by Jim Hamilton
Plot: Overall, the novel delivers a well-executed narrative that is easy to get lost in; transports readers to a different world; and allows the imagination to run wild. Readers can feel the Appalachian community culture through this page-turner of a novel. The plotline twists and turns are engaging, the tension is just right, and the unlikely hero provides a pleasant surprise.
Prose/Style: The author has a fun and entertaining style of writing that reads like a movie. It allows for readers to become entirely immersed and carried away by the protagonist's quest.
Originality: The author's experience with natural and cultural history shines through, lending credibility to the story. Although the account is a work of fiction, this type of personal narrative intimately welcomes audiences into a world they otherwise would never experience.
Character Development: The characters are memorable, showcasing a satisfying depth of internal conflict, personal development, motivation, nuance, and complexity. They provide spunk and fresh uniqueness that carry the story well.
by Sam Harris
Plot: This is an exquisitely-threaded, gripping, and satisfying coming-of-age novel, full of family, friendship, churches, charlatans, mentors, and mystical abilities. Readers will be engaged and enthralled from the first page until the last.
Prose/Style: The prose here is sophisticated, clear, and wholly memorable, and serves to enhance the exceptional narrative that the author has crafted.
Originality: The premise behind this wonderful novel is unique, effective, and entirely fresh.
Character/Execution: The characters are quite amazingly drawn, especially Theo and Frank. Theo, the sensitive young healer, is reminiscent of some of John Irving's young characters.
by Laurie Boris
Plot: Humorous, witty, and lighthearted, the plot dives right in, reeling in readers with a vibrant setup and panache that continues to echo throughout. These pages provide a satisfying blend of comedy, drama, and romance that keeps readers engaged.
Prose/Style: The writing is economical and curt where it needs to be and, at the same time, doesn't shy away from a more expository style strategically peppered throughout. The author showcases excellent situational awareness and delivers a satisfying course of literature to the readers.
Originality: The book is original and effective in its delivery, avoiding clichés and formulaic outcomes. The plot, the setting, and the characters feel unique and vibrant.
Character Development: The characters are marvelously flawed and complex. They carry the story, pulling the readers in with interactions that feel earnest, raw, and realistic, making for an excellent and memorable read.
by Ndirangu Githaiga
Plot: This excellent historical novel offers a vivid, multigenerational portrait of a Kenyan family. With literary prowess and great authenticity, the author explores both the triumphs and challenges faced by individuals who continue to carry the scars of colonialism.
Prose: Despite the author's occasional tendency to focus on minutia, Githaiga's prose is primarily polished, vivid, and engrossing. Readers will recognize that they are in the hands of a master storyteller.
Originality: Githaiga's novel is unique in its focus, breadth, and artful delivery. The historical Kenyan setting is as strikingly well-realized as the streets of modern Chicago.
Character/Execution: From self-possessed, courageous Wambũi to Eileen Atwood, whose idealism in no way compromises her integrity, the characters populating The People of Ostrich Mountain are multidimensional, various, and convincing. The impact of seismic historical and cultural events on central characters, is moving and palpable.
by Stephanie Alexander
Plot: Charleston Green is a charming and clever novel, set in South Carolina in contemporary times. Tipsy, who has long been able to communicate with the deceased (including her chatty, opinioned grandmother) moves into a grand old house in the city following her divorce, hoping to be inspired to paint again. Tipsy’s search to rekindle her creativity also means cohabiting with—and learning from—the house’s ghostly residents. The ghost story element and the ensuing mystery that unravels, allows a familiar story of personal growth and rediscovery, to uniquely shine.
Prose: Alexander's novel features a wry, agile prose style that, while contemporary, carries an echo of a distant era. The author effectively captures the essence of an old, storied house whose troubled former tenants still exist within its walls.
Originality: As the protagonist navigates her life and career post-divorce, the ghosts inhabiting her living quarters provide a lightly spooky and darkly humorous element to the story. Eminently readable and quietly inventive, the novel’s unusual tone casts a lingering spell.
