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

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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

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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 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

Courting Mr. Emerson by Melody Carlson

Courting Mr. Emerson  -     By: Melody Carlson

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)

Melody Carlson’s latest novel, Courting Mr. Emerson, is a real treat. In a surprising turn of events, the novel has defied my expectations and may be her best novel to date. At the very least, this new book is equally as good as her acclaimed title, Finding Alice. George Emerson is set in his ways. He has a schedule that contains one or more agendas for each day that will be met, which has in turn led to a very successful teaching career. He is dedicated to his students and feels things more deeply than he would ever admit. He never colors outside the lines, has the morals of a saint, and is in perfect control….but he is alone. Faced with an early retirement and the resulting big life changes, George clings more tightly to the illusion of control. Will he succeed? Willow West loves life and people. She pursued her dreams at the expense of her past relationships and personal life, but finally found God and learned that He doesn’t expect us to have it all together. She loves God, art, and her grandson, and can’t stand for people to be lonely or set in their ways. When Willow meets George, she feels an unexplainable connection and sympathy for his lonely lifestyle. However, when her innate need to help others (frequently) crosses the line to pushiness, will her friendship with George be compromised? To find out more, read the book!;) I can honestly say that this is a book worth reading. The steady flow of eccentric and truly funny humor is neither overdone or underdone, making for a enjoyable read that flows quite well. The only errors to note here are a few moments of empty space and a fairly simple plot structure. However, other strengths include an atypical and honest view of today’s church, and a somewhat unpredictable ending. Therefore, Carlson earns an above average score in this section.

Character Development (4 points)

Carlson’s multi-dimensional characters are the strongest part of this novel. George and Willow are both well-developed because their past has influenced their present tendencies and beliefs. Additionally, Carlson demonstrates a keen understanding of how people with different personalities view the world and respond to their interactions with others. The characters drive the plot and break traditional character molds for a romantic comedy. This is because Carlson avoids the typical love triangle and replaces it with a few moments of real responses that people have to their interpretation of an event, such as anger or hurt. (spoiler) Additionally, her brief parody of the ‘other man/woman’ plot element is much appreciated because the said character has a history of many broken relationships and is therefore imperfect. For these and other reasons, Carlson earns a perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

This romantic comedy is filled with eccentric qualities that set it apart from your typical romance tale. Needless to say, it goes down as one of the most refreshing books I have had the privilege to read in some time. Carlson has stepped out in this novel and dared to be different – a fact that leads me to award her a full point in originality. As you may have guessed by now, we here at BOR believe that this would make a great Christian romantic comedy film reminiscent of original comedies such as Altar Egos and Heaven Bound. We believe that the makers of these films, or someone like
Rik Swartzwelder, could bring this book to the big screen and use the different ideas therein to present a movie that could influence church culture for the better. To conclude, great job Ms. Carlson! We look forward to reading more novels like this one!:-)

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Jaime Jo Wright’s latest novel is a triumph. It has been a long time since I have read such a well-constructed suspense plot. Wright balances all aspects of the plot very well, for it holds the attention from cover to cover. While the novel isn’t perfect, it appears that Wright has put her best foot forward, which is all we ask of anyone. The Curse of Misty Wayfair tells the stories of Thea and Heidi. Heidi decides to head back to her hometown – Pleasant Valley – after she receives a mysterious letter in the mail from her mother. Upon returning home, Heidi finds her sister unchanged and informed her mother’s dementia has worsened. A visit to her mother leaves her with more questions than when she came, and when she returns to her sister’s home on the scene of a break-in, she becomes even more confused. The red words scrawled on her mirror cause her to start asking questions…which will lead to answers she didn’t expect. Thea is a simple woman who has just traveled to Pleasant Valley (of the past) to take memorial photographs of a recently deceased young woman – Mary Coyle – for her family’s benefit. When she is invited to attend the young woman’s funeral, she reluctantly accepts. While there, Thea hears many strange rumors about the Coyle family, and is unsure as to who is telling the truth and who is gossiping. (spoiler) Thea decides to stay in Pleasant Valley, but regrets this decision when she comes face to face with a community superstition. This experience causes Thea to start asking questions…which will lead to answers she has always feared, but somehow suspected. On the whole, Wright has crafted a consistent and well-constructed storyline that puts many suspense novels to shame. While there are a few small errors, such as a few moments of sensationalism and a slightly abrupt ending to the story, these do not overshadow the many good aspects of this novel. As a result, Wright earns a nearly perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, Wright’s characters are quite original and drive the plot. Her greatest strength is that she takes the time to establish all of characters before jumping right into the plot. Thea and Heidi have well-established character arcs that go in an unexpected direction – as it should be. The Coyles are also very realistic and add much to the story. Additionally, the author’s honest portrayal of small town secrets is refreshing and could come as a breath of fresh air to her readers. One minor error to note here is that sometimes it is hard to connect with the characters on an emotional level. However, this could be remedied on the big screen. Therefore, Wright earns an above average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Wright earns a full point in originality for crafting a unique and memorable suspense story that would make a great film. She also earns a half an x-factor point in creativity for adding an interesting plot twist to the end of her tale. For these reasons, I believe that a talented group of filmmakers could craft this novel into an interesting Christian miniseries. The screenwriter wouldn’t need to alter the plot at all, and would only need to make small changes to some of the characters. Therefore, Wright earns nearly a perfect score in this section as well, and a well done from us here at BOR. This novel is worth a read and deserves to become a film.

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Between Two Shores by Jocelyn Green

betweentwoshores

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)

Jocelyn Green’s newest novel is a mixed bag. On one hand it contains many interesting features that are relevant to today’s culture, such as family systems issues, racial tension, and an accurate look at social issues of the past. However, on the other hand there are some qualities that keep it from standing out in the crowded historical romance genre. Between Two Shores tells the intersecting stories of Catherine Duval and Samuel Crane. The story is set during the Seven Years War and covers
1744 to 1761. Catherine belongs to two different cultures, and yet, she doesn’t fully identify with either one. As a youth she chose to leave behind her sister and her Native American heritage to live with her English father. However, her dreams of a better life with him are quickly shattered when he turns out to be abusive, changeable, and addicted to alcohol. Early on her father tries to forcibly adapt her to English culture so that she will leave her “savage” ways behind. However, when this attempt fails, he becomes increasingly abusive. Catherine continually faces rejection from her family members – from her father for being a blended race, and from her sister because she believes Catherine left part of her heritage behind. When Catherine’s unstable father takes her former fiance – Samuel – as his prisoner because he has information that could end the war, Samuel begs Catherine to help him escape. Catherine doesn’t feel very sympathetic towards Samuel, but neither does she want to face another famine in the coming winter. (spoiler) Thus, she decides to help him – if only to help herself. This decision will lead to many circumstances that will test Catherine’s sanity and strength. The plot of this novel is interesting and delves into some raw topics that most historical novels do not, however, the storyline is a bit scattered and inconsistent at times. In spite of this, the storyline is the strongest part of this novel. Therefore, Green earns just above an average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

In comparison, Green needed to give a bit more attention to character development in this novel. Catherine is a good character whose arc contains many good ideas, however, it is hard to relate to her through the use of third person. Samuel also has much potential, but he is inserted somewhat abruptly into the story and needed further development. Additionally, Catherine’s father and sister are realistic, but Catherine’s father was only spoken of in first half of the novel, and her sister is a distant character that is hard to relate to. The strengths of the characters in this novel include that Green established a history for Catherine and Samuel, and that they do not follow the typical protagonist couple path as characters. For these reasons, Green earns an average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Green earns a full point in creativity for choosing a unique setting for her story and for crafting an interesting storyline around the same. Despite the errors I mentioned, I think that Green’s story would make an interesting historical epic that followed the course of Catherine’s life. If the screenwriter focused on developing Catherine and her father more as characters, this could be an interesting issues-driven historical film that could change the culture. Additionally, Native Americans are not seen nearly enough (if at all) in Christian film, so I must insist that an authentic cast is used should one decide to make this film. To conclude, nice job Ms. Green, I think you have much potential for the future!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Line Between by Tosca Lee

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)

Tosca Lee’s latest novel, The Line Between, is business as usual for this author. In Lee’s case, business as usual means consistently turning out exceptional Christian entertainment. The novel tells the story of Wynter Roth. Wynter is a member of a community obsessed with growing their own foods and eating only natural food. The community is all she knows, and she has no plans to leave. However, when Wynter disobeys the community’s code of living, she is excommunicated. This forces her to leave everything she knows and live with a friend. Wynter’s new independence soon leads her down a path she never expected. She becomes involved in a cause to stop an pandemic of early-onset dementia that is sweeping the nation. This sends her on a mission – a dangerous cross-country road trip with the goal of delivering experimental samples to a doctor she’s never met, and ultimately stemming the tide of the disease. Will she make it there in time? To answer this question, read the book! Obviously, for the sake of leaving the mysteries of this novel untold, we left out many important details that make this book all that it is. Lee’s latest contains a great science fiction storyline that is well thought out and explained as usual.
A major plus is that the storyline is built around a unique idea that makes sense. Additionally, it displays great world-building qualities and storyline unfolding through the use of character flashbacks. The only flaws to note here are the slightly rushed and abrupt ending and occasional off color expletives. Without these, this novel would have earned a perfect score. However, it remains one of the most creative novels we have had the pleasure to read in some time. Therefore, Lee earns just short of a perfect plot score.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Lee’s talent shines in the area of character development, a fact that is demonstrated through her well-established female lead. Wynter has a deep backstory and realistic motivations constructed through Lee’s effective use of flashbacks. Plus, this plot contains a shocking development – a realistic villain! This factor is almost never seen in Christian entertainment.
Furthermore, Lee’s supporting characters are above average. The only flaw to note here is the somewhat cheesy male lead. However, he is not all bad because he has a clearly outlined purpose in the story – he just needs some refining. These factors lead us to award Lee just short of a perfect score in this section as well.

Creativity & Originality (2 points)

Finally, Lee earns a full point in creativity and an x-factor point in originality for writing what is perhaps the best science fiction/thriller novel on the Christian market today. Once again, Lee proves she is an exceptional science fiction author who cares about character development beyond the plot. We here at BOR believe that this novel would make an excellent Christian sci-fi/thriller film. A screenwriter would need to do very little with this story to bring it to the big screen because all the applicable areas are nearly perfect as is. Great job Ms. Lee! We respect and admire your commitment to creating above average Christian entertainment. Thanks for sharing your novel with us!:)

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews

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)

Mesu Andrews’ soon to be released novel, Of Fire and Lions, is a step up from her most recent novel. This new novel takes an unconventional look at the story of Daniel, and introduces a fictional character who demonstrates Andrews’ understanding of real people. While the novel isn’t perfect, it stands out in a crowded genre. The opening chapters introduce the reader to Abigail, the daughter of a palace servant. One day, as they are performing this task, Israel is invaded by their enemies. Abigail’s mother locks her out of the king’s chambers and tells her to hide in the Temple. Abigail hides in the Holy of Holies, where she experiences God’s presence for the first time in her life. This holy moment is interrupted by her being captured and taken in captivity. Abigail is made responsible for caring for the needs of a group of brilliant young scholars -Daniel and his friends – during the march to Babylon. However, when they arrive, she is ‘relieved’ of her duties and given a much more unpleasant occupation to perform. (spoiler) Although she is reunited with her friends for a time, extraordinary circumstances lead Abigail to other, darker places and a new name – Belili. Belili is a hardened priestess who holds power over men of high position. Under her hard and manipulative facade, Belili longs to be Abigail once again. Upon his arrival in Babylon, Daniel and his friends become subject to the whims of an immature king. Daniel’s whits and social skills quickly elevate him to an esteemed position and give him access to every worldly pleasure he could desire. Each day he advises the king on numerous matters and tries to remain separate from the evil around him. In the midst of the chaotic atmosphere in which he lives, his heart longs for the girl he loves, Abigail. Will the Lord prove faithful to His captive people? To answer this question, read the book!:) On the whole, the plot holds the attention and contains multiple unexpected plot turns as time goes on. The only errors to point out are a few choppy moments and some seemingly convenient plot elements, such as Daniel escaping the fate of being made a eunuch through his marriage. Additionally, there are some moments of inconsistency towards the middle of the plot – sometimes the story is a bit slow, and other times is moves too quickly. This may be due to the absence of editing because my copy is an ARC, so no points are deducted for this flaw. (spoiler) However, Andrews’ unique and unsurpassed portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar’s God-induced insanity saves the novel from being commonplace. Therefore, Andrews earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

Andrews’ unique talent has always been making Biblical characters accessible to the average person – a fact that remains true in this novel. While there are a vast number of characters in the story, they are well-balanced and each have a clear purpose. Daniel and Abigail drive the plot and could easily go to the big screen because of Andrews subtle and unique application of flashbacks. One error to point out is that some of the secondary characters needed further development, a fact likely resulting from the vast amount of time covered in the novel. However, a major strength of this book is found in Andrews’ imperfect depiction of Bible heroes. Thus, she earns a nearly perfect score in this section as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Andrews earns a half point in creativity for giving readers a fresh perspective on the life of Daniel, and a half an x-factor point in originality for her depiction of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year insanity. This novel would make a great multi-season Christian TV series that gave Andrews a change to collaborate with another screenwriter and expand on some of her ideas. Mainly because it seems like her potential was reined in for this novel, a fact that could be remedied on the big screen. The characters are already good, the plotline is flexible, and potential is virtually unlimited. A filmmaker could go many directions with this novel, and we certainly hope they will. In conclusion, Andrews continues to produce some of the most original content in the Biblical fiction genre, however, we feel that she can do more.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

No Less Days by Amanda Stevens

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Amanda G. Stevens latest book, No Less Days, is both riveting and dissapointing. The novel has much untapped potential, and could have been so much better than it is. It feels like the author stopped short of all she has to offer. No Less Days tells the story of David Galloway – a 167 year old man who lost his ability to die in his thirties. Oh, he has had more than one opportunity, but each injury – no matter how serious – remedies itself after a brief amount of time. David leads a simple life. He owns and operates a bookstore in a small, isolated town whose residents live mostly in the past. David hates fire, loves books and his pet turtle, and questions many facets of his existence. He has only one true friend – his sole employee Tiana – and keeps mostly to himself. David follows nearly the same routine every day, and asks God why he is still alive every night. Then…everything changes. During a typical day at work Tiana tells David about a viral video she just saw in which a popular celeb named Zachary Wilson attempted to walk a tightrope at a great height and fell to his death – only to appear alive soon after. David doesn’t believe it at first, but curiosity soon probes him to examine the facts for himself. He too watches the video, and cannot believe his eyes. In a flash of comprehension he dares to ask the question: “Are there others like me?” After a brief inner battle with himself, he travels by car to Nevada in hopes of discovering whether the man is a fraud or genuine. He discovers that the latter is true, and he and Zachary become fast friends. Zachary introduces David to three other ‘longevites’, and the group quickly forms a bond. Little does David know that these new friendships will lead to danger, adventure, and perhaps the hardest decision of his life. Overall, the plot is engaging because it holds the attention from cover to cover. However, there are some continuity errors. At times the plot meanders in multiple directions without a clear objective, and some of the reasoning behind the characters’ longevity feels forced and simplistic. (spoiler) For instance, the only reason these five people are still alive is because they all had a fatal injury/health condition in the same era and were treated by the same doctor who discovered a magical healing serum in a body of water. In contrast, David’s role in the story begins and ends well because the beginning is enticing and the conclusion open-ended. In spite of this, it would seem that Stevens tried to include too many sub-plots that tend to clash with David’s purpose at times throughout the story. However, the moral questions asked in this novel are very creative, and it has much potential as a Christian film. These facts round out to an average score for Stevens in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

