by Nadine Macaluso
Plot/Idea: The Ones We Become benefits from an appealing premise—duty versus devotion—but that theme often becomes blurred by the unclear plotline. Macaluso's midway shift to an epistolary format is jarring and interrupts the novel's flow.
Prose: Macaluso's prose, though accessible and engaging, lags behind the fast pace, resulting in a need for more build up and character development. The novel is dialogue heavy, which at times detracts from critical moments.
Originality: The Ones We Become presents powerful ideas but allows too many historical fiction tropes without a fresh spin to make them unique. Macaluso attempts compelling characters to offset the story's conventionality, but they, too, verge on the stereotypical.
Character Development/Execution: Macaluso builds the framework for a sophisticated cast and offers realistic conflict throughout their journey, but both major and minor characters end up with inconsistent arcs that reduce their eventual transformations.
by Joe Pace
Plot/Idea: Oscar Kendall hates his famous writer father who has just died, is a writer himself, and unexpectedly inherits a cottage. As he considers the women who have influenced him and learns about his father's relationships, he finds an unpublished manuscript and struggles with whether to accept credit for it himself. The book follows his journey in learning how to write his own story.
Prose: The writing is smooth and often eloquent, with fine use of alliteration. References to Greek mythology and a sometimes grandiose tone can at times overwhelm the storytelling.
Originality: The concept behind Pace's novel is an intriguing one that allows for reflection on father-son relationships, creativity, and emerging from behind another's shadow.
Character Development/Execution: Readers may struggle to fully sympathize with the protagonist, as some of his characteristics lack originality or nuance.
by Richard E. LaMotte
Plot/Idea: The plot follows events from the Mexican Revolution, circling back to ill-fated lovers Maria and Ramon as they try to navigate challenging and painful realities. The pace builds steadily but stumbles toward the end, with a conclusion that feels ill-suited to the rest of the storyline.
Prose: LaMotte’s smart and authentic prose will evoke nostalgia in readers. Descriptions set the scenes eloquently, dousing the story with authenticity and old world charm.
Originality: LaMotte delivers a classic historical love story, drawing on cultural nuances based in the Mexican Revolution, with character-driven moments that romance readers will savor.
Character Development/Execution: Maria and Ramon embody a timeless romance, but their ending feels stiff and out of place. Readers may be challenged by the characters' improbable reactions to painful and traumatic events.
by Dr. Barbara ten Brink
Plot/Idea: This charming children's novel is heavy with math and science elements and could double as a teaching tool for STEM education. This said, the work is sometimes lacking in dramatic action and tension.
Prose: The dialogue is stiff between the characters and would benefit from being made more casual in tone. While the author tries to pull the time and place into the character’s conversations and manner of speaking, it can come across as artificial.
Originality: By introducing Isaac Newton through the eyes of a child, the author offers a unique perspective.
Character Development/Execution: Along with protagonist Emma, readers encounter fresh ideas about science, math, and the world around them from the character of Newton. While the characters exist primarily as conduits for the STEM concepts introduced, they effectively serve their roles in the story.
by Kathleen Stone
Plot/Idea: Hey Jude is a moving story of loss and redemption. Nevertheless, the story's setup verges on the predictable, and because of that, the ending feels more easy to guess than not. The narrative is well-paced, but Jude's arc tends toward the formulaic rather than the unexpected.
Prose: Despite the fresh portrayal of Deaf voices, Hey Jude employs a number of clichés, and despite Stone's attempts to subvert it, the tactic continues throughout the story. Creative dialogue tags add some variation, but they also become overpowering as the novel progresses.
Originality: The novel's foundational concept is admirable—the young boy, Shea, taking the place of what Jude lost—but Stone takes too many obvious turns to preserve the book's originality. Portraying Deaf voices is a much-needed representation and heightens the story.
Character Development/Execution: Stone's characters possess form and definite personalities, but they aren't individualized enough to deeply connect with readers and elicit their full sympathy.
by Boade Mandeng
Plot/Idea: Mandeng delivers an effective story of an immigrant's changing perspective on the country he once idealized. The work is somewhat weakened by a tendency to "tell" over "show."
Prose: Despite the intriguing and moving circumstances, the sentence construction and dialogue can come across as flat.
Originality: Mandeng offers a fairly fresh portrayal of one individual's experience adapting to a new culture and discovering its systemic flaws.
Character Development/Execution: The characters' personalities can come across as rather on-the-nose at times. The dialogue doesn't consistently uplift the characters and ultimately weakens the realism of the narrative.
by Janis Ayers
Plot/Idea: Earthshine, following Surviving the Waning, struggles with reintroducing characters naturally, turning towards transparency, rather than subtlety, when trying to connect with readers.
Prose: Ayers's text flows quite well, but the structure might be simplified in order to advance the narrative. There are moments of stilted phrasing that overreach, but the dialogue makes a solid attempt at authenticity.
