The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

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

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

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

Character Development (2 points)

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

Creativity & Originality (.5 point)

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

Wish List Rating: 5 out of 10 points

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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

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

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

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

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