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General Fiction

  • 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.

     

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.  

  • 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.

     

  • 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. 

     

  • Ways of Man

    by Karen 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.

  • 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.

  • Plot: Rasmussen delivers an impactful story of a middle-aged man who embarks on a road trip in an effort to run from the new responsibility of impending fatherhood. The author reflects honestly on the urge to escape from obligation and the uncertainty involved in raising a child when one feels unworthy of the task and unprepared to do so.

    Prose: The prose style is engaging and gently confessional in style. As with many classic 'road trip' novels, the central character has a number of random encounters en route, taking from each of them a greater awareness of himself and the world at large. 

    Originality: Stories of road trips and the search for internal truth are familiar. Regardless, Rasmussen delivers a satisfying journey for the protagonist with a number of distinctive moments arising throughout.

    Character/Execution: Rasmussen creates an engaging arc of redemption for Raiden, who may initially strike readers as shallow and self-serving. Side characters Raiden meets along his journey are convincingly expressed.

  • 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. 

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