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General Fiction

  • 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.

  • The First Wolf Pack: A Dog's Fable

    by J. Daniel Reed

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The First Wolf Pack is an inventive story about the original pack of the title, chronicling both the group's coming together and their conflicts. The plot tends to be the most compelling when it drives forward through tense action scenes, as opposed to more abstract musings that have a tendency to grow repetitive.

    Prose: Reed's prose, coming from the voice of Bingley, is refined, polished, and entertainingly professorial in nature. While Bingley's personal intrusions into the narrative are often delightful and informative, they can come across as jarring at other moments.

    Originality: The First Wolf Pack has a highly original premise, about one dog's valiant attempt to speak to humans and correct the historical record. These ideas are teased out creatively over the course of the narrative, with the pack's similarity to humans and connection to modern animals being explored in imaginative ways.

    Character Development/Execution: Reed nails down a canine's complicated, complex personality, particularly in moments of infighting within the pack itself. In terms of character motivations, though, the text (due to Bingley's POV) has a tendency to keep defining decisions as unknowable mysteries, as opposed to providing answers.


    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.

  • Consecration Pond: A Novel in Stories

    by Laura Bonazzoli

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This is a solid, meditative collection of interconnected short stories that weave together seemingly disparate narratives into a satisfying and cohesive whole.

    Prose: Bonazzoli opts for a poetic and introspective approach to writing in this collection, which fits the mood of the book well. Intriguingly, many of the stories are presented as narrators conversing with another, often unseen, individual. This provides an especially intimate feeling to the prose. 

    Originality: Anchoring these distinct characters to the same rural Maine location, while not wholly original, does have a strong impact on the overall narrative of the book.

    Character/Execution: With each story in the collection, readers come to know characters through personal, voice-driven prose. As their circumstances and dilemmas reveal themselves, the collection begins to leave a gently haunting impression on readers.

  • Steamboat Seasons: Dawn of a New Era

    by Kendall Gott

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: The post-Civil War era plot meanders in the beginning but eventually picks up speed as the main character branches out on diverting, and dangerous, shipping assignments. Moments of suspense are carefully woven throughout the narrative and occur naturally, as the author steeps readers in the end of the golden age of commercial steamships. 

    Prose: The prose mimics the time period and setting of the story, and the writing is flush with genuine terminology that recalls steamship travel. Gott draws interesting parallels that will alert readers to deeper meaning: just as the narrator characterizes other cultures as finding it necessary to adjust to technological advancements, so too must he learn to adapt as the steamship’s role is improved on and surpassed. 

    Originality: Gott fashions a solid historical fiction that chronicles the evolution of commercial steamship ventures, while shedding light on the distinctive temperament of America after the Civil War and during the years of westward expansion.

    Character Development/Execution: The Captain is an appealing character, and much of his inner turmoil is left up to reader interpretation. His attempt to bridge a disappearing world and find meaning at the same time is fundamental and mirrors the novel’s premise.

  • One Woman's Unceasing Quest

    by Jayita Bhattacharjee

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: In Bhattacharjee's soulful romantic story, Amara Nwosu migrates to England from Botswana in order to escape an arranged marriage paired with a demeaning "bride price" to be paid to her father. Once in England, Amara embraces her freedom and opens herself to the possibility of finding real love.

    Prose: Bhattacharjee's prose is often rich, but at times overwrought. Artificial dialogue has a tendency to undermine the experiences of the protagonist. Nevertheless, readers will have no trouble following the events as they unfold and will feel great compassion and empathy for the central characters.

    Originality: Bhattacharjee brings a level of freshness to the story by nature of her protagonist's unique background and the life-changing journey she takes from Botswana to England.

    Character/Execution: Amara is an endearing figure who is torn between feelings of guilt and obligation to her family and her own desire for self-actualization. Amara's love interest, Bryce Atkinson, is a somewhat less appealing character, though he becomes more alluring and sympathetic as the novel progresses and he grapples with profound grief. Readers will certainly wish the two to find a happiness that uplifts them both.