David is the best character in the story because he has a steady but powerful character arc that drives the plot. Tiana is also an above average character because she is a non-typical female lead and adds humor and life to a slow-to-develop story. Zachary is a good start, but not quite there. He has a developed personality and his character is consistent, but left unfinished. The other longevites drop abruptly into the story and are also left unfinished. These facts earn Stevens an average score in this section. We here at BOR believe that these character and plot errors could have been remedied through breaking up the vast amount of plot content into a series. For example, this could be a three to five book series that contains a book for each longevite. In this way, the reader would come full circle in knowing each of the characters equally, and the publisher would likely see greater revenue as a result. This idea may still be in the cards for this author, but if it is not, this book could be made into a TV series that applied the suggestions listed above.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Stevens earns half a point in creativity and half a point in originality for crafting a book that contains fresh plot ideas and a well-constructed conclusion. This author’s strength is that she is not afraid to ask and answer the hard questions in life. Additionally, Stevens is obviously committed to changing the world of Christian fiction by daring to be different. I commend this author for her big ideas, and believe that she shows much promise for the future – with a little guidance, she could create an entirely new genre. This is why we believe that a Christian filmmaker should work with Stevens to bring this novel to the big screen in the form of a TV series that has a season or several episodes for each character. To conclude, well done Ms. Stevens, I believe that you are capable of more than you think.:)

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Two Weeks by Karen Kingsbury

Image result for two weeks karen kingsbury

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)

Karen Kingsbury’s newest novel in the acclaimed Baxter family series, titled Two Weeks, is coming out in early April next year. The novel tells the story of Ashley and Landon’s son Cole, and a young woman named Elise. Cole is just starting his senior year in high school, and has big plans to be a pre-med major at Liberty University by the next school year. Elise is a hurting young woman who has just moved to the area and is staying with her eccentric aunt and alcoholic uncle. Cole has a stable family life, good friends, and a strong faith in Christ. Elise has never known her father, and her mother has worked full-time – sometimes at multiple jobs – for as long as she can remember, leaving her little time to spend with Elise.
Elise’s dream is to be an artist – a dream her mother disapproves of. She doesn’t see how God could love her after the bad choices she has recently made. Cole has never been interested in dating and wants to wait to start a relationship towards the end of his college years. That changes on the first day of school. He finds himself drawn to Elise and her difficulties – a fact that soon leads him to more involvement than he bargained for. Elise soon spills her secrets to him – she just left an abusive relationship and thinks she could be pregnant – and both of them are left floundering. Cole seeks God for wisdom, while Elise retreats deeper inside herself. In the end, God orchestrates a divine plan that involves healing many hearts, and leading some back to Him. First, there are many positives to this novel. I was impressed at Kingsbury’s obvious growth as an author and at her apparent spiritual growth, which was reflected throughout the story. Her examples of God’s perfect plan for each person’s life are relatable and encouraging to the reader. Additionally, her characters’ commitment to prayer is the central theme of the novel. (spoiler) I also liked that Cole and Elise do not end up married. In comparison, the only flaws here are minor. First, the Baxter family theme is a bit repetitive at this point. Second, at times the novel lapses into the information-dump style of writing. However, these flaws are inconsistent at best, and do not majorly affect the plot. Therefore, Kingsbury earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

Kingsbury’s commitment to character development is upheld in this novel. Cole and Elise’s characters are shaped by their past experiences, and both are realistic and have a clear purpose in the story. The secondary characters are also quite good because they add continuity and depth to the plot. Furthermore, Kingsbury does a good job of connecting her characters together without being cheesy or predictable. One special note here is that the characters are used to present the Biblical view of the unborn in a non-preachy and down-to-earth manner. The unexpected plot twist with one of the minor characters is also quite good. Additionally, the flaws here are few – a bit of melodrama and a few too many people with the same personality. Needless to say, Kingsbury earns just shy of a perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Kingsbury earns a full point in originality for writing a novel unlike any I have read from her before. She avoided most of her usual pitfalls and turned out a poignant and faith-based read that is sure to inspire many readers. For this reason, I feel that this novel could either be a part of the Baxter Family TV Series already in progress, or a standalone film. As a film, it could promote the Biblical view on life before birth as a drama/coming of age storyline. The casting would have to be on point, for the characters drive the plot. Good production quality is also a given, not to mention good continuity. In the hands of a proven or budding filmmaker, this could be a pro-life film to rival the famous October Baby. Great job Mrs. Kingsbury! I was pleasantly surprised by what Two Weeks has to offer.

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Her Fear by Shelley Shepard Gray

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Shelley Shepard Gray’s newest romantic suspense novel, titled Her Fear, is a confusing tale to behold. While on one hand it has several creative ideas, on the other hand there are many plot holes and more than one unresolved sub-plot. Furthermore, the novel seems to take an eerily casual look at death. Her Fear tells the story of Sadie Detweiler, a young, pregnant Amish girl who has just been banished from her hometown by her family. Sadie’s family believed the lies of her boyfriend, – a straw-man character – and turned her out on her ear for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Sadie is forced to move in with her eccentric relatives, the Stauffers. Soon after moving in with them, she notices the tense atmosphere among the family members, but can’t put her finger on the source. Her uncle and his father (Stephen and Willis) seem to clash on almost every decision, while her cousins Esther and Monroe are as changeable as they are sympathetic to her plight. Shortly after Sadie’s arrival, Willis’ wife dies under suspicious circumstances. Verba’s death makes the authorities suspicious, and gives a certain EMT a reason to visit the Stauffer’s place again. You guessed it, he likes Sadie and of course he was picked to give the place a once over. Noah cares for nothing but Sadie’s welfare, even though her condition comes as a surprise to him. Throughout the novel he defends her position and pursues her affections. Noah’s pseudo-investigation leads him to a surprising conclusion, which has life-threatening affects on Sadie and her cousin Esther. The plot limps along to a thrown-together conclusion that is bound to leave the reader scratching their head, and barely scrapes by with an average plot score because of the attempts therein to stand out from other Amish tales. (spoiler) The strangest part about the conclusion, to put it in the words of a fellow critic, is that it “shrugs over the poisoning deaths of four other people” by giving no realistic consequences to those responsible, or resolving this part of the novel in any discernible way.

Character Development (1 point)

Likewise, the character development in this novel needs serious work. Gray earns one point for crafting some better-than-usual secondary characters. However, there is much work to be done. I can think of no better way to describe these characters but to quote the words of a fellow book critic, who said: “The father (Sadie’s) is villainous, the hero (Noah) is saintly, the uncle (Stephen) is cartoonishly ineffective”. Sadie’s father is a villian simply for the sake of being so, Noah is too perfect to be a real person, and Stephen reminds me of Edith from Downton Abbey. In short, Gray’s characters are her weakest area. 

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, the novel earns a full point in originality for being one of the most unique Amish tales I have ever read. Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable. However, I feel that with some rewriting, this novel has the potential to make an interesting Christian suspense film. The Amish characters could remain because it would be interesting to see the secrets of cultist communities such as these exposed. However, the romantic side has to go. If Sadie must be pregnant, then at least let the break between her and her parents be realistic and not a “shunning”. If Noah is a character in the film, then he could remain as an EMT – an extra in the film. However, I would recommend that Christian filmmakers look at better options before considering this plotline. 

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Who I Am With You by Robin Lee Hatcher

Image result for who i am with you robin lee hatcher

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)

Who I Am With You is a novel with much untapped potential. I believe that Hatcher meant well in writing this story, however, many readers will wonder what her point was. This novel tells the intersecting stories of Jessica and Ridley, along with a side story about one of Jessica’s predecessors. Jessica is an expectant young widow who lost her husband and only child in a car accident. She feels guilty about the death of her husband, because their last conversation was an angry one. Jessica questions God’s reasoning in allowing her daughter to die, and struggles against the feeling that her husband deserved to die because of his affair. In the midst of her spiritual and emotional turmoil, a single man hiding from the press moves in next door. Ridley has been falsely accused of ratting out a political candidate he was working for, and is hiding from the press for this reason. He figured that his parents house in a small town would be the perfect place to hide. However, his expectations for a quite season to recuperate from national turmoil change almost as soon as he arrives. Ridley soon has a dog, a love interest, and a new church family. He fights (halfheartedly) against his feelings for Jessica, but eventually gives in. Its surprising how quickly Jessica can fall in love when her husband isn’t even a year in the grave, and its even more amazing how easily a guy can fall in love when he and his dog hang out at his widowed neighbor’s house all the time. (spoiler) But anyway, as you’ve already guessed, they end up in a relationship. Yet this is not before an attempt is made at climax (spoiler) when his “past love” shows up, which causes Jessica to go into labor. Ho-hum. While there are some good elements to the main story, such as a small plot twist towards the end with a secondary female character, there is not much wow factor here. I appreciate that Hatcher tried to insert real life struggles and experiences into a romance plot, but she contradicted herself by brushing her own good intentions aside with a cheesy conclusion and overdone romantic elements. On the other hand, the paradox of this novel is that the side story about Jessica’s predecessor is much better and more meaningful than the main tale. This led me to wonder why Hatcher did not choose this as a main plot in the first place. Therefore, the plot receives a less than average score because a meaningful story was covered up with a meaningless one. 

Character Development (2 points)

In comparison, Hatcher’s characters are her strong point, as evidenced by her average score in this section. Jessica has an interesting backstory, relatable emotions, and realistic weaknesses. However, her character is made very vanilla through the use of third person writing, and her purpose in the story is unclear. Ridley has potential, but too much attention is given to his physical characteristics, and not enough to true character development. He has his good moments, but overall it is hard to determine why he is a necessary character. Additionally, the secondary characters – with the exception of Jessica’s mom – are forgettable and even corny at times. That being said, Jessica’s mom is likely the best and most sensible character. On page 152 she gives Jessica some kind and sound advice regarding this hasty relationship – which is completely ignored – and continually encourages Jessica to grow in her walk with Christ (this is an example of Hatcher’s contradiction). Therefore, Jessica and her mother save this section from being below average, however, Hatcher has work to do in future novels. Additionally, Jessica’s predecessor is a great character, as is his wife, however, it is hard to get to know them through choppy storytelling. Therefore, Hatcher receives an average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, Hatcher earns a half point in creativity for inserting a plot twist into the story, and for crafting a good side story. Unfortunately, I have seen this general storyline many times before, so originality is absent. Despite these flaws, I feel that a talented screenwriter could turn this into an interesting Christian film/miniseries. First, they would need to get rid of the main story and focus on the side story. The novel should become a Christian TV miniseries that focuses on Andrew’s life, rocky marriage, and how he let God heal his broken relationships. This type of plot needs a diverse set of strong secondary characters to help it along, so everyone in this role needs to be rewritten. The book title could be retained, but the movie’s purpose could be changed to show who the characters are with Jesus, rather than who they are on her own or with another love interest. This is because all Christians need to be secure in their relationship with Christ before they can experience healed relationships. Finally, while this review may offend some, please know that I tried hard to find the good in this novel. However, as a critic I must also be honest. I think you have much potential as a writer, Ms. Hatcher, and can do great things for Christ! Thank you for sharing your novel with the team at BOR. 

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

Mark of the Raven (The Ravenwood Saga Book #1) by [Busse, Morgan L.]

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)

Morgan L. Busse has crafted an exciting and engaging storyline in this new novel that is character-driven and has much potential to be a fantasy TV series. Mark of the Raventells the intersecting stories of Selene and Damien. Selene is the heir to House Ravenwood, a fact that comes with more bad than good. Selene has inherited her mother’s ability to dream walk – to take the form of a raven (hence their family title) and enter the dreams of others at night, discover their fears, and manipulate these fears for their advantage. At first Selene is open to this ability because she feels it is her duty as the heir to uphold her family’s traditions. However, her willingness fades when she learns the ultimate goal of many dream walking missions is to kill the subject. Torn between duty and disgust at the darker side of her gift, Selene feels helpless to change her fate. Damien has experienced multiple tragedies in his young life. The death of his father and younger brother shook him internally, and he has never been the same since. Damien’s family has been gifted with the ability to control water – to create water walls that protect their village from invading naval forces. When Damien is called upon to use his gift for the first time on a mass scale, he is thrilled with the victory caused by his gift…until he sees the people he has unintentionally killed by protecting his village. When a meeting of the Great Houses draws Damien and Selene onto the same ground, Selene is intrigued by Damien’s devotion to the Light, as it is so different from her family’s commitment to the Dark Lady. Will Selene be forced to kill to uphold her family heritage? Will Damien trust that the Light will help him make wise choices when using his gift? To answer these questions, read the book!:) Busse’s obvious strength is her storylines, a fact that is reflected in this novel. I could find little wrong with this plot, and aside from a few editing errors and a hint of choppiness here and there, this is a nearly perfect storyline that puts many fantasy novels to shame.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, the characters in this novel are as strong as the plot. Selene is a multi-dimensional character who is well-developed and realistic. Her spiritual journey is relatable and downright poignant. In fact, Busse’s creatively subtle insertion of the Gospel message into this novel is the hallmark of the story. Damien is an equally good character, which is surprising when one considers his abrupt insertion into the plot. My only complaint regarding the characters are that he and Selene needed to be written in first person. The secondary characters are well-thought-out and intriguing, and are left unfinished for future novels in the series. Yet, a little more effort was needed here. Thankfully, the good outweighs the minor bad here.:)

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, Busse is also strong in the area of creativity and originality. She earns a full point in creativity for crafting a fantasy world and above average characters. Mark of the Raven, and hopefully the future novels in the saga, will make an excellent TV series. The plot is quite good as is; no alteration is needed by a screenwriter. They should instead spend their time on building on the character foundation Busse has laid, and honing the dialogue to attract both young, semi-young, and older audiences. To conclude, good job Ms. Busse. It is nice to see that there are still fantasy authors out there who care about quality Christian content! I look forward to reading and reviewing your next Ravenwood novel.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

A Bodyguard for Christmas by Carol J. Post

Bodyguard for Christmas (Love Inspired Suspense) by [Post, Carol J.]

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)

Carol J. Post’s newest novel, A Bodyguard for Christmas, is better than I expected it to be. Post’s dedication to a strong storyline and her fairly good characters earn her an average score in this overcrowded genre. Thankfully, the Christmas elements in this novel are few and far between, and do not really affect the plot at all. A Bodyguard for Christmas tells the intersecting stories of Colton Gale and Jasmine McNeal. Colton Gale, a young widower with a young son, has recently been threatened by an unknown source. He arrives home one day to find his house broken into, his guard dog tranquilized, someone attempting to kidnap his son, and the babysitter tied up in a closet. This traumatic situation leads him to the decision to hire a bodyguard for his son. The bodyguard ends up being his next-door neighbor…Jasmine. Jasmine has a past darkened with traumatic situations, whether it be bad memories from her military career, personal trauma from her dysfunctional family, or her fear of being taken unawares. This past has plagued her with nightmares, a fact she keeps bottled up and tries to deal with alone. When she meets Colton’s young son, something long buried in her comes to life, love. Unfortunately, this assignment gives her no time for self-care, as the criminal begins to make attempts on Colton’s life. Will Jasmine bring the suspect down? Will Colton overcome his need for control and trust in God? While this plot ends on some predictable notes, it is saved by a great plot twist in the last fourth of the novel. The novel’s biggest weakness is the information-dump chapters at the beginning. This writing style leaves little room for the imagination, and gives the reader too much unnecessary information. Yet, Post’s strength is her storylines, which is why I feel that this book would make a great TV series. 

