Reviewing In The SF Library

Anyone can submit a novel, likely with a review, using the Speculative Faith Library’s Submit a Novel feature. What other changes could aid the Library? How may grace-and-truth-minded reviewers best evaluate a work of fiction?
on Jan 25, 2012 · No comments

One of Speculative Faith’s seeming best-kept secrets is beginning to be revealed — perhaps more, after this fill-in column. I refer not only to the Speculative Faith Library, but to the Library’s recently upgraded Submit a Novel feature.

Every week, we add more titles to the Library, which now includes 300 books from diverse authors and publishers, all united by their Christian-speculative themes. Yet the Submit a Novel form, I believe, is one of our best tools to get news about novels you may know about, but no one else does, and to spread the word to other readers.

This allows any reader, with access to the book’s description, information, and cover — and, we hope, the willingness to write his or her own book review — to add a novel we don’t yet have at the Library. Maybe it’s by a favorite author. Maybe it’s by yourself.

Our goal: to have every Christian speculative title, ever written, on our cyber-shelves.

Unlike the offerings of other sites, this mission does not include trying to sell the books. Nor do we group Christian-speculative titles with speculative titles that aren’t Christian, or Christian titles that aren’t speculative, or titles that aren’t either.

Rather, we emphasize content and reviews: how the book “sells” itself, on its front and back covers, and (optimally!) how you as a reader reacted to the book when you read it.

This can include traditionally published books, and (following the conversation that Fred referenced here) self-published books. Sure, bad stuff exists among self-published books, but — I speak for myself — there is certainly also bad stuff among traditionally published books. The Library does have standards, such as our requirement of finished, published, Christian and speculative books. But readers’ reviews, not our “vetting,” will choose whether a good book rises or a not-so-good book is revealed as such.

Book work

The upgraded Submit a Novel feature at the SF Library.

Still, in my view, the Library could use some changes. (As a web-slinger, I always believe a website could use some changes.) But maybe you could verify, or clarify, these ideas:

  • At present the site’s search box taps into both the Blog’s and the Library’s content. Should these be separated, or should they remain together?
  • I believe a Library book listing should fetch any column or article written by the same author elsewhere on the site. The same would be true for a Blog page: if the column’s author has also written books listed in the Library, those would be fetched automatically to display on the blog page. What that help readers?
  • Previously, the Library allowed users to sort the listed books by several orders: publication (the default), alphabetically, order of title addition, or author name. I’ve been looking into ways to restore that function. But would it be helpful?
  • Should the Library’s front-page listings show whole book descriptions, as now, or a summary, to allow more books displayed on one page?
  • Would installing an instant-ranking system help a book’s listing, or detract from it? I had considered a system with three five-star categories: 1) Plot. What does the novel say about God, and how well does it say it? 2) Characters. How do the novel’s heroes and villains reflect human nature, and how well? 3) World. Does the story setting reflect truths and beauties about our world, with good writing?
  • If you’re an email subscriber to Speculative Faith, would you want to be notified every time a book title or review is added to the Library?
  • Might you — yes, you yourself, if available and motivated — consider helping with Library additions and especially collecting and writing reviews? This could involve excerpting reviews from other sites, and/or writing reviews yourself.
  • Future thoughts will reveal our review philosophy. In short, we aim to imitate the nature of Christ Himself, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). To love like Him, we’d keep interaction and even criticism not only constructive, but born of His grace. For a book review, this would include ensuring to note what an author (in our view) did well. But love would also include pointing out, humbly yet with truth, either what didn’t work, subjectively, or what couldn’t work, objectively.

Reviewing thoughts

I’m still struggling with this, by the way. My temptation is to be snarky, and to this day I’m not sure I avoided that even while faulting some books that, in my view, were objectively poor (example: this series). Thus, I still hope to find a balance in reviewing books to which I had, at best, mixed reactions — to be gracious, yet truthful.

One example: author/pastor Kevin DeYoung’s recent interactions with Jeff Bethke, a.k.a. The Guy Who Made the “Jesus Hates Religion” Video. This began on the internet, and later went real — as the two men found brotherly love in each other, yet (on DeYoung’s part) reasons for concern. Yet DeYoung’s motives seemed this: don’t say anything in writing against someone’s work that you would not be willing to say to him in reality.

That may clarify a book reviewer’s motive, and simplify how he works it out, more than I would have thought. It may also help inform future SF Library review policy.

What are your thoughts, on the Library’s Submit a Novel feature, likely Library changes, and how to write fair and balanced gracious-and-truthful book reviews?

If you’re an author, what are the best kinds of reviews, even negative ones?

If you’re a reader, how have you reviewed novels?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Sounds great. The link, however, leads to an error page. So maybe it’s not up yet?

  2. Kessie says:

    I think searches turning up blog posts and stuff by the author sounds pretty useful. Of course, when I’m searching for a book, I’m only interested in book search results.
    You used to have a “Search by genre” sort of thing, like “dragons”, and you’d get all the books with dragons in them. That seems to have disappeared, and I enjoyed using it.
    I’ll leave reviews here once I’ve actually read more of the books. Christian fiction is hard to come by in the library, and my stinginess keeps me from paying twenty bucks for a book I may or may not like, and wind up stuck with on my shelf.
    I’ve read some pretty good ebooks, though. The Windrider series by Becky Minor is very good and deserves some props.

  3. Paul Lee says:

    I think the emphasis on reviews and background information is good.  That will help differentiate this library from the large booklist on Where the Map Ends.

    However, I don’t see very many reviews.  Am I missing them somehow?  I see that Maria Tatham reviewed Disenchanted Pet.  Is that review part of the database submission?


    Might you — yes, you yourself, if available and motivated — consider helping with Library additions and especially collecting and writing reviews? This could involve excerpting reviews from other sites, and/or writing reviews yourself.

    I’ve been looking for a venue for reviews that are longer and perhaps more analytical than Amazon reviews tend to be, but not quite professional enough to be formally published in an ezine. I’ve looked at the CSF ezines, and most of them give no indication that they would accept reviews. I might be interested in occasionally writing original reviews for this site.  How can reviews be submitted independently of the Submit a Novel feature?  Can a novel have more than one review on this site?


    I’ve read some pretty good ebooks, though. The Windrider series by Becky Minor is very good and deserves some props.

    I’ve read both Windrider books, and I’ve been heavily annotating Divine Summons as I re-read it, hoping to review it.

What do you think?