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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Neurogarden

    by Bryon Vaughn

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: An exciting technothriller, the book features a fairly linear plot within an intricate context of future tech and the military industrial complex.

    Prose/Style: The writing moves quickly and builds excitement fitting for a fast-paced thriller. While the prose is not the book’s dominant feature, it can be satisfyingly visceral and quite memorable.

    Originality: The conceit is clever and makes for a gripping story. The characters, scenario, and plot appear to be original and prove entertaining from start to end.

    Character Development: The characters, while interesting, are lacking in dimension or depth and would benefit from a focus on transformative growth. The villainous antagonist would fit comfortably in a Bond, or other spy, movie.

  • Plot: The plot flows clearly, though the pacing is slow, particularly in the latter half of the book. Details of the primary mystery thread are neatly blended with the book’s supernatural elements. The ending will leave some readers wanting, however, with loose ends and no clear promise of what’s next.

    Prose/Style: The prose is clean and accessible, and features some strong descriptive writing as well as some exciting, if spread out, moments of action.

    Originality: The book is unique and original in terms of theme and characters, with an atmospheric supernatural setting that will leave readers eager for the next chapter.

    Character Development: The characters are nuanced and distinct, and the attention devoted to their relationships adds to the compelling nature of the book’s darkly fantastical setting.

  • SURVIVOR

    by Diane Mayer Christiansen

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: A post-apocalyptic adventure split between two character perspectives, the plots here move forward quickly and in parallel, as a couple separated following a 50-year frozen sleep by which they escaped the destruction seeks to survive and perhaps reunite.

    Prose/Style: The novel is well written, with organic dialogue and clearly depicted action that is easy to visualize. The alternating perspectives lend to the dramatic tension.

    Originality: While depicting an original plot and characters, the novel does little to stand apart from preceding dystopian, forced eugenics thrillers like The Maze Runner.

    Character Development: More care is put into the characters than many books of its ilk. The disconnect between the two protagonists--one still carries a flame, one still carries regret--is compelling, and the emotional anguish of characters in a sinister and traumatizing position is realized effectively.

  • Prospero's Staff

    by David Ackley

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The novel blends magical elements into a story of self-rediscovery and family drama. The book is paced well, and with a neat ending that will fulfill readers.

    Prose/Style: The writing is unobtrusive and clear, if not particularly memorable. The dialogue reads naturally and sentences and paragraphs flow evenly.

    Originality: At its heart a story about a writer getting his life unstuck, the narrative implements mystical elements to give a different twist to typical literary fare. The literal connection to The Tempest is an element outside the mold.

    Character Development: Martin is well rendered, and the family dynamics are satisfactorily complicated, propelling the conflicts effectively.

  • Elemental: Shadows of Otherside Book 1

    by Whitney Hill

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: A capable mystery set in an engrossing otherworldly realm, the plot knots are unwound effectively, with the primary character arc braiding nicely within the central mystery.

    Prose/Style: The mystery is paced well, slowly building to a satisfying conclusion. The writing blends hard-boiled detective tropes with the vibrancy of a fantasy world.

    Originality: The novel offers an alluring integration of fantasy and mystery elements to new and unpredictable effect.

    Character/Execution: The protagonist is likable and endearing, and her personal growth becomes as intriguing as the mystery itself. Secondary characters are well rendered, with fantastical details used to strong effect to support their roles in points along the investigation.

  • The Chiral Agent: Biogenesis War, Book 1

    by LL Richman

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Although intricate, action-packed and ambitious, this tale starts slowly and takes some time to really find its groove. Multiple plot threads help to build up the larger picture, leaving things open for future installments of what promises to be an epic saga.

    Prose: Richman’s style is fast-paced and accessible, with a fairly tight focus on her characters, which works both to her advantage as she draws readers into a chaotic scenario, and against her as the story at times still feels dense and claustrophobic.

    Originality: This epic space opera, first installment of a series, has something of a steep learning curve as it introduces readers to a far-future setting in turmoil, with multiple factions engaged in assorted levels of intrigue and conflict.

