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General Fiction

  • Going Widdershins

    by Sherrye Cohn

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is perfectly plotted, fascinating, well-paced, and full of surprises. Readers will be delighted.

    Prose: The commonsense voice is spot-on and appropriate to the material. The writing is clean, clear, and, at times, lovely.

    Originality: This novel is unique and engaging. The characters and their stories feel original.

    Character Development: The characterization here is exceptional. Dr. Atkins and Emilena are flawlessly rendered, while additional characters are multidimensional.

  • Beside the Music

    by BJ Knapp

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is skillfully plotted and well paced. It's a book that readers won't want to put down.

    Prose: The prose is smooth and conversational, featuring subtle humor, great turns of phrase, and a contemporary voice.

    Originality: There are plenty of books about crumbling marriages, but this one is unique thanks to the original characters and winning premise, which the author somehow makes believable.

    Character Development: All of the characters are distinct and feature realistic flaws and qualities. Brenda and Tim's interactions are authentic, with all the tics and quirks of a marriage. The rock band characters are also exceptionally well portrayed.

    Blurb: Knapp turns the potential tragedy of a troubled marriage into smart satire. Rock groupies ranging from tame to obsessed will have a great time indulging in this fantasy of an idol sleeping in the guest bed.

  • The Uneven Road

    by Linda Cardillo

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Although the plot is a bit episodic, this is ultimately a satisfying look at a family trying desperately to reconcile its past.

    Prose: The writing here is top-notch. The prose is smooth, effective, and flows well. That said, the quotes that start each chapter can feel a bit forced.

    Originality: The strength of a family drama depends on the empathy readers feel for the characters. Mae, Izzy, Josiah, and the others are worthy of sympathy and empathy.

    Character Development: Although Josiah's character arc is impressive, this story is truly that of an entire family healing.

    Blurb: A satisfying family drama set during an unforgettable, life-changing time in history.

  • Ellen's Song

    by Ben Kalland

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Ellen's Song is a page-turner with superb foreshadowing and a gradually developing plot. Readers will be captivated and find the ending powerful.

    Prose: Kalland's novel features beautiful, insightful, smart, and witty prose with lovely phrasing throughout.

    Originality: This story of a fractured family takes a fresh turn with plenty of emotional adventures and spiritual angles that are unique and fascinating.

    Character Development: This character-driven story masterfully defines individuals on many levels: physical descriptions, personality traits, and flaws. All the characters are well developed.

    Blurb: This family's tragic story is cleverly composed with depth, wit, and breadth.

  • Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep's Story

    by A. M. Watson

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The novel is well paced and skillfully plotted with gripping moments of tension.The climax will capture readers as completely as the sense of bittersweet relief at the end.

    Prose: This prose is utterly engaging, straightforward, and rhythmic—featuring excellent descriptions of people and places.

    Originality: Although this book features a classical Dickensian theme and voice, the story feels original and unique.

    Character Development: The characters superbly developed, vivid, and realistic.

    Blurb: Watson's winning novel inspires compassion for these small boys, and relief that England's age of forced child labor has passed.

  • The Second Coming of Jesse James

    by Mark Herder

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is engaging and entertaining. The humor and the underdog theme draw readers into the well-plotted story. Readers will cheer for Jack Carpenter.

    Prose: The prose is technically flawless. The pacing is perfect, the scenes are well crafted, and the storytelling is thoroughly enjoyable. 

    Originality: The premise of this book is wholly original. But what really stands out is the great use of dialect.

    Character Development: Jack has a voice readers will not forget. His dialogue is original and fits him perfectly. Rattles is also thoroughly developed and has a strong voice.

  • Plot: White crafts a rich historical story that grounds readers in more than one era and powerfully explores the lives and minds of musicians. The author is adept at building suspense and surprises readers with unexpected developments. Occasional POV confusion is a minor blemish.

    Prose: Descriptions are as engaging as the plot, with authentic period details. White’s prose is sophisticated and elegant, while her descriptions of musical compositions are themselves melodic and lyrical.

    Originality: The concept of following a work of Beethoven through lands, times, and crimes is remarkably original. The author pulls off the conceit with grace and bold storytelling.

    Character Development: Characterizations are organic, fluid, and vivid. The author excels at clearly maintaining characters’ distinct temperaments and psychological complexities.

    Blurb: As mellifluous as it is absorbing, this story of a Beethoven score moving through history, will move readers with its originality and historical breadth.

  • Growth

    by AJ Smith

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: A beer-swilling landscaper whose wife is divorcing him may not seem the best foundation for a fast-moving plot, but the narration and complexity of the main character carry the story well.

    Prose: The writing is reminiscent of a modern Henry James, with perhaps some sprinklings of Virginia Woolf. The contemporary voice and spots of humor enhance what can be intricate but riveting prose.

    Originality: There's a common feel to the plot of this story about an overweight, divorced laborer, but the telling is what makes this book stand out as wholly original.

    Character Development: Bburke is a fully realized character that readers would recognize in a flash if he were to arrive for a landscaping job. The characterization of minor players is also spot on.

    Blurb: This may sound counter-intuitive, but fans of philosophy and classic literature will be captivated by this story of an aging, beer-swilling, overweight landscaper who becomes disconcerted by his expanding awareness.

  • My Lady Zane

    by Steven M. Sullivan

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: From the description of the musket balls at the very start, it's clear this is going to be a gripping read. The novel is structured very well.

    Prose: The prose here is a pleasure to read. There are, however, a few phrases that get repeated throughout, and those echoes in the text will be jarring to readers.

    Originality: The is an original tale. Both women are likable, and the story is inspiring.

    Character Development: This book features excellent, believable, relatable characters.

    Blurb: From the strong lead to the satisfying conclusion, this book weaves together past and present into a story of two courageous women.

