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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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BoneMan's Daughters by Ted Dekker

Ryan Evans has just recently returned from a Navy Intelligence tour in Iraq. He has brought with him an overhaul of emotional baggage that he is trying to deal with. But when he returns to his wife and teenage daughter, who he has not seen in months, he finds that they do not love him any more. They have found love from another man-the district attorney. Ryan loses his temper with the DA and is given a restraining order. But then his daughter, Bethany, is kidnapped, and the DA pins the blame on him. With Ryan's world falling apart, he begins to do drastic things in order to save the one person he loves.

Ricki Valentine is an FBI agent working on the baffling BoneMan case-the case of a serial killer who kidnaps teenage girls and breaks all their bones. The alleged culprit has been captured, but inconclusive evidence releases him. But with a new person to pin the blame on, the original culprit is forgotten. But things do not add up about Ryan Evans. There is something about him that makes Ricki want to believe his story. But time is running out and the killer is still killing.

The one saving grace of this typical-sounding serial killer book is the unusually high amount of imperfect characters and general imperfection. The case is straightforward and predictable, but the imperfection makes this book an interesting read. Also, realistic circumstances and surroundings add to this book's assets.

Ted Dekker has yet to grasp the idea of giving characters personalities, but he can pull off imperfect characters better than most authors. Most authors don't even try. Frankly, the characters are as real as they can be without personalities. Ryan is not a victim of circumstance. He makes and has made many wrong choices that led to unwanted outcomes. There aren't any perfect mentor characters. BoneMan is a bit overdone, but he is almost comical because of this. Ted Dekker can definitely get away with his lack of personalities with characters this imperfect.

All serial killers have to have a reason for their killing, and BoneMan's reason is interesting enough. Sometimes I think that authors enjoy too much creating over-the-top villains in order to sell sensational fiction. Anyone can make a BoneMan, but not everyone can make a Ryan Evans. There are two extremes to leads: so imperfect they're idiotically clumsy, and so perfect they're Jesus reincarnated. Ryan is the balance of these two extremes. Authors have a lot of trouble creating leads. They call a troubled past imperfection and make no effort to make their lead sin. Ryan Evans anchors this book to the Elite List. Without him, this book would be nothing.

The typical showdown at the end and the overemphasis of BoneMan keep this book from being its fullest. I would say Ted needs to quit these serial killer novels, but doing so could eliminate great leads like Ryan Evans.

4 stars

Kenzie's Story by Melody Carlson

Kenzie, Ryun, and Sierra were not out to preform any illegal or unethical acts. They were just three friends in a moving vehicle. Having a heated argument about potential secret romances going on between the three of them. Everything changed when Sierra did the unthinkable and landed the three of them in the hospital. Ryun and Kenzie got off easy, but Sierra suffered a seemingly eternal coma. But no one knew but Ryun and Kenzie what had happened in the car. They let the authorities believe what they wanted them to believe. Little did they know that this game could not last forever. Their betrayal would surface and the truth would come out-easily or painfully, depending on their choices.

I like the idea behind the Degrees of Betrayal series as I liked the idea behind the Degrees of Guilt series. But a series is only as good as its weakest book, and that weakest book is usually created by an author out of their element. Melody Carlson's writing style is not in the genre she tried to put herself into with this particular book.

The characters are straightforward and lifeless. I believe I've used the term cardboard cutouts before. This is true with this pathetic cast of characters. There are no distinctive qualities about any of the characters. I don't know what any of these people would do in a certain situation. Melody has done much better than this in the past, especially in this department.

The plot is straightforward and shallow. It's like reading a police report on what happened. It skips through time at a breakneck speed. In every other chapter, the next holiday is being celebrated. Things happened at expected times. There is no break in the time warping and no unexpected elements to surprise the reader. One would be hard-pressed to find a more amateurish writing style on the market.

The foundational idea behind the book is good because it shows the effects of wrong choices and sets up imperfect characters. But the idea is not packaged correctly. Perhaps the other two authors have done a better job with this great idea than Melody has. She needs to stick to more complex and abnormal plots.

1.5 stars

The Road Home by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen

Ruth is a cocktail waitress on a strip in Las Vegas. Her husband and his brother have just recently died of separate causes. Their mother, Naomi, also a widow, has nothing to her name but a beat up Impala and thousands of dollars of debt. She decided to embark on a trip across America back to her roots in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and reinstate herself as an Old Order Mennonite. Ruth begs to go with her and Naomi allows her to. Together, in a car that might not last another day, they travel across the country on the road home to where they need to be.

Everyone who is a true Christian knows the story of Ruth. Tommy and Mark do not abandon the story at all, but predictably follow the storyline with a few additives. Save for some minor character development, there is nothing new or exciting about this retelling besides the extended road trip.

As I said, the characters are okay. Naomi's personality is the same as the real Naomi's personality in the Bible. Ruth lacks personality, and Boaz's has been changed. Otherwise, there are few characters but even fewer personalities. Fewer characters should mean better personalities, but obviously neither of these authors knows how to such properly.

