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General Fiction

  • Anna Incognito

    by Laura Preble

    Rating: 9.00

    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.

  • Secrets In The Mirror

    by Leslie Kain

    Rating: 9.00

    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.

  • Till the Sun Grows Cold

    by John Bebout

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The reader is slowly pulled into this novel of revenge, dissatisfaction, and an ending with a satisfying twist. The romance and mystery elements, along with the military background, create a layered plot, and the author manages to successfully intertwine them all.

    Prose: This novel is well-written, with quotes introducing each character and telegram messages giving the novel a true historical feel and setting the stage for the mystery that ensues. Carefully chosen words bring out the true intentions and motives of the characters.

    Originality: Pulling in the original detective group of the time period is a nice touch, though readers will want to know more about this agency.

    Character Development/Execution: Strong and confident characters who are memorable and likable send a relatable message about revenge and the dissatisfaction that comes along with it. The characters carry the theme of the novel throughout.

  • The Scent of Gardenias

    by Lorraine Haas

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: This is a wonderfully engaging story that is rich in detail with colorful characters that readers will come to love or hate. The depiction of life during wartime is authentic, and readers will fully empathize with Maggie as she struggles to adjust in the days after the Pearl Harbor bombing.

    Prose: The author is a gifted writer whose prose effortlessly captures the historical era.

    Originality: The Scent of Gardenias is a standout work of historical fiction that offers relatable characters, moving circumstances, and insight into a critical time in America's past.

    Character/Execution: Characterization is one of the many strengths of this work, as each individual comes alive on the page. Headstrong and resilient Margaret, mean as a snake J.T. Locke, honorable Edsol, and a host of others bring texture and richness to the unfolding story.

    Blurb: Filled with delightful and engaging characters, The Scent of Gardenias is a poignant page-turner.

  • Dancing the Labyrinth

    by Karen Martin

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Martin's dreamy, esoteric book of female empowerment, maternal love, and overcoming abuse is dark, breathtaking, painful, and lovely, all at once. With the interwoven settings of present-day and ancient Crete, the reader will be immersed in an otherworldly tale saturated in femininity.

    Prose: Keeping with its surreal quality, Martin's prose is melodious and lilting. She does not shy away from the grotesque, often supplying the reader with difficult-to-process imagery, coupled with the inherent beauty of the Grecian island on which the book takes place. Martin is able to harness complex emotions within a few sentences.

    Originality: Dancing the Labyrinth is strange, beautiful, and riddled with pain and growth. The blending of past and present, myth and reality, feeling and concrete experience, makes for a highly unique read.

    Character Development/Execution: Martin is excellent at writing heroines, lending a statuesque beauty to the women about which she writes. The men often seem to be caricatures of toxic masculinity, but overall the book is pretty to behold and moving to read.


  • Enfant Terrible: Headliner

    by Gwydhar Gebien

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Gebien’s acerbic wit and incisive voice help buoy Damen’s various misadventures as he grapples with two competing identities: rock star and stepfather.

    Prose: Gebien’s prose is suffused as much with heart as with grit. Her true-to-life dialogue and atmospheric writing will engage a broad range of readers.

    Originality: The author's subversive sense of humor captures the essence of a man struggling to raise himself out of obscurity. A colorful cast of characters uplifts the story: Damen’s dangerously sexy girlfriend Melody and his crooked investor, Judge, all fill out the pages to make for a wacky, erratic tale.

    Character Development/Execution: Gebien’s careful plotting and clever characterization create a nuanced portrait of a man attempting to realize his own destiny.

  • A Hundred Sweet Promises

    by Sepehr Haddad

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: This plot of ill-fated love crosses cultural and socioeconomic boundaries to deliver a resonant story. Though the pace is leisurely, Haddad’s depiction of traditional romance elements juxtaposed with classical music is stunning.