Character Development: Charleston Green is colorfully peopled by eccentric individuals, both living and deceased. Perhaps inevitably, the secondary characters and their tragic mystery can at times overshadow the protagonist and her own quest for independence and artistic fulfillment. Intriguingly, this is also a love story to Charleston and the surrounding Low Country, and the author richly establishes a distinctive sense of place.
by Lindsey Issow Averill
Plot: This is a mature, wonderful, provocative and starkly memorable narrative that unfolds seamlessly.
Prose/Style: The prose is well-crafted and embellished in a high-literary style and flows smoothly throughout the book.
Originality: This wise novel is one of love, loss, seduction, and growth. While the complex circumstances of a third individual entering a marriage is a literary convention that has been explored before, the author is up to the task and does so in a manner that reflects an understanding of the many types of human love and the manifestations of grief.
Character Development: The characters are complex, truly human, and relatable. Readers may crave additional backstory for Sissy and other individuals, but the author shows great finesse in crafting a layered and charismatic cast.
by Mark Buchanan
Plot: Buchanan's ‘David’ trilogy promises to dramatize all the seasons of the life of the most famous king of Israel. This first volume dashes through David's earliest years, including his showdown with Goliath, his marriage to the daughter of King Saul, and Saul's later efforts to kill the young hero anointed to wear the crown. Buchanan retells the stories with swiftness, clarity, and a poetic sensibility befitting a novel about the author of the Psalms. Supplementing these exciting chapters about David's youth are first-person reflections, from much later in life, from David and other key figures. These speculative glimpses into the minds of biblical figures are compelling, surprising, and revealing. The story of David's rise is one of heroics, violence, and outsize artistic brilliance; Buchanan's first-person chapters persuasively argue that it's also deeply, relatably human.
Prose/Style: Overall, the prose in ‘David: Rise’ is both fleet and arrestingly fragmented, with memorable details and descriptions broken up in short, staccato sentences. There are confusing grammatical patterns, a technique that creates an effect of focused intensity, where every line seems to be about David, even when the character is not actually in a scene. Buchanan is adept at quickly nailing a poetic image and then moving on to another, though once in a while they pile up and clash with each other.
Originality: The story of David has been the basis for countless books, from inspirational fiction to works from writers as renowned as Robert Pinsky and Joseph Heller. Buchanan's re-imagining is thoughtful, literary, and vivid in its retelling, honoring the complexity and the fundamental unknowability of its subject. He invigorates familiar material.
Character Development: In a foreword, Buchanan acknowledges to readers that his novel imagines the specifics of David's character. The book has been written in a spirit of novelistic inquiry; rather than declarative, it's humble in its speculations, imbuing a distant, fascinating figure with a touching humanity.
Blurb: With rare poetic power, Mark Buchanan's ‘David: Rise,’ the start of a trilogy, immerses readers in the world and mind of King David, not just retelling the familiar story but daring to summon the psalmist's very presence.
by Sally Vedros
Plot: Vedros's 'Fixer' is a whip-smart, unflinching look at the hyper-competitive culture of Silicon Valley and the pursuit of the grind. The bold, quick plotting drives the story, along with its convincing depictions of fraught personal and professional relationships.
Prose/Style: Vedros's prose is sharp and dynamic and helps to establish the energetic pace of the novel. Characters' voices are distinct enough to add individual texture to the narrative, while the language is unpretentious and easily accessible.
Originality: This witty story of misguided aspiration, modern social mores, and the quest for self actualization blends contemporary fiction with sci-fi elements. The artful integration of each genre's respective elements result in an unconventional and thoroughly enjoyable novel.
