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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Book of Days

    by Matt Hiebert

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The author has created an intricately detailed, complex world and an exciting and rich plot. The storyline carries the reader along as the plot progresses. In this kill-or-die world, weapons are critical, and the planting of multiple clues throughout the book helps track the worldbuilding.

    Prose: The author is an extremely talented writer demonstrating deft skill with description, action, and dialogue.

    Originality: Despite the strong "Walking Dead" flavor to this work, the author is able to make this story stand on its own, with a distinctive plot and characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with characterization, particularly with the 13-year-old Jesse, whose narrative informs the work.

  • Medusa: Rise of a Goddess

    by H. Dean Fisher

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: The author presents a clever premise that will captivate readers familiar with Medusa's story but still brings to life an engaging read for those who may not be as invested in mythology, weaving in a modern-day subplot that only adds to the fun.

    Prose: This is a well-written work by a skilled author who demonstrates solid command of language and narrative ability. The story unfolds at a steady pace with just the right balance of dialogue, action, and description.

    Originality: Despite using an age-old myth as the underlying premise in this work, the author has managed to craft a unique and inventive story, offering readers a new perspective into Medusa and her legend. The blending of ancient and modern is particularly well executed.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a superb job with characterization, giving Medusa a new and expanded story in this enlightening new work. The author humanizes her and evokes the reader's pity for her tragic plight.

  • Mates: Minerva

    by Bridget E. Baker

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Mates: Minerva is well-plotted, entertaining, and engaging. The imaginative storyline focuses on the importance and stakes of friendship, with plenty of potential betrayals, self-realizations, and personal revelations along the way.

    Prose: Baker's prose is charming and compulsively readable, especially the cheeky dialogue and witty banter between characters.

    Originality: Mates: Minerva features some truly creative worldbuilding, like the novel's elaborate backstory and the concept of "gloffee". Baker's eclectic cast of characters is also notable for their unconventionality, despite containing common types like werewolves and vampires.

    Character Development/Execution: Baker skillfully manages a wide cast of characters, all with their own individual chapters and elaborate problems, like Minerva, who is struggling to become a guardian due to her magical difficulties, and Izaak, whose unconventional career choice is at war with his vampire nature. Impressively, every single one of these characters also links to a wider story arc, about helping Roxana escape an awful marriage.

    Blurb: A delightful, character-driven fantasy novel about a group of supernatural friends helping to prevent an unwanted wedding, Bridget E. Baker's Mates: Minerva will no doubt bewitch readers with its entrancing plot and relatable cast.

  • LO

    by Bradford Tatum

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Tatum brews a bewitching storyline, seasoned with carefully-prepared descriptions that lend a sharp and irresistible flavor to the work.

    Prose: Tatum's sumptuous and well-seasoned prose is lush, crafted with attention to its character, and acting as a wholly engaging, intelligent, and well-balanced vector through which the story takes its irresistible shape.

    Originality: Buoyed by its impeccable prose, LO delivers with a magnetism that makes the more well-trod genre foothills feel like unexplored trails.

    Character Development/Execution: Wickedly evocative and personal prose brings every character of LO, from front-runners to backgrounders, to life with aplomb.

  • Becoming Crone

    by Lydia M. Hawke

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Becoming Crone delivers a familiar, but solidly-delivered narrative that is sure to entice and entertain longtime genre fans and newcomers alike.

    Prose: Hawke writes with an efficient sense of prose, neither flowery nor mechanical, ebbing and flowing with a comfort that can be hard to manage, and should have readers floating through the story effortlessly.

    Originality: While Hawke's urban fantasy story brings along all the usual trappings of the genre, and a familiar writing style to boot, it injects a shot of life into it with a delightful choice of protagonist that adds a fresh perspective to a well-traveled road.

    Character Development/Execution: The main character brings a delightful and refreshing perspective to the usual pantheon of urban fantasy characters, and even the more familiar side characters scattered throughout are brought together with a deft and efficient hand, that will surely delight fans of the genre and newcomers alike.

  • The Island Mother

    by Jon Cohn

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: What starts out as a familiar narrative slowly, and deceptively, grows into something far beyond what its initial premise could ever hope to impart. Whenever The Island Mother starts to sag under the waterlogged familiarity of its genre-origin, Cohn's calculated and colorful delivery of plot elements reinvigorates the work, and makes for a true page-turner.

    Prose: Cohn leverages accessible, yet evocative prose that is sure to lure in readers and keep them along for the ride.

    Originality: Cohn smashes genres together to form a colorful, zany, and ultimately refreshing take on a staid genre template.

