Mystery / Thriller
by Carrie Rubin
Plot: The storyline here is mesmerizing. The intimate details of Liza's schizoid personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder, are a convincing study in personal experience with a mental illness. The condition makes it difficult for her to interact with others, but her intelligence enables her to become a resident in pathology at Titus McCall Medical Center. She believes a charismatic doctor has been stalking her, and may even be killing people, but which part of her mind can she trust? Can her friends and colleagues trust her?
Prose/Style: A bold, intelligent voice is enhanced by sharp wit that is sometimes gallows humor. The prose in areas of suspense is spellbinding.
Originality: A smart pathology resident who has a mental illness, trying to find answers to what starts as “an intriguing puzzle”, is a splendidly peculiar mystery.
Character Development: Complex characters stand out as living people. Liza Larkin is an extraordinary example of a functioning individual with a personality disorder. Her strength, courage, and determination are easy to love and root for.
Blurb: The champion of this murder mystery will hold readers in her grip—even when she sometimes has slips of judgment—and she won't let go until she has finished wringing the truth out of every question.
by Steve Zell
Plot: Reading this book is as entertaining and riveting watching a film. However, the author should consider fewer POV characters so that readers can focus on the plot, especially at the beginning of the story.
Prose/Style: The prose flows well, and word choice is exquisite.
Originality: Again, the prose elevates this novel. Deanne and Sara are strong characters, but the book would benefit from less points of view so that readers can focus.
Character Development: The characters are believable, and this book is worthy of a wide readership. Focusing on a few main characters would keep the plot and perspectives structured.
Powerful prose and strong characters make this supernatural mystery a satisfying read and a page-turner.
by Kip Koelsch
Plot: The author crafts a complex and finely constructed narrative that deftly weaves together disparate elements for a cohesive and rewarding reading experience.
Prose/Style: The author is a gifted writer with a flair for vibrant storytelling, riveting action, and polished dialogue.
Originality: This highly original work combines mystery/thriller elements with content relating to science and marine life. It's a rare mixture of topics that helps this work stand apart from others in this category.
Character Development: The author excels at crafting believable, dimensional, and endearing characters, conveying motivations through actions as well as dialogue. There is a diverse cast of characters here, and the author shows a clear reverence for each player.
by Amy Waeschle
Plot: This novel's plot tells the story in a well-paced, suspenseful manner. The strategy of switching between Zach's and Jessie's POV is very effective both for revealing bits and pieces of the story/backstory and for building tension as the novel reaches its climax.
Prose/Style: The author's prose style is very readable, almost transparent in the way it falls away in service to the story. At the same time, the text is beautifully written, with precise language and startling imagery. Third-person narration helps readers remain oriented despite chapter-by-chapter POV switches that create convincing and distinctively individual character perspectives.
Originality: This book gives fresh treatment to routine story elements like abused/neglected teens, arson, and missing persons. The story is compelling, even though the "crimes" at its heart don't develop or resolve in a way that completely satisfies the mystery genre's expectations for "justice."
Character Development: The characters are well-drawn and original, with exceptional attention to small details that bring them convincingly to life. For example, although the tomboy aspects of Jessie's character sometimes slide close to skateboard-culture cliché, as much of her behavior is influenced by ongoing distress over outgrowing her one, ratty sports bra and the complete lack of support, understanding, or even awareness she gets from her grief-distracted mother.
by Jeff Wade
Plot:“Mentally disturbed man kidnaps girls” may be a basic plot, but what livened this take on the well-used premise are the conflict and the action scenes. The antagonist is memorably and realistically scary, and the tension in these scenes is well done, suggesting a style that draws the reader into the story on the front page.
Prose/Style:The writing is technically sound and well executed when crafting the setting and action scenes. The vivid details add to the story in an engaging way. The scenes containing the abduction itself are riveting and will remain with the reader long after the last page is turned.
Originality:The premise of the abduction and crimes committed are not wholly original and are used often in novels, TV, and movies. However, the author’s handling of these details and the antagonist is unique, intense and captivating. The antagonist’s collection of ponytails is truly chilling.
Character Development:While the characters are strong in description and allow the reader to easily visualize them, the dialogue misses the mark at times and the voices often sound similar. If the author focuses on remedying this aspect, there is huge promise in this work.
by Libby Sternberg
Plot: The question of who killed the cruel scoundrel Ivan Roustakoff is especially intriguing because protagonist Gregory Silensky may be the murderer, but with his drink-fogged mind, he can't be quite sure. Gregory also suspects the beautiful, childlike vocal student Laura, but they soon fall in love and he can't imagine her going to jail. This book features excellent foreshadowing and teasers keep the pace quick.
