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General Fiction

  • Queen of America: Vinland Saga Book 1

    by Tim Slee

    Rating: 8.25

    In Slee's novel, female Viking Freya sets out to attempt what her brother Leif could not do: find Vinland. Setting sail with her crew, she is resourceful and strong in the face of adversity and challenges along the way. Based on factual information, the novel is well researched and true to the time period. Even though it is predictable at times, authentic language and intriguing characters help carry the plot, which is full of adventure. Fans of historical fiction will find a lot to like here.

  • The Seasons of Doubt: A Prairie Mother Alone

    by Nina Abrams

    Rating: 8.25

    Abrams' novel depicts the harshness of life in 1870s Nebraska, following young, quiet Mary Harrington and her malnourished son Ezekiel as they struggle to survive. Reliant on employment as a cook after her husband abandons her, Mary gains inner strength and certainty even as she nearly loses everything to starvation, fire, locusts, and more. Abrams' sere novel overcomes several continuity errors and other inconsistencies with its evocative portrayal of a woman pushed to her limits. Mary's death from tuberculosis, while realistic, makes for an abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion to what is otherwise an engrossing story.

     

  • The Irish Tempest

    by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

    Rating: 8.25

    Sparrow's novel about two aristocratic families coping with World War I and the Irish War of Independence is expertly plotted and features well drawn characters and solid prose. The female protagonist, Lacey, is a headstrong heroine, but nonetheless nuanced. She’s equally drawn to a family friend 10 years her senior and a street-tough orphan closer in age. Both could be described as bad boys, a choice guaranteed to heat up the sex scenes.

  • Moonful of Love

    by Magus Tor

    Rating: 8.00

    Tor’s successful redemption tale combines a poignant storyline, skillful foreshadowing, and a precise portrayal of the flawed and sickly protagonist, Kell S. Mocking, as he undertakes an arduous journey to seek mercy from his true love Angelius. A mysterious stranger known as “the Girl” accompanies Kell on his trip -- and proves critical to the emotional novel and its eagerly anticipated dénouement.

  • Didn't Get Frazzled

    by David Z Hirsch

    Rating: 8.00

    Hirsch's novel follows Seth Levine through four years of medical school as he grows in knowledge, forms strong peer friendships, and grieves over lost love. The witty first-person narrative moves at a nice clip, and the story feels like a true account of the medical school experience, but doesn’t lose the reader with too much medical jargon. The novel's greatest weakness is occasional passages that are too expository. However, this is well offset by its greatest strength, the demonstrated growth of its protagonist into a capable, empathetic professional.

  • Rubber Match

    by Marcus Paul Cootsona

    Rating: 8.00

    Cootsona's novel follows the adventures of tennis pro Wally Wilson and his wife, Danielle. Wally plays in the Davis Cup, while Danielle poses for a photographer, but life goes awry when Wally is framed for stealing a valuable painting. While readers will wonder about the outcome of this mystery/family drama, the author offers a strong theme about participating in one’s life and relying on goodwill as opposed to destiny. Likable main characters will maintain reader interest -- and while only true fans will appreciate the detailed tennis action, all will find the thievery intriguing.

  • Mellow Submarine

    by Michael Atchison

    Rating: 7.75

    After a months-long media circus, Mike McAfee's missing fiancee has turned up completely unharmed, but the spotlight and heartbreak remain. Fleeing Denver for his small Illinois hometown, Mike spends the next few weeks hiding out in the titular record store/sandwich shop, owned by his old friend Greg. There are few groundbreaking twists here, but ample humor and appealing characters -- not to mention an eatery every reader will want to visit -- make the journey enjoyable. 

  • In the Event Of

    by Harvey Goodman

    Rating: 7.75

    In Goodman's novel, American power is on the wane, but super-rich Landon Lassiter has a plan to save the country. While the idea of an America in decline is not unique, the author gives the reader much to think about. Additionally, Goodman's characters are pitch perfect; the dialogue is true to life -- each voice is unique and works to develop the characters; and the omniscient point of view is executed seamlessly. And while the novel is a bit slow and has some pacing issues, overall it is an interesting and entertaining book.

