by John Bragg
Plot: Bragg's novel is a rich historical family epic with a vividly portrayed sense of place. With exceptional poise and candor, the author recreates an era through a focus on a character's deeply felt convictions and long adhered-to traditions in the face of inevitable change.
Prose: This story is told through prose that is raw, rich, and visceral. Descriptions of the landscape at the novel's heart, as well as of the timeless duties and seasonal uncertainties of farm life, are exceptionally well told. Emotion permeates this quiet, yet deeply impactful work or fiction.
Originality: As a chronicle of a family and its ghosts, Bragg's novel stands apart from other works of literary historical fiction. Notably, the work captures a highly particular place with such poignancy and power, that readers will feel as if they have walked its fields themselves.
Character Development: Primarily through Roland Tuttle's reflections on the past, readers will come to know both his close and distant relatives. Perceptive and incisive descriptions of their beliefs, movements, and others' impressions of them, allow these characters to haunt the present. Yet it's the protagonist's stoicism in the face of heartbreak and profound personal loss, that will most powerfully resonate with readers.
by Sasha Paulsen
Plot: This lush, kaleidoscopic novel recounts experiences of the everyday experiences through a lens that is nearly mystical. A relatively simple story of a woman seeking novel experience and self-actualization practically purrs as the author shows a character’s profound, broadening awareness.
Prose/Style: Paulsen's prose is matter-of-fact, organic, and quietly poetic, carrying the story forward with energy and imagination. Dialogue, too, crackles with humor and naturalism.
Originality: Paulsen's novel is reminiscent of memoirs of the wild 1970s, but stands apart through its captivating prose, intelligence, and optimism.
Character Development: Sarah, Rory, and the supporting cast members all have strong narrative arcs that result in a series of satisfying conclusions and lend the novel a sense of true wholeness.
by Lu Clifton
Plot: Clifton crafts a multilayered story set in a small town in the Bible Belt, where family ties run deep and a long-ago disappearance continues to haunt the community. Clifton's narrative delivers a powerful sense of place and time, while the circumstances of a cold case coming to light are riveting and gracefully revealed.
Prose: The author's commanding and evocative prose shines not only in her atmospheric descriptions of the Oklahoma town at the novel's center, but in the exploration of character motivations, internal dialogues, and character interactions.
Originality: Stories of cold cases reopened and family secrets unveiled are hardly new, but Clifton's staging of the circumstances are particularly arresting and memorable.
Character Development: Characters are nuanced, compelling, and distinctive. As tension mounts between family members and the community at-large, Clifton successfully weaves together puzzling past events while conveying how they continue to reverberate in the novel's crackling present moment.
by N. John Shore, Jr.
Plot: Although the essential storyline is arguably basic (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wants girl back), Shore tells that story in a deeply engrossing manner, producing a highly satisfying reading experience through the addition of fascinating background facts (e.g., devil's grip), mysteries (why David's mother abandoned the family and where she went), subplots (Jerald's hotel saga and the drama with his ex-wife over visitation rights with his son), and insights on life (especially David's father's "try to win her back" pep talk). The author introduces these narrative threads while maintaining forward cohesion and focus.
Prose: Shore's prose is nearly transparent--which is extremely high praise. The writing is so stylistically on target that the language itself falls away, allowing the reader to enter into the subtleties of the story completely.
Originality: From its evocative 1970s San Francisco setting to its clearly drawn characters and the efficient specificity of detail surrounding nearly all plot events, this novel stands apart for its originality. The novel is a testament to the notion that the strongest works are often those with simple storylines, exceptionally told.
Character Development: Character development is outstanding, with understated but masterfully drawn portraits of each individual player. Shore's protagonist is authentically funny and rawly sympathetic. Side characters are provided distinctive voices and roles that complement rather than clutter the story.
by William Poe
Plot: Though Poe offers a thoroughly compelling and propulsive plot, the author displays a somewhat impatient tendency to skim-over potentially rich scenes in favor of more slow-going descriptions and allusions. The novel's unexpected developments and narrative breadth, however, allow this work to resonate.
Prose: While at times Poe's abstractions can unnecessarily obfuscate the circumstances, the author delivers a finely tuned narrative with literary prose that is smooth, rich, and rhythmic in cadence.
Originality: What sets this book apart is its raw originality. Simon’s Mansion sensitively and realistically captures the struggles of a young man seeking truth and acceptance following a period of intense struggle. That the author draws from personal experience to craft this story, provides a meaningful level of verisimilitude.
Character Development: Simon is an immediately compelling character, whose turbulent past and internal conflicts enrich and inform his identity; Simon's relationship with his partner is equally nuanced. As the layers slip away from the other, initially obscure and less sympathetic characters, their own complexities and fluctuating rationalizations are revealed.
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 Walter Miller
Plot: This work offers a different angle on World War II, one that integrates both a romantic storyline as well as a thoroughly researched staging of an incomparable historical event. While providing verisimilitude, Miller also supplies engaging drama and forward momentum, allowing for the reader's full immersion in the circumstances.
Prose/Style: The candid, visceral prose style enhances Miller's storytelling. The pacing, central conflict, and sense of great immediacy is a testament to the author's superior skills.
Originality: The most original aspect of this story lies in its setting. The choice to stage the work at a greatly pivotal moment in history, is a brave and ambitious one, executed with grace, sensitivity, and intelligence.
Character Development: Both the primary and secondary characters possess distinctive and resonant voices, while dialogue demonstrates nuance and authenticity. Historical fiction readers with a passion for World War II will be captivated by the story of Richard Jackson and Emiko. However, the most memorable sections are those that tell the stories of survivors--and the haunting impact of the profoundly traumatic event at the story's core.