People enjoy the story of Ruth because it is an ideal romance. Tragedy at the beginning, conflict in the middle, and a seemingly perfect male lead to save the day and become a replacement romance. There is really no point in retelling a story everyone should already know. One learns nothing from this. If an author will put their own spin on the story, this is another situation entirely. I do not mean modernize it like many have or expand upon an obscure part of the story like the authors did in this novel. I mean altering the story in a part where a major choice is made to see what an alternate outcome could have been. The argument for this is changing what the Bible says. This does not affect the Biblical account at all. This shows the reader why God did not allow certain things to happen and why He still does this.

The authors spent so much time on the long road trip, that other aspects of the story are thrown together. The end of the book, especially the meeting of Boaz, is obviously thrown together and rushed. Also, the parallels between the Bible and fiction are very obvious, not even bothering to change any of the names of people or cities. On one hand this is interesting because they took the time to find modern parallels.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this book, and it may be better than you might think, I just want the authors to be more creative.

2.5 stars

Bad Connection by Melody Carlson

Samantha McGregor has an uncanny ability to see the future. But not just any future-only the futures God allows her to see in visions. The only person she ever told about this ability was her father-but he was killed in the line of duty. The visions stopped after that, but now they are back. God is telling her of an acquaintance of hers who has been disappeared. Kayla is not a friend of hers, since she was a incessant partier-but there is something wrong. Samantha teams up with one of her father's coworkers to see whether her visions are real or not. Together, they must get to the bottom of Kayla's disappearance before it's too late.

When compared to this book's counterparts in the young adult market, this book is a very good. But when compared to other books, this book is just all right. Melody Carlson steps away from young adult fiction cliches like bad characters in order to make this book interesting. Sam's gift of visions is intriguing enough, but when these two aspects are stripped away, the plot is very stock and typical.

Samantha and her mother are the best characters because they actually have personalities. The other characters are imperfect. There isn't a single perfect mentor character in the entire book. This is a huge plus coming from young adult fiction. There is one character that has the potential to be perfect later in the series, however.

Overly emphasized romances are a non-issue. They are very background and unimportant, another huge plus for any book. Again, there is the potential for one down the road. This is the problem with series': they tend to diminish in quality down the stretch.

The kidnapping plot is realistic enough. There is one death involved, but it comes from an expendable character. The biggest asset to the case is the lack of a showdown with the villain. The villain is only seen is Sam's visions, but never a true confrontation. I was truly surprised at this fact. There are also realistic situations going on in Sam's personal life that are not resolved at the end of this book, but are sure to be resolved eventually.

So what keeps this book from being Elite? It's too short and shallow. The case is not complex enough because Melody was probably told that this book could not be very long since it's been labeled "young adult." I would have liked it better if all the ideas Melody has for this series had been condensed in one longer book, because Sam's visions are sure to become a bore by the time this series is over.

All in all, Melody is a basically good author. She just gets bogged down in long young adult series.

3 stars

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let Darkness Come by Angela Hunt

Briley is an inexperienced defense lawyer who has been assigned the impossible case-Erin Tomassi has been charged with injecting her husband, a prominent political figure, with a lethal overdose of insulin one night while he was asleep. Erin says she was in a deep sleep all night and did not do it. Briley does not even believe Erin herself, but the more she researches about the case, the more things don't add up. Something is clearly wrong with the case, but the Tomassi family wants Erin charged with first degree murder. They have the connections and the power to do whatever they want. Briley soon finds out that she is very inexperienced in their area of defending. The fact that she has been given no help from her partners makes her think that the whole case is rigged against her. In order to find the answers, Briley must face not only Erin's past, but her own.

And let the light come. Angela Hunt can truly say in good faith that her motto is "expect the unexpected." Only she can take a plot like the one above and turn it into something groundbreaking and original. She did not peak out with The Face. She has only just begun. I had my doubts about this book. I really did. I didn't think she could do it. But if anyone can, it is the Queen of Diversity.

As usual, the characters are superb. Briley is an imperfect character with a personality. Her boyfriend is not perfect. The judge presiding the case does not show favoritism to either side. The prosecutor is not a criminal or even evil. The villain, if you can call him that, is realistic. What Angela Hunt has done is take every legal cliche in the book and rip them apart. This book makes nonsensical legal fiction like The Great Divide look even worse than it originally did.

Let Darkness Come is long and detailed, but the fact that Angela Hunt worked hard on this book shows. One cannot tell that she has never written legal before. It is highly professional. However, this book would not be five stars had it not been for several highly original properties at the end. No one comes up with the ideas Angela Hunt invents. They are groundbreaking. This idea is as groundbreaking as animals seeing angels (Unspoken) and a modern day parable about hell (Uncharted). Angela Hunt has blazed new territory for legal authors. To most, this end is one of the most bizarre and off-the-wall ends ever written. I love it.

On top of this, not everything is fixed in the end. Multiple things are left hanging indefinitely. Angela even came up with a plausible explanation for a character coming back to life! I love it! Leave it to Angela Hunt to invent new ways to package worn out concepts. This is what every author on the market should be doing. Angela Hunt does this with every single one of her books. She is underrated and under appreciated as she is thrown into a box called "female author." She is not an ordinary female author or an ordinary author by far. All of her books have original foundational concepts, good characters, imperfect ends-the whole package. I wish I could come up with the things Angela Hunt comes up with. This is why she has the most Elite books of any author we have reviewed.