Character Development (2 points)

In comparison, Post’s characters are average. Although Jasmine has a great backstory and realistic struggles, and Colton has a relatable personality, at times the characters feel like pawns in a bigger picture. They do things because, and feel things because they need to. Great attention is given to develop Jasmine, Colton, and Colton’s son, but the secondary characters are one-dimensional and need refining. However, I commend Post’s attempt to give her characters deep backstories and craft a relevant suspense novel, and think that she has a lot of potential for the future. 

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Post earns a full point in creativity for crafting an engaging storyline and creating original characters. With a little refining, she could go far in the writing world. This is why I believe this novel, and the others featuring these characters, could make a great TV series. It would be so easy to make the first two seasons about the other books, and conclude on a high note with this book made into a whole season. What could be better for marketing than to end on Christmas? To conclude, nice job Ms. Post! I think you show much promise for the future.:)

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Horse Dreams Series by Stephen Bly

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Author’s Note: We were provided with free copies of the books in this series in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Stephen Bly’s distinctive writing style really comes to life in this eccentric, yet charming series. While it is not perfect, it is above average, and as always it is not your typical Western novel. In all three books Bly demonstrates a keen understanding of everyday people and an openness to other cultures that is rarely seen in his generation. The first novel, Memories of a Dirt Road Town, is a little bit slow to get started, and the first half will likely leave the reader scratching their head. However, it all comes together in the end to create a unique and humorous beginning to the story of Develyn Worrell. Develyn, or Dev as she prefers, is a middle-aged divorcee/schoolteacher who is unhappy with her life. She is weary of trying to mend fences with her daughter, and still upset with her husband for having an affair with a high school student. Dev is desperate for a change, which is why she decides to clear her summer calendar and travel to the Wyoming back-country – namely, her hometown. Leaving her best friend in charge of her home and spoiled cats, she packs everything she thinks she’ll need in the back of her Jeep Cherokee and sets off. Several noisy hotels and one midnight heart-to-heart in a diner later, Dev arrives in Wyoming to find that she is much more of a city girl than when she left. She makes friends with a rather unlikely candidate, a multiracial woman named Cree-Ryder who claims to have at least four different cultures in her family heritage. It takes Dev a little while to get used to Cree-Ryder’s rough and tumble ways, but not quite as long to get used to a gaggle of cowboys drooling over her at every turn. As one thing leads to another, Dev finds herself questioning her life choices in the silence of the open country, and gaining friendships she never expected. The plot in the first book is a bit slow to develop, but the well-placed humor and wit found in the second half, along with the simple yet well-crafted plotline, make up for this minor flaw. The second book starts a bit abruptly, but is quicker to gain the reader’s attention than the first novel. Furthermore, Bly delves into deeper and more meaningful content in this one. This novel is arguably the best in the series. Finally, the third book is equally predictable and unpredictable, but has good character arcs. All of this rounds out to a book series that is above average and worth reading. The Horse Dreams Series has been and will be loved by fans of Western fiction for years to come.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Stephen Bly was always known for his unique and multifaceted character models. This series is no different. His ability to portray male and female leads with equal pathos is a rare quality indeed to find in an author of Western action plots. Dev is well-developed through the creation of a raw and well-made backstory. Quint (her eventual love interest) is also realistic, however, in the end the reader is left wanting a little more from his character. Additionally, Dev’s daughter is well-crafted and relatable, however, she is barely existent in the first novel. Finally, Cree-Ryder is tied with Dev for the best character of the series. Her brutal honesty and natural humor add much to all three of the books, and her backstory is quite good. As always, Bly’s strength is character development. For this reason, he earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

Finally, Bly earns a full point in originality for proving that all Westerns do not have to follow the same template. He manages to establish a sub-genre, so to speak, within Western fiction. Not only does he find subtle ways to include the message of the Gospel, but he also proves that female leads have a place in this genre. For this reason and others, I believe this book series would make a great TV series. The characters need no altering, the screenwriter should stick with what is there. The plot could use a few twists and smoke screens, but this is optional depending on what direction the filmmakers want to take. I feel that these characters could be brought to life on the big screen, and that the message of the story could be better communicated through this tool. To conclude, this is another job well done by Stephen Bly, made all the sweeter by the fact that he knew where he was going and what was most important in life. Thank you for sharing your late husbands books with us, Mrs. Bly, he continues to be an inspirations to writers of Western fiction everywhere!

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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Lights on the Mountain by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

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We were provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Cheryl Anne Tuggle’s newest novel, Lights on the Mountain, is one of the most complicated books I have ever read. It is reminiscent of a Bradley Dorsey film – there is so much potential, but that potential gets lost somewhere along the way. The novel tells the story of Jess Hazel, a man who has lived a simple, yet eventful life. As a young man, he experienced loss when his parents died in a car accident, and joy when he met his true love, Gracie. He and Gracie married, and Jess experienced difficulty again when she was diagnosed with endometriosis – a condition that makes conceiving a child difficult. After long years of waiting, Gracie becomes pregnant around the same time that a mysterious young girl called Tsura enters their lives. Tsura seems almost otherwordly to Jess, and he is troubled when he gazes into her wise and deep eyes. Tsura has visions of the future of people’s lives, often without warning. These visions are always accurate in the end, sometimes to her regret. Gracie loves Tsura as her own, and begins to raise her in the Orthodox faith of her heritage. Jess doesn’t care much for religion, but finds himself more interested than ever when things begin to go wrong with Gracie. (spoiler) After two long weeks of waiting for their overdue child, Jess wakes up to find a still and gray Gracie lying on the sofa. However, it is evident that his child is still alive. (spoiler) Gracie’s death leaves Jess more confused and broken than ever, and causes him to question everything in his life. Will Jess turn to the One who loves him completely? Will he decide what to do with Tsura? As previously mentioned, the above plot shows that this novel had much potential. However, this description is what I was able to piece together from Tuggle’s meandering and wordy writing style. Unfortunately, the first half of the novel is very slow to develop, and while the second half is interesting, I feel that many may not make it that far. My main complaints are that the novel does not hold the attention and the plot is hard to follow. This is a niche writing style that not everyone will enjoy. Additionally, the random sprinkling of language at varying degrees is offensive and the opposite of relevant – it seems to be the author’s attempt at sensationalism. For these reasons, Tuggle earns an average score in this section, and I feel that this is a generous assessment. 

Character Development (1.5 points)

In contrast, the character development is below average because the characters are partially developed. Jess is the best character and had the most potential. This is because of his interesting and original backstory, along with his realistic thought processes and emotions. Gracie too had potential, however, her abrupt end was frustrating, especially since she appeared almost halfway through the novel and left in the final third. Tsura is equally intriguing and unusual. It is unclear what direction the author hoped to take with this character, sometimes she seems to be an angel, other times someone with a mental disorder, and still others someone with the gift of prophecy. However, her frequently mentioned ‘Gypsy’ heritage, and the unusual indications therein will leave the reader quite confused. (spoiler) It is even more baffling that Tuggle leaves this character in a monastery. Additionally, the secondary characters, with the exception of the farrier, are one-dimensional and forgettable. Tuggle has some work to do in this section, yet, she does have potential.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, this novel is not so much creative as it is odd. However, Tuggle earns a half point in originality for creating unique characters and a fresh take on a romance novel. It is almost as if Tuggle wishes to write fantasy, but is afraid to. In fact, this novel would have been much better if it were in the fantasy genre. This would explain Tsura’s ‘gifts’ and Gracie’s existence. Furthermore, it would give Jess a purpose outside of his journey of self-discovery. For this reason, I think that with a little re-writing, a screenwriter could transform this unique novel into a film, and place it in the genre it should have been in originally. The characters can be helped along with the right cast, and the plot has plenty of potential. Furthermore, as this novel has mostly good reviews, a film based on the story would probably be supported financially by fans. To conclude, nice job Ms. Tuggle, I think that with some honing, you have the potential to create a new genre with your writing style!

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

In Times Gone By by Tracie Peterson

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Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

In this final installment of Tracie Peterson’s Golden Gates Secrets series, the characters from both previous novels converge together into one big happy family. There are also some new characters, perhaps better referred to as villains. Judith, Camri, and Kenzie have all seen various life and relationship changes since the first novel, and it seems that both Judith and Camri’s futures are secure. Now, all that remains is for Kenzie to find true love and leave her past behind. A recent earthquake has rocked the community (no pun intended) and caused all sorts of problems. Looting in the streets has led to overenthusiastic police officers shooting potential looters on sight, and the scores of wounded citizens are overwhelming local medical staff. In between helping victims of the earth quake, Kenzie struggles to conceal her true feelings. She feels somewhat left out of her circle of friends because both of them are engaged – Camri to Patrick and Judith to Caleb – and are planning a double wedding. Plus, her inner turmoil over a certain young doctor (Micah Fisher) paired with her confusion regarding her former fiance (Arthur Morgan), have culminated to create emotional turmoil and the need for serious soul-searching. The sudden appearance of said fiance makes matters all the worse, for he claims his family lied to him and this is the reason he missed the wedding. Arthur is both aggressive and desperate in his demands that she finish what they began, and refuses stop pleading. Kenzie no longer loves him, and realizes that maybe she never did, but is afraid to declare her love for Micah because of what happened with Arthur. Meanwhile, one of Judith’s relatives, a teenage girl named Victoria, has recently suffered the death of her family. However, she is not worried about this fact, because she hated them anyway. What she really despises is the fact that Judith is to inherit their grandmother’s money, and that she is now Judith’s ward. Victoria tests Judith’s patience from the moment she arrives, and tries to separate her and Caleb. Thankfully, Caleb is immune to these attempts on his love life. Judith is left alone with her impossible ward when Caleb travels to Arthur’s home town to discover the truth of his claims. While he is gone, Micah suddenly disappears, leaving Kenzie confused and concerned for his well-being. Will Micah return? Will Judith figure out what to do with her cousin? Will Kenzie choose faith over fear? Will Victoria succeed in ruining Judith? To answer all these questions, read the book!;) While this plot-line is engaging in a everyday sort of way, it is also somewhat choppy at times. Peterson’s classic humor and usual romance elements are present, and both are fine in their own way. My main complaint is that this novel is predictable and commonplace. Peterson is an experienced and talented author, but she set a high bar for herself in this series with an impressive first installment, and has since failed to reach it again. This is arguably the weakest novel of the series, yet, it still earns an average score for storyline simply because it holds the attention from cover to cover.

Character Development (2 points)

In the same vein, Peterson’s characters are mostly well-developed and each have a distinct personality. Camri, Judith, and Kenzie are the best characters, and their backstories drive the plot. Caleb is also quite good, and Patrick adds humor and life to the novel. However, while his Irish heritage was correctly implemented in the first novel, it is now been reduced to being somewhat corny. For instance, his overly apparent Irish brogue is tiresome and makes him stand out too much from the other characters. I have nothing against the Irish; I believe all people were created equal in the sight of God. Rather, I feel that Peterson is unfairly distinguishing him from his acquaintances. Perhaps this is not intended, but the result is the same. Additionally, Micah is a one-dimensional character – he is good for the sake of being good. Still, Peterson rounds out with an average score in this section because her characters have as much good as bad. 

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Peterson earns a half point in creativity and a half point in originality for creating an intriguing plotline and building upon her past experience in the romance genre to create a lineup of diverse characters. While this series was not perfect in book form, I feel that it could be greatly improved upon as a TV series. Each book has enough content for an entire season, and the screenwriter would have only minimal work to perform in making the series better than it currently is. For instance, they should think of the characters and storyline as a base that they can build upon. To conclude, nice job Ms. Peterson, I think that you are continually evolving as an author, and that you have the potential to write even better than you do!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick

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Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Jane Kirkpatrick’s newest novel, Everything She Didn’t Say, is very creative in that it seeks to fill in the missing pieces of a real woman’s life with fiction. The book is solidly based on actual events, and is much more like an autobiography than a work of fiction. Carrie Adelle Strahorn was a nineteenth century pioneer who traveled with her husband from the Midwest to the unsettled, somewhat wild lands of Wyoming. Her memoir, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, is the basis for the story, and it seems that Kirkpatrick adheres to the original information. Carrie, or Dell as Robert Stahorn (her husband) likes to call her, is her husband’s second love. He was first in love with her best friend, who happened to share her name, but that woman died before they could be married. It is not explained as to why he decided to marry Dell, but anyway, they marry and move out West. Dell’s husband is a publicist for the Union Pacific Railroad, and usually gets Dell to do much of his work for him – editing, correcting mistakes, and restructuring and adding content. Dell soon learns that she is to have no home of her own, as much of her married life will be spent in hotel rooms, boarding houses, and other much less desirable living spaces. Dell struggles with infertility, and her desire to have children is exacerbated by her lonely life. Despite Dell’s many blessings – an independent life, control over her future, the support of her family, and the absence of responsibility that comes with having a family – she longs for all she does not have. While all of these facts about Carrie Strahorn’s life are relevant and could be used to craft a great story based on sound historical evidence, this does not happen for Kirkpatrick. The plot meanders all over the radar with no real direction or point, and little effort is made to engage the audience in the story. Furthermore, the plot structure is redundant and, in a word, boring. However, Kirkpatrick still earns an average score in this section for her attempt to bring real historical facts to life for readers. 

Character Development (1 point)

Kirkpatrick’s character development is her weakest area. Dell has potential as a character, which saves this section from a zero rating, but is not good enough. It is impossible to relate to her plight through the use of third person, because she seems to have no depth or emotion whatsoever. 
This type of novel must be written in first person. It is the only way to hold the reader’s attention, and is necessary if one expects readers to engage in their story! Robert has everything he needs to be a good character, but is hardly given a chance to develop in any way. Dell’s family members are virtually indistinguishable, and add little to the story. Lastly, the remaining secondary characters are forgettable and add nothing to the tale. Kirkpatrick has plenty of room for improvement in this section, leaving her with a less than average score. 

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In spite of this, Kirkpatrick earns an average score in this section – a full point in creativity – for attempting to ‘fill in the blanks’ so to speak, of a real person’s life. This is a very creative idea, and would translate well onto the big screen. There is much work to be done, of course, but a screenwriter could easily transform this plot by creating a first person tale told from Dell and Robert’s intersecting perspectives. In this instance, the screenwriter would also have to ‘fill in the blanks’ for Kirkpatrick by adding new content that builds the story into something interesting and engaging. For example, the secondary characters need further development and a place in the story, and other elements, such as humor, should be added. In fact, I think this novel would make a great historical comedy, with some serious moments (we’re looking at you Kendrick brothers). To conclude, nice try Ms. Kirkpatrick, I think that you have a lot of potential as an author! 