    Character Development/Execution: Cohn compiles an interesting and engaging cast, parceling out their backstories and motivations with deft attention, giving the readers something to look forward to as the narrative unfolds.

  • Core Melt

    by FX Holden

    Rating: 8.50

    Idea: Core Melt unfolds against the backdrop of a futuristic, dystopian society filled with humans and cyborgs (called cybers). Both a love story and a sci-fi thriller, Core Melt is a lot of fun. Holden offers vibrant and effective worldbuilding that will keep readers entranced.

    Prose: Holden's prose style is as gripping as ever and fully immerses readers in the narrative. Moments of vagueness in dialogue and description are remedied as the storytelling progresses. 

    Originality: Holden utilizes sci-fi conventions to gratifying effect; the familiar elements are imbued with a degree of freshness that prevents the material from feeling derivative. 

    Character/Execution: The protagonist is particularly well fleshed out, while the people he interacts with are conveyed very much through his perspective, which is limited. This leaves characters and their motivations a bit difficult to parse out, and sometimes character interactions can feel rushed.

     

  • The Rookery

    by Edward Pontacoloni

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: The Rookery is a wacky, semi-surreal adventure in the Adirondacks. Written in a style reminiscent of Vonnegut, the book is a nonstop romp full of bigfoots, talking dogs, and mad scientists. The book closes the plot arc, but remains open-ended, which is a bit of a letdown for invested readers.

    Prose: The novel features a strong narrative voice and accomplished prose that can effectively move between exposition and asides without becoming distracted. The style is consistent and engaging, making for a delightful read.

    Originality: The book is remarkably inventive, blending cryptozoological elements, science and metaphysics, and local lore with wry humor and a distinct style that feels both familiar and unique.

    Character/Execution: The characters, not all human, are interesting and developed effectively, in a manner that works well for the tone of the book. The protagonist features a strong narrative voice, which is strengthened through consistent delivery as the book progresses.

  • In the Shadow of Humanity

    by N. John Williams

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Williams delivers a potent, poignant, and engaging narrative from the first page, and never lets up, deftly carrying the reader along this transcendent journey.

    Prose: In the Shadow of Humanity leverages a sophisticated, deliberate prose against the reader, creating an organic experience that works in spades to generate interest, propagate tension, and keep the reader engaged from moment to moment.

    Originality: Williams borrows from genre staples as well as perceived trajectories of the present, yet manages to meld them together in a way that never feels lacking, or uninspired—indeed, this mixture tends to supercharge the whole affair and lend it an air of believability.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters within this novel hum and pulse with all the verve and vivacity of real people; conjured up by Williams's exquisite prose, they can do nothing else but attract and engage the reader, bringing them into their lives with a gracefulness that is on occasion absent from the genre.

  • Bardolomy

    by norbert weissinger

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Bardolomy is an imaginative sci-fi adventure set on a hostile planet that explores notions of humanity through a context of selective evolution and transhumanism. The novel is a linear narrative from a single first-person perspective. 

    Prose: The novel features strong descriptive writing and dialogue that blends into the world of the story and works to create a consistent and creative science fiction setting. 

    Originality: The narrative is inventive and sets itself apart from many contemporary works. The planetary setting is original and thoroughly depicted, and the science fiction, anthropological, and philosophical aspects are interesting and unique.

    Character/Execution: The novel explores its themes through the development, interaction, and change of its central characters. The novel culminates in the completion of a character arc, nicely closing out the narrative and reading experience.

  • The Gospels of Peter Star

    by Thomas Drago

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: A unique approach to dystopian fantasy, the book tells an alternative mythology of our modern world, told from the perspective of a future human species looking back. It loosely follows the form of the New Testament, and depicts an amalgamation of Christian theology and 20th-century rock and roll lore.

    Prose: The writing effectively apes the diction and cadences of the Bible, as does character dialogue. The novel features a number of jokes and playful moments, often through punny names and musical or cultural references.

    Originality: The premise behind this work is truly unique in its concept and scope; it challenges genre conventions and delivers wholly unexpected storytelling.

    Character/Execution: Due to its structure as a series of connected parables, depth of character is not a narrative component the book relies on. The characters largely exist to further the premise and themes. Many are interesting and portrayed in entertaining ways, but few see much in the way of dynamism or development. 

    Blurb: A one-of-a-kind novel that defies easy categorization.

  • The Roar of the Lost Horizon

    by K.N. Salustro

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: In a fantasy empire where ordinary people have magical talents and are assigned their work accordingly,  19-year-old Nate embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when he signs on to what turns out to be a pirate ship and helps to uncover an ancient mystery. On a journey of self-discovery, Nate's gradually blooming talent—to read the course of hidden objects through the wind—confirms at last his value to his shipmates and to himself. 

