Original Books

Original Books is the blog where you will find the best of Christian fiction reviews. We hope you enjoy this blog and that you keep up with us as we continue to post reviews. Make sure you check the Elite List, the list of books we have rated 4 stars and above and the coming soon list to see what will soon be posted. If you feel we have forgotten about an author or a book or have any questions please email us at originalbooks200@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky

Jimmy and Kinna met each other at a young age. They met almost every day on the beach to build sandcastles and to play in their imaginary world where their fathers could not try to control their lives. As they grew up, they grew closer and closer together. Jimmy was always there for Kinna when her dates stood her up. This eventually to turned into a lifelong relationship called marriage. When they were a young couple, they dreamed of having children and of buying a house on the beach. It was simple. But now twenty years have passed and Kinna is still barren. The two of them have grown apart so that they barely love each other anymore. But when Kinna rescues an old woman from the waves at the beach, things begin to change for Jimmy and Kinna. Things beyond their control start happening that force them to face the wrong choices they have made in their past in order to build a strong future.

I would say infertility plots are worn out and finished, but Marlo has showed us a new way. Perhaps not the best or most realistic way, but a different way nonetheless. But when one really thinks about this new way Marlo has invented, several things do not add up. Marlo tries to play Ted Dekker in this plot in a very non-Ted Dekker way. She is basically not being who she really is but is trying to be someone else, when she could just be herself and write another five star plot.

For starts, the characters, namely Jimmy and Kinna, are superb. Not only do they have complete personalities, but they also have imperfection. Marlo has proved the point that fewer characters equal good characters because the author has more time to give the characters personal attention. Besides Jimmy and Kinna, there are only three other characters really. Marlo has definitely not failed us in the character department.

As for the end of the book, it's just plain juvenile. It is based on the unrealistic time warping and therefore cannot be determined whether such a thing would really happen. As I said, why did Marlo have to abandon what she had going in Beyond the Night? It seems like she felt like she had to be different. This is not the kind of different we are looking for. This kind of different only leaves us scratching our heads. But besides the time warp issue, there is also one other unnecessary dramatic scene that puts a damper on the basically good body of the book. I don't know where Marlo left her originality while writing the end of this book or even how this made it past the editor. It also makes me wonder whether Marlo had any other good ideas besides Beyond the Night. But she can still redeem herself in the future by returning to her originality of old.

3 stars

Watching the Tree Limbs by Mary E Demuth

Maranthana never knew her parents, so most of her early childhood memories come from staying with her Aunt Elma in Burl, Texas. There were memories of her best friend Camilla and all her rhyming, there were memories of her aunt and the police officer her always hung around their house. But most outstanding memories were the worst memories-the memories of the pastor's son who called himself General who took her under the tree limbs and violated her as a nine-year old. If she told, he said he would kill her or her family members. She believed him one day when she came home to see her aunt dead in the house. But even as she was taken on the other side of town to where she thought her parents lived, General still found her. Mara only found solace in Denim, a radio personality, and in making it through General's violation by watching the tree limbs.

As usual with Mary E Demuth, Watching the Tree Limbs is based on a pathetic characters in a pathetic situation. However, since this is her debut novel, she did not handle the drama in an original way as she did with her later books. While this book has its good points, it is written very much like a debut novel in that the end is predictable.

The best part about Watching the Tree Limbs is the character development. Most of the characters are imperfect and have underused personalities. However, some of the characters have goofy quirks, and while this is not entirely bad, it comes off a little unprofessional at first. One of Mary's strongest points is creating broken people without being too dramatic, and she mostly demonstrates this talent well in this debut novel.

The biggest flaw to this book is Denim, who is a basically perfect hero. While his role as a radio personality is an interesting plot point, he should have never left the studio. Once he did, he started meddling into what was turning into an original end. His existence in Mara's life crafts the typical end that so many debut authors resort to. Without Denim leaving the studio, Watching the Tree Limbs is a basically good book that presents a looming issue in a very correct way. Mary did a good job at showing the types of things that could be going on anywhere in our country. It makes one aware that there are people out there that are living in tougher situations than we are.

All in all, Mary E Demuth has a lot of potential for the future.

3.5 stars

Fated Genes by Harry Kraus

Dr. Brad Forrest is a pediatric surgeon who is married to his job in his heart and married to his wife on paper. Though he loves his wife and son, he loves his job more and thus spends nearly every waking hour at the hospital. However, this is wearing on his marriage. His wife Julie feels abandoned and decides to look for the love she craves elsewhere. Meanwhile, Brad has been promoted to work with Dr. Web Tyson, a surgeon looking to become the new surgeon general of the US. However, Web is not all he appears to be. With his family life in shambles, he is a partner in an illegal scheme to preform research on aborted fetuses or dead embryos. While this is not entirely evil, it is driving him and his partners to tell lies to the parents about their babies in order to get what they need. Lenore, the instigator of the operation, who doubles as the leader of a Satanic cult, is doing everything she can to control Web.

