by Gregory Urbach
Plot: The author offers up a captivating plot that creates a palpable sense of urgency from the very beginning of the story and carries through the events that follow. The plotline unfolds at an optimal pace, allowing the reader to learn more about the strange world the characters inhabit while furthering along the story at the same time.
Prose/Style: Beautifully written, this work was clearly crafted by a talented and imaginative writer. The prose feels effortless and, paradoxically, is so strong that it allows the reader to focus on the plot rather than the author's craft.
Originality: The author creates an entirely new world that is rich in detail, consistent throughout the work, and is full of unique and interesting characters and creatures.
Character Development/Execution: The main characters here are memorable, relatable, and distinct. Their dialogue clues readers in on their personalities and motivations, providing insight into who these people truly are.
by G.K. Johnson
Plot: The author offers a retelling of religious stories in a creative and refreshing way. There are occasional inconsistencies that could be addressed, but otherwise the plot is sure to engage readers.
Prose/Style: The talented writer does a particularly good job of integrating potentially unfamiliar concepts such as Shabbat, shofar, and mikvah into the story in a way that is easily understood and doesn't interrupt the flow of the narrative.
Originality: While the framework of this story is based on the retelling of familiar Christian stories, the author's reimagining of these tales and the story line of Yeshua and Shim'on is inventive and engaging.
Character Development/Execution: Both Yeshua and Shim'on are highly developed, and despite the long ago setting, these young men feel relatable to a modern audience in many ways.
by Nickoli Bhola
Plot: In this absolutely charming and beautifully illustrated children’s story written in verse, toddler Zachary falls asleep and encounters a slew of “scary” jungle animals, including a pythoctopus and a rhinoceboar, until finally he triumphs by becoming a dinosaur himself…just before he wakes up. The story itself is followed by eight pages for coloring and creativity.
Prose/Style: A long verse with an ABCB rhyming scheme, this story flows off the tongue and will be delightful to read aloud.
Originality: This is an excellent children’s story in the tradition of Maurice Sendak, with equally scary monsters.
Character Development/Execution: Zachary evolves from a little boy into a dinosaur and back again, so character development is creative in the extreme.
Blurb: Jungle Dream is an absolutely charming and beautifully illustrated children’s story in verse a la Maurice Sendak.
by Steven Petersen
Plot: With a creative plot based on Norse mythology, the storyline here is simply captivating. From the fall of Odin and Thor to Thyra's ultimate achievement, the reader will be hard-pressed to put this one down until the final conclusion.
Prose/Style: This book was a true pleasure to read. The author is clearly gifted, with a great command of language and an astute understanding of dialogue and action. The story appears to be effortless, which is a sign of a great writer/storyteller.
Originality: While the basic premise here is built upon Nordic legend, the author is able to make the story distinctly his own. The creativity is notable, but is also in keeping with the tone and real aura of the original myth.
Character Development/Execution: Thyra comes alive off the page and is a likable and spirited heroine who readers will be sure to love.
Blurb: Petersen breathes new life into Norse mythology, and the result is an enthralling story with a spunky heroine that will captivate readers.
by Susan McCauley
Plot: McCauley puts forth a fascinating premise that will captivate readers. There's a perfect balance of the unknown and familiar throughout that educates and intrigues, while the mystery behind it all keeps the reader guessing.
Prose/Style: This author is a talented writer and a natural storyteller. The prose is perfect for the book's intended audience but isn't watered down in any way. In the author's capable hands, the story flows effortlessly.
Originality: This is a creative and highly original new work, with a distinctive story line and relatable characters.
Character Development/Execution: The author does a terrific job with characterization and growth. Alex, in particular, is a livable, breathable pre-teen that many readers will relate to despite the unfamiliar mystical world he inhabits.
by Gail Gurland
Plot: The storyline here is distinctive and strong. There's a perfect blend of mystery peppered with sibling rivalry, wrapped up in teenage angst. This will also appeal to an adult crossover audience.
Prose/Style: The author is a talented writer who is able to craft a fascinating story with realistic characters. The first-person narrative is effective and helps the story flow effortlessly.
Originality: This is a highly original work with distinctive characters and a unique premise.
Character Development/Execution: The characterization here is extremely strong, particularly for brothers Robbie and Henry individually and collectively as their relationship grows.