    Prose: The style of exposition is standard to the genre, by turns breathless and mysterious. The POV is mainly that of the young protagonist, with occasional insertions of a chapter belonging to the ship's captain. The story is composed without intrusions of elaborate overexplanation; once the outlines of the world are established, they are adhered to faithfully and interestingly.

    Originality: There are no surprises in The Roar of the Lost Horizon; it adheres closely to the expected swashbuckling fantasy arc. Inchoate talents bloom, lost treasures are revealed, secrets are uncovered, and the insecure and spurned weakling becomes a hero. However, the particular events are freshly imagined, and the young hero's humanity is not without its charm.

    Character Development/Execution: Protagonist Nate, his background, his aspirations, and his fears, are described in some detail, and his inner life evolves along with the events of the story. The ship's captain, in her Ahab-like pursuit of a legendary treasure, is well drawn, through her juxtapositions and interactions with subordinates, foes, and favorites. 

  • Shepherd's Warning

    by Cailyn Lloyd

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: Lloyd's plot brings along with it the usual trappings of the genre that readers will be familiar with: mysterious pasts waiting to be investigated, hauntings, cautious locals, and headstrong out-of-towners who don't heed their warnings. What helps set it apart from some of its contemporaries is an early-on decision to jump headlong into the stranger aspects of its genre, and inject a bit of life into a tried-and-true formula.

    Prose: Lloyd's prose does well to establish the picturesque scenery and grandiose MacKenzie Manor, though some readers may be less interested in the character-crafting, where many of the cast can start to feel like template-swaps of the same build.

    Originality: Lloyd makes an interesting call by deciding early on to give away the ghost, so to speak, and introduce not only the supernatural, but mystical as well —all of which may serve to grab readers with the unexpected move.

    Character Development/Execution: The cast of Shepherd's Warning are serviceable, if occasionally feeling rushed or somewhat underdeveloped. Still, fans of the genre will have enough meat to hook into that it should keep them invested.

  • Gemma Calvertson and the Forest of Despair

    by Ryan Hoyt

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: An exciting fantasy story that aims to kick off an epic series. The action builds nicely, with a complete plot arc that doesn’t leave the reader hanging despite the promise of more adventures to come.

    Prose: The book features a very strong narrative voice, setting it apart from many genre contemporaries. The novel has a timeless storybook feel, with convincing worldbuilding and characters who fully inhabit that world.

    Originality: The characters and world fit squarely in the genre, but the novel’s voice is effective in establishing a unique and original tale.

    Character/Execution: The characters are well-rendered with individual motivations driving them. Care is taken to flesh them out and this pays off to the novel’s benefit. Readers will want to join these heroes on their next adventure. 

  • Castillo Cove

    by Conor Metz

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: In this fast-paced horror novel, unusual circumstances impact the residents of a small town after the discovery of bodies missing since the nineteenth century. The story is exciting, though the plot can feel a bit unbalanced, with the characters enduring a series of connected events that the narrative doesn’t explore or explain to a satisfying enough degree.

    Prose: The writing is energetically paced, and the book moves quickly from scene to scene. The dialogue is authentic and supports characterization well, though the narrative voice could do more to connect the themes and supernatural elements to the chapter-to-chapter plot beats.

    Originality: The core conceit of the story, a town legend unleashing a storm that affects its residents like a curse, is exciting and somewhat uncommon if not unique; the addition of the possessed cars is particularly entertaining. The book blends elements of haunting and curse stories well. The characters fit the story's tone nicely.

    Character Development/Execution: Characters feel distinct, and their relationships play well off one another. While the characterization is not incredibly deep here, each character has a role and personality that fits the often cinematic storytelling.

  • Plot/Idea: Wiley’s intriguing reimagining of Washington Irving’s classic tale gambols around Dreamland. Wiley is free to add in new elements to such a dreamscape: characters as various as Anubis, William Blake, and Morgan Le Fay, which makes for an entertaining read. However, the overall thrust of the narrative is lost as the reader is left wondering whose story this is: Rip’s or Deacon’s?

    Prose: Wiley’s prose has an alluring fireside chat sensibility. His frequent addresses to the reader emulate the narrative style of tall tales about folk heroes like Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan.

    Originality: Wiley brings in several disparate ideas and threads them together to create a wholly original, inventive tale. However, his choice to include excerpts from Irving’s original text in the middle of his novel results in a bit of an unfavorable comparison.

    Character Development/Execution: Deacon is the most likable character in the story; his perseverance on this quest to find Rip will resonate with readers. The subtitle of the tale is somