by Curtis Burdick
Plot: With an inventive and alluring concept, this work is well-conceived and properly paced. With its appealing blend of fiction and fact, it will especially delight war and history buffs.
Prose/Style: The prose and the dialogue are clear and effective; there are many action-packed and high stakes moments, such as in the bombings and in the Italian excursions.
Originality: This novel-within-a-novel feels original and fresh, with fictionalized subject matter inspired by real events.
Character Development/Execution: General Patton, wounded and captured by the Germans, is finely characterized. Additional historical figures are both lively and authentic.
by Strobe Witherspoon
Plot: Strobe Witherspoon’s OOF, a book of cynicism and social commentary, debates satire’s place in the media and the shielded coverage of public figures. With an ironic fictional setting— a genre intended to entertain— the author inspects what amount of nonfiction actually involves the real world, how much is sensationalized, and how publications and news consumers choose to respond to these reports.
Prose/Style: Witherspoon tiptoes around the language formed in Schenck v. U.S. Even his character’s dilemma feels strikingly similar to modern cases like Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. With his fictional narrative, he continues the free press debate and dramatizes First Amendment history, moments where even comic falsehood was close to censorship.
Originality: OOF ask readers to determine the role of authorship in both fiction and nonfiction and the journalistic ethics while representing subjects. At times, the novel in question disappears from the story completely, but that may be Witherspoon’s purpose—to show that people care less about the topic itself and more about their voice on the matter.
Character Development/Execution: OOF is a chaotic meld of misinformation and competing notions of truth. It is a discussion on what constitutes news, and who is eligible to provide that information. Witherspoon’s novel seems to suggest that in the new era of journalists this includes anyone with a platform, an audience, and an opinion.
by Todd McGee
Plot: Well-researched and imbued with suspense, this novel is easy to get wrapped up in, particularly for fans of WWII. The action is just enough to catapult the reader forward.
Prose/Style: Matter-of-fact and somber, the tone here is typical of one involving the World Wars and military fiction.
Originality: Readers that have enjoyed WWII novels will find a familiar background here, coupled with a unique predicament and suspenseful action.
Character Development/Execution: The book features wise and experienced characters who are hopeful and full of faith work together for a positive outcome.
by Kimki Kita
Plot: Set in the greater Toronto Area, Kita’s autobiographical novel grapples with the realities of the inadequacies of Ontario’s mental health system. As the narrator falls deeper and deeper into mental illness, her hopelessness and exasperation are palpable.
Prose/Style: Heavy-handed exposition dulls the immediacy of the plot. However, there are evocative descriptive passages of hallucinatory imagery that will draw in any reader.
Originality: Kita’s openness and raw prose give this standard tale of battling mental illness a decidedly sharp edge.
Character Development/Execution: Kokoro’s inner demons and insecurities take center stage. Her struggles are perhaps best realized in her arguments with her Asian immigrant parents and through her hallucinations.
Blurb: This fast-paced work of autofiction sees a young woman strive to overcome mental illness during her university years.
by John C. Derr
Plot: The template for A Christmas Carol comes into play here, so the idea is not totally new to the world. However, the way the ghosts act and react, and the way Ellie is able to gradually better understand her circumstances and choices are quite delightful, and this novel is a well-crafted reimagining of the beloved holiday tale.
Prose/Style: The author is a very strong and clear writer; he employs a lot of figurative language, and his characters come alive off the page.
Originality: This concept stems from the work of Charles Dickens, but the author's take on the story is a new one, and quite different than the original story.
Character Development/Execution: Ellie is a wonderful, if often hateful, character who is well developed. Quite a few other characters, present and past, also ring true and complex. The author uses a lot of description and clear actions to bring his characters to life.
by John A. Heldt
Plot: Heldt’s intriguing time travel tale sees Mark Lane and his family come to grips with the realities of the past. A host of colorful historical figures buoy the plot onward.
Prose/Style: Heldt’s prose is effective and engaging, painting a clear picture of a past time. Some atmospheric details, such as Mark's wife peddling twenty-first century makeup to nineteenth-century shopkeepers add vibrancy to the story.
Originality: Although time traveling is a subject often covered in speculative fiction, Heldt brings a fresh touch to it by focusing on the personalities of the past.
