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General Fiction

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Tattered Coat

    by Mike H. Mizrahi

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Tattered Coat successfully manages to be a murder mystery, a journalistic investigation, and a social commentary on racism all at once. While some transitions to memory read awkwardly on the page, Mizrahi's excellent foreshadowing propels readers forward throughout the novel.

    Prose: Mizrahi's writing is beautifully voice-driven, featuring a lyrical first-person point of view and gorgeous descriptions of place. The narrative effortlessly switches between multiple character perspectives, smartly depicting events from different viewpoints.

    Originality: Tattered Coat is an honest portrayal of the harshness of oppression, covering subjects from the fight for women's rights to the horrors of racism. While the book is compelling, the narrative follows a similar trajectory to other novels about racially-motivated accusations.

    Character Development/Execution: Mizrahi's strong, powerful characters carry the novel, especially insightful Hickory and determined Anna. The cast showcases the complexity of interracial friendships and the limits of allyship, as characters weigh whether to protect themselves or fight for what's right.

  • 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.

  • Jasmine in Paris

    by Clare Flynn

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Jasmine in Paris is a charming historical coming-of-age story with far-flung international settings. Jasmine Barrington, an aspiring artist, relocates from Penang and Nairobi to Paris to enroll at the Beaux Arts school.

    Prose: Flynn's prose is balanced, descriptive, and captures a clear sense of time and place.

    Originality: At its heart, this is the story of a young woman finding herself and her artistic vision in the city of lights. However, Jasmine in Paris is unique in its integration of Malaysian politics and Jasmine's continued connection to her country of origin.

    Character/Execution: Readers will certainly benefit from having read the previous books in the series, though this work does successfully stand alone. While the connection between Jasmine and Howard is somewhat strained (by distance and via the placement of their narratives in the novel), readers will be eager for them to find happiness together.

  • 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.

  • Between Two Rivers

    by Tina Beattie

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Beattie's historically based novel is deftly plotted, alternating between the points of view of the women at its center. The protagonists are caught up in the war of Rhodesian independence, the toll it takes on lovers and children, masters and servants, colonialists, and natives.

    Prose: The word-craft is unexceptionably fluent and compelling, with a variety of voices, some ethnically African, some Scots, some properly British.

    Originality: The work is sometimes baldly romantic in breathless social or sexual encounters, sometimes stirring in its depictions of political and military violence. There are inevitable echoes of Hemingway, Conrad, et al., in the treatment of the experience of Europeans in colonial Africa.

    Character/Execution: The main characters, after whom the chapters are named, are women. The narrative centers on their relationships with one another and with the men who are their lovers. Europeans and native Africans narrate individual sections. Their interior monologue is textured and convincing.

    Blurb: An illuminating insider's view of a febrile period of Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) history, fictionalized but hewing closely to the historical record.


  • 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 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.


  • 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. 

  • The Sun and The Moon

    by Willa Scantlebury

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The Sun and the Moon follows the lives of two young people, best friends Robin and Tommy, who are in constant search of love and in pursuit of their careers. The author integrates compelling and hard-hitting and well-explored content, including abuse by a priest; coming out; and AIDS activism. The romance angle takes over, and events unfold fairly quickly for both of them in this energetically-paced novel.

    Prose: The prose is even, rich, and highly readable.

    Originality:  Scantlebury sets up a compelling dichotomy between the two protagonists and the directions they take in life. A notable original element is Robin's intensive botany work in the Adirondacks.

    Character Development/Execution: The central figures effectively serve the storyline, and come across as convincing, young individuals navigating their futures while holding onto the connections from their past. 

  • We Don't Matter

    by Juliet Rose

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: This is an honest and heartfelt coming-out narrative, and a feel-good story of a young man meeting his goals. All this is not without some violence and tough circumstances, as well as a welcome layer of suspense.

    Prose: The prose is generally smooth and readable, if prone to occasional moments of awkwardness. 

    Originality: There are many coming-out stories, but this one of a young man becoming a documentary filmmaker feels quite original.

    Character Development/Execution: Aiden, Zeke, their friends, and their newfound dog are all portrayed as extremely kind, authentic people, who care deeply for one another. In a lesser writer's hands, this may come across as idealistic, but here, readers will revel in the characters' successes and experiences of joy.

  • The Fearless Moral Inventory of Elsie Finch

    by Laura Bartnick

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The situations presented in this multigenerational story are alluring and convincing. The novel offers an intimate exploration of relationship dynamics and emotional conflicts. The text is also somewhat overwritten and extends itself, encompassing too much territory to effectively cover all of the ground. 

    Prose: The prose is rich and finely detailed, although some phrasing can come across as overinflated.

    Originality: This work has an unusual premise and there's a grandness to the scope. Although somewhat overstuffed, the work is nonetheless an epic accomplishment. 

    Character Development/Execution: Some characters come across as stiff and serve as narrative tools rather than fully realized characters. Regardless, the dialogue is effective and helps illuminate characters and their relationships with others.