Mystery / Thriller
by Kevin G. Chapman
Plot: This latest installment of the Mike Stoneman thriller series proves as exciting and gripping as previous plots in the bigger picture. The idea of revolving the story around injured, and even murdered, policemen is a fresh twist on the typical mystery scenario. The narrative feels mature and proves engrossing.
Prose/Style: This fine mystery/thriller contains level pacing, diverse vocabulary, and a storyline complicated enough to hold one's interest. This will be a page-turner for any fans of the genre.
Originality: The fact that at least two cops are killed in this book, and another is badly hurt, is quite an original spin on these types of mysteries. New partnerships form and roles change, but the action continues.
Character Development: The primary police officers, Mike and Jason, prove likable, and are showcased as quite human in their motivations, achievements, and flaws, as does the character of Michelle. After Mike has been badly hurt and finds himself in long-term rehab, and is dating a doctor, he begins to get in touch with his feelings, a contradiction to the stereotype of cold, overly violent cops.
by Puja Guha
Plot: Sirens of Memory is a fast-paced, well plotted novel about trauma, recovery, and identity. The storyline spans decades and continents, but is ultimately seamless.
Prose/Style: Guha’s prose is clear and direct, while also maintaining a poetic streak. The novel details multiple POVs, all of which are distinct and emotional.
Originality: Guha sets Mariam’s escape from her abusive husband against her escape from her war-torn homeland. The two journeys complement each other well, especially when Mariam realizes her past has caught up with her in America.
Character/Execution: The heart of this novel lies with protagonist Mariam, a woman who finds a way to survive her abusive spouse, and then a war, when she finds out she’s pregnant. There’s an honesty to Mariam’s strengths and weaknesses that will resonate with readers. Mariam’s husbands, Tareq and Raj, are both vividly painted and well-rounded characters as well.
by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
Plot: Sherwood-Fabre’s novel is a well-plotted, exciting introduction to a young Sherlock Holmes. This multi-layered murder mystery will keep readers engaged and guessing.
Prose/Style: Sherwood-Fabre’s prose serves the period novel well. She skillfully places readers in the English countryside in the 1800’s with accessible and exciting dialogue.
Originality: The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife feels authentic to the source material and yet surprisingly fresh. Sherwood-Fabre takes a new approach to Sherlock Holmes by examining his formative years and family relationships.
Character Development: Sherwood-Fabre takes one of the most recognizable literary characters in the world and manages to make him feel novel and accessible, while staying true to the original detective with thoughtful callback details. Readers will enjoy watching a young Sherlock evolve. Every character is memorable and serves the story well.
Blurb: Sherwood-Fabre’s attention to detail and vivid prose are on full display in this delightful look at the evolution of a young Sherlock Holmes.
by John Wemlinger
Plot: The Widow and the Warrior is a fast paced, gracefully plotted mystery. Wemlinger deftly weaves together family secrets, murders for hire, and national conspiracy plots for an engaging and thrilling story.
Prose: Wemlinger’s prose is clear and direct, and deftly places the reader amidst the action. Each character has a distinct, authentic voice.
Originality: Readers will enjoy this original, multi-layered mystery. The novel is elevated by a winning protagonist and an excellent blend of past and present mysteries.
Character/Execution: The characters in The Widow and the Warrior are diverse and well conceived. Readers will root for protagonist Anna Shane, who proves that an excellent journalist can unravel any conspiracy. Believable secondary characters all contribute to advancing the plot.
by Britt Lind
Plot: The plot opens up with an immediate hook, drawing the readers in, and provides plenty of obstacles, twists, and development throughout the story. The story has a clearly defined climax and a satisfying resolution without over-relying on expositions, but rather character-structured events. There are only small instances of tangential plot-telling which did not provide value to the broader story.
Prose/Style: Generally, the work is well written, showcasing excellent command of language and literary tools. The writing neither feels stuffy, nor fluffs itself up with unnecessary words. The writing style does not over-rely on a single tool or technique and provides a balanced and suspenseful read. However, there are minor instances where the author's command of writing technique noticeably slips up, creating unnecessary wordiness, that, if eliminated, would improve the storytelling.
Originality: Although many other authors have exhaustively explored the topic around Hollywood mysteries and culture, this writer delivers this narrative in a fresh perspective, making the read thoroughly original. The story is compelling and does not fall victim to predictability.
