by Nicole Brooks
Plot: In many ways, this story is a heartwarming tale with a happy ending. However, a few details seem to be missing for the plot to be completely understandable, such as: when she hears women's voices, what is Wren suffering from?
Prose/Style: This novel is well written. There are few omissions or hazy moments, and the narrative is clear to follow.
Originality: The book’s premise is highly original. There may be no other book with this same plot - a comfortable, middle-class, professional family taking in an unknown homeless woman on the basis of strong eye contact. Readers will be curious to watch the plot unfold.
Character Development: Alex's character is well-developed, although almost too nice to feel authentic. Likewise, the same can be said of her immensely understanding husband. Wren, however, remains a bit of a mystery -- again, why does she hear these women's voices? What is her psychological status, knowing her background of no family, and possible abuse and rape? Is she truly mentally ill, or is she brilliant and wise despite her circumstances? The novel may be better served by illuminating some of this ambiguity.
by Kathleen Cecilia Nesbitt
Plot:This novel is about incest and abuse survival; it is painful to read, partly because of the subject matter and partly because the storytelling is simultaneously gritty and opaque. The reading experience is a heavy weight, and could be made less confusing and overwhelming by focusing on the main story arc and characters without overloading the reader.
Prose/Style:The author has a gift for writing beautiful, detailed prose and embellished, vivid descriptions.
Originality:The story itself is not wholly novel, but the way it is told is very original. The primary point of the storytelling is to provide an experience of being so immersed in the narrator's point of view that it feels like the reader is drowning in the emotional and psychological burdens of trauma.
Character Development:The characters are portrayed realistically, but they are not particularly likable or compelling. The final line of the story is uplifting, but arriving at this destination somehow fails to provide enough of a payoff for everything the main character (and the reader) has been put through.
by James Hutson-Wiley
Plot: The plot of “The Sugar Merchant” flows along steadily at an upbeat pace. As the title suggests, the book focuses very heavily on trade and commerce. It is, essentially, a journal of an ancient trader over several years. There are momentary sparks of action, but everything else is fairly mundane. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the look at the other side of the Muslim/Catholic conflicts of the first century.
Prose/Style: Hutson-Wiley's prose is simple, but it effectively captures the atmosphere and voices of the historical people and places. The book would benefit from a light to medium copy edit.
Originality: The originality of the book is in the perspective. Books about the Holy Wars and pilgrimages are common, but are usually told from the point of view of the crusaders. The Sugar Merchant gives readers a look at the other side of the story, even if it is told by a Catholic monk.
Character Development: The characters are all fairly standard, and their personalities would be enhanced by some more delving into their origin stories, motives, and individual emotions – nevertheless, they are realistic and memorable.
by Nicole Macaulay
Plot: The plot follows many existing conventions - lonely but good-hearted heroine, travel as a route to self-discovery, unwittingly getting caught up in someone else's crime story - but it's nicely structured and paced. It keeps being fun.
Prose/Style: There is a certain breathlessness to Lucy's internal narration and frequent exclamations of wonder at being in a foreign city, and the emails from her doting, somewhat smothering family are pitch-perfect. There's a sweetness and innocence to the narrator that may make this more appropriate for a YA format.
Originality: Plenty of other books and films have put a heroine in a foreign setting, caught up in events she doesn't quite understand, though this is far more charming and wide-eyed than other comparable stories.
Character Development: Lucy's innocence and frustration with a life in which she does just what is expected of her are plausible and winning, if a little on the '"gee whiz" side. As she takes action, gets mobile and opens her eyes to the wider world and to people she would never have met otherwise, she grows and changes in a way that is easy for the reader to root for.
by Cassandra Austen
Plot:The novel’s major points of tension are introduced gradually, and Austen captures the stakes of the story without veering into melodrama. As the novel comes to a close, however, some vital exchanges between the two main characters can come off as hasty. The ending could use the same nuance that was granted to the beginning of the novel.
Prose/Style:Austen’s prose is fluid and neat, albeit a bit typical of the historical fiction genre. Still, Austen’s ability to capture both Lady Catherine’s and Captain Averbury’s perspectives seems effortless, and her rich narrative vignettes supplement the stakes of the novel quite nicely.
Originality:Austen’s novel is fairly original, although it does present a few trademark tropes of the historical fiction genre. Overall, Austen’s ability to tap into each character’s highly individual point of view allows for a unique perspective on plot points that might otherwise read as cliché.
Character Development: Lady Catherine and Captain Averbury both read as nuanced, believably flawed characters. Catherine’s disdain for her upbringing, Averbury’s troubled past, and their romantic tension with one another are illustrated capably, providing an enticing and believable narrative arc for readers to enjoy.
Blurb:A thrilling hybrid of mystery, romance, and 19th century scene-setting -- sure to enthrall fans of historical fiction.
by Charles L. Ross
Plot: The plot could use some more attention to backstory and worldbuilding. The boy grows up; the father and son become estranged; the boy has his first and continuing gay relationships. He enters therapy to discover and better understand what happened when he was a young boy.
