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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Finalist

    Transference

    by Kate Jonuska

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The shoving of Janet and Derek into harsh realities they can’t avoid provides the best conflict and most entertaining parts of the book. Reading their slow turns to necessity to fix their lives becomes intriguingly agonizing and then cathartic.

    Prose: Much of the book is spent with Janet in psychiatric sessions with Derek, yet even this is well-paced and engaging. The duo's repartee is always deftly rendered and fuels the novel’s forward motion.

    Originality: Despite familiar elements, this novel feels fresh. Jonuska flips the trope of the solid mentor/flawed student on its head.

    Character Development: Both Janet and Derek are fully developed, vivid characters. Readers will be invested in them and their story.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Horror Writer

    by Jerry Jay Carroll

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The Horror Writer offers a highly original plot that keeps the reader intrigued and invested. The author reveals details little by little, building up to a tense and riveting conclusion.

    Prose: Carroll is a superb writer, with a clear gift for not only prose but for plotting, pacing, and characterization.

    Originality: The author offers up an inventive, unique story that, like the best plots in the horror genre, makes the impossible seem plausible and allows the reader to suspend disbelief.

    Character Development: Carroll's characters are masterfully created, warts and all. As a result, his protagonist, Thom Hearn, is a living, breathing being with qualities and personality traits that readers will immediately associate with someone they know.

    Blurb: With a gripping narrative that will hook the reader from the very first page, this haunting story is the stuff nightmares are made of.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Vexing Heirloom

    by TG Monahan

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Set in 1896 during the Cuban Revolution, the challenge of this plot is that—even with the author's preface explaining the goals of both sides of the conflict—it is extremely complex. Readers will have difficulty keeping plot points straight at times.

    Prose: The author is clearly a gifted writer, able to convey action, details, and emotions succinctly and effectively while simultaneously advancing the story at a steady pace.

    Originality: The author skillfully creates a narrative that weaves history and fictional characters. The story line is complex but engaging—and the is book an entertaining way for readers to soak up historical knowledge.

    Character Development: Hilaríon is a very well developed character. The author is careful to provide insight into his character through his actions. Initially, he is extremely unlikable, but ultimately he becomes more honorable.

    Blurb: A fast-paced, action-packed quest set during the Cuban Revolution, this brilliantly-written thriller will transport readers.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: MacIver's fast-paced novel adeptly introduces readers to the fascinating world of Atlantis and its people, the villain who could be their downfall, and the mysteries and magic responsible for transforming Daria's life.

    Prose: MacIver's prose is clear, elegant, and provides readers with sentences as lovely as the poetry and songs of the Atlanteans. That said, there are few mechanical and grammatical errors to be found.

    Originality: From the main storyline to additional creative elements that enhance the text, MacIver provides readers with a meticulously-constructed Atlantean civilization and culture that they will find intriguing.

    Character Development: MacIver seamlessly builds characters whose emotions are as colorful, unpredictable and malleable as the world that surrounds them. Even non-Terran and non-Atlantean species are given special attention and care.

    Blurb: Susan MacIver's aquatic adventures drag readers to oceanic depths of despair, to the promise of sunlight glimmering on the waves, and back again. 

  • Semi Finalist

    The Recognition Run

    by Henry Vogel

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Struck from the template of classic space opera, this tale of intergalactic adventure hits all of the right notes. It has a likeable hero and heroine, nasty villains, a plot full of intrigue and unforeseeable surprises, and a colorfully rendered outer-space backdrop against which its well-paced events unfold.

    Prose: Vogel’s prose is perfectly suited to the story he has to tell—one in which he must give voice to a score of different characters and move quickly from moments of quiet intimacy to scenes of brisk and frenetic action. His simple, direct storytelling style gets the job done.

    Originality: The novel is a digest of familiar space opera tropes—but this is not a bad thing. The best stories of this type always recycle tried-and-true themes and characters—and Vogel shows that in doing so he can keep his tale lively and entertaining.

    Character Development: Vogel’s characters are mostly types, but they also have nuance and distinct personalities. Jeanine, Drake, and even the evil Olivia are lively and engaging characters that will appeal to readers.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Horror fans will delight in Bates’s attention to detail after gory detail in this fourth installment of the World’s Scariest Places series. Readers will be on the edge of their seats until the very end.

    Prose: Bates’s prose is clean, detailed, flows well, and keeps readers engaged as he weaves a delightfully macabre story. The unique voice of each character enhances the unfortunate series of events.

    Originality: This book is original and intriguing. It will remind readers of the Final Destination film series and American Horror Story on network television.

