by Richard Duggin
Plot/Idea: This is an epic coming-of-age treat that evokes the broken innocence of childhood while illuminating the push and pull of adolescence, embedded in the backdrop of post-World War II America. Duggin sets a flawless stage, rich with hidden meaning and humming with tension, and brings his story full-circle to a powerful ending.
Prose: Duggin is a masterful storyteller, and his profound metaphors cast light on the novel’s deeper themes while stirring up nostalgia and a haunting wistfulness. Readers will be swept into Duggin’s dynamic renderings and find themselves lost in reflection throughout the book.
Originality: Boys In Exile is an explosive story of inner turmoil and finding one’s place in the world. The scenes will weigh heavily with readers and consume them long after the book is finished.
Character Development/Execution: Duggin’s characters are richly developed, with subtle intimations of emotional conflict that resonate across the pages. The protagonists are given equal footing in their own distinctive ways and feed off of each other with perfect rhythm and balance, lending them a meditative and almost mournful quality as they navigate forced maturity from childhood.
Blurb: A haunting coming-of-age journey through the volatility of adolescence, overflowing with intensity and subtle power.
by John Danenbarger
Plot/Idea: The plot here is complex, enjoyable, and smart. Characters are multifaceted, and the storyline is engrossing as the reader learns details on each of the players and learns how they all fit together.
Prose: Danenbarger is a skilled writer, able to craft nuanced prose laden with meaning and insight. This work is a pleasure to read, full of intricacies in storyline, characterization, and language.
Originality: This is a highly original work full of distinctive and vivid characters, each with their own unique and fateful stories.
Character Development/Execution: Characterization here is top-notch; Danenbarger does a fantastic job depicting flawed yet relatable characters who will resonate with readers.
by Nicki Ehrlich
Plot/Idea: Ellis River is a moving story of determination and grit that will captivate readers. Ehrlich is a skillful guide, transporting readers through Ellis's twists and turns, unexpected challenges, and celebrations alike.
Prose: Ehrlich is a gifted, masterful writer, and this is a beautifully composed work. Although not done in verse, the prose is soothing and almost lyrical at times.
Originality: Ellis River is exceptionally unique, with a memorable hero and distinctive plot that will imprint on readers' memories.
Character Development/Execution: Ellis is an affable hero, and her situation will soften even the the most hard-hearted readers. She comes alive in her actions and dialogue, and the others she encounters on her journey are well defined, with fully realized character arcs.
by Brynne Stevens
Plot/Idea: Stevens’s novel hits a furious pace from the get-go that immediately sucks the reader in. The book is carefully plotted, with a storyline that moves along with clarity and grace.
Prose: The prose is crafted skillfully, and the language used is often effortlessly beautiful and captivating. The author has an excellent handle on Middle English, making it understandable to readers and melding it with current language throughout the book. Striking imagery provides readers with concrete and relatable visuals.
Originality: Readers will enjoy Stevens's twist on the fantasy subgenre of magic realism cut with a hint of bildungsroman. Stevens introduces originality into the oft-written tropes of witches and magic in that her novel takes place in the 1600s and features a child protagonist who has gained her powers as the reincarnation of a powerful witch. The protagonist and her natural thirst for knowledge, intellect, and curiosity, along with her situation and circumstances, are elements that also set the novel apart.
Character Development/Execution: The characters in Stevens’s Atrocious Immoralities are convincing and relatable. Readers will empathize wholly with the cast as they grow and change; every character adds relevance, or at least contextuality, to the story’s main story threads.
by Carol Rhees
Plot: Joint Venture tells the fun and heart-filled tale of a rag-tag group of people who try to open a marijuana dispensary in their small town. The story is wonderfully plotted and flawlessly balances the subplots with the main themes.
Prose: Rhees's writing style is accessible, energetic, and humorous, seamlessly employing the third-person perspective to switch between points of view.
Originality: Rhees has crafted an original, memorable story in Joint Venture—a novel that cleverly uses diverse elements to bring the characters and setting to life.
Character Development/Execution: All of Rhees's characters are well drawn and lively, and even the minor characters prove engaging. The relationship between Alice and Helen is at the core of the novel, and their dynamic is believable, entertaining, and moving.
Blurb: This story of a rag-tag group of people trying to open a marijuana dispensary in their small town is full of fun, heart, and grace.
by Lea Rachel
Plot/Idea: Rachel delivers a weighty and insightful work, with social commentary offered through a first-person narrative that is both fascinating and enlightening. The sensitive theme is handled with care and respect.
Prose: Through powerful and discerning writing, Rachel is able to prompt introspection and evoke emotion throughout the narrative.
