Then Sings my Soul by Amy K. Sorrells

Image result for then sings my soul amy k sorrells

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 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

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