by Chelsea Walker Flagg
Plot: The author is a master in the art of cliff-hanger chapter endings. Every peril confronting Tinsey is so imaginative, it's impossible to guess the outcome.
Prose/Style: Tinsey's narrative employs the classic voice of a feisty underdog, and for a plot concerning a panoply of mythical creatures (elves, trolls, dragons, and the like), the tone of this chapter book is refreshingly untwee. The action scenes are vivid and suspenseful.
Originality: This genre of child-appropriate fantasy is a popular one, but rarely are the underlying issues explored so sensitively and entertainingly. All of the fantastical elements are delivered in a matter-of-fact manner, in such a way that children's imaginations are easily engaged. The upshot is that Tinsey learns, gradually, to embrace "the other." The book is full of laudable lessons but steers clear of preachiness.
Character Development: Tinsey grows in both confidence and empathy. Readers in the target age group will enjoy relating to her anxiety and, in turn, her ever-improving competence. This stirring adventure is told from the perspective of a just-turned eleven-year-old who's suffering from a classic case of Little Sister Syndrome. Chipmunk-sized Tinsey Clover has a grievance and a voice, and both are compelling.
by Melanie Hooyenga
Plot:This book is tightly plotted and well paced. A few of the protagonist's issues still feel unresolved by the ending, but overall, the book comes together very well.
Prose/Style:This is a well-written book, both technically and aesthetically. Characters sound "real" and both plot arcs and language flow smoothly.
Originality:The reformed bully trope is not new to the genre, but the places Brianna goes and the paces she is put through do lend this book an authentic feel with its own unique voice.
Character Development:Characters are developed thoroughly in this book. Character arcs, particularly among the main cast, are paced as meticulously as the plot. The characters are all believable, both in terms of their situations and actions.
by Joy H. Selak
Plot: Selak's novel is a feel-good story that will keep readers of all ages wanting to know what happens next.
Prose/Style: The text of the novel flows together nicely; however, there are minimal grammatical mistakes that a light proofread would have caught.
Originality: What sets Selak's novel from the rest is the superb storytelling skill. Selak creates an original novel by keeping readers enticed to know how the story unfolds and by continually provoking emotions from the reader.
Character Development: Selak does a very good job of creating likeable characters. Readers will find themselves falling in love with the characters of CeeGee and Mr. Tindale, in particular.
by Kendra Merritt
Plot: With a wonderfully crafted blend of swords and sorcery and characters based on Robin Hood, Merritt tops this story off with the lead character readers need nowadays; a strong, independent, powerful female mage who also happens to be in a wheelchair. Readers will be constantly turning the pages to see what happens next to this fun group of characters through the twists and turns they won’t see coming.
Prose/Style: Told from the point of view of the main character, Merry, Merritt brings readers along on Merry’s journey, feeling each emotion along with her, as well as what she witnesses her friends go through. Their travels through multiple lands are clearly described, pulling the reader seamlessly into her world.
Originality: Although there are several alternate versions of Robin Hood out there, Merritt’s story stands out with not only the mages and multiple realities they must work with, but the main character being Merry (based partially on Maid Marian), and her navigation through and view of the world being from her combination of being in a wheelchair and a powerful mage. This powerful combination puts this book much further ahead in originality.
Character Development: Readers will really enjoy following along with Merry, a young woman in a wheelchair in a time where those who couldn’t walk would be bed-ridden; she never lets her legs keep her from being as powerful as she is meant to be. The characters alongside her along the way are equally lovable, yet well written as individuals, while even the antagonists are given humanizing backstories that will pull some sympathy from readers.
by Peter Adam Salomon
Plot: This book explores a very interesting plot in which genius, but bullied, teens bring on the fated Apocalypse. In the unique premise, only two humans remain on Earth, and they experience death time and again in order to try to remember who they are and what happened to Earth.
Prose/Style: The author uses chilling prose that is both fast-paced and riveting. It moves the reader through this complex science fiction tale. Mistakes are few and far between, though the novel would benefit from a light copyedit.
Originality: The work is very original, not only because of the plot points and twists listed above, but also because of the creative ending. Just when the reader thinks it’s all over, there is hope for the characters and audience alike.
Character Development: The six teens who try to end the world are well-drawn, but the two survivors aren’t fully fleshed out until they learn the truth about who they are and why they exist, a mysterious and terrifying truth.
by A. M. Robin
Plot: The book flows at a nice pace, providing a satisfying, adventurous saga that will keep readers hooked. Though the ending feels slightly abrupt, the story is otherwise engaging.