While all of this is going on, Dr. Matt Stone returns from Kenya with his wife Linda to work a new job alongside Brad and Web, and gets caught up in the mess himself. Everything comes to a head in room 502 of the hospital one night, and only the prayers of Brad's grandmother and her prayer warriors can stop it.

Harry Kraus has sure had a bumpy writing career. He has gone from writing junk like this to writing radical originality such as Perfect. But the mistakes in Fated Genes cannot be easily ignored. The lack of good characters, a victim lead, two evil villains, an evil genetic scheme, the return of Matt Stone, a last chapter conversion, a last chapter reuniting, and a perfect prayer warrior grandmother make for a stressful read to say the least.

The characters are flat out bad. There are the good guys, the bad guys, and confused Brad. While Brad and Julie have their imperfection, they never make any real mistakes as a result of it. The villains are ridiculous, frequently spouting profanity detonated by symbol sequences such as #?!?@. Seeing these symbol sequences on every page can wear one out. Matt Stone is back doing what he did best in Stainless Steal Hearts-absolutely nothing useful. Harry Kraus did a really good job at making him an overused useless character.

There are many plot points it seems like the editor forgot to edit. Julie's affair, Lenore's cult, Web's Sodomite son, Web's relationship with a useless character named Tammy, Matt Stone's involvement, a standoffish group of retired people and a car chase at the end are completely unnecessary and make one wonder what this book was like before it was edited or if it was even edited at all.

Even if all of this nonsense was discarded, it still could not account for the completely perfect end in which Harry went lengths to fix every broken thing. It makes one wonder how Harry made his transition into writing originally at all. But we are grateful that he did so and did not continue writing books that tarnish the name of Christian fiction with such cliched nonsense. Fated Genes makes one appreciate his newer books all the more.

1.5 stars

Elyon by Ted Dekker

When we last left the Chosen Ones, Johnis was possessed by a Leedhan named Shaeda and was leading Silvie through the desert in order to destroy the Horde and steal Succrow's amulet. Also, Darsal was imprisoned by a Horde general who she feels she is falling in love with. She is doing all she can to love the Horde as Elyon told her to, but now it is coming at the cost of her life. When reunited with Johnis and Silvie, she tries to convince them to bathe in one of Elyon's lakes, but they are skeptical and blinded by Shaeda to complete the mission at hand. But the Horde are becoming stronger by the day and are killing off the Circle. Darsal is the only one who stands in the way of more destruction, but she is in prison and has been told to love her enemies. So in the end, who is right and who is wrong? Elyon, Teeleh, or Shaeda?

Though Chaos and Lunatic showed promise through original plot points and good characters, one cannot actually expect Ted Dekker to end the Lost Books series in an original way. Not even the greatest of authors usually ends a series originally. And with circumstances like this, Ted backed himself into a corner and decided to choose the easy way out. But this easy way is also forgettable.

Johnis, Silvie, and Darsal developed several good character traits in the previous two books such as imperfection and slight personalities, and since they hold these over, it keeps the book from being completely mediocre. Shaeda also remains to be a mysterious and interesting character. However, other characters like Succrow and Marak are taken out of molds created by authors long ago. Ted Dekker has never been spectacular in the character department, so that is something he needs to work on in the future.

Everything typical you can think of happens except for the outcome of Shaeda. Dekker handled the outcome of Shaeda quite well. There is no showdown or exorcism scenes. Shaeda simply leaves and is never heard from again. Also, one does not know whether she was really in the wrong or not.

All in all, Elyon was a not a bad read, just a mediocre one because I knew what was coming. The Lost Books series was probably too long as it was. The only ones that should have been written were Chaos and Lunatic.

So concludes the Lost Books series, but we can expect to see more out of the Circle in the future, unfortunately. It has become a staple of Dekker's career, so he will never be able to write another novel without at least the slightest connection to it. However, he should put the idea to rest since he has thoroughly worn it out and tied it up in knots. He should move on and try something original again instead of getting caught up in his current rock star status among Christian fiction.

But will he do this? Probably not.

2.5 stars

From the Belly of the Dragon by Mark Mynheir

Special Agent Timothy Porter and his partners are currently in the midst of a troublesome case. Dr. Walter Simmons, an extremely popular motivational speaker and author, has set up Highpoint, a small city where he has invited all his disciples to come and live with him and undergo intense training away from the cares of the world. Walter has a fairly clean past, and everything about Highpoint is above board-or so it seems. A young man is missing from the city and from his hometown, and Walter Simmons claims that he was sent on a solitary pilgrimage because of mental issues. But things begin to hit home for Timothy when he hears that his daughter has join this cult like village and believes every word of what Walter says. When the agents begin poking around Highpoint for clues, the Highpoint authorities begin to get suspicious and attempt to arrest them. No one seems to know where the young man is, and things around Highpoint are getting very fishy. Tim is forced to join forces with his ex-wife in order to find their daughter-before it's all too late.