Angela has reached a new high in her career that I expect to resound into her next release, The Grandma Gene.

5 stars

The Blessed by Lisa Tawn Bergren

After losing the Gifted from his evil grip, Abramo Amidei has decided to change his strategy. He has now joined the Catholic church and is confessing his sins in an attempt to lure the Gifted back to him. Vincenzo readily goes along with this plan, since he has long rejected Christ. Daria, on the other hand, leads the Gifted to an old friend of hers who she believes can and will protect them from any further harm. But she is continually thinking about the budding love between her and Gianni. Gianni is reluctant to display any more affection because of the position they are in, but soon he will have no choice but to protect the woman he loves from the greatest harm yet.

I knew Lisa wouldn't be able to end this dismal series correctly. More healings from Daria, more sorcery from Abramo, the inevitable marriage of Daria and Gianni, Daria's miraculous pregnancy, and the like make for a very boring and predictable read. This is obviously as good as Lisa Tawn Bergren is going to get.

These characters never budded like I hoped they would. At least Gianni makes one incidental mistake. Daria has fused into a perfect character like Father Piero already was, and the other Gifted always seem like cardboard cutouts to me. There is one interesting character introduced, and Vincenzo has a more interesting end than I expected him to. These are the best aspects of the character department.

There are two character deaths; one of them was unexpected, the other was predictable. But they are original properties nonetheless. Unfortunately, beyond these deaths and the two good aspects from the character department, there is nothing good about this book. I already listed several of the unoriginal aspects above. Lisa attempted to invent a reason why Piero was healed at the end of the previous book when he was prophesied to die, but it did not turn out to be anything special. Anybody could have filled the position he filled. There are also too many healings by Daria that work. Every other chapter contains a new healing. Lisa never wrote any more healings that failed as she did in the first book. In this way, she ruined Daria's gift.

All in all, this book was better than I expected it to be, but it did not live up to its full potential. All Lisa is proven with this series is that she can use the same old plot patterns and add flashy elements that make the public happy. She did use the gift of healing the correct way in some instances. She also did her fair share of research. But this is her last chance. Lisa does not need to write any more books unless she is going to learn how to develop characters and give up the same old plot patterns.

3 stars

Hall of Five Stars

Glimpses of Paradise by James Scott Bell (Book of 2005)
Decieved by James Scott Bell (Book of 2009)

One Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury (Book of 2003)
Ever After by Karen Kingsbury (Book of 2008)

Dominion by Randy Alcorn (Book of 2006)
Deception by Randy Alcorn (Book of 2007)

Jimmy by Robert Whitlow (Book of 2005)

Riven by Jerry B Jenkins (Book of 2007)

By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer (Book of 2008)
The Justice Game by Randy Singer (Book of 2009)
Fatal Convictions by Randy Singer (Book of 2010)

The Face by Angela Hunt (Book of 2008)
Let Darkness Come by Angela Hunt (Book of 2009)

The Chairman by Harry Kraus (Book of 1999)
For the Rest of My Life by Harry Kraus (Book of 2003)
Perfect by Harry Kraus (Book of 2008)
Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus (Book of 2009)

Out of Time by Alton Gansky (Book of 2003)

The Second Thief by Travis Thrasher (Book of 2006)

Relentless by Robin Parrish (Book of 2006)
Fearless by Robin Parrish (Book of 2007)
Merciless by Robin Parrish (Book of 2008)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Thr3e by Ted Dekker (Book of 2003)
Black by Ted Dekker (Book of 2004)
Skin by Ted Dekker (Book of 2007)

Chop Shop by Tim Downs (Book of 2004)
Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs (Book of 2010)

Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson (Book of 2004)
Straight Up by Lisa Samson (Book of 2006)
Embrace Me by Lisa Samson (Book of 2008)

The Firstborn by Conlan Brown (Book of 2009)

Daisy Chain by Mary E DeMuth (Book of 2009)

Sadie's Song by Linda Hall (Book of 2001)

Home Another Way by Christa Parrish (Book of 2008)

Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky (Book of 2008)

Burn by Ted Dekker and Erin Healey (Book of 2010)

In All Deep Places by Susan Meissner (Book of 2006)

Rescued by John Bevere and Mark Andrew Olsen (Book of 2006)

Listen by Rene Gutteridge (Book of 2010)

The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello (Book of 2010)

Things Left Unspoken by Eva Marie Everson (Book of 2009)

The Color of the Soul by Tracey Bateman (Book of 2005)

A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick (Book of 2009)

Healing Stones by Stephen Arterburn and Nancy Rue (Book of 2007)

Red, White, and Blue by Laura Hayden (Book of 2009)

The Mark by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins (Book of 1998)
Armageddon by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins (Book of 2001)

Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes (Book of 2010)

Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (Book of 2007)

Faith of My Fathers by Lynn Austin (Book of 2006)

Drift by Sharon Carter Rodgers (Book of 2010)

All Time Book Awards

None of these lists are in ranking order, unless otherwise indicated.

