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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Anchored

    by Bridget E. Baker

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Baker provides just enough detail and an intriguing premise to keep the reader hooked, revealing answers at exactly the right pace.

    Prose/Style: Baker is an extraordinary writer. Her prose engages, seemingly flowing organically, whether descriptive, action-focused, or dialogue. She is clearly in command of her craft and does a superb job of advancing the plot while providing explanations in measured doses.

    Originality: The premise here is not only the right blend of imagination, mystery, and hold-your-breath action but is entirely unique and leaves the reader wanting more.

    Character Development/Execution: Baker has created living, breathing characters who, despite the different world represented here and the unique powers the protagonist possesses, are still authentic and relatable.

    Blurb: A gripping, action-packed novel, Anchored holds readers captive and simply won't let go.

  • The Transcendent

    by Salina B Baker

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The Transcendent follows 25-year-old Janek Walesa and his friends on their journey across time and space. The piece begins very grounded in reality, but soon builds tension through the sudden bouts of “darkness” Janek experiences. These bouts soon turn into full-on possessions and on-going torment which test not only Janek’s sanity, but his love for his friends and their desire to protect him. While keeping faith in oneself and the goodness in the world is a key theme of this story, equally important themes include friendship, love, loyalty, grief, and humanity. All of these concepts change the characters and challenge them to overcome their worst fears while resisting the darkness that tempts them every day, both past and present.

    Prose/Style: This story is told in third person omniscient and follows the points of view of important characters, which reveal more about the mysterious force attached to Janek as well as his own journey to recovery. The tone is consistent, but changes slightly depending on whose point of view the reader is following. The prose itself is fast-paced and very dialogue-driven with surprising moments of poetic description. Though there are not many detailed descriptions of the surroundings or other sensory details like smell and taste, there is an abundance of scenes that rely on sight, such as where things are and what they are, and feelings, like pain and joy. This story is certainly categorized as literary fiction, with the subgenres of historical fiction, fantasy, and surrealism.

    Originality: This novel is incredibly unique. Most stories about finding faith are works of nonfiction, but this form, coupled with its many themes, provides new insights into the concepts grief and spirituality. Because the text operates in uncharted territory, there are few, if any, cliques for it to follow. Almost everything is brand new.

    Character Development/Execution: The Transcendent showcases a diverse cast of characters, each with detailed personal histories, and many of whose points of view we get to experience. While in Ferndale, Janek meets locals Evan and Lise, who serve to help him overcome his grief and the darkness that threatens to consume him. Every character serves a purpose at some point or another and helps to bring the entire world alive.

  • TARO

    by Blue Spruell

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This is an exciting, magical coming-of-age adventure that draws from Japanese folklore and history. The episodic structure of the novel lends the story the aura of legend.

    Prose/Style: The writing is strong, building a clear aesthetic though the use of folklore, and featuring some accomplished descriptive writing.

    Originality: The book does an excellent job of creating a unique and original story from a strong cultural and historical well of source material. The book features a robust glossary to support the embedded Japanese language, which lends to the authenticity of the material. The included illustrations are excellent and fit the book very well.

    Character Development/Execution: The many supporting characters who inhabit the story are varied and interesting, lending to the timeless storybook appeal of the novel. The protagonist, Taro, has a satisfying arc that propels the story to a fulfilling conclusion.

    Blurb: An exciting adventure book that draws creatively from Japanese folklore and history.

  • By the Sea

    by J. Steven Lamperti

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: There is much here to like. The storyline is engaging and unusual, which keeps the reader wanting more and eagerly awaiting a resolution. While word choices fall under the "prose" category for this evaluation, in some cases poor word choices also impact the plot. The author should do a careful edit to tweak little moments that are key to the story line, such as when Annabelle first meets Llyr.

    Prose/Style: The author demonstrates a solid command of language, although there is sometimes a jarring repetition of names or phrases when pronouns or synonyms would flow better. These are minor edits that will greatly aid the reading experience.

    Originality: The author has created an environment that is very distinct and unique. The characters are also original, offering the reader an entertaining tale that is all its own.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with character development. Annabelle, the heroine, is distinct, likable, and credible. Although her world is very different from reality, Annabelle is relatable and entirely believable.

  • Water Must Fall

    by Nick Wood

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Wood’s tale of corporate greed spans multiple countries. Readers will be drawn in by his complex, all-too-real picture of a future dystopia.

    Prose/Style: Intricate prose and atmospheric writing pull the reader into Wood's believable and exciting tale.

    Originality: Although the idea of water privatization has been tackled before in fiction, Wood gives readers a sense of the global impact of this burgeoning crisis by setting his story both in South Africa and America.

    Character Development/Execution: Wood’s tale is gripping; he creates a believable dystopian universe habited by the beleaguered, realistic characters of Graham, Liz, and Art.

