by Gretta Curran Browne
Plot: This novel's already solid plot could use a bit of reshuffling. The narrative gets diluted by the focus on Lachlan's adopted son and his second wife. They are fantastic secondary characters, but the driving force of the narrative must be Lachlan.
Prose: The writing is excellent. The dialogue is anything but stilted; it reflects the characters and is realistic. Additionally, the sense of place created by the author is very strong.
Originality: The challenges Lachlan faces are universal, but this work makes them feel personal. The book may be historical, but it sheds light on a larger, contemporary world.
Character Development: The characters here are very well developed. They are also changed by their experiences, and those changes inform their choices.
by Gretta Curran Browne
Plot: Showing tremendous skill as an author and historian, Browne crafts an epic and multilayered love story that unfolds against the backdrop of British India.
Prose: Browne's prose is slow to hit its stride, yet as the story progresses, the author's work shows subtlety, poetry, and restraint.
Originality: The novel's exploration of its moment in history is graceful and uncommon, while the story's dramatic sensibility is engrossing.
Character Development: Browne's characterizations are somewhat inconsistent; her female characters are developed with a particularly organic and seamless touch.
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.
by Rachel Keener
Plot: This coming-of-age novel is well plotted and moves along at a solid pace. Both present and past storylines are conveyed effectively.
Prose: The protagonist’s eccentricity is conveyed well, and folksy metaphors are woven throughout the smooth prose. The creation of a pro-labor pamphleteer known cleverly as Abraham Linton works well as a mid-story twist.
Originality: The authenticity of the cotton mill milieu and the “linthead” subculture enriches a story that includes both triumph and tragedies.
Character Development: The characters here are fully developed, engaging, and sure to interest readers. The relationships between the characters and their dialogue are equally strong.
by Anne Moose
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.
by Susan Lerner
Plot: Lerner delivers a fast-paced and well-researched love story set against the turmoil of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Prose: The author creates effective analogies and insightful observations into human emotion and behavior, as well as the hypnotic power of charismatic personalities. Lerner's prose offers nimble transitions between the love story and more sociological content, balancing the two elements with poise.
Originality: A love story against an environment of political and social upheaval has been staged before, yet Lerner details the circumstances of this particular conflict and these lovers from different ideological backgrounds with power and grace.
Character Development: Lerner succeeds in creating multifaceted protagonists, effectively establishing them as both figures who love freely, regardless of their circumstances, and as individuals who are caught on opposite sides of a seemingly unbridgeable conflict.
by Art Rosch
Plot: There’s an overabundance of plot stuffed into this intriguing story of how a mother’s mental illness impacted the lives of her children. The main thread involves Aaron, who becomes a talented jazz musician and drug addict. A effective secondary thread follows his sister’s emotional breakdown. However, two additional subplots about their siblings, Mark and Marilee, add nothing but melodrama.
Prose: Rosch’s vivid prose is descriptive and often devastating—particularly scenes of Esther Kantro’s cruelty and Aaron’s time in Afghanistan.
Originality: Aaron’s story is unique, and his flirtation as a Jew with Nazism—to gain the friendship of a popular boy—was out-and-out bizarre, but it works and stands out as fresh.
Character Development: Aaron was the most fully developed character, while Sarah is also well rendered. Siblings Mark and Marilee are a little one-note and unlikable, while their father, Max, is almost always reactive rather than active.
by Laura Frances
Plot: In this well plotted book, Frances recreates charming small-town life, where friendly neighbors live among well-tended gardens and country club lunches last all afternoon. But she also subtly explores the darker side of life and the long shadows it casts.
Prose: With simple yet effective prose and dialogue that keeps her story moving quickly, Frances writes with a clear Christian viewpoint. The recitation of prayers and frequent references to God, however, are skillfully balanced by other plot elements.
Originality: While the subject matter is nothing particularly new, Frances gives the topic a twist when Janie fakes her abortion—a plot detail with the potential to send the novel in many different directions, practically all at once.
Character Development: The characters here are well crafted. Janie emerges as the most likeable, while Purdy’s snarky superficiality dominates each of her scenes. Frances makes the most of her few male characters, all of whom are nicely sketched.
by Howard W. Robertson
Plot: This novel features a rollicking plot—although quite a few plot threads are never resolved. Still, the primary plot is wacky enough to work.