Character Development: Meghan is by far the standout figure in this novel. Her emotional journey drives the story as she and Diego navigate the growing tensions within their relationship. Kari and Kira succeed as the ambitious, uncompromising couple they're meant to be.
by Natasha Karis
Plot: The Initiates is a polished, sharply observant, and philosophical novel about the growth that comes from knowledge, self-awareness, and under the guidance of a nurturing and conscientious educator.
Prose: Karis's prose is striking, layered, and poetic. The storytelling style is graceful, even, and displays the author's clear dedication to craft.
Originality: While readers may draw comparisons to other works of literature--notably, young adult novels that surround the topic of suicide--Karis's work stands apart through its literary sophistication and integration of philosophical ideas.
Character/Execution: Karis capably creates a cast of students whose actions, dialogue, and perceptions are authentic and moving. While the heroine may benefit from additional moral complexity, her devotion to her students and personal relationship struggles, are vividly conveyed.
by Daniel Greene
Plot: Greene's story of a Michigander who enlists, after a drunken brawl, in the Northern cavalry builds toward a lesser-known engagement at the Battle of Gettysburg, a fitting climax for a novel that focuses on everyday soldiers whose drills, marches, and skirmishes keep glancing up against history. "Northern Wolf" is part historical travelogue, part spirited Bildungsroman, and part battle novel, inviting readers to immerse themselves in what life as a Civil War soldier might actually have felt like. At times, though, the narrative's focus on the journey of Johannes Wolf comes second to appearances from historic figures, whose point-of-view chapters slow an otherwise compelling story.
Prose/Style: Greene's prose is crisp, inviting, memorable, and period-appropriate. The dialogue is especially strong, with characters' idiomatic speech revealing both the drift of mind of these individuals but also of an era now otherwise lost to us. Greene excels at capturing the rough wit and camaraderie of his soldiers, as well as the poetic flourishes in the speech of a population that has the cadences of the King James bible echoing in its blood.
Originality: Stories of enlisted men seeking adventure and then finding loss and glory on the battlefield are commonplace, as are Civil War stories that march end at Gettysburg. But Greene's trek over a well-trod past is fresh and vital, fully imagined and bursting with life.
Character Development: Greene's novel adeptly captures, in its own words, the "training, marching, gambling, and drinking" of Michigan's most raggedy recruits in the late war. Then those recruits find themselves tested, in rousing, vivid scenes of battle. Greene captures the feeling of military life, of waiting and parsing rumors, of pre-fight jitters and boredom interrupted by sudden terror. The book's final third loses some of its engaging power, however, as the perspectives of officers and considerations of the strategies of battle increasingly share the spotlight with the scrappy experiences of Greene's fictional Michigan 13th Cavalry.
by Abbey Seitz
Plot: A sexually assaulted academic uses universal outrage to motivate her altruistic need to help less fortunate women, even those oblivious to requiring assistance. Her lighthearted romance with a native of India softens the intense storyline, a plot that focuses on overcoming neglect and discrimination.
Prose/Style: Concise editing enhances this high-grade novel, a book aptly suitable for college students and discussion groups. The emphasis on psychological renewal places this title in a sophisticated class appropriate for instruction.
Originality: Realistic and based on factual observation as opposed to fabrication, the story reaches beyond mainstream fiction into informative guidance. This short book is a distinctive blend of social education and travel entertainment, with an underlying pedagogical punch.
Character Development: The in-depth portrayal of the protagonist paints a detailed portrait of an intellectual woman seeking answers to achieving gender equality, especially in downtrodden parts of urban India. This heroine’s past, filled with turmoil, propels her quest for utopian resolution.
by Jack Young
Plot: Young’s novel is smart, atmospheric, and darkly funny. Readers will have no trouble following this smoothly flowing story wherein the Fensetter family and the inhabitants of Fensetter Falls decide to take their fate into their own hands.
Prose/Style: Young’s well-crafted prose transports readers to the fading town of Fensetter Falls. Young has developed distinct voices for this large cast of characters, including hitmen, drunks, police officers, attorneys, a religious zealot, and a gypsy. Young’s prose proves sharp and clever.
