished. On the whole, Rena and Barric’s relationship is a bit rushed, and I found the honeymoon scenes to be a bit too heady for some audiences. However, as the negatives here could be fixed in movie form, Stephens earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

Character development in this novel is also average. Rena is the strongest character because she is crafted through a blend of flashbacks and realistic emotions. However, it is hard to relate to her ups and downs because of the use of third person. Lord Barric is also a good character because he clearly communicates Stephens’ creative, modern take on Boaz. Unfortunately, Barric is somewhat one-dimensional because his character stops just short of having a clearly defined personality. The minor characters – including Uncle George and Charlie – are good ideas, but it is hard to get to know them because of their late entrance into the story. It is also hard to see Thomas as anything more than a strawman. However, as previously mentioned, Stephens poignant use of flashbacks with Rena demonstrate much potential for future novels. Thus, in spite of the errors, Stephens has made a good start here in her first book.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, Stephens earns a full point in creativity for using it to build an allegory around actual historical events and the likely aftermath of the same. As previously mentioned, all of the aforementioned errors could be fixed by a screenwriter. Therefore, I feel that this novel would make a great Christian period drama. A screenwriter could give all the characters depth by using flashbacks with Lord Barric, Charlie, and Thomas – like Stephens did with Rena. Additionally, they could alter some scenes slightly to leave room for the imagination, and others to present a film that is palatable for all audiences. We need more original ideas like this novel in the Christian entertainment world, and we here at BOR hope that filmmakers with recognize this fact soon. Nice job Ms. Stephens! I think that your ideas have the potential to create a new Christian romance genre.:)

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

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Author’s Note: We were provided with an ARC of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Morgan L. Busse is back with the much awaited sequel to Mark of the Raven, and we are happy to say that this novel is even better. This second installment in Busse’s The Ravenwood Saga is better than the first because Busse takes the time to develop her characters further without sacrificing the strength of her storyline. Selene, whom we last saw on the run with Lord Damien, is still trying to escape the darkness of her family’s past. Her hasty marriage to Damien is very discomforting in many ways, and recurring nightmares of past dreamscapes make sleep nearly impossible. Damien believes that marrying Selene was a good decision, but struggles to reach her emotionally because of the many walls she has put up over the years. After arriving at her new home with Damien, Selene feels more out of place than ever. However, she is touched by Damien’s memories of his family, and intrigued by his relationship with the Light. Will she discover what it is to be a part of a real family? To answer this, read the book!:) Busse’s latest novel holds the attention from cover to cover because of the careful attention given to continuity and plot details. The storyline is well-crafted and contains only a few minor errors. Furthermore, her world-building skills are above average and her characters drive the plot. Additionally, her exceptional portrayal of the spiritual world adds much to the novel. The only error to note here is that sometimes it is hard to keep track of Busse’s many minor characters. However, as they will likely be further developed in the next novel, this error is minor. Therefore, Busse earns an above average score in this section.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Busse’s character development skills have grown, a fact that is evidenced through her use of this second novel to deepen the characters. She could have filled this sequel with lots of action scenes and little substance, but she didn’t – earning a well done from us at BOR. Selene is the best character for several reasons. These include her realistic spiritual journey and her relatable emotions. She is also very unique for a female protagonist because she has a clearly defined personality. Damien is a great character because his realistic emotional reactions to past and current events break all typical molds for male leads. Additionally, Selene and Damien have one of the most well developed fictional relationships I have seen in some time. Furthermore, Amara and her mother are greatly improved in this novel, and the other minor characters also play important roles. The only error to note here is that there are a few too many scenes that describe the character’s physical appearance as seen by their spouse. However, as Selene and Damien are married, this is not bad – mainly unnecessary. Because there is only one error, Busse earns an almost perfect score in character development – the strongest area of her novel.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Busse earns a full point in creativity for crafting an above average fantasy world, and half an x-factor point in originality for crafting unique characters who defy Christian gender stereotypes for men and women. Because of this, we here at BOR believe that the Ravenwood Saga would make a great Christian TV series. The first novel has enough content to fill the first season, the second novel could be the second season, and so on. The screenwriter would have to make very few changes because they could use key chapters to build episodes. We hope that someday soon Christian filmmakers will recognize the movie/series potential in Christian novels. Great job Ms. Busse! Your latest novel was a breath of fresh air!

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Grace & Lavender by Heather Norman Smith

Author’s note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Heather Norman Smith’s debut novel is a good first effort that shows much promise for the future. While the storyline is simple, it carries a good message. Colleen has been searching for the next big thing her whole life – especially now that she and her husband are retired. She thrives on having “all her irons in the fire” so to speak. When Colleen’s church group is asked to help a troubled teen, she volunteers because it will probably be an adventure! Grace has led a troubled life and has never had a parent or adult to truly rely and depend on. As a result, she is suspicious of adults and has learned to hide her emotions. When she acts out one time too many, her caseworker decides that it would be good for her to perform some community service – an experience that will not turn out the way anyone expected. Melody, Colleen’s daughter, was just laid off from her job and wonders what God’s plan is for her going forward. The lives of these three characters will intersect in ways they never expected. Smith demonstrates a keen understanding of the way people in different age groups think and portrays many realistic life circumstances throughout her story. The main errors here are a tendency towards the ‘information dump’ style of writing and a few continuity issues. The plot could have been greatly strengthened if the characters told the story from first person. This is because it is hard for the reader to connect with a third person perspective. However, this is a nice story that carries a good message, and therefore remains a good first effort. Smith earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

Colleen and Grace are mostly well-developed characters who have distinct personalities that drive the story. Smith’s depiction of Colleen’s thought processes is especially humorous – if a bit dizzying in the beginning. Furthermore, Grace is a realistic and relatable teenager that breaks many of the usual molds for this type of character. There are two main errors in this section. First, Melody and her father are both good characters, but it feels like they were left unfinished. Second, the minor and secondary characters in the story could use some further development. Therefore, as the strengths and weaknesses are equal, this session receives an average score as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Smith earns a point in creativity for crafting a good first novel and for inserting several original ideas into her story. Additionally, I believe that this novel could make a great Christian miniseries reminiscent of The Prayer Box. This is because Grace and Lavender has the small town feel that actually works on the big screen because there is more depth than fluff. In conclusion, good job Ms. Smith! I look forward to your future novels with interest!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points