Elite List:

(books we have rated 4 stars and above)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

The Iron Sceptre by John White

A Season of Shadows by Paul McCusker

The Mill House by Paul McCusker

Epiphany by Paul McCusker

Arin's Judgement by Paul McCusker

The Hand That Bears the Sword by George Brian Polivka

Decieved by James Scott Bell

Glimpses of Paradise by James Scott Bell

Deadlocked by James Scott Bell

The Whole Truth by James Scott Bell

No Legal Grounds by Jams Scott Bell

Try Fear by James Scott Bell

Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer

Fuse of Armageddon by Sigmund Brouwer

The Leper by Sigmund Brouwer

Tyrone's Story by Sigmund Brouwer

The Disappearing Jewel of Madagascar by Sigmund Brouwer

Creature of the Mists by Sigmund Brouwer

The Second Thief by Travis Thrasher

Sky Blue by Travis Thrasher

Out of the Devil's Mouth by Travis Thrasher

City of Dreams by Stephen and Ross Lawhead

Dominion by Randy Alcorn

Deception by Randy Alcorn

Edge of Eternity by Randy Alcorn

Armando's Treasure by Melody Carlson

Let My People Go by Jefferson Scott

Operation Firebrand by Jefferson Scott

Fatal Defect by Jefferson Scott

The Resurrection File by Craig Parshall

The Second Time Around by Nancy Moser

Solemnly Swear by Nancy Moser

Growing Up on the Edge of the World by Phil Callaway

Nobody by Creston Mapes

Oxygen by Randy Ingermanson

The Fifth Man by Randy Ingermanson

The Root of All Evil by Brandt Dodson

Original Sin by Brandt Dodson

False Witness by Randy Singer

By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer

Self-Incrimination by Randy Singer

Dying Declaration by Randy Singer

The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney by Randy Singer

The Justice Game by Randy Singer

Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins

The Rookie by Jerry B. Jenkins

Out of Time by Alton Gansky

Dark Moon by Alton Gansky

A Ship Possesed by Alton Gansky

The Awakening by Angela Hunt

The Elevator by Angela Hunt

The Face by Angela Hunt

The Immortal by Angela Hunt

Uncharted by Angela Hunt

Brothers by Angela Hunt

Unspoken by Angela Hunt

The Justice by Angela Hunt

The Debt by Angela Hunt

Let Darkness Come by Angela Hunt

Even Now by Karen Kingsbury

Ever After by Karen Kingsbury

One Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury

Beyond Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury

This Side of Heaven by Karen Kingsbury

Oceans Apart by Karen Kingsbury

Shades of Blue by Karen Kingsbury

Widows and Orphans by Susan Meissner

Days and Hours by Susan Meissner

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

Whom Shall I Fear? by Athol Dickson

Winter Haven by Athol Dickson

They Shall See God by Athol Dickson

Tribulation House by Chris Well

An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers

As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers

Leota's Garden by Francine Rivers

The End of Act Three by Gilbert Morris

Firestorm by Jeanette Windle

Veiled Freedom by Jeanette Windle

Blood Brothers by Rick Acker

Turn Four by Tom Morrisy

Deep Blue by Tom Morrisy

Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann

Unforgotten by Kristen Heitzmann

Deeper Water by Robert Whitlow

Life Support by Robert Whitlow

Higher Hope by Robert Whitlow

Jimmy by Robert Whitlow

The Edge of Darkness by Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips

Beneath a Southern Sky by Deborah Raney

Kyra's Story by Dandi Daley Mackall

Island of Refuge by Linda Hall

Kathyn's Secret by Linda Hall

Dark Water by Linda Hall

Sadie's Song by Linda Hall

The End is Now by Rob Stennet

Perfect by Harry Kraus

Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus

Could I Have This Dance? by Harry Kraus

For the Rest of My Life by Harry Kraus

Dogwood by Chris Fabry

Quinlin's Estate by David Ryan Long

Face to Face by Linda Dorrell

Eli by Bill Myers

Skid by Rene Gutteridge

Snitch by Rene Gutteridge

Ghost Writer by Rene Gutteridge

Troubled Waters by Rene Gutteridge

Listen by Rene Gutteridge

Relentless by Robin Parrish

Fearless by Robin Parrish

Merciless by Robin Parrish

Offworld by Robin Parrish

Black by Ted Dekker

Red by Ted Dekker

Thr3e by Ted Dekker

Showdown by Ted Dekker

Saint by Ted Dekker

Sinner by Ted Dekker

Skin by Ted Dekker

Lunatic by Ted Dekker

Adam by Ted Dekker

Burn by Ted Dekker and Erin Healey

Boneman's Daughters by Ted Dekker

Exposure by Brandilyn Collins

The Rook by Steven James

The Knight by Steven James

The Unseen by T L Hines

Waking Lazarus by T L Hines

Chop Shop by Tim Downs

Less Than Dead by Tim Downs

North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

Leaper by Geoffrey Wood

The Living End by Lisa Samson

Club Sandwich by Lisa Samson

Embrace Me by Lisa Samson

Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson

The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson

Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson

Songbird by Lisa Samson

Straight Up by Lisa Samson

The Firstborn by Conlan Brown

Daisy Chain by Mary E DeMuth

A Slow Burn by Mary E DeMuth

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klaven

Home Another Way by Christa Parrish

Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

DragonSpell by Donita K Paul

DragonKight by Donita K Paul

DragonFire by Donita K Paul

The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K Paul

The Candlestone by Bryan Davis

Tears of a Dragon by Bryan Davis

The Assignment by Mark Andrew Olsen

Ulterior Motives by Mark Andrew Olsen

Rescued by John Bevere and Mark Andrew Olsen