    Prose: Rich with poignant prose and vivid descriptions that illuminate early twentieth-century life, this novel is a lyrical ballad to love set against the Romanov era in Russia. Haddad’s writing style is immersive and elevates his character presentation in a subtle way, transcending some of the more mundane plot points with its elegant solemnity. 

    Originality: Despite the conventional premise of this historically-inspired fictionalized romance, Haddad splashes an intriguing mix of realism and dreamy elements into the text that heighten the novel’s impact.

    Character Development/Execution: Haddad’s characters struggle to find their footing in such a complex environment, and Nasrollah’s ardor pales in comparison to the impassioned Princess Irina. Despite some aloofness in development, by the end of the story their emotional weight is significant.

  • Freedom Baby

    by Nancy Cook Lauer

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: The author offers up a complex plot populated by characters in different decades who are looking to survive in a world ravaged by a deadly virus. There are many twists and turns as the reader seeks clues to figure out how life has changed in each of the time periods the characters inhabit. Lauer keeps the reader guessing and engaged as the story unfolds.

    Prose: The author is a good writer who demonstrates strong command of language. In a world where there are few people and therefore less dialogue than in many novels, the author is still able to convey insight and move along the plot.

    Originality: This is a highly unique work with a distinctive premise and memorable characters.

    Character Development/Execution: Because the author shifts character focus frequently, the reader is able to follow each main character's story in detail. This technique allows for insightful characterization. 

  • Papa on the Moon

    by Marco North

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: This is a novel with a circuitous plot that readers will find easy to get lost in. Just as the plot seems to be coming together, North opens up new crevices that will leave readers breathless and unnerved.

    Prose: North’s prose is brilliantly layered, with lyrical interludes that elicit the novel’s darker themes. Readers will immediately be swept into the storytelling and find themselves questioning the meaning of certain elements long after the last page. 

    Originality: North’s distinctive narrative sets this novel apart, delivering a raw, organic script that will unite readers in their search for significance.

    Character Development/Execution: The story’s characters are composed of rough angles and pain, but they will elicit emotions readers recognize in themselves. North takes a backroads approach to character development through subtle innuendo and soft hints—a style that matches the novel’s uniqueness perfectly.

  • Sutra of the Pearl

    by Lee Kaiser

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Kaiser presents an elaborate storyline weaving together several detailed subplots. Readers may be confused by the immense scope of the novel, as they work to differentiate the various characters and how they relate to the main protagonist, Julie—whose history, parceled out in pieces, is multi-layered and complex. 

    Prose: Kaiser is a strong writer who skillfully handles dialogue and action.  The story's frequent descriptive sections could be further defined, particularly in relation to Julie's past. 

    Originality: This is an intriguing read with a solid framework, though Kaiser sacrifices clarity for extensive descriptions that could be fine-tuned in places. 

    Character Development/Execution: Julie's emotions and motives are thoroughly fleshed out, making her a defining character plagued by anger and resentment. Secondary characters are convincing and help advance the plot, but at times become hard to track when the story switches between past and present perspectives. 

  • SCHLOCK Featuring Russia Cop

    by David R. Low

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Low's impressive, eclectic collection manages to present four tales that are simultaneously distinct, yet are all linked through the mysterious idea of the "Russian Soul" and the search for connection when living outside of one's home culture. Featuring everything from a Russian RoboCop parody to one man's difficult quest to find a bathroom, Low's plots prove entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny.

    Prose: Low's prose is descriptive and flowing, yet also frenetic—perfectly capturing the wild randomness of his character's experiences in Russia. The book's punchy speech in dialect and hilarious vulgarity also serve to enhance the text's focus on absurdist themes.

    Originality: While stories of expats traveling through exchange programs or people simply visiting foreign countries aren't wholly original, Low's offering stands out for its genuine combination of humorous plot devices and serious content. The book's innovative use of different formats is additionally impressive, including forays into critical essays and screenplays. 