Prose/Style: This book’s lovely cadence and phrasing help to move the story along, and descriptions are verbal visualizations of scenes and characters. Gregory's passion for music is deliciously described. The 1940s references are accurate and engaging.
Originality: The blend of murder, music and musicians is not fully fresh, but it's interesting as told from the perspective of a pianist with damaged hands and uncertainty about his own guilt. The finely honed prose adds to the originality of this novel.
Character Development: The characters are dynamic individuals with fascinating neuroses and captivating quirks. The author displays an impressive technique of descriptions that dig deeper into traits than physical appearances.
Blurb: Superior prose carries this story of a brooding pianist alcoholic who worries that he might be guilty of killing a loathsome conductor. Musicians and murder make for an especially neurotic entanglement of suspects. Bravo!
by L. A. Starks
Plot:The plot of sabotage of oil refineries is intriguing and drives the action, setting the pace of this thriller. The plot engages the reader from the first page.
Prose/Style:The prose is descriptive without providing too much detail, allowing the reader to use his or her imagination at will. Emotion is evoked often, and the tension drives the reader forward.
Originality:The use of the oil industry in California helps make this thriller original. The author provides just enough history without overwhelming the reader with too much information.
Character Development:The characters are well developed, with their own memorable voices. The names provide a diversity that is demanded when using the oil industry and technology as a background. The dialogue is natural and believable and brings the reader easily into the story.
by Alexa Padgett
Plot: “Wrong spot, wrong time” is a well-worn plot device, but what makes it work for this story is the suspenseful setup of the conflict between self (Cici’s religious Do-No-Harm vs. self-preservation) paired with the harsh New Mexico wilderness and the men who will stop at nothing to kill her. Adding to the suspense is Anton’s role and the question of whether he truly is a good guy. This is an action packed thriller pitting a wholly endearing reverend against nefarious international agents.
Prose/Style: Written in a clear, distinct style, Padgett uses the prose to elicit tension and emotion and creates a tense, fast-paced story. Switching from Cici’s survival to Sam’s concerns for her safety creates a nice counterbalance to the overall prose.
Originality: Set against an international spy ring hoping to create unrest in the U.S. by stealing sacred artifacts from the American Southwest, Padgett introduces a fresh take on the spy genre. Adding Cici’s religious nature (Reverend Cici) sets this book apart from most other books in the genre.
Character Development: Being the third book in the series, the characters feel very fleshed out. They know their limitations, their desires, their hopes and loves. This is evident in how Cici reacts to having to kill a man and how she tries to come to terms with her feelings for Sam (and Sam for Cici). Cici’s ability to commune with her dead sister (as well as the spirits of the Ancient Chacoan) is somewhat of a stretch, but it is handled in a way that doesn’t seem overtly gimmicky.
by Karen S. Gordon
Plot: “The Mutiny Girl” offers a complex and rich plot, both solving a decades-old murder and a current treasure hunt of illicit drug money, with an equal amount of well-drawn details that meld within the story rather than acting as their own parts. Though the story unfolds slowly, once it finds its momentum it doesn’t let up until the very end.
Prose/Style: Gordon clearly has a way with words, and these skills are on full display in action-packed and, at times, grotesque, descriptions. The heat, tension, and emotions are vividly captured, and the erotic and death-related scenes are very memorable.
Originality: Based on a true story from the author’s life at the real Hotel Mutiny, there will be some familiar aspects of the story to readers of drug/crime fiction set in Miami (drug runners, crooked cops, clandestine meetings, etc.). However, Gordon infuses the reality with a clever murder/mystery alongside a story of reckoning—both familial and monetary.
Character Development: All of the characters, from the primary ones (Vance, Lauren, Ray, and Tony) to the secondary cast (Jake, Daniel, and Davis) are well-fleshed out and given just the right amount of background story to engage readers without bogging down the plot. Especially well done was the figure of Ray Dinero, who served as El Cerebro, “the brains,” behind the drug operations.
Blurb: An outstanding debut thriller that has it all: misdirection, intrigue, murder, and family. Captivating and engrossing.
by C.L. Brees
Plot: Brees' plot develops at a steady pace with a slow build to pure chaos. The twists come at a healthy clip that might leave the reader looking over their shoulders with angst.
Prose/Style: The prose is suffused with an increasing amount of tension in paranoia as the story progresses. The motives of characters are subtly hinted at with the sophisticated writing.
Originality: The story on its face appears "been there before", but as the action gets heated, the nuances distinguish this book from contemporaries.
Character Development: The characters presented in the story carry a relatability in their own way. The protagonist, Caleb, is sympathetic and interesting. His circle of friends are distinguished in their caring for him. Their actions render their uniqueness.
by J.B. Curry
Plot: Well organized and full of energy, the novel develops in unexpected manners, but never loses its focus. While there are hints at romance, the excitement of the chase is what will keep readers riveted to the pages.