    Character Development: Bates has provided audiences with intricately-detailed chapters solely devoted to the extensive development of his unique and often relatable and misunderstood characters.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Santa Claus: The King of the Elves

    by B.C. Chase

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Chase’s dark fairy tale is chock-full of twists and turns, presenting readers with a new, action-packed take on the origins of Santa Claus and his elves and reindeer.

    Prose: Chase’s clean, flowing prose and bright sense of humor liven up a tale that has familiar roots in many readers’ childhoods.

    Originality: This book is wholly original; chase channels inspiration from Tolkien’s fantastical tales with his pronunciation guide and creature and location lists.

    Character Development: Chase’s creatures are some of the most creative additions to the original tale of Santa and the elves, each of whom has a distinct and memorable personality. These characters and their adventures could easily be translated to film or graphic novel.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Catacombs

    by Jeremy Bates

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Bates pours his expertise into crafting horrific and gory tales of waking nightmares into this second installment in his World’s Scariest Places series. The plot unwinds with plenty of ghoulish and gut-wrenching twists and turns, as well as foreshadowing and references to important clues.

    Prose: Bates’s naturally-flowing prose builds upon a solid foundation of readers’ natural and preconceived fears, superstition, and paranoia to create suspense and a truly thrilling and chilling horror read.

    Originality: With a shout-out to Stephen King, Bates’s series seems to draw inspiration from other contemporary classics such as the Final Destination film series and the American Horror Story anthology. 

    Character Development: Despite a small cast of characters in a small, confined setting, Bates infuses his players with unique and memorable personalities, extensive backstories, and convoluted relationships. Readers will get a morbid thrill out of questioning how reliable the narrator really is, and who should be trusted (or not trusted) throughout the course of the novel.

    Blurb: Voracious readers of horror will delightfully consume the contents of Bates’s World's Scariest Places books, especially this twisted installment that takes place in the hellish depths of the Parisian catacombs. 

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    TOWN OF NO EXIT

    by Keith White

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The author offers an intriguing plot that holds the reader's interest page after page. The mystery surrounding Shadow Springs unfolds at just the right pace, and the story itself is surprising and entertaining.

    Prose: The prose here is oddly uneven. The first chapter in particular is very rough in comparison to the rest of the book, which feels much stronger and more polished.

    Originality: Although this genre-blending book has a hint of the hit show Westworld, it still feels totally original. It's an entertaining novel that keeps the reader engaged and interested until the very end.

    Character Development: The main characters are distinct and individual. And while the book has a very large cast, secondary characters are also duly developed.

    Blurb: An enjoyable combination of suspense, adventure, and fantasy set in the Wild West, this category-blending work will appeal to Westworld enthusiasts and draw more to this emerging new genre.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dead Time (Between Two Evils #3)

    by D.L. Orton

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This is a well plotted novel. Shannon’s forced marriage and escape from her kidnappers was an attention grabber. Diego encountering and reacting to alternate versions of his wife and daughter was also compelling. However, the story felt rushed near the end when, as if the author was trying to wrap everything up.

    Prose: The writing flowed very well and the movement between the characters’ POVs from chapter to chapter was smooth.

    Originality: A virus that wipes out most of humankind, a time traveler whose blood may contain a vaccine, and the threat of the biodome malfunctioning provide for a unique story.

    Character Development: Shannon’s and Diego’s situations and their desires reflect how their characters can change and adapt to events, giving them a realistic feel. Unfortunately, Lani’s main focus for the majority of the novel is wishing for Shannon’s return, giving her character little depth.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Smartly paced, with cross-cutting chapters that advance the plot along its intertwined story lines, this novel propels the reader through its colorful narrative. The author carefully balances action and intrigue with a modest fantasy element to keep the story's plot twists unpredictable.

    Prose: Kang’s unembellished prose clearly and directly advances the story.

    Originality: This is a historical fantasy with a coming-of-age component. Its dynamic setting and its young heroine’s adventures as she rebels against the traditions of her culture and the expectations for her gender are not entirely original, but made to seem so by the liveliness of the story’s events.

    Character Development: The characters are perfectly defined by the roles they play in this story, with a sympathetic protagonist and side characters who, whether rogues or outsider allies, contribute to the narrative's vitality. 

     

     

  • The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan

    by Steve Wiley

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This promising novel moves along at a good clip and is entertaining and engaging. However, a sturdier overall plot backbone and an ending that feels more earned would make it even stronger.

    Prose: The book's writing is top notch, elevating it from a clever story of Chicago to a must read. The Vonnegut-esque prose is brisk and humorous, just critical enough of its characters to peel back a layer without undermining their likability. Very few of the book's jokes fall flat, an impressive feat, and the descriptions of the oddities present in this world are utterly charming.