Originality: Earthshine admirably addresses the impacts of trauma but lacks the perspective needed to give these issues new depth. The novel's scope is ambitious and worthy of broader exploration.
Character Development/Execution: Ayers crafts characters who are relatable, with plausible conflicts and realistic struggles. Reader interest may wane somewhat when their interactions sacrifice novelty for the methodical.
by Richard Pryor
Plot/Idea: The plot idea of an alien race evaluating humanity for the possibility of an intergalactic civilization is a solid, if slightly overdone, idea, though the book as written reads more like a collection of short stories with a light framing device than a cohesive narrative. Pryor never quite clarifies why these aliens care particularly about the Christian concept of the seven deadly sins.
Prose: Pryor's prose is often engaging, but is prone to overexplaining or adding details that don't support the story's advancement.
Originality: The combination of closely intermingled scientific and theological concepts—such as the sins of Wrath and Gluttony—gives the novel an intriguing edge it would not otherwise have.
Character Development/Execution: Despite the rich potential of the premise--an alien species objectively evaluating all of humanity--the scope of that assessment is rather limited. Human subjects don't display significant diversity, while the alien species also comes across as somewhat overly human in their language and expression.
by James Boudon
Plot: Calvary: The Judas Triangle offers a deeply interesting fantasy-adventure setup.
Prose: The prose initially suffers from a degree of stiffness and readers may at first struggle to get into the story. Once this is overcome, readers will eagerly follow the exciting events as they unfold.
Originality: This work relies on a number of familiar fantasy tropes, but the author has a clear handle on storytelling and delivers some unexpected twists along the way to the conclusion.
Character/Execution: Despite the often riveting storyline, characters have a tendency to come across as wooden and archetypal. Greater interiority and nuance would enhance the narrative as a whole.
by Dilip Chakrabarti
Plot: This unusual work features an assortment of vignettes, musings, and creative essays. A sincere and inspiring tribute to family, hard work, and optimism.
Prose: While there is a lot to admire in this work, the syntax and structure can be cumbersome, resulting in some confusion on the part of the reader.
Originality: Chakrabarti's Walking Alone is told through an intriguing historical and cultural lens. The essays and stories featured throughout are loosely connected. Their collective impact is somewhat indistinct and hazy, in part due to the sometimes awkward structure of the storytelling and prose.
Character/Execution: The author provides intriguing, slice-of-life storytelling. Ultimately, the reader may gain a more vivid portrait of the author himself than of other characters depicted in the tales.
by Richard Grabmeier
Plot/Idea: Across the Chasm follows protagonist Chris Redding as he struggles to make sense of his existence in different timelines. The premise is interesting and ambitious, but Chris’s love affair with his stepdaughter’s best friend may strike readers as implausible.
Prose: Grabmeier’s prose, coming straight from Chris’s voice, vacillates between crisp and clumsy. The flashback sections of the story are rendered well and evoke the romance of colonial Spain, but when the novel returns to the present, the dialogue becomes forced and the writing style awkward in places.
Originality: The story jumps timelines, lending it intrigue, and combines historical fiction with romance, but the somewhat far-fetched plot interferes with the novel’s standout elements.
Character Development/Execution: Despite Grabmeier’s attempts to paint Chris as troubled and haunted by his past, the end result is an unpleasant character whose questionable choices may alienate him from some readers. Supporting characters lack vibrancy and come across as a means to an end for the protagonist.
by PJ CAMPBELL
Plot/Idea: Booked to Death offers a clever and self-aware central concept that pivots on the notion of going to extreme measures to secure a book deal.
Prose: While the writing is clear, it suffers from a clunky quality, with a reliance on exposition and familiar expressions. Dialogue is often on-the-nose, doing little to uplift the interactions between characters.
Originality: The story's originality is its primary strength. Fellow authors will welcome the focus on writerly frustrations--especially when it comes to navigating the publishing world.
Character Development/Execution: Characters come across as somewhat artificial. Readers will want to feel for them, but the writing doesn't allow for them to fully come alive on the page.
by Sean Thomas
Plot: Thomas's In the Shades of His Father, while inventive and atmospheric, makes for a puzzling read that may leave readers uncertain about its intentions.
Prose: The prose has the potential to be evocative and poetic, but disjointed sentences and a tendency toward overwriting and rambling can cause readers to become disoriented.
Originality: Thomas offers unusual settings and a high degree of mystery, but the mystery itself is somewhat undecipherable. The storytelling is so jumbled--near stream-of-consciousness--that many will doubt they are grasping it correctly.
Character/Execution: This work relies more on language and description to convey its story than it does its characters, which exist more as shadowy figures than fully-formed forces.
by Mark Vogel
Disqualified due to word count under 30,000.