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General Fiction

  • After several violent attacks attributed to the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), London's Metropolitan Police turns to its typing pool and recruits Emmy Nation to go undercover with the organization. While the unique concept and heroine are appealing, action seems glossed over in favor of scenes heavy with anachronistic dialogue, which neither moves the plot along nor illuminates character motivations.

  • Love Canal

    by Tima Smith

    Rating: 6.25

    Though competently written, this novel set in the early 1990s takes too long to find its focus and suffers from genre confusion. After a lengthy prologue comprising the ruminations of a disgruntled dad, the book segues into a prickly -- and rather mawkish -- romance involving a multiply bereaved wife/mother secretly squatting at Love Canal, and then morphs into a would-be comic caper aided by a laconic Magical Native American.

  • Soldier On

    by Bridget Nagarajan

    Rating: 6.25

    Called to active duty in 2003, plucky 19-year-old Army Specialist Molly McKinney spends a year at a prison facility in Bagram, Afghanistan, in this heart-filled, if unevenly executed, tale. McKinney’s diminutive stature, determination to avoid a bad reputation, and sexual and general inexperience set her apart from her peers. Nevertheless, her cheerful dedication sees her through crises at the prison, among her fellow soldiers, and of the heart. Despite unsteady pacing, a flawed plot, and unpolished writing, McKinney and her battle buddies shine in this spirited portrayal of war behind the front lines.

  • The Adminisphere

    by John Prather

    Rating: 6.00

    Anyone who misses high school should not miss this well told story of a young teacher finding his way through the bureaucracy and frustration of a public high school system. Despite the protagonist's name -- which is similar to one of Franz Kafka's more famous characters -- the story stays relatively grounded in reality with strong prose and well crafted characters.

  • The Confluence

    by Puja Guha

    Rating: 6.00

    Prompted by her adult son Nikhil’s own impending fatherhood, Naina writes a long letter to her son explaining the circumstances of his adoption, which had previously been kept secret from him. Her account delves deep into family history as well as the politics of the Republic of East Africa. Informed by the author’s own travels, the narrative’s settings are evocative; less compelling are the plot and characters, which feel like they hold great personal significance for the author but lack the drama and development needed to resonate more broadly.

  • 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.

  • The Basquiat Bounce: Great art can be anywhere

    by Chris Murphy

    Rating: 5.75

    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.


    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.

  • 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.

  • The Search for Susu

    by Tracey Lewis-Giggetts and Marcella McCoy-Deh

    Rating: 5.25

    Francine, an adjunct professor at a Philadelphia area college, supplements her income with jobs as a phone sex operator and a bartender when an opportunity to conduct research in Ghana leads to an opportunity for self-reflection.  Francine’s plight as a downtrodden professor is somewhat flimsy, but this slim romantic novel has some fun moments in the first half. However, several loose ends and odd shifts in point-of-view will frustrate some readers, as will the sped-up, too-tidy ending.

  • Wixson's cozy, often saccharine novel moves between the present-day story of small-town pastor Maggie and that of Jana Hastings's youth in 1941. Both Maggie and 88-year-old Miss Hastings are dying, but it's hard to believe Maggie would choose not to fight her cancer. Meanwhile, while colorful, the tales and personalities of the inhabitants of Sovereign, Maine, display the same cheerful charm of a Hallmark movie. Fans of the Mitford series might enjoy this, but not readers looking for an unpredictable plot. 

  • Mazie Baby

    by Julie Frayn

    Rating: 5.00

    In this predictable crime novel set in Canada, Mazie  Reynolds gets out of an abusive marriage by killing her husband and going on the run with her 12 year old daughter, Ariel.  Readers may find Mazie’s situation too contrived – what are the chances that the stranger she meets, Norman Day, is a criminal defense lawyer?  While the novel might offer hope to victims of domestic violence, characters lack depth and development.

  • Silent's Teacher

    by peggy winnett

    Rating: 5.00

    Hannah leaves her Bay Area home to teach English at a Chinese university, leaving behind her boyfriend Ben. The author paints a good picture of work both rewarding and bewildering, of the challenges of loneliness and adapting to a vastly different culture. The book falls short when it comes to integrating the two main plot lines: the experience in China and the relationship with Ben. The supporting characters could be more fully fleshed, and a stronger focus is needed on showing over telling.  

  • Legacy Discovered

    by Kerry Reis

    Rating: 4.75

    This novel about a family in crisis is unfortunately filled with the predictable elements: a son battling his heritage; a loving wife, overcoming the shock of her husband's real identity; a brokenhearted mother; and children trying to understand all that's swirling around them. Emotions run strong as each family member fights for a place in the new order of things, but the emotions don't always ring true or delve deep enough.