by Mary Carter
Plot: Carter's captivating, vividly imagined tale unfolds with terrifying beauty as protagonist Sarah Steinway grapples with survival in a future climate change disaster. The story relies on Steinway's tenacity and wit to navigate her new life in a drowned world, drawing the reader into the life of a mind so alive and singular that at times the work feels like memoir.
Prose: Carter is a true craftswoman, nimble and inventive and unafraid to take risks. Though dialogue can at times feel less than real, the narrative, told from Steinway's perspective, offers such breadth of mood--playful humor to dreadful illness, determination to aching nostalgia--that its emotional truths resonate deeply.
Originality: Carter's novel is an utterly original imagining of a post-apocalyptic world, lightly using the tropes of dystopian and disaster fiction while depending on ingenuity and emotional depth to carry the story. Savvy cultural references bring an immediacy and freshness to the text.
Character Development: Sarah Steinway is the most capable of protagonists--an elderly woman living in isolation, yet able to carry the full weight of this lucid and eloquent tale on her shoulders. The questions asked by the text--what could you endure, and how might you thrive, at the end of the world--are capably answered by her character, in a way that leaves the reader with a sense of hope.
by David Fiore
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.
by Peter Rush
Plot: This novel is structured well and engaging. While the first third of the book drags a bit, with very little action, things pick up once Steve joins the police force.
Prose: The writing here is exceedingly good. The words and story flow smoothly, and the author is particularly adept with word choice. The author also does a great job capturing the spirit of the 1970s.
Originality: Though it deals with historical material that will be familiar to readers, this novel is a new, refreshing twist on the coming-of-age story.
Character Development: The author does an admirable job developing main characters Steve and Roxy, as well as many of their friends, colleagues, and family members. The author also does a stellar job reflecting the mindset of the age.
Blurb: Set in the volatile days of the early 1970s, this superbly-written work is an absorbing story of youthful ambition tempered by real life.
by Rea Keech
Plot: Between the intrigues of the central romance and the stirrings of the anti-Shah uprising, the tension in this book never lets up—until the very end, when the narrative seems to veer off in another direction entirely.
Prose: The writing is as economical and succinct as a film script. The narrative moves along swiftly, and yet it's studded with evocative detail.
Originality: This gripping book is a romance with humor and cultural insights that readers will find original and intriguing.
Character Development: The characters here are well developed and fully formed. Marco in particular feels vivid and real.
by Stephanie Carroll
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.
by Michael Scott Garvin
Plot: This novel is well plotted and skillfully executed, with humor and genuine characters. Readers will be drawn into the story immediately.
Prose: The prose here is solid; the tone and language are fluid and consistent.
Originality: While the subject matter is not new, the author puts a distinct spin on it and takes readers on a compelling ride.
Character Development: Readers will engage with the book's characters—both the major and minor players. The characters are well-rounded, entertaining, and true to life.
by Edward Arruns Mulhorn
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.
by Peter McDade
Plot: The plot of this winning novel is straightforward, well crafted, and engaging. The book moves along at a good pace and will keep readers turning pages.
Prose: The prose here is excellent. The author's style and his attention to detail are both consistently strong.
Originality: The dark underside of the music business has been written about before, but here it seems real and fresh.
Character Development: Spider's obsession with his music is well rendered, and the way music pulls him back from the depths is believable. The struggles of those he leaves by the side of the road along the way sound genuine.
by E. Thomas Behr
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.
by Hilari Cohen
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.
by Igor Eliseev
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!
by Ben Hasskamp
Plot: This entertaining novel moves along at a good clip and is well structured. The beginning is often funny, with the main character finding himself in some awkward predicaments. However, after he leaves his family, the story loses its comedic flair and becomes more serious. The author may want to consider keeping the humor consistent throughout.
Prose: The writing here is straightforward and easy to follow. Dialogue flows well as characters interact. Awkward situations are conveyed to the reader skillfully.
Originality: This is a cleverly spun tale that includes a collectible out of the 1985 film Back to the Future, which is used to visit friends from the past.
Character Development: The novel features strong, consistent characters attempting to find their fate; readers will recognize these people in their daily lives. The author has done a good job of focusing in on the main character as he interacts with others.
by Karen Perkins
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.
by Nicole Dieker
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.
by Cricket Reynolds
Plot: This novel is solidly constructed. The plot's complexities and surprising twists are well handled.
Prose: Told with flashes of surprising humor, the author handles a complicated plot with verve and flair.
Originality: A reasonably familiar storyline is handled professionally, and the author offers enough surprises along the way to engage readers and keep them turning pages.
Character Development: While the presentation of Gracie has a few flaws—particularly the reasons for some of her decisions—the supporting characters (particularly her grandmother) are revealed slowly and believably, as are Gracie's relationships to them.
by Sheila Martin
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.