Standoff by Patricia Bradley (BTSNBM)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Character Development (0 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

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

Wish List Rating: .5 out of 10 points

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler-Younts (BTSNBM)

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Plot & Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Character Development (0 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (-1 points)

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

Wish List Rating: -1 out of 10 points

A Single Light by Tosca Lee (BTSNBM)

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (1 point)

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

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

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

Character Development (.5 point)

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

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

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 2 out of 10 points

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

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 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