by Susanne Dunlap
Plot: Dunlap's “Listen to the Wind” keeps readers on their toes. One event continually follows the previous one, and it all feels so incredibly real that the reader will be shocked to learn the twist about where it actually occurs. The world-building here is expert and will leave readers wanting more. Time passes gracefully and excitingly in Dunlap's world.
Prose/Style: There is never a dull moment in Dunlap's prose. She doesn't overdo her details, but instead keeps settings vivid--allowing for the reader to make the novel and story truly their own. The dialogue was well-researched and conscious; it never forced itself and it was natural and elegant, much like the period.
Originality: “Listen to the Wind” is in its own league. Completely imaginative, mature and playful all at once, this book doesn’t compete with any other novel for its spot on the bookshelf, as it will outshine many and sit comfortably among the classics.
Character Development: Dunlap creates memorable characters, each unique, each with his or her own thoughts and personal plagues, each just as worthy of the reader’s sympathy as the last. They will stay with the audience long after the final page.
Blurb: Populated by characters worth rooting for, both the nefarious and the outspoken heroes, this novel is packed with heart, imagination, and incredible testament to the human spirit.
by Lisa Braver Moss
Plot: The author offers up a brilliant, if at times disturbing, story that flows smoothly and evenly, is entirely plausible, and hits its mark.
Prose/Style: Beautifully written, this tale demonstrates the author's mastery of language, storyline, and characterization. The reader is literally captivated from the first sentence through until the end. Superbly done.
Originality: This book features a unique story with distinct and original characters, as well as a plotline that holds the reader's interest throughout.
Character Development: The characters here are identifiable and relatable, and the reader will sympathize with Martha and all that she endures. Her impact on the reader continues long after the last page.
Blurb: Gripping from beginning to end, this beautifully written work is impossible to put down.
by Zlaikha Y Samad & L'mere Younossi
Plot: The plot to find the unseen blossoms of a fig tree—a tree believed not to produce flowers before its fruit—is intriguing, and sets the folktale-like tone of the book in the first few pages.
Prose/Style: The strongest element to this book is its prose/style. There is a quiet strength and calmness that gives the characters and voices of this story an endearing and comforting quality. Beautifully written, reminiscent of a fine piece of music, this work will captivate the reader.
Originality: The use of a fairytale format to tell this original, spiritual story about finding a magical fig blossom is unique and enchanting.
Character Development: The characters of Zuli and Lamar are well written, brought to life in the readers’ minds in a vivid, memorable setting. The characters’ internal thoughts and descriptions are amazingly organic.
by Bill Walker
Plot: This new angle on what might have happened if John Dillinger hadn't been killed in 1934 is an attention-grabber. It has a wonderful opening, penned by the girl who met the charming bank robber and commented that he looked like a movie star, seeding the idea in his smart, creative mind. This is an enjoyable romp through 1930s Hollywood and its stars, with the looming threat of J. Edgar Hoover adding to the fast pace.
Prose/Style: The prose carries the plot like a fine wardrobe makes the man. Fine-tuned details of the era enhance the reading experience.
Originality: This entirely unique take on a famous gangster's change of mind is so well crafted that disbelief can be set aside.
Character Development: The cast of characters begins with an engaging look at an admirable newsman and his daughter, and then moves on to fully believable personalities of Dillinger, Hoover, and special agent Melvin Purvis. All characters are fully dimensional.
by Tom Sheridan
Plot:The plot is standard in terms of overcoming one’s past, but the presentation of the plot and its unfolding is superior.
Prose/Style:The memorable prose throughout takes on a lyrical bent, at times dropping into a short burst of rap lyricism, which enhances the narration.
Originality:This is not your average coming-of age-tale, but instead it is a coming-to-grips-with-age tale full of humor and heart.
Character Development:The father and son round out an excellent variety of cast members featured in this manuscript. The complexities in these individuals are layered, and their personalities all hold the readers’ interest.
Blurb:“Thrivers” is the tale of a father and son, both on different paths in life. This book is for all of the dreamers and endlessly hopeful in life.
by Janet White
Plot: This spellbinding journey of Beethoven's Opus 74 through time, place, and performance is filled with extraordinary musicians, and startling twists will capture and hold readers' attention. The excellent pacing is also sustained by expressive prose.
Prose/Style: Lyrical, refined prose brings the music to life and enhances characters and locations. Voice transitions through various characters are effortlessly appropriate for the different eras.
