All That We Carried by Erin Bartels (January 5, 2021)

All That We Carried  -     By: Erin Bartels

Release date: January 5, 2021

Author: Erin Bartels

Plot summary:

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a backcountry hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. Over the years, they grew apart, each coping with the loss in her own way. Olivia plunged herself into law school, work, and a materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life-coaching business around her cafeteria-style spirituality–a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy. Now, at Melanie’s insistence (and against Olivia’s better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they’ll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner Stories That Bind Us: A Novel (9780800735708 ...

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (3.5 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 7 out of 10 points

The Water Keeper by Charles Martin (May 5, 2020)

Water Keeper  -     By: Charles Martin

Release date: May 5, 2020

Author: Charles Martin

Plot summary: A retired priest, Murphy Shepherd lives alone on an island tending the grounds for a church with no parishioners. But when his best friend dies and asks Murphy to scatter his ashes on the other side of the world, he takes off on his boat to carry out his friend’s wishes. Along the way he meets a dance instructor named Summer who is searching for her daughter. She believes she was abducted into the world of trafficking. As they search for Angel, they discover a stowaway. And its not coincidence that he chose Murphy’s boat. There is more than it first seems, but memories have long compelled him to keep the truth hidden.

Cry of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (4 points)

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

Character Development (4 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)

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

Wish List Rating: 9.5 out of 10 points

An Introduction to Melody Carlson

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Melody Carlson is a accomplished Christian author of nearly hundreds of novels, their genres ranging from fiction for adults, teen girls, and even children. She, much like Angela Hunt, is an author willing to take on challenging subjects and portray them in a poignant and meaningful way. Her somewhat raw look at life’s ups and downs is what drew readers of all ages to her addicting style. Many of her novels will forever hold life lessons for those trying to make it through the years of change and discovery. However, certain aspects in some of her novels keep her from being the best author of teen fiction, such as her view that it is okay to consume alcohol in certain situations. Unfortunately, Carlson’s motto seems to be that as long as you don’t get drunk, its okay to enjoy yourself on occasion. While everyone is free to make their own decisions, it is unacceptable for someone who claims to be a Christian author to be spreading this message. Therefore, if she would change this one aspect of her novels, I would recommend all of her novels to you, rather than a select group. Many of Carlson’s readers would argue that, at times, her gritty and eye-opening look at the modern world of high-school and relationships is needed and appreciated. I would have to agree with them in most cases, because it is rare to find an author that is willing to speak the plain truth when it comes to life choices, and the consequences that come with them. Some of Carlson’s best works include Finding Alice, The Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the Inn at Shining Waters series, Just Another Girl, and The 86 Bloomberg Place Series. All of these are excellent reads and most certainly worth your time, whether you are a teen or a young adult. In the near future I will be reviewing the works listed above, and hope that all you avid readers enjoy discovering the tales that lie within!

Angela Elwell Hunt: The Fairlawn Trilogy, Book 1

Image result for doesn't she look natural angela hunt

The Fairlawn Trilogy is one of Angela E. Hunt’s lesser known book series, and was not quite as popular as some of her standalone novels, however, I have always had a soft spot for this series. This trilogy has an eccentric charm and many unique qualities that make it all that it is. The first novel in the series is titled Doesn’t She Look Natural? The opening chapters of this novel introduce the reader to a woman named Jennifer Graham. Jennifer has recently gone through a nasty divorce from her husband, which is further complicated by the fact that they both work in close company for the government. In light of various conflicting circumstances, Jennifer decides to quit her job and move herself and her two sons to her mother’s home while she looks for a new job….far away from her ex-husband. She is confused and dissapointed in how things have turned out, and worried that she will not be able to provide for her sons on her own. However, a twist of fate brings the answer to Jennifer’s worries. She is informed that she has inherited a funeral home in the historic Mt. Dora, Florida. Unsure as to how to take this news, Jennifer makes the decision to travel to Florida with her sons and mother to see what it is like. Once there, she falls in love with the old funeral home, and learns that there are many lessons to be learned from serving the families of loved ones who have passed on. What lessons does Jennifer learn? Will she be able to make a living out of running a funeral home? To answer these questions, read the book!;) While the plot-lines of these three novels are somewhat simple, they draw in readers of all ages in only a way that a good novel can. This trilogy would make a good beginner project for a Christian filmmaker looking to make their mark on the Christian movie world. In light of the simple plots, one could combine all three books into one Christian film, or divide the content to create a short inspirational miniseries. Once again we can see that even with simple novels, there is ample content with which to create films.

Chris Fabry: Dogwood

Image result for dogwood chris fabry

As I looked over the book reviews that I have done thus far, I realized that I have not included any titles from male authors, so, I decided to remedy this situation by making sure to include authors of both genders from now on. Chris Fabry is a very unique Christian novelist who writes with a gritty, compelling style that draws the reader into the suffering and of joy of the character/characters. He has written books for both teens and adults alike, and is loved by readers of all ages. One of my favorite novels by Fabry is the epic titled Dogwood. This novel deals with subjects such as grief, bitterness, small towns, loss, love, sorrow, life, death, redemption, forgiveness, passion, and God’s unfailing love. This story is set in the fictional town of Dogwood, West Virginia, and paints a realistic picture of small-town drama and conflict. The opening chapters introduce the reader to the two main characters, a troubled woman named Karin, and a man named Will who longs to be set free from his dark past. Karin and Will were once in love, but tragic circumstances forced them apart, and they have not seen each other for years…until now. Karin, driven by grief and insecurity, chose to marry a man that she does not love, as she believed that security and routine would heal her scars. They had three children together, and on the surface, they appear to be the average American family. Karin has a self-admitted bitter attitude at God for allowing certain circumstances to occur, however, she is unaware that the bitterness has blossomed into anger. This fact begins creep up on her, and she finds herself increasingly unhappy in her marriage. Meanwhile, Will has just been released from prison, one of the factors that drew he and Karin apart, and is set on finding the only woman he ever loved. He is shocked to discover that she has abandoned her first love for another, yet is not surprised that the people of Dogwood remember his past in what they believe to be perfect detail. Karin finds a fountain of wisdom in an elderly member of the community named Ruthie, and at first finds her to be blunt, but later discovers that she speaks the truth. Ruthie urges Karin to face her anger at God, and determine where the root of the problem lies. What will Karin decide? Does Will ever become liberated from the pain of his past? Will they both choose to run to the One who holds their past, present, and future….and loves them anyway? To answer these questions, read the book!;) Dogwood would make a landmark Christian film in the epic genre, and would do well in the hands of the Erwin brothers, as they have proven themselves to be experts at making gritty, yet poignant and meaningful epics in the past. I am excited to see if Christian filmmakers will discover the potential found in Christian novels such as these!