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 Amy Waeschle
Plot: Right from the start, readers will be drawn into the story. Subsequent backstory never undercuts the tension, and the swift pacing keeps readers turning pages.
Prose: The voice adeptly carries the plot; the writing is clean, unadorned, and unambiguous. However, the use of clichés or near-clichés is unfortunate.
Originality: The story proficiently combines classic themes, while the plot is delightfully unique.
Character Development: The characters here are well developed, particularly the leads. The author also lends complex, thought provoking traits to secondary characters.
Blurb: This book is perfect for any reader looking for a page-turning adventure.
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 Gayle Erickson
Plot: This novel offers a relatable, well structured story that readers will enjoy. Excellent pacing keeps readers interested until the very end.
Prose: The prose is skillfully crafted and, at times, funny. Transitions between past and present are smooth and not disruptive to the flow of the story.
Originality: The raw honesty of the characters is refreshing. This novel about how the past shapes the future will entertain and engage readers.
Character Development: The author has crafted honest, relatable characters with whom readers will identify.
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 Ulla Jordan
Plot: This novel is skillfully plotted. The tale unfolds at a leisurely pace that supports both the development of the characters and the setting.
Prose: The prose is well-crafted, though it occasionally drags due to excessively detailed passages. The dialogue is believable and true to life, while the picture of Finland during the resistance against Russia is clear and fresh.
Originality: While students of WWII may be familiar with Finland's resistance to Stalin, that story will be new to many readers. This historical novel manages to break new ground.
Character Development: The book's central characters are skillfully rendered. They feel real and evolve over time and through circumstance.
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 T. M. Crosby
Plot: Crosby writes a topical, yet at times unfocused, political story that takes place during the Obama administration, introducing a principled and charismatic congressman who becomes a central figure in the months leading up to the 2016 elections.
Prose: Crosby's prose is soundly written and structured; the inclusion of news anchors’ on-air dialogue, campaign jargon, and references to real-life political figures provide ample verisimilitude.
Originality: As an especially timely story, Crosby's references and allusions will be familiar to readers. Political junkies, whose fascination with the back room machinations of the political process have only intensified since the 2016 presidential election, will be the primary audience.
Character Development: Crosby's handsome and athletic protagonist becomes more substantial as the story develops; his relationship to his cultural heritage and complicated feelings concerning his family contribute depth to his character, while the candidly outspoken Margaret Susan Davis, the Republican National Committee Vice Chairwoman, particularly enhances the narrative.
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.