Originality: Starting with the initial creation of Opus 74, and following its subsequent impact on musicians over more than 200 years, is satisfyingly unique.
Character Development: The construction of numerous characters through appearance, personality, and circumstance is masterfully achieved. Fully-formed musicians stand out as distinct individuals.
Blurb: The lyrical prose that carries this story of Beethoven's 1809 creation of the “Harp,” and its elegant performances in different eras, is as dynamic as the music itself.
by Ralph Cissne
Plot: This collection of fourteen fast-paced stories defies literary boundaries and surpasses expectations in a fascinating presentation of playful romps, brooding character sketches, and moving revelations. Oblique references may leave certain pieces with an uncertain end, yet this quite intentional device only enhances the book’s overall appeal.
Prose/Style: An outstanding command of language sets this work apart from its mediocre competition in short fiction, a feat accomplished only by writers who have mastered the art of complex phraseology and the finer nuances of parlance. Unforgettable descriptions and high-impact situations trigger an exploration of the human psyche in the deepest, and sometimes, most disturbing detail.
Originality: Familiar on the surface, yet refreshing beneath a strategically placed veil of words, no character steps onto an aisle reserved for those who need to repeat what has been done ad infinitum. Every obscure vignette and every emotional vortex lingers long after the linguistic music has faded out.
Character Development: Like a fine wine, these incredible portraits of memorable protagonists are steeped in years of creative experience, each honed to perfection. Every portrayal exposes a recognizable element of humanity and reasserts life itself.
Blurb: An astounding collection of stories to provoke, ponder, peruse, and ultimately… to feel.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Although this is Book Two of a trilogy, it stands alone well; a page-turning portrayal of 1923 musicians, and the gay and cross-dressing men of the era who must hide (sometimes in plain sight). Engrossing scenes range from tense to sexy to musical interludes.
Prose/Style: Lucid descriptions finely express a passion for music, and also work well in accurately depicting the era and its people. Sensuality and sexual scenes are adeptly handled.
Originality: The story of a 1920s young White jazz musician who identifies as gay and has no racist attitudes or biases is unique, but this inside look at the interracial LGBTQ+ community 100 years ago increases the originality of the plot.
Character Development: Characters can be visualized as living, thinking, feeling, breathing people here. Jimmy's innocence and guilelessness are endearing, and Chicago's 1923 gangsters are captivating. The personalities of the LGBTQ+ characters are enchanting and memorable.
Blurb: Even sensational jazz and blues music cannot transcend racism in this extraordinary, erotic story of Chicago's 1920s LGBTQ+ community.
by Panayotis Cacoyannis
Plot: This novel is well plotted, with many surprising twists and a strongly established sense of place and time. The ending is a bit frustrating in that while the main character appears to know what happened to her aunt's sculpture and who sold the scandalous story to the tabloids, the reader remains in the dark.
Prose/Style: The prose is smooth and captivating, drawing readers into a realistic story world.
Originality: The characters, setting, time period, and story are highly original and engaging. The enchanting "magic" store and magician backstory, along with the moon landing (propaganda, according to Dr. Schmidt), and Mia-Mia's "disguise," disappearance and reappearance, help to develop a theme of lies and deceptions, real and not real.
Character Development: Characters are well developed and believable, with intriguing mysteries emerging in their backstories and resolving as the novel moves forward.
by Demarest Campbell
Plot: The overall plot was simple, but the stories within the story truly showcased the complexities of life, family, friendship, and love throughout the ages.
Prose/Style: Fans of old-school classics like “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” will fall in love with the dream-like prose here. But the sections where characters exclusively spoke French, Russian, Bengali, Hindustani, or other languages needed a few extra translations and context clues to grip readers.
Originality: The life cycle of this singular family felt entirely organic and deeply human. A uniquely delightful tale!
Character Development: The main characters were well developed and felt like full, complete beings, but there were too many minor characters. Having staggered exits for these minor characters was an excellent choice, but it muddied the waters a bit when it came to who had died, who had moved away, and who was still interacting with the main characters.
by Victoria Landis
Plot: Each page in this book leaps to the next, constantly driving more curiosity about Jordan, the woman with amnesia who, as it turns out, is from mysterious wealthy origins. Local wildlife, especially birds, are drawn to Jordan, and her awe-inspiring ability to heal the sick and injured adds to the speedy pace of this story.
Prose/Style: Although the POV is third-person, the writing is personable, much like someone describing a strange experience in their life. The matter-of-fact voice adds to the believability of the plot, and adept descriptions enable visualization of the settings.
