by Jim Delay
Plot: Delay slowly and skillfully builds suspense through uncommon circumstances and characters, unveiling public and private secrets—some quite benign, others explosive. The novel unfolds in a manner reminiscent of a play, with crisp dialogue, theatrical introduction of characters, and descriptions that mimic stage directions. Looming behind the individual dramas unfolding between players in the novel is the greater issue at hand—the neighboring home invasion epidemic.
Prose: Delay incorporates a variety of literary devices into this ambitious project, including soliloquies, correspondence between characters, and dramatic writing. The layers of texture in the prose create a playful and unexpected reading experience.
Originality: Darkly absurd humor, a unique concept, and wonderfully eccentric characters result in a highly original and entertaining novel.
Character Development: From the “roll call” introduction of each resident to the eventual discussion of their intertwined relationships, Delay’s novel offers a theatrical mosaic of diverse characters facing existential and interpersonal conflicts and crises.
by Deanna Lynn Sletten
Plot: Sletten’s fast-paced novel is inspired by real history and features historical figures Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The suspense surrounding both real and fictionalized events helps weave the narrative together and lends it an authentic feel—readers soon forget to wonder what is real and what is fiction in this heartwarming story.
Prose: Sletten’s prose is detailed and clean, seamlessly melding facts with inspired imaginings of what outlaw Etta Place’s life might have been like.
Originality: The storyline is unique, creative, and will entertain fans of historical fiction and general fiction alike. The framework for the narrative is age-old, but the author's imaginative premise gives this a fresh feel.
Character Development: Sletten’s cast of characters is wide-ranging yet they each feel memorable and important. Readers will root for Etta, now Emily, as they see her rebuild her life, examine her past, and struggle to move forward.
by Scott Harding
Plot: Excellent pacing and effective foreshadowing are among this novel's strengths. And while there are some problems with transitions, the story strengths are greater than its weaknesses.
Prose: The voice is emotional and sympathetic; there are some charming turns of phrase.
Originality: While the novel covers many familiar issues, the author puts an interesting spin on things and this gives the story a fresh feel.
Character Development: The characters—primary and secondary—are well rendered and believable. However, the narrator's voice is very much like that of the main protagonist.
by W. B. Garvey
Plot: The novel is meticulously plotted and intricately woven. Though the transitions between the narrative strands can at times be confusing, it is ultimately a compelling and propulsive read.
Prose: The prose is well crafted and often quite beautiful. The narrator has a distinct tone and the author competently employs regional dialects to bring the characters to life.
Originality: Though there are many comparable texts, the beauty of the prose and specificity of the characters distinguish this novel within its genre.
Character Development: The cast of characters is vast without being overwhelming and each is a well-drawn, fully realized individual. The author paints an intimate portrait of family ties and tensions.
Blurb: An intricately crafted, multi-generational family story about race, inequality, and the ties that bind.
by Gretta Curran Browne
Plot: Browne utilizes real-life events surrounding Lord Byron to create a quasi-fictional historical tale that moves along at a moderate pace and discusses much of the poet’s life. The major moving parts of the novel are separated by relevant quotes about Byron, while a few minor storylines about other poets and their lives are included.
Prose: Browne’s prose is clean, clear, and eloquent. The writing hints at a historically accurate vocabulary and speaking style, but not to the point where readers will be distracted or confused.
Originality: Browne’s novel boasts a vibrant, fresh storyline. Bryon's poetry and story are vividly brought to life.
Character Development: The characters in this novel are fully developed and will delight readers. The introduction of other contemporary poets to the cast of characters is a bonus to literature lovers.
Blurb: A well-researched and fantastically embellished novel of Lord Byron and the life of his close, contemporary circle. Wonderful for history buffs and drama lovers alike.
by Shelby Raebeck
Plot: Painful family circumstances and strained relationships provide tremendous weight and depth to this work. The author offers little respite from suffering and dysfunction, yet navigates the book's darkness with grace.
Prose: The author demonstrates a formidable command of language and is strong technically, yet the prose might be sharpened to create more narrative urgency.
Originality: The author succeeds in creating an original work with unique characters in a well-depicted setting. A restructuring of narrative events to supply more anchoring plot points, may enhance reader engagement.
Character Development: The author shows tremendous skill in depicting authentic, realistic characters who often possess unpleasant characteristics. The author does an especially fine job describing the physical and psychological toll of illness.
by Rozsa Gaston
Plot: Strong plotting and pacing is the result of clever foreshadowing that's much like the foreplay of the two rulers—Duchess Anne of Brittany and King Charles VII of France—that fills the first half of this engaging book. Though some aspects of the novel can feel repetitive, conflict and royal intrigue restore the pace.
Prose: The prose is practical, with no excessively flowery language. This benefits the story of the levelheaded queen-duchess, who teaches confidence and sensibility to King Charles VII.
Originality: It's refreshing to read about leaders who are able to feel compassion, even humility, as well as real love and respect for one another. Constant scheming and plotting is less the theme of this novel, but the power tussles are of course present.
Character Development: The repetition of character traits helps to give them substance, and their behaviors and inner feelings are multidimensional. Charles means well but is immature, Anne is mature and intelligent, Charles's sister Anne de Beaujeu is a schemer, and Anne's childhood friend Louis d’Orleans is enamored of his new queen.
by Ann Shortell
Plot: Shortell's storyline is as intricate as the assassination plot it follows. While there are a few lulls in the action, the story moves along well to a surprising conclusion.
Prose: Shortell's prose is well-crafted and, at times, lyrical. However, some of her descriptions can be a little overdone.
