by Kathryn Gabriel Loving
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.
by Gail Sidonie Sobat
Plot: Sobat moves the plot along masterfully. She weaves stories between generations and a Serbian tale of lore into a stunning plot full of depth and emotion.
Prose: The prose is eloquent and well written. The writing is stark at times, yet captivating.
Originality: Readers will be intrigued by this unique and well-researched tale. The plotting and characters are original and intriguing.
Character Development: The characters here are unique and fleshed out. Readers will care about their stories and remember them long after the final page is turned.
Blurb: A beautiful and moving tour-de-force.
by Aleks Matza
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.
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.
by Thomas Drago
Plot: The plot here is, unfortunately, an emotionally downhill ride from beginning to end. Nevertheless, readers will become invested in Dante, who is basically a "good guy" archetype who loves his wife. Overall, the storyline is strong, if disheartening, but where it falls short is with the subplots.
Prose: Drago is a talented writer who uses language discerningly and does a great job with composing dialogue, perfectly matching it to his characters and their distinctive personalities.
Originality: A has-been rocker struggling to survive is not your average subject matter, and readers will delight in this emotional roller coaster ride. Drago creates a unique setting populated with distinct and original characters that transport the reader into a whole new world.
Character Development: The author does a superb job with characterization. Dante is more than a stereotypical former rocker who gets drunk, picks fights, and writes songs, although he does engage in all of those activities. He's also a multifaceted and compassionate man who cares deeply about his wife. Ancillary characters, particularly Clark, are also well-defined.
by Ri J. Haare
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.
by Timothy Strong
Plot: The Whippoorwill Chronicles present a familiar yet fresh coming-of-age story about two friends during the Vietnam era. This moving story offers a wonderful depiction of boys becoming men and the pivotal times in their lives. The author is successful in describing the key moments that influence the kinds of adults these boys become.
Prose: Well-written with occasional flickers of literary eloquence, the quality of the prose ranges from simple and effective to excellent. Strong offers up quality, impactful writing and memorable descriptions of people and their thoughts and actions.
Originality: While coming-of-age stories are not uncommon, the author does an admirable job of making this saga unique and original. His characters are well-defined and realistic, and they are true to the era in which the story is set.
Character Development: Strong does an excellent job of depicting his main characters, particularly Sam, who hangs with the older boys, longing to fit in. Secondary characters are equally well crafted.
by Shannon O'Barr Sausville
Plot: Sausville crafts her emotionally potent plot around the mantra that the passage of time heals all wounds. This book is deftly crafted and moves along at a good pace.
Prose: Sausville's prose is clear and deliberate, and she expertly crafts her story from two different personalities' perspectives. The author authentically captures the voice of both Siobhan and Julie.
Originality: The Tides of Cecil Cove is a riveting story that is expertly told from the perspective of two conflicting yet intertwined voices, whose shared traumatic past does not allow them to completely forget each other.
Character Development: The characters here are expertly developed, vivid, believable, and memorable. The primary players change over the course of the book, and readers will be highly invested in their story.
Blurb: This novel is a bittersweet reflection of two lives and an ode to the ebbing and flowing tides of Siobhan and Julie's friendship over the years.
by Bob Rich
Plot: The angelic Maraglindi's life is short but she's a conduit of sublime love—even in the face of barbaric cruelty—and her peaceful, hopeful messages are universal in this captivating novel. Although the abuses described are tortuous, the fantasy element of this book is charming.
Prose: The voice is appropriately youthful for Maraglindi during her childhood, with smooth transitions to different POVs. The prose may not be exceptional, but the author is proficient and the simple language is powerful.
Originality: The concept of a magical child who spends time on Earth has been explored before but not with these elements. The result is a wonderfully original story.
Character Development: The character of Maraglindi is sweetly open, loving, and (of course) angelic. The addition of her intelligence and musical gifts gives depth to her personality. The villains are easy to loathe, and the character growth is excellent.
by Kitty Foth-Regner
Plot: While the story flows at an even pace and the characters are distinct and likable, the religious overtones here are heavy-handed and excessive. The author could easily scale this back and still maintain the integrity of the work and original intent. Otherwise, the plot is engaging and holds reader interest.
Prose: Foth-Regner is a gifted writer whose prose flows smoothly. She creates a compelling, beautifully written story with subtle nuances.
Originality: This is a touching, well-told story that feels original and fresh.