    Originality: The book blends the oddity and charm of Spirited Away with the dry, cutting humor of Kurt Vonnegut's narrator in Breakfast of Champions. Much like the London of Harry Potter, but with more of an edge, the novel's reimagined Chicago is wonderful, twisting real life locations and stories into darker fantastical versions.

    Character Development: Due to the structure of the book, Chicago is presented almost like a character: a complicated and fantastical place with all manners of oddity and mystery lurking beneath its surfaces. However, Rich's character suffers as a result. For much of the book he is merely an observer, sidelined with the reader. This makes his transformation at the end of the book feel a little unearned, which is particularly disappointing since he was so skillfully portrayed in the first section of the novel.

    Blurb: Move over magicians, a new Harry Potter for adults is on the scene, and this time it's actually funny.

  • The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles

    by Ray Rhamey

    Rating: 8.00

    PLOT: Told from Patch the Cat’s point of view, his story of becoming a feline vampire against his will starts out fun and only gets more entertaining through the course of twists and turns such as his jointly running for public office with his new undead “associate,” Meg, and being put on trial for murder.

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    PROSE: While the dialogue of the shadier and more villainous characters can occasionally border on the trite, overall dialogue and prose alike tend to be more snappy, occasionally snarky at need (particularly and fittingly in Patch’s case), and downright human among the batch of frustrated undead.

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    ORIGINALITY: Chronicles scores a double hit by both weaving the satirical upturning of vampire tropes on their heads as integral parts of the narrative, and the aforementioned unexpected plot twists resulting from that weaving. The fact that vampires may not live forever and never recover from their injuries, for example, is a primary factor motivating Meg – and Patch – to run for office so that vampires can get the help and benefits they deserve as tax-paying citizens.

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    CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Patch and Meg both fill into their new roles with amusing vigor while not sacrificing their respective feline nature and humanity.

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  • Blood Dragons (Rebel Vampires Book 1)

    by Rosemary A Johns

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The well constructed novel is filled with adventure and intrigue—and a side of romance that does not overwhelm the plot.

    Prose: The narrative voice is strong, engaging, appropriate to the material, and one of the book's greatest strengths.

    Originality: While not breaking new ground, Johns's novel is set apart from others in the genre by an engaging narrative voice that grabs readers and doesn't let go.

    Character Development: The characters here are well developed and compelling. Johns's vampires learn hard lessons that leave them better prepared for dangers to come.

  • Earthking, The Earthking Chronicles: Book 1

    by Christopher C. Hall

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This book will grab readers from the get-go. Well plotted and briskly paced, the novel will offer genre fans a lot to like.

    Prose: The setting is clearly illustrated by solid, skillfully crafted prose. The actions scenes are quick and fluid, and the dialogue is authentic.

    Originality: Numerous embedded stories and legends blend with encounters with magical creatures to form a thoughtfully rendered fictional culture.

    Character Development: While Col's character arc follows a familiar pattern, his character fits well into the story around him, and his development doesn't rely on tropes. Much of the supporting cast is sufficiently developed as well, with their own conflicts, needs, and personalities.

    Blurb: A grand adventure that fantasy fans will devour, eager for more. 

  • Aliens Got My Sally

    by Lee Baldwin

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The plot of Baldwin’s novel zips along until Anna Lewis descends into the archeological dig pit in Colombia -- to this point the reader has inferred much about Anna and her world without spoon-fed explanations from the author. The pot slows considerably once Anna rides the wormhole to the realm of Thiele, where info-dumps await. Still, the book retains enough momentum to propel the reader to the end.

    Prose: Baldwin’s prose is punchy and laced with wit, especially in the edgy banter between feisty Anna and antagonists Gonzalo Sandoval and Carl Mumford. Even when characters are discussing scientific and technological information at length, their language is streamlined enough to provide details without overwhelming the reader with jargon.

    Originality: The idea of an ancient extraterrestrial race that over millions of years has seeded the stars with colonies that believe they are alone in the universe is not new in science fiction. But, Baldwin deploys interesting variations on the theme through Anna’s encounters with the Cuz of Thiele, and the aliens' ambition to improve Anna and the millions of others they have abducted so that they can return to Earth and rehabilitate it.

    Character Development: The main characters in Baldwin’s novel are well developed and hit all of the right notes: Anna is appealingly feisty in her interactions with her male colleagues and appropriately wary of the professed beneficence of the Cuz of Thiele; Carl Mumford, Anna’s main antagonist, reveals schemes and motives for his behavior toward her; and Gonzalo Sandoval, who at first seems as sinister as Mumford, shows a refreshing capacity for change when he learns the true story about what behind the archeological dig.

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