Unfortunately, anyone can write a cult plot like this. The idea behind this book is nothing new, but very run-of-the-mill. However, typical cult themes such as ritual sacrifice, mass suicide, and sensational spirituality are missing. Walter's cult is very down to earth and very possible, but the plot is still very typical.

Missing are good characters with imperfection and personalities. Each character is a typical, made-of-a-mold stereotype. Tim is the un-believer and skeptic who comes to grips with faith in the end. John, from Rolling Thunder, is, of course, the Christian mentor. Tim's ex-wife fills out the romantic subplot. Tim's daughter is a victim. Dr. Walter Simmons is an evil villain. I'm so tired of evil villains. It's not realistic. This book could have been a lot better if Walter had just been a confused man. In the end, he turns into a psychotic maniac.

Only one original thing happens at the end, but it is brushed over and completely covered up by a truckload of perfection so that one barely notices it. From the Belly of a Dragon is definitely a drop from Rolling Thunder, which is a common mistake authors make in series. They think they have to write a sequel, and it turns out to be junk because with the first book they had a great idea and the second is written for the sake of reusing the characters. Authors need to learn how to censor their writing and only write books that are revolutionary.

2.5 stars

My Soul to Keep by Melanie Wells

When the young son of one of Dylan's closest friends is kidnapped in plain daylight by someone who wants to "keep him safe", all they have to rely on is the random scribblings of a girl labeled as mentally challenged. On top of this, Dylan battles her past with a disgruntled prisoner with a demon in his head and a boyfriend she broke up with. Dylan, a psychologist, decides to play the detective and search for her own clues since she does not believe the police to be trying. But her everyday life and dead ends keep getting in the way of a real answer. On top of this, Peter Terry, her demonic acquaintance, has returned to torment her every waking thought.

While I did not believe at first that a plot marketed as a supernatural mystery could be handled in a normal fashion, I have apparently been proven wrong. Melanie Wells has proven that there is a good and right way to deal with demons without sensational confrontations. This combined with good characters and a realistic mystery makes for a surprisingly good read.

Dylan is an especially complex character complete with a personality and imperfection. She is the best character, which is the way it should be with the lead. While the other characters lack such complexities, Melanie knows how to write good character interaction, something most authors leave out of their works, event those with good characters. Their banter and dialogue are realistic and straight from everyday life. The one flaw to the character department is the stereotypical "boyfriend she broke up with in the past." Not only is he a typical plot device, but he is a perfect male lead, something female authors struggle with. But otherwise, the character department is superb for a supernatural mystery.

The case is realistic, complete with dead ends, false clues, and a realistic, plausible end that avoids a showdown altogether. In my book, that is the best mystery any author can write. The mystery portion is five stars, and is the main thing besides the characters that makes this book Elite.

Melanie's dealings with demons is the best I have ever seen an author write. Peter Terry is never actually shown. He merely talks to people in their heads, which is the way demons deal with people in real life. Seldom, if ever, does someone actually come face to face with a dramatically crafted demon like characters do so much in Christian fiction. I think authors began using this as a license to be sensational and scary, therefore demonizing (pardon the pun) and overusing the subject, causing me to believe that it should never be used. But Melanie has showed me that there is a correct way to write supernatural plots, making me wish this book could be five stars.

But I cannot abandon the standards I have laid down. She created a perfect male lead and an although somewhat realistic, still predictable end. Unfortunately this ruins her chances at a five star book. But if Melanie keeps up this good of writing, she has a five star book in her future.

4.5 stars

The Void by Mark Mynheir

Lifetex, led by Dr. Silverstein, have been working painstakingly for years on the Genesis Project, a project dedicated to cloning the perfect human. Adam is ready to be birthed out his tank, and Dr. Silverstein is ecstatic. Adam is everyone's dream-perfect body structure, perfect DNA sequences, perfect muscle toning. Dr. Silverstein looks forward to what he will be able to do with such cloning technology. He releases Adam but leaves him confined to the Lifetex compound-or so he thinks. What he does not know is that something seriously wrong with his prized project.

Robbie Sanchez is currently working on a case that doesn't really look like anything new-several murders have been being committed around the mysterious Lifetex compound. But things take an uneasy turn when an officer is sent to check out the area and ends up being murdered in cold blood. That's when the case turns very serious. Things are happening that they can't understand-and won't understand until someone stops looking at the cold hard facts and starts looking at the soul.