Originality: Young takes a premise familiar to readers – one where a wealthy family gathers to learn the fate of their large estate – and delivers a sharp, witty story that grows increasingly outrageous.
Character Development: The characters of Fensetter Falls are highly memorable and authentic. Young juggles multiple distinct and eccentric characters, all of whom are necessary to tell the story of this aging New England town.
by Arthur Jeon
Plot: The author delivers a topical novel about a teen with intense personal views regarding the state of the world, and a misguided approach to resolving circumstances beyond his control.
Prose/Style: The troubled, passionate young protagonist’s voice is alluring and immediate. The integration of news headlines and facts relating to the ravages of climate change provide texture to the narrative, while Ben’s increasing desperation is tangible.
Originality: This novel is original in concept and journal-like structure. The contentious political climate referenced throughout, however, will be woefully familiar to readers. While readers may recognize and relate to much of Ben’s concern and anger, pointed allusions to the president currently in power, leave little room for imagination and can sometimes prove detrimental.
Character Development: Jevon’s characters are convincingly rendered, and are very much “of-the-moment.” The author carefully juxtaposes Ben’s clearly ill-advised and dangerous actions as a result of mental illness with his astute awareness of the very real dangers facing the planet. The novel’s strength may ultimately prove to be a weakness: readers living in the world Jevon so aptly captures, may wish nothing more than to escape it.
by Kiki Denis
Plot: Denis's crackling, clever, and intricately plotted novel unfolds at almost breakneck speed. Readers will be immediately engaged by the book’s inventive, absurdist premise and far-reaching examinations of life, death, and the pitfalls of being human.
Prose/Style: Denis's text is compulsively readable and clear, though at times stiff and simplistic in delivery.
Originality: Denis's novel is refreshingly original and well-developed. Though there are elements that lend themselves to sci-fi, the novel avoids genre trappings, instead striking a charmingly esoteric and idiosyncratic note all its own.
Character Development: Inconsistent character development is a minor hinderance in an otherwise captivating and memorable novel. AJ, Mighty-11, and Lila are standout, lively, and engaging characters that are worthy of a cast of characters that pull equal weight.
by Kimberly Wenzler
Plot: The dual timelines of this story make for an engaging plot, though the portions of the story set in 2010 tend to move at a bit of faster, more dynamic pace than those in the past.
Prose/Style: Wenzler's prose captivates and entices. The witty, flirty banter between Olivia and Chris as they role-play pulls readers in and the prose remains engaging throughout.
Originality: Though the story of a married couple in distress isn't particularly novel, Olivia and Chris are such endearing and deep characters that readers will likely find this more enjoyable and compelling than your average contemporary.
Character Development: Olivia's strength and vulnerability around her unexpected pregnancy and feelings of betrayal creates a deeply sympathetic character whose voice is strong throughout the novel. Chris is a worthy secondary character whose distinctions of characterization balance well with Olivia's. The remaining cast members, especially Dana, round out the novel nicely.
Blurb: A sharply paced, engaging novel that is at once engrossing and heartbreaking.
by Jessica McCann
Plot: McCann's plotting is as determined and adventurous as the bright personality of RJ, the protagonist. Readers are taken on a whirlwind journey as RJ navigates the dust-covered plains and tries to make a name for herself. It's a tightly plotted and well-executed story.
Prose/Style: McCann's prose is serviceable throughout, but it is RJ's unique voice that really stands out. She's a bold and confident protagonist with a strong and clearly developed voice to match..
Originality: The refreshing characterization found in RJ elevates the story from standard historical fiction fare. The story feels unique and new, which makes for an exciting read.
Character/Execution: RJ shines as a protagonist. Her refusal to settle for less than what she wants as she sets out for Kansas alone makes her easy to root for. She's intelligent and compelling, voracious in her pursuits as a scientist, and truly serves as the heart of the story.