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General Fiction

  • A Crowded Heart

    by Andrea McKenzie Raine

    Rating: 6.00

    Willis, a Canadian soldier during WWII, is smitten with Ellie while on leave. They are married too soon after the war is over, given the survivor’s guilt haunting Willis. Raine's novel is skillfully written, though some of the subplots tend to meander longer than needed. The characters are well crafted, and the most interesting and thought-provoking feature of the work is the transformation of Willis from a sympathetic character to one whose narcissism erases any regard readers may have felt for him.

  • In this entertaining though unpolished look into the modern art world, the suicide of Sun Yat Pill affects a diverse group of characters. While some descriptions can border on the cliché, the author excels in fleshing out characters with head-turning but believable details. Though the text is frequently rough to the point of distraction, the book is largely redeemed through provocative original phrasing and surprising, humorous scenarios for broadcasting art (and art world) critique.

  • Through Grandma's Eyes

    by J.E. Smythe

    Rating: 5.75

    LaCrea, 19, leaves her D.C. home despite her mother’s objections to pursue a dancer’s dream. She flees to her grandmother’s in New York City. Some hard lessons dim the stars in LaCrea’s eyes, leading her grandmother to share her own cautionary tale, borne of pursuing a similar dream. This is a platitude-rich tale, cautionary in its pitfalls and gratifying as the characters find success, albeit success removed from the spotlight. The prose is smooth, the dialogue believable, and one comes to care about the characters. The ending, however, is somewhat predictable.

  • WESTERN SONG

    by Leigh Podgorski

    Rating: 5.75

    The strongest element of this novel is its original premise: about a cattle rancher and rodeo bull-rider, a rodeo clown, and a mail-order bride who arrives after her groom has died. Unfortunately, the prose is shaky, the pace slow, and the characters' voices blend together in a way that can be confusing. All of this -- and the use of a distracting dialect -- work to undercut a promising story idea.

  • Pretentious

    by James McAllen

    Rating: 5.50

    McAllen chronicles the life of a one-time celebrity in a solidly composed story of a midlife slump. Musician Zack Miller, whose fame peaked decades ago, has long-since retreated to rural upstate New York and into the bottle. McAllen’s narrative alternates between the present day aftermath of an embarrassing drunken mishap and Miller’s tumultuous years of fame. Though McAllen’s prose style tends to be on the nose, narrative nuance and texture come through his integration of an interview transcript with Miller as well as a section from Miller’s memoirs.

  • Life After Death at Ipsambul

    by Lin Sten

    Rating: 5.50

    The author creates a somewhat dry and slow moving, though informative, living history in this novel that follows the formative years of Arion, the son of a Greek merchant, who embarks on a life-changing trip up the Nile to Ipsambul. Often, the action of the story is not focused on the characters themselves. Instead Sten describes structures, hieroglyphics, and uses his characters as didactic mouthpieces, as if the characters themselves are merely incidental to the historical events that surround them. Though heavy handed at first, the plot picks up near the end, where we as readers are left to wait for a sequel.

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