Originality: There is no question that this is a unique and original novel, with a singular and profound narration.
Character Development/Execution: The subject of the work is Miles, but the true, in-depth exploration is really of Rachel, his mother, who examines her role and responsibility as a white mother to a Black son.
Blurb: Powerful and enlightening, Seeking Forgiveness is a thought-provoking examination of an interracial mother/son relationship.
by Hal Noah
Plot/Idea: Noah has crafted a complex and nuanced storyline that introduces readers to a dark world. The plot is grim and surprising, taking readers and characters in unexpected directions.
Prose: Noah is a strong writer, able to gain and hold the reader's interest through well-defined characters and a tense, albeit bleak, storyline. Equally strong is the commanding dialogue, description, and action.
Originality: Bluebird At My Window is exceptional—the story's premise is profoundly meaningful while still maintaining a level of suspense, and the memorable characters lend weight to the book's originality.
Character Development/Execution: Characterization is a central component to the novel's success. Readers will experience Diane's mania and Art's malaise right alongside them, thanks to Noah's attention to detail and rich descriptions.
by Dr. Barbara ten Brink
Plot/Idea: An entertaining and fun fictionalized account of Darwin's visit to the Galápagos islands, this read will appeal to young adult audiences. The narrator's voice is youthful, but the author is able to incorporate insight and knowledge into the story through his lively perspective.
Prose: The descriptive prose will transport readers straight to the Galápagos islands while evoking the curiosity and wonderment of exploring new surroundings—and the narrator offers readers a chance to experience his awe firsthand.
Originality: On the Island with Charles Darwin is a clever reimagining that will ring true with fans of historical fiction, while conjuring the inquisitiveness and allure of young adulthood.
Character Development/Execution: Secondary characters are suitably defined, but the backbone of this story is the author's ability to fashion robust main players with distinct objectives and an unbridled enthusiasm for their natural surroundings.
by Lindsey Pettee
Plot/Idea: Pettee has crafted an engaging and twisty story that will hold readers' interest until the unexpected conclusion. The story moves along at a steady but brisk pace, and the dual narrative adds a satisfying layer of mystery.
Prose: The Devil I Know is written in an entertaining style, and Pettee deftly balances dialogue with description. The action scenes are well-crafted and buoyed by the dynamic, smooth prose.
Originality: Pettee melds action and romance well while still managing to deliver an all around suspenseful read that builds up to a satisfying ending.
Character Development/Execution: The dual narrative allows readers insight into the minds and motivations of both main characters—a smart choice on Pettee's part, given the storyline's unexpected turns.
by Teri Brown
Plot/Idea: The author crafts a wonderfully engaging storyline that will captivate readers. The blending of romance and politics is done exceedingly well, and the reader roots for a reunion as the story unfolds.
Prose: The author is an excellent writer, able to evoke emotion in the reader through a touching narrative and sympathetic characters. The reader becomes invested in their fate and the stakes.
Originality: This is a wholly distinctive work with a unique premise and singular characters.
Character Development/Execution: The author does a terrific job with characterization using narrative as an effective tool to gain insight into the main characters and how they think. As the characters share their innermost emotions, the reader can't help but be moved by their suffering.
by Jena M. Steinmetz
Plot/Idea: The toppling of a 150-year-old tree on a Gettysburg battlefield unearths a mystery that preservationist Breanne Walker is unable to resist: a leather-bound diary and an unidentified skeleton. A student of history and its mysteries, she soon becomes embroiled in the diarist's life, and, as the past begins to overlap with the present, Breanne truly begins to understand the importance of history and the people who lived it, and her own responsibility to conserve it—larger implications for both her professional and personal lives.
Prose: Steinmetz's storytelling is engaging and flows faultlessly between the past and present. The contents of the diary (and Abigail's tale) are so engrossing at times that it is easy to become as lost in the past as Breanne. The Witness Tree is a lovely historical drama that is beautifully written and a joy to read.
Originality: Past and present overlapping as history's mysteries are slowly revealed to a diligent first-person archivist/heroine is not steeped in originality; however, the story is so detailed, well-researched, well written, and thoughtfully executed that it is easy to become enthralled by it.
