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General Fiction

  • Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

    by Alice McVeigh

    Rating: 8.00

    Idea: McVeigh’s plot is well-developed and delivered at an even, smooth pace. The events unfold in a natural progression, with enough curveballs to keep readers interested. 

    Prose: McVeigh employs period-appropriate prose that is emphatic and natural – reminiscent of others in the genre. Her dialogue is effortless and flows smoothly between a broad range of characters.

    Originality: Harriet stays within the expected limits of the Austen universe, while also delivering a few fresh twists. Readers fond of the genre will be gratified with its breezy writing and polished delivery.

    Character/Execution: McVeigh’s characters are well-developed and manage to offer some surprises, despite being limited somewhat by their stylistic range. Readers will find them engaging and commanding, until the very last page.

  • Boychik

    by Laurie Boris

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Boychik is a well-plotted and smartly paced tale that follows Eli and Evelyn, two teenagers during the Great Depression, as they struggle with family obligations and fall for one another. The novel is an entertaining and exciting read, with plenty of tense mob activities, murder, and blackmail on the way to a positive, uplifting conclusion.

    Prose: Laurie Boris's prose is so realistic and conversational that readers can actually hear the accent in the lines. The third-person voice always reads like a strong character, and the author's precision and eye for detail consistently enhance the reading experience.

    Originality: Boychik is novel in the way the work integrates Eli's artistic ambitions into the main storyline, using movies and cinema as a metaphor. Additionally, the book presents the reader with some surprising turns.

    Character Development/Execution: Boris excels at balancing and maintaining both Eli and Evelyn's storylines, which are presented in alternating sections. Information is also uncovered gradually during the course of the narrative in genuinely compelling ways, like the introduction of the mob plot and revelations about who's really reading and commenting on Eli's scripts.

    Blurb: An emotional tale of mafia violence and young forbidden love in 1930s Brooklyn, Laurie Boris' Boychik is a compulsively readable blend of magical cinematic triumph and great personal tragedy.

  • Songs by Honeybird

    by Peter McDade

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: McDade suffuses this drama with heart and a hearty helping of magical realism. Ben and Nina’s separate odysseys still manage to be artfully interwoven.

    Prose: McDade’s prose is full of life; the author manages to capture the weirdness of the narrative through compelling characterization and welcome touches of humor throughout.

    Originality: McDade takes a standard drama centered around couples growing apart and turns it on its head. Readers will find themselves immersed in a work of literary fiction that is surprising in all the right ways.

    Character Development/Execution: McDade successfully captures the attitudes of university students. Nina and Ben are both rich characters whose journeys readers will relate to.

    Blurb: This compelling drama follows couple Ben and Nina as their lives converge and diverge. 



    by William Jack Sibley

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Sibley’s screwball comedy takes the best elements of sweeping soaps like Dallas and Dynasty and splatters them with a gritty coat of Texas mud. Unflinching and true to life, Sibley unravels the machinations and private intentions of wealthy Texans.

    Prose: Sibley’s punchy prose will hook even the most seasoned comedy reader.

    Originality: Although a tale of warring families has been explored before, Sibley’s panache will draw readers in. There are enough twists and turns to this story, but readers may find the large cast of kooky characters overwhelming.

    Character Development/Execution: Sibley’s heavy-handed characterization and broad vulgarity may be unappealing to some readers, though entertaining to others. 

    Blurb: This colorful tale set in the small town of Rita Blanca, Texas, follows the misadventures of the Pennebaker and Lyndecker clans as they fall in and out of love, swindle each other, and are subsumed by lust. 

  • Hot Air

    by Charlie Suisman

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: In a sequel to Arnold Falls, Suisman returns to the distinctive upstate New York town to reengage with its charming small-town inhabitants, including queer couples, older folks, stoners, and numerous other bubbly characters. The plot is goofy, layered, and fun, and effectively integrates the many characters in meaningful ways.

    Prose: As gratifying as Hot Air is, the conversational prose can result in a degree of confusion. Additional exposition may benefit the work and allow the interactions between characters to resonate even more strongly. 

    Originality: The book has a lot of quirky bits to it, including movie stars, mayoral races, town-specific baseball alternatives, and the like. Suisman brilliantly captures the essence of small-town America.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are all highly personable, alluring, and unique. However, it can be difficult to tell individual characters apart when complex conversations are unfolding. 


  • Father War

    by Thomas Doherty

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: The intriguing plot that is dominated by the flawed personalities of the two protagonists. There can, at times, be an imbalance in the pacing when it spends too much time on battlefield history.