The Void

is one of the best, if not the best genetic thriller I have ever read. Not only is the idea behind the book very original, but it is also very possible. I like books that are built upon a strong foundation. Many authors write mediocre books because they are built upon weak or overused foundations. The Void has a strong foundational idea, among other pluses.

As usual for Mark, the character department is suffering. Robbie is a good character with a personality and imperfection, but the other police officers are all stereotypical characters, especially an unnecessary perfect male lead. But the best thing about the character department is that Dr. Silverstein is not portrayed as an evil mad scientist, because he is not. He is just a man with a slightly flawed idea. This is the way is should be with all so-called villains.

Besides the perfect male lead, the only problem with The Void is a large amount of sensationalism at end, a cheesy showdown, and lots of perfection. These are things authors need to get away from because they are not realistic. Most authors take a creative license with matters discussed at the end and go wild. Also, these days, showdowns have to end the original way because the other way is very overused. However, the foundational idea is good enough to overcome most of this and put it on the Elite List.

It is time for the Truth Chasers series to come to an end, but it has been a fairly good series. The Void is definitely the best end Mark will ever be able to up with for a series, therefore he needs to stop and fuel his budding talent toward something more productive and fruitful. There are great things down the road for Mark if he does.

4.5 stars

December Poll Report

In the month of December, year 2009, we asked our avid fans what their favorite author was according to our provided choices. The results are not surprising:

1. Ted Dekker (86%)

King Ted rises again. It is clear that our readers are spec fans, and since Ted is the Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson of our times in Christian fiction, his landslide victory is not a surprise.

2. Francine Rivers (14%)

Someone out there stuck up for ol' Fran. Obviously she has not lost all of her fans in her absence.

3. Frank Peretti\Nancy Moser\Gilbert Morris (each 0%)

And the others. Although these three were once popular in some way, their times are obviously passed.

As for who won our vote, that will remain an eternal mystery. Stay tuned for the next poll, in which you can cast your vote for your favorite book of 2009, according to our choices.

Powers by John Olson

Mariutza Glapion's grandfather has just died right before her eyes. The Badness killed him. But before he died, he revealed to her a horrible secret and told her to enter the city of New Orleans in search for the great Jaazaniah the Prophet, the hero of her grandfather's bedtime stories. So Mariutza leaves the swamps she has lived in her entire life and enter the mysterious New Orleans, a place filled with buildings, strange noises, strange people, and sin. When she finally meets her hero, he has no idea what she is talking about. She wants him to help her find her grandfather's alleged treasure box. Soon, he has no choice but to follow her on a run for their very lives from strange hooded people, the authorities and the Badness.

For all those die-hard John Olson fans, the illustrious sequel to Shade is here. Melchi, Hailey, and the Mulo have returned, by the way, with a whole new cast of characters. I said before that Shade did not need a sequel because I just couldn't take anymore nonsense. But believe it or not, several things were actually explained at the end of Powers that shed light on several things. But Powers is far from Elite. It's not even close.

For one thing, the characters are odd, as usual. Believe it or not, Jaazaniah actually has a personality and some imperfection. But Mariutza, Melchi, and Hailey are just plain weird characters. They aren't necessarily perfect, but they are bizarre. I guess this is realistic considering they haven't lived among normal people for a while.

The Badness and the Mulos are bit juvenile, especially since they have no good explanation whatsoever. The four main characters are the only people who believe they are real. No one else can see them, except maybe John Olson. It is very stereotypical of a horror novel to have black clouds chasing people around all the time.

The Standings have a very good explanation behind them that, believe it or not, are backed up by Scripture. It is a very interesting idea that is highly possible. John has discarded his whatnot about Lost Dimensional Gateways under a good explanation as well. At least he was able to part with some of his nonsense.

But the worst part of all, the thing that easily cuts the rating in half, is the very perfect end. A predictable romance works out, all four main characters are still alive at end despite many hospital visits, they find the treasure, and they escape arrest. This is extremely unrealistic, and I am tired of repeating these same things over and over again. Some authors just don't get it. I'm not even sure if John Olson is cut out to be an author, since he repeatedly makes typical mistakes and shows barely any growth from book to book.

If he is to write anymore books, it should not be another nonsensical horror novel.