Rolling Thunder by Mark Mynheir

The Void by Mark Mynheir

All Through the Night by T Davis Bunn

My Soul to Keep by Melanie Wells

When the Day of Evil Comes by Melanie Wells

Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky

The Other Side of Darkness by Melody Carlson

Crystal Lies by Melody Carlson

The Sacred Cipher by Terry Brennan

Expiration Date by Eric Wilson

The Best of Evil by Eric Wilson

Abduction by Wanda L Dyson

While this list looks long, it's only a small percentage of the books on the Christian market. Notice the authors that made it on the Elite List and those that did not. Also notice the numbers of books from certain authors.

However, you might just say that this is one reviewer's opinion. But look at the consistency of the list and ask yourself "do I really want to read the same plot over and over again or do I want something original?"

A Good Start List:

(the best debut novels we've ever reviewed)

Relentless by Robin Parrish (5 stars)

The Firstborn by Conlan Brown (5 stars)

Dogwood by Chris Fabry (4.5 stars)

Growing Up on the Edge of the World by Phil Callaway (4.5 stars)

Leaper by Geoffrey Wood (4.5 stars)

Original Sin by Brandt Dodson (4 stars)

Waking Lazarus by T L Hines (4 stars)

The Shack by William P. Young (3.5 stars)

Arena by Karen Hancock (3.5 stars)

Monday Night Jihad by Jason Elam (3.5 stars)

Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth Nelson (3.5 stars)

Ezekiel's Shadow by David Ryan Long (3.5 stars)

Vanish by Tom Pawlik (3.5 stars)

Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs (3.5 stars)

The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennet (3.5 stars)

The Legend of the Firefish by George Brain Polivka (3 stars)

Through the Fire by Shawn Grady (3 stars)

The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers (3 stars)

Illuminated by Matt Bronleewe (3 stars)

The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson (3 stars)

The Pawn by Steven James (3 stars)

Eye of the God by Ariel Allison (3 stars)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Swiss Courier by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey

The year is 1944, and Gabi is a Swiss pastor's daughter working for the new American intelligence agency, which was the forerunner of the CIA. She is courier to a Swiss scientist and takes his secret documents to safety before the Gestapo can get their hands on what he has to offer to the world. She does not even know this man, and all she can think about is the man she truly loves, but even he is hiding something from her. The times are rough and relationships are fragile. Who can Gabi trust to keep the secrets safe?

One would be hard-pressed to find a more straightforward, average, and typical book like The Swiss Courier. Lacking good characters, good dialogue, an original setting, or an original end, this book was a struggle for me to finish. This book is steeped in worn out fiction elements such as typical villains, romantic subplots, and "suspenseful" situations that the heroes always wriggle out of. The entire book made me want to gag when I realized there were still authors who actually wrote nonsense like this. I thought we had abandoned any World War II plots long ago.

Historical plots are still suffering for good characters. The characters are all cut out of a mold. None of them seem realistic to me at all. The characters are also all predictable. They do everything the reader expects them to do. The heroes make no mistakes; the villains do. There is no realistic median between heroes and villains. Characters need to be more ambiguous and not so clear cut and straightforward. Authors need to surprise us by making the characters do something unexpected, that still fits with the personality they should have.

When will authors cease using the same suspense plot over and over again? The heroes are introduced, the the villains are introduced, a conflict arises in the heroes' lives, a potential romantic subplot is introduced, the heroes begin their mission, mysterious characters are introduced, love is found between the male and female lead with some sort of love scene, more conflict arises, mysterious characters are unveiled, lovers are separated, one of the leads is captured and held hostage, false death(s) occur, a showdown between the hero(es) and villain(s) transpires, the good guys win and are rescued, the lovers reunite and are engaged or married, other incidentals are fixed in an epilogue, end of story. I'm sick of it. This is not the way fiction is to be. Authors need to branch out and use their creativity to endless horizons of plots. But that could be the problem.

Probably the best thing about this book is the research behind it. At least the authors made this much of an effort. But otherwise, there is nothing good about it.

1 star

The Sacred Cipher by Terry Brennan

Tom Brohannan has accidentally and unknowingly become a part of one of the most world-changing treasure expeditions in the history of the world. A scroll has been found that is written in the ancient and lost language of Demotic. The language is very difficult to read because of each word's many definitions. But he and his colleagues work painstakingly at decoding the scroll and eventually do. What they find on the scroll they do not even believe at first. The scroll reveals the location of one of the hottest artifacts in the history of the world. But someone does not want them to find it. Someone is willing to kill to stop them from finding the artifact. Danger mounts as they travel to the Middle East to discover what they are looking for.

