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General Fiction

  • This Crumbling Pageant

    by David Fiore

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Fiore's novel is a wild, exuberant ride through a picturesque Italy, its plot offering as many twists and turns as a Bolognese street. Incorporating an art heist, a murder mystery, and an entertaining dose of marital strife, the book is difficult to put down and perfectly engrossing.

    Prose: Agile prose and laugh-out-loud humor enliven the tale, which delights with its many original turns of phrase. Fiore's verbal dexterity and creative swagger bring freshness to every page.

    Originality: Sympathetic characters, pitch-perfect dialogue, and clever problem solving bring a refreshing originality to this art heist/murder mystery story. Readers who enjoy these action-packed genres will find much to love in Fiore's inventive approach.

    Character Development: The main characters, Scott and Holly, are sympathetic, fully realized, and frequently humorous. The secondary characters, often a bit archetypal, provide a fine foil to the story's flustered protagonists.

    Blurb: An exuberant, wickedly funny mystery that delights from beginning to end.

  • The Binding of Saint Barbara

    by Stephanie Carroll

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This powerful story, based on an actual events, is engaging and will stick with readers. Well plotted, the novel will grab readers and offers a plot twist they won't see coming.

    Prose: Well crafted prose mixed with news articles brings the characters and their story to life.

    Originality: While the story is built around actual events, the mix of truth and fiction is well done and balanced.

    Character Development: The characters here are skillfully developed. They are manipulative, God fearing, religious, caring, young and eager, ambitious, reasonable, cunning, egotistical—like people who walk among us.

    Blurb: A well-researched piece of historical fiction for all readers not just history buffs.

  • Snake

    by Edward Arruns Mulhorn

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: The pacing ebbs and flows, but Mulhorn's talent for prose carries it well. A subtle uncertainty about climactic events requires good, old-fashioned reader involvement. Sentience is breathed into Earth and animals, and the use of an “Optional Penultimate Chapter” is intriguing.

    Prose: The prose is reminiscent of Proust or Thomas Wolfe, if they favored shorter sentences. The simultaneous classic and contemporary feel is impressive. At times, the book reads like an extended poem.

    Originality: This book offers a fully unique approach to illustrating how a special child can be damaged. The girl's reality—raw and often dark—is occasionally tinged with sweet magic. It sometimes hurts to read about the girl's pain; it is both vibrant and dense.

    Character Development: The author employs a fascinating approach to characterization: none of the human beings have names -- and they are not necessary. The girl is fully formed, the man slightly less-so, while the parents and the aunt are relatively (and usefully) static.

    Blurb: This emotional adventure is about the darkness of humanity and nature, told in a haunting, poetic style.

  • The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age

    by E. Thomas Behr

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This novel is a rip-roaring adventure: well plotted, well paced, and full of action that will keep readers turning pages.

    Prose: The book is well researched and boasts clear, skillfully crafted, sometimes philosophical, and thoroughly enjoyable prose.

    Originality: This is a historical adventure in the tradition of Patrick O'Brian that is nonetheless fresh and original.

    Character Development: The characters are vivid, consistent, and varied. Female characters are as multi-dimensional as their male counterparts. Character interactions are authentic and interesting.

    Blurb: A fast-paced, skillfully told, and thoughtful adventure. Fans of Patrick O'Brian will be delighted.

  • Adjusting The Rear View

    by Hilari Cohen

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: A dead husband, two longtime friends, and a road trip to visit their past. It’s an intriguing combination. What could possibly go wrong?

    Prose: Although some of the dialogue could benefit from fewer adverbs, the prose is strong and true to the characters.

    Originality: Although road-trip stories are part of our culture and our literature, this one offers a narrative that moves both forward and backward—in search of the past.

    Character Development: By the time the book ends, the characters have developed, changed, and faced each other and the truth. This is a compelling, honest, and enjoyable book about two friends who confront their pasts and are changed by what they discover.

    Blurb: Readers of women's fiction will appreciate and relate to this novel of missed (and second) chances. 

  • One-Two

    by Igor Eliseev

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Thought provoking and well-executed; characters are truly in turmoil and a metaphor for the human condition. The reader is left a little heartbroken yet hopeful at the end.