Character/Execution: The characters are well written, exampling clearly defined motivations, character growth, and personality frameworks. While some echo and may first appear to fall into one of the many literary stereotypes, there is still enough complexity and individuality written into their development that creates authenticity and relatability. The author also does an excellent job of avoiding over-description of stock background characters.
by Greta Cribbs
Plot: The delivery of the plot is tactful, thoughtful, and at times, witty. The author provides a stellar example of a balanced approach to delivering plot elements without over-relying on a single literary component. This type of writing provides for a satisfying and immersive read.
Prose/Style: The sentence structure and writing style at times are unnecessarily choppy and abridged, creating a turbulent reading experience; however, for the most part, the writing is well-executed.
Originality: Both the delivery of the narrative and the plot itself are original in their presentation. The book is an immersive read that, while discussing a topic on the fringes of believability, is still relatable and convincing.
Character Development: The character development reels in the audiences without revealing too much all at once. Overall, the introduction to the characters is creative, unique, and enhances the storyline.
by Laura Jenski
Plot: Jenski’s novel is fast-paced and well plotted. Readers will enjoy following the heroine as she works to unravel several mysteries, all seemingly connected to her family.
Prose/Style: Jenski’s prose is clear, direct, and easily places the reader in the vivid setting of 1980’s Chicago. Each character has a distinct voice that serves the story effectively.
Originality: Jenski seamlessly weaves several mysteries together in Falling Plaster. The unsolved murders of young girls, police corruption, ruthless bullying, and insidious local gossip are woven together to give readers an interesting and original story.
Character Development: The characters of Falling Plaster are distinct, memorable, and convincing. Readers will root for the novel’s protagonist, Monica, as she grieves the sudden loss of her mother and works to unravel several mysterious deaths, all connected to her family. A well-rounded cast of secondary characters serve the story.
by Brooke Skipstone
Plot: This YA sci-fi thriller is well paced and plotted. Skipstone’s excellent use of tension and plot reveals will keep readers invested in the story.
Prose/Style: Skipstone’s prose is skillfully crafted and at times, haunting, especially when describing the effects of trauma on survivors. The author also creates original, authentic teen voices for her characters.
Originality: Skipstone combines a sci-fi premise on sharing and erasing memories and grounds it with the very real and emotional subject of child abuse. Lead characters who feel authentic and wholly original set the story apart from others in the genre.
Character Development: The characters in Someone to Kiss My Scars are deeply memorable and convincing. Readers will root for the novel’s protagonists, Hunter and Jazz, as they slowly reveal their past traumas to one another and try to help each other heal.
by Dan Eaton
Plot: No White Lies is a furiously paced and exciting spy thriller. Genre fans may be able to guess the ending before it arrives, but the novel has such an intriguing premise that readers won’t mind.
Prose/Style: Eaton’s prose is excellent, effective, and clear. His writing is strong, direct, and protagonist William McCormick’s voice is deeply believable as a journalist with something to hide.
Originality: No White Lies includes all of the elements of a classic spy thriller. The novel is elevated by excellent writing and by grounding the mystery in real world events.
Character Development: The novel primarily revolves around protagonist William McCormick, both in the present and in his past. McCormick is instantly believable – both as a journalist living in fear that his lies will be exposed and as a father whose daughter has been abducted. The secondary characters are well constructed, but none are as memorable as McCormick.
by Bridget Finnegan
Plot: Finnegan’s novel is well plotted, action packed, and furiously paced. The storyline is smooth and uncluttered, despite multiple mysteries and characters.
Prose: Finnegan’s prose is strong and poetic throughout the novel. She effortlessly places readers alongside her heroines. Finnegan’s inventive language, particularly when referring to sexual matters, feels fresh and witty.
Originality: Readers will most likely not have read a book set in the 1800s and featuring a protagonist who is a former sex worker-turned-detective. It’s a surprising concept and one that is extremely well executed.
Character/Execution: Readers will root for the numerous great leads in this novel. Jessamyn, Sarah, and Maryanne are all strong, well-developed characters who help bring the story to resolution. Convincing villains and strong secondary characters round out the cast.
by Steve Leshin
Plot: This lively and atmospheric detective novel features significant figures from the past. The author effectively and convincingly establishes the historical setting of 1919. Although the novel’s underlying theme of Russian-U.S. conflict is rather well-worn, the unique central concept shines.
Prose/Style: The prose is crisp, straightforward, and rendered in a hard boiled/noir style. Though solid, Leshin’s writing may benefit from additional detail, idiosyncrasy, as well as attention paid to establishing clarity and flow.
