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General Fiction

  • Close Your Eyes: A Fairy Tale

    by Chris Tomasini

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Close Your Eyes: A Fairy Tale is a charming and romantic story featuring a cast of distinctive characters. Born in 1399 in Cologne, Samuel is a dwarf and becomes the King of Gora's jester. He soon makes friends with Agnieszka the cook and Tycho the storyteller, but must search for answers along his journey. 

    Prose: The text flows well enough, and the writing is strong. Some scenes would benefit from being more detailed, and the integration of additional historical context would help strengthen the setting and storyline.

    Originality: Besides a few major titles, and a score of medieval "romances," the subject of the 1400s is not overly plentiful. The text here discusses love and the lives of a cook, jester, and storyteller, whereas other works might typically focus on knights and princesses. Even so, the narrative style falls into works that use letters or a fictional writer to tell the story after the fact, and some might ask, what's the greater meaning of setting up the story like this, instead of merely following the characters through an omniscient authorial narrator.

    Character Development/Execution: Characters are colorful, endearing, and intriguing, while their motivations remain realistic and convincing. 

  • Lies in Bone

    by Natalie Symons

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Lies in Bone tackles intergenerational secrets calcified by small-town decline. Spunky 16-year-old Frank must unravel the wounds at the heart of her town and her family in this coming-of-age thriller.

    Prose: Symons's plainspoken, intimate, and darkly humorous prose draws readers in and doesn't let them go until the harrowing ending where all comes clear.

    Originality: In this thrilling page-turner, a toxic fog serves as a metaphor for generational secret-keeping that keeps a dysfunctional family and a failing Pennsylvania steel town in a state of unknowing. Teenage protagonist Frank, as her name suggests, cuts through the malaise threading through the town with her quest for truth and spunky wit.

    Character/Execution: Characters come alive in dialogue-rich prose cast against a complex setting of social and familial decay in this unflinching portrayal of American tragedy.

    Blurb: A visceral take on intergenerational trauma told across time and through parallel disappearances. 

  • The Last Roman: Exile

    by B.K. Greenwood

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Greenwood delivers a tightly paced, action-packed novel with strong character development, an unusual hero's tale that will have readers anxiously waiting for the next installment. Alternating between the ancient past and modern times, the reader is witness to an unfolding narrative pitting eternal good against the ultimate evil.

    Prose: Told in third-person perspective, the story is well crafted with attention-grabbing scenes delivered in a concise manner.

    Originality: A gripping novel that blends several genre elements such as historical fiction, biblical lore, thriller and paranormal while maintaining a cohesive and absorbing storyline.

    Character Development/Execution: A brilliant juxtaposition is employed between the stoic and honorable Marcus and the bitter and cynical Thomas. A strong supporting cast rounds out the novel well, including the doomed love interest, Isabella.

  • Cold Silence

    by Toni Anderson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The plot behind Cold Silence is superb, with multiple twists and unforeseen clues. Anderson offers a polished and tightly wound thriller.

    Prose: The prose is generally quite strong and capably builds tension throughout.

    Originality: The author puts a fresh twist on the trope of a hacker working with the FBI to solve a case, with a number of expressive details throughout.

    Character/Execution: Characters are organically developed, easy to differentiate, and effectively serve the storyline.

    Blurb: A chilling mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, complete with a masterful plot, astonishing twists, and an ending that no one will see coming.


  • Siciliana

    by Carlo Treviso

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Set in 1282 AD, Siciliana tells a vivid historical story of Sicillian revolution that firmly establishes its setting and era, while featuring a striking, well-realized heroine. 

    Prose: The prose is clear, evocative, and propels the narrative. The author provides a welcome mix of historical detail with narrative tension and emotion. 

    Originality: Treviso's focus on a particular slice of Sicilian history is unique and riveting. History buffs and fans of historical fiction will find much to love in the epic storytelling.

    Character Development/Execution: Treviso richly portrays the brutal circumstances facing the central characters, ultimately humanizing the historical events, while also providing edifying factual information to readers eager to better understand the tumultuous time period.

  • The Rape of Persephone

    by Monica Brillhart

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The story moves forward well and keeps the reader invested. In tackling the myth of Persephone, the author subtly layers themes relating to grief, lust, power, and control.

    Prose: The author displays a strong command of language as well as a clear understanding of the source material. Ancient Greece fully comes to life in Brillhart's capable hands.

    Originality: While restagings of Greek myths are familiar territory, The Rape of Persephone offers a unique, measured, and often harrowing look at a lesser-examined tale.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters, particularly given that they are mythological in nature, are finely fleshed out well and deserving of empathy. The Gods are portrayed with a welcome degree of nuance and substance.

  • Ascendancy

    by Patrick Earl Dwyer

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: History lovers will relish this descent into Irish heritage that follows a family across generations, as they encounter heartache, hardship, and success. Dwyer weaves fact with fiction, and despite a slow start, the novel quickly picks up speed, but it never loses focus on the details essential to the plot.

    Prose: Dwyer melds animated dialogue with satisfying character interactions to create a rich saga, and he manages to avoid history lessons in favor of a passionate immigration story with generational impacts. 

    Originality: Ascendancy is classic historical fiction, though Dwyer includes photographs and illustrations throughout to bring the story to life. 

    Character Development/Execution: Hopeful and optimistic characters form the backbone of the story, as they interact at various levels of government, church, and society. Dwyer chooses conversation and interactions amongst the cast as the main vehicle for action, and overcoming adversity is a central theme for the primary characters. 

  • Figurines

    by Jamie Boud

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Figurines is a poignant and gripping novel that focuses on loss, love, and mental illness. Boud tells the story in chapters with alternating points-of-view, each detailing Anna and Rachel's experiences. It may take readers some time to understand the dynamics and relationships between the characters. Both women's lives emerge as profound and lonely. 

    Prose: This prose is clearly crafted and is quite literary in style. Though the author identifies as male, he depicts women's emotions and mindsets with nuance and realism. 

    Originality: Stories of institutionalized mentally ill individuals are familiar. Nevertheless, Anna and Rachel's circumstances come across as original and memorable.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters in Figurines are genuine, nuanced, and evoke empathy from readers. 

  • The Settling

    by Michael Putegnat

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The Settling delivers a solidly conceived plot in which one man's research into his family intersects with a military search to track down a potential war hero.

    Prose: The prose is readable and straightforward. Putegnat gracefully develops the pieces of the storyline, building a sense of intrigue as Tom and Elly begin to unravel the secrets left behind by Tom's father. The past and present, personal and universal, nicely comingle throughout the novel, which offers a compelling, multidimensional mystery element. 

    Originality: The plot line of the military investigator tracking down claims of (potentially fake) heroism is unique and adds an interesting angle to the story.

    Character/Execution: Tom initially appears as a frustrated and cynical professor. His character growth is authentic and redemptive. Elly, meanwhile, is compassionate, reflective, and proves herself to be far more than an occasional love interest.

  • The Lonely Ones

    by Jessica Dainty

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Although unremarkable male characters have graced the pages of fiction many times, Patrick’s journey into underground vampirism has hallmarks of a simmering horror story that straddles the mundane and the strange.

    Prose: Dainty captures Patrick’s affability and awkwardness in her compelling, realistic prose.

    Originality: Dainty’s strong characterization buoys a rather inventive tale of a man finding himself among a cultish group of people. Her ability to capture the simultaneous fear of the unknown and Patrick’s feeling of freedom makes for an engrossing story.

    Character Development/Execution: Many of Dainty’s characters are well-rounded, making for an engaging story. A few minor editing errors could be easily remedied to smooth out the flow of the narrative.

    Blurb: This story of an unremarkable man embarking on a remarkable journey into the seedy underbelly of underground vampirism is an elegantly plotted piece of suspense fiction. 

  • Elly Uncomposed

    by Valerie Niemerg

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The well-worn trope of time travel nonetheless proves effective in this story, centered around a historic opera, that will be especially enjoyed by music and opera buffs.

    Prose: The author, a retired opera singer, is an excellent and strong writer. The only bolded musical terms prove distracting and perhaps could be transferred to footnotes, though the glossary proves helpful. 

    Originality: Although time travel itself is not an original idea, the idea of setting the story within an opera is unique. The text is not only original, but proves highly humorous in parts.

    Character Development/Execution: Elizabeth is a very clear, well-developed character. Her rescuer in the 18th century, Gaspar, is empathetic and kind. A number of the other figures here read like fairy tale characters. The details of the women's clothing prove particularly vivid.

  • I'll Remember You

    by Deborah Packer

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: This is a captivating novel based on a true story. The story opens a few months after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, giving modern readers a glimpse into what life was like in those chaotic times. The plot also provides an eye-opening exploration of the era's toxic anti-Semitic attitudes. 

    Prose: The author demonstrates a strong command of language including dialogue and description. The narrative moves along briskly and holds the reader's interest, despite a few odd word choices. 

    Originality: The author does a good job of connecting events in real life and embellishing the story to fill in gaps.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with characterization. From the start, Bobbie is clearly resourceful and level-headed, while Eunice is boy-crazy and less astute. Murray is clearly haunted by traumatizing events in his past.

  • Do Over

    by Juliet Rose

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The bones of this work are solid, but the linear progression of the story is unclear. The story lacks pacing - there is little mystery or tension to keep the reader interested. Telling her tale in a series of shorter flashbacks might be much more effective and would keep the reader engaged. 

    Prose: The author is a strong writer who handles detail, action, and dialogue well. However, the narrative approach is very straightforward and simple, so there's still room to create some complexity to add richness to the reading experience.

    Originality: This is an original work with a distinctive premise and memorable characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an effective job with characterization, particularly with Sam and Smitty, offering the reader valuable insight into what makes them tick.


    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. 

  • 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. 


  • 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.