by Erin Marie Bernardo
Plot: Bernardo’s novel is enthralling and incredibly powerful. The dark plot is exposed through clever flashbacks, and the author paces these in a way that builds tension while developing depth at the same time. Readers may sense the looming conclusion, but it is gripping nonetheless.
Prose/Style: Bernardo’s prose is cleverly crafted, with accurate historical phrasing and speech. The arresting descriptions and scene-setting will transfix readers.
Originality: Blackbird’s Bounty gratifyingly twists historical fiction and successfully transforms it into a thriller, with a potent balance of cliff-hangers and symbolism.
Character Development/Execution: Bernardo’s characters are convincing and will captivate readers. Cordelia Kingston is a chilling antagonist with a resounding demise, and Darcy Andrews ends up nearly prosaic when compared to her historical counterparts.
Blurb: A thrilling, edge-of-your-seat journey that will transport readers to the 19th century and hold them captive.
by Shawn Keller Cooper
Plot: Cooper's novel has a fairly standard plot, which is a storyline of multiple female characters whose lives crisscross over time. However, it has less worn tropes, such as some fun witchcraft, and a focus on sorority sisters. Despite the possibility for falling into cliché themes, the author expertly avoids it through her lovely prose, interesting characters, and unique plot nuances.
Prose/Style: Cooper writes romance quite well. She is fabulous at making one's heart race with her simple yet effective writing. Her descriptions of a crush, an intense romance, the ends of a failing marriage, heartbreak, and everything in between are beautiful, elegant, and poignant.
Originality: Although Cooper’s book does at times enter the trope of sisterhood novels, it deviates enough from the norm that it leaves the reader fascinated and clamoring to get to the next page. Cooper has taken a tried-and-true novel format and made it her own, breathing new life into what could have been stale.
Character Development/Execution: Along with her prose, what really puts Cooper's novel ahead of others is her character execution. Her characters feel real; they feel like one’s friends, one’s enemies, a sexy one-night-stand, or a mysterious, older mentor. She writes in a way that plunges the reader into the lives of her characters, keeping them sympathetic while not annoying or pathetic. The reader will be pleased to find that not only can Cooper write believable women of all ages, but she can also write men that leap off the page, showing their strength and weaknesses.
by John Wemlinger
Plot: The grand plot may be of specific interest to those interested in Michigan history or farming, but the pace, tone, and characters create a storyline that is enjoyable for all.
Prose/Style: The Cut has simple and straightforward prose, but does not lack interest. Told in third-person, the story moves along at a mid-tempo pace and does not miss a beat on detail.
Originality: A love story wrapped in larger issues of the time is exactly what readers will find engaging. The format of the novel is familiar, but the depth in detail and historical depiction sets the book apart and makes for enjoyable reading.
Character Development/Execution: Main characters Lydia Cockrum and Alvin Price make up the fabric of this story. Readers will be swept up in their love story, their kindness, persistence, and realism. Secondary characters are fully realized and supportive of the plot and the worldbuilding.
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 Laura Clementz
Plot: The author has explored Mikita's journey of self-discovery in beautiful detail. Mikita and Gareth's relationship and paths are treated with care and skill.
Prose/Style: The flow of the story is solid, alternating through Mikita's and Gareth’s points of view, which lends the reader a greater insight into their world.
Originality: Though the story deals with magic realism, the characters and their journeys are relatable and grounded in reality.
Character Development/Execution: Both of the main characters—Mikita and Gareth—are extremely well-developed.
Blurb: Journeying through the world of magic realism, Exploratory Tales traces the adventures of Mikita, who needs to make a choice of either following the path that she was meant for or find her own.
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 N.T. McQueen
Plot: Delivering excellent detail to create an alluring environment, McQueen’s coming-of-age myth is as compelling as it is creative. While offering exceptional descriptions, the plot is paced quickly.
Prose/Style: Following a semi-traditional mythic formula, The Blood of Bones is an engaging narrative. The narrator is omniscient and skillfully takes the reader into the mind of Tesfashun, the novel’s hero. Stylistically, dialogue is not indicated with quotation marks, which takes the reader a slight adjustment to get used to.
Originality: Readers of myth and fantasy will find familiar patterns, but McQueen breaks the mold by using his knowledge of tribal practices. As an outsider to the Omo Valley region, McQueen displays reverence as an outsider writing about traditional practices and the experience of colonization.
Character Development/Execution: Young Tesfahun, his wise teacher (aptly named “old man”), and the relationship they build are the stars of this novel. Tesfashun’s actions naturally mirror his internal thought processes and what he is learning from his sage. Tesfashun learns quickly and the pace of the novel moves with his growth.
by Paulette Alden
Plot: Alden's plot follows a logical sequence of historical events and is crisp, penetrating, and well-paced. Despite the topic's complexity, the storyline is straightforward and easy to follow.
Prose/Style: Alden's prose is both informal and eloquent, enhancing the storyline while driving home period-appropriate speech. Told in the first person, Trammell's voice is necessarily coarse, offensive, and tortured.
Originality: Readers will quickly recognize the historical fiction elements in Alden's work, but the novel is unique in its use of secondary characters to illuminate and interconnect opposing sides.
Character Development/Execution: The Empty Cell's characters are both powerful and unforgettable. Alma Stone outshines the other protagonists with her unflinching stoicism, and the deplorable Lee Trammell will take readers on an intense journey of angst-ridden guilt and self-condemnation.
Blurb: A heart-wrenching account of a 1940s, racist-fueled murder in the Deep South that will pummel readers with grief, unease, and awakening.
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.