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General Fiction

  • The Way of Glory

    by Patricia J. Boomsma

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: This story takes place in England and places throughout Europe in the 12th century. The Christians are trying to regain land now occupied by Jews and Moors. The role of women is incredibly limited here; according to Christian belief, women are "the cause of all evil." Christians, in general, are not shown in a good light in this book. However, descriptions of the living conditions, food, daily work and battle are both detailed and intriguing.

    Prose/Style: The text is smooth, the chronology is clear (each chapter states its month or season and year), and there are few diversions or errors.

    Originality: A historical novel about this period, about a strong young woman who doesn't fit the 12th century Christian mold, is unique and fresh. For its genre, this feels original. The material about herbal healing is fascinating.

    Character Development: Cate is incredibly mature for a young teenager, but, given the times, her lifespan would have been short so this may be realistic. She is deeply portrayed, if a bit too perfect, wise and kind. Her two brothers, Willard and Sperling, are extremely strict Christians and, in the end, both choose religion over family.

     

  • Clifford's Spiral

    by Gerald Everett Jones

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The plot here is well paced. While drifting in and out of Clifford's consciousness and memories has the potential to become confusing, it ultimately does not.

    Prose/Style: The novel would benefit from a thorough proofreading, but overall the author did quite well with his words.

    Originality: This book is fairly original, but the concept of piecing together one's life through sifting memories and battling one's own consciousness has seen much potential in storytelling. The author has developed this idea into his own remarkably well, though.

    Character Development: Following one character as he battles within his own mind might be fairly therapeutic for the reader, as will be going along on a journey of growth and development, even at an older age. Seeing the father-son relationship develop through a metaphor in the mind of Clifford was also well done by the author.

  • Angel City Singles

    by Ralph Cissne

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The protagonist seeks purpose and happiness in this soul-searching escapade on the club circuit in Los Angeles. Contemplative, self-occupied, and meandering, every action sparks interest yet leaves a questionable sense of reason as the story progresses with insufficient motivation.

    Prose/Style: An admirable command of language brings each scene to vibrant life, rendering every mundane passage riveting and ordinary situations fascinating. Polished and sophisticated, meticulous prose enhances the emotional impact of this intellectual mainstream novel.

    Originality: Club Los Angeles takes on a stereotypical personality that wraps itself around every character in this familiar portrayal of striving and struggling poets, musicians, and comedians. Though an absorbing book, the glorified culture of this dominant metropolis overwhelms the story, even in description, a phenomenon seen whenever California’s City of Angels plays a significant role in determining the outcome.

    Character Development: The depiction of David Bishop and his supporting characters takes realism to a human level of expertise—believable and genuine. Created to elicit compassion and empathy, these pillars of a weak storyline make the reading experience worthwhile.

  • The Sum of All Things

    by Nicole Brooks

    Rating: 7.75

    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.

  • Sentencing Silence

    by Kathleen Cecilia Nesbitt

    Rating: 7.50

    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.

  • The Sugar Merchant

    by James Hutson-Wiley

    Rating: 7.50

    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.

  • Mirador

    by James Jennings

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This is a clever premise, with a distinct historical setting for a novel of loss and revenge. Few American readers understand how NAFTA truly impacted Mexico, and this novel offers a vivid look inside the rebellion against those consequences.

    Prose/Style: The writing is always solid, though sometimes a little overwrought, particularly in the romance scenes.

    Originality: The author has made a very interesting choice, setting his reluctant protagonist, Nate Hunter, in the middle of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, circa 1992-93.

    Character Development: Nate's decency is always placed so far in the foreground that it's hard to chart his growing sympathy for the rebellion. His desire for vengeance, closely connected to the murder of his wife, often overshadows his empathy for the rebels and limits his depth. His Hemingway-esque, Robert Jordan-style hero's death is a little too predictable, though.

    Blurb: A tale of a surprising twist of fate that sends an ordinary Dallas computer expert to the heartland of the Zapatista Rebellion in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. This book is full of vivid descriptions and nuanced portraits of people living on the edge until they decide to strike back.

  • Beginnings, Middles and Endings

    by S. D. Turner

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Turner's quiet, interlinked stories focus on the life of a woman coming-of-age, discovering her identity, grappling with a parent’s mental illness, and navigating a male dominated world and profession.  While the short story structure is somewhat disjointed and readers may struggle at times to find the connection between the tales, Turner ultimately delivers a compelling and intimate character study.

    Prose/Style: Turner writes in a crisp, beautifully rendered prose style that allows the minutiae of an individual’s lived experience to resonate.

