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 Dave Agans
Plot: Bikini Cowgirls of the Urban Legion—the second in a series—is a novel as absurdly outrageous as the title promises. Satire and adventure collide as a heroine looking for answers winds up in the middle of a reality television show.
Prose/Style: Agans’s prose is wryly humorous and engaging, with worldbuilding solid enough to make the often ridiculous circumstances feel convincing.
Originality: Agans’s novel is about as original as it can get, and will prove a memorable read for its audience.
Character/Execution: While more conceptually driven, the characterizations are admirably nuanced. In addition to its satire, the novel offers honest insight and heart.
by Nerissa Martin
Plot: Martin creates a deeply compelling and cathartic premise: her character carries with her an alter ego who is blistering candid, uncompromising, and desiring of a life beyond corporate offices, freelance work, and lifeless living. As the heroine acts on this internal voice and begins working in the sex industry, the two voices begin to reconcile with one another.
Prose: The prose here is sharp, well structured, and immediately engrossing. The author creates tension through the opposing ego and id voices of Tracy and Gemini.
Originality: Martin takes a unique approach to a familiar narrative of internal desires in conflict with outward expectations. Her demystifying of aspects of the sex industry is refreshing.
Character/Execution: Though the heroine’s circumstances are unique, her warring thoughts and impulses, as well as her feelings of frustration and confinement, are eminently relatable and powerfully conveyed.
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 Sheila Martin
Plot: Martin's plot is fast-paced and easily engages the audience. Readers are pulled into Rachel's journey instantly and will hang on for the wild ride. The strong opening provides an immediate hook that will keep readers on the edge of their seat until the novel's conclusion.
Prose/Style: Martin's prose is as sharp and precise as the novel's plot. The descriptions are vivid and robust and make for a delightful read.
Originality: This novel has lots to love for both fans of sci-fi and dark academia. The Manhattan Academy setting is rich and engrossing, and the time-travel elements will likely entice unseasoned fans of the genre.
Character Development: Rachel is a strong protagonist who will ground the reader as they follow her on her wild journey. Morgan is an interesting partner for Rachel, and the arch and growth of their relationship tracks to that of the novel's nicely. The remaining cast of characters helps to round out the story.
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.
by Michele G. Charrier
Plot: Charrier's plot is vibrant and crackles with energy as readers follow Maddie through the streets of Ireland. The story is fast-paced and wildly entertaining from start to finish.
Prose: Charrier's prose is dynamic and clear; at times, however, it is difficult to discern a distinct voice among the various characters. Fortunately, protagonist Maddie's voice is strongest, which somewhat compensates for other weaknesses.
Originality: A vibrant and refreshing thriller that will delight both existing and new genre fans alike.
Character/Execution: Maddie and Aidan's relationship is an engaging, sexy ride of a time that entertains from start to finish. Though the swiftness with which their relationship progresses is a bit unbelievable, it matches the fast-paced speed of the plot and contrasts with the lack of passion in her existing relationship with Dominic.
by Cindy Burkart Maynard
Plot: A clever and fast-paced plot propels readers through this story. Readers will feel like they have been dropped in the middle of the action as the Pueblo people navigate everything from raids to harsh winters.
Prose/Style: Maynard's prose is lively and descriptive, and readers will feel they are right there next to Soyala as the Puebloan people undergo these adventures and events.
Originality: Readers will enjoy this refreshing and heartfelt story about the Pueblo people that feels new and innovative and shines a spotlight on a fresh subject that has been around for centuries.
Character Development: Soyala is a bold and distinct character who acts a grounding and centering force throughout the course of the novel. Her relationships with her fellow Puebloans are moving and beautiful, and Soyala's generosity is no doubt the heart of the novel.
by Evelyn Landane
Plot: Summer in Gettysburg is a truly enjoyable and compelling Civil War tale, rich in emotion and historical drama. The two time periods in which the novel is set are well-balanced, if spaced a little far apart.
Prose/Style: Landane's writing is consistently strong and occasionally quite stylistic. However, the use of character thoughts in first-person perspective with italics may have impressed more highly on the reader as consistent third-person or even dialogue.
