by John Prather
Plot: The story deals with a basic concept, but the bizarreness of the narrative situation itself makes the book stand out from others in the genre.
Prose/Style: The Jesus Nut is easy to read and the pace of the book is swift. It has a healthy dose of humor that effortlessly flows in the story and it's not overdone.
Originality: Self-discovery is one of the main themes of the story, and the author explores this point skillfully. The unconventional search for the relic gives this simple theme an air of uniqueness.
Character Development/Execution: The central character captures one's attention from the start. She has a rebellious nature with a touch of humor. The characters of the homeless veteran and the priest bring in their quirkiness, which makes the overall story interesting. Some of the minor characters, like the stripper and farmer, leave their marks in the readers’ minds as well.
by Claire Johnson
Plot: Johnson’s work reads almost more like a memoir than a novel; it amazingly vivid and full of historic detail. Pauline's statements about Ernest Hemingway as a former spouse are forceful and unforgettable. She loved him and grew to despise him, lending to this intriguing narrative.
Prose/Style: The prose is strong and makes the book hard to put down. The author writes that Pauline was an excellent editor, and this author proves herself to write extremely well, too.
Originality: This feels wonderfully original, as there doesn't seem to exist a true memoir/biography of Pauline Pfeiffer. The bibliography is extensive and impressive; the author has done her research. Pauline has often been vilified by the press as a homewrecker (of Ernest and Hadley's marriage), but this book provides a somewhat more empathetic view of her and her motives, one of which was steadfast love. For Thee is a welcome addition to the myriad books about the Hemingway mythos.
Character Development/Execution: This is among the most genuine of books about Hemingway's character—his charisma and genius and his flaws. His tender side and his nasty side are evident. Ernest and Pauline come across as strong characters, both empathetic and forceful. This was not a perfect romance, but for a few brief years, it was nearly that.
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 Shukdeb Sen
Plot: Sen takes the readers into the lives of multiple characters and creates worlds that may seem familiar on the surface; however, he is able to offer nuance and a twist on “normalcy”. A common theme is questioning and reflecting on the human experience, and his stories assert knowledge and awareness of history and culture.
Prose/Style: Sen pulls the reader into ephemeral glances of what is most common to all humans: love and death. A few stories read like folklore, both traditional and modern. Across many different characters, Sen is able to evidence sincerity and acuity in each story.
Originality: Each short story is entirely unique unto itself within this compilation. The stories may have influence from cross-cultural literature or religion, but Sen brings about a modern-day experience in his allusions.
Character Development/Execution: Some stories are so short they must live on in the readers’ imagination. Across age, religion, education, and race, Sen’s characters may seem common on the surface, yet are haunting depictions of humanity.
Blurb: A moving and intellectual collection of short stories concerning the human condition, highlighting diversity of emotion, humanity, and anguish.
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.
by Kevin Revolinski
Plot: These short stories depict the complexity of humanity’s interaction with what “home” means, be that a location, a person, or a memory. Each story is a brief look into different experiences with a hometown or travels away from familiarity, often begging the question, "From what are we running away or toward?"
Prose/Style: Revolinski’s storytelling is consistently well done from one story to the next; each story has its own flair and tone. Bouncing between first- and third-person storytelling aids the separation of stories for adaptive reading. Some stories read similar to poetry and throughout, the description of simplicity is acutely impressive.
Originality: Revolinski’s ability to elicit a brief moment of multiple characters’ lives in such detail is notable and each story is worth taking time with. Any of these twelve stories could be chronicled at full-length with great interest.
Character Development/Execution: Taking on the difficult task of fully developing characters in short stories, Revolinski has managed to offer depth and complexity to his characters in just a few pages. The characters experience a wide breadth of emotion, including grief and loss, inadequacy, abandonment, curiosity, and the mundane, which carefully alludes to life outside the story.
by Lisa Boyle
Plot: This powerful and endearing Irish immigrant’s story sharply explores the emotional turmoil that is associated with the experience of leaving a native country for a life in an unfamiliar one. Readers will fall in love with Rosaleen and her new family.
Prose: Boyle’s narrative form of writing submerses the reader into the time and environment; an entire world is set-up for deep imaginative reading. The novel is paced well, not missing a beat, nor ambling through detail.
Originality: The toil Rosaleen faces in her mid-1800s journey from famined Ireland to industrial Boston is familiar to readers of the genre, yet Boyle introduces unique interests and trials. Rosaleen learns about growing up, racism, classism, prejudice, and segregation, as well as women’s rights.
Character/Execution: Rosaleen is a beautifully detailed character with attributes many women will connect with, while simultaneously building empathy for the collective experience of immigrants. Boyle’s secondary characters, such as the love interest Emmett, or mother-figure Marie, are entirely of interest on their own and supportive of Rosaleen’s development.
by Tom Kranz
Plot: This relationship-driven story proves gripping from the very start. Readers will gain a clear and intimate understanding of the power couple at the book’s center, as well as the events and circumstances that have led to their conflicts.
Prose: The well-crafted prose supports the dramatic events and allows readers to become easily invested in the storytelling.
Originality: Events keep readers guessing as Kranz brings the sympathetic primary characters to a breaking point.
Character/Execution: Both Bud and Maggie have captivating personalities that drive the narrative. The author excels in character development, extending to intriguing and full side characters that benefit the overarching story.
by Jamie Zerndt
Plot: Though racism simmers beneath the surface of this engrossing story, it is certainly not the focal point. Rather, Zerndt's plot is a beautifully written exploration of the relationships, loneliness, secrets, and past heartaches of three Mercer, Wisconsin residents trying to navigate their way through their troubled lives, each in very different ways.