    Character/Execution: Richman’s characters are engaging and memorable, but it’s Micah Case and his erstwhile allies who prove the most interesting as they fight for survival against overwhelming odds.

     

  • The Vatican Games

    by Alejandra Guibert

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Guibert's dystopian thriller offers a chilling, fascinating premise and surveys the collapse of our present world and the rise of a new globalist videogame utopia with rich detail and a detached perspective. The global news events that pulse through The Vatican Games disturb while exhibiting a welcome satiric edge, especially the author's treatment of the war the U.S. starts after a global bio-terror attack involving canned soda. At its midpoint, the novel shifts into a techno thriller with bible-code touches. The mystery plot soon concerns a global pattern of suicides, but the author's tendency to write summations of scenes and events rather to fully dramatize them reduces its potential power.

    Prose/Style: This novel boasts many striking, memorable sentences touched with poetry. But the novel's written primarily in an essayistic mode, reporting to readers about the future in detached, even passive prose. Little time is spent in the characters' minds or in the dramatization of key moments. The Vatican Game does not invite readers in to feel what its protagonists feel.

    Originality: Vatican conspiracies and mass genocide, of course, are familiar from the works of Dan Brown, but author Guibert invests fresh imagination in the material, offering an exciting, inventive perspective on what the headlines and habits of a ravaged future might actually look like.

    Character Development: While The Vatican Game is certainly inventive, its detached prose and habit of summarizing rather than dramatizing actions and feelings leaves its characters distant and flat.

  • Extinction Island (Jurassic Judgment Book 1)

    by Janice Boekhoff

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: The novel features an interesting conceit, and is generally paced well. The introduction of supernatural powers, while lending to the uniqueness of the story, initially feels a bit like the novel is presenting competing narratives. This is eventually smoothed out as the larger series concept begins to form.

    Prose/Style: The writing moves quickly and is very energetic yet also features some well-crafted descriptive writing. The dialogue reads naturally and supports strong character development.

    Originality: This is a highly creative work, a unique blend of monster thriller and supernatural struggle. While readers will find many familiar genre elements here, the novel itself is unique and original.

    Character Development: The characters are interesting and provided with compelling motivations. As the book progresses, Oakley develops into a well-rounded and increasingly complex protagonist who readers will root for.

  • Embers on the Wind

    by Dylan Doose

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: In book seven of the Sword and Sorcery series, Doose returns to a vivid land of warriors, monsters, and mutants.

    Prose: Doose's prose is lyrical, polished, and visceral.

    Originality: Readers will recognize many of the reliable conventions of fantasy, but Doose finely establishes the tense circumstances, providing readers with an immersive adventure and offering a number of narrative twists along the way.

    Character/Execution: Aldous, Theron, and Kendrick are distinct and lively characters tasked with a mission that will require them to pool their strength and ingenuity in order to survive.

  • Dantalion Of The Goetia: Legacy

    by Tina M.E.

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Actually a trilogy of books in one collection, this unique story tells of the fall and redemption of a biblical demon, and of his love with a human woman.

    Prose/Style: The writing is clear and easy to follow, though the biblical diction can sometimes feel stilted. The dialogue reads naturally and enhances the already meticulously detailed characterization.

    Originality: This story is original and rare. The author clearly researched Christian occultism during writing and used that knowledge to great effect, creating an authentic mythos that allows for an intriguing and unique plot.

    Character Development: Dantalion is a complex character and is well-developed over the course of the conflicts between the three books. Laurel, the human to whom Dantalion is bound, goes through tremendous transformation, although her interior journey is less dynamic.

  • Republic Falling: Advent of a New Dawn

    by Michael J. Brooks

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: A satisfying sci-fi thriller, the plot is evenly paced and the conflict is engaging. The novel contains a complete story arc but also ends with the characters and world positioned for new adventures.

    Prose: The writing is well organized and features interesting details, but also contains some awkward turns of phrase. Dialogue generally serves the characters well though it can at times feel over-stylized in delivery. Action scenes are exciting and enjoyable.