A treasure hunt book should not be as good as The Sacred Cipher is. It should not be this realistic. While the treasure is inevitably found, there are explosive consequences to its discovery. The discovery of this artifact truly would change the world. Unfortunately, Terry Brennan made some rookie mistakes that cost him a debut five star novel.

His biggest mistake is the lack of good characters. This is the only thing keeping this book from being five stars. The characters are boring and almost lifeless; therefore being the only unrealistic aspect of this book. Terry needs to develop his characters better next time if he expects a five star out of us.

Research and planning are the key to this book's success. The facts Terry discovered are thought-provoking, therefore making this story very possible. Something like this could happen any day now. On the surface, this book looks like a typical debut novel, but once the reader gets to the end of this exceptional novel, one realizes that this is no ordinary treasure hunt. There are no successful romantic subplots, which is becoming more and more of a theme with new books. The villains play little to no part in the outcome of the plot. There is no showdown and virtually no contact between the protagonists and the antagonists. This is also good because not every situation in life involves someone wanting to destroy you.

If this artifact was found, things would end up the way this book ended up. No attempt is made to fix the highly original end. I hope Terry plans not to write a sequel, because a sequel would ruin the good end he has going here. A sequel would most likely be a step down in quality. Terry needs to move on and find a different obscure historical story to write about.

The Sacred Cipher

is a strong debut that could resound a promising career. I was disappointed about Terry's character development, but I believe he will fix this one problem down the road.

4.5 stars

Friday, February 12, 2010

Straight Up by Lisa Samson

Georgia and Fairly are cousins both living different lives but neither of them is where God wants them to be. Georgia is a frequent drunk who pines after her husband who lives in a monastery. Fairly is a New York businesswoman lacking a sense of purpose in her life. Both of them meet up at their uncle's house and things begin to change for them. Their lives crisscross with a girl named Clarissa, who is living in a bad situation and it all comes to a head one night when they must give everything they have to God.

I wish I could write more in my summary, but anything else is intangible or insignificant, like most Lisa Samson books. Also, like most Lisa Samson books, the title makes no sense, the cover is insignificant, and any summary doesn't do it justice. There are too many everyday life scenes to describe in a summary. But that does not mean this book is not good. No, this book is actually one of the most original I have ever read.

Another staple of a Lisa Samson book is a spastic female lead. The good thing about these such leads is that they each have something different about them or are in different situations (except that they either live in Kentucky or Baltimore). In this instance, the spastic female lead is a drunk and has several interesting drunken stupor scenes. While this bothers some people, I believe it is an issue to be addressed and not brushed over. Clarissa is also an interesting character in that she always refers to herself as "the little girl." Characters have never been an issue with Lisa Samson, so all is well there.

The only romantic subplot is that of Georgia and her husband, and even that is entertaining because of good character development in the relationship. But with books like these, the end can make it or break it. In this case, the end is highly original. There are two different parts that end originally, actually. Georgia's end is original, Clarissa's end is original, and Fairly's end is appropriate. But Clarissa's end holds deeper originality than Georgia's end because Georgia's end can be easily thought of. Clarissa's end takes brains and guts to think of because I've never seen anyone end her situation like Lisa ended it. Not many people are as brave as Lisa when is comes to originality, and this is promising.

More and more authors are trying things like this, and this is encouraging after several years of mundane Christian fiction. Authors are finally stepping out and being realistic. The market is changing, whether people like it or not.

5 stars

The Other Side of Darkness by Melody Carlson

Ruth lives in fear of the demons she believes are trying to attack her. Her pastor preaches doom and destruction is coming to their town. He claims he can see the demons lurking. Ruth strikes a friendship with her pastor's right-hand woman, Cynthia, under the job of being her prayer partner. Cynthia fills her mind with all kinds of notions about driving evil spirits out of anything and everything. Ruth's husband and son refuse to return to church with her and greatly discourage her to do so as well. So Ruth drags her two young daughters along with her every chance she can get to the place that fills their heads with nightmares. Slowly but surely, Ruth descends into a troubling mental state that can only be reversed by her letting go of her demons.

Melody Carlson seems to specialize in female leads with mental disorders, and it is actually quite interesting and original. Ruth is a good character besides her realistic mental state. She starts out as a semi-normal person and gradually descends deeper and deeper into complete insanity. One of the best things about this plot was Melody's realistic handling of the demons. The end is neither original nor perfect, but appropriate.

This book is filled with imperfect characters. You won't find a perfect mentor character even if you searched. Not only that, but they all have well-defined personalities. This is the book's biggest asset because without good characters, this plot is virtually nothing.