    Character Development/Execution: SCHLOCK featuring Russia Cop is overall more focused on satirical plots and situations than characters, which works due to the book's general zaniness and madcap pacing. The work is not without introspective moments, however, and features several characters going through realistic changes and experiencing unexpected revelations; these sections are made all the more powerful as they don't happen that often.

    Blurb: A satirical collection of connected stories focusing on Russia, David R. Low's SCHLOCK Featuring Russia Cop is a delightfully bawdy, sometimes melancholy, take on encountering another culture headfirst.


  • Everyone Dies Famous

    by Len Joy

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Joy's moving and atmospheric small-town chronicle centers on a broad assortment of effectively drawn characters with believable entanglements, grievances, and conflicts. 

    Prose: Joy is a sophisticated storyteller, offering a prose style that is poised, rich, and allows readers to differentiate between characters of focus.

    Originality: Stories that create a kaleidoscopic view of small-town life and its struggles are familiar. But Joy's novel succeeds in creating a vibrant picture of a place peopled by individuals with rich interior lives.

    Character/Execution: Residents of Maple Springs are distinctive and authentic in their development, with Dancer Stonemason being especially powerful as he grapples with his grief.

  • City of Liars

    by Michelle Fogle

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: City of Liars is a dark romance, set during a painful time in history that led to countless deaths, paranoia, and secrecy. Focused on anti-Semitism at the hands of the Inquisition in Barcelona, Fogle's book explores the desolate fear experienced by those threatened by the church, and what they had to do in order to survive.

    Prose: Fogle's writing is gritty and dark, with highlights of beauty and nuance. She is able to place the reader into the setting, no matter how grotesque the subject material. Her descriptions of people are on point as well, writing them so that they emanate their character and values through their physical appearances, words, and actions.

    Originality: Fogle has placed a spotlight on a piece of history, and has given the reader a very sympathetic love story to experience in the midst of the chaos of killings at the hands of the church.

    Character Development/Execution: Fogle writes her characters well, humanizing their attributes and experiences while she gives the reader a glimpse into their psyches, even if brief.

  • Trey

    by Josh Conley

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Conely’s sequel to The Heartbreak Hotel is strategically plotted and well-paced, including certain flashback scenes that heighten the thrilling aspects of the narrative.

    Prose: Conely’s prose is animated and enticing, drawing readers into snappy dialogue with added elements of humor that bring the novel and characters to life.

    Originality: The novel is an accelerating, family-oriented crime drama that jumps off the page, encouraging readers to invest in the individual characters’ agendas and the overarching plot.

    Character/Execution: The characters in the novel are well-developed and distinct. Main protagonists and brother/sister duo Julius and Jade are witty and strong, while side characters offer different perspectives and tones to the storyline that adds to the mystery and suspense.

  • After Claire: In Search of a Habitable Life

    by John R. Wallis

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The author offers an intriguing plot that depicts a tricky and complex premise. Subplots are also engaging as the reader struggles right along with the characters as they try to work through their challenges.

    Prose: The author demonstrates strong command of language and storytelling. There is ample balance of action, dialogue, and description, which make for an engaging and quick read.

    Originality: This is an original work with distinctive characters and a unique plot.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here feel like living, breathing authentic people. The reader is drawn into their complicated and very real situations and feels for their plights.

  • Breath and Mercy

    by Mark Anthony Powers

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: In this riveting prequel, Dr. Phineas Mann deals with the AIDS epidemic in a New Orleans hospital and then the aftermath of a hurricane. Powers successfully captures the urgency and agony of grappling with a devastating disease.

    Prose: The prose is clean and brisk, delivering clear and organic insight into the characters' motivations and intentions.

    Originality: The author's familiarity with the early 1980s era is apparent, as is his understanding of hospital and end-of-life care. 

    Character Development/Execution: Most characters are well crafted, especially Phineas the protagonist. Dialogue is lively throughout while the sly humor is surprising and lends itself well to making the painful subject matter more readable.