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 Rebecca Rosenberg
Plot: Based on a real-life historical figure, this embellished fictional story details the life of Elizabeth McCourt Tabor, aka Baby Doe Tabor, a strong and determined woman who overcame tremendous hardship to survive. While the bones of the plot are based on facts, the author does an admiral job enhancing the tale and holding the readers interest throughout.
Prose: The author is a gifted writer, weaving a tale from the 19th century that is not only interesting to modern-day readers but which seamlessly balances elements of fact and fiction.
Originality: Despite being based on actual events, this work tells a story few will know. The author blends historical verisimilitude with intrigue, making the story richer and more engaging. The author truly makes the story her own.
Character Development: Lizzie is a vibrant character whose personality shines through from page one, as she presses her evasive husband for information about their destination. Her determination, astuteness, and sheer will permeate the page. Secondary characters are similarly well-crafted.
Blurb: An engaging and beautifully-written story, this fact-based novel celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in one woman's determination to survive.
by Beth Duke
Plot: The author does an excellent job keeping the reader engaged throughout this work. She alternates between the present and the past, telling Violet's story as a young girl and Ronni's story in the present. Both stories flow smoothly and evenly.
Prose/Style: Duke is a gifted writer whose command of action, grammar, dialogue and storyline is commendable. The reader is always interested and engaged.
Originality: This tale is part general fiction, part mystery, and part love story. The author has done an exemplary job weaving together storylines to create a cohesive and unique plot that will delight readers.
Character Development: The author does a great job with characterization, creating living, breathing characters that evoke strong feelings in the reader. Violet, in particular, will tug at the heartstrings as her story unfolds.
Blurb: Duke transports readers to another era in this engaging new work. Characters come to life and will stay with readers long after the last page.
by Brigitte Goldstein
Plot: The plot of a young Jewish granddaughter attempting to save her grandmother in 1946 war-torn Germany is an interesting take on this time period. The pace is established in the Prologue and is maintained throughout the book. The tension pulls the reader into the story on the first page and creates a connection that drives the reader to finish the book.
Prose/Style: The syntax has a seamless, lyrical flow, driving the emotions of the scenes. The author is quite skilled at this, and it’s one of the book's strengths.
Originality: A young Jewish woman safe in New York City leaves to enter war-torn Germany in 1946. She pretends to be German so as to save her grandmother. The granddaughter ends up in a US Army prison for Nazi criminals. This original story will grab the readers and pull them into the journey.
Character Development: The characters in this novel are well-developed and memorable. The internal dialogue of the protagonist, Artemisia Safran, is captivating. The dialogue between characters feels organic and believable.
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 Tim Westover
Plot: This is a well-plotted, perfectly paced novel whose chapters—told from the alternating perspectives of different characters—paint a colorful portrait of the frontier town of Lawrenceville, Georgia and its residents. What begins as a story of the clash between so-called scientific and folk medicine in the second decade of the nineteenth century turns, by the end, into a much more profound reflection on the role that personal belief plays in how people of any time or place conduct their lives.
Prose: Westover’s prose is well suited to the historical tale he tells. There’s homey loquaciousness in the speech and manners of the residents of Lawrenceville that seems authentic for its period frontier setting and that serves well the story’s moments of humor and drama.
Originality: There have been many novels about the settling of the American frontier and the developments that advanced it from its primitive origins to the modern era, but this novel is very original in presenting how the contentious practice at the time of different types of medicine—folk, patent, and scientific—can serve as a lens through which to view such changes. The novel’s ending, which adds a dimension of genuine faith healing to the events preceding it, makes The Winter Sisters a unique treatment of its themes.
Character Development: Readers will respond warmly to Westover’s well-developed characters. He endows each of the three Winter Sisters with their own personalities, although Rebecca, the oldest and the most level-headed, and Effie, the youngest and the one touched with uncommon spiritual grace, stand out most vividly. Dr. Aubrey Waycross is amusing in his naïvete as he promotes his type of university-learned medicine that is little more scientific than the folk remedies of the Winter Sisters. Patent-medicine salesman Salmon Thumb provides wonderful comic relief as a huckster whose showman’s persona masks a deep understanding of human nature.
by W. L. Hodge
Plot: Despite the occasional longueur (there are perhaps a few too many recaps, which could be trimmed or excised), the plotting is headlong, tumbling into one surprise turn after another. Asa is a trans woman who loves women. After being arrested for using the "wrong" (male) bathroom while bravely gadding about in drag, she ditches her humdrum architectural assignments to return to her Texas home town, the site of severe adolescent trauma. The author excels at creating exciting action scenes, while the novel maintains its level of psychological profundity.
Prose: Prose is top of the line, in terms of action, dialogue, and the protagonist's self-analysis. This reader initially balked at rather maudlin sentimentalism of the final paragraph, but perhaps the author's intent is semi-satiric.
Originality: Hodge's voice-driven novel provides a rarely authentic glimpse into the experience of being transgender as explored through a truly distinctive, highly memorable central character.
Character Development: Asa Cranford, the gender dysphoric narrator of this picaresque tale of self-discovery, is such a charmer (erudite, too), that the novel could get by on personality alone. Asa starts off glib but the narrative voice ultimately evolves, demonstrating a full range of emotional and psychological states. The narrator is someone whose rich interior life few will have had an opportunity to imagine.
Blurb: Asa Cranford, the gender dysphoric narrator of this picaresque tale of self-discovery, is such a charmer (erudite, too), that the novel could get by on personality alone. But the plot positively boils, providing readers with a truly enveloping, page-turning experience.