BookLife Prize in Fiction
- by Kipp Wessel
Dreams of bears, and then obsession with real ones, draw grieving Jack from Minnesota to Montana. The first person narrative and the novel’s pace reflect the looping road of grief, traveled by Jack and by his girlfriend, Clare. The novel is tender, sad and, eventually, hopeful – it pulls the reader in because the characters and their plights and actions are fully believable. The prose is clean and lovely, calibrated for maximum emotional impact.
- by Jamie Zerndt
Zerndt’s jewel-like tale of a family grieving after the father’s suicide strikes every note right. Switching between different characters’ viewpoints, the novel becomes a whole greater than the sum of its parts, with metaphors and images echoing throughout storylines and characters’ interior lives. Zerndt manages not to cross the line into sentimentality or overemphasize symbols more than once or twice, quite a feat in a novel about grief, especially involving children. With a strong sense of place, excellent character development, and a fluid, compact plot, Zerndt’s novel deserves rich praise and many readers.
- by Joanne Zienty
In this dark but honest novel, Claire Sokal, 38, helps her father clean out her grandmother’s house after the funeral. While doing so, she unravels her past and haunting family secrets. Zienty grabs hold of the reader from the beginning and never lets go as she reveals the family's history. Steeped in detail and told in present day and flashback, Zienty is able to create and sustain a mood that will ring true to all readers who won’t want to look away.
- by Jack Young
Young's short, hilarious farce stays perfectly on point as Joe, aka Slim, aka the Grassman, agrees to work for zany millionaire Bill Borrington on a crazy business idea. While the jokes are occasionally predictable, for the most part the strange and sardonic narrator makes delightfully poor choices in his quest to hide his incompetence from Borrington and win the favor of gorgeous entourage member Autumn Bliss. The ending feels slightly rushed, and the frame that opens the novel might not be necessary, but overall this is a compact, fresh, and entertaining work.
- by Tony Vigorito
Opening with a satire of the Adam and Eve story,this book moves seamlessly back and forth between eighteenth century Carribean pirates with a treasure map and twenty-first century San Franciscans contending with a false New Age prophet. The author controls these seemingly disparate scenarios with humor and panache, creating such memorable characters as a guardian parrot, a bumbling True Believer, and a herd of cowbell wearing bison somehow relocated to a tropical island. This is a deeply original and satisfying book.
- by Tom Foran Clark
Clark's novel is a compelling read from its opening paragraph, which will easily hook readers. The voice of the narrator is strong and draws readers into the story, giving them cause to care about the well-developed characters. The author delivers skillfully rendered descriptions and vivid details, while the book's pacing keeps readers engaged with the plight of the protagonist.
- by C. L. Wells
C.L. Wells’s coming-of-age novel presents an accomplished portrayal of Krystal, a 14-year-old who alleviates psychological turmoil by cutting herself. Wells’s astute prose captures Krystal’s misery — the scenes when Krystal cuts are vivid and haunting — and her subsequent journey to well-being. As its title proclaims, the novel advances Christian faith, and the convincing characters who teach Krystal to welcome God into her life reflect spirited optimism and lift the gloom.
- by Daniel Nygaard
In Nygaard's novel -- which is a retelling of the three wise men's journey to Bethlehem -- star readers journey to solve a mystery related to an ancient prophesy and the position of the stars. With tension that begins within the first few pages, lovely prose that matches the time period, and helpful footnotes, this novel features well developed characters, unique descriptions, and strong dialogue. Additionally, the book is well plotted and features an epic historical setting. Fans of historical fiction will find a lot to like here.
- by K E Wass
The complex emotions in this story about a convicted child abuser ring true and capture the rippling effects of child abuse, all the while taking on a familiar topic from a new point of view. The voice and premise of the novel are established in the first few pages, engaging the reader with the protagonist, Rachael, as she recounts a dream that sets the pace, adds terrific foreshadowing, and creates the tension needed to move the reader to the end. Character development is excellent and lends to a complex plot. Excellent dialogue defines the different character voices.
- by A.E. Nasr
In Nasr's memorable novel, Miro has been locked away since he was a boy. He and his cellmates are forced to endure horrible conditions, until they make the most of their one chance at escape. Readers will be engrossed by this novel from the very beginning. The setting is beautifully described and Miro is a sympathetic character with whom readers will empathize. With intense pacing throughout, excellent character development, and distinct and realistic dialogue, Nasr's novel is one readers will want to finish in one sitting.
- by Danny Davies
Davies delivers a literary coming-of-age story with elegiac prose. For 17-year-old, Catholic-raised Davey Dodd, the summer of 1964 is one of introspection, confusion, and burgeoning awareness. After taking a job at a posh Cincinnati hotel, Davey grapples with his attraction to men and growing affection for coworker Tony. Narrated by Davey looking back on his experiences as an adolescent, the voice lends the story a layer of perceptiveness, without detracting from the rawness of Davey’s suffering and exhilaration during the significant summer.
- by George Encizo
Encizo's novel about going home has many characters, but they are all well developed with distinct voices. The prose is outstanding and the dialogue is believable and engaging. The pace deftly moves the reader from one chapter to another -- and readers are likely to enjoy the many layers of plot embedded to the very end.
- by Wayne Johnson
After initially avoiding the draft, Will Jensen finds himself stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, in the summer of 1970. Because of his rank, he is sent to Korea where he gets a true education about life. Humor and believable characters leave the reader wondering if this is the author’s actual experience. While the plot lacks extreme rising action and is a retelling of situations, the author pulls them together and takes the reader on Will Jensen’s journey.
- by Steve Cole
The strongest trait of Cole's novel about a Cuban refugee in Chicago is the sense of both empathy and reality that the author achieves. The multiple points of view have strong unique voices, while solid dialogue gives a distinct personality to each character. The descriptions ably place the reader in the setting, and the story's tension keeps the reader turning pages. Readers will engage with the characters in this novel and be invested in their fates.
- by Wm. Stage
Humorous and titillating, Stage chronicles a randy city health care worker investigating STDs in St. Louis, circa 1981. Consistently brazen, honest, and darkly humorous, Stage has created an engaging and highly readable take on STDs, free-willed sexuality, and the bug-chasing work that city officials must perform in order to contain outbreaks. An exquisitely original take on sexual disease and some unapologetically sexy individuals who consider it an unfortunate, minor byproduct of a good time in the sheets.