Prose/Style: The prose is straightforward and smooth, with few errors. The story is told chronologically. The story engages the reader, but the prose feels a bit journalistic, or more like a memoir.
Originality: This novel is a coming out story, the tale of a strained and finally estranged relationship between a father and a son. This particular situation feels new to the genre.
Character Development: The reader may not understand the characters well enough due to a lack of emotional detail from some characters. Anthony feels genuine enough in his adult life - and relationships - with other men to empathize with.
by R. D. Kardon
Plot: In “Flygirl,” Kardon tells a straightforward story about one woman aspiring to fulfill her professional dreams, as she grapples with overwhelming regrets and loss. While the nuances of Tris’s path toward becoming a plane captain can be banal, interpersonal conflicts and the heroine’s clear aspirations result in a satisfying narrative arc.
Prose/Style: Kardon writes in even, pragmatic prose that efficiently—if unremarkably—carries the story forward to its conclusion.
Originality: Though the story of a professional woman struggling to succeed in a male-dominated field is a familiar one, Kardon shows a clear understanding of the world of commercial airlines and effectively captures the unique experience of operating an aircraft.
Character Development: Kardon creates a relatable heroine in Tris, a character who, along with her grit and determination to succeed, displays a range of authentic emotions and vulnerabilities. Additional characters—including patronizing and dysfunctional colleagues—are portrayed with less subtlety.
by James Schannep
Plot: This book has three storylines and more than 50 endings. Does the reader, as a character, wish to survive or die? The choices are quite endless, but the plot itself is a bit thin. Some of the segments may be used in more than one story.
Prose/Style: The writing is fluid, with occasional grammatical errors that would be alleviated by a light proofread. The use of archaic and current seafaring terms helps put the reader into the scene.
Originality: Certainly, this is extremely clever and quite a feat in the way the endings and beginnings are organized.
Character Development: While the characters are colorful, they are somewhat stereotypical of ship's captains and mates and of pirates. They partake in some bawdy activities and sometimes speak coarsely. They are quite one-dimensional, and the reader doesn't get to know them intimately.
by W. B. Edwards
Plot: The plot itself is engaging, and the final twist is satisfying to read. The story’s twist, while gripping, appears fairly late in the book, and isn’t affirmed until the very last chapter of the novel.
Prose/Style: The dialogue reads very realistically – especially the exchanges between the children, Lonnie and Nell. Edwards is clearly attuned to her characters’ voices. The sentences, however, can be long-winded, sometimes without proper punctuation to break up the excess of clauses. An overuse of articles and transitional words (“so,” “and,” “but,” etc.) make it difficult to follow the action of each scene.
Originality: This is a general storyline that many fans of the thriller/mystery genre will recognize. With a bit more fine-tuning of character perspectives – expanding on specific psychologies, personal hang-ups, and idiosyncrasies – Edwards can develop the story’s originality even more.
Character Development: The text doesn’t seem to be rooted in one specific person’s perspective. The third-person omniscient narration grazes the surface of many characters’ POVs at once, failing to delve deeply into any detailed thoughts and musings.
by Holly Harbin
Plot: While the plot has interesting elements, so many different elements seem to be competing for the center stage: There is the front story of the relic and Alice, then her relationship with her husband and her secret pregnancy, then the backstory of his family. While it does coalesce, overall it still feels a bit too widespread to truly come together. Readers might have a difficult time parsing out the key elements of the narrative.
Prose/Style: The prose is a bit old-fashioned, even twee at times, which rubbed the wrong way. It almost sounded older than it needed to be, and while it’s certainly trying to emulate a time period, readers might be too distracted by the antiquated language to really get invested in the characters and plot.
Originality: This is definitely an original story for most readers today, thanks to the narration; that said, it does introduce questions into the plot that are distracting, such as how the narrator knew all of the information and backstory they did, and why exactly such large portions of each section were dedicated to sharing it.
Character Development: The characters in this story could use some more dimension to be believable - this could be due to the detached narration (characters are repeatedly introduced as “the man” or “the woman,” which makes it difficult to connect or picture them), or their dialogue, which often feels forced.
by Robert Trebor
Plot: The plot here is succinct. Its division between the experiences of Donald D. Rump and Vladimir Poutine drives the narrative forward. However, the overall delivery of events, though based on some real-life happenings, may not elicit the comedic effect desired.
Prose/Style: While the piece was quite short, Trebor’s prose was developed and easy to follow. The use of dialogue and exposition was integrated throughout, though perhaps heavier on the dialogue end. Frequency of dialogue exchange was not overly distracting, however, but rather helped move the story to its conclusion.
Originality: Trebor’s satirical piece is based on real events in some cases, which made this lack in originality in terms of events or plot. However, his imaginings of conversations and events were original and innovative.
Character Development: Characterization was presented well overall. Dialogue, exposition, and style worked together to equip each main character with distinct qualities, ways of speaking, and mannerisms. However, the minor characters were not very distinct from one another. This did not detract too much from reading the piece, however. An element that could be improved upon is creating empathy between reader and characters. Developing that aspect could make this a stronger piece that resonates better with readers.
by C.M. Harris
Disqualified due to word count under 30,000.