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Making of Mrs. Hale by Carolyn Miller

The Making of Mrs. Hale

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 this third installment of her Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope Series, Carolyn Miller goes deeper than romance to deal with real issues that occur every day. While the novel is not perfect, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, and think that Miller will continue to improve in the future. Julia Hale is alone, destitute, and responsible for a three month old baby boy named Charles. They are both starving to death, and Julia is sick. Julia wonders where her absent husband could have gone, and why he has not returned home. His extended absence has forced her onto the streets, and it is only out of concern for little Charles that she considers asking for help. Julia intends to leave Charles on the doorstep of a trusted friend, but they catch up with her and she ends up staying in their home. These friends convince her to attempt reconciliation with her estranged mother and brother, who have not forgiven her for eloping with the enigma known as Thomas Hale. Julia soon finds herself back under her mother’s thumb and  brother’s influence, and more afraid for her future than ever. Shortly after she arrives at her family home, Thomas suddenly appears one night! Their reunion is joyous, but on the morrow, they are discovered by her mother, whose reaction is slightly manic. Thomas eventually tells a somewhat unbelievable tale to explain his long absence…before disappearing again. He longs to tell Julia the truth, yet fears her reaction. After all, his father was never sympathetic when he fell, so why should she be? Julia doesn’t know who to believe, and the strained relations with her mother and brother increase her anxiety. When she is shot at while taking a carriage ride, Julia begins to seek answers. Thomas is willing to give them, yet wary of the outcome. Will the truth set them all free? Will Julia and Thomas’ rocky relationship find solid ground in Christ? To answer these questions, read the book! On the whole, The Making of Mrs. Hale has a well-crafted plot that contains just enough action to keep the reader guessing. It is obvious that storylines are Miller’s strength. However, the story is a bit choppy at times and the outcome of the tale is predictable. Additionally, the book has a melodramatic theme throughout. For these reasons, Miller earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (2 points)

Likewise, Miller’s characters show much promise, and are mostly well done. Julia and Thomas are the best characters because their present is explained through the subtle insertion of their backstories. Thomas is a realistic example of someone who has been hurt by the church, and both he and Julia are good examples of someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family system. This factor explains their hasty decisions and dislike of tradition. Furthermore, these issues are relevant to our times, and are mostly well-addressed. However, Julia’s mother is a straw-man because the reader is given no reason for her behavior. Additionally, Julia’s brother wavers between realistic and irrelevant. It is obvious that Miller’s character-building skills leave room for improvement. Therefore, she earns an average score in the same.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Miller earns a full point in originality for putting a fresh spin on the overused Regency romance plot, and for admitting that everything was not all hunky dory for people living in this era. By including relevant issues that are portrayed in a semi-accurate light, Miller will likely attract the attention of those who would not otherwise read books like hers. For this reason, I feel that this book would make an excellent two-part TV event that could be featured as a miniseries on a Christian streaming service. People love romance films and series from this era, and it would likely do well. In fact, this book might be better as a movie.

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Legacy of Mercy by Lynn Austin

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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)

Lynn Austin has caught her second wind in this second installment of her Waves of Mercy series. Reminiscent of great novels like her own A Proper Pursuit, this plotline brings back warm, familiar memories of stories gone by, and builds upon the foundation she has set for herself as an author. In the first novel of the series, Waves of Mercy, I was afraid her talent was waning. However, I am pleased to say that Austin is back and better than ever. Legacy of Mercy tells the continued story of Anna (Anneke), Geesje, and Derk, along with some new characters that add much to the story. Anna has returned home from visiting her fiery and deeply spiritual grandmother – whose existence she has only just become aware of – and returned to a busy social schedule full of meaningless obligations and events. Now that she has discovered the true meaning of life, to love, serve, and worship her loving Savior, everything else seems inconsequential. Anna feels uneasy about her impending wedding to William, a young man from a rich family whose fortune will save her parents from bankruptcy, and is unsure if this action is worth the cost. However, she resolves herself to marry him despite the whispers of her conscience – for her parents sake. In the mean time, she has hired the Pinkerton detectives to search for records of her deceased mother’s life. (spoiler) This decision, however, soon opens a Pandora’s box of painful information and buried memories, and may cost her everything she knows. Geesje, Anna’s grandmother, feels like she has been parted forever from a granddaughter she only just met, because she has no idea when or if Anna will return. She is not left alone for long, for almost at that very moment someone shows up at her door to request that she take in a needy young woman who has recently emigrated from the Netherlands. Geesje agrees to do it, mostly because she remembers her own experience as a young woman in a new land. Cornelia, her new companion, is in poor health, reclusive, and equally angry and sad. Geesje struggles to reach the hurting young woman, and wonders if her cause is hopeless. Meanwhile, Derk is secretly in love with Anna and doesn’t know what to do because she is engaged. He feels unworthy of her love because he is only a seminary student and cannot give her the wealthy lifestyle she is used to. All of these people are, in some way, hurting. They must each allow God to direct their steps in order to find healing and help. The plot and storyline quality of this novel is phenomenal. There are no major errors, and the story is very engaging and poignant. Austin covers many difficult topics well and displays a deep understanding of people who are hurt by the church. The only flaw I could find was that the ending of the novel is a bit predictable. However, this experienced author has proven that her star-studded career is not ending anytime soon.

Character Development (4 points)

As per usual, Austin’s characters are flawless. Those in this novel seem to have been developed with special care, as each character has extremely relevant flashbacks and real emotions. Austin avoids the information dump style of writing by giving even the secondary characters first person flashbacks. Additionally, her unique style of first person keeps the reader in the know without being overly wordy. Anna, Geesje, and Derk are all perfect. Furthermore, Cornelia is masterfully crafted. In short, this story will touch the lives of many people. Austin earns a well done from this author for adapting her trusty writing style to reach younger generations and hurting people. 

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Legacy of Mercy is a rare sequel that is better than the prequel. Where Waves of Mercy was wordy at times and a bit too depressing, this novel jumps on to the scene with a good mix of laugh-and-cry moments that will touch the hearts of many readers. For this reason, Austin’s newest novel earns a full point for creativity, and a half of an x-factor point in originality for building upon the character models and plot devices found in A Proper Pursuit. This is why I believe this book series would make a great Christian TV series. Step aside WCTH, here’s a real historical romance that will minister to real people and influence the culture for the better! If more Christian authors would write like Austin, we would soon see a blessed change. 

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

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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)

Connilyn Cossette’s sequel to A Light on the Hill is well-written, with a character-driven plot that drives home several important life lessons. Shelter of the Most High is engaging, consistent, and has just enough historical detail to make it believable. Cossette weaves fact with fiction to create a novel that many readers will love, and could make a great movie. The novel tells the story of Sofea and Eitan, two people who have been hurt by their pasts. Sofea grew up on a island and spent much of her time with her cousin Prezi. The two girls often turned to the comforting embrace of the ocean to escape the wrath of Sofea’s father; to shut out reality and for just a moment be children. One day while Sofea and Prezi and diving for lobsters, they are suddenly captured by pirates. When they return to the beach for their clothing, they discover that the pirates have killed everyone in their village, leaving behind only carnage and burning huts. Sofea tries to protect Prezi from the cruelty they experience on-board ship, but in the end it is Prezi who saves both their lives. Both girls wash ashore and are found by a band of men who live in Kedesh – a city of refuge for murderers. The girls quickly find a home with Moriyah (the main character in the previous novel) and begin to learn her Hebrew ways. After being taught to worship and serve many gods, Sofea is not sure if she believes in only one God, but is willing to serve Him in return for Eitan. Eitan has shackled himself to being a Nazarite. He believes that living this way is adequate penance for his past, and the only way to set his mother free. When he meets Sofea and observes the wholehearted way in which she embraces life and others, he dares to believe that God has forgiven him for his sin. However, a plot against them both will cause him to question everything he believes in, and force Sofea to make a decision about Yahweh. Will they survive? Will they turn to the only One who can make them whole again? To answer this question, read the book! Overall, the plot is well-written and holds the attention from cover to cover. What seems to be a calm story in the beginning escalates towards the end with an unexpected and well-crafted plot twist that really sells the conclusion. I could find no significant fault with this plot, which makes it prime movie material. Cossette’s obvious strength is her storylines.

Character Development (3 points)

Eitan and Sofea are well-developed through the use of first person. This writing style helped the reader to connect to their struggles and joys, and made both more believable on the whole. Both have extremely relevant and realistic backstories, and Cossette demonstrates a keen understanding of real people through her character development. Eitan has a realistic struggle with guilt and the burden of his past, while Sofea’s struggle to believe in a God who cares about her is raw and poignant. (spoiler) Furthermore, the villian character is masterfully crafted, especially since Cossette misdirected the reader’s attention onto the wrong suspect in the beginning. The only flaw I found was with Prezi. Prezi is a good character, but has only minimal involvement in the plot. (spoiler) However, as I suspect the next book will be about her and Tal, perhaps we will get a chance to know her better. On the whole, Cossette’s characters are just shy of perfect and show great promise for the future.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Cossette earns a full point in originality for fulfilling our Biblical fiction dream for someone to write about Kedesh and it’s inhabitants. Shelter of the Most High contains mystery, intrigue, and an exciting tone that will peak the interest of younger audiences. Furthermore, I applaud her for proving that edgy content is not necessary to craft a good romance novel. For these reasons, I believe that this book series would make a great TV series. The character development is above par and the filmmakers have plenty of creativity to work with overall. Books such as this leave no excuse for filmmakers who are dragging their feet on discovering the quality content they already have in many Christian books. In conclusion, great job Ms. Cossette! I was pleasantly surprised by your novel and am grateful to you for sharing it with us!

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

When the Heart Sings by Liz Tolsma

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Liz Tolsma, known for writing historical fiction, crafts an engaging and raw tale in this new novel, When the Heart Sings. While the novel is not perfect, it has a lot of potential and I believe it would make a great Christian historical drama film. Tolsma tells the story of four people, Nadia, Teodor, Elfriede, and Erich. Nadia and Teodor are Polish Christians who face the daily horror of persecution at the hands of the Nazis, and daily heartbreak because of Nadia’s inability to carry a child to full term. Only days after their most recent loss, Nadia and Teodor are captured by German soldiers, placed in a cattle car with hundreds of other Poles, and shipped away from their home and everyone they know. When the train stops at a station, the wife of one of the Nazi officers, Elfriede, feels compassion for Nadia and tells her husband that she wants her for a servant. Nadia is torn from her beloved and taken to Elfriede’s and Erich’s home. Teodor is taken to a Nazi work camp and suffers unspeakable torture and inhumanity. Only Nadia’s songs and the hope of seeing her again keeps him going. Nadia soon learns that Elfriede’s home is anything but happy. Elfriede is a lonely woman with a rich family and the mindset of a spoiled child. Elfriede and Erich, much like Teodor and Nadia, are also unable to carry a child to term. This fact is the root of Erich’s anger – towards others and a God he claims is nonexistent. Despite her husband’s physical and emotional abuse towards her and others, Elfriede believes the best about him, even when her beliefs are clearly not true. As Nadia heals, she and Elfriede develop a relationship and Elfriede comes to see that Poles and Jews are just as human as anyone else…especially when a dying mother and her Jewish baby end up on the front lawn. Nadia names the baby Dominick and decides to keep him…much to Erich’s chagrin. As Erich becomes angrier and Elfriede comforts herself with oblivion, Nadia’s fear turns to survival – for herself, her husband, and her adopted son. Will Nadia and Teodor survive Erich and the Nazi regime? Will Elfriede see the truth and turn to the One who loves her completely? On the whole, this plot is well-crafted and holds the attention. There is great attention given to historical accuracy, and the Tolsma is obviously passionate about her topic. The only flaws to point out here are small; the story is a bit slow at times, and there are some moments of wordiness. Otherwise, this is a great plot that shows a lot of potential for the future.

Character Development (2 points)

Nadia and Teodor are very well crafted characters. They are very relatable and both avoid the ‘perfect’ mold often found in persecution plots. Elfriede is mostly well-developed, but it is hard to get to know her through the use of third person. Furthermore, her story seems pushed to the side throughout the novel, and seems a bit thrown together towards the end. Erich is an average character, and the reader is given no real reason for his behavior. Erich should have been developed through the use of flashbacks, perhaps given some family background of violence for his current state of mind.  Thus, he is, unfortunately a straw-man and the weakest character. Overall, Tolsma should have mixed third and first person in this novel, rather than using only third person. Since Nadia and Elfriede drive the plot, more attention should have been given to their backstories and present lives. Therefore, Tolsma earns an average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Tolsma earns a full point for originality because this plot is strikingly different from typical WWII stories. There is plenty of material for a screenwriter to work with here, and I feel that this book would have been better as a film in the first place. The screenwriter could easily insert a plot twist or two, deepen the characters through the existing dialogue, and add flashbacks for, at the very least, Erich’s character. Tolsma should definitely be involved in the screenwriting to ensure that historical accuracy is upheld, and that the plot is not changed for the worse. To conclude, good job Ms. Tolsma, you show much promise as a writer and I look forward to reading the next book in this series!:)

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Love in a Broken Vessel by Mesu Andrews

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Love in a Broken Vessel is Mesu Andrews’ unique take on the Biblical story of Hosea. The novel has been around for several years, and is well-loved by fans of Biblical fiction. Andrews’ talent for telling a raw story with an important lesson really shines in this novel, and although her plot is imperfect, the flaws are few and far between. Gomer is a woman with a hard exterior who is actually quite fragile on the inside. She has been a prostitute since a young age, and knows no other way to survive. Her view of the followers of Yahweh is cynical…to say the least. From Gomer’s perspective, the religious leaders demand much and do little. While this is mostly true, this reason for avoiding God’s love is simply a cover-up for her deeper issues. Hosea is a passionate prophet of God who has lived a somewhat sheltered life under the tutelage of the old prophet Jonah. When God calls him to marry a prostitute and have children with that same woman, he questions God’s sanity…but soon recognizes His divine plan when the prostitute in question turns out to be a childhood friend. Gomer is trying to entice a customer on the temple grounds when she spots Hosea and his homely friend the “fish prophet”. Her shock is quickly forgotten when she witnesses a horrific scene play out before her eyes. Gomer’s response to this scene earns her the worst beating of her life, and when she opens her eyes again, there are two people speaking. The physician is saying she may not survive, and Hosea is asking for her hand in marriage. Gomer quickly learns that Hosea intends to see his promises through, and is not sure how to respond. She soon finds that life in the prophet’s camp is not what she expected, and that most women in the camp are not exactly open and friendly. Gomer continually retreats to the safety of what she knows, and Hosea keeps chasing after her. Will Gomer surrender to the One who loves her completely? Will Hosea trust in God’s seemingly crazy plan? To answer these questions, read the book! Overall, this novel is very well-written and holds the attention from cover to cover. The only flaws are a few continuity errors, and the somewhat predictable conclusion.

Character Development (4 points)

Andrews characters are, as always, masterfully done in this novel. Gomer is real, raw, and the reader can connect to her emotionally. Hosea is imperfectly perfect, and has realistic personal and spiritual struggles. Furthermore, the secondary characters are very effective, and there is a great little plot twist towards the end of the novel with one of these. Authors of Biblical fiction who are trying to improve their character development should look no further than Mesu Andrews for inspiration. Although at the time she was somewhat of a new author, her talent was clear. For these reasons, Andrews earns a perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Andrews earns a full point in creativity for crafting a novel about Hosea that was distinctly different than the famous Redeeming Love. These two novels are written for two different audiences, and yet, they complement one another beautifully. Unfortunately, when compared to Andrews’ other novels, there is not much original content here. However, this is still one of the best books I have ever had the privilege to read. It is for this reason, and others, that I believe Love In a Broken Vessel would make an excellent Christian series. The character development is perfect as is, the plot would need only minuscule alteration, and the creativity is on point (no pun intended). If a filmmaker feels so inclined, I must insist that Andrews be a big part of the filmmaking process, especially when it comes to casting. After all, they’re her characters. To conclude, great job Ms. Andrews! You continue to be an inspiration to writers of Biblical fiction everywhere!

