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General Fiction

  • Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen

    by Chris Mullen

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Mullen's story is well-paced and compulsively readable. Though the story drags somewhat in the middle, readers will be drawn back in by Rowdy's unusual journey and eager to know what comes next for these characters.

    Prose/Style: Mullen's prose is strong and realistic given the young age of the protagonist. Rowdy's language at the beginning of the story feels genuine and authentic for that of a 13-year-old and is appropriately elevated when the story skips ahead three years. Honest emotion permeates the text.

    Originality: All of the trappings of a standard adventure fiction novel are present, but Mullen’s characterization and keen plotting advance what could easily have become a predictable read.

    Character Development: The cast of characters at play are well-developed and diverse. Relationships  are relatable, genuine, and organically grown.

  • Arnold Falls

    by Charlie Suisman

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Suisman's story is well-paced and near expertly comedically timed. The chapters often read as self-contained stories, though it's unclear if they add up to a sum that's greater than its parts.

    Prose/Style: The writing is lively and comedic. Jeebie makes for a fascinating and eccentric narrator, however, the level of detail Jeebie provides at times weighs down the story, impacting the forward momentum.

    Originality: The focus on idiosyncratic small town hijinks, though not particularly novel, is elevated by the depth felt in Suisman's characters, adding freshness to the setup.

    Character Development: The author’s ability to craft character shines as every member of the ensemble cast feels fully fleshed out, genuine, and charmingly flawed.

  • No Fences in Alaska

    by Glen Sobey

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Sobey's plot is quick-witted and heartfelt, and continually pulls the reader in. Harper navigating her pregnancy and dealing with her grandfather's dementia makes for a dynamic and fast-paced read.

    Prose/Style: Sobey's prose is eloquent and dynamic. Each character's voice is distinct and unique, while still sounding real and genuine.

    Originality: Though largely hitting the notes of your standard contemporary novel, the blossoming of the central relationship between Harper and Cooper as they write their book adds warmth and depth to the book.

    Character Development: Harper is a bold character whose risky behavior will make for an interesting, anxiety-inducing read. As a protagonist she is engaging, and her growth as a character, as well as her relationship with her grandfather, is beautiful and deeply felt.

  • 978-1-892617-26-2

    by David Martin Anderson

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Beaty Butte, a sequel that effectively stands alone, is a hopeful, engagingly developed story, and one that will likely move many readers, particularly those who love horses. The story offers a rich and compelling premise, though the novel may be strengthened further if the divergent plot lines were better harmonized.

    Prose/Style: Anderson's prose is serviceable, but fails to move the plot along with any urgency. Though written clearly, the substantial detail in the text can add unnecessary weight to the story rather than enriching it.

    Originality: Anderson elevates the historical fiction genre through the deployment of two separate narratives, indicated by left and right chapter headings, though the success of this strategy is inconsistent.

    Character Development: Billy Bartell is an intriguing character whose circumstances afford the story much of its power and depth. Samantha's confident, sassy demeanor is a welcome juxtaposition to Billy and is worthy of a bit more shine.

  • Plot: Wimsett's novel is quickly paced without the events of the story feeling rushed. Margret's  desire to expand her skills in oil paints, combined with the necessity to keep them secret, adds an intriguing level of suspense. The inclusion of a selkie and supernatural elements strikes just the right balance without pushing the plot into the realm of absurdity.

    Prose/Style: Wimsett's prose is serviceable. It doesn't particularly enhance the story, but the plotting is so strong that it outshines any weaker elements of the prose.

    Originality: Engaging characters and the right amount of fantasy help elevate the novel above standard genre trappings while retaining enough of the conventional elements of historical fiction.

    Character Development:  Margaret is an engaging protagonist whose ruthless pursuit of happiness will likely captivate readers. Her abusive husband Jonathan is a worthy antagonist and the rest of the characters round out the novel nicely.

  • Maid of Morgan's Point

    by Robert Wuench

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Wuench's epic historical novel is neatly paced and plotted. Readers will likely be pulled in by the story of a territory's past and find Emily to be a dynamic, evolving character that helps to propel the engaging narrative.

    Prose: The author's prose is well-crafted and dynamic. The voice of each character is finely established and distinctive.

    Originality: The expansive cast of characters and evident depth of research that informs the narrative helps elevate this novel above standard historical fiction.

    Character Development: Emily is an inspiring and engaging character who pointedly drives and humanizes the novel. The heart of the story, the arch that establishes her as the center of Texas independence, is movingly told.

  • Drawing Down the Moon: Book One of James Island Trilogy

    by Shawn Keller Cooper

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Cooper's novel is delicately plotted and well-executed. Jade’s pain is extraordinarily visceral and developed, while her survival following a suicide attempt is powerful.

    Prose/Style: Cooper's prose is quite strong and supports Jade as a protagonist well. All of her emotions are deeply felt and earnest, and her voice truly shines within this novel of growth and redemption.

