by Alice McVeigh
Plot: The storyline transpires with the rush of a dress rehearsal, which is only fitting for this Austenian prologue. As the characters perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, McVeigh fictionalizes even Shakespeare’s work in an exquisite diversion from the classics.
Prose/Style: The ornate words wholly reflect the language of the nineteenth century. The author’s writing fashions antiquity, where the sentences feel posh and intellectual.
Originality: This book contains a charming awareness of Jane Austen’s novels that careful readers can collect like small tokens. As Susan says, she is neither “handsome, clever, well-travelled, rich,” and McVeigh flaunts her success with reinvention.
Character Development/Execution: Some characters feel strikingly similar to Austen’s characters, while others including Mr. Darcy, Mr. Hawthorn, and Frank Churchill come straight from the original novels. In this nineteenth-century portrayal, Emma mingles with Pride and Prejudice in a delightful confrontation between the two books' worlds.
by Sam Ernst
Plot: The New Manifesto assumes readers approach the story informed, as if knowledge is willed and experiences are only as palpable as the words that define them. Time loses all form and becomes an invented, immaterial fabric of reality. The narrator’s travels and successes shift with transience, where impermanent things hold lasting effects. Ernst’s novel queries absolute truth—a world where imagination is the illusory precursor to reality.
Prose: A philosophical skepticism is inseparable from the prose. The New Manifesto is told through a voice which is unestablished and unsure of itself. This voice meanders, disappears, and resurfaces, leaving the reader a heap of unscrambled words that have no right to pair together so peacefully.
Originality: In a book about a book, Ernst chooses to title his novel after a fabricated text, attaching his own, true New Manifesto to a sliver of nonexistence. With a playful guile, Ernst describes himself as his narrator’s editor and mocks the role of the author—as if he is the uncredited inventor of his three-tiered world. The ending, which uses second-person perspective and makes the reader an active participant, perfectly ties the chaos together like a maze—returning to the same spots and unable to escape the words on the page. The reader makes different choices, yet all outcomes parallel each other, as if to say the human mind is one’s biggest obstacle.
Character Development: Halfway through the book, the narrator segues into fictionalized academia. A mix of environmental and ecological science sometimes strips the sensation of weightlessness, but the pedantic moments ground the story like anchors that tie the plot to real life.
Blurb: This is a book that reveres visual imagery, while challenging what the eye perceives. Ernst’s complexity muddles the mind so readers grasp for the concrete—the simple—but in those moments of filtering through the disorder, exists a tale that is beautifully human.
by Joan Spilman
Plot: Silver Bottle, a book that portrays a loss of innocence, places women as the moral center of the family. Spilman creates an emotional and physical disconnect that instills a feeling of impermanence, similar to the theme of transience in Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. Like Robinson’s character Sylvie, Spilman writes her characters’ oddities in such a way that leaves readers wildly uneasy but unable to explain why.
Prose/Style: Spilman maintains exquisite narrative control throughout her novel. Her writing captures a poetic weightlessness, bound by feelings rather than structure. The isolated narratives wind around each other, tangling memories only to unravel into a precise, linear narrative.
Originality: In a book about lived patterns, the author depicts characters that are alone but together in kinship. Tied to one artifact that traces lineage, the book’s title and returning artifact—a silver bottle—symbolizes a material and emotional connection between one family. The story pleas for reflection, as a way to let go.
Character Development/Execution: This book explores motherhood and delights in the dynamic of parent-child relationships. The strained moments feel sincere, bitter, yet affectionate. The author cleverly writes each characters’ childhood from an aged perspective, so readers witness an adequate account of childish naivety.
by Panayotis Cacoyannis
Plot: To George Hareman, aka Mr. Magikoo, whose signature illusion of pulling a rabbit out of two hats involved actually halving the rabbit, are added a cacophony of variously flawed characters. Sixteen-year-old Jane’s mother was accidentally electrocuted as a result of a mishap during another of her father’s illusions ten years earlier and now she must find her way to adulthood with only Auntie Ada; George’s atypical girlfriend Mia-Mia; Jane’s musical boyfriend Karl; and his mother, Reichian psychologist Dr. Schmidt who believes the moon landing was a hoax, as her allies, compromised though they may be.