Blurb: Mysterious and fun, this story will undoubtedly captivate readers and keep them hooked until the final secret is revealed.
by Mike Maroney
Plot: This is an inspiring, intriguing, and sweet story. The author is able to talk of more serious topics, like a mob running a town, but keeps the themes age-appropriate. The story also encourages children to be brave and shows how even young people can help make their world a better place, like when Natasha and Max help with Grandfather’s mayoral campaign.
Prose/Style: This story is easy to read and the plot flows smoothly. The author balances out more serious scenes with some light humor. The author successfully relays how English would have been spoken by Russians and this adds a cultural element to the story without taking away from the dialogue’s content.
Originality: This is a creative story about how a girl, her pet “polar bear”, her friends, and grandfather can make a town a better place.
Character Development/Execution: Natasha is a brave girl who displays some feelings that seem above her years and an understanding of adult situations. While she starts out as a scared little girl, her time and experiences at her father’s home help her to grow into a brave and happy young woman.
by Rebecca Matthews Vorkapich
Plot: The author offers a delightfully captivating tale that will engage young readers as Hannah and her brothers do whatever is necessary to stay together. The action unfolds at a steady, even pace, which allows the reader to get to know and identify with all the major characters.
Prose/Style: The author does an effective job creating an age-appropriate story using language ideally suited for the book's intended audience.
Originality: This is a creative and original story, with distinct and memorable characters.
Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with characterization, particularly with Hannah and Aunt Olga, who will make readers with loving, kind aunts particularly grateful.
by Angela Mack
Plot: Izzy is in torment as she keeps vigil beside her boyfriend’s hospital bed. Josh and his brother Ryan are badly injured, and no one knows if they will ever wake up. What follows is an Insightful depiction of teens finding their way through and past the difficult emotions sparked by physical and emotional trauma and of the impulse of victims of domestic abuse to blame themselves.
Prose: This fast-paced page turner is told from two points of view, Izzy’s and Josh’s. Both perspectives are equally convincing and gracefully crafted.
Originality: Angela Mack takes a difficult subject that could easily become mawkish and treats it, and her characters, with respect and sensitivity. Her device of telling the story from two points of view is very effective in showing how teenagers might respond to extreme circumstances and to each other under those circumstances.
Character/Execution: Sixteen-year-olds Izzy and Josh are both shocked out of their typically self-centered worlds and forced to contend with horrible abuse, death, and the needs of a Josh’s nine-year-old brother. Both characters mature, but in a two steps forward, one step backwards trajectory that seems eminently true-to-life.
by Rick Duffy
Plot: Duffy's story tells the exciting tale of two boys who are searching to find their paths in life and end up on an epic adventure of self-discovery and saving the world.
Prose/Style: The language here is easy to understand and age-appropriate. It is easy to follow the story and the pace moves quickly.
Originality: This story is very original, and features a creative spin on magic. A further explanation of some of the worldbuilding elements would be helpful.
Character Development/Execution: Par and Enio demonstrate great growth throughout this coming-of-age tale. By the end, readers can see their maturity while still holding on to a small bit of childlike joy.
Blurb: An incredible coming-of-age tale about friendship and making your own way.
by J. Arthur Moore
Plot: The author weaves an interesting tale that engages and transports the reader to a long-ago era where a young boy straddles two worlds. The author does a great job recounting Native American practices which are easily understood by the reader. At times, the plot moves along a little too slowly, but then the action picks up again.
Prose/Style: The author is a talented writer who is able to palpably convey Prairie Boy's anguish through prose and also recreate a long-lost era in a seemingly accurate and believable manner.
Originality: The author keeps his story true to historical days and events, yet the work feels unique and original. The main characters may be representative of the era depicted, but they are products of the author's imagination and creativity.
Character Development/Execution: The characters here are well-developed, particularly Prairie Boy, who struggles throughout the story due to his complicated parentage.
by J. Arthur Moore
Plot: This is an intriguing work set in the late nineteenth century, and the author does an excellent job not only depicting the period but detailing the struggle of a Native American boy who is caught between the white man's world he lives in and his cultural history. His struggle is palpable, but the author sacrifices action for inner turmoil. The storyline would benefit from more action to balance the elements out.
Prose/Style: The author is a capable writer who is able to convey the inner angst of Prairie Cub. Some events, however, seem implausible or unlikely, and the book would benefit from a developmental edit to clear up such scenes.
Originality: This is a clever, highly original work that revisits a lost era. Young readers will learn much about the past while reading about Prairie Cub’s life and experiences.