Prose/Style: The prose is smooth and poetic at times, and the main characters' inner thoughts are expressed with beauty and introspection as well as pain and regret. Potent symbols like the loon, gypsy moths, Shawna's horse Seven, and Norm's Don Quixote statue further explore and expand the impact of both the dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) quality of the characters' thoughts, fears, and anger.
Originality: Zerndt explores the tropes of loneliness, secrets, and racism without reverting to hollow platitudes or unnecessary language. The story is the characters themselves--and its beauty is largely due to its character-driven motivations and inner explorations of both everyday and existential problems.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are well-written and tied together not only through their proximity in a small town, but through their shared experiences that transverse age, race, and individual heartaches. Trapped by both the town and their own minds, they are somehow both static and dynamic; the story-ending inferno somehow symbolic of their journey and rebirth into something new.
by James Hutson-Wiley
Plot: Hutson-Wiley’s intricate plot charts Thomas’s travels across the heart of the Christian and Muslim worlds. The author’s sensitive portrayal of the time period will resonate with readers.
Prose/Style: Hutson-Wiley’s prose is atmospheric, capturing the realities of the time – including its prejudices – with accuracy.
Originality: Hutson-Wiley’s lively story reimagines a world confined to history book with dynamism and surprisingly heartfelt writing.
Character Development/Execution: Thomas’s likability and frank narration will draw in any reader.
Blurb: This well-researched historical drama is a must for readers who love being swept away to a different time. Thomas’s adventures as a physician during early medieval period are filled with political intrigue.
by Lindsey Salatka
Plot: Well-paced and continuously engaging, Salatka’s fictitious story pulls the reader through time and the emotional growth of the main character skillfully and earnestly.
Prose/Style: Salatka’s journalistic training pays off in her true-life-inspired story. Told in the first person, Salatka’s detail is on point and her voice is evident as characterized. At once, the book reads like a memoir and a piece of fiction.
Originality: Salatka’s fictionalized story of her journey from being a tense salesperson to a world-traveling, enlightened mom is familiar, inspiring, and brave. Her sincerity while being immersed in a new culture is balanced with raw emotion and grace.
Character Development/Execution: Protagonist Tina is depicted as painfully harsh or insensitive to those around her, but fully embodied descriptions allow for her hard shell to be thoughtfully softened with time and humility.
Blurb: Covering two years of a new life in Shanghai, Salatka describes one woman and her family’s transition in beautiful detail with utter honesty. The challenges and adjustments the family faces range from typical culture shock to common human experiences.
by Aaron Carter
Plot: The reader will likely find Carter's book of night-time boyhood adventures charming, if they can look past the norms of 1950's Arkansas, which can verge on gun-obsessive, with some racist, and sexist themes. However uncomfortable this setting may be for certain readers, it is honest to the time. This narrative is, at its heart, a fun (and at times terrifying) story about three best friends who really want to check out a haunted house.
Prose: Carter captures the slang of Arkansas (and even has a cute moment where Denver-based mom chastizes her son for his country twang) very well, and his settings are magnificent. The one place where he could improve is sometimes during the dialogue - it can get confusing telling which person is talking, and occasionally there are pages of dialogue at once, which the reader may end up skimming over. Breaking up the dialogue with descriptions of the characters reactions, changes in the setting, etc. could really assist in making these interactions more engrossing for the reader.
Originality: The reader will likely find Carter's story compelling and unique. Stories written in the deep South are fairly uncommon, especially from the perspective of haunted house hungry little boys in the 1950s. This book felt antique, autumnal, and crisp without mimicking other famous novels set during the same era or time of year.
Character/Execution: Carter does an excellent job of describing characters and their motivations. The reader will be impressed with the authenticity of the friendship between the three protagonists. The author likely has pulled from his own experiences as a youth growing up in Arkansas, and this has given him a frame of reference that makes for very genuine relationships in his novel.
by Robin Reardon
Plot: Reardon crafts a unique and eye-opening story about a young man with a history of broken connections, who ultimately finds the possibility of love in the place he least expected. The author builds enough tension and uncertainty to keep readers invested throughout the story.
Prose/Style: The prose is clear and consistent, although at the beginning of the novel, the writing comes across as somewhat journalistic in style. As the book develops, the writing becomes more eloquent and narrative-driven.
Originality: On the Precipice provides a unique exploration of various romantic and platonic relationships, while also exploring addiction, the experiences of individuals with disabilities, and the solace to be found in nature.
Character Development/Execution: Both Drew and Nathan are well drawn, as is the lonely teenage addict character, Emmett. The reader gains intimate glimpses into their lives, struggles, and challenging relationships.
by Joseph Allen Costa
Plot: The author's structural choices allow the reader to get into Robert's head and the many characters who populate Ybor City.
Prose/Style: Costa's prose is conversational, the immediacy of his descriptions at once both engaging and quietly lyrical.
Originality: Costa shines a spotlight on the lives of cabinetmakers, a unique trade with a unique past.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are disparate, coming from many different backgrounds. Each are given their due, and the reader learns something surprising about all of them.
Blurb: This collection of short stories is knit together with wit and humanity. Joseph Allen Costa has fashioned an intimate tale of the cabinetmakers of Ybor City.
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.