When Through Deep Waters by Rachelle Dekker

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

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

Character Development (3.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

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Unscripted by Davis Bunn (BTSNBM)

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Character Development (.5 point)

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 2 out of 10 points

King’s Shadow by Angela Hunt

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

One More River to Cross by Jane Kirkpatrick (BTSNBM)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

Character Development (.5 point)

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

Creativity and Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

The Girl Behind the Red Rope by Rachelle and Ted Dekker

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity and Originality (1.5 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 8 out of 10 points

Fatal Strike by DiAnn Mills

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Character Development (1.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Character Development (2.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The String by Caleb Breakey (BTSNBM)

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

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

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

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

Wish List Rating: 0 out of 10 points

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

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

Character Development (2.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

Yours Truly, Thomas by Rachel Fordham (BTSNBM)

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Until the Mountains Fall by Connilyn Cossette

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

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

The House on Lowell Street by Linda A. Keane

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (3.5 points)

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

Character Development (4 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

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

Character Development (3.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

Wooing Cadie McCaffrey by Bethany Turner

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (1.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

My Dearest Dietrich by Amanda Barratt

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

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

Then Sings my Soul by Amy K. Sorrells

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (1.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

The Heart of a King by Jill Eileen Smith

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (3 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Shadow Among Sheaves by Naomi Stephens

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (3 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

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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)

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 (2.5 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. On the whole, the plot holds the attention and contains multiple unexpected plot turns as time goes on. The main errors to point out are an overall choppiness throughout the novel, and 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 it moves too quickly. This may be due to the absence of proper editing. (spoiler) However, Andrews’ unique and unsurpassed portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar’s God-induced insanity saves the novel from being commonplace. Therefore, Andrews earns an a slightly above average 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 mostly well-balanced and each have a clear purpose. Nebuchadnezzar his wife are a great addition to the plot and could easily go to the big screen because of Andrews unique, and likely accurate depiction of both characters. One error to point out is that some of the minor characters needed further development or omission, 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 characters. Thus, she earns a nearly perfect score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

In conclusion, Andrews earns a half point in creativity for her depiction of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year insanity. This novel would make a interesting multi-season Christian TV series that gave Andrews a change to collaborate with another screenwriter and expand on and edit 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 – a filmmaker could go many directions with this novel. In conclusion, Andrews continues to produce some of the more original content in the Biblical fiction genre, however, we feel that she can do more.

Wish List Rating: 6 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

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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 (2.5 points)

Karen Kingsbury’s newest Baxter series 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 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 several positives to this novel. I was impressed at Kingsbury’s apparent spiritual growth as an author 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, there are also some flaws. 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. Finally, the product placement for LU is not exactly subtle and could be offensive to some. Therefore, Kingsbury earns an above average score in this section.

Character Development (2.5 points)

Kingsbury’s commitment to character development is mostly upheld in this novel. Cole and Elise’s characters are shaped by their past experiences, and both are pretty 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 too predictable. One special note here is that the characters are used to present the Biblical view of the unborn in a down-to-earth manner. The unexpected plot twist with one of the minor characters is also quite good. Additionally, the flaws here include a bit of melodrama -a norm for this author – and some characters who feel like copies of one another. Needless to say, Kingsbury earns an above average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

In conclusion, Kingsbury earns a full point in originality for writing a novel unlike most I have read from her before. She avoided most of her usual pitfalls and turned out a poignant 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. It may also need a bit of editing and some more everyday dialogue. In the hands of a proven or budding filmmaker, this could be a great pro-life film.

Wish List Rating: 6 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

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 was another job well done by Stephen Bly.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

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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

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. The main flaws to mention here are some cheesy romantic elements that mature somewhat as the novel continues, and the author’s sometimes too vivid descriptions. While these flaws keep the storyline from perfection, 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 mostly above average and adds a new twist to the historical romance theme. In comparison, Prezi is arguably the weakest character. She has little involvement in the plot and needed more depth and meaning. Additionally, the minor characters are a mixture of good and average, therefore, they needed further development or omission from the story. On the whole, Cossette’s characters 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 stands out from other Biblical fiction novels because of it’s fearless, honest look at raw topics. For this reason, I believe that this book series would make a great TV series. The character development is above average and the filmmakers have plenty of creativity to work with in the storyline. Once again, we hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize the quality content they already have in many Christian books instead of producing more filler content.

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

When the Heart Sings by Liz Tolsma

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Plot & Storyline Quality (3 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. 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 flaws here do not outweigh the strengths, but they include the fact that the story is a bit slow at times, and there are some moments of wordiness. Otherwise, this is a good plot that shows potential for the future.

