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General Fiction

  • The Chimes of Westminster: And Other Short Stories

    by Gary W. Priester

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Priester has a knack for storytelling and his timing for humor is spot-on. Each of the sixteen short stories ends with a laugh-out-loud moment for the reader or has humor scattered throughout. The reader will have many “wait for it” instances. Each story is well-executed with an easy tone that would allow these stories to be read aloud.

    Prose/Style: Easy and well thought out, Priester has avoided extraneous details and uses delivery that is similar to that of a comedian. His voice resonates off the page as an expert storyteller.

    Originality: Being able to cause the reader to laugh out loud in just about every story takes true skill. The subjects that Priester chooses might not seem humorous, but he not only finds the seriousness of each story but the lightheartedness as well.

    Character Development/Execution: Priester has a grasp on the characters that he has chosen to include in each story. Sometimes his subject is himself revealing bits about his background through tasteful stories. Regardless, his characters are serious, humorous, lighthearted and real. Despite the characters being part of short stories, the characters are genuine and provide the reader with a glimmer of who they are.

  • To The Stars: A Novel

    by Shannon Bradley-Colleary

    Rating: 9.50

    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.

  • What is Forgiven

    by C. F. Yetmen

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This is a very clever and novel storyline, transporting the reader into another time and place. There are several equally engaging subplots that will keep the reader invested in seeing the story through to the end.

    Prose/Style: Yetmen is a talented writer, able to craft dialogue, action and description with skill. Because the storyline is complex, the author must (and does) shift focus from one plot line to another with dexterity, and the reader is not short-changed.

    Originality: The author offers up a completely original story line with distinctive situations and characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here, particularly Anna, are well-defined, nuanced, and believable.

  • Bloodroot

    by Daniel V. Meier, Jr.

    Rating: 9.50

    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.

  • The Valley of the Dogs Dark Stories

    by James Musgrave

    Rating: 9.25

    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.

  • The Roses Underneath

    by C.F. Yetmen

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: The storyline here is clear and has enough change throughout to keep the reader interested. The scenery and characters change often, but there is a central focus that unifies the book and creates a cohesive whole. Yetmen has produced a wonderfully written, sorrowful look into post-World War 2 Germany. 

    Prose: Yetmen's prose is clear and heartfelt. The scenes are described dutifully, and the story moves at a comfortable pace. Yetmen expertly portrays simple moments with feeling, compassion, and honesty, and this pulls the reader deeply into the book immediately.

    Originality: It is common to find books painting the point of view of Jews after WWII, but less common to see the perspectives of Germans, especially in a sympathetic light. This book delicately presented the experiences of common people during and after the war with eloquence and nuance.

    Character/Execution: The characters come to life, especially little Amalia and Anna, the central heroines of the story, in their fight to survive. The portrayal of mother and daughter love is beautiful and authentic, and the rest of the players in this tale are equally well developed.

     

  • That Which Remains

    by C.F. Yetmen

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Yetmen once again presents the reader with a fascinating, emotional plunge into the devastation after WWII. The delicate romance between Cooper and Anna continues, slowly but surely building, while they must figure out their future. This book sets a romance in an unlikely time, between two people from very different backgrounds, and it works very effectively to keep the reader interested.

    Prose/Style: Yetmen is a wonderful writer, and captures the heart of the reader through her work. She expertly is able to bring to life subtle emotions, perfectly describing moments such as the experience of a hangover at work, deep longing after a romantic kiss, and the solitary moments one experiences while pondering death. Her writing can bring the reader both to tears and to laughter, which reflects the realness of the life that she has so eloquently created.

    Originality: A mixture of love, overcoming despair from war and copious death, and mystery, Yetmen skillfully crafts a book full of original characters, an interesting plot, and authentic emotions.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters really make the story. They are very real and genuine, and the reader will feel as though they walk alongside the characters in this novel, experiencing life with them. They are not flat, but instead round, with flaws, pain, longing, joy, and growth.

  • Dancing the Labyrinth

    by Karen Martin

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Hopping between current day and ancient Greece, the story of Cressida’s young adulthood and pregnancy mirror those of ancient Minoan women. The narrative is fluid, polished, and creative, despite using elaborate myth as its foundation.

    Prose: Martin’s beautiful prose is amplified by detailed description of location and emotion throughout this consistent and creative story of women in the present day and ancient Crete. A blend of the Greek language is interspersed, helping keep the reader fully engaged with an authentic feel.

    Originality: Dancing the Labyrinth is a brilliant illustration of an exploration in feminism and a journey through trauma. Knowledge of Greek mythology is not necessary to understanding the plot; all readers can greatly enjoy the immersion into myth and imagination.

    Character/Execution: Cressida and her backstory are fully formed, both of which draw the reader straight into the pain and exploration she faces. Secondary characters serve as much importance to the story and overarching meaning; women are connected to one another across time and cultures. The development of Angela, Pythia, Ashtar, and Lydia are auxiliary, but directly linked to that of Cressida’s. Cressida and her confidants will help many readers with their own sojourn.