Though this book is not marketed as a comedy, the "spiritual" antics of Ruth and Cynthia are very comical to a true Christian. Casting spirits out of Ruth's daughters, Ruth's husband, Ruth's son, picture frames, books, turkey pans, and the like are so ridiculous they're funny. Seeing demons in every corner is just part of Ruth's troubled mental state. But when one steps back and thinks about the real meaning of all this, it's scary to think that there are really people out there who get themselves caught up in such deceived or deceiving pseudo-Christian cults. Melody has addressed this issue in the correct way, thus making this book better than most cult suspense.

But while the end is realistic, is not entirely original. This is not the best way she could have ended it, but it is a better way than any other author would have ended it. There are actually several things that go untended to, which is also realistic, but this book just does not have that five star push.

But Melody should not beat herself up about this. She has written the first Elite cult book to date. So many authors would have handled this in the wrong way, but she handled it correctly. She is definitely improving as an author and it will be interesting to see what she will do down the stretch.

4.5 stars

In All Deep Places by Susan Meissner

Luke Foxbourne is a popular mystery author who is currently experiencing a bout of writer's block. His normal life is interrupted when his father dies of a stroke back in Luke's hometown. Luke returns there, not only because of his father, but to also discover what happened to his old stories, hoping they will cure his writer's block. But as he reads his stories, unpleasant childhood memories surface on the waters of his mind and he remembers the girl next door to him-Norah, one of the only friends he had, and the first girl he kissed. But something happened directly before their parting that makes Luke want to mend the breach where they left off. But first, he must relive his past and reconcile it at the same time.

In All Deep Places

is heavily marketed as one of those books about an author with writer's block who begins to see his characters in real life, but it is really not that at all. It's one of those return-to-your-hometown-and-relive-your-past-books. Normally I would say this brand of book is worn out, but Susan, as usual, has found an original way to end this otherwise typical plot.

As usual, Susan has crafted a cast of realistic and imperfect characters. They all have visible flaws, and they all make wrong choices that lead to the non-typical end. Susan has learned how to write this type of plot very well, and this is an asset to her as an author.

The book spends 90% of the time in the past, which is contrary to what I've heard people say about this book. Luke and Norah live brutally realistic lives in the small town of Halycon. Things happen there that most authors are afraid to write because they don't want to scare away readers. But In All Deep Places was a book that needed to be written. The central point of the book is that God has put eternity in the hearts of men and we were created for something better. This also is backed up by the original end.

Most authors are afraid to write an end like the end of this book because they don't want to rock the boat or they are afraid they will get bad reviews. I am not going to give this book a bad review because Susan stepped out of the box of this type of story and did the realistic thing without looking back. The market has been suffering for authors like this, but there are more of these authors now than ever. The market it becoming more original with every year.

I hope authors read this original book and learn how to be original from it. I also hope Susan will continue writing books like this.

5 stars

Blink by Ted Dekker

Seth is not your average college student. He has an IQ of 193, higher than Einstein's. His mind is extremely quick and logical. He can deduct and solve problems at a lighting speed. But one day, everything changes for him. In one moment, two things happen: he discovers that he has been given an uncanny gift to see multiple possible futures and he gets caught up with a Saudi Arabian princess on the run for her life. Suddenly finding himself on the run for his life as well, he joins her in a race across the country to find her true love. He knows he is smarter than those pursuing them because he is smart and he has a new gift. He can outwit them easily. Or can he?

The best thing about Blink is the nature of Seth's gift. Not only is it creative and original, but it has limitations. This gift shows off Seth's slight personality and is the only good thing about this book. It is the only reason this book is rated what it is. There is nothing else good about it except for a hint of personality from Seth.

The character department is suffering for realism. The princess is a typical female lead going against the laws of her country for true love. There is a typical villain who wants her for himself. Seth is the only good character, and even he is not a model one. There is one scene that shows off his small amount of imperfection and exhibits how he could have used the gift in a wrong way. But beyond this glimpse of originality, there is nothing else but an endless car chase across the country, ending with a typical showdown that leads to a perfect end. There is one other character who is perceived as perfect at first who makes a mistake, but in the end, this mistake is fixed, therefore making it not matter.

The end of Blink just left a bad taste in my mouth because Ted made the book all about the romance. Why does there have to be a romantic subplot? People think this is a staple of fiction, but it is not. When you take out the romantic subplot, there is not much left. I finished the book feeling empty because the book itself is deprived for substance. Without Seth's gift, this book is a monumental waste of time.

I hope Ted Dekker never writes a book like this again.

3 stars

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Betrayed by Lisa Tawn Bergren

In the event of Vincenzo's joining Lord Abramo, the Gifted feel they are no longer safe in the open. Hasani's disturbing visions confirm this fact. Father Piero leads them around Italia to places he feels are safe. But every time they reach one of these such places, something happens that forces them to have to relocate. Daria feels time is running out for her, and this is confirmed by disturbing visions she has been having. More and more of her friends are disappearing, and soon, she herself is betrayed by her uncle and kidnapped by the Sorcerer. On his dark isle she finds that her uncle has betrayed them all by handing her and several others over to the Sorcerer to use for his own purposes. At the mercy of Lord Abramo, Daria finds comfort only in her Lord. But as the Sorcerer continues to strip things away from her, she doesn't know how long she can last.