  • Halfway Man - TW Roolf

    by Gordon Zawaski

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: Halfway Man explores the life of an individual trapped in a state of aimlessness, lethargy, and discontent. Tony is down on his luck but searching for a job and feels he deserves more. When his bad luck finally changes, a heartfelt story ensues about his personal growth and the power of changing one's life. 

    Prose: Although Roolf capably develops the narrative, his prose sometimes undercuts its own storytelling and level of nuance through unnecessary exposition. 

    Originality: The narrative here is engaging and fresh, but at times proves rather repetitious. The "Shorty and Larry" concept might bring more to the angel/devil on the shoulder trope. Tony perseveres and lands a job, but circumstances and relationships would be enhanced via additional conflict and tension. 

    Character Development/Execution: Although Tony's suffering is credible, the reader may struggle to fully sympathize with him. The narrative would benefit from a greater articulation of the protagonist's psychological state and more investment in the specific circumstances of his redemption.

  • Across the Sahara

    by Jo Emoyon

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Across the Sahara tells the moving story of Nosa, a young Nigerian man who reluctantly joins his friend in traveling via land from Nigeria to Europe.

    Prose: Emoyon's prose is solid, if prone to a degree of repetition and redundancy. Exposition can sometimes clutter the storytelling when dialogue is often enough to clue readers into the unfolding events and characters' emotional states.

    Originality: With unique insight, Emoyon describes the reasoning behind taking a voyage as uncertain and dangerous as the one Nosa and Leo embark on, while also conveying the harrowing journey itself.

    Character/Execution: Nosa is a well-established central character and Leo is similarly nicely developed. Their characterizations might be even stronger if the prose was slightly more focused and expository material was trimmed back.

  • 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.


  • Ways of Man

    by kl kiefer

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: Ways of Man is a striking commentary about political control and media manipulation of the truth. Sometimes the text jumps forward in ways that can be jarring, and the cruelty of certain scenes can be challenging to read, but overall the book successfully describes how reconciliation between different groups can be possible, given enough time.

    Prose: Kiefer's prose is a mixed bag. Strong moments of writing include the numerous funny descriptive passages throughout the novel, as well as sections of character interiority. The dialogue, structured in long paragraphs, and often in very punctuated dialect, can be confusing at times.

    Originality: Kiefer's slapstick sense of humor is novel, but the book follows a fairly traditional plot arc in general, including star-crossed lovers and enemies becoming friends.

    Character Development/Execution: Much of the cast of Ways of Man appear as goofy caricatures for satirical purposes, as opposed to well-rounded people. Kiefer's characters are the most successful in the moments when they're given more elaborate inner lives and feelings, like when Shirley appreciates Theo's gift or when Mikey has a revelation about what he wants.

  • People of the Sun

    by Jan Kelly

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: En route to his young son, Trick, Guy Thornton wanders and wonders through memories and Arizona on his horse, Sweet Pea. Sally, Trick's mother, also narrates her own chapters, shifting from discussing her Native American heritage to reflecting on life with her child. Readers will benefit from having read the earlier titles in the series, though the compelling writing allows the work to somewhat stand alone.

    Prose: Kelly has a knack for transitioning between the voices of characters and balancing action scenes with exposition and internal reflection.

    Originality: Despite some familiar elements, Kelly creates an evocative setting and offers organically flowing storytelling.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are offered enough time on the page to become "human." They have worries and concerns, dreams for their children, and detailed backstories, while dialogue comes across as authentic to their established personalities.  

  • The Things We Bring To The Table

    by Rod Palmer

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: While The Things We Bring To The Table has an impressively ambitious plot, involving both realist elements and fantasy sections related to the multiverse, these two aspects of the narrative could converge more clearly for readers. The ultimate speculative ending also feels a bit easy, considering the complexity of the preceding story.