  • The Price of Compassion

    by A.B. Michaels

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Michaels’s plot details the making of a possible murderer, exploring chapters of Tom Justice’s life since childhood. Featuring a fiery cast of characters who are mostly governed by emotion, the book’s plot contains many fast-moving and exciting elements.

    Prose: Michaels’s prose is excellent and even includes a Midwestern twang to lend the narrative voice credibility. The dialogue and descriptions also rely on high levels of suspense to keep readers intrigued throughout.

    Originality: The novel opens chapters with quotes and testimonies from potential witnesses to the aptly-named Justice case, reminding readers of the historical event that inspired the imaginative plot.

    Character Development: Michaels’s diverse and vibrant cast of characters is the gemstone buried in this novel. The author provides vivid descriptions of characters, many of whom will be memorable for readers after the final page is turned.

  • After They Go

    by J Mercer

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Mercer’s story is set in a struggling tumbleweed of a beach town, with one family at its center. Passing time is marked by emotionally traumatic or uplifting events, which are exceptionally well conveyed through Mercer’s delicate plotting.

    Prose: Mercer’s prose flows through this beach town family saga quite smoothly and evocatively. Meticulous descriptions capture circumstances both mundane and exceptional--death, loss of innocence, proclamations of love, starting over, and rebuilding broken lives.

    Originality: Writing in a singular style, Mercer explores the emotional and psychological growth and decline of a complicated family. The author brings to light how adherence to tradition may diminish familial bonds, rather than strengthen them.  

    Character Development: Characters are intricately woven, unique, and relatable. The line between protagonist and antagonist in the Aaldenberg household is intentionally blurred.

  • We Were Once

    by Amy Watkin

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Watkin composes a narrative with historical integrity and imaginative reach. The author inserts a hearty helping of speculation into this nuanced reinterpretation of Wilde and Lloyd's turbulent marriage.

    Prose: The author demonstrates a rare ability to achieve historical verisimilitude while infusing her story with relevance and novelty. Centuries-old conversations are reimagined with wit and reverence.

    Originality: Writing with sensitivity, awareness, and skill, Watkin offers an uncommon feminist perspective on 19th century social restrictions and oppressive marriage laws.

    Character Development: Watkin gives voice to an invisible woman who had the strength to momentarily tame an Irish giant of English literature. Characters are convincingly portrayed and enlivened through sharp dialogue and the author's own shrewd observations.

    Blurb: Watkin’s novel is a heart-wrenching celebration of female courage in an otherwise discouraging time.

  • A Day in Eternity

    by Kathryn Gabriel Loving

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author explores the mysterious aftermath of an accident, raising questions about the very nature of temporal and physical reality (is the protagonist’s life flashing before his eyes?). Loving creates an effectively surreal story that maintains clarity and forward momentum.

    Prose: Loving weaves a lyrical psychological puzzle through flashbacks to the protagonist’s former life and the tenuous present. Characters are easily differentiated by their distinctive voices, while Loving integrates poetry in a manner that exists in harmony with the prose.

    Originality: The central character’s predicament is a decidedly unique one, and Loving explores his fractured psychological state with power and grace.

    Character Development: Loving crafts both central and secondary characters from the inside-out, creating subtly impactful interactions and maintaining intrigue.

    Blurb: This penetrating adventure of the mind and spirit soars through the lives of two aviators and their passion for flight, life, and romance—and their unique perceptions of death.

  • The Lost Chord

    by Aleks Matza

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Matza tells a multilayered story from two POV narratives. The storylines appear disparate at first as one catalogues a carefree life while the other ruminates on contentment rediscovered after an attempted suicide. It’s only near the end that the two narratives are powerfully linked.

    Prose: Eloquent and evocative prose combines with dialogue so natural that readers may feel as though they are silent observers within the story.

    Originality: Matza takes risks with the unconventional narrative structure, which ultimately results in a unique and innovative story.

    Character Development: Although the narrator remains a shadowy figure throughout, Matza manages to convey a strong sense of growth and dimension through the separate stories. The structure keeps the reader guessing as to whether the two central characters are truly the same person. Dialogue and description provide a vivid understanding of secondary characters.

  • The Seven Gifts

    by John Mellor

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot:  The story of the revelations of the seven gifts through what are both traditional and newly-fashioned stories is accessible to a wide range of readers and proves to be an entertaining read. The underlying lessons and messages about morality help to sustain a lovely, thoughtful pace during the novel.

    Prose: This book offers an old-fashioned, nostalgia-inducing storytelling voice, which uses charming turns of phrase. However, there is also a modern facet to the tone, and contemporary turns of phrase appear throughout.

    Originality:  This is a wonderful current-day twist on fairy tales, faith, subjective morality, and the search for universal truths.

    Character Development: A number of diverse characters are peppered throughout the foundational story and the tales themselves, and they are all exceptionally, uniquely distinct and memorable.

    Blurb:  This book is the melding of sweet simplicity meeting marvelous depth.

  • The Amazigh's Apprentice

    by Ri J. Haare

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This is a compelling quest narrative that succinctly traces a woman's journey through the Sahara to find her purpose. Readers will become invested in the protagonist's various physical and emotional struggles.

    Prose: The narrative effectively expresses our fundamental need for self-understanding and self-acceptance. Eloquent phrasing adds to the depth of the protagonist's journey although the author's reliance on adverbs can detract at times. 

    Originality: The desert setting, Abi's lonely quest, and the array of unusual characters make this a unique story of a woman who will do anything it takes to either learn how to live with herself or die.

    Character development: Abi has endured condescension and outright abuse throughout her life, and the combination of her physical and emotional challenges have resulted in a person who is determined to find herself. Secondary characters are also well developed, including the Amazigh traveler, whose appearance is brief but profound.