Wish List Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

A Baby for the Minister by Laurel Blount

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 points)

Laurel Blount’s new novel is a down-to-earth tale about real people and real life struggles. As previously mentioned, she is a new face in the writing world, and this is her second work to date. While the story is predictable and a bit silly at times, Blount shows a lot of potential as a writer. A Baby for the Minister tells the story of two people – Natalie and Jacob – whose lives intersect at a God-ordained point in time. Jacob is a busy young minister who always finds the time to help those in need. Unfortunately, his extravagant generosity and complete disregard for social norms often gets him into trouble. On the other hand, the recipients of his kind actions could not be more grateful for his unconventional approach to being a minister. His real problem is learning to say no, and this time he couldn’t say no when a friend asked him to perform a wedding in place of the sick man who was supposed to do it. There’s only one problem, when Jacob goes to tell the groom that its time to get the show on the road…he discovers that the man in question has escaped out the window. There is nothing to do but tell the bride what has happened, and when she opens the door, he notices an important detail that no one bothered to mention…the bride is eight months pregnant. Natalie takes the news of her fiance’s departure with resignation, and endures another lecture from his grandmother, Cora, when she finds out what happened. Realizing Natalie has nowhere to go and no money, Cora reluctantly allows her to stay out at the family farm until her renegade grandson can be located. Natalie asks Jacob to drive her there, which he does, and they arrive at a run-down house sitting on equally dilapidated property. Natalie is grateful for a roof over her head and freedom from church gossip, but all Jacob can see are all the repairs that need to be done and all her needs. In typical fashion, he quickly sets out to meet these needs, much to Natalie’s chagrin. When his generosity begins to thaw Natalie’s understandably cold attitude towards the church, and put him in hot water with the contemptuous church board, will they both survive the aftermath? To find out what happens, read the book!:) While this novel’s plotline is very simple, the message is necessary and poignant. I also thought that Blount did a great job on both Natalie and Jacob’s backstories. (spoiler) However, the eventual romance between Jacob and Natalie was rushed, and seems to defeat the entire purpose of their realistic backstories. Therefore, Blount earns an average score in this section.

Character Development (2.5 points)

Blount’s strengths are her characters and her natural sense of humor. Natalie and Jacob are well-developed and down-to-earth, and both display realistic thoughts and emotions. I also think that Blount did a good job at crafting their personalities. Furthermore, her sense of humor gives life and vitality to an otherwise simple tale. However, it is hard to truly get to know Natalie and Jacob through the third person perspective. Using third person creates a void that is often filled by the information-dump style of writing, and unfortunately, we see some of this technique in A Baby for the Minister. This kind of story demands first person, and if Blount had done this, her score would have been perfect in this section. However, for someone who is just starting out in the writing world, her protagonists and secondary characters are a good first effort, and show a lot of potential for the future.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, I applaud Blount for her attempt to portray the pro-life argument in an everyday setting, and award her a half point in creativity for this reason. Yet, I wonder if she could have been a bit more original in her storytelling. The woman-in-need-falls-in-love-with-rescuer plotline is overused and simplistic at best, and could drive away those looking for something more out of the Christian romance genre. However, I think that these issues could be easily fixed on the big screen. For one thing, the screenwriter would already have good characters to work with, all they would have to do is a bit of rewriting on the plot. In the right hands, and with a unconventional cast, this could make a great Christian drama/comedy film or series. To wrap things up, good job Ms. Blount, I think that you have the potential to do great things in the future!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Miriam by Mesu Andrews

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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 (3.5 points)

Miriam is one of Mesu Andrews classic novels, written in the early days of her career. Andrews nearly flawless storyline and masterful character development make for a rare novel that is worth re-reading. This novel tells the story of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the son of her heart, Eleazar. Miriam never married because no man’s love could live up to the perfect love of her El-Shaddai. She has filled her days by being a healer; by caring for the physical needs of her fellow Israelite slaves. Her family has always revered her as a prophetess of sorts, and the Egyptians respect her parents because of their unusually long lives. In short, she has a good life when compared to most slaves, and not much has changed of the eighty-plus years of her existence. However, that will soon change. When her long-lost brother Moses returns from Midian claiming that Yahweh has called him to lead the Israelites out of Israel, she and all the other slaves are suspicious…until he performs miracles that only God could have orchestrated. Everyone quickly turns to Moses as leader and prophet…and Miriam is left confused as to the purpose of her life…and more than a bit jealous. She struggles to feel the presence of God as she used to, and is angry that God did not choose her to lead. Eleazar is personal bodyguard and close friend to the Egyptian Prince Ram, and is not sure if he believes in a God who allows so much suffering to occur in the world. He desperately tries to fill a God-sized void by trying to control his circumstances and by being overprotective of his loved ones. In spite of Eleazar’s secret pledge to never marry, God blessed him with a young, strong-willed wife…and he has no idea what to do with her. Will Miriam overcome her jealously and accept Yahweh’s plans? Will Eleazar trust in the One who holds all his tomorrows? To answer these questions, read the book! (spoiler) The only issue I had with the plot was Miriam’s eventual marriage, which seems silly and unnecessary, however, this is but a small flaw. I could go on and on about how great this plot is, but it is sufficient to say that this is a unique, well-done story that should definitely be made into a Christian film.

Character Development (4 points)

As previously mentioned, the character development in Miriam is flawless. First, I appreciated that all the characters were the correct Biblical age. This may seem silly, but I have noticed that in most portrayals of the story of Moses, he is either young or middle-aged. People forget that he, Miriam, and Aaron were no spring chickens. In today’s society they would be considered elderly. Secondly, Miriam is a strong character because she has a unique, fully developed personality, along with strengths, weaknesses, and a clearly defined spiritual gift. Moses is a good, imperfect character who struggles with his calling to be a leader because it does not come naturally. The relationship between Aaron and his wife is well-done and realistic, and Eleazar is a very good character who struggles to submit to God’s infallible plan and surrender his need for control. Finally, there is a subtle plot twist with a secondary character towards the end of the novel that is important for the conclusion. In short, there are not enough good things to say about this novel, and no negatives whatsoever.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Andrews has always had a certain talent for inserting creative and original elements into her novels, however, this one is particularly exceptional. She earns a full point in creativity for her excellent characters and detailed storyline, and a half of an x-factor point in originality for her unique portrayal of the story of Moses. To date, I have not read a better portrayal of this Biblical hero, therefore, this should most certainly be made into a Christian film. A new face in the Christian filmmaking world would do well with this story, for all the key elements are already there. I must insist that Ms. Andrews be in charge of the screenwriting, and that she be involved in all aspects of the filmmaking, from casting to editing. To wrap things up, excellent job Ms. Andrews! This is arguably your best novel, and is on the book hall of fame as far as I am concerned!

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson

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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 and Storyline Quality (3 points)

Melanie Dobson’s new novel, a historical romance set during World War 2, tells a story that is both captivating and gripping. Dobson is known for saying that she would never write fiction, but I am sure many people are glad she does. As seen in this novel, Dobson has a lot of potential as a writer, and is more creative than many in her genre. Yet, there were a few areas in which I felt she could improve. Hidden Among the Stars is a time-slip tale of people in the past and present who are connected through one object, an original edition of Bambi. Callie Randall and her sister own and operate a small bookstore, and for the most part, their life is ordinary. When Callie’s sister gives her Bambi as an early birthday gift, she finds herself looking through it one night when she can’t sleep, and finds a cryptic list of valuables written between the lines of the story. Callie decides to find out what the list means, and quickly discovers that the author of the list lived in Austria towards the end of the second world war. As one discovery leads to another, Callie discovers that the list is a connection between three people from the past, Annika Knopf, Max Dornbach, and Luzia Weiss. Max’s family owns the Schloss Schwansee estate, a castle in the Alps that overlooks the picturesque Lake Hallstatt. As the Dornbachs live in Vienna and only visit their country property in the summer, they have a resident caretaker. Annika is the caretaker’s daughter and has known Max since childhood. Annika secretly loves Max, but has never told him this, especially since he is in love with the accomplished Luzia. Luzia’s true love is music. As more and more Jews are persecuted and executed, Luzia fears for her life. When it is discovered that Max’s mother also has a Jewish heritage, his father divorces her and abandons them. Max asks Annika to help him hide his Jewish friends’ valuables deep in the woods…and then to hide Luzia. Will Annika overcome her jealousy of Luzia and recognize her need? Will Luzia survive the Nazis wrath? Will Max escape the authorities? And how are all these people connected to Callie? To answer these questions, read the book! Overall, Dobson handles a complex and detailed plotline very well, and crafts an engaging story that is sure to be well loved by all who read it. Unfortunately, there is the presence of a love triangle between Annika, Luzia, and Max. While it is done in the best way possible, this fact keeps Dobson from a perfect score in this section.

Character Development (4 points)

Dobson’s strength is her characters, because they drive the plot. Callie, Annika, Luzia, and Max all have distinctive personalities, and none fall into the typical character molds for this type of novel. I also appreciated that Dobson’s characters grew through their experiences – (spoiler) Luzia through tragedy and degradation, Annika through a life-altering decision, and Callie through rejection and loneliness. While the novel has many characters, each one is used to their fullest potential, and there is a nice little plot twist at the end of the story. The combination of these characters and the great plot makes for one of the best historical novels I have had the pleasure of reading.

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

Finally, Dobson  earns a full point in creativity for her attention to historical detail and commitment to character development. For these reasons, I feel that this book would make an excellent Christian TV series. A screenwriter could easily divide up this novel into six or seven episodes, enough for about two seasons. However, someone will have to recognize it for the potential it has, or this will not happen. I have said it before and I will say it again, Christian filmmakers, look no further than Christian books for content! Great job Ms. Dobson! I for one am glad you decided to write fiction after all!

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points 

Things I Never Told You by Beth Vogt

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

Beth Vogt, a popular author of both fiction and non-fiction, wrote a new work of fiction this year titled Things I Never Told You. The novel introduces the reader to the Thatcher sisters, Johanna, Jillian, Payton, and Pepper. As it is the beginning of a series, I am sure that Vogt will write a book focused on each sister, or something similar. This first novel focuses mainly on Payton, with a prominent sub-plot about Jillian. Things I Never Told You asks the hard questions about two of life’s most difficult experiences, the unexpected death of a loved one, and a cancer diagnosis. Payton has a good life on the surface – a supportive family, a successful small business, and a  close friend who is also her business partner. However, when her parents ask her to be the featured speaker for an event at her former high school that honors the life of her late sister Pepper…her mental and physical health take a nosedive. Payton starts having vivid dreams about Pepper that find their roots in real-life occurrences. The suppressed secrets and pain she carries surrounding Pepper’s sudden death rear their ugly heads, and she soon finds herself sleep-deprived and on the verge of a mental breakdown. In the midst of Payton’s personal crisis, Jillian announces to the family that she has breast cancer. This tragic news only expedites Payton’s downward spiral, and she soon finds herself breaking up with her boyfriend, losing momentum at work, fighting more than usual with Johanna, and isolating herself from everyone. As she continues to lose sleep and begins to have panic attacks in response to triggers –  including the sudden appearance of a high school friend who was there the night Pepper died –  Payton realizes that she will have to face her demons once and for all. Will she finally confess the secret that has haunted her for years? Will she find freedom and healing? To answer these questions, read the book!;) Overall, Vogt did a great job with this plot. She uses flashbacks very effectively, and shines a raw and realistic light on grief, family dysfunction, and broken relationships. Plus, there is a excellent plot twist towards the end of the novel. The only issue here is a minor one; I felt that Jillian’s story was a bit rushed and had some missing pieces. I wonder if it would have been better for Vogt to create a separate novel just about her, and make this one solely about Payton. However, Jillian’s perspective kept Johanna from being a straw-man, so she does serve a necessary purpose.

Character Development (3 points)

Vogt has crafted very real and relatable characters in this novel. Her everyday style of writing is unique and makes the reader feel like they are in the story. If I had to compare Vogt to a writer, it would be Karen Kingsbury, for what both women lack in plot, they make up for in character development. Each member of the Thatcher family is well-crafted and nearly perfect. Vogt’s realistic portrayal of the pairing-off that often occurs in a family with twins was vital to the plot, and she certainly did not mince words about the reality of family dysfunction. Therefore, the only things holding her back from a perfect score are the underdeveloped secondary characters, and a tendency towards the information-dump style of writing.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Vogt earns a full point in originality for two reasons. She did not dramatize/sensationalize cancer, but rather portrayed it as a difficult part of life, not something that should hold you back from enjoying it. She portrayed broken relationships between siblings and suppressed memories better than nearly any author I have seen thus far. With a little honing, Vogt will be a force to be reckoned with in the writing world. For this reason, and others, I feel that this novel would make an excellent Christian film. The screenwriter would only have to do a little editing and honing, no adding. The character development is there, the plot is pretty much there, and the flashbacks and other movie-friendly elements are there. Why wouldn’t someone make this into a film? Great job Ms. Vogt! I look forward to reading the rest of this series!

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Jerusalem’s Queen by Angela Hunt

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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 points)

Angela Hunt is back with Jerusalem’s Queen, the third installment in her The Silent Years series. Like the other books in the series, this new one is obviously well-researched and contains an abundance of historical facts. However, I wonder if this novel has a bit too much fact…and not enough fiction. Jerusalem’s Queen begins where Judah’s Wife left off, but quickly changes to a unique story of it’s own. Salome Alexandra is a lonely little girl with a scholar’s mind who has just lost her father and older sister Ketura in a tragic accident. Salome was always closer to her father than her mother, while Ketura was her mother’s pet. Now that her father has tragically died, Salome feels alone in the world. Just when things seem like they cannot possibly get worse, a rider arrives at their home announcing that a wealthy distant relative, who also happens to be the high priest, has accepted Salome and her mother as members of his household. When they arrive, they are shocked to find luxuries and comforts beyond anything they have ever known. Salome is given a Egyptian handmaid who quickly becomes her best friend and confidante. As she grows older, Salome quickly learns that a woman with an able mind and inquisitive spirit is frowned upon by the patriarchal society she lives in, and that her future… husband, friends, and social status…are to be determined by the high priest. After many years of waiting, he finally betroths her to one of his sons….who is many years her junior. Salome questions his judgement, but as one thing leads to another, she will find that HaShem has a divine plan in even the most unusual circumstances. On the whole, Hunt crafts an engaging and interesting story that displays God’s divine plan in the good and bad times of life. However, I have two negative observations regarding the plot and storyline quality. First, on several occasions the characters engage in dialogue that sounds more like a Biblical history/Torah lesson than casual interaction. Secondly, the first half of the book is fast-paced, while the second half is a bit too slow at times. Therefore, Hunt earns a just above average rating in this section for some plot inconsistency and moments of excessively academic dialogue.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, Hunt has always had strong character development, and this novel is no exceptional. Salome is masterfully crafted through the use of first person, and the reader is able to relate to her struggles and triumphs. Her handmaid, Kissa is also well-crafted and her parts in the story give meaning and depth to an otherwise basic tale. Furthermore, the secondary characters, such as Honi the rainmaker, add much to the plot.. Additionally, I appreciated Hunt’s accurate portrayal of dysfunctional family systems in this novel. The only flaw to point out here is that at times it is hard to keep up with all of the characters in this story. While they all have their purpose in the end, the reader will likely lose track of a few during some parts of the tale. However, this does not have a significantly negative impact on the character development, so Hunt earns an almost perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Hunt earns a full point in originality for writing about a Biblical character that no one has written about before, and for using her life to create an above average work of fiction. Hunt also earns a half point in creativity for bringing to light how Salome Alexandra’s life was a part of paving the way for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Therefore, I feel that this book series would make an excellent Christian miniseries. All three women are in the line of Christ, so it would be easy for a screenwriter to subtly link their stories together for the sake of continuity. To conclude, good job Ms. Hunt! We here at BOR can’t wait to see what you do next!