2 stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

Now that the royal Wingfeather family has left the town of Glipwood, they are making their way north to the Ice Prairies, where Gnag and his Fangs of Dang cannot reach them.
But the journey will not be a walk in the park. Accompanied by Peet the Sock Man and Oskar the Book Seller, the royal family must stave off danger at every turn. But what they don't know is that danger lurks in the most unlikely of places.
The best thing Andrew did with this book was eliminate the convenience of the First Well water. The water is only used once, but in a creative way.
The book also contains explanations for how Artham Wingfeather turned into Peet the Sock Man, who the Fangs really are, and where the Black Carriage takes the children it kidnaps.
Though this book is a quest structure, there are many plot twists and surprises to keep the book interesting. There are many interesting creatures and showdowns throughout the book. However, these showdowns keep the book from being five stars.
Some of the characters have developed good personality, believe it or not. Not all, but some of them.
Peterson has abandoned the notion of having so many footnotes. Instead, he has an original plot, complete with sketches of those creatures that were unknown to us in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. This helps take away some of the isolation the reader felt in the first novel.
There are two major surprises at the end that along with a character death vault the book onto the Elite List. The worst thing about this series is the fact that one of the original things at the end can be fixed in the next book.
All in all, Andrew Peterson has proven himself to be a prolific author.

4 stars

Book - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400073871
Series site -
Author site -

Be sure and check out the reviews by our tour members:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve and Andrew
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Troubled Waters by Rene Gutteridge

Macey Steigel returns to her birth town in Kansas upon her aging father's death. She is reluctant to do so but does because she feels the need to reconcile her past. But when she arrives, she becomes sidetracked off of her original goal by her mother's disastrous financial situation. She immediately takes it upon herself to teach her mother basic work skills in order to land her a steady office job at a local corporation. During her entire stay, Macey is plagued with memories of her past mistakes and with urgings from her boss to return to her job as an anchor at a TV station. The entire time, her mother keeps trying to share something with her about her past but continues to cave before revealing her secret. However, she must do so before time runs out.

As usual, Rene Gutteridge demonstrates her flair for originality in Troubled Waters. There are good characters, which has become a positive staple to Rene's novels. Not only are most of them imperfect, but most have believable personalities. The one mistake Rene makes in this area is creating an unnecessary perfect male lead. His role never comes to anything and therefore shows that he was unnecessary. His part could have been improved by being given a personality or at least being imperfect.

Several realistic things happen throughout the book. In this type of confronting-your-past book, not many authors explore realistic side topics such as financial issues like Rene did in this book. Macey's personality makes her want to fix her mother's situation, which is something that could happen any day. These are the kinds of issues fiction needs to be based upon-realistic, everyday life situations that can serve to teach the reader how to avoid the mistakes the characters make.

As another plus, Macey's troubled past is her fault, as the reader finds out near the end of the book. Even though the situation is slightly overused, it is still realistic and something that could happen every day.

And to top things off, the end is realistic, as it should have been. Not all things work out, but the things that do work out work out in a realistic way. If Rene had just given the male lead a personality and some imperfection, we could be looking at a five star novel here. But since she did not, she will fall short of that honor.

However, this is not a book that should be overlooked. Troubled Waters is a prime example of the kind of fiction that should be on the market. I hope many authors learn this in the future.

4.5 stars

Ulterior Motives by Mark Andrew Olsen

Greg Cahill is a disgraced soldier who serves in prison ministry. He is dumbfounded when the US Army calls him, telling him they have a special job for him-one that they feel only he can do. An Al-Qaeda email has been intercepted that reveals secrets of a coming attack on America. The leader of the terrorist cell has been captured, but he isn't talking. He silently clings to his religion in a dark cell. The Army is desperate, therefore, they resort to extreme measures-they want Greg to befriend the man all America hates and, in an offer disguised as clemency, steal important information from him. But then Greg and Omar must flee for their lives under strange circumstances in order to stop the tragedy that is coming upon America.

As usual, Mark Andrew Olsen has crafted a five star idea backed up by extensive research. He has even added to his compliments imperfect characters with personalities. But as one can expect from a terrorist plot, there are problems with the end. An author has yet to craft a five star terrorist plot because they cannot cease meddling with the otherwise realistic end.

Greg has a troubled past, but it is a product of his own wrong choices. He is not a victim of anything but his own doing. This is a plus since this is a character-based plot. The character enactment is realistic. This is something most authors neglect in suspense plots because they believe it to be unnecessary. The fact that Mark has crafted good characters in this book shows that he is growing as an author.

But as with Mark's other books, he couldn't resist fixing a key part of the plot in the end. The plot was already an impossible plot, but he added to it with extra meddling. Other than this, Mark wrote the book to its full potential. If Mark continues to grow as an author, we could be looking at a five star book down the road. It is an encouragement to see that he did not get stuck in a rut with the The Watchers series.

All in all, Mark Andrew Olsen is among the most promising authors for the future.

4.5 stars

The Assignment by Mark Andrew Olsen

When the members of a covert order unearth a man who is alive in his own tomb, they attempt the keep him a secret from the world. The man claims he has lived for two thousand years, even though he does not look old at all. Despite their attempts to keep him undercover, the man leaves to continue to fulfill his mission-keep Satan from inhabiting a man before God is ready for the Rapture to begin. He travels the world following one man in order to keep the Destroyer away from him. Along the way, he gains the interest of the CIA, the Israeli Mossad, Hamas terrorists, renegade factions of the Vatican, a young priest, and a terrified grad student. The world is no longer the same place it was before this man came. He has seen the blood-stained history of this imperfect world, and he has lived to tell about it.