Originality: Stories of amnesia have been told before, and tales of magical healing powers are not uncommon, but the blend of the two and the personalities involved lend a distinctiveness to this modern-day tale with the impacts of technologies and social media.
Character Development: The personalities of Jordan, Petra, and the others in their circle are sharply contrasted with the unpleasant individuals who wish to take advantage of Jordan's situation, or attack her as an “antichrist.” Petra's role as Jordan's helper feels like an “everyperson's” place, with realistic reactions to the phenomenon.
Blurb: This is irresistible reading, hard to put down without knowing what will happen next in the strange situation of Jordan's amnesia, and how she has become capable of miraculous feats.
by GINA MIANI
Plot: This is a sequel, but the transition is quite smooth; reading the first book is not necessary to understand the lives of Mariah and Trey, who are driven to help people living on the Caribbean island of Antillia. Many children have gone missing—it's suspected that they're being sold into the sex slave trade—and the emotion and action here keep the pages turning.
Prose/Style: Mariah's narration is a distinct, memorable voice. Descriptions of the Caribbean island are enchanting, the emotional prose is moving, and the wit is crisp.
Originality: This is a very original story of a semi-retired couple, the ex-military husband who has special forces training and his reluctant wife, attempting to stop a child-sex-slavery ring in Antillia.
Character Development: At first the marriage between Mariah and Trey seems almost too perfect, but their troubles give the relationship texture. Both have well-rounded personalities, and the additional characters are unique individuals.
Blurb: Baby-boomers will love this semi-retired couple, willing to risk everything to help the missing children of the Caribbean island of Antillia -- a place of soothing beauty, but also of distressingly dark secrets.
by Meredith Battle
Plot: Narrator Bee gets herself in plenty of sticky situations over the course of this story, but there are quite a few heartwarming and comedic moments as well. There is never a dull moment in the Hollow.
Prose/Style: Battle’s writing is funny and sharp, with a Southern twang. The voice carried throughout the text is superb; readers will be enthralled by the members of this small mountain town.
Originality: Battle blends historical fiction, comedy, romance, and coming-of-age into a totally unique storyline. Spunky narrator Bee and her escapades will not be easily forgotten.
Character Development: Readers will rally behind Anabelle “Bee” Livingston; the story’s first-person narration allows for an up-close-and-personal look at her life. Every supporting character in the story has a distinct personality.
Blurb: Go Down the Mountain is the perfect storm of humor, hope, and heartache for characters living in the Virginia Hollow.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Stookey's novel is well plotted. There are few surprises; however, the subject matter and historical time period will keep the reader engaged throughout the novel.
Prose/Style: Readers will find “Acquaintance” well crafted and a beautiful read. This book is an honest portrayal of love and secrecy in a time period where anyone who was different might be in danger.
Originality: Stookey's novel distinguishes itself with a heartbreaking look into forbidden love and fear in 1920's Oregon.
Character Development: The author does a remarkable job creating Carl Holman and Jimmy Harper. The characters are exquisite, yet flawed, and altogether memorable. Both Carl and Jimmy grow tremendously throughout the novel.
by Stephen Finlay Archer
Plot: Archer’s novel is well plotted throughout. The novel is clearly written, giving the reader an engaging storyline to follow and the great gift of knowledge of a period in Irish history that is not abundant in historical fiction.
Prose/Style: Overall, the prose is well crafted, providing the reader with a mixture of a love story, brutal battles, and the search for a lost sibling. The novel felt authentic and true to the time period.
Originality: Archer’s exemplary novel is filled with original details and touches. The characters and subplots give the story extra flair, and add even more strength to the novel.
Character Development: The main characters of the novel are well-developed and easy for the reader to connect with. Morgan and Tadgh will have the reader rooting for a happily-ever-after ending, and readers will be rapt while following the adventures of Collin trying to find his long-lost sister.
by Matthew Félix
Plot: Felix takes a tragedy and molds a story of actions and reactions that flow from one to another in this highly crafted gem.
Prose/Style: Felix's simple yet expressive prose invites readers into Pablo's world view that remains steady and fascinating throughout the novel.
Originality: Felix's novel about a sensitive young man searching for himself in his rural hometown keeps pages turning with its enchanting prose and cast of characters.
Character Development: The novel is highly character-driven and each page catapults Pablo through soul-searching and formative questions that lead him to his final decision.