Prose: Panayotis Cacoyannis has committed to a straightforward, often humorous, style of writing to describe an unrelenting barrage of unusual and often absurd events. He creates a bizarre fictional world where each unlikely event is followed by one even more unlikely, that the reader accepts without question.
Originality: A unique effort that combines a deep understanding of emotion, of the need to live and to grow, with an unfailing control of language and a more than proficient ability to tell a story.
Character/Execution: Jane’s coming of age is immensely complicated by her mother’s death and her father’s guilt and denial, but still she finds her own ways to make peace with her past and her present, to risk, and to grow. Cacoyannis has deftly captured the interplay of reluctance, denial, courage and vulnerability that such a journey requires.
Blurb: A rollicking good read in which profound truths about the human psyche, about memory and betrayal, about love and forgiveness, emerge with such finesse that the reader is carried along hardly aware of the complexity and depth of the novel.
by Libby Sternberg
Plot: Introducing a feisty protagonist with a girlish charm, Sternberg’s book shifts the storytelling genius from Fitzgerald to Nick Carraway, applying the Austenian concept of an unreliable narrator to The Great Gatsby. Sternberg requires readers to submit to layers of fantasy, by contrasting different realities in her still fictional world.
Prose/Style: The author writes with a poised composure that reads like a continuation of Fitzgerald’s prose. However, the novel feels like a classical fusion of nineteenth-century literature with Jane Eyre’s direct address to the reader and Emma’s protagonist that cleverly orchestrates all things.
Originality: The author reconstructs a timeless American novel by adding compassion to Fitzgerald’s superficial relationships. Rather than defining her characters by wealth, she strips her story of financial interest and focuses on romance and female empowerment. Her book offers a new perspective that alters how one perceives Fitzgerald’s characters.
Character Development/Execution: This book’s modernization applies the female agenda in today’s society to the social construct of the 1920s. It provides an inspirational heroine that escapes gender inferiority. In Fitzgerald’s novel, Daisy acts as an ornament to the male species, yet in this book, the author gives her agency.
Blurb: A delightful portrayal of a female character claiming the story as her own, repossessing her own voice.
by Kate Reynolds
Plot: Reynolds’s intricate plot transports the reader to sixteenth-century Spain. Ernestine is a plucky, likable heroine, surrounded by equally intriguing characters.
Prose/Style: Atmospheric writing brimming with well-placed historical details pulls the reader into the heart of the story.
Originality: Reynolds crafts a realistic, believable picture of a distant era. Her focus on the idiosyncratic, deeply religious life at the abbey at Granada is a breath of fresh air.
Character Development/Execution: Reynolds’s elegant prose buoys the plot. Ernestine is a delightful character who readers will empathize with.
Blurb: This work of historical fiction brims with life and heart. A story of religiosity, love, and friendship in sixteenth-century Spain are painted with sweeping swathes of color.
by Bunye Ngene
Plot: In The Bodies That Move, Bunye Ngene unforgettably depicts the journey of a young Nigerian man, Nosa, who falls into the brutal hands of human smugglers in his quest for a better life abroad. Harrowing and deeply moving, this novel will haunt the dreams and consciences of its readers for some time.
Prose/Style: From the very first page of the book, readers will know they are in the hands of a good writers, but soon they will realize they are under the spell of a great one. Ngene writes sparely, cleanly, and with quiet force.
Originality: Nosa's odyssey is a depressingly familiar one to any who read or watch the news, but Bunye Ngene makes his protagonist's inner life so transparently real to the reader that no news story can compare. The Bodies That Move is a superbly crafted novel.
Character Development/Execution: Perhaps the greatest thing about the protagonist of the novel is that his creator allows him to be flawed. Setting out as a young man who is by turns envious, anxious, ambitious, and vain, Nosa grows in stature, becoming a survivor adamant in his determination to stay alive and get where he is going.