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

By the Waters of Babylon by Mesu Andrews

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

Mesu Andrews’ latest work and first novella, titled By the Waters of Babylon, is a captivating read that teaches the reader several important life lessons. Andrews’ stark commitment to Biblical accuracy drives the plot, and instead of leaving out the harsh truths of the era, she portrays them in the most palatable way possible. Merari is living a nightmare. She can no longer sell her hand-crafted harps in the marketplace, and because of this, she cannot buy enough food to nourish her young son and sister. Each day she returns from another fruitless effort to make money, only to be met by harsh words and insults from her sister. As she watches what her cousin Jeremiah prophesied come to life, she feels helpless to protect her son…and herself…from the horrors they face every day. Following a tragic set of events, Merari falls ill and slips into unconsciousness. When she awakes as the sole captive of a Scythian prince…she knows her life has changed forever. On the whole, this plot is masterfully done. Andrews handles this harsh topic tastefully and once again shows how God gives grace along with consequence. She seems to take a cue from pioneers such as Francine Rivers by combining gritty reality with the timeless message of God’s omniscience and unfailing love. For these reasons, Andrews earns a nearly score in this section.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Merari is the ideal female lead in a Biblical fiction plot because she is a beautiful blend of relatable humanity that only Andrews could have crafted. Her personal struggles are very realistic, and her strengths are well-crafted because they develop through her decision to let God use her weaknesses. Idan is also a strong character because he is not portrayed as a straw-man pagan, but rather as a person equal to Merari in need of God. Furthermore, the secondary characters are strong and effective. The only flaw to point out here is the presence of some unnecessary romance elements, however, these are better than they could be. The good in this novel by far outweighs the flaws, and because of this, Andrews earns a perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, this plot is very original and creative, earning Andrews a full point in creativity. Andrews did something no one has done before – she tastefully portrayed God’s judgement on Israel in a way that could alter readers’ view of God for the better. I for one, was very impressed with By the Waters of Babylon and highly recommend it to both those who love Biblical fiction and those who do not! For these and many other reasons, I think that this would make a great Bible film that could revolutionize the entire genre. Excellent job Ms. Andrews! I can’t wait to read Of Fire and Lions! 

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points

The Hunter and the Valley of Death by Brennan McPherson

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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 (3 points)

Brennan McPherson, a new face in the writing world, has recently released a new novella titled The Hunter and the Valley of Death. This creative novel tells a parable of sorts about a man called the Hunter who is trying to destroy death so that his true Love will not stay dead as a result of her terminal illness. Set in a fantasy world, the novel tells the story of how God destroyed death so that we could live with Him forever. The only negative elements to point out are a bit of sensationalism and the predictability of the ending. However, in spite of the simplicity, the message of the tale is powerful and effective. This fact earns McPherson just short of a perfect score in this section.

Character Development (4 points)

In comparison, McPherson is obviously quite talented in the area of character development. His characters are realistically flawed and drive the plot, as it should be. While their purpose is predictable, their story is a necessary reminder of magnitude of our sin, and the power of Christ’s forgiveness. The Hunter is the strongest character because he grows spiritually in response to his experiences. His true Love is also a good character because she is a reminder of the blessings God showers on those who trust Him completely. I also think that McPherson did a good job of portraying, through his God character, how Jesus came down to our level and humbled Himself so that we might be saved. These facts earn McPherson a perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Lastly, the novel is very creative…but a bit far-fetched at times. Yet, it is quite original, for no one has ever based a fantasy world on a single Biblical passage and pulled it off. Therefore, McPherson earns a half point for creativity and a half of an x-factor point for doing something no one has done before…and doing it well. In spite of the simplicity of the story as a whole, I think that a screenwriter could play around with this content and add a couple of plot twists to make it more movie-friendly. Most audiences like fantasy movies, and I think a lot of people could be reached by this fantastical portrayal of salvation. To conclude, good job Mr. McPherson! We look forward to your future books with interest and high hopes!

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren

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Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Keturah marks the beginning of Lisa T. Bergren’s new The Sugar Baron’s Daughters series, and while it has promise, it also has room for improvement. Firstly, Bergren is obviously quite capable of crafting a well-researched and historically accurate novel, and she has a noticeable talent for crafting characters with good backstories. However, I felt that at times the plot could have taken some different turns, and wonder if it was necessary for the two main characters to fall in love in this novel. Why not wait until later in the series? This would give them time to establish a real relationship.  The opening chapters of Keturah introduce us to both the Banning sisters, Keturah, Verity, and Selah, and to Gray Covington, a neighbor and friend who happens to be a eligible bachelor…with no money. Keturah was recently widowed…which was both a curse and blessing, for although she is free from her husband’s abuse, his words and actions live on in her mind. On top of this, her father has just died and left her in charge of both family estate and Tabletop, his failing sugar plantation in the West Indies. Keturah has no idea how to run such a business, but is determined to learn. No man will ever take advantage of her again, she decides, it is best to avoid their company as much as possible. Based on this reasoning, Keturah decides to journey to the Indies and stay there for a few years in an attempt to restore Tabletop to it’s former glory. Her sisters, completely ignorant of the inhumane conditions overseas, agree to join her. Gray Covington has assumed the role of managing his father’s plantation in the West Indies, and, reinforced by Keturah’s decision to travel to the same, decides to also make the journey. Gray, who has loved Keturah since childhood, felt helpless as he watched her suffer through an unhappy and abusive marriage, but now that her husband is dead, he feels that he has a second chance to win her heart. However, despite his best attempts, he is coldly denied even friendship…at first. When Keturah and her sisters arrive in the Indies, they are appalled at the brutality inflicted upon their fellow human beings, and Keturah quickly discovers that nothing is as she expected…and that she does, in fact, need help from others. As one tragedy leads to another, will the Banning sisters survive the island? Will Keturah learn to love again? To answer these questions, read the book! On the whole, this plot is engaging and well-crafted. However, some of the interactions between Gray and Keturah are on the brink of suggestive, and the villian character is a bit of a straw-man. For these two reasons, Bergren receives an average score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

On a positive note, Bergren’s strength is her characters. Keturah is very well-developed and relatable. Her experiences are an accurate depiction of the harsh reality that is abusive relationships, and her struggle to trust again and forgive God is realistic. This makes her the best character in the novel. Gray is also a good character, but sometimes his part in the story feels rushed. It is as if he is being held back from reaching his full potential. As previously mentioned, it is my opinion that this could have been remedied by not forcing Keturah and Gray to fall in love all in one book. A gradual romance would have been a great improvement, for even though Gray and Keturah grew up together, their adult selves are quite changed from who they were as children. Finally, the secondary characters are simply average. If Bergren changes a few things, her score in this section could be perfect.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

While there are some creative and original aspects in this plot, there are also many predictable moments and overused plot devices found throughout. Therefore, I am giving Bergren a half point in originality for creating a strong heroine and portraying the horrors of slavery accurately. On the whole, this is a good read, and there are many who will enjoy it. I feel that with a few changes, this book could be the start of a great historical Christian miniseries. The screenwriter would need to downplay the romance and bring the secondary characters closer to the story, but it can be done. To conclude, good job Ms. Bergren, I believe that you have the potential to do great things with this new series!

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

River to Redemption by Ann H. Gabhart

River to Redemption - By: Ann H. Gabhart

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)

Ann Gabhart’s new novel River to Redemption is a captivating read with an inspiring central theme. I found it refreshing that the novel is awash with passages of Scripture and real-life applications of the same. While the novel isn’t perfect, it is obvious that Gabhart has the potential to go far. Adria Starr has just lost her parents and little brother the cholera epidemic of the 1830’s. She has nowhere to go and no hope for her future…until she is found by a man named Louis. Louis and his fellow slave Matilda have been caring for those affected by the sickness, and believe that God has kept them from getting sick for this purpose. Louis finds the sick and buries the dead, and Matilda tries her best to nurse the sick back to health. Thanks to Matilda’s loving care, Adria survives the illness and is taken in by the former schoolteacher’s wife, Ruth. Ruth has barely been able to accept the reality of her husband’s death when she agrees to care for the orphaned Adria. She deals with her grief by not dealing with it at all, she buries her emotions and focuses on providing for Adria’s needs…without becoming too attached to her. After all, she tells herself, I’m not her real mother. Ruth provides for herself and Adria by assuming her late husband’s position as the local schoolteacher, and by selling baked goods on the side. Fast-forward to the present, and Adria is a young woman caught between accepting a marriage proposal and living a life that goes against all of society’s expectations. Adria has always felt that the slave trade is unjust and should be stopped, but doesn’t know what to do about it. The more she learns about her suitor, the more she is inclined to avoid marrying the first man who asks and settling down…for good. When an opportunity to make Louis a free man arises, she jumps at the challenge. However, trying to free one slave from bondage will lead her to others in need. Is Adria up to the task of living an dangerous and unpredictable life? Is the cost of becoming an abolitionist worth the reward? To answer these questions, read the book! Gabhart crafted an engaging and meaningful storyline in this novel, and there are very few flaws. First, I felt that the novel’s ending was too predictable, and that Ruth’s eventual romance is unnecessary. Secondly, while the first half of the novel is a bit pedestrian, the second half is a bit rushed. However, these errors are small and easily overlooked. On a positive note, I like that Gabhart based this fictional tale of off real facts. Louis was a real person who made a difference in his hometown. The town in the novel is based off of this town, as are the people. Therefore, Gabhart earns an average score in this area because her strengths and flaws are present in equal amounts.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Gabhart’s strength is character development. She earns just shy of a perfect score in this section for creating well-rounded and relatable characters who are based off of real people. Adria is a strong protagonist whose passion and determination drive the plot. Ruth is a strong character because of her imperfections. Furthermore, her life struggles are neither overdramatic nor understated. Will is mostly well-crafted, however, because he enters the scene almost halfway through the novel, I feel that his character is a bit underdeveloped. Carlton is a bit of a straw man, but thankfully his scenes are few and far between. As previously stated, I feel that Ruth’s romance should have been left to chance and not forced to occur. In addition, sometimes it feels like Adria’s character is too perfect, while other times she is very down-to-earth. On the whole, with a few tweaks, Gabhart’s characters will be perfect.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 point)

Lastly, Gabhart earns a full point for originality and a half of an x-factor point for her creative use of real life occurrences. It is always better for an author or screenwriter to start with what they know to be true, before weaving in what could have happened. Gabhart did an admirable job here, and I believe that River to Redemption would make an excellent Christian drama film. In the right hands, this tasteful portrayal of social issues could reach people who would not otherwise be open to different viewpoints. I recommend that Gabhart should be included in the screenwriting process so that her characters would be accurately portrayed on the big screen. Finally, thank you for sharing a great read with us Ms. Gabhart! We expect great things from your career!

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

The Edge of Over There by Shawn Smucker

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

 

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Shawn Smucker has at last written the much-anticipated sequel to The Day the Angels Fell. In this new novel, aptly titled The Edge of Over There, Smucker enthralls readers with the conclusion to his tale of Abra and the reappearing Tree of Life. True to form, this novel, like the first, is a mix of the everyday, the mystical, and Smucker’s vivid imagination. The story holds the attention, and is intriguing…if a bit far-fetched. Personally, I found the novel to be quite dark at times, and while the spiritual elements are mostly well-crafted, I wonder if a more liberal serving of this topic was an order. The opening chapters of the novel pick up where Abra’s story left off in the last novel, and introduce a few new characters, Amos and his children Leo and Ruby. Amos is desperate to keep his dying daughter from leaving this world, so desperate, in fact, that he is willing to go to any means necessary to ensure her recovery. When Ruby’s doctor tells him that there is a way for Ruby to live, he is all ears. The doctor warns him that her life will come at the cost of neither of them returning to the physical world…ever. Yet, in his desperation, he throws caution to the wind and hastens to follow her detailed instructions. Leo, who was hiding in the closet throughout the whole conversation, follows his father and sister to a cemetery, only to witness their dissapearance through one of the tombs. Meanwhile, Abra feels the burden of her responsibility to kill the latest Tree of Life and ‘save the world’. Eventually, Abra, Leo, and an enigma named Beatrice join up in the quest stop mankind from becoming immortal. However, each member has their own agenda, which could put the purpose of their mission in jeopardy. On the whole, Smucker creates a mostly original storyline in this novel. I also thought that the ending was quite good when compared to the rest of the novel. However, the overused quest concept is present, and there are some plot holes.

Character Development (1.5 points)

Samuel and Leo are Smucker’s strongest characters because they are imperfect and relatable. Unfortunately, Abra is only partially developed. It also seems like the non-human characters exist simply because. There is no strong argument for or against their existence, and no real reasoning given for where they came from or why they are necessary. Furthermore, there are many cheesy elements throughout the first half of the novel, along with too much information about the evil side and not enough about the good. In short, Smucker’s antagonists are more believable than his protagonists. Therefore, Smucker leaves room for improvement in the area of character development.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, I could find nothing original about this novel. Yet, Smucker earns a half point for creativity because he expounded upon the concepts introduced in the first novel. The biggest issue here is that the Tree of Life debate has been around for some time, and Smucker’s interpretation is not anything new. There is no reason for people to continue creating sensational novels using the Tree of Life concept. This type of ridiculous speculation falls under the same category as people who search for the Ark of the Covenant. If God wanted us to find and have access to either of these things, we would! To conclude, in spite of this novel’s many flaws, I think that a talented Christian screenwriter could use some of Smucker’s characters, and the historical backdrop, to create an interesting fantasy miniseries that would appeal to youth and young adults. Think Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with a different storyline.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points 

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills

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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)

DiAnn Mills’ new novel is a breath of fresh air in the romantic suspense genre. In Burden of Proof, she takes a step forward from past novels by deepening the complexity of her storyline and adding a couple of unexpected, yet well-crafted plot twists. Mills has always had great potential as a writer, but in this novel she really shines. Burden of Proof tells the story of April Ramos and Jason Snyder, two people who are drawn together by a tragic web of intersecting circumstances in Jason’s hometown. April Ramos, a special agent in the FBI, has always struggled with letting her personal feelings enter a case, and tonight was no different. After failing to talk a former businessman out of committing suicide, April feels guilty and depressed. However, she has no time to dwell on this perceived failure, because she’s about to be thrown into the middle of a small-town feud. When an frazzled woman hands her a crying baby in a coffee shop and doesn’t return, April prepares to call the authorities, only to be escorted out of the building at gunpoint by a man claiming to be the child’s father….Jason Snyder. Jason Snyder has just been accused of murdering his good friend Russell, a deed he did not do, and has been searching for his daughter Isabella, who was recently kidnapped. When he finds her in April’s arms, and learns she is an FBI agent, he sees an opportunity to clear his name. Jason decides to tell April his story, and hope for the best. At first April finds his story incredulous, and is less than cooperative…but as evidence starts turning up, she begins to see the truth in his words. When April and Jason reach his hometown and she begins investigating, she finds that solving the case is nearly impossible as her plans are continually thwarted by the town’s sinister sheriff. Will April solve the case before anything else happens? To answer this question, read the book!;) Small-town corruption is very accurately portrayed in this story. Furthermore, the plot holds the attention from beginning to end, and the outcome is mostly unpredictable. There are some predictable elements, but not enough to mar the plot quality. Finally, I only have two flaws to point out. First, the story is a tiny bit choppy at times, and second, sometimes it seems like April is able to go against FBI procedure without having to face consequences. However, on the whole Mills’ has created an enticing story that is well worth a read.