Character Development/Execution: A multiplicity of point-of-view characters cause the story to feel jumpy. However, Heldt’s atmospheric writing is refreshingly detailed.
by Amy Q. Barker
Plot: Barker sets up an intriguing contemporary premise that will appeal to seasoned readers.
Prose/Style: Barker’s painterly descriptions lend life to an emotionally weighty plot. The reader spends a lot of time in Riley’s head as she reminisces over her youth, which is not unwelcome, but can feel a bit heavy as she ruminates over her past.
Originality: Although the premise of characters walking out of books is not a new one, Barker puts enough of a twist on the concept to refresh it.
Character Development/Execution: Riley and Adam jump off the page, and Riley’s personal quest for stability will resonate with readers. At times, the involved nature of Riley’s internal dialogue makes her voice sound too mature for her age.
Blurb: Barker’s novel suffuses heart with drama. As Riley turns inward after the sudden death of her friend, she finds that losing herself in books turns out to be more literal than she imagined.
by Geoff Robberts
Plot: The reader is immersed in the action right away. The plot is intense throughout the novel, with significant suspense and integration of ideologies that mirror the present-day political climate.
Prose/Style: The author writes clearly and confidently, while showing a strong command of storytelling.
Originality: The author states in the acknowledgements that using the word "polemic" in the subtitle should have been a clue that readers were going to be in for an intriguing ride. The author has made a strong statement about society that is truly of the moment.
Character Development/Execution: Using dialect, the author has created characters that fit the storyline well. Fearless individuals make their beliefs known within an increasingly divided climate. While somewhat more defined by their beliefs than other traits, they are effectively rendered and dialogue is convincing.
by Helen Gailey
Plot: This story explores themes of love, friendship, and loyalty, but it also delves deeper and depicts the divide between the classes with a fresh perspective and skill.
Prose/Style: The story is told from both Betsy and Catherine's perspectives, which can become confusing at times. This makes it difficult to invest in the characters.
Originality: Betsy and Catherine each have their moments of emotional growth, but overall the book could be more captivating.
Character Development/Execution: Helen Gailey brings out the relationship between Betsy and Catherine well, an unlikely friendship between an aristocrat and her servant. The story explores their journey when they are condemned to the Australian colonies.
by Tali Geva
Plot: Saved as a Painting is an unsurpassably beautiful and powerful narrative. The smooth storyline nurtures all the elements of historical fiction, weaving them together effortlessly.
Prose/Style: Geva’s prose is crisp and flawless. Told in the first person, Noa’s voice resonates with nostalgia, intensity, and longing.
Originality: Saved as a Painting leans heavily on historical fiction foundations, but Geva incorporates dynamic voices in an unconventional way.
Character Development/Execution: Geva’s characters are consuming in their accuracy and richness. Noa’s wavering but potent narration will mesmerize readers, and Kata is thunderous and heartbreaking.
Blurb: A piercing story of yearning that will both devastate and intoxicate readers.
by Dan Hendrickson
Plot: The novel will hold readers’ interests with its high energy and exciting plotline, whether or not they’re typically fans of pirates. The slavery and abolitionist plotlines make the story more complex and interesting, as do the huge changes that Brandy experiences throughout her journey.
Prose/Style: The prose and the dialogue are clear and effective. The dialogue seems quite realistic to the setting, but the book would benefit greatly from a thorough edit.
Originality: This storyline, and a female pirate protagonist, feel original despite the vast array of pirate tales in the adventure story genre.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are quite finely executed throughout. Though little attention is given to why they maraud and kill so often and so easily, Hendrickson does supply uncommon depth to the cast. Some complex familial relationships are explored and conflicts resolved, while individuals carry more nuance than might otherwise be expected for an action tale on the high seas. Historical circumstances also play a role in character development, while also contributing additional substance to the story.
by Rosy Fenwicke
Plot: Fenwicke’s slice-of-life novel takes readers through Maggie’s colorful life. However, its meandering tone and many threads obscure its general trajectory.
Prose/Style: The prose is effervescent, the tone conversational and engaging.
Originality: The charting of one woman’s life is familiar, although Maggie’s interactions with her adult children are genuine and heartfelt.