Blurb: Ngene writes sparely, cleanly, and with quiet force. The Bodies That Move will haunt its readers' dreams and consciences for some time.
by Shannon Bradley-Colleary
Plot: Tackling alcoholism, abuse, LGBTQ+ relationships, acceptance, and mental health, the author has broached many issues but also manages to bring them all together. Initially, it is confusing to figure out who the narrator is but once that is made clear, the decision lends even more depth to the characters and book. The reader is lured into the action and is compelled to reach the ending to learn why the reader states seven concerning words in the prologue.
Prose/Style: Through dialogue and dialect, the author effectively depicts the time period, characters, and setting and ties them together with fluid writing. Descriptions and details of gestures round out the characters and help the reader understand who they are. Images of these characters stay with the reader long after the last word of the novel.
Originality: The author draws the reader in within the first three pages of the novel. At times, the novel has elements of the tale of Cinderella, but only when the main characters are evolving. Through the setting, the author creates the proper mood and environment throughout.
Character Development/Execution: Minor details of the characters' actions bring them to life and depict the Bible Belt in the 1960’s. The main characters help each other grow throughout the story and help the reader understand their circumstances. The reader feels validated at several key moments, and there are elements in the story that have distinct ambiance and character. These elements create mood and help the reader thoroughly understand one of the character’s growth throughout the novel.
by Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
Plot: The author weaves an intriguing tale that spans two continents and depicts the long-forgotten era of the settlement of Jamestown. The author does a great job crafting a interesting storyline that holds the reader's interest.
Prose/Style: The author is a gifted writer who is able to mimic the language style from the time period depicted in the work. The even prose aids the story's evenly-paced flow, which maintains the reader's interest throughout.
Originality: This a unique work with distinctive characters. While the setting is historical, the story line is a work of original fiction.
Character Development/Execution: The author effectively creates distinctive and original characters. The reader is able to learn much about the characters from their actions in response to the circumstances in which they find themselves.
by James Musgrave
Plot: Absurdity, wit, and piercing skills of observation allow the 11 standalone, but tonally and thematically united short stories in this collection to shine.
Prose/Style: Musgrave's prose is smooth and easy to read, humorous, and cleverly written. In the case of the title story: after realizing the absurdity of the premise, the reader is quickly drawn in by the wry narrative and ultimately entertained by this slice of life tale told by one of Lady Gaga's dogs.
Originality: Musgrave's stories blend elements of satire with pathos, providing insights on fame, human behavior, and love relationships. It's a thought-provoking, fun, and ultimately impactful collection.
Character Development/Execution: The author's Kafkaesque storytelling will delight discerning readers. The influence of literary masters is apparent across the works in this collection, while the stories--from references to the gig economy to COVID--are also firmly and effectively planted in the current tumultuous moment.
by Wally Wood
Plot: Pale Dude is a book about racial disparity, set in the midst of Malcolm X’s era and the countered police brutality. This novel shows how Civil Rights followers were directly affected by the movement. In moments when Rashid struggles with his multicultural background, Wood applies Malcolm X’s teachings from his final revolution of Black nationalism.
Prose/Style: The language is smooth and methodical like a polished conscience. The vocabulary, executed with ease, allows readers to read at the pace of their own anticipating mind, as if their thoughts consume the written passages.
Originality: Centered in the beginning of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, Wood effectively uses this instrumental period to remind readers of Western civilization’s tainted past. The novel’s 1960s narrative demonstrates a time when many were unwilling to depart from ignorant ideals and capital and labor predestined Black communities to inequality.
Character Development/Execution: Wood chooses to tell his story through a third-person intimate perspective of Matthew, a white witness to the unraveling discrimination. The external influences at play mold the character, as he wrestles with his own role in the Civil Rights movement and whether he is or has ever been an opposing participant.
by M.S. Valdez
Plot: Empire Paladin: Realm of the Dead, a book that marries the physical and spiritual world, finds value in its intertextuality. With an opening excerpt from Paradise Lost, allusions to Augustine’s City of God, and copious Biblical imagery, Valdez allows readers to approach his story through these texts for a richer appreciation of the storyline.