    Originality: The narrative structure of this work is highly distinctive. While at times individually opaque, collectively, the works form a gratifying and multidimensional narrative arc.

    Character Development: Readers will gain a clear and nuanced sense of the central character through moments both significant and small. 

  • Honeymoon Alone

    by Nicole Macaulay

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • The Portrait

    by Cassandra Austen

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • Someday Everything Will All Make Sense

    by Carol LaHines

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This literary, lyrical novel is enriched by its philosophical underpinnings. Readers looking for an exploration of grief and familial readers will enjoy this book, but those looking for a riveting adventure might turn elsewhere.

    Prose/Style: The prose in this work is lovely, if at times leaning toward pretentious; readers will find it moves quickly and paints a vivid picture of each scene. They'll also enjoy the main character's voice, which is simultaneously witty and sardonic.

    Originality: This is a book that deals with grief through humor and a touch of absurdity; general fiction readers will enjoy the compassion and care in each page, which, while reminiscent of the books touching on similar subjects, feels original.

    Character Development: Luther is a well-defined, worldly, and unconventional character with a strong voice; readers will not soon forget him.

  • 77th and Broadway: A Decade in a World of Crime

    by Richard Wills

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This uniquely structured work of noir fiction is comprised of a sequence of events, some of them interrelated. While the individual works provide little true resolution, this is in keeping with the novel's subject matter and basis in true events. 

    Prose/Style: The individual vignettes presented in this novel are eminently readable and collectively affecting.

    Originality: The novel's central focus on bail bondmen in a distinctive time period in Los Angeles is highly original, as is its piecemeal structure and integration of true crime.

    Character Development: The two primary bail bondsmen, Wilbert Lee Buck, and Richie V. Smooth, are smartly developed. The clients are somewhat stereotypical, while female characters are viewed through the unfortunately prejudicial--if historically authentic--viewpoints of male characters.

  • Winds Across Beringia

    by Benjamin Barnette

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Barnette crafts a compelling work of ancient historical fiction, imagining an epic trek across the land bridge of Beringia. The story unfolds with notes of sublimity as well as moments of tense action.

    Prose/Style: Barnette's language offers lyrical and smooth descriptions of the Ice Age world sparsely populated by early humans and ancient mammals. Simple dialogue suits the protagonists, though frequent, factual references--while entirely fascinating as background knowledge--can sometimes impede upon the organic storytelling unfolding within an exquisite, often brutal landscape.

    Originality: This narrative is highly unique in terms of its ancient setting and its early human protagonists. Fiction readers with an interest in anthropology and Earth science will relish this highly researched and visceral offering.

    Character Development: Onna and Harjo are equally compelling characters; their respective roles are seemingly authentic within the context of the largely speculative storytelling. Their relationship is one of symbiosis and collaboration that strengthens as the pair face the wild uncertainty of their journey and future.

  • What Happened in Lake Erie

    by Charles L. Ross

    Rating: 7.00

    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.

  • Plot: Mark Russell Gelade's debut work blends the different mediums of prose and poetry. Although brevity within the characters can be deemed as hampering, it is a refreshing approach.

    Prose/Style: The prose is easy to read and clever in its use of poetry.

    Originality: This is a collection of stories that ring true to the human condition, psalms that deal with the complexities of loneliness and human relationships.

    Character Development: The author takes a snapshot of the lives of his characters. The reader meets these characters in specific emotional moments in their lives which may seem out of context but revolves around a central, grounding premise.

  • The Forgetting Flower

    by Karen Hugg

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Excellent pacing backed by precise execution, plot point by plot point, infuses this riveting tale with a sense of immediacy and inherent dread, a commendable novel that shows promise in a lucrative genre spearheaded by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While delving into the mundane aspects of maintaining a plant shop and floral delivery service in Paris, the protagonist escorts the unassuming into a treacherous world of blossoming toxins.

    Prose/Style: Planted in this ominous prose garden is the ability to draw a jaded maven of suspense fiction into a world where flora takes on destructive capability. Candid introspection enhances the story, while at times the narrative lingers too long on descriptive trivialities insignificant to the plot.

    Originality: This innovative author has established a unique niche in a field that flaunts familiar scenarios and predictable outcomes. By narrowing her creative line of vision to catalyst plants, such as the hybrid Violet Smoke, a blooming weapon with an intoxicating aroma, she has built her foundation for endless stories.

    Character Development: This plot-heavy mystery focuses on sinister events through the eyes of the protagonist Renia at the expense of in-depth portrayal, while minor characters are maneuvered according to the storyline. Intriguing details emerge at opportune moments, capturing attention as bits of information reveal more than personality.

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