    Prose: Palmer's prose positively lends a frenetic energy to a fast-paced novel where a lot happens, but the way the story relies on dialogue for exposition can read awkwardly and often occurs too quickly, making the plot confusing to follow at times. Necessary information also comes in information dumps outside of scenes, which unfortunately pulls the reader out of the narrative flow.

    Originality: The way that The Things We Bring To The Table attempts to reconcile a plot about multiple worlds with a Christian element involving an angelic figure is original among titles discussing the multiverse. The novel could benefit from this element of the plot being further fleshed out and explored with more nuance. 

    Character Development/Execution: Palmer's characterizations are a mixed bag, with some characters developing into well-rounded figures, while others could be developed more. Cree comes off like a rich caricature, but she transforms into a figure with complex emotional depth. Nathaniel, on the other hand, could benefit from deeper characterization, as he currently reads like an angel-like device to forward the plot. 


  • A Boundless Place

    by Pamela Stockwell

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: This is a sweet, feel-good story that will gratify readers. By the ending, the characters have all become friendlier and lighter in spirit, as they support one another in grappling with their losses and loneliness.

    Prose: A Boundless Place offers clear and efficient prose that buoys the story.

    Originality: Although this is eminently readable and enjoyable, a number of its elements are familiar. Characters' personalities and motives change too quickly, and future relationships become predictable.

    Character Development/Execution: Collectively, the characters are relatable over the course of their personal transformations. Young Arabella is endearing and has a nearly magical touch.

  • Heroes at War

    by Ari Magnusson

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: The underlying plot here is an interesting one, especially the mystery behind Jack's illness and the moral quandary Joel faces at his new job. The novel has the potential to be even more engaging if the storyline progressed more rapidly and if unresolved conflicts were given closure.

    Prose: The prose is clear and engaging. Readers are exclusively in Joel's head, however; the interiority of the other characters is somewhat lacking.

    Originality: The narrative features a novel storyline. Many of the novel's strongest chapters are those in which Joel is performing his psychological detective work. Initially withholding more details relating to the clinical trial may help maintain tension and excitement. 

    Character/Execution: Since the narrative is told through Joel's perspective, readers will primarily come to know only his character in-depth (perhaps with Trotsky, a delightful character, coming in second).  Readers may become frustrated with Joel as he wrestles with life decisions and his moral compass. There are some other characters and storylines that have the potential to add depth and break up the monotony of Joel's interior dilemmas.

  • In the Springtime with Rachel Carson

    by Dr. Barbara ten Brink

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Brink, a science educator, pens a charming story of a young girl who discovers her new next-door neighbor is scientist Rachel Carson. Part narrative and part lightly educational text, Brink delivers a satisfying short novel fitting for young readers intrigued by Carson's work.

    Prose: Brink's prose is clear, gently descriptive, and appropriate for the target audience.

    Originality: Stories of young characters who discover they have a famous neighbor are somewhat familiar, but Rachel Carson is a highly unique subject for such a tale.

    Character/Execution: Louise is a lively and engaging protagonist and Rachel Carson comes across as a gentle and intelligent mentor figure. The illustrations throughout the text strike an off-note, coming across as generic and insubstantial.


  • A Kind of Hush

    by JoDee Neathery

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot/Idea: The "whodunit" element of this story takes over the narrative that begins as a nuanced examination of character psychology. Though the story moves at a steady clip, it can seem to be more focused on drama than actually understanding the roots of said drama and trauma.

    Prose: Overtelling can dampen the otherwise convincing interactions and dialogue. The work would benefit from a lighter touch in this respect. Overall, the prose keeps the story going, but is flat concerned with merely character (inter)action.

    Originality: Dysfunctional families are a cornerstone of literature, and the sudden loss of a parent can have real implications. Here, family dynamics and relations are moving and compelling, but not as subtle or investigated as they could be.

    Character Development/Execution: Characters can sometimes come across as stiff and merely there to fulfill a function. This causes them to be less realistic and harder to sympathize with and relate to.