    Blurb: This unflinching look at the Earth's possible future is a hard, but necessary read. 

  • There was Music

    by J.D. Grubb

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: There Was Music's personal, harrowing, and ultimately thoughtful story of survival strikes a powerful chord, and indeed rises above much of its fantasy ilk largely due to its powerful narrative decisions. It is a story that challenges the conventions of what fantasy can be about, and readers looking for something different out of the genre would do well to give Grubb's work a read.

    Prose/Style: J.D. Grubb generates an intriguing narrative through strong, confident writing and an eye for dramatic, emotional storytelling that will keep the pages turning from beginning to end.

    Originality: Though it leans on some familiar and expected designs of the fantasy genre, the book's dedication to its harrowing, personal story lends it a strength and identity often absent from many of its contemporaries.

    Character Development/Execution: With seemingly minimal effort, J.D. Grubb conjures a roster of complex characters, and uses them to touch upon the nerves at the center of the human condition with such aplomb as to be inseparable from real life itself. By forsaking genre traditions, Grubb's characters demand patience from the reader, rather than simply rewarding preconceived expectations.

    Blurb: J.D. Grubb eschews the black-and-white, good-versus-evil approaches that have marked the fantasy genre for generations in favor of a harrowing personal journey soaked in shades of gray so painstakingly reminiscent of day-to-day realities that the work often annihilates all preconceived notions on what the genre is capable of, and rewrites it with a boldness that is refreshing and—perhaps most importantly—deeply engaging in thought and spirit.

  • Severed

    by Daniel J. Lyons

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The underlying premise here, that humans are able to inhabit stars, depends on science to to present a plausible scenario. Rather than explaining the science as the story unfolds, however, the author spends considerable time at the beginning explaining Doors, Locations, Collections  and more, all in one long passage. The details are simply overwhelming. The story would be better served if the author would interweave these technical components with the storyline to help the reader digest these more complex points in stages.

    Prose/Style: The author is a strong writer who is especially capable when it comes to conveying emotion through dialogue. 

    Originality: The author demonstrates a high degree of creativity in detailing an elaborate universe where life exists on stars. It's a unique and intriguing proposition.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a highly effective job with characterization, particularly through astute dialogue. The characters here are expressive, which provides the reader insight into how they think.

  • Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy

    by Edward Hochsmann

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: The initial tech-heavy prologue sets the stage for the characters and the situations to follow,  but the author would do well to work this information into the storyline itself, helping to engage the reader more while introducing the characters immediately.

    Prose/Style: The writing here is excellent, with good attention to detail and grammar accompanied by strong dialogue and description. The author is able to invoke a sense of urgency within the reader as the plot unfolds.

    Originality: This is a complex and highly original work, where the author has created an entirely new world in great detail.

    Character Development/Execution: The author has created vivid and distinct characters that the reader will find memorable.

  • Homindroid: Marzian's Martians

    by Robert Erickson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The author has created a strikingly well-realized setting for his characters to inhabit. The storyline is intricate yet still easy to follow and holds the reader's interest throughout. A lively, inventive premise and a distinctive universe result in an engaging and often memorable reading experience.

    Prose/Style: While the plot is solid, the prose here would benefit from some work, particularly in terms of dialogue, which can be stilted, robotic, and overly formal, even in exchanges between characters who are intimately connected.

    Originality: The author has crafted a unique universe and storyline, with original characters readers will find nowhere else. The creativity that has gone into developing this setting is beyond impressive.

    Character Development/Execution: Because of the language challenges and sometimes stilted dialogue, character development is challenging. Dr. Marzian is the most fleshed out in this work, but other minor characters are less finely explored and harder to pinpoint.

  • The Highwayman

    by Shannon Kelley

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The plotting here is strong, interweaving two plot lines separated by a few hundred years and centered around a spooky old building and a mysterious book. The story is well-paced and culminates in a satisfying ending.

    Prose/Style: The book’s prose is clear and reads well. The dialogue effectively conveys characterizations and fits the time periods aptly.

    Originality: The story appears original and unique. The book uses Gothic motifs and careful plotting to efficiently tell an atmospheric and haunting story.

    Character Development/Execution: The character relationships, in both time periods, propel the mood and plots of the book. The characters in parallel narratives are appropriately disambiguated. The family stories serving as the book’s backbone are full of heart.

  • Running Behind Time

    by Jan Turk Petrie

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: A clever time-travel narrative, the plot – and characters – shift between 2020 and 1982, while the book alternates between perspectives of two protagonists. The book’s central love story is woven into a sci-fi thriller in settings contrasted by the pandemic.