Character Development (2 points)

Nadia and Teodor are mostly 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 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.

Wish List Rating: 6 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

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 points)

Miriam is one of Mesu Andrews classic novels, written in the early days of her career. Andrews high quality storyline and masterful character development make for an enjoyable read that I would recommend to others. 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 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. Will Miriam overcome her jealously and accept Yahweh’s plans? To answer this question, read the book! (spoiler) The main issue I had with the plot was Miriam’s eventual marriage, which seems silly and unnecessary. Additionally, Eleazar and his wife have a bit of a rocky storyline that needed further development – or their own novel. Despite the flaws, this is a unique, well-done story that should definitely be made into a Christian film. Therefore, Andrews earns an above average score in this section. 

Character Development (3 points)

As previously mentioned, the character development in Miriam is above par and contains many strengths. First, I appreciated that all the characters were the correct Biblical age. In most portrayals of the story of Moses, he is either young or middle-aged. People forget that he, Miriam, and Aaron were all elderly when their journey out of Egypt began. Secondly, Miriam is a strong character because she has a unique, fully developed personality, along with strengths, weaknesses, and a clearly defined spiritual gift. Third, Moses is a good, imperfect character who struggles with his calling to be a leader because it does not come naturally. Finally, the relationship between Aaron and his wife is well-done and realistic. In comparison, Eleazar is a good idea because he struggles to submit to God and surrender his need for control. However, he is two-dimensional and needs depth and flashbacks to be well-developed. Additionally, the minor characters are not always well-integrated into the story. Because the strengths of the novel outweigh the weaknesses, Andrews earns an above average score in this section as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Andrews has always had a certain talent for inserting creative and original elements into her novels, and this one is no different. She earns a half point in creativity for her creative characters, and a half 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. Finally, I must insist that Andrews work directly with the screenwriter on the screenplay. Readers, this is a Biblical fiction novel that you can recommend to friends and family.

Wish List Rating: 7 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?  To answer these questions, read the book! Overall, Dobson handles a complex and detailed plotline quite well and crafts an engaging story. Unfortunately, there is the presence of a love triangle between Annika, Luzia, and Max. While it is done in a better way than most, this fact keeps Dobson from a perfect score in this section.

Character Development (3 points)

Dobson’s strength is her characters, because they drive the plot. Callie, Annika, Luzia, and Max all have distinctive personalities, and virtually 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  plot twist at the end of the story. The combination of these characters and the intriguing plot makes for one a unique and enjoyable read.

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 good 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!

Wish List Rating: 7 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 high score in this section.

Character Development (3.5 points)

Merari is the ideal female lead in a Biblical fiction plot because she is a great blend of relatable humanity and the potential we all have in Christ. 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 and in need of God. Furthermore, the secondary characters are mostly effective. The only flaw to point out here is the presence of some unnecessary romance elements. The good in this novel outweighs the flaws, and because of this, Andrews earns an almost perfect score in character development.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, this plot is very original and creative, earning Andrews a full point in creativity. I for one, was impressed with By the Waters of Babylon and highly recommend it to both those who love Biblical fiction. For these and other reasons, I think that this would make a great Bible film that could change the way Biblical films are viewed. The screenwriter would need to rewrite the romance a bit, but the wrinkles here can definitely be ironed out.

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

Image of Keturah (The Sugar Baron's Daughters)

 

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

Image result for the edge of over there by shawn smucker

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

Image result for burden of proof diann mills

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)

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 (2 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 pretty much a strawman. Overall, Mills has produced mostly 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: 6 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. Hers 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. 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?  To answer this question, 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 (2 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.

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. Furthermore, I feel that The Hope of Azure Springs could be a good Christian romantic suspense film. The screenwriter would need to bring the mystery theme to the forefront and downplay the romantic elements, but it can be done. Overall, this novel stands out from other books of it’s caliber and is a good first effort.

Wish List Rating: 5 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 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. 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. Her act of disobedience haunts her night and day, and she doesn’t know how to escape her dark thoughts. Emma Mullet 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. As these three women face increasing crises, they will have to break down their walls to find a way forward. 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 raw way that Byler-Younts writes is both refreshing and a bit sensational. However, her style could use a little honing, for not everything that is here said should be. Furthermore, the story is a bit choppy and rushed. All in all, The Solace of Water rounds out to an average score.

Character Development (2 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 and too many mentally distracting sequences. 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. Therefore, Byler-Younts earns an average score here as well.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Byler-Younts earns a full point in creativity for spearheading the absurdity of most Amish fiction by creating IMPERFECT Amish characters. Furthermore, she points 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 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.

Wish List rating: 5 out of 10 points