by Deborah Gaal
Plot: Gaal's whip-smart plot compels from the first page. The choice to give the protagonist a bipolar diagnosis seems to be handled with respect and the effort is there to avoid it being merely a plot device; however, some of the discussions e.g. around treatment and medication, may read as less sensitive or delicately handled than the rest of the plot.
Prose: Gaal's prose is as distinct and sharp as the plot. At times hilarious and other times serious, it matches the pace of the novel beat for beat.
Originality: Despite being a fun and highly engaging journey, the story plays directly into many conventions of the genre.
Character/Execution: There's a wild cast of characters found throughout this novel. As a protagonist, Noah is sometimes the least compelling person on the page; however, his experiences are so riveting, it's easy to over look. Additionally, the relationships between him and his band of misfits is more than entertaining enough to make up for any potential weaknesses in character development.
by Kenneth F. Conklin
Plot: Conklin bases his well-realized historical novel on Black AAU heavyweight champion Norvel Lee. The author's depth of research is apparent in the detailed chronicle of Lee's life, while fictionalized elements are authentically conveyed.
Prose: The prose is solid and clear, if at times dry in execution, leaning more toward a journalistic, biographical tone than one of vivid dramatization.
Originality: Conklin's fictionalization of Novel Lee is original in concept. In execution, the work is straightforward and stylistically conventional.
Character/Execution: The author displays a deep understanding of his lead character's biography, and provides a convincing exploration of his life circumstances, from his segregated childhood to his WWII service; his development as an athlete; and his civil disobedience in the face of Jim Crow laws. While the events of Lee's life are rendered with precision and grace, Lee's emotional and psychological states aren't always explored with convincing depth or potency.
by Chris Mullen
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.
by Charlie Suisman
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.
by Glen Sobey
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.
by Lorraine Devon Wilke
Plot: Wilke's plot pulls readers in with a romance before sending them on a complex and emotional journey through modern race-relations. It's fast paced and smart in its execution.
Prose: Wilke's prose is clear and distinct and each character has a well-established voice. The prose is beautiful and, given the subject matter, often painful to read.
Originality: Though the hardships and dynamics of a mixed-race couple aren't new, the heart and romance of the novel provide much to love and value.
Character/Execution: Chris and Sidonie are lovely, if a bit simply drawn, characters. Their connection feels real and deeply felt from the moment Chris first sees her. Their relationship brings heart and emotion to the narrative. However, the story ultimately reads as more about Sidonie's reckoning with race; greater interiority from Chris would enhance the romance and the novel as a whole.
by David Martin Anderson
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.
Beyond the Shallow Bank: A woman searches for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythologyby David A. Wimsett
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.
by Robert Wuench
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.
by Shawn Keller Cooper
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.
by C.V. Shaw
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.
by Rosalind Minett
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.
by Jody Wenner
Plot: In If These Red Walls Could Talk, Wenner crafts a compelling story about family secrets, buried trauma, and the quest for identity.
Prose/Style: The prose in the novel is clear and polished, if somewhat dry in its execution.
Originality: The quest for answers regarding a nebulous family history is an archetypal one. Wenner successfully integrates fresh elements of thriller and mystery into the narrative.
Character Development: The protagonist’s internal conflicts relating to clouded recollections, tense familial relationships, grief, and uncertainty regarding child-rearing, are deftly explored. Stylistically, however, the novel carries a subdued tone that may not result in a fully impactful reading experience.
by CG FEWSTON
Plot: Fewston's lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood.
Prose: Little Hometown, America is told through eloquent, if at times effusive, prose. The author's tone can at times become overly wistful, when the otherwise sharp recollections are sufficiently moving.
Originality: Though the novel's focus on formative childhood moments is familiar, the narrator's lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.
Character/Execution: Through the benefit of hindsight, the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories. Family members and friends are vividly rendered.
by John Byrne Barry
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.
by Maureen Mylander
Plot: Mylander's plot is an intense, densely packed, and quickly paced read. Maggie's story is difficult to read as she navigates the sexist, abusive reality of the military. Occasionally, however, cogent critiques of the system get lost in weeds of the story.
Prose: Mylander's prose is compulsively readable though more for its subject matter than anything else. As the story moves into the halls and offices of Senators tends to lean a bit more educational and reads like non-fiction vs. novel-level prose.
Originality: A difficult and often harrowing addition to literary fiction, but there's much here to engage readers concerned about sexual assault and discrimination against women by those in uniform.
Character/Execution: Maggie's a whip-smart and compelling protagonist whose strength is apparent from the first page. Her resilience in the face of persistent adversity is inspiring in its confidence and heartbreaking in its necessity.