Character Development (3 points)

April and Jason are both well-developed and relatable characters who evolve through their experiences. Yet, first person could have developed their characters even more. In addition, I feel that the eventual romance between them, while downplayed, is unnecessary. On a positive note, I appreciate Mills’ attempt to include more diverse characters, for many Christian romance novels use only white people or portray other races as a stereotype. Mills does neither and her diverse list of characters is refreshing. The only other flaw to point out is that Willis (the sheriff), is at the same time a straw-man and a realistic villain. Overall, Mills has produced strong characters who drive the plot and make the story all that it is.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Mills earns a half point in originality by portraying all ethnic groups as equal and important, and a half point in creativity for crafting a great storyline that was obviously well researched. She has obviously grown through experience, and the passion that was once a bit misguided is maturing into something admirable. There is no going back from here. This is why I believe this book could make an excellent Christian miniseries. With a good screenwriter (perhaps Ms. Mills!), and a great casting job, this suspense story could reach a lot of people who would not otherwise seek out Christian films/series. To conclude, well done Ms. Mills! Your books have the potential to make a huge difference in the world of Christian filmmaking!

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

The Hope of Azure Springs by Rachel Fordham

The Hope of Azure Springs - By: Rachel Fordham

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

 

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

Rachel Fordham, a newcomer in the world of Christian fiction, has written and is soon to release her debut novel, The Hope of Azure Springs. Fordham’s writing style is strikingly similar to well-known authors like Janette Oke and Lori Wick. In a world of sleazy and sensational romance tales, her story is sweet and displays the beauty in the everyday. The Hope of Azure Springs is a poignant tale about two people facing similar life struggles who are drawn together by circumstances beyond their control. Em has been through a lot in her short life, yet she has persevered in spite of her circumstances. Despite the fact that she has just been shot during the robbery of her guardian’s house, Em’s one desire in life remains…to find her sister Lucy. Seven years ago the girls were separated during the unfair and questionable practices of the famed orphan trains, and Em feels guilty for failing to keep the promise she made her dying mother, to watch over Lucy. She has lived a life of survival with a man who she neither knew nor cared for, and now he is dead. While recovering from her wounds at the home of a friendly local family, she begins to open up a bit and form relationships, which makes her fear failing again. Will she finally open up to someone about her past hurts and sorrows? Or will she continue to bury it deep down and keep surviving? Caleb is the sheriff of Azure Springs, a responsibility he pushes himself to fulfill. Caleb is his parents only remaining child, as his older brothers were killed in the recent Civil war. Ever since the days of their deaths he has felt guilty that he was too young to die with them, and has tried to remedy this perceived sin by protecting the town he calls home. When he meets Em, he is determined to get justice for her, finally receive his parents’ pride, and clear his conscience. As he gets to know her, he recognizes her as a wildflower among the showy girls he knows, and sees the love and concern for others she tries so hard to hide. As the mysteries surrounding her injury become more complex, will he be able to solve the case, and forgive himself? To answer these questions, read the book!;) Fordham’s storyline is engaging, yet mostly predictable. I feel like she could have gone further with the mystery idea, for in the end it feels incomplete. Overall she needs to mature a bit as an author, but this is a great first effort!

Character Development (3 points)

Em and Caleb are realistic and relatable, but at times it feels as though one is reading their diary, not getting to know them as a person. First person was the name of the game here, not third; this would have greatly increased the reader’s ability to rejoice in the characters joys and sympathize with their sorrows. Em and Caleb have great backstories, but the tie-ins to their present condition could use a little work. Again, first person could have made this happen. Finally, it was observed by myself and other reviewers that Fordham narrowly missed creating a love triangle between Caleb, Eliza, and Em. Next time she should avoid it altogether. All in all, for never having written a book before, Fordham does an admirable job here. With a few tweaks here and there, I expect great things from her future!

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Fordham earns a half point for creativity and a half point for originality in this section because she added an air of mystery and intrigue to the overcrowded romance genre. Her effort to be different is noticed and applauded by this reviewer. Furthermore, I feel that The Hope of Azure Springs could be a great Christian film. The screenwriter would need to bring the mystery theme to the forefront and downplay the romantic elements, but it can be done. Overall, The Hope of Azure Springs stands out from other books of it’s caliber and is a great first effort. Well done Ms. Fordham! We look forward to your career with high hopes!

Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points

The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler-Younts

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)

Elizabeth Byler-Younts, a fairly new face in the world of Christian fiction, has just written a breakaway novel that departs from the themes of her previous books. This new book, titled The Solace of Water, is rather daring and raw compared to her previous style. In this novel Byler-Younts takes on several challenging topics, these include segregation in the northern states, family dysfunction, trauma, alcoholism, unforgiveness, and hidden sin in the church. All of these are complex singularly, but all together they are almost impossible to portray. Byler-Younts does an admirable job of tying all of these issues together to create a unique storyline, however, it could use a little fine-tuning. The Solace of Water tells the story of three people, Delilah Evans, her daughter Sparrow, and Emma Mullet. Delilah Evans leaves her son Carver’s grave, and a part of her heart behind when her husband decides to move their hurting family back to his hometown of Sinking Creek, Pennsylvania. Not only is Delilah leaving behind all that is familiar, but she is being separated from her son forever. She decides to hide from this reality by lashing out at the last person who saw Carver alive…Sparrow. Sparrow blames herself for the traumatic death of her little brother Carver. You see, she was messing around with a boy instead of watching him when he died. Her act of disobedience haunts her night and day, and she doesn’t know how to escape her dark thoughts. Sparrow holds the hurt inside, but it only increases in response to her mother’s hurtful words and purposeful alienation. One day she flees the house and runs into a member of the local Amish community…Emma Mullet. Emma is tired of her life, tired of the secrets, the constant lies, and the pain. She’s tired of hiding her husband’s dirty secret. He’s an alcoholic tasked with the responsibility of brewing the communities’ Communion wine. The problem is, this responsibility only created a new opportunity to get a fix. Emma slips alcohol into his coffee during the day, and he imbibes further at night. But Emma is hiding a secret of her own, one that only her sister knows. To make matters worse, Emma notices their only child, Johnny, slipping into similar sinful habits and doesn’t know how to stop him. These three characters are drawn together through shared pain and secrets that lead to a dramatic climax that makes the novel. To find out what happens to Delilah, Sparrow, and Emma, read the book!;) Dysfunctional family systems are accurately portrayed in this novel, and the darkness of secret sin is not whitewashed, rather, the rawness of the passionate way that Byler-Younts writes is refreshing. However, her raw style could use a little honing, for not everything that is said should be. Furthermore, the story is a bit choppy and rushed. All in all, The Solace of Water rounds out to an above average effort that is nothing to be ashamed of; I expect great things from her future career!

Character Development (3 points)

Delilah, Sparrow, and Emma are mostly well developed through the use of first person. They are also relatable and realistic. In addition, the secondary characters have a clear purpose throughout the story. The reader is able to feel the emotions and struggles of each character and sympathize with each of their choices and reactions. The main flaw to point out here is that their plights are a bit overdramatic at times and the characters are left unfinished. In addition, I personally feel that the story contained too little hope. It took a bit too long to point all the suffering back to Christ. While the story ends well, there is little hope given in the in-between. Yet, with a few tweaks, this section could be perfect. I expect great things from Byler-Yount’s future characters! There is no going back from here.

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

Finally, Byler-Younts earns a half of an x-factor point in creativity by spearheading the absurdity of most Amish fiction by creating blessedly IMPERFECT Amish characters. This is a revolutionary concept and one that will take her far. Furthermore, she inserts a healthy dose of originality by pointing out how the tight confines of religion often lead to secret sin. The important truth that forcing someone to believe in God leads to a desire to rebel against anything to do with Him is clearly stated and well-portrayed. Therefore, I believe that this novel has plenty of potential to be a revolutionary Christian film in the hands of a skilled creator. In the hands of someone like the writers of Priceless and talented director Ben Smallbone, this above-average novel could be a life-changing film. These filmmakers have already proven that they can handle a gritty topic tastefully, so they would be my first choice. In summary, good job Elizabeth Byler-Younts! I am expect great things from your future novels!

Wish List rating: 7 out of 10 points

What Blooms From Dust by James Markert

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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 and Storyline Quality (3 points)

To start things off, What Blooms From Dust is one of the most unique novels I have ever read. True to form, Markert combines elements from the historical and speculative genres to create another thought-provoking novel that is worth a read. While his type of writing is not my favorite, I found myself becoming caught up in the lives of his characters…becoming…lost in the story. This is something that only a person who truly loves to read will understand. In short, Markert stands out from his genre simply by being himself. In the opening chapters of the novel, the reader is introduced to a man named Jeremiah Goodbye. Jeremiah has just escaped from prison thanks to the hand of Providence that directed a tornado to take out the side of the jail. He was in the electric chair when the tornado hit, and had already been given the first jolt. However, Jeremiah lived and is now unsure of how to proceed. The jolt of electricity seems to have freed him from the recurring nightmare he has had since childhood, along with many dark memories of the past. However, without these ever-present companions, he feels blank. So, the Coin-Flip Killer lets the flip of a coin decide for him. Should he go home, or start a new life elsewhere (no pun intended)? The coin says to go home, so he does….back to Nowhere. Along the way home Jeremiah saves an autistic boy and his typewriter companion from being sold to a suspicious character named Boo, and it doesn’t take long for the boy to latch on to him as a father figure. Upon his arrival home Jeremiah is met with distrust and death threats from his twin brother Josiah. After flipping his trusty coin, Jeremiah shoots Josiah in the foot and settles down to stay awhile. Nowhere is in the middle of the Dust Bowl, and the endless dust is starting to not only wound the town’s morale, but muddle their minds. When Jeremiah returns, Ellen, Josiah’s wife and Jeremiah’s childhood sweetheart, is confronted with all sorts of emotions and memories she thought were long-buried. She is faced with her lifelong question, to whom does her heart belong? Jeremiah is also faced with questions, is he really a murderer, and how are his nightmares and lifelong ability read people so thoroughly, to see their past and present in such a clear light, related? Both of these characters, and the townspeople, must answer many painful questions if they are to survive the Dust Bowl. What Blooms From Dust has a strong and engaging story line, and the plot is nearly perfect. The only flaw to point out here is the confusing ending. The author initially ends the plot very well, and then goes on to inform the reader of the future happenings of each character. This is an unnecessary action that keeps the novel from scoring higher on the Wish List scale.

Character Development (3 points)

In comparison, the character development is equally strong. Markert crafts engaging and relatable characters who are very imperfect and yet find common ground in being so. Jeremiah is well crafted as a broken man haunted by unanswered questions surrounding his mental struggles. (Spoiler) I especially liked that Markert pointed out to the reader how Jeremiah’s mother’s choices affected his entire life. Ellen is also a great character because she grows through her realization of how her past choices have influenced her present condition. In summary, Markert does a great job of developing the main and secondary characters to create a plot that is sure to delight fans and new readers alike. The only flaw to point out here is his use of third person. If he had used first person, this area of the novel would have been flawless.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Finally, the novel earns a full point for creativity and originality. If this novel is anything, it is creative. One could safely say that the entire novel is driven by Markert’s vivid imagination. the only thing holding him back from an x-factor point is his predictable ending. In conclusion, unlike many other novels, this one has many strengths and only two weaknesses. The plot and storyline quality is above average, as is the character development, and Markert is certainly not suffering in the area of creativity. What does this novel lack? A good ending. This brings me to another baffling revelation. The good ending is already in the story. All Markert had to do was shed the last six pages of the manuscript and this book would have been perfect. We don’t need to know what happens in the future lives of all the characters, that takes away the thrill of using one’s imagination to complete the novel. This is the biggest and virtually the only flaw to point out in the novel, however, this could easily be remedied on the big screen. A Christian filmmaker can and should use this novel to create a great Christian movie. The film would have to have a strong cast and a flair for the unusual, but it can be done. Markert would be the best choice for the screenwriter because he has experience in the area, and hey, it’s his story! All in all, a job well done, we look forward to Markert’s next novel with anticipation!

Wish List rating: 7 out of 10 points

The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble

 

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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 and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

The House at Saltwater Point is the second book in Coble’s Lavender Tides series. While the first book, The View From Rainshadow Bay, was well-received by most critics, this newer novel has received mixed reviews. In short, opinions about this novel seem to be split right down the middle, some love it, some do not. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, this novel is neither really good nor really bad. It is simply your average romantic suspense story. Ellie Blackmore and her partner Jason are house flippers based in Lavender Tides, Washington, who enjoy both the work and the fruits of their labors. Ellie and Jason are in the middle of completing a project and purchasing a new house to flip when both their worlds turn upside down. One day while Ellie and Jason are getting ready to leave for a lunch break, Jason and Ellie’s sister Mackenzie (Mac), who happens to be his ex-wife, get into an argument that ends in a conflict between Mac and Ellie. Mac storms out and Ellie is left hurt and confused. Shortly after this conflict Ellie pursues her sister….only to find a large pool of blood on the deck of Mac’s new boat. Mac is nowhere to be found, and Ellie is left to assume the worst. Grayson Bradshaw is a Coast Guard investigator who is looking for notorious terrorist Terek Nasser, the man who killed his best friend. When Grayson discovers a cocaine theft linked to Terek and his men, he pursues it, takes out Terek’s right hand man, and eventually arrives in Lavender Tides to investigate further. His investigation leads him to a connection between Mac’s dissapearance and the cocaine theft. Ellie refuses to believe that her sister was involved in anything illegal, but the facts are looking more and more incriminating. Grayson is also fighting a growing attraction to Ellie, a fact which conflicts with his need to remain emotionally unattached from the case. Is Mac guilty? Can Ellie love a man who suspects her beloved sister? To answer these questions, read the book! The major strength of this plot line is the mostly unpredictable plot twists and turns. However, I observed that there are two major weaknesses. First, the book seems a bit hastily written. And second, the story is a bit rushed and is driven by facts, rather than characters.

Character Development (2 points)

Likewise, because the plot is not character-driven, Ellie and Grayson are difficult to relate to through the use of third person. However, there is a lot of potential here. Ellie and Grayson both have great backstories that Coble uses to influence their present state. Furthermore, Grayson is Coble’s strongest character in this novel because she uses key psychological trauma elements to unfold his part of the story. Jason is also a good character, but he seems incomplete. The only other weakness to point out here is the unnecessary explanations for each character’s existence as they appear in the story. Therefore, character development rounds out to be a slightly above average performance.

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

Lastly, Coble earns a point for creativity because of her well-crafted use of suppressed childhood trauma. This type of creativity is not often seen in the suspense genre, therefore, I commend Coble on her effort in this area. However, she could improve in the area of originality. In comparison, Coble’s strength is crafting a strong storyline with a good ending. Therefore, I think this novel could make an interesting Christian drama/suspense film. I feel that a screenwriter could take the strongest characters; Ellie, Grayson, Mac, and Jason, and create a character driven suspense plot that employs the good psychological elements that Coble has already created. To sum things up, good job Ms. Coble, you have the potential to be a light in the shadows of suspense novels. I am excited to read the next novel in the Lavender Tides series!