    Prose: Told in the third-person, the prose is evocative, suspenseful in parts, and showcases the bitterness of unrealized glory. There is an underlying sense of tragedy that seeps into every aspect of the tale.

    Originality: This book takes a clever approach, in which the battle that neither protagonist fights in becomes central to both their lives.

    Character Development/Execution: The novel is dominated by John Spenser and Jack Hagan, who are both expertly drawn. While neither man is at all likable, the reader will feel a mixture of pity, embarrassment, and disgust for both. The myriad of soldiers that Spenser interviews for his book feel unflinchingly real.

  • Castle Gordon

    by Sue Jaskula

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Castle Gordon is both a compelling family drama and an engrossing romance story, filled with plenty of suspense and twists. Some of the book's plot points, though, can seem a little far-fetched, like Joseph and Graham meeting in the war and Graham saving money aside for Anna.

    Prose: Jaskula's writing is elegant, exciting, and often impossible to stop reading, especially when the tension ramps up later in the novel. The book is largely dialogue-driven, and while the author's portrayal of conversations is strong, allowing more page time for description could help balance out the narrative.

    Originality: Castle Gordon creatively and sensitively depicts women's hardships during the historical period, particularly the struggle to gain financial independence, like men. The time and place, Kincardine, Canada, immediately post-WWII, is also a unique setting choice.

    Character Development/Execution: Jaskula's characters, like the kind, yet mysterious Joseph and the strong-willed Anna, practically pop off the page, with their exceptional voices and strong personalities. Character development does sometimes slow down narrative momentum, however, like the repeated similar arguments between Ian and Anna throughout the course of the novel.

  • Tales of the Romanov Empire

    by Tamar Anolic

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Tales of the Romanov Empire is an impressive historical epic novel that chronicles slightly over 300 years of Russian history in short vignette chapters. Some of these sections, however, work better than others: the most successful passages integrate the wider historical context seamlessly into the narrative, and tend to be more character-driven: for example, the chapters about the plight of the Jewish people. The book's relentless brutality can also make for a difficult read at times.

    Prose: Anolic's prose is polished, elaborate, and gorgeously descriptive overall. The writing runs into issues with awkwardly inserting information into dialogue, especially when the author is trying to clarify the historical context for readers.

    Originality: Tales of the Romanov Empire is a bold, innovative project that compellingly overviews more obscure history, like manipulative bride shows, alongside more well-known material like Russia's dealings with Napoleon. Anolic also has a real knack for imaginative reveals and inserting surprisingly timely elements into the narrative.

    Character Development/Execution: Generally, Anolic is more concerned with the wider machinations of history and chronicling linear time than individual character development, which can be to the novel's detriment. Some characters who are given more page time do stand out, though, like the headstrong and emotionally-developed Catherine.

  • Plot/Idea: Olsen has presented the reader with a complex—and sometimes difficult to follow—plot that involves climate change, poverty, Indigenous peoples, ancient and modern history, and many other components. The reader may struggle a bit to get situated with the workings of the story.

    Prose: The story is full of dialogue, ancient lore, and delicate moments. Although written appealingly in pleasant prose, it can be hard to follow as topics change, or new characters are introduced. 

    Originality: Olsen's story is highly original, with different inspirations culminating from throughout the world and history.

    Character Development/Execution: The dialogue can be challenging to follow at times, so readers must pay close attention to whom is speaking throughout the book. However, once the reader is more acquainted with the characters, their vivid personalities come to light.

  • Black and Blue

    by Lee-Ann Khoh

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Mixing together moments of heartbreak and levity while having the main character navigate her identity, mental health, career, family, and more, Khoh's spins an engaging plot in this novel.

    Prose: Khoh opts for straightforward prose in her novel to ensure the focus remains on the internal monologue of the main character as she navigates the world around her.

    Originality: Recent years have seen an uptick of books centered on mental health that stand against stigma and shame. Black and Blue navigates similar conversations in ways that many will find relatable and powerful.

    Character/Execution: As the book focuses on the main character Jade, readers are given ample time and space to get a full picture of her realities.

  • Plot/Idea: The story follows Mic the bartender's life in the Midwest and all of the wacky, tacky, weird, sad people he's come in contact with. Returning home for a funeral, he recalls his adventures with longtime friends and reveals that the funeral is a sham. As the chaos ensues, Mic realizes that he misses his messy hometown and all of the characters in it.