    Prose/Style: The prose moves quickly and is well-crafted, with some strong descriptive writing supporting the exposition. The clarity of the writing helps the reader keep track of a given chapter’s place in time, a common challenge with books in this subgenre.

    Originality: The plot utilizes many time-travel tropes but feels fresh rather than derivative. The characters are unique and well-constructed.

    Character Development/Execution: The two protagonists are multi-dimensional and interesting. Both are attached to the time period from which they originate, and their individual worries and motivations feel natural and solidly developed. Their relationship is one readers can easily root for.

  • Nascent Witch

    by Melissa Bobe

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: With an initially brisk pace that settles into a steady simmer, author Melissa Bobe takes a cauldron of familiarity and nonetheless brews it into something undeniably engaging and entertaining that is sure to keep readers turning the page.

    Prose/Style: The accessible, organic prose of Nascent Witch acts as a foundational soil, channeling an ability to bring the magic of its scenarios and scenes to life with dazzling bursts of colorful descriptors that feel natural amidst the more earthen language.

    Originality: Though offering up several intriguing explorations and deviations, Nascent Witch may ultimately feel familiar to readers who are well-versed in the genre circles it hones its magic in.

    Character Development/Execution: While the characters of Nascent Witch aren't necessarily fresh windows through which to view the genre, they are nonetheless crafted with care, with kinetic interactions and well-thought-out dialogue that both fit the niche as well as imbue them with an inescapable, organic sense of charm and personality.

  • Horde

    by Bryan Cassiday

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The author is a capable storyteller, offering a solid balance of dialogue, action, and description throughout the narrative. The plot engages from the beginning and holds the reader's interest until the last page.

    Prose/Style: The author is a skilled writer but sometimes reverts to awkward colloquialisms. His command of dialogue is particularly strong, serving not only as a plot device but also as insightful clues as to a character's personality and moral compass.

    Originality: While the characters and their experiences are unique, the basic premise this world is built upon may strike readers as overly familiar.

    Character Development/Execution: The author effectively develops his characters through detail, nuance, and striking dialogue. 

  • Effacement

    by Hieronymus Hawkes

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: Effacement is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that flawlessly infuses complicated character relationships into a futuristic world grappling with rapidly growing technologies that threaten to drag society down the path of a cyberpunk-like surveillance state.

    Prose: Hawkes’s prose is engaging, with character’s voices perfectly encapsulating them. The third-person viewpoint deftly switches between characters at pivotal moments, allowing insight into motives readers wouldn’t otherwise have been privy to.

    Originality:  The author is skilled at worldbuilding. Readers will be easily drawn into this sci-fi thriller chock-full of devious plots, unknown assassins, and increasingly dangerous and invasive technology.

    Character/Execution: Characters in Hieronymus Hawkes’s Effacement are memorable and intriguing. Workaholic protagonist Cole Westbay is both likeable and complex, as he grapples with personal issues that quickly belie a much more sinister, wide-reaching plot. Meanwhile, antagonist Phillip Chestnut proves to be a classic villain.

  • Blood of Heirs: Book One of The Coraidic Sagas

    by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: Blood of Heirs is composed of two parallel plotlines that are balanced in pace and intrigue. Cliffhangers prior to each shift entice the reader to continue on.

    Prose: Wanstall-Burke's prose is easy to comprehend and flows seamlessly. Readers can jump into the story without need for extensive glossary perusal. However, the use of certain modern expletives could be interchanged for words that better kept with the novel's established lexicon.

    Originality: Though not the first to cover similar ground, Wanstall-Burke distinguishes her story through her rich characterizations and keen eye for detail. Her flair for corporal descriptions, in particular, could be described as Joycean.

    Character/Execution: By switching from Ranoth's and Lidan’s perspectives, Wanstall-Burke illustrates how the medieval gender barrier shapes their present and future lives. Lidan's resentful accountability to her embittered queen mother and Ran's reluctant duty to serve in his father's army show that both face unique and pointed tribulations.

  • A Surcease of Sorrow

    by Andy C Wareing

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: This tale of dark forces and the unlikely assemblage that stands against it is powered by an earnestly compelling mystery wrapped around an inventive, twisting reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe's life that will be sure to captivate genre-lovers and admirers of Poe's work alike.

    Prose/Style: Wareing's words flow from the page with a poetic grandeur and a grace that should enthrall most readers and immediately ensconce them in the time period. However, the occasional awkward dialogue arises to trip up the otherwise smooth procession of prose.

    Originality: Wareing's novel gleans its ingenuity not so much from its macabre collection of denizens and do-gooders, but rather from its unique retelling of the life of one of the world's most famous—and famously harrowed—writers.

    Character Development/Execution: Brought to life by Wareing's vivid prose, the cast of A Surcease of Sorrow enjoy a magnetism that endears them to the reader even before backstories are rolled out.

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