The body of The Betrayed is more entertaining than The Begotten, but the result is still the same. Lisa has got to work on her ends if she ever expects to go anywhere as an original author. In the end, she even betrayed a prophecy she had set up because she was afraid of a key character death! But she was not afraid to fix everything she could think of to fix, even the insignificant reclaiming of a pet bird!

The characters did not grow better or worse. They stayed the same as they were in the first installment. Daria remains to be imperfect, Gianni and Piero remain perfect. The only progress Lisa made in the character department was not getting any worse.

One good thing does come from the end of this book-and that is that Vincenzo does not have a last chapter conversion. But he does not become completely evil like Lord Abramo either. Lisa is probably trying to keep his character open-ended for the last book, but the result is one of her best characters yet. I hope Lisa uses his character in an interesting way in the final installment of this series and learns from him how to make a realistic character.

The idea of the Gifted is still interesting. I am interested to see how Lisa is going to end this series. Trouble is brewing with the beginning of an inveitible romance at the end of the book, but there is hope because Lisa may still fulfill her prophecy.

We shall simply have to wait and see.

3 stars

The Begotten by Lisa Tawn Bergren

The year is 1339. The Catholic Church has just discovered a letter written by a man claiming to be the Apostle Paul. The letter is dismissed as heresy because it contains things about a group of people coming called the Gifted-who will have gifts like speaking in tongues, faith, wisdom, visions, prophecies, and healing. But the Catholic church cannot stop the Gifted by merely burning the priest who found it at the stake. The letter has escaped, the Gifted are coming...

Daria is a noble-woman who has just discovered that she has an uncanny gift of healing people. She cannot understand it but begins to use her gift on whoever she can. What she does not know is that there are others with gifts-and that there is one called the Sorcerer who wants to use them all for his own good.

The foundational ideas behind The Begotten and the research Lisa has done make this book twice as good as her other nonsense like The Bridge. But even though she has learned to be professional in her writing, she still cannot shake her knack for fixing everything at the end. The middle is the highlight of the book, when Daria discovers something interesting about her gift, but beyond this, there is nothing really new here.

The characters are interesting enough. Daria is an imperfect character, but the other characters are cut out of molds I wish people would stop using. The perfect male lead (a knight as well). The evil villain. The grandfatherly priest. There is really only one intriguing and different character besides Daria. Lisa needs to work on her characters desperately.

Besides the middle part where Daria finds a flaw in her gift, the remainder of the book is basically mediocre. The book ends with an inevitable showdown with the enemy that ends in a predictable way. There is nothing really exciting to say about this book. I've heard people say that this book is much better than Lisa's other books, but other than the professional front, there is really no difference in the end of The Begotten and the end of The Bridge. This just goes to show you that people can be easily blinded by a nice front.

Perhaps Lisa has original things in store for us in the next two books of this series.

2.5 stars

Monday, February 1, 2010

Burn by Ted Dekker and Erin Healey

Janeel Mikkado is a gypsy living in the camp of her father. She is no longer a teenager, but a young woman. She has been approached by a man named Sanso Saalazar about finding a hidden large sum of money her father allegedly has stashed in the camp. He says he borrowed the money from the government, something that is not done among the gypsies. Sanso has commissioned Janeel to find the money in return for an award. But when Janeel finally finds the money, she takes too long to decide what to do with it, and in turn, Sanso burns down the entire camp. Janeel escapes and fifteen years later, has made her way in the world, thinking she was the only one who escaped from the fire. But there are two others who escaped. None of them know about the others. But they are about to find each other because of one man chained to a hospital bed-Sanso Saalazar. Something happened in the fire that only two of them know about, but what happened could change everything.

"Good characters and an original end could make this book soar." That's what I said when I wrote the preview for this book a number of months ago. Little did I know that those two factors would actually be fulfilled. What a way to start off 2010. Ted Dekker has returned to the glorious original days of old by writing a book reminiscent of Thr3e. The biggest problem with this novel is I don't know who to give the credit to. Either Erin has dragged Ted out of the Circle and into something worthwhile or Ted has taken her back to those days in order to boost sales of Erin's solo novel Never Let You Go. It doesn't really matter; this is a superb novel.

The characters are imperfect and complete with personalities. Unlike the stereotypical characters of Kiss, the few characters in this novel are realistic, once again demonstrating that fewer characters equal better characters. Burn is about choices, and all the characters make wrong ones and right ones. There is nothing missing in the character department. Even Sanso doesn't even seem like a villain, but a person like the rest of them.


is strictly a parable of life-altering choices. There are no victims or innocent people. The entire book is based on the choices of one person and backed up by a strong foundational idea that hits the reader in the gut at the end. And as it was with Thr3e, this idea is backed up by Scripture that is displayed at the end of the book. This book sheds light on the future of both authors where Kiss only dimmed the light. Burn is ten times better than Kiss and displays the kind of writing we should have seen there. These two authors have been taking a vacation for the past year or so and have just now returned to reality. The result is powerful. This just proves that one should not prejudge any novel.

We will see who was the genius behind this plot with the release of Never Let You Go.

5 stars