    Prose: Fluid and well-crafted prose. The reader will find herself rereading sentences and reflecting on her own life; the writer has a knack for finding just the right words.

    Originality: The novel feels fresh and new. Conjoined twins named Hope and Faith – when there is none – is worth contemplating.

    Character Development: The reader sympathizes with the weak and hopeful and criticizes those that cause harm. The characters are true to life and walk among us.

    Blurb: Thought provoking -- book clubs will rejoice!

  • Parliament of Rooks: Haunting Brontë Country

    by Karen Perkins

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: The plot moves at a good clip, most notably due to the elements of supernatural suspense and the presence of melodramatic ghosts from England's past. The suspense ratchets up as the ghosts slowly become a reality and the reason for their being comes to light.

    Prose: Smooth, detailed prose make reading a pleasure, while vividly evocative writing places each alternating chapter firmly within the confines of its respective era.

    Originality: Lush and atmospheric, this novel is dark and moody with supernatural elements and accurate historical details. There are also elements of superstition, which will entice readers of horror and mystical suspense. Combining 1800s Haworth and present-day Britain makes for a wonderful mix of historical and contemporary within the context of this ghost story.

    Character Development: The characters are distinct and each one has quirks and tendencies that make him or her stand out within the narrative. As the ghosts of the past begin to make themselves known to the characters, they begin to show cracks in their resolve to stay strong. The author is talented at keeping both past and present characters authentic and accurate to their their eras.

  • Plot: The conceit behind this rich and immersive novel is that even the quiet moments of an ordinary life are worth telling. Dieker follows the lives of members of the Gruber family, between the years of 1989 and 2016, capturing with particular grace, the ephemeral essences of girlhood and motherhood.

    Prose: Dieker's distinct voice is forthright, thoughtful, and charming. Structural flaws, including awkward shifts in perspective, are small distractions from Dieker's eloquence and humor.

    Originality: The novel's focus on the telling of ordinary lives falls in line with a modern literary convention, yet the author's grasp on language and character development bring particular vitality to the page.

    Character Development: Dieker creates realistically flawed characters with full internal lives. Characters have a tangible and grounded quality, even as their dreamy musings press them toward the outer edges of “ordinary."

    Blurb: Dieker writes with unrepentant honesty about the human condition, crafting the story of the Gruber family with subtle narrative tension and the central claim that every life is worthy of a biography.

  • Plot: The sometimes cartoonish, sometimes sleazy, always strange Coney Island, described here in vivid detail, is an ideal backdrop for the action, which meanders a bit on its way to a slightly-too-neat conclusion. But overall, it's a weird, wonderful journey.

    Prose: Brooklyn's voice is fully believable as a child relaying a story; her unreliable narration adds to the uncertainty about whether the action can be taken at face value or as the manifestations of an child's overactive imagination.

    Originality: The seamless interweaving of multicultural folklore, blues music, and an urban coming-of-age story makes for a fresh, compelling read.

    Character Development: From evil Aunt Suzie to the mysterious old lady who rents rooms to the kindly bluesman who helps her find her voice, Brooklyn's world is populated with fascinating, quirky characters (even if some occasionally fall into stereotypes).

    Blurb: A strange, dark, whimsical journey that overlays a smorgasbord of death-related mythology onto the tale of a young girl coming of age in 1950s Brooklyn. 

  • Arkansas Summer

    by Anne Moose

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The plot is well-executed. Set primarily in the Jim Crow South, the danger posed to a budding interracial relationship rings true.

    Prose: The prose shines when conveying the details of the couple's budding romance, a deft illustration of the tenderness, discovery, and sense of invulnerability that comes with new love. But, in the preponderance of the novel, the writing is more workmanlike. There is a lot of hate in the small town, and in these portions of the book more showing and less telling is needed.

    Originality: The work's plot is unique and engaging. While readers will see the interracial relationship coming, the conclusion of the work is a surprise. Readers have been lulled into a false sense of plot predictability, and are instead rewarded with a satisfying twist.

    Character Development: The protagonists are well developed and feel like real people. The supporting characters read more like types than real people and could use further development.