by Rhonda Frankhouser
Plot: This is a gentle, small (yet not insignificant) story of a 33-year-old wife dying from uterine cancer in her home over her last few days. Her husband, Kisa, movingly cares for her while grappling with his own insurmountable pain; satisfyingly, his wife ultimately experiences what could be called a “good” death.
Prose/Style: The prose is heartfelt and poignant. The dialogue and actions feel organic and realistic, while the relative brevity of the narrative—paired with its sense of great immediacy—enhances its readability.
Originality: Many memoirs and novels today recount deaths; as such, the story itself is not wholly original, but is genuine and grounded in truth.
Character Development: Lily and Kisa are relatable, caring, and share authentic chemistry. Frankhouser particularly excels at portraying how the living well prepare for a loved one’s final transition. The author has hospice experience, which is clear from the nature of the characters and their actions and motives.
by Deanna Lynn Sletten
Plot: While the frame of finding and reading a journal from another era is hardly novel, the author executes the concept well, allowing the lives of both protagonists to linger in memory.
Prose/Style: The prose is smooth and clear as chapters alternate between two women's unique stories. One stylistic point of confusion concerns the transitions between first and third person perspectives, though readers will ultimately adjust to this narrative structure.
Originality: Aside from the familiar device of a journal, the text here is largely original. Comparing two women of different centuries is quite fascinating, and the parallels to her own lived experience that Marla finds in Alaina's journal are intriguing.
Character Development: Both the contemporary and historic women are quite real and complex. The author compassionately portrays the women’s individual struggles and efforts to stand strong in the face of male domination in a patriarchal society.
by Thomas Duffy
Plot: The narrative here is easy to follow and the author writes with intention. While the novel’s thematic pieces don’t entirely coalesce meaningfully, the relationship at the heart of the story is ultimately compelling.
Prose/Style: The novel employs much conversation and dialogue, some of it stilted. Sentences are clear, but often blunt in their delivery, with a reliance on exposition.
Originality: The plot line about the relationship between a social worker and her client seems quite original, as do the parallels of searching for love and meaningful work in their lives.
Character Development: While each primary character carries great potential, in execution, neither is afforded sufficient emotional and psychological development or motivation. Marc is afflicted with schizo-affective disorder, which provides dimension to his character, but is not always consistently or believability portrayed.
by Andrew Lafleche
Plot: In this raw, rowdy, and disturbing story, a young man pursued the next high. Shallow relationships come and go; no one is to be trusted in this narrative. In the end, Troy’s deeds catch up with him, but just barely.
Prose/Style: Written in a stream of consciousness style, the work is heady and disjointed. The author frankly portrays the characters’ heinous actions and sexual appetites. Dialogue, on the other hand, is clear and fast-paced, though often veering toward misogynistic.
Originality: This feels original, as it seems the author writes from experience. Troy and his friends are constantly high, often in trouble, and their thinking patterns and subsequent actions stem from this disordered state of mind.
Character Development: Troy and his friends are not likable characters, although the reader will feel empathy for Casy, his best childhood friend, who eventually attempts suicide after confiding intimate details of his tragic childhood to Troy. The young people here often come across as archetypes of a young slacker generation.