Prose: The prose is solid, simple, and peppered with surprising sex scenes to keep readers turning pages. There's also fascinating information about dinosaurs that's cleverly woven into the book.
Originality: Although its subject matter has been covered before, this novel has enough twists and turns and zany characters to feel fresh and engaging.
Character Development: The author presents an offbeat, memorable, and (mostly) believable cast of characters.
by Joan Druett
Plot: This skillfully plotted novel delivers as much historical information as it does story. Only at the end, which is somewhat predictable, does the plotting falter, with loose ends that are wrapped up a little too neatly
Prose: The prose is true to the time period, contains great details, and delivers the flavor and style of the era. The writing keeps the reader in the story, but never in an overly showy fashion.
Originality: This historical maritime adventure is original and engaging. The author's knowledge of sailing, the time period, the South China Sea, and the economics of the day is evident -- and this information is deftly incorporated into the story. Much of the spirit of the time is captured in this intriguing tale.
Character Development: The characters here are very well developed for the most part. The author provides backstory for each main character and follows the characters' evolution over the course of years. Though their stories are interesting, some of the characters' motivations could be clearer.
by Catherine Magia
Plot: This first installment in a projected series is well paced and plotted, offering a unique perspective on well-known Bible stories as well as the culture of the time.
Prose: The prose successfully balances reverence for its setting and themes with a modern sensibility, making for a readable and engaging account.
Originality: The author does an admirable job of balancing well-known Biblical stories with original episodes that feel, for the most part, authentic to the spirit of the characters and the time.
Character Development: The characters here are solidly crafted and the narrative offers insights not only into Biblical stories, but also into the otherwise little-known lives of women at that time.
by Linda Watkins
Plot: A poignant story told from the perspectives of two teenagers lovers, Andi and Jake, separated on a tragic night and reunited 20 years later. The story is structured as two reminiscences, and while lacking in a driving plot, provides the reader with steady-enough suspense that curiosity will propel the reader to peel back the layers of Andi's tragic story, and root for both to abandon their lives and families for a chance at what-could-have-been.
Prose: Dialogue flows effectively, while expository sections read with ease. The novel is not without its moments of melodrama and significant periods of time are glossed over in summarizing sections. Still, there is much to enjoy in this breezy romance.
Originality: A familiar tale of star-crossed lovers, this novel carries its own unique charms and players. The purposefully ambiguous ending is the book's most original aspect, leaving its readers with bittersweet blend of hope and anxiety in its final mystery.
Character Development: The book's two halves each offer a summary of their respective protagonists' lives, giving the impression that for both lovers, the substance of each life was prelude to their reunion. Beyond the protagonists, the other characters serve primarily as role players.
by Lin Sten
Plot: Return to Lesbos is the final book of a tetralogy, and it presumably picks up where the previous installment left off. New readers will find themselves scrambling to keep track of the characters, their histories, and their motivations. Nonetheless, the book is well plotted with some fun moments of action that punctuate the novel.
Prose: Though the descriptions tend to be a tad verbose, the prose strikes a fine balance between denseness and clarity. The dialogue is snappy, and the author has made efforts to keep it historically consistent.
Originality: The plot and characters are original and interesting, though they fit too easily into archetypal roles. The authentic use of historical figures and landmarks serves the story well, portraying a vibrant civilization full of enlightenment and treachery. Indeed, the author displays a fastidious attention to historical detail, though it sometimes slows the story's momentum.
Character Development: While there are certainly many characters of varying importance (and a lengthy glossary to help lost readers regain their bearings), there is little in the way of meaningful development for the key characters. Perhaps more of the ground work was done in the previous installments, but the primary characters, Arion and Smerdis, each have a singular focus and are lacking in depth.
by Leesa Joy
Plot: Joy's plot is a neverending trip down a dark, winding staircase of emotions and macabre events, culminating in several surprising revelations about characters and their mysterious backstories.
Prose: Joy's attempts to capture the confusion and angst of high school mindsets are uncannily accurate, but sometimes disturbing. More attention could be paid grammatically/mechanically.
Originality: Bonds is certainly a unique book, a novel with several sharp, wicked twists and turns and an ability to cultivate a foreboding sense of dread in the reader.
Character Development: Joy captures the innermost emotions, fears, and desires of her characters, as well as their outward demeanors and appearances, to remind us that monsters are hiding everywhere.