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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Pneumanauts

    by Cameron Armstrong

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Armstrong sets up an intriguing premise that probes big philosophical questions about belief and humanity’s place in the universe.

    Prose: Snappy dialogue, evocative descriptions, and high stakes suspense scenes will keep readers’ interests piqued.

    Originality: Armstrong breathes new life into the science fiction genre by uncovering and exploring existential dilemmas, something that good sci-fi ought to do.

    Character/Execution: Armstrong’s sharp characterization and a realistic depiction of the period will draw in even the most seasoned readers.


  • 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.

  • How to Buy a Planet

    by D.A. Holdsworth

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: D.A Holdsworth's narrative exists in an elegant space between serious and self-aware: it delivers its story with a dry wit and an offbeat humor reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but anchors it all firmly behind rather potent current events that pointedly and decisively eschew the luxury of some far-flung future or fantastical what-if in order to nail home a powerful call to action.

    Prose/Style: Holdsworth's prose effectively builds a palpable sense of cinematic tension, never losing sight or sacrificing heft amidst its penchant for dry humor.

    Originality: How to Buy a Planet dials in on current events while factoring them against a wholly inventive sci-fi concept to create a riotous and resonant piece of genre fiction that will captivate viewers with its ingenuity and timeliness.

    Character Development/Execution: Holdsworth's cast is a solid, if somewhat typical, fit for the surreal shenanigans that ensue, echoing notes of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy while still holding onto their own sense of character.

  • 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 Teeth in the Tide

    by Rebecca F. Kenney

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Kenney offers an adventurous, touching, and emotionally complex narrative replete with vivid characters and succulent prose, for an engaging ride that readers will find hard to put down.

    Prose/Style: Kenney brings the world and characters of The Teeth in the Tide to roaring life with a colorful, evocative prose that binds the reader to each and every page with all the beauty and charm of the oceans themselves.

    Originality: The Teeth in the Tide reinvigorates and re-contextualizes mermaids in a poignantly topical and terribly entertaining tale of adventure and intrigue.

    Character Development/Execution: The cast crashes upon the breakers of readership fully-formed and vivid with life, and an emotional complexity that is sometimes rare in the genre.

  • The Eyes of Tamburah

    by Maria V. Snyder

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Snyder’s novel is a quickly-paced whirlwind of intrigue and adventure with characters in a mad dash to unravel the mysteries of the past for their own designs. Despite the machinations of many opposing players, The Eyes of Tamburah remains seamlessly plotted.

    Prose/Style: Snyder’s prose is direct and clear, serving the story well. It is its dialogue, however, which shines the brightest, with each character’s voice wholly unique even amid the myriad of inscrutable players vying for control.

    Originality: The Eyes of Tamburah is an engrossing tale that perfectly balances suspense and adventure in a well-realized, nigh-inhabitable fantasy world that speaks to discrimination and unbalanced power. Readers will find a captivating combination of political intrigue, religious furor, Indiana Jones-esque archaeological adventuring, secret organizations, and lost magic which may or may not have ever existed at all.

    Character Development/Execution: Despite a myriad of enigmatic players in a long-game for power and control for the city of Zirdai, characters’ motivations and clandestine operations never feel convoluted or forced. Readers will quickly fall for the protagonist, researcher Shyla, who slowly realizes her strengths and faults, rising to the challenges set before her despite overwhelming circumstances.

    Blurb: A whirlwind fantasy adventure filled with intrigue and suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page and scrambling for the next book in the series.

  • The Dragon's Zenith

    by Jason F Boggs

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Boggs’s intergalactic drama broaches some new ground with a unique settings and alien societies.

    Prose/Style: Boggs’s prose is energetic and engaging. Snappy dialogue complements the emotional intensity of the story.

    Originality: Complex extraterrestrial societies and a strong internal metaphor for colonial expansion will resonate with modern readers.

    Character Development/Execution: Nelson and Alene are delightful protagonists, their blossoming love affairs equally humorous and touching. Unfortunately, consistent grammatical and punctuation errors scattered throughout the novel pull the reader out of the story at times.

    Blurb: This soaring space opera closes the Dragon Trilogy. Reluctant hero Nelson and his alien girlfriend Alene go up against the wicked Ira Bilis, set to light the galaxy aflame, ushering in a new dystopian era. 