Originality: A distinct take on the traditional Civil War genre, Summer in Gettysburg presents a domestic battle story, which offers unique tragedies and emotional drama. Combined with alternating time periods and supernatural elements, this is an original and exciting tale.
Character Development: The characters in Evelyn Landane's Summer in Gettysburg are fully realized and engaging. Summer Walker is a particular standout; even in ghost form, she commands the reader’s attention. From her first appearance to the end, her passion and courage inspire sympathy and affection.
by Andrew Himmel
Plot: The plot and idea of Reluctant Healer are truly original, and even intriguingly unusual. The book may be better served by the inclusion of more realism to offset the more metaphysical elements.
Prose/Style: The prose is clear and professional. The sure-footed storytelling allows readers to shelve their skepticism related to the alternative healing methodologies that the protagonist ultimately embraces.
Originality: The concept of a lawyer becoming a spiritual healer is completely original, compelling, and fresh.
Character Development: Will and Erica are likable, dynamic characters that readers will remember once they put the book down. The work’s moments of implausibility ultimately don’t detract from the story’s energy and power.
by CF Winn
Plot: Winn's fiercely plotted novel makes for a suspenseful read as Benny and Joanna come closer and closer to learning the truth about each other. Every plot point feels as if it is revealed at precisely the right moment, but even if readers do manage to predict the plot, the journey is never disappointing.
Prose/Style: Winn's word choice instantly attracts readers’ attention. Lyrical without being flowery, it makes for a joyful ride through unexpectedly dark terrain.
Originality: This novel is a unique and original storyline that readers will likely find much enjoyment in.
Character Development: Joanna's anxiety and frustration over her inability to remember her experiences is clearly defined and established. As she and Benny's working relationship grows simultaneously closer and more disparate, their ability to find comfort in uncertainty is refreshing.
by Tricia Hopper Zacher
Plot: Many A Sudden Change is a character-driven novel, rooted in the complex emotions of loss, love, forgiveness, and understanding. The storyline is smooth and emotional, and will resonate with readers long after the final page.
Prose/Style: Zacher’s prose is clear and direct. Each narrator’s voice is distinct and serves the story well.
Originality: Zacher’s novel about a family united in loss is a fresh, compelling read. Zacher skillfully portrays the struggle and joys of raising a child with autism. Ultimately, this book would be better served being classified as General Fiction than as a Mystery/Thriller.
Character Development: The characters of Many A Sudden Change are memorable and demonstrate impressive growth throughout the novel. Readers will connect with Eric, a young boy with autism, struggling after the loss of his mother and the sudden arrival of his long-lost father. Clarice, Eric’s grandmother, shows tremendous transformation throughout the course of the novel.
by Rozsa Gaston
Plot: Gaston's plot a vibrant and dynamic retelling of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany's life. As provocative as it is engaging, it moves at a quick pace that readily pulls readers into the story.
Prose: Gaston's prose is lovely and compulsively readable, though much of that is driven by and in service of the dynamic plot. Even in the third-person, the character's voices are full and clear.
Originality: While the novel adheres to conventions, fans of historical fiction will find much to enjoy in this engrossing novel that takes readers deep into the personal and political lives of royalty.
Character/Execution: Anne is given a voice and personality that shines through the page, which is particularly refreshing given history's tendency to favor and empathize with the men. As a protagonist she captivates and balances well with Louis, whose story feels fresh and new.
by Robert M Gerson
Plot: Gerson employs elements of magical realism and mysticism to explore a man's path back to creativity and purposeful living.
Prose: The author provides an engaging blend of dreamlike prose with clear exposition and impactful dialogue.
Originality: This novel takes a unique approach to exploring ideas relating to life purpose, disillusionment, and the tensions between inner desires and practical needs.
Character/Execution: Readers will readily empathize with Nicholas Affini as he takes a metaphysical journey into his past and to his subconscious self. Additional characters effectively serve the fable-like aspects of the narrative.