Character Development: Foth-Regner creates memorable characters. The reader sympathizes with them in their struggles and roots for them to find fulfillment and contentment.
Blurb: A thoughtful and touching story about the life lessons being taught all around us, if only we dare to pay attention.
by M. Naidoo
Plot: The plot of a wife or mother wordlessly leaving her family has been often-used by the masters: this trope is present in Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years, Elizabeth Berg's Pull of the Moon, and Kate Chopin's The Awakening. This book pulls readers into Julia's complex life and her decision to leave her family rather than allow them to watch her fade away from cancer.
Prose: Naidoo's prose is comprised of well-constructed sentences that flow smoothly and help set the moderate pace of this novel. The author spends much time in Julia's mind among her thoughts, wishes, and fears, and this causes readers to invest more in the character's life and decisions.
Originality: While this story presents a classic theme and dilemma that is often portrayed in women's fiction, the addition of Julia's decision to suffer through her dying days without treatments or family is both original and important to the development of the book.
Character Development: The characters are well-defined and possess unique voices. Through their thoughts, the reader learns their of the stories that run between and connect them. The characters' dialogue is one of the strongest points of this book and the development of these strong, but realistically-flawed women will help readers connect to the story and enjoy each page.
by Stephen Evans
Plot: This creative and cleverly written novel is well structured and engaging. A surprise twist at the end will leave readers smiling.
Prose: Sprinkled with wisdom throughout, this novel is written with wit and skill. Readers will find a lot to like here.
Originality: This book is honest and well-thought-out; it is original in its approach to bringing attention to social issues.
Character Development: The characters here are well developed and vivid. Smart and witty, the characters’ reactions to situations are surprising and make them charming and likable.
by Joanne Zienty
Plot: Zienty's plot proceeds at a furious and exciting pace as Merit flees—and is pursued—through the bleak, dangerous New American Midwest. In a world governed by phobias and laws, her quest to find her purpose is successfully fleshed out in a meticulously imagined world.
Prose: Zienty's prose is skillful, subtly introducing readers to futuristic elements in a way that feels organic. Like the protagonist of the novel, the narrative voice grows more confident as the story progresses.
Originality: The author creates a fresh-feeling dystopian wonderland. Merit's struggle to escape the circumstances she was born into is a familiar one, but in Zienty's hands, Merit's story is nevertheless riveting and haunting.
Character Development: The characters (both the ones that are subjugated and the ones that break free) are well fleshed-out, emotionally true, and memorable.
by Ryan Scoville
Plot: This well-paced novel features a captivating and heartbreaking plot. Readers will find a lot to like here.
Prose: The author takes readers on a realistic tour of Chicago. The horror of the death of the narrator’s wife and daughter and his resulting despair are palpable.
Originality: The concept of creating a tradition to cope with death isn’t unique. But the way the narrator goes about completing it has an original spin.
Character Development: Each character has a life of his or her own. Their distinct personalities are well crafted. Readers will relate to the loneliness the narrator feels despite his attempts to surround himself with people.
by Linda Cardillo
Plot: This quietly moving novel explores the power of family bonds, nostalgic memories, and the wounds of trauma.
Prose: Cardillo's prose is clean and eloquent. Poetic reminiscence centers on life changing moments and intricate family histories, with wise and memorable reflections from the novel’s central matriarch and patriarch.
Originality: Underlying Cardillo’s focus on particular family histories, is a more universal exploration of how genealogy defines individuality, as well as the potential healing powers of home. While the story’s themes are archetypal, Cardillo’s approach is emotional and engrossing.
Character Development: Cardillo’s cast of strong central characters drive the novel forward; the author describes their individual struggles and collective pasts with astute awareness.
Blurb: Cardillo’s poignant novel is a winding, intriguing story of relatable suffering—the sorrow of losing loved ones, traversing long distances to visit those dear to us, and the pain (and growth) that arises through profound life changes.
by Daniel Melnick
Plot: This cerebral, political, and even emotional story probes the possibility of an impending nuclear war, with Israel and Iran at its center, and is quite thought-provoking. However, it proceeds at a distracting, uneven pace, possibly due to the rotating perspectives of many characters.
Prose: The narrative voice is fittingly solemn and thoughtful. The author utilizes beautiful phrasing and confident writing throughout the book.
Originality: Although there are plenty of stories about the current threat of war, small but intricate details and story arcs add to the originality of Melnick's writing.
Character Development: Characterizations and descriptions are thorough, providing in-depth insight into individual struggles and motivations.