Character Development/Execution: The execution of the diarist A.M.P is wonderful—and, overall, the present takes a backseat to the 1863 account of her life of loneliness, courage, and love set to the backdrop of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Despite this, the parallels between the two women are undeniable and this also adds depth to both of their stories—especially Breanne's, who benefits from her empathy, passion, and devotion to preserving the past and this unknown woman's life.
by Panayotis Cacoyannis
Plot/Idea: On an unbearably hot day in London, Lily gets lost on a seemingly endless back road, and what ensues is a journey into her past and present demons accompanied by the voice of her conscience/guide/constant companion Bella. Time-warping, mythological, hallucinatory, and symbolic, Lily's sojourn into the figurative/literal woods eventually brings her back home in a conclusion that is oddly reminiscent of her time on the purgatorial road —however, now grounded in so-called-reality, the 'real' people in her life become characters in her own personal drama in an unconscious echo of lost time.
Prose: Cacoyannis's prose flows in an appreciable rhythm with the cadence of Lily's 'lost' time: introspective, bleak, and quite often beautiful, it causes the oddity of events to feel full of meaning and purpose. The reader becomes Lily, struggling to find meaning where perhaps there is none—linked to her consciousness, the audience members are held in thrall to the heat-soaked imaginings of an all too plausible alternate reality.
Originality: A tripped-out journey into introspection and temporary madness designed to expand a character's worldview and explore their hidden depths is not conspicuously original. However, the setting, Lily herself, the manifestations of her past, and the somewhat banal yet oddly symbolic conclusion all lend this tense tale an originality that makes the story a real pleasure to read.
Character Development/Execution: Lily is beautifully developed as a character—empathetic, raw, and as honest as a first-person narrator can be, the reader is not only able to forge connections with her and her journey but with the figments of her past and present life who are given life through her various epiphanies and moments of introspection.
by Sarah V. Barnes
Plot: She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe is a rich work of historical fiction that imagines the story of the first individual who ever came to tame and ride a wild horse.
Prose: Barnes's prose is smooth, evocative, and pleasingly descriptive. The author brilliantly captures the lives of those in an ancient world with vivid and authentic detail.
Originality: In concept and execution, this is a highly unique work of historical fiction that will deeply gratify readers.
Character/Execution: Naya is a captivating and fascinating character and the author's approach to the topic of the human-animal bond is thoughtful, philosophical, and resonant.
by Leslie Kain
Plot: Secrets in the Mirror is a striking narrative of familial dysfunction and mental illness, a finely revamped Cain and Abel story that pits twin against twin. The plot unfolds at a steady and brisk pace and keeps the reader deeply invested in the storytelling from start to finish.
Prose: The author is an excellent literary writer with a knack for developing believable dramatic tension. At times, the prose, particularly dialogue, can seem overly formal and forced. Yet these are mostly isolated instances, and the writing is strong enough to maintain momentum and reader interest.
Originality: Kain richly explores the lasting, multigenerational impact of trauma, while also examining how and why family members pursue decidedly different life paths.
Character/Execution: Gavin and Devon DiMassi emerge as starkly different characters. Kain creates an impactful depiction of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and its devastating impacts on families and communities.
by Laura Preble
Plot/Idea: Anna Incognito captivates from the start as it follows Anna Beck’s evocative journey to recall past trauma in order to free herself from its grip. The conflict intensifies quickly and becomes multilayered—but Preble manages to introduce twists and turns delicately, with a natural flow, while building up to an immensely gratifying ending.
Prose: Preble’s writing rolls flawlessly off the pages, brimming with hidden meaning and brilliant foreboding. Natural interjections of humor lighten the novel’s heavy load, grounding readers in the midst of a terrifying rollercoaster of self-discovery and rebirth.
Originality: The novelty of this story lies in Preble’s skillful juxtaposition of past and present. Anna’s flashbacks are organic and flow throughout the plot while seamlessly melding with her present awakenings.
Character Development/Execution: Readers will immediately be engulfed by Anna’s larger-than-life struggles and tortured psyche, but in the course of the story she becomes relatable and endearing—an elusive transformation that will leave readers wondering when exactly it happened. Preble has an innate ability to create characters who are both intricate and remarkable, with just the right amount of shock to enliven the narrative.
by Steven Schindler
Plot/Idea: Fallout Shelter progresses at a steady pace while incorporating unexpected twists that up the entertainment value. The coming-of-age elements converge smoothly, as the three main protagonists try to navigate school and young adulthood in the face of unmistakable darkness.
Prose: Schindler is strongest when depicting early teenage angst and antics, integral components to the story's appeal, and the balance of action, dialogue, and description is spot on.
Originality: A stirring account of evil lurking where it's least expected, Fallout Shelter successfully combines betrayal, friendship, and self-discovery into one interconnected story.
Character Development/Execution: Schindler dedicates ample space to exploring the narrative arcs of Chili, Angel, and Mikey—but does so in a way that gives each priority while reconciling them with each other by the end.