 

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

A Breath of Hope by Lauraine Snelling

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

A Breath of Hope in the second novel in Lauraine Snelling’s Under Northern Skies series. Returning readers will remember the majority of the characters from the first novel, and will get to know a few new faces. Snelling’s biggest strength in this novel is her careful attention to accurate historical details. Furthermore, her obvious passion for cultural authenticity boosts the quality of the plot. Unfortunately, her biggest weakness is that the story is very tame and slow to develop. In this second part of the series, Snelling continues the story of the Carlson family. Signe and Rune have recently immigrated from Norway with their three sons to live with Rune’s uncle Einar in Minnesota. Signe and family are enjoying the gift God gave them shortly after their arrival in America, their baby daughter Kristen. However, they continue to be puzzled and annoyed by Einar’s reclusive and angry behavior towards everyone he knows and meets. It seems that Einar has an unpleasant reputation with everyone in town, a fact he does not seem to mind. The harder that Signe and Rune try to get him to open up, the harder he pushes away. Meanwhile, back home in Norway, Rune’s sister Nilda and brother Ivar are anticipating their voyage to join their brother in America. Nilda struggles to find a job to hold her over during the waiting period, suffering unwelcome advances from a shady character at one job and criticism from his mother at another. However, she and her brother eventually make their way to Minnesota, a happening that cheers their brother and sister-in-law. However, as Einar retreats further into darkness and lashes out at those around him, the Carlsons begin to fear he will never change. To find out what happens to the Carlsons, read the book! Overall, the plot and storyline quality is the strongest point of the novel, however, I feel that it could have been better.

Character Development (1.5 points)

Snelling definitely has room for improvement in the area of character development. Her strength is dialogue between characters, and her weaknesses are the use of third person and the use of too many secondary characters. The interaction between characters is poignant and realistic, however, at times the “good” characters seem almost too perfect. In comparison, the large pool of secondary characters makes it hard to get to know the main characters. For instance, Signe, Rune, and Einar are fairly well-developed, however, Nilda and Ivar are barely developed beyond their relation to Rune. Granted, it is hard for any author to fully develop four main characters, so it would seem that a reduction of characters is an order. For instance, the Signe and Rune subplot is hardly needed. Instead, I feel that Snelling should have focused on Nilda and Ivar’s journey to America (in first person), and featured Signe, Rune, and family in letters to and from the family members. Therefore, on the whole, character development is slightly below average.

Creativity and Originality (.5 points)

While there is little creativity to speak of in this novel, Snelling wins a half-point in for her use of generational tendencies and for her careful attention to historical and cultural accuracy. Sadly, there is nothing original about this novel, it does not stand out from it’s genre and left much to be desired in character development, along with room for improvement in plot and storyline quality. However, I feel that this flaws could be improved in a Christian historical miniseries. This is because there is ample content, and enough potential for this series to hit the big screen. In the hands of the right screenwriter, this plot could be rearranged to create a character-driven story about the struggles and triumphs of Norwegian immigrants. Lastly, it is my continual hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize the potential in Christian fiction, and use to create content that glorifies God.

Wish List Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points

 

Out of the Ashes by Kimberley Woodhouse & Tracie Peterson

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Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Kimberley Woodhouse and Tracie Peterson have banded together to write The Heart of Alaska series, and I must say, their partnership was a great idea. These two authors are better together than either one was alone. Woodhouse brings poignancy, sarcastic humor, and the influence of a strong faith. Peterson brings experience, romance, and a new spiritual depth that I have never seen before. So far they have written two books in the series, the second being fairly new on the market. This new novel, titled Out of the Ashes, is a self-proclaimed reflection of real life occurrences, but more on that later. The opening chapters introduce the readers to a few new characters, brother and sister Collette and Jean-Michel Langelier, and Katherine Demarchis. Jean-Michel is a man wounded both physically and mentally; following the horrific events of combat overseas, and a life-altering battle scar, he returns to his home and is faced with his father’s sudden death. Left alone in the world to care for his younger sister Collette, Jean-Michel feels depressed and abandoned by God. It is enough that God kept he and his true love from being together, he thinks, and now he takes my father away. Jean-Michel hardens his heart against God, even as PTSD causes him to toss and turn through nights haunted with dark dreams. The hand of Providence has just saved Katherine Demarchis from her abusive husband by allowing the drunken wretch to slip on ice to his death. She feels no sorrow at his death, only relief. However, his missing presence is only physical, for she can still hear his voice and feel his abuse. The physical and mental wounds she suffered will only be healed by the Hand of God, but she must choose Him over the dark voices in her head. Katherine’s grandmother, worried for her granddaughter’s sanity, arranges a summer trip to Alaska that she hopes will bring healing and a renewed mind. Furthermore, she secretly beseeches Jean-Michel to join them so that Katherine will be reminded that there are good men in the world. Will Jean-Michel and Katherine allow God to heal their broken lives? Will they choose life because He lives? To answer these questions, read the book! In the foreword both authors speak of how this novel was inspired from personal struggles that each has recently experienced. I believe that these struggles have greatly strengthened the faith of each author, and that they have become better writers and people because of them.

Character Development (3 points)

Tracie Peterson’s strength was always in character development, but when Woodhouse and Peterson work on characters together, the results are even better. This is why character development is this novel’s strength. Each character, whether they be primary or secondary, are well-crafted, believable, and contain a depth never before seen from these authors. Jean-Michel is not a straw-man atheist, and Katherine is not the typical damsel in distress character. Rather, each character, including Collette, is portrayed as a person with strengths, weaknesses, and a common need for a loving Savior. The only flaw to point out here is the use of third person. If the authors had used first person for each character, they would have earned a perfect score in this category. Finally, I enjoyed the characters in this novel more than I thought I would, and think that the authors have done an admirable job in this area.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Lastly, the weakest area of this novel is creativity and originality. While there were some creative and even a few original elements, there was also a healthy dose of predictability. However, as it is hard to write an unpredictable romance plot, I cannot judge them too harshly. There is really no difference in this novel and a Janette Oke work (she was my first favorite author), for she often uses third person as well. Therefore, I applaud Woodhouse and Peterson on their effort to stand out in an overcrowded genre, and think that this series would make an interesting Christian/inspirational TV show in the historical romance category. At the very least, it could be a better version of a When Calls the Heart style show, because the audience could actually get to know the characters. In short, well done ladies, your strengths shine in this book, and I am excited to read the next installment.

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The Darkwater Saga by Patrick W. Carr

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Author’s Note: We were provided with free copies of these novels in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (4 points)

Patrick Carr has done it again in this new, brilliantly crafted series titled the Darkwater Saga. Carr took the excellent character development and exceptional storyline quality from his previous series and applied it to a more everyday story about a man who is called by his Creator to a purpose he would not have chosen. In the first novel, as always, Carr lays the groundwork for what eventually becomes an invigorating story that holds the attention on every page. For the purpose of this review, I will only include content from the first novel, so as to conceal the secrets found in the mysterious forests of these novels. In the Shock of Night, Carr introduces the reader to a man named Willet Dura. Willet leads a mostly content life, he has a secure position as the king’s reeve, a prestigious engagement to a woman he loves…and a daily life with just enough action to keep things interesting. His sarcastic attitude towards the lords and ladies of the castle has landed him in more than a few scrapes, however, he seems to enjoy danger. The king has recently elevated him to the title of Lord so that he might marry Gael, his fiance. In the midst of all this, Willet’s seemingly commonplace life is about to be shaken at its very core. On a day like any other, Willet is on kingdom business when he discovers a murder trail. This trail leads him to the fatally wounded body of a former guard, which in turn leads him to the bedside of a dying churchman who was also part of the murder. Willet sees common traits in the two men’s wounds and begins to wonder. He is not left to wonder long, for attackers are in hot pursuit. Just when the attackers are almost upon them, the dying man grabs Willet’s head and screams a word that will change his life forever. Willet soon finds himself in the service of the Vigil, a group of gifted individuals who seek to vanquish the evil in their world. (spoiler) He will find the Vigil to be a hard and somewhat prideful master, and survival…almost impossible. To find out what happens to Willet, his fiance, and everyone else, read the books!:) Carr stands out as a master in the fantasy genre for many reasons. However, this is mostly due to the fact that his raw talent in The Staff and Sword series has matured with time instead of growing stagnant.

Character Development (4 points)

Carr has improved this new series by switching from third person to first with his characters. This switch to first person is a revolutionary concept in the fantasy genre. Through the use of first person, Willet is crafted into a complex, relatable character who the readers can root for and get to know. The secondary characters are also well-crafted. Bolt (Willet’s bodyguard), for example, is a character whose personality takes several positive, yet unexpected turns throughout the series. This makes him one of the best secondary characters in a fantasy novel that I have ever seen. Furthermore, Willet’s love interest is well-developed and breaks all female character molds in the fantasy genre. Therefore, for these and other reasons, Carr earns a perfect score in character development for this series. His fiction truly is character-driven.

Creativity & Originality (2 points)

Once again, Carr earns a point in creativity, and a rarely bestowed full x-factor point in originality for being the best in his genre. The first point is awarded for crafting another fantasy world that is dissimilar to the last, and for sewing up all the details well. The x-factor point is awarded for crafting another story worthy of the big screen that could revolutionize the fantasy genre in film. We have thus far been very impressed with what Carr has to offer and await his next story with great anticipation and delight. Finally, thank you Mr. Carr, for sharing your books with us, and for taking the time to write fiction that truly makes a difference.

Wish List Rating: 10 out of 10 points

Where Shadows Meet by Colleen Coble

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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)

Colleen Coble brings a dramatic suspense plot to life in this new title. Where Shadows Meet has a mostly engaging plot-line with a well-done plot twist for the conclusion. The struggle of suspense plots is always crafting a believable villain. Coble does an admirable job here by concealing the villain’s identity until nearly the last moment. However, the biggest fault I found with the villain was that while they had reason to be the way that they were, the explanation behind their twisted actions was revealed in an information dump at the end, rather than developing gradually throughout the tale. However, the biggest strength here was most definitely the plot and storyline quality. This is what saved the book from being below average. Hannah Schwartz is your average young Amish woman. She is engaged to an kind young man whose lack of wow factor is remedied by his standing in the community. And anyway, the bishop approves of the match, and what he says is law. Her family loves her, she has good friends…and yet, Hannah envies the ways of the English (average Americans). When her parents are brutally killed by a serial murderer who is known by their infamous red symbol, Hannah flees everything she knows and runs away to marry her secret lover, an enigma named Reece. However, the English life holds nothing but sorrow for Hannah, for the kind and supportive man she married transforms quickly into a controlling madman who hates children and won’t even consider the idea of parenthood. Hannah’s eventual pregnancy sends Reece over the edge, and he pushes her down the stairs in an effort to rid himself of the child within her. Hannah survives the fall and Reece tells her their unborn child has died. Hannah runs again, this time to a new life as an author and quilt-maker. Five years pass, and she finally begins to believe in her freedom…then comes the dreaded phone call. Reece knows where she is and how to contact her. Will she ever escape his grasp and learn the identity of her parent’s killer? Will she receive the child her heart longs for? To answer these questions, read the book!;)

Coble is obviously a talented writer whose specialty is suspense, however, I felt like she was holding back in this plot-line. There are so many books by wannabe famous authors in the suspense genre that Coble must rise above with superior skill. Some may feel my rating harsh, but I simply believe that Coble can give her audience more. Yet, I will say that this book has the potential to revolutionize the Amish theme in Christian film. Therefore, I would like to see it brought to life on the big screen by someone wishing to breathe fresh air into the Amish genre.

Character Development (1.5 points)

It is my opinion that the character development in this novel has room for improvement. Hannah is mostly well-developed, and Reece is not entirely a straw-man abusive husband character, however, it is hard to get to know these characters when the book is written in third person. First person is the way to go in virtually every genre, and this would have improved the novel dramatically. By telling the story in first-person, it would have transformed into a character-driven plot. The readers would have been able to relate to and root for Hannah, and likewise hate and abhor the villain(s). Lastly, the secondary characters are believable, but still, they could have been better. Thus, I think that this is the main area in which Coble could improve.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

Finally, I am giving Coble a half point for originality because she did something with the Amish theme that no one has done before. Instead of idolizing their way of living, she pointed out both it’s strengths and weaknesses and used it as the focal point of a suspense plot. This is commendable in many ways, but mostly because the Amish fiction corner is overcrowded and musty with too many similar plot-lines. It is for this reason that Coble has the potential to go far; she clearly has the ability to take an overused plot theme and turn it into something original. Therefore, I recommend this book as a worthwhile read and think that it could go far on the big screen. On the whole, good job Mrs. Coble, we are excited to see what you create next!

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy

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Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The Accidental Guardian has slightly above average plot and storyline quality and a poignant message for readers. In this new novel, Mary Connealy strives for originality by taking the western romance plot (e.g. Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly) and giving the characters a solid and relatable backstory. While some aspects of the plot are predictable, others are not. In fact, I found this to be the theme of the entire novel. Trace Riley has made the best of the hand life has dealt him. He has his own land, a herd of Longhorns, plans for a house and barn, and a few good hired hands. Trace cools his anger against injustice in the world by regularly patrolling the wagon train trail near his homestead as a kind of self-appointed U.S. Marshal. One day as he and his stallion take their usual trip down the trail, he happens upon two young women and two young children fleeing from a wagon train massacre. Deborah (Deb) and Gwen Harkness left behind their patriarchal roots by agreeing to travel west with a family in need of nannies for their children while on the trail. Gwen uses her mothering talents to do the majority of caring for the children’s basic needs, and Deb helps with cooking, cleaning, laundry, you name it. Deb harbors bitterness in her heart against her patriarchal father who always took full credit for the work she did. You see, back home their father ran the local newspaper…in name only. Deb collected the news stories, wrote, printed, and sold the newspapers; while her father hung out with the leading men and collected the money she made. Deb is determined that she and Gwen will not be forced into servitude at the hands of men again. However, when they are forced to spend the winter at Trace’s, she will find herself serving willingly…and falling in love. Even though Connealy tries to be different in this plot, at the same time she uses much of the same old Hallmark-ish content. I think that Connealy is really trying to be original, and to her credit, I wonder what else could possibly be done different with the western romance plot. It has been done so often that it is hard to take it seriously.

Character Development (2 points)

Connealy does pretty well in the area of character development. Deb is the best character because she has clear strengths and weaknesses, not to mention a developed personality. Trace is pretty good because his past has defined his present, however, Connealy seems to prize his physical attributes more highly than developing his personality. Gwen is the weakest character because she is barely developed past being the good little homemaker. In spite of this, I enjoyed the interaction between the characters, and think that one of Connealy’s stronger points is dialogue. It is for this reason that I think this film has potential to be a romantic comedy film.

Creativity and Originality (.5 point)

Finally, I am giving Connealy a half point in creativity for developing one of the female characters well and for giving her characters good backstories. I think that Connealy has written better books than this one in the past and believe she can do so again. Furthermore, this novel could easily be translated to the big screen, and because the plot is bendable, it could easily be transformed in the hands of a talented screenwriter. I mentioned that it could be a good comedy film because there are some truly funny moments, including but not limited to Trace’s fear of changing diapers. But I don’t want to give everything away….so, I will sum up this review by saying that this book is worth a read if you want a basic love story and a few laughs. I look forward to Connealy’s next work and hope that she will score more points for originality next time.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points