Originality: Having Marie Curie meet and befriend Harry Houdini is highly original and fresh. Bat Masterson also plays a fairly large role, while earlier in his career, protagonist Joshua is instrumental in bringing down Jack the Ripper. The ingredients for a unique and satisfying mystery are all here.
Character Development: Joshua Oates is a flawed and endearing protagonist who is drawn somewhat from detective genre tropes. There are a great many other characters, and Leshin does an admirable job of organizing them. While Houdini is charismatic and Curie enigmatic, additional characters require and deserve more detail, distinction, and development.
by Jonette Blake
Plot: The Widow Catcher is a fast-paced, suspenseful murder mystery. Blake excels at crafting well-timed reveals that keep readers engaged and intrigued.
Prose/Style: Blake’s prose is clear, direct, and serves the story well. Each character has an authentic voice, none more so than protagonist Delia Frost.
Originality: This murder mystery feels authentic and original. It’s set apart from its contemporaries by the unusual crimes and unlikely but determined heroine.
Character Development: The characters of The Widow Catcher are diverse and memorable. Protagonist Delia Frost is likable, intelligent, and easy to root for. The members of her book club are quirky and deeply funny, each rendered as truly individual personalities.
by Lauren Smith
Plot: In this addition to the League of Rogues series, Smith introduces a new heroine who becomes unexpectedly romantically entwined with a rogue Scotsman. A case of mistaken identity adds a fresh twist to this fun and passionate historical romance.
Prose: Smith delivers vibrant prose and dialogue befitting the historical era and offers an easy balance between exposition and in-scene storytelling.
Originality: While Never Tempt a Scot adheres to many of the expectations within the Regency-era romance genre, Smith’s uses of humor and intrigue are decidedly unique and supremely engaging.
Character/Execution: Readers will swoon as they witness brooding and invulnerable Brodie Kincade soften under the gentle graces of charming Lydia Hunt. Side characters are similarly well-differentiated, with the contrast between Lydia and her more heedless sister, being especially pronounced.
by Lorraine Evanoff
Plot: While the book has been categorized as an international banking mystery/thriller, it is as much about foreign travel, wine culture in France, and a sex trafficking group that kills young girls. About halfway through the novel, the focus seems to be more on the solving of the sex trafficking ring, especially in Burgundy, France where Karen (Louise) has settled for a few weeks and eventually buys a home. The history and customs of France and of the wine industry detailed here are fascinating, but the two threads of the banking scandal and the trafficking ring don't seem quite tightly enough connected.
Prose/Style: Evanoff has provided readers with an exciting and intriguing tale. Especially enjoyable are the history and legends provided about wine and ancient cults in France.
Originality: This plot and these characters feel original, especially the international banking segments and the extensive portions of legends and lore of rural France. The author has first-hand experience, having lived in France, and has done extensive research in many historic and wine areas.
Character Development: Louise/Karen is a complex woman who loves travel, intrigue, a few eligible men, and drinking champagne. She teaches yoga and drives fast; she loves the fast-paced lifestyle and using her investigative skills. As a protagonist, she is quite easy to visualize and is extremely gutsy. The other characters are quite well executed as supporting cast members, as well.
by Leah Lindeman
Plot: Wisps of Gold is fast-paced and plotted with care and detail. The storyline of this exciting period novel offers an easy blend of romance, murder, and betrayal.
Prose/Style: Lindeman’s prose is engaging and at times, poetic. Rose’s voice feels authentic throughout the light, atmospheric novel, and her dialogue with Dave is electric.
Originality: Lindeman’s mystery is set apart by its well-realized setting, heroine Rose’s courage, and the clearly developed secondary characters.
Character Development: The characters in Wisps of Gold are memorable and relatable. Rose Wood is an intelligent, fearless protagonist. Readers will enjoy following her escapades with Dave Clayton and Daniel Shaw.
by C.L. Brees
Plot: No Place is Safe is a fast-paced and well-plotted thriller. Brees deftly balances multiple mysteries, suspects, and motives in an enjoyable read.
Prose/Style: Brees’s prose is clear and direct. The characters are gifted with distinct and compelling voices.
Originality: This fresh take on a police officer’s unofficial investigation into the disappearance of a personal friend is elevated by the main character’s tumultuous relationship with his dilapidated and crime-ridden hometown.
Character Development: The characters in No Place is Safe are convincing, flawed, and memorable. The romance between protagonist Christian Anderson and his boyfriend, Adam, is believable and refreshing for the thriller genre.