Prose/Style: The author provides beautifully written, often creative descriptions, particularly of villages in the book’s fantasy setting.
Originality: The world building is well done. Consistent with expectations in the genre, the book’s magical realm is depicted nicely. The author aptly provides unique fantastical elements to bolster the details of the world.
Character Development: Readers will enjoy reading about Mira, the eleven-year-old protagonist as she grapples change, hardship and high-stake adventures.
A well-written and engaging saga for a middle-grade audience.
by Mary Zisk
Plot: The "coming-of-age" theme and junior high setting of this tale will be familiar to middle grade readers. With its briskly paced plot and strong voice, the story will hold readers' attention well until the last page.
Prose/Style: Although sometimes the narrator uses words or phrases which don't fit the 1965 setting, by and large the writing here is crisp and vivid. The narrator's often sarcastic tone will appeal to middle grade readers.
Originality: This coming-of-age story is enhanced by its mid-60s setting. Readers will have no trouble identifying with both Rosella and Bill and the challenges they face. Character Development: The story allows room for readers to follow an intriguing spectrum of character growth, from the narrator to her family and friends. Middle grade readers will easily identify with the protagonist and her friends.
Blurb: It's 1965 and seventh-grader Rosella "Remmy" Rinaldi--Remmy is short for Rembrandt--wants to be a world-famous artist. But working on her art means disobeying her dad, competing with an annoying male rival, and possibly losing her best friend in this lively coming-of-age story.
by Jean-Philippe Janssens
Plot: “System Programmer: The Maiden and the Madman” is a fairly standard fantasy novel with adventurous quests and an evil that must be defeated, but adding Joshua as a spirit from the 21st century gives it a unique edge.
Prose/Style: Jean-Philippe Janssens presents a fun, easy-to-read style filled with lots of dialogue quips.
Originality: Janssens takes the standard fantasy plot and tweaks it by having the summoned soul be a boy from the 21st century, lending a relatable and contemporary feel to the storyline.
Character Development: The characters in Jean-Philippe Janssens' fantasy novel are quite unique. The main character, Joshua is a reincarnated soul summoned by Catherine, a summoner from a less technologically advanced world.
by C.M. Aitken
Plot: With its graphic battle scenes, its well-wrought physical setting and its vivid storytelling style, Aitkin's series debut--the novel ends with an obvious cliffhanger--is a brisk and engaging future-world romp.
Prose/Style: Though occasionally too florid for its own good, the writing overall is fluid, rhythmic and natural, perfectly-pitched for teen readers. One caveat: an over-reliance on spell-check has resulted in distracting instances of homonyms; a light copy edit and proofreading pass would alleviate this issue.
Originality: Teenagers selected to become a "Protector" class; a plucky young girl exceeding her expectations; a future Earth overwhelmed by world-altering disaster; fierce monsters roaming the land beyond the walls... there are all familiar fantasy-genre tropes, but rendered here with gusto.
Character Development: One indication of the author's skill at stretching beyond stereotype is that when a secondary character dies--and many do--there's a moment of, "Why him?" The story arc for core characters Sky and sidekick Summer, from immature neophytes to battle-scarred survivors, is unforced and riveting.
by C.C. Bolick
Plot: This book is very much X-Men for teens meets Twilight, as there are supernatural powers, a budding romance and strong family ties included in the foundational elements of the plot. The first half of the book is very entertaining, as things aren’t at all what they seem.
Prose/Style: Though there is not a unique style, the YA writing style is satisfactory and the plot and characters are what compels this book. We do, however, get the occasional line that says volumes about the characters’ lives in few words.
Originality: The father-daughter storyline was enjoyable and some of the powers the team has are unique, like the heroine’s nuclear abilities.
Character Development: The first-person narrator really resonates as describing a typical teenage girl facing very atypical problems. Her love interest is very well fleshed out, even though his flesh is deadly to the touch.
by Grant Overstake
Plot: With muted riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in the background, Overstake's story of seventh-grader TJ Crowley of Wichita shaking off his racist upbringing to begrudgingly bond with his black neighbors is both authentic and deft.
Prose: The novel's young narrators come across as real kids, squabbling one day and back to being best friends the next. They’re realistically brought to life by the author's crisp, age-appropriate prose--though peppering the pages with almost 100 uses of the non-word "n*****" can come across as almost as exploitative.