    Originality: While not particularly innovative, the anticipation of what Jade's secret is contributes intrigue to the novel and will likely keep readers on their toes.

    Character Development: Jade and Agnes are fascinating and engaging characters, and readers will be pulled into their close relationship and eager to know more. By the conclusion of the novel, readers will likely feel a deep connection to both Jade and Agnes as individuals and as an unlikely pair united under unusual circumstances.

  • The Spell

    by C.V. Shaw

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Shaw's plotting is quickly paced and engaging yet never feels rushed. The many different plotlines that emerge following the injury of Princess Isabella, however sometimes add confusion to an already intricate narrative and could benefit from clarification.

    Prose/Style: Shaw's prose is formal yet unpretentious and works to help set the scene of the novel. The tone feels appropriate for the sixteenth century English locale without being so elevated as to isolate readers.

    Originality: Fans of historical fantasy will find much to love in Shaw's work. Queen Lilac is a compelling character whose obsession with the curse and the subsequent ramifications adds weight and intrigue to the story.

    Character/Execution: Johndor is a strong protagonist; his proximity to family despite being non-royal provides a grounded perspective to the hectic events of the novel, and readers will likely find his loyalty towards and trust from the family endearing. The royal family itself is a wild cast of characters that rounds out the novel nicely.

  • Impact

    by Rosalind Minett

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The idea for the story is a unique and engaging one, especially when the focus becomes an ethical one. However, certain character motivations remain unclear and under-explored.

    Prose/Style: The prose is quite simple, as is the vocabulary. However, the strengthening of the plot toward the novel’s close certainly makes the book more gripping for all readers.

    Originality: Although novels that take place in the aftermath of World War II are common, the unusual circumstances concerning the two families here and what ultimately unfolds for them allows this work to often shine.

    Character Development: The character of Bill is finely drawn, as is the character of Mr. Durban, Bill's father's friend and Bill's surrogate father. The character of Kenneth is experienced through other individual’s words and reactions; as a result, readers may feel disconnected from him.

  • Plot: The pace of Barry's story is quick and driving without feeling rushed. As Lamar completes his father's request and then navigates the fallout from his sister's accusation, the reader enjoys a riveting ride.

    Prose/Style: Barry's prose is adequate and neither distracts from or particularly elevates the plot. Characters speak and sound realistic and genuine, and the story is almost compulsively readable.

    Originality: This is an exciting and engaging thriller that pushes the edge of believability without going over the top. It will please fans of thrillers while also providing unexpected introspection about what it means to die and who gets to decide when we go.

    Character/Execution: Lamar's anguish and struggle with his decisions are apparent in the resulting stress that follows. His emotions are visceral and real, and he proves a compelling protagonist.

  • Dragonflies at Night: More Than a Love Story

    by Anne Marie Bennett

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The plot of Bennett's novel unfolds at a measured pace that allows the character arcs and relationships to develop genuinely. The interludes from Deirdre and Savannah add a level of complexity and deeper emotion to the plot that will likely delight romance readers.

    Prose/Style: Neither overwrought or overly simplistic, Bennett's prose is serviceable and easily readable.

    Originality: Readers will find many standard contemporary romance trappings in this novel, making for an entertaining if not particularly exciting addition to the genre.

    Character Development: Readers will be moved by the relationships throughout the novel, particularly that of Savannah and her mother Deirdre. Though the core romance between Savannah and Ben is interesting, and there are many reasons to root for them, at times Deirdre's interludes threaten to overshadow the central story.

  • Social Work

    by Thomas Duffy

    Rating: 6.25

    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.

  • Stockboy Nation

    by Thomas Duffy

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot: Duffy's intriguing but somewhat convoluted plot falls short of enrapturing the reader due to a lack of clarity and structure. The pace here is strong, but Phillip's choices are confusing and difficult to track, and his fluctuating feelings for Melissa and Leann nearly pull the pace of the story to halt.

    Prose/Style: Duffy's prose is clear, if at times stilted and fairly plain; additional flair and stylistic embellishment would much enhance the storytelling. Conversations between characters feel uncomfortable and strained, with short, clipped sentences that do not always convey real emotion or carry weight.

    Originality: Here are all the standard trappings of a "mid-life crisis" novel, from Phillip's stalled writing career to his static relationship. Though the author explores intriguing interpersonal relationships, the story lacks elements that elevate the tale or add drama, making for a rather uninspired read.

    Character/Execution: Phillip is decently sympathetic by nature of his current situation, but it's difficult to root for him; even as his narrative evolves, he does not captivate as a character. His fiancé Melissa is more of a dynamic individual, and readers will likely be happy about their separation and, thus, feel their reconciliation is unearned.

  • Ride

    by Andrew Lafleche

    Rating: 5.00

    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.