    Prose: The writing here is very conversational, at times hyper-realistic. Paragraphs are short and snappy moving the narrative along at a nice clip. The asides and footnotes are nicely experimental, but at moments come across as forced.

    Originality: Fox brings freshness to a story about returning home. By digging into the truths of a region, the story is enhanced, along with the humor that comes from plans gone awry.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here are all very "real" and the narration doesn't just show them without "telling" more of their stories. They are fleshed out through their interactions with one another and via their sturdy dialogue.

  • 978-0-9967130-2-3

    by Jean Rover

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Rover’s tense plot about a boy lost in the Oregon wilderness builds on the very adult fear of losing one’s child. Rover manages to fuse the frustrations of a crime investigation with the prejudices of a small town for a blend that mystery fans will find engrossing.

    Prose:  Rover writes with a clear sense of place. Her prose is sharp and succinct, capturing the idiosyncratic life of the citizens of a small, rural town.

    Originality: Rover manages to suffuse a standard missing child plot with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned reader entertained.

    Character Development/Execution: In some instances, Rover’s descriptions of Native American characters would benefit from additional nuance. Other characters are rendered in more sympathetic terms, and they brim with color and life.

    Blurb: This heartrending mystery in the Oregon backwoods follows Cody, a precocious young child who goes missing. 


    by Jan M. Walton

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Walton’s plot follows a family in the 1930s as they struggle to come to terms with betrayal and loss. Dan, the oldest child in a home with an abusive father and absent mother, epitomizes the classic coming-of-age transformation as he tries to protect his siblings while growing up at the same time. The straightforward storyline will keep readers engaged, although the finale will leave them with a sense of unfinished business.

    Prose: Walton writes concisely and clearly, and sets the stage nicely for this work of historical fiction. Comparisons and imagery evoke the story’s dark atmosphere, while the prose commands attention in some of the more intense scenes.

    Originality: River Avenue delivers some twists in the end that will divert readers – but overall this novel is a reliable story of one family’s painful metamorphosis.

    Character Development/Execution: Dan is a standout character with an internal monologue that both progresses the plot and gives readers an insider’s experience of his heartache – and the immense pressure he feels throughout the story. Supporting characters, though colorful at times, serve mainly to advance his personal evolution.

  • The Bequest

    by B. E. Baker

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The Bequest, an endearing work of women's romantic fiction and the first in the Birch Creek Ranch series, offers a compelling setup as two wildly different women are thrown together in the aftermath of their husbands' deaths.

    Prose: Baker's prose style is candid, warm, and will allow readers to feel immediately connected to the two protagonists.

    Originality: Odd couple stories are familiar, but Baker brings freshness and fun to the story of two 'couldn't be different' individuals who find they have more in common than they'd anticipated.

    Character/Execution: Despite some focus on minutiae both in the protagonists' narrations and in dialogue, Baker clearly establishes her characters from the get-go. The small town, cattle ranch setting allows their distinctive traits to emerge vividly.


  • Last Chance California

    by Brian Price

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Price delivers a wryly humorous story of Wyatt Lewis, who unapologetically loves the hedonistic side of sun-drenched Southern California. 

    Prose: The prose is straightforward, clear, and sprinkled with candid reflections on life as a millennial on the brink of a pandemic.

    Originality: Stories of youthful indiscretion and efforts to escape from a painful family legacy are commonplace. Price's novel stands out for its vivid setting, tragi-comedy, and the protagonist's pigheadedness, despite disappointment upon disappointment.

    Character Development/Execution: Wyatt is a man whose development is subtle, yet deeply resonant. Price effectively creates a wide cast of characters that embody the spirit of reckless indulgence and ultimate sense of loneliness that pervades the story. 

  • The Importance of Sons

    by Keira Morgan

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: In a very well-executed plot involving the lives of two women: Anne, Duchess of Brittany, and Louise, Countess d'Angouleme, during the late 1400s in the royal court of France, Morgan proves adept at informing the reader of the historical timeline while still engaging them in an exciting and suspenseful tale.

    Prose: Morgan's third-person narrative works well in this setting and she deftly weaves in sights, smells, and sounds of the time period, thus fully immersing the reader.

    Originality: This is classic historical fiction and feels successfully executed, even as it does not bring particularly novel elements to the genre.

    Character Development/Execution: The two protagonists are well-drawn, and Morgan does an excellent job of illustrating their parallel situations while still showcasing Anne's pragmatism, pluck, and morality against Louise's conniving and scheming personality.