Originality: Deftly balancing historical fact and fiction, Shortell's retelling of the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee makes for a wonderful read.
Character Development: The characters here are well-developed. The real-life characters are true to their histories, and readers will become enamored of Clara Swift.
by Tikiri Herath
Plot: Herath offers a powerful and well developed story of a teen facing tremendous loss amidst the cruelties of patriarchy. High adrenaline and brisk action sequences aren't at odds with Herath’s more subtle examinations of sociocultural issues, including gender discrimination, human trafficking, and violence.
Prose: Throughout this impactful novel, Herath largely captures the voice of a teen girl, through some of her dialogue is at odds with the more mature and introspective prose.
Originality: With ingenuity, Herath meaningfully addresses weighty sociocultural issues, without sacrificing a sense of narrative purpose or subtlety.
Character Development: Herath infuses primary female characters with passion and subtle sophistication,, connecting them to one another with precision and grace.
by Barbara Eppich Struna
Plot: Mystery and a heartfelt tale of love and loss unfold through narratives set in both past and present-day Cape Cod. This is a gripping and immersive novel with a very satisfying conclusion.
Prose: Clear but unobtrusive descriptions evoke a strong sense of life in the 1700s.
Originality: Struna presents a unique and believable version of the legend of Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett.
Character development: The 1700s characters serve to capture readers' interest while Nancy and her more relatable present-day family keep the narrative grounded.
Blurb: A mysterious discovery in an old root cellar provides the backdrop to a gripping story of an infamous pirate and his lover.
by Libby Malin
Plot: Malin’s plot is a fast-paced, whirlwind journey through France for protagonist Belle and her mother. The storyline quickly unfolds to reveal several family mysteries as both Belle and her mother harbor secrets from one another with the intentions of preserving personal dignity. Much of the plot is flimsily centered around Belle’s infatuation (bordering on obsession) with Claude Monet and his work, which can overshadow the more alluring content--notably, a mother’s attempts to bond with her daughters and the disclosure of a dark family affair.
Prose: While there are moments of eloquent writing with exceptional flow, much of Malin’s novel is expressed through back-and-forth international phone calls between Belle and her family, and two love interests, ex-husband Max and former beau Dominic. These dialogue-heavy passages distract from more thoughtful musings and reflections on human nature, which are infused with a spritely--at times sarcastic--sense of humor.
Originality: Malin’s storyline is certainly original, though the focus on romantic entanglements and self-discovery is reminiscent of works of inspirational romance. The central focus on Belle and her mother’s feuds over Monet is unique, if overemphasized.
Character Development: Characters are intricately and meticulously fleshed out, from vivid physical descriptions to their personal introspection. The reveal of a hard-hitting family secret brings the novel closure, however unsettling and unfulfilling, to both Belle and readers.
by Adriaan Verheul
Plot: The story unfolds at a steady pace, but some subplots could be tightened to improve the pacing. Extraneous details also slow the narrative down.
Prose: The prose is sound, though there are some grammatical issues that could be addressed. Also, the writing could be tightened significantly to remove unnecessary words that detract from the narrative flow and overall story.
Originality: Though the general premise may be familiar to some readers, the storyline of this work is highly original and will expose readers to an unfamiliar world.
Character Development: The author does a solid job with character development. Oliver and Davey are well drawn and vivid, as is Captain Christmas, though he can be over the top at times.
by Elizabeth Malin
Plot: The author juggles three intertwined stories involving three different couples with ease, keeping readers engaged by allowing us to peek into the lives of the characters.
Prose: Each storyline is well-structured and the tone varies for each couple’s situation, which helps readers keep the plots separate but still see the intersection.
Originality: An insider look at the publishing industry along with three relationships gives readers two reasons to indulge.
Character Development: The characters here are well-developed and vivid. The author has created similarities between them, which helps intertwine the stories.
by Christianna McCausland
Plot: The author weaves together the lives of multiple characters in this clear and tightly plotted novel. Each page reveals layered secrets that will keep readers turning pages.
Prose: McCausland's delicate prose is poetic and deftly written. The many characters' voices shine through.
Originality: Although the themes in McCausland's story will feel somewhat familiar, her treatment of each character and the entire community brings a freshness that readers will appreciate.
Character Development: The characters here are well developed and memorable. Even secondary characters have detailed backgrounds and feel real and vivid.
by E. Christopher Clark
Plot: As it morphs from reality to dream state and back, Clark's solidly constructed storyline both demands and rewards a close reading.
Prose: The author's crisp, colorful prose provides a smooth entry into a complex narrative; it's a treat to encounter an author with a pronounced understanding of how cadence enhances the reading experience.
Originality: Clark incorporates contemporary themes that are frequently the domain of coming-of-age novels, but the author enlivens and enriches this content with nimble writing.
Character Development: Clark ably juggles a large cast of both core and (perhaps too many) peripheral characters, charting their evolution from teens to adults with a sure hand.
by Val Jensen II
Plot: The People's Crusade is a little slow at the start, but once it picks up steam readers won't be able to stop turning pages until they slam into the cliff-hanger and are left eager for the next book.
Prose: Jensen clearly has a way with words and his prose draws readers into the story. However, his habit of inserting modern phrases into what should be historical dialogue is a bit jarring.
Originality: The People's Crusade is a fresh, interesting novel featuring a strong storyline and original characters that feel and act like real people.
Character Development: The characters, especially the main characters, are strong and well-developed. They grow and mature over the course of the novel and readers will find themselves genuinely interested in what happens to them.