Prose/Style: The book's sentences unravel in a short, tidy manner that leaves no room for trudging through words. The fast-paced plot grips the reader, as one's eyes travel quickly across the page.
Originality: In a plot woven with good and evil, the author’s story parallels the infamous tale of the devil, a rebellion in the face of rejection. Valdez provides a unique perspective that shows how easily emotions can rule the mind.
Character Development/Execution: While the book involves a few main characters, the author seems to use his protagonist Camila to deconstruct Romans 13—what it means to practice God’s authority when it is mediated by man. The book hurries through the emotional complexities, but the characters and their moral struggles feel real.
by Barbara Eppich Struna
Plot: This richly compelling novel is a multi-generational saga and mystery with a family heirloom at its center. Ambitious in its scope, the work largely succeeds in capturing the events unfolding within two distinct places and time periods and satisfactorily ribbons the narrative threads together.
Prose/Style: Despite occasionally awkward sentence structure, the prose is generally evocative and clear. The author authentically conveys circumstances of the distant past, while modern-day events are presented vividly.
Originality: Highly original in its premise, its dual settings, and focus on the Tlingit people of Alaska, this work offers fresh appeal for fans of mystery and historical fiction.
Character Development/Execution: There are a great many characters in this novel, some quite distinct, others simply seen in passing. The relationships between individuals are not always clear, but the author excels at creating lively portraits of significant characters--notably, her protagonist-turned-sleuth whose search for clues to the past will keep readers fully invested.
by CC Lepki
Plot: Lepki takes a standard story about a teenager wanting to escape their reality and suffuses it with new energy. Readers will root for Sydney even as her situation grows ever more precarious. Sydney is the definition of a troubled teen: battling a drinking problem, she swirls in and out of consciousness at house parties. As her family and friends pull away from her, she is pulled into a vortex of depression with little hope of escape.
Prose/Style: The reader grasps the weight of Sydney’s spiral into depression through Lepki’s taut, unflinching prose.
Originality: Given Lepki’s background in psychology, she presents the reader with a richly detailed portrait of someone experiencing and surviving depression and suicidal ideation.
Character Development/Execution: Even at her grimmest, Sydney’s tenacity and her plaintive cries to God are brimming with a fleeting hope. Lepki’s pacing is never hindered; she is a skillful storyteller.
by L.A. Davenport
Plot: With intriguing and clever writing, the author has encouraged the reader to think about who he is and who others might actually be. The perceptions of the reader might go one of two ways: literal or metaphorical. The author makes the reader consider who we are in society; whether the reader will buy into the premise depends on how the reader interprets the story.
Prose/Style: Written in first person, the reader is in the main character’s head and can thoroughly understand his state of mind. Ultimately, the reader will want an explanation for the mysterious sightings that occur throughout the story.
Originality: The author has taken a chance with what could be an absurd idea, but it pays off. Creating a metaphor for society and helping the reader discover who they are in society. Occasionally the author addresses the reader creating even more buy into the surreality of the plot.
Character Development/Execution: Quirky characters surround a bewildered main character. The reader feels the confusion and relief he feels when given an explanation for his sightings. The characters that surround him hang in the peripheral vision of the reader, but when they show up, the reader’s curiosity is piqued.
by Cara Achterberg
Plot: Blind Turn offers a deeply compelling premise and storytelling that proves easy-to-read and suspenseful. Achterberg effectively explores the far-reaching impact of a tragic event on the lives of those involved.
Prose/Style: The prose is clear and flows well; the author has presented readers with smooth and captivating writing.
Originality: Both plausible and hardhitting, this unique morality tale centers around family, friendship, consequence, and forgiveness.
Character Development/Execution: These characters feel authentic, distinctive, and realistically flawed. Achterberg ultimately delivers an honest, moving, and very human story with heart.