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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.

  • Religion Without A God: A Novel

    by James Evans

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: A biting social commentary is suffused with dramatic mystery and suspense.

    Prose: Evans’s prose sizzles with suspense and wry humour in equal measure. His setting is palpable.

    Originality: Although some metaphors can come across as heavy handed, he gives readers a new world to dive into—a world where politics, sex, and identity merge in surprising ways.

    Character/Execution: The characters leap off of the page. Readers will appreciate the conversational, approachable tone of the book.

    Blurb: This exciting debut brings together the stories of outsiders. In Evans’s brave new world, human colonization has brought about an uneasy peace between the Gaians and the Faders. This is a remarkably timely social commentary bound up in a dramatic space opera. 

  • Skunk Ape Semester

    by Mike Robinson

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Robinson takes the reader on a road trip defined heartily by wit, wonder, and that ever-elusive but once found, always magnetic, pull of the human experience.

    Prose: Witty and wondrous prose combines to peel back the layers on the very-real human heart beating at the center of Robinson's novel.

    Originality: Robinson brings a refreshing scope and lens to the Bigfoot mythos, infusing the inherent surreality of the endeavor with a charming intellectual, spiritual, and human touch.

    Character/Execution: With an incredible effortlessness does Robinson bring to life his intrepid cast of seekers and finders, offering readers an engaging, relatable suite of characters, from the leads all the way down to the smallest supporting member.

  • 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.

  • The Normandy Club

    by Bill Walker

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Walker delivers an exciting and inventive time travel story that features fine plotting, plentiful action, and a brush of romance, while displaying an awareness of WWII history.

    Prose: The prose flows smoothly and evenly, with vibrant dialogue and sharp descriptions.

    Originality: While alternate histories are somewhat familiar territory, Walker provides a highly unique framework, successfully blending elements of true history with the more fantastical and surprising circumstances. 

    Character/Execution: Walker casts an array of distinctive characters that come to life. Readers who value historically rich stories will be transfixed, while the riveting, smart, and high-stakes circumstances keep them guessing. 

  • A Simple Thought of Sanity

    by C.E. Huntingdon

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: A slow-burn plot brings the reader into the narrative with a deft hand, steadily peeling back the monochromatic layers of character and worldbuilding to reveal a vibrant and biting commentary on modern society.

    Prose/Style: Huntingdon's prose eschews flowery descriptors for a sterility that marries well to its concept, as well as a sparsity of language that is all the more powerful for being so, as it creates in its negative spaces a surprising amount of depth for which the reader to sink into and engage the work.

    Originality: The union of philosophy with science fiction is far from a novel concept, but A Simple Thought of Sanity breathes a freshness into this coupling. With a powerfully-realized concept, perfectly realized through the writing, the book engages a necessary, full-force commitment to the exploration of the human psyche that will undoubtedly delight readers of high-concept science fiction and keep the pages turning until the very end.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters of Huntingdon's surrealist novel come together in a pastiche of social commentaries, saying more with actions than any words spoken, and hypnotic in how they emerge from their deliberately-crafted shells as the story progresses.

  • The Mummy of Monte Cristo

    by J Trevor Robinson

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The book has plenty of effective twists and turns to keep a reader hooked. From the very first page, the author grips the readers’ attention throughout Edmond Dantes' journey.

    Prose/Style: The style of writing is fast-paced, and even though there are places where the author gives detailed context to the characters and situations, the flow of the story is not broken. The length of the book can be a challenge, but there is enough motivation for one to turn the page.

    Originality: Though the story is adapted from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, the author manages to bring new and exciting eements to the story.

    Character Development/Execution: The story is packed with well-developed, likable characters. The vampires, zombies, and other creatures are quite memorable. The main character, Edmond Dantes, raises important questions regarding one's humanity.

  • 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. 

  • Branches: A Novel

    by Adam Peter Johnson

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Johnson leverages a terrifying alternate vision of reality to secure the reader, then drags them into a maddening journey that is as beautiful and horrifying as only the human experience can be.

    Prose/Style: Effective and powerful prose elaborates on and elevates Johnson's topical world and all-too-relatable character with a confidence that is sure to sweep readers effortlessly into the pages.

    Originality: Johnson delivers a powerful piece of inventive and topical science fiction, a work the likes of which the genre was designed for to begin with.

    Character Development/Execution: The author creates an utterly compelling and relatable main character, whose struggles will undoubtedly resonate with readers in a way that many stories reach for, but few achieve.

  • 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.

  • The Patriot’s Grill

    by Steven Day

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Day’s novel boasts perfectly executed time-skips, plotting, and a narrative that is both haunting and unrelentingly optimistic.

    Prose/Style: The prose here is meticulously crafted, switching between lovely and haunting with ease. Dialogue and speeches breathe life to bartender Joe Carlton’s strength and complexity.

    Originality: The Patriot’s Grill is a suspenseful, engrossing tale that features all the traditional hallmarks of the dystopian genre while remaining unequivocally optimistic about human nature and the power of change, setting the novel apart.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters in Day’s The Patriot’s Grill are complex and convincing. Readers will find Joe Carlton’s simultaneous stalwart conviction and fear-fueled anxiety both relatable and realistic. Secondary characters are essential to the narrative and breathe life into a bleak futuristic world.

    Blurb: A suspenseful dystopian novel that at once gives readers a frightening look at a futuristic America ravaged by climate change, constant surveillance, and dictatorship while nevertheless remaining unrelentingly optimistic, shining a beacon of hope amid an all-too-possible future.

  • I, Cassandra

    by E A Carter

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Carter’s novel is carefully plotted, with a fast-moving pace that will keep readers engaged until the very end. The storyline is gripping and stays intact through several twists and turns.

    Prose/Style: Carter’s sharp prose bolsters her intense plot. Her writing is both satisfying and disquieting, with natural dialogue and extraordinary worldbuilding.

    Originality: I, Cassandra is a stunningly innovative sci-fi novel, with just the right mix of romantic dystopia to send it over the edge.

    Character Development/Execution: Carter’s characters are laser-focused, with a subtle blend of complexity and hollowness. Readers will embrace the raw power and yearning of Ryan Maddox, and Cassandra Vallis is unforgettable in her vulnerability and longing.

    Blurb: A desperately passionate dystopian novel, teeming with thrills and anticipation.

  • 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.

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