  • Plot: The novel relates the opening act of what promises to be a sprawling epic depicting a fictional world in the process of being remade through brutal colonial expansion and revolution. The book's own plot has a clear thread, arc, and resolution, while also laying the path for future installments.

    Prose/Style: The writing is strong, with dense but accessible prose and dialogue that flows naturally and supports characterization.

    Originality: The scenario and technology closely mirror the colonialist period of the real world, a setting and aesthetic underutilized in genre fiction.

    Character Development/Execution: The characterization is effectively nuanced and character motivations propel the plot and tension effectively.

  • Electric Trees

    by Melissa Bobe

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Bobe delivers a series of endlessly engaging tales of mystery and humanity centered in fantastical scenarios, each voraciously readable and wonderfully conceptualized.

    Prose: Confident prose and a strong voice leads the charge in Bobe's myriad collection of short stories, sure to hook the reader with verve.

    Originality: Even when playing with familiar concepts, Bobe succeeds in weaving a powerful mystery throughout her tales that imbue the material with an enduring vivacity.

    Character/Execution: Bobe's characters jump to life in short order, each selected with care to lead their individual story, and with enough space left between for the reader to inhabit all their own.


  • Bleed More, Bodymore

    by Ian Kirkpatrick

    Rating: 8.00

    Prose/Style: The first-person storytelling from protagonist Joey’s point of view sets readers perfectly in the action and the main character’s thoughts. A perfect balance between action and descriptive prose is achieved.

    Originality: The combination of a typical murder mystery with the otherworldly aspects of the afterlife make for a fascinating, wonderful tale readers of both mystery and fantasy genres will enjoy.

    Character Development/Execution: Joey’s equal parts passion, recklessness, and loyalty to her friends — even when they seem to be murderers — make for an interesting character who feels a little larger than life but never unbelievable. Secondary characters bolster the story successfully.

     Blurb: Mystery, fantasy, and contemporary Baltimore combine in this genre-blurring novel that will have readers hooked until the last page.

  • Nemecene: Ripples in the Triverse

    by Kaz Lefave

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Though readers would be well-advised to acquaint themselves with the Nemecene universe prior, once familiarized they'll find an energetic and compelling storyline. Lefave’s meticulously detailed dystopian future and labyrinthine plot will challenge readers’ perceptions. 

    Prose/Style: Weaving between otherworldly third person, first person epistolary, and true first person, the varied narration style captures the spirit of the protagonists and gravity of the dangers they face. A commitment to vivid, visual prose reminds the reader to savor the fast-paced novel.

    Originality: While the twins' familial storyline isn't necessarily unique, Lefave's Nemecene universe is rare and remarkable. The innumerable chimeric creatures she’s created are worthy of praise in their own right.

    Character Development/Execution: Readers will get to know Elize and Keeto intimately as Lefave captures their adolescent musings and personal idiosyncrasies. Jumps back in time, though sometimes abrupt, serve to deepen the reader's understanding of the twins and their family history.

    Blurb: Set in an eerily probable post-apocalyptic future, Nemecene: Ripples in the Triverse is vividly detailed and imaginatively written. Lefave does justice to her twin protagonists, Elize and Keeto, by voicing them with unique narrative styles and liberally dotting the timeline with illuminating moments from their past. 

  • Escaping Mercy

    by Sam Polakoff

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The plot flows chronologically and moves at a consistent pace. The conflict is established clearly and provides a satisfying immediacy and tension to the narrative. The ending presents resolution to the story while leaving room for further stories set in this world without overtly teasing such or leaving the reader on a cliffhanger.

    Prose: The writing is clean and the dialogue snappy. The characters are effectively rendered, and their individual motivations propel the narrative.

    Originality: The future the narrative presents is thoroughly depicted and will intrigue readers. The book effectively interpolates contemporary issues we face (global health, overpopulation, authoritarianism and technocracies, climate change) thoughtfully forward to a sci-fi future.

    Character/Execution: The characters’ individual motivations and personalities are crafted with care and effectively dimensional and dynamic. The complexity of character development helps propel the plot beyond your standard save-the-dystopian-world pattern.


  • 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.