BookLife Prize in Fiction
- by Dave Agans
Conspiracy theories abound in Agans's highly satirical and hilarious take on everything sketchy and skeptical about contemporary living. Agans's caffeinated narrative moves speedily across all manner of conspiracy theories yet retains its slapdash and exceedingly silly core. Readers of fast-paced, melodramatic satire are sure to find much to smirk and chuckle at with this yarn about paranoia and a frenzy of cutthroat, Boston-based foodies.
- by Marshall Street
Writing in savage and lyrical prose, Street sets this literary historical mystery over several decades in 1930s to 1960s Australia. The narrative alternates between the lives of Johnnie, an Italian jockey, and his wife, Sally, and that of Isabelle, an anxious and highly intelligent school girl, whose best friend Lisa goes missing in 1961. While readers may struggle between the frequent shifts in narrative and what can feel like a sinuous unfolding of events, the storylines ultimately coalesce. A challenging, complex, and richly layered novel.
- by Gordon Stallard
After a slow start, Stallard's winning novel -- about glasses that allow the wearer to be part of the future -- picks up the pace.This original narrative is well-plotted and features strong characters and well-crafted dialogue. Readers will not want to put it down until they finish the last page.
- by Jim Hartsell
Boone’s parents and siblings are gone and the bewildered 16-year-old chooses to survive alone at home in Tennessee. In a well-plotted story that has a rightful place in the gritty YA fiction genre, Boone struggles with everyday survival and almost unbelievably horrific family circumstances as he discovers moonshine and a friendship with an elderly neighbor. An emotionally-packed ending reveals answers that could have been hinted at sooner, but Boone’s authentic struggles with the beginnings of alcoholism and a violent family legacy make this a truly satisfying novel.
- by Nina Guilbeau
Guilbeau's novel -- about Janie's encounter with a homeless woman named Vera -- will hook readers from the opening paragraph. The characters are ably crafted -- allowing readers to relate to their stories. Additionally, the story is well plotted and the premise fascinating. Readers will find a lot to like here.
- by Emma Gates
Arden Armstrong teaches English to young women at a university in Saudi Arabia. She hasn’t been there long when she finds herself quite taken with an archeologist named Faisal. This romantic novel is steeped in the customs and people of Saudi Arabia, which are portrayed to perfection. The narrative moves at a nice clip, and Arden and Faisal are fully realized characters about whom readers will care. Gates clearly knows how to set the stakes and when to raise them.
- by G. D. Dess
Contemporary and hilariously entertaining, Dess's character Harold is a modern placid and peaceful wonder a lot of readers will be able to relate to. He met his wife, Carol, while a college junior and their burgeoning romance opens the novel as Carol emerges as his opposite: a needy, controlling, often-times callously motivating force in Harold's life. Crisply literary and reminiscent of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in tone and circumstance, the happenstance and sweet resilience of this character are what anchors Dess's winning fable and make it every bit as entrancing, quirky, sad, and darkly humorous from start to finish.
- by Michel Bruneau
In Bruneau's novel, 15-year-old Adam Kilroy is on trial in a village of morons. Told in flashback, the reader learns what Adam did and why he isn’t supposed to talk to the dangerous Kafkaists. Initially the reader may wonder where the story is going, but those who stick with the book are in for a real treat when Adam finally meets the Author of his story. If causing readers to think about who is in control was Bruneau's objective, then he nailed it.
- by Andy Owen
The searing reality of a young combat veteran who returns home is beautifully and bittersweetly brought to life in Owen's slim, potent tale of war and recovery. The author's first-person chronicle is written in lyrical, poetic language: paragraphs of dense prose capably reflecting the memories, horror, and emotional baggage the protagonist carries with him. Stunningly emotive, frequently puzzling (in terms of narrative voice), but consistently remarkable, passionate, strong, and significant.
- by Ellen Butler
Cara comes to Denton, S.C., to escape her past. She falls in love with a house and is undeterred in its purchase by the reclusive tenant that is part of the deal. What follows is a work that knows what it wants to be and nicely achieves it. What feels initially like a straightforward romance becomes more interesting when the past intrudes, raising the stakes. Plot, character and setting are each well imagined and nicely executed in a story that moves at a page-turning clip.
- by Daniel A. Smith
This tragic narrative effectively and beautifully brings to the life the world of the tribes of the Nine Rivers Valley who were visited and then subsequently conquered by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in the 1500s. Though packed with relevant historical details of this takeover, Smith manages to give priority to the story and also to creating authentic and relatable characters that help readers to connect emotionally to this long ago place and time. Besides the vitality of the world and characters, what is most impressive about this book is its structure and the way the author seamlessly weaves together three narratives. It is the type of story that needs to be told, and the level of structured story-telling and uncomplicated language would make this suitable for adult and we as young readers.
- by Fred Calvert
The first paragraph of this winning novel hooks readers and sets the tone for Calvert's story about a man going home to face his demons. The narrator's voice is strong and grabs readers, building tension as the turbulent story unfolds. Vivid description, fully developed characters, and tight plotting will appeal to readers and keep them captivated until the very end.
- by Rory Marron
Marron's exquisitely written work of historical fiction deftly captures the real events of post-World War II Indonesia. Told through the perspectives of a colorful group of civilian and military survivors, this book breathes new life into the oft-forgotten and harsh realities of war and offers lively new perspectives on colonialism and on the ensuing post-war complications that embroiled Southeast Asia. Both an exciting and exactingly brutal slice of world history is encompassed here, with another volume planned.
- by Steven Ramirez
A satire of Los Angeles, of fractured relationships, movie-making, and growing up, Ramirez's novel features fantasies, sibling rivalries, a judgmental doll, and even a couple of comic deaths, as one story line morphs into another making the result often seem like one extended dream sequence. The characterizations are lively, though sometimes needlessly exaggerated, and the wildly improbable plot, which features the merging of the screenplay of a maudlin romance hopefully entitled Endless Honeymoon with another of a horror story called Chainsaw Chuck, is generally well controlled and cleverly sustained.