    Originality: The fictional universe is original in execution and features plenty of supporting details and technologies that flesh out the world.

    Character/Development: The characters are not particularly dynamic, but they are, particularly the protagonist Randy, presented with a sufficient complexity and internal conflict to help propel the plot and action satisfactorily.

  • Curse of the Murderous Dummy (Atomic City Terror Book 1)

    by Michael Ray Laemmle

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The book begins in medias res and the storyline moves along fairly quickly. A horror-comedy with some playful hints of satire, Laemmle’s novel has a linear plot that doesn’t bother much with complexity.

    Prose/Style: Much of the humor in this quirky, lively story is derived from the snappy and witty dialogue.

    Originality: Possessed dummies and dolls almost comprise a sub-genre unto themselves at this point, and as such this novel is not particularly original or unique. The story it tells is all its own, and the book is presented with sufficient personality to entertain.

    Character Development: As a horror-comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, the characterization leans into caricature to good effect, though this largely comes at the expense of complexity or depth.

  • Werewolf Nights

    by Mari Hamill

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: Hamill's Werewolf Nights is a frothy, fun werewolf romance that unexpectedly blends tenderness with a clever meta storytelling aspect.

    Prose: Hamill's writing is clear and witty, providing a light, enjoyable reading experience that conjures a vivid sense of atmosphere.

    Originality: Paranormal romance and werewolf fiction are hardly unique, but Hamill crafts a unique small town environment and a well developed legend. The movie element provides an intriguing storytelling layer.

    Character/Execution: Bakery owner Catherine Mercy is a highly appealing and relatable protagonist whose past tragedy provides her character depth and intrigue. Hamil capably fleshes out the distinctive small town with a colorful cast of side characters.

  • Balancers

    by M.C. Alexander

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: While the plot does contain some intricacies, it remains a bit tepid and slow. Events are presented linearly, with a degree of mystery that helps propel the conflict.

    Prose/Style: The writing is consistent throughout, serviceable, and even in tone with occasional flourishes of figurative writing.

    Originality: The concept of a group who do actions to right wrongs based on divine guidance is unique and has potential for ethical dilemmas that the book largely leaves unchallenged.

    Character Development: While characterization largely functions in service to the plot here, characters do have unique wrinkles or provocative thoughts that help the story’s efforts to rise above typical genre fare.

  • Alpha Bots

    by Ava Lock

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: Lock's plot is well-paced for the first half of the novel, before picking up too much steam for the reader to keep up. Although the concept of Alpha Bots is entertaining and largely well-executed, it requires additional refinement to truly shine.

    Prose/Style: The prose here is strongest when spoken in Cookie's voice, and lacks occasionally throughout the rest of the novel, becoming convoluted and overly-descriptive. A focus on balancing the other characters’ dialogue would greatly benefit the novel.

    Originality: Wholly inspired and brimming with satirical genius, Lock's narrative manages to feel original while playing within the sphere of novels that came before it. The playful incorporation of dessert throughout aids the plot and overall narrative.

    Character Development: Cookie Rifkin's voice is extremely strong for the first half of the novel before fading into the background as the plot amps up. The satirical tone of the novel works better when Cookie's voice is more prominent.

  • 2028: The Rebellion

    by N. L. Brisson

    Rating: 5.75

    Plot: Overtly topical, this novel envisions a near future in which President Trump is re-elected and ultimately refuses to leave office.

    Prose: Brisson’s prose is level, candid, and curiously journalistic in style. The writing can read blandly, with an overreliance on exposition.

    Originality: Trumpian tales are increasingly familiar. Brisson’s work is original in terms of its sci-fi/fantasy approach, future setting, and speculation about the nature of the ensuing rebellion.

    Character/Execution: Many successful works of dystopian fiction imagine circumstances that may be too close for comfort, but remain safely implausible. This work too closely mirrors present day events to stand as a true work of fantasy or to capture readers’ imaginations.

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