    Blurb: This novel is sure to open minds to past, present, and future understanding of acceptance and healing, while imploring exploration into ancient and current meanings of femininity and belonging.

  • The Sound of Wings

    by Suzanne Simonetti

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The Sound of Wings is an interesting narrative with plenty of twists, turns and secrets to keep readers engaged. The journey that each character goes through is heartfelt and will leave the audience with a warm feeling.

    Prose/Style: The writing has an air of nostalgia surrounding it. Readers will seamlessly move in and out of past and present events throughout the story.

    Originality: There are three prominent characters and each has a unique story to tell. Their haunting pasts and their paths to self-discovery are all different and memorable.

    Character Development/Execution: Even though each character has a different story to tell, each one of them is relatable in its own way. The author has expertly fleshed their backstories out in a way that by the end of the story, readers will feel that they’ve known the characters for a long time.

  • Starring... John Dillinger

    by Bill Walker & Brian Anthony

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger becomes Hollywood Heartthrob Number One in this smart, witty page-turner. But will J. Edgar Hoover allow fame and fortune to come to his foe?

    Prose/Style: Smooth as good whiskey, packed with the curves of Jack Warner's favorite starlet, the plot races along at a dizzying pace to a conclusion that will satisfy everyone (except perhaps J. Edgar Hoover) The authors effortlessly capture the style and lingo of Hollywood's Golden Age and the effect is sheer entertainment.

    Originality: Whatever it was that inspired authors Bill Walker and Brian Anthony with the idea, "What if 1935 Hollywood had made a movie star of John Dillinger?", readers of 2021 are lucky that they took the idea and ran with it. A pure escapist delight and a Valentine to Hollywood.

    Character Development/Execution: Walker and Anthony have studied both their noir and their screwball comedy to good effect, and the result is an intoxicating cocktail composed of equal parts hard-boiled and froth shaken, not stirred. The seamless POV shifts make for well-developed characters who engage the reader's interest and sympathies early and never let go.

  • Pale Dude

    by Wally Wood

    Rating: 9.00

    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.

  • Empire Paladin: Realm of the Dead

    by M.S. Valdez

    Rating: 9.00

    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.

  • Whiskey and Old Stogies

    by Lisa Angle

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The Prohibition era has long been the subject of novels, film, and television. Rather than sticking with tried-and-true depictions of affluent gangsters, Angle takes a more novel approach by focusing on the moonshine brewers in the backwoods.

    Prose/Style: Angle’s use of dialect and phonetic spelling can be jarring at first, but the reader soon falls under the spell of the poetic rhythm of Rufus’s narration.

    Originality: Angle’s gritty tale pushes the boundaries of what readers may come to expect in the genre. As Rufus and Jolene they a living selling whiskey in the era of Prohibition, they come across a host of unsavory characters, deepening an age-old family feud. 

    Character Development/Execution: Rufus and Jolene are colorful characters who leap off the page. Evocative descriptions immerse the readers in the gritty underbelly of 1920s and 1930s North Carolina.

  • House of Fragile Dreams

    by Anne Moose

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Moose’s novel is suspenseful and romantic in equal measure. Rachel’s romance with Nate is made only more poignant as she fights to understand how her brother took such a dark turn in his life.

    Prose/Style: The reader is pulled into the thick of the story through Moose’s warm, heartfelt prose. Rachel proves to be an engaging narrator.

    Originality: The author tackles the realities of an interracial romance with refreshing sensitivity.

    Character Development/Execution: Moose’s characters are likable and engaging. There is a definite mysteriousness and possible nefariousness to Dan, Rachel’s brother, which makes the story all the more intriguing.

    Blurb: Moose’s evocative novel is a must-read for our times. Newly divorced Rachel has moved back into her deceased parents’ home, finding solace in a newfound friendship with Black veteran Nate and his son Isaiah. But when her ne’er-do-well brother moves in with her, his erratic behavior and dangerous ideas may threaten all Rachel holds dear. 

  • In the Aftermath

    by Jane Ward

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Ward has written a delicate novel about suicide and its implications on those who it touches. Although this is a bit of a trope and has been done many times, the way in which she interweaves differing stories of people who were affected is unique and insightful.

    Prose: Ward's prose is lovely. She is able to throw the reader into the minds of her characters, as well as the settings. The reader can smell, hear, see, feel everything going on around them. Her metaphors, sentence structure, and diction are excellent.

    Originality: The book features a nuclear family that is dealing with the after effects of a father's suicide. Although this is not a particularly uncommon theme, Ward has presented it in a unique manner, giving voices to a wide array of characters who have been deeply affected by this death.

    Character/Execution: The characters of In the Aftermath make the story feel real for the reader. Ward is adept at writing characters of all different ages and genders, and this really plays into how well the novel works.

  • The Old Cape Blood Ruby

    by Barbara Eppich Struna

    Rating: 8.75

    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.

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