  • Love With Imperfect Strangers: A Novel

    by Em Elless

    Rating: 7.75

    Born worrier Jerry Becker goes to see enigmatic psyche investigator -- or “brain dick” -- Mason Burr to save his relationship in this smart, relevant comedy. While Jerry and Mason’s voices are sometimes too similar, Elless has a knack for bringing wit to the book’s action and physical descriptions so that not a word feels wasted. The author pulls off some of literature’s harder tactics (long speeches, flashbacks) with comic timing reminiscent of your favorite irreverent stand-up.

  • Ladies In Waiting

    by Linda Rettstatt

    Rating: 7.75

    Liv, Markie, Andi, and Julia -- all over the age of 50 -- and Cee Cee (only 32) meet at a beach house in Cape May for a New Beginnings Retreat. Left on their own after their mentor, Bree Gilmore, is detoured, the women find their time together therapeutic and begin shedding the past. While a satisfying reminder to readers that issues are part of being human, the strength of this novel is the well-defined characters whose reactions to adversity make them seem true to life. Women over 50 will find solitude among the author's prose.

  • A Veil of Fog and Flames

    by Lori Hart Beninger

    Rating: 7.75

    Amid the wildness of 1850s San Francisco, Beninger's well-written tale does not lack for action. Teenage Guinevere Walker chafes at the dictums of high society, rebelling against her doctor father's wishes that she act like a lady. Though she's a strong character, Guine's very spunkiness sometimes comes off as cliche. Meanwhile, John Patrick, aka Jack Moylan, feels more original -- a kind of Huck Finn who makes the best of the terrible things life throws at him. While the story is solid, shading in more depth and complexity to these characters would take this novel to the next level.

  • Walking to Israel

    by Emma Gates

    Rating: 7.50

    Through intense dialogue and vivid characterization, Gates creates a somber and powerful portrayal of a preteen girl suffering sexual abuse amid a mentally-ill American mother's struggles to raise her children in England. The victimization of Lottie Arkwright by her piano tutor Master Rory is presented in convincing psychological complexity and rings true to life.  Although Lottie's final revenge on Rory seems more symbolic than plausible, Gates shuns simplistic moral imperatives, delivering a chilling mingling of the monstrous and human.

  • Intensive Therapy: A Novel

    by Jeffrey Deitz

    Rating: 7.50

    Exploring both the severity of mental illness and the nurturing benefits of the doctor-patient relationship, Deitz's impressive novel features protagonist Dr. Jonas Speller, a mental heath professional who has known Victoria Schone Braun for many years. But when they begin to influence each other, the lines between doctor and patient blur. This narrative is fast-paced, emotionally resonant, and reflects the important and life-altering work done on the couches of psychoanalysts. While this is not necessarily an original plot line, Deitz livens up the medical fiction genre with nuanced prose and interior knowledge lending the novel authenticity and depth.     

  • The Cruel Romance

    by Marina Osipova

    Rating: 7.50

    A deftly-woven tapestry that spans the volatile 1940s and 1950s in Russia, this novel follows protagonist Serafima as her life intersects with three men and, eventually, a boy. Despite the generic title, the writing is dynamic and bursting with nimble turns of phrase, and the layers of family secrets and European history are handled with authority. Though the twists and turns are sometimes too convenient, the conclusion is appropriately dark.

  • Carpe Diem, Illinois

    by Kristin A. Oakley

    Rating: 7.50

    Oakley's novel offers up the story of an investigative journalist finding his big break in a small town in Illinois that only homeschools its children. The procedural story -- which features well drawn characters and excellent plotting -- gives readers a glimpse of the political history of Illinois as well as the modern day politics of education.

  • Revenants, The Odyssey Home

    by Scott Kauffman

    Rating: 7.50

    At its strongest when recounting Jamie Hamilton's experiences, Kauffman's thoughtful novel explores a candy-striper's grief for her brother who was killed in Vietnam. Some of the sections set in the 1970s need fine-tuning -- there are moments when the action is unclear to readers, and sometimes the book's tone shifts, making for an uneven reading experience. Betsy is a complex, well-drawn character, but her dialogue sometimes fails to ring true. Overall, the story is well-plotted and moving, and the characters fully developed.

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