Prose/Style: Curry's writing is strong, with a well-defined narrative voice and a command of language. Suspense is consistently sustained, while dialogue is smooth, effortless and authentic.
Originality: The story is quirky and original; the circumstances are believable and realistic. Overall, it's a riveting and memorable read.
Character Development: The characters are distinctive and realistic, with none of them wasted or painted with a single brush.
by Ty Mitchell
Plot: The plot here is well thought out and conceived. The movement of the story is well coordinated and not too fast or slow. The strength of the book lies within its depth.
Prose/Style: The prose begins in a disarming sort of way, until the unfolding events cut the reader down quickly. The writing mixes in the action-mystery with dashes of emotion and police procedural.
Originality: The book combines a pleasant mix of sci-fi, along with mystery and secrecy, that keep the reader on their toes.
Character Development: The characters are well written and tread paths that lead to any possible unfolding scenario. The protagonist's backstory possesses tragedy and sadness, but also hidden violence and a wildcard element. Each new character unveiled meshes well with the reader.
Blurb: This is an excellent new release, full of interesting characters involved in covert goings on. The mysteries abound in a well-plotted and thought out book that will make the reader hunger for more.
by Joseph LeValley
Plot: The tension of this legal suspense story is strong at the start, and the character descriptions—for example, during courtroom battles and while in threatening circumstances—keep the pace. The reporter's detailed observations, and his own investigation of the case, will keep readers' attention.
Prose/Style: There is tight clarity in the prose here. The journalistic and legal topics are easy to read about and understand, and the emotional scenes are sympathetic without feeling contrived.
Originality: It is a fairly common theme to have a reporter's interest in a defendant who is assumed guilty, but is not. Tony as a savvy observer and reporter, and his approach to his investigation and emotional investment, contribute to the originality of this story.
Character Development: This book boasts high-level construction of characters and their relationships. Tony is smart but modest, Nelson is smart but obnoxious. The defendant Wells is stereotypical at times, but it works in the story. The book includes believable romance and friendships.
Blurb: This book is filled with suspense that begins in the courtroom, and keeps readers on edge through a reporter's emotional investigation of a double-homicide.
by Carmen Amato
Plot: The sixth novel in the Detective Emilia Cruz series weaves together her interesting backstory, a fictional criminal, and the true crime story of forty-three missing Mexican students. That crime remains unsolved to this day, but Amato creates a very possible solution to it in this book.
Prose/Style: A fast-paced procedural, the novel is written in a no-nonsense style. This book is a real page-turner with just a touch of Spanish vocabulary and descriptions thrown in.
Originality: This book has a very original plot, as the author weaves the true crime with her own inventions. Readers will enjoy the clever use of other aspects of the crime scene elements in Mexico as well.
Character Development: Detective Cruz is a fully fleshed out character. Tough, but not above shedding a few tears, she bears the scars of a violent past while handling being the first and only female detective in Acapulco.
by Susan Lynn Solomon
Plot: Set during a visit to a spooky Canadian inn, Kaitlyn's troubles with both spirits and suicidal thoughts will hold readers' interest. The pace stays strong through the details of Abigail's 19th century backstory and her young lover's work in the Underground Railroad.
Prose/Style: The contemporary voice is clean and clear with many memorable and pleasing descriptions, and works well for the story. However, there are only a few moments of standout phrasing.
Originality: A nicely unique combination of elements is featured here: a ghost story, an emotionally troubled modern woman, the romantic 1800s story of Abigail being “shown” to Katy, and a touch of Civil War history.
Character Development: The author makes excellent distinctions between personalities. The ghost stands out well as an individual from her own 1850s era, and her Irish accent and understanding of her fate is charming. Katy as a lawyer isn't fully believable, though; she seems too off-balance and slightly immature for that type of work.
by Dana Ridenour
Plot: Readers will root for FBI Special Agents Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery and Blake Bennett as they go undercover to infiltrate the international Animal Liberation Front. Events move at an exciting and believable pace, with a thrilling climax and satisfying resolution.
Prose/Style: Ridenour’s prose is clear and polished. Chapter transitions are fluid and natural, allowing the reader to easily get lost in the story.
Originality: Ridenour’s villains—members of an animal rights extremist group—are utterly unique, crossing the line from contemporary activism into large-scale violence. The romance that develops between Lexie and Blake is predictable but sweet.
Character Development: As the story progresses, readers will become more and more invested in Lexie and Blake and their budding relationship. However, Lexie’s psychological trauma from a previous mission is a storyline that does not feel fully developed.