Character Development/Execution: Perhaps what makes Fenwicke’s story difficult to follow is her inclusion of many point-of-view characters. Although they are all full characters, readers may struggle to keep track of them.
by Stephanie Starr
Plot: After being acquitted for three murders, but heartily disliked by the town, Paul walks from Minnesota to the Canadian Arctic with three wolves as companions. He has decided to change his entire life based on an article he read in National Geographic. When he meets the Inuit people, he does live closely with them, still eating what apparently is nothing but seal or caribou. There are no modern conveniences, no stores, no schools. Paul manages amazingly well at this new life, and is fortunate to meet a helpful Inuit woman and a strong shaman, who becomes his mentor and "substitute" father.
Prose/Style: The prose is clear and effective. The book might benefit from some paring down, but the second half is both more fascinating and more exciting.
Originality: This story appears to be original, and it should interest people who enjoy adventure, Inuit culture, and the loyal personalities of wolves.
Character Development/Execution: Paul and some of his Inuit friends do not seem entirely relatable, as they stretch to make companionable relationships, to speak in two languages, to eat the same foods. Paul, however, is quite an empathetic character in the end.
by Benjamin Etzioni
Plot: Etzioni’s twist on a coming-of-age story will tug on the heartstrings of romantics and outcasts alike. Chronicling Barnaby’s growing pains, Etzioni’s novel is bizarre yet familiar to those who have loved and lost.
Prose/Style: Told from the first-person perspective and in past tense, the reflections of an older narrative voice lead the reader to assume high intellect or deeper understanding of the younger Barnaby. Predominately exposition, there is little dialogue. The lessons that adolescent Barnaby learns often seem forced into the plot; packed with common tropes as well as quips and quotes from literary figures, the story does lack believability, but feeds the style’s uniqueness.
Originality: Though this is a conventional coming-of-age storyline, Etzioni’s main character keeps the reader engaged in order to learn what could possibly happen next. The blend of Barnaby’s wisdom, wealth, romanticism, age, and mental stability break the mold of anything typical.
Character Development/Execution: The reader understands wise-beyond-his-years Barnaby’s motivations quickly. Secondary characters, who very much influence Barnaby, are a bit lackluster, but do help Barnaby shine bright even when he faces hardship. The complexity of what Barnaby experiences transforms him into someone the reader will continue to cheer for.
by Robert Allen Miltenberg
Plot: Don't You Know Who I Am? presents the unpolished side of Hollywood and society’s misunderstanding of the entertainment industry. With a recurring theme of postmodernity, the book explores the theories of Jean-François Lyotard and dissects the meta-narrative referred to as “the celebrity.”
Prose/Style: Robert Allen Miltenberg’s prose captures the disco decade with its funky lingo and racy quality. The narrative voice is impartial and provides a reliable account of each character. However, as the author flips between nickname, first name, and last name references, the reader may struggle to differentiate managers, band members, and the dedicated posse, along with the various titles they go by.
Originality: Underneath the story of a once sensationalized band, Miltenberg hurtles a social commentary on cultural dissonance. He approaches these discussions of abuse and racism with a callousness that laughs in the face of PC culture. The sexually explicit content successfully depicts a period in the height of political and social reform, but it still feels shockingly twisted.
Character Development/Execution: While Miltenberg provides complex characters, the book begs for a hero. The author intends for the characters to be pompous and ungrateful to accentuate the trope of fame and fortune, yet their perverse comments and actions make them intolerable. Randy Root fetishizes underaged girls, while Jeffy Jabonno becomes a reserved schizophrenic, occupied with the voice of John Lennon. It is a dizzying narrative that feels haphazard but, nonetheless, interesting.
by Jerry Blanton
Plot: Bruised Purple Hearts addresses the complexities and contradictions of the 1960s era, as seen through the coming-of-age experiences of two brothers. Blanton’s narrative sharply addresses the personal and societal impacts of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, psychedelics, the rise of feminism, and more.
Prose: The author brings a sense of immediacy to many of the scenes through lively descriptions and interactions. Historical events serve as guideposts for the narrative, and the characters’ musings and active analysis of such events, is impactful. At moments, readers may crave more nuanced interpersonal connections between characters and feel that the writing is overcrowded with its myriad historical and cultural references.
Originality: Novels set during the tumultuous 1960s are frequent. Blanton takes on a lot and succeeds in capturing much of the zeitgeist of the era. The story’s largely understated supernatural element brings a unique angle to the narrative.
Character/Execution: The characters do not always shine as boldly as the historical events that unfold throughout the pages. Still, Blanton capably utilizes his protagonists and side characters to reflect the rapidly changing world around them.