Originality: Novels about kids from clashing cultures and classes thrown together are common-enough YA tropes, but Overstake's lesson about the destructiveness of stubborn bigotry manages to be both fresh and illuminating.
Character Development: Through the emotional growth of adolescent TJ and his evolving connection to his schoolmates, his racist mother and her KKK-affiliated boyfriend are central to the story. Each of the supporting characters is gifted with a distinctive personality.
by Heather Dixon Wallwork
Plot: A great adventure with a little romance for readers who appreciate music. Based loosely on “The Nutcracker” and “The Pied Piper,” readers who enjoy fairy tales will find this book a good option to pick up around the holidays. The plot moves at a fast pace and quickly draws the reader into the adventure. The author has done a good job of helping the reader navigate the enchanted land and given the reader a satisfying ending.
Prose/Style: Lots of imagery adds to the charm and takes the reader into the world with the main character. The writing is simple for younger readers, yet can be enjoyed by adults as well. Because the story reads like a fairy tale, readers will feel like they are part of the unique world that has been created.
Originality: The author has taken two known fairy tales as inspiration and created a charming story. With many references to music, music lovers will find this one to enjoy. Readers who are not familiar with one or more of the stories will still find this story enjoyable and may be led to read these original, cherished tales.
Character Development: The main character is sweet and often bewildered, with a sidekick who is funny and trying to help and stay out of trouble. The villain needs to be a bit more developed, as readers want him to be a more convincing menace.
Blurb: A whimsical tale for the holidays to be enjoyed by all ages.
by Garen Glazier
Plot: The quest is fun, as are the characters who embark upon it, but the pacing could be structured a bit better to improve the book. The lack of a true setup and explanation of certain concepts can hinder the immediacy of many of the actions in this storyline.
Prose/Style: Technically, this book is very well-written. Detailed descriptions and a steady flow make this a breezy read.
Originality: In some ways, this is a standard fantasy quest; however, the dynamics between several of the characters, as well as the relationship between the "real" world and the Otherworld, give this book its own place in the genre.
Character Development: The primary characters are well-rounded, with properly explored motivations, but the supporting characters would benefit from more exposition about their origins and motives.
Blurb: “Rune's Folly” is a well-conceived adventure tale with an entertaining main cast and some exciting twists, but a lack of development in key areas of the plot and in the supporting cast keep this book from achieving its potential.
by Paula Louise Salvador
Plot: “Trygg The Dinosaur” is a sweet story of unexpected friendship, peppered with facts about the dinosaur age.
Prose/Style: The author’s prose is fairly simplistic, which is great for the age group the author’s book targets.
Originality: Salvador’s book is very unique and it's perfect for readers on the cusp of adolescence who are still interested in dinosaurs, or who might be experiencing their first challenges in friendships.
Character Development: The characters in Salvador’s middle grade novel are unique, since they are anthropomorphic dinosaurs who defy human societal expectations.
by David L Heaney
Plot:This book’s storyline picks up the pace about four chapters in, when Silviana meets the mysterious Benton. The plot takes on unexpected, but positive, twists with Angus implying that Silvania may be evil and a badger being mistaken for the famed black fox.
Prose/Style:Changes in point of view within the same paragraph can be a bit confusing for readers to follow, and the style would benefit from more “showing rather than telling.”
Originality:The story is an informative and entertaining introduction to the world of fox hunting and the Roma culture, and it also brings some awareness to the topic of autism.
Character Development:Silviana is the most developed character here, while the other humans would benefit from delving into their origin stories or motives. The references to Fiona being on the spectrum bring awareness to autism, but because of the range of traits, someone familiar with her condition may not find the descriptions wholly realistic. Of the animals, Benton is the most interesting, as it’s apparent that he has the power to alter his form and transform into animal or human shapes.
by D. Krauss
Plot: Krauss' novel successfully takes us on a journey through an unforgettable, darkly fantastical summer in Butch's life after his mother and father announce their impending divorce.
Prose/Style: Krauss' prose is minimalist, but it gets the themes and main concepts across very well, while also maintaining a child's point of view.
Originality: Krauss' book has all of the hallmarks of a coming-of-age drama set in the 60’s, as Butch’s eyes are slowly opened to the real (and less-than-real) world around him.
Character Development: The characters in Krauss' young adult tale are nuanced, with many twists to them, and an evident commitment to emotional exploration, growth and development.