Character Development/Execution: The author does an excellent job depicting Prairie Cub and the challenges he faces. His "torn between two worlds" life is vividly detailed, and the reader cannot help but root for this character.
by Ben Gartner
Plot: In Sol Invictus, Gartner constructs a cyclical narrative, where the present absorbs the past. At first, the book appears to capture an adventure in time, yet it results in a journey from adolescence. The motif of time reappears throughout the novel as a period of measurement, age, and growth. Amidst the venatores, gladiators, and Romans lingers a coming-of-age story about an ordinary girl.
Prose/Style: Written through the voices of young narrators, Gartner manages to convey a childlike essence without losing any artistic maturity. Cliches are coupled with elegant metaphors, creating a dichotomy between innocence and adulthood. With limited vocabulary and simple sentences, Gartner’s narrative voice complements the book’s brisk pacing and heightens its unending action.
Originality: John and Sarah’s adventures resemble the conventional narrative arc of any action novel—a tasked mission that determines the players’ outcomes. The book echoes the same adventure-driven narrative of Percy Jackson and the Olympians but with its own Roman twist. However, Gartner skillfully embellishes a narrow glimpse of history that is typically studied for its grander narrative.
Character Development/Execution: Despite the book’s focus on action, the narrative primarily centers on introspection. Using the omniscient third person, the narration shifts between the two siblings with witty observations about the family dynamic. Readers are privy to the gradual change in their way of thinking, as Sarah and John’s thoughts address the ordinary discomforts of childhood.
by Trisha Page
Plot: Trisha Page’s novel tackles all of the discomforts of adolescence—bullying, cliques, and insecurities. Secrets of the Toad’s word count, dialogue, and themes favor middle grade fiction. The author’s tale offers a playful approach to crucial values for early development.
Prose/Style: For a middle-grade audience, the vocabulary perfectly caters to young minds. Page’s book appeals to young readers because the character’s thoughts are revealed through an inner voice and not written into the story. A third-person intimate perspective allows elementary thoughts to be filtered through a mature narrator, yet Page allows Emma to express her emotions with innocent intensity.
Originality: With a new approach to Jiminy Cricket—amphibian turned mentor—Tobias the Toad provides wise proverbs, which are both fanciful and useful. Teaching lessons through haikus, Page demonstrates how three lines of guidance can impact a child’s life.
Character Development/Execution: Readers can sympathize with the self-effacing Emma. She is placed in a world where she is expected to navigate with little control. Page plunges into the mind of a child, where small feats feel monstrous and friendship determines self-esteem.
by Terri Selting David
Plot: Wren and her friends are misfits in a school currently overrun with election-season drama. Their internal and external conflicts teach them and readers how to overcome differences, accept differences in others, and support friends regardless of how their individual interests may change. The book is engaging and a fun representation of middle-grade life.
Prose/Style: The prose is consistent, easy to read, and very appropriate for a middle-grade audience. The writer includes terms and explanations that are more complex than children’s literature, yet more simplistic and easy to digest than those in YA books, making it the perfect reading level for middle grade. The text is presented formally and in an imaginative way.
Originality: A middle grade mystery featuring a small group of misfits is, of course, far from original in itself. However, the realism this piece takes on is unique to the genre. The reader can follow every scene and picture themselves next to the characters or in their school. Additionally, the detailed illustrations and directions for the characters’ inventions and methods are cute and interactive, setting this book apart from many others on the market.
Character Development/Execution: The characters were likable, realistic, and fair representations of their age group. Some characters, like Ivy and Benjamin, do not undergo much, if any, character development in this piece. However, the characters given more focus, such as Kammie, Amber, Axel, and Wren, undergo relatable and much-needed character development by the end of the book. The lessons these characters learn can be applied to the life of any young reader—and may even serve as a good reminder for adults, too.
by Sharn Hutton
Plot: Hutton’s novel is precisely plotted and dizzyingly bewitching. The fantasy tropes hit the mark, and the storyline flows smoothly.
Prose/Style: Hutton’s prose is articulate and intoxicating. The lovable central character is perceptive and sincere, with a voice that bears witness to the extraordinary challenges he faces.
Originality: Phyllo Cane and the Circus of Wonder explodes with novelty, bursting at the seams with both classical fantasy elements as well as inspiring worldbuilding.
Character Development/Execution: Hutton’s characters blend into the fantasy world effortlessly. Phyllo Cane leads the pack with his creativity and effervescence, while the rest of his family follow closely behind with fanciful but unwavering dependability. Supporting characters are equal parts sensational and accessible.
Blurb: A fantastical journey of magic, daring, and devotion.