At a glance, this book looks like a bogus speculative book complete with exorcisms. Well, it has exorcisms, but it's not all that shallow. The immortal's identity is a very well explained, carefully crafted idea backed up with Scripture, believe it or not. It is not a mindless sci-fi idea, but a professional work of fiction.

However, the book is more of an exhibition for what the mysterious immortal has done and has gone through rather than a suspense tale. Never fear, there are pointless gunfights and near-death experiences to complete the seemingly mindless globetrotting experience.

It seems at first the Mark is not going to do anything original with this plot, until the reader reaches the middle of the book. That's when things start to get interesting. The book begins to take on more purpose and worth than it previously had.

By the end, there has already been the breaking up of a romantic subplot and a key character death. The one downfall of the book besides the wasted time at the beginning is the lack of good characters. Granted, they are imperfect; even the immortal is imperfect. This is a step in the right direction, but Mark should have used some of that wasted time to develop personalities. Perhaps it is a skill he will develop down the road.

It's good to know that authors like Mark Andrew Olsen are on the market, the type of authors that aren't afraid to try something original. That's always a plus in our book.

4 stars

Rolling Thunder by Mark Mynheir

John Russell is a homicide detective currently working on a case that involves a young boy who has been missing from the state foster system for six years. The case has become so hot, the Governor has gotten involved. Now it's down to him and his partners to track down the culprit. They have a list of suspects, but strange circumstances are not making it easy. This is all compounded by a man from John's past showing up in his family's driveway. He was a man John never wanted to see again-and thought he would never see again. This man opens up old scars and old wounds and drives a wedge between John and his family and God. He buries himself in the case because it's the only thing he can control at the moment. He hangs all his hopes on the case and becomes obsessed with justice-so obsessed that he begins to make crucial mistakes.

As the first book in the Truth Chasers series, a lot of things are decided in this book. Rolling Thunder introduces the characters and lets the reader know how well they will be developed. John is an imperfect lead in a position where a perfect male lead could be placed. He makes plenty of mistakes, enough to be realistic and convincing. Unfortunately, John is the only good character, but this can be blamed on the fact that this is a debut novel.

Mark shows off his expertise in the field of homicide investigating by crafting a realistic, believable case, complete with dead ends, false clues, rabbit trails, and incorrect suspects. The case is not straightforward like many amateur authors would make it. Mark knows the inner workings of cases, and he makes sure the reader knows that. Because of this realism, Mark introduces originality into the plot that other authors would not create. There are at least five small original aspects of the case, and this is a huge favor in Mark's direction.

The problems begin to surface when the last chapters roll around. Mark chooses to fix two major problems instead of just letting them alone. However, the end of the case is highly original and realistic, saving the book from a lower rating. But the end takes away John's flawed personality and paints him as a saint with a last ditch effort. It also destroys the basis for the original title in a short sentence that can easily be missed.

It is clear that Mark has some work to do, but one can hardly go wrong with the original potential Mark has.

4 stars

All Through the Night by T Davis Bunn

Wayne Grusza is a man running from a troubled past who decides to settle down in a senior community in order to be an investigative accountant. The seniors there then sweet-talk him into breaching the high security estate of a con artist in order to recover stolen goods. Wayne has no problem with the job, except for the fact that a female lawyer, also with a troubled past, is intrigued with Wayne and follows his every move. He feels himself developing an attraction to her, which is something he cannot afford. On top of this, an angel has appeared to another one of Wayne's clients, warning them of something to come. It will take more than Wayne's analytical brain to figure that one out.

The summary above can describe any and every T Davis Bunn book on the market. Anyone can invent this type of plot; it takes no skill. However, writing this type of plot with originality does take an amount of skill. And believe it or not, T has written a semi-original book. I never knew it to be possible, but he has, and that alone is something to celebrate.

This is a shocker-several of the characters have personalities! Though Wayne lacks a personality, he is an imperfect character! His troubled past is his fault! It's hard to believe that this type of simple originality is coming from an author who has written such cheap suspense in the past.

Surprisingly, All Through the Night is not suspense at all. T does not even force the book to be suspense. It is a normal plot about everyday life and people. However, this book does not come without its flaws. The characters move from one task to another like a fantasy quest, fixing them as they go along. Breaching the high security estate does not fill up the entire book; only about the first fifty pages. From there, Wayne flits around from task to task. While this is realistic, it is not realistic to have every problem fixed in the end. This is the main flaw of the book.

But there are other quirks like the unexplained disappearance of a potentially interesting character and the working out of the inevitable romantic subplot. But with this book, T Davis Bunn has shown that there is hope for even the most unlikely of authors.

So congratulations, Mr. Bunn, on your first Elite book.

4 stars

Thirsty by Tracey Bateman

Nina Parker is a recovering alcoholic who is returning to her hometown in Missouri from rehab to reconcile with her ex-husband and daughter. Her family is very inviting, but a gap remains between Nina and her ex, Hunt. Hunt is tired of dealing with her antics, even though Nina has been sober for quite some time. Nina wrestles with her past as she wrestles to quench her undying thirst. On top of this, an unknown evil has been residing in town for quite some time. No one knows about the evil except one person, Markus, and he has been unsuccessfully trying to warn Nina about it. He can't get through to her, so he begins to take matters into his own hands. But when bodies start to surface, the game rules change.

The best part about Thirsty is the imperfect, realistic characters. Nina and Hunt both have personalities and flaws. Flashbacks serve as hints to what Nina and Hunt have gone through, and these help develop their personalities. While the other characters lack personality, most of them are imperfect and serve as substantial characters throughout the plot. However, Tracey is very good at her character interaction.

Nina is not a victim of circumstance, but a victim of her own wrong choices. She has driven her family apart with her drinking, and now she wants to put it back together. Normally, I would say that a plot idea this good wouldn't need a subplot about vampires, but believe it or not, the vampire bit helps the rating. Tracey has her own ideas about vampires, and they are better than the stereotypical myths. Tracey made sure not to make this subplot cheesy or sensational, but as normal as it could be under the circumstances.

The central theme of the book is inner thirst and desire. This is demonstrated well in the title and in the plot. Nina thirsts for alcohol, and Markus thirsts for something else. This central idea brings up the rating as well.

There is a villain, but she is not mindless or sensational. She has a point and a purpose throughout the plot that she wants to achieve, and she actually believes in what she wants. These kinds of villains are step above your typical serial killer villain.

The only thing bringing down to rating is the typical end in which Tracey proceeded to fix most of the problems. Nina's situation ends up perfectly. This is a disappointment because her subplot had so much potential. The vampire subplot ends better, believe it or not, because of a key character death. This book could have made the Elite List without Tracey meddling with perfection.

All in all, there is hope for Tracey Bateman down the road as long as she keeps up her good character development and character-based plots.

3 stars

The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen

Abby Sherman has just had the strangest dream. No, more like a vision. In the vision, she became another person and was able to hold the Son of God. Now she has shared the news with the world by posting her entire vision on her MyCorner blog. Not long after this, she is put in the hospital by an unknown assailant that killed a close friend of hers. When she tells one of the nurses about her vision, she is about to admit her into the mental institution, until another nurse levels with her and tells her that she had the very same experience one day. This is compounded by an overwhelming response to her blog. Thousands of emails come in from women saying they all had the same experience. Another vision leads Abby to the jungles of Africa, where she crosses paths with Dylan, a man who was hired to kill her. The more Abby learns about her strange visions, the higher the stakes get and the more dangerous the chase gets.

As usual, Mark Andrew Olsen has written a professional plot based on a creative idea that is backed up by Scripture. The idea is well researched and well thought out as opposed to the cheap, slapped-together fiction we often see on the market. Mark is definitely a step above most authors because he means business. However, there are problems with The Watchers.

As usual, Mark is lacking in the character department. The main characters neither have personalities, nor do they make any mistakes. They are typical plot devices used to fill typical places in this plot. If Mark wants a five star book, he needs to work on his characters.

Another problem with the book is Mark's frequent use of sensationalism. The gifts and the visions cause him to be liberal with cheesy imagery and sensationalism. I see this very often in books like these. Authors feel the need to appeal to the public with sights of angels, healings, near-death experiences, and the like. Mark could have avoided this common mistake easily.

And lastly, generally everything works out in the end. Where there was potential to land this book onto the Elite List, Mark ruined it by meddling with the character's realistic situations. Mark would have done better to leave well enough alone. This would have put the book onto the Elite List instead of making it fall in line with other mediocre books on the market.

All in all, there is hope for Mark Andrew Olsen if he continues the normal track of an author and fixes his problems in order to become a better author.

3 stars

The Stain by Harry Kraus

Dr. Seth Berringer has just gotten himself into a bigger mess than he ever intended to get into. While returning home drunk one night, he stumbles across the body of a teenage girl, which, in his drunken state, proceeds to run over with his van. The authorities later reveal that the accident was a hit and run, and Seth remembers what he did that night. But telling his secret would potentially jeopardize his reputation in the town and his growing relationship with a beautiful woman. But little does he know that he has gotten himself caught up in a scheme to clone the blood of Jesus of the Shroud of Turin. The more he finds out, the higher and more dangerous the stakes become.

I usually frown upon plots involving the supposed Shroud of Turin because it is unlikely that God allows such things as Jesus' DNA to still exist on the earth. Besides that, the Shroud of Turin subplot does not hold much bearing on the core plot. In the end, it becomes very unnecessary.

Seth's "accident" at the beginning of the book serves to create early imperfection in him. However, he is the only imperfect character besides the villain. All of the other characters are just entities and plot devices. This book was obviously written before Harry knew how to develop good characters. There are also a handful of unnecessary characters that bring along worthless subplots that only serve to make the book longer but bring nothing worthwhile to it.

Seth's imperfection is the only original aspect of this book. All of the other aspects are typical and copycatish. Things work out for the good guys; things don't for the bad guys. An unnecessary romantic subplot also leads to a last-chapter conversion to make it work. And all of this happens without the unnecessary nature of the Shroud of Turin subplot.

So as you can see, when the unnecessary parts are removed from this book, there isn't much left, showing signs that this was a book written early on in Harry's writing career. We can all be glad about how far he has come by reading The Stain. But other than that, this book is a waste of time.

2.5 stars

The Night Watchman by Mark Mynheir

Ray Quinn used to be a tough Orlando homicide detective at the top of his game-until a freak barrage of bullets ended his career and his partner's life. Now he's retired with a painful handicap, battling the guilt of his partner's death. He numbs the pain however he can-whether alcohol or anger-while holding down a night job as a night watchman in an Orlando condo community. But when a pastor and an exotic dancer are found dead in one of the condos in an apparent murder-suicide, he feels the need to step out and do his duty for mankind by defending the "innocent" when the pastor's sister begs him to take on the case because her brother would have never done anything like that ever. He's a man of God after all. So Ray takes on an impossible, dead end case at the cost of his life to unravel a murder investigation so deep that it spans the Orlando political landscape and beyond. And someone wants to kill him before he finds out the truth.

What a disaster. What a mess. Where do I start? How do I write a short enough review about such a preposterous novel?

I've seen this time of novel time and again pop up everywhere throughout the suspense market, and they are all the same. The Night Watchman is just another carbon copy of the same old, worn out, ridiculous "suspense" tale. I mean, it would take more than two hands to count up the number of books that have used this very same plot pattern.

Let's start with the positive thing. Ray is an imperfect character. He has a personality and therefore has flaws. He is not a perfect male lead. However, none of the other characters are any good, including the perfect pastor victim and his sister, who forms the other end of the inevitable romantic subplot.

The impossible case Ray takes on is topped off with a ransacked apartment and nighttime beatings by men in black masks telling him to stop meddling (and a number of other Literary Trash lines). It also includes a corrupt politician and a convenient connection linking Ray's accident with the crime commited at the condo. And of course, the pastor was only at the condo because he wanted to help someone. This is all topped off with a showdown, with more Literary Trash lines.

Where did Mark Mynheir get the idea to write this? In his bio on the back of the book, it says he is an experienced homicide investigator among a number of other jobs he has had in the past. It also says he is known for his realistic fiction because is experienced in the field. The Night Watchmen is not, by any stretch of the imagination, realistic. There is nothing realistic about it except for Ray's character. This kind of stuff is shameful to the Christian market because it's no different than something someone would find in the mainstream market.

I can only hope that Mark will never write anything like this again.

1.5 stars

Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky

While driving in the rain one evening, Paul and Maddie veer off the road in order to not hit a deer that was standing in it, thus landing Maddie in the hospital with serious injuries. During the hospital stay, Paul thinks back to how he met his wife and how they fell in love. About how they felt when Maddie was suddenly going blind and how they were both afraid to profess their love to each other. Paul comforts himself with these memories and with prayer to the only One Who can heal his wife, but it ultimately comes down to Paul letting go and letting God do His own work.

Simple plot, original end. While the first half of the book seems typical except for good character development, the last few chapters make the whole book worth reading. It utilizes good characters instead of wasting them with a useless, typical end. And the best part about it is that Marlo pleased the public with this original end. She got away with it. It takes a good author to pull that off.

As I said, Marlo does a very good job of subtly developing her characters instead of forcing their personalities into your face. The character inaction and the purposes of each character are true to their personalities, showing signs of a good author. Granted, there are a few unnecessary, typical characters, but this does not detract from the rating because one hardly notices them.

Throughout the plot, it looked like Marlo was going to ruin this good book with a typical, sensational end. But instead, she surprised me by inserting the realistic end into this situation. She is not afraid to do such a thing, which means she has deep-seeded originality. The original end is topped off with another surprise that helps the reader understand one of the character's purposes more clearly.

The only advice I have for Marlo is to eliminate unnecessary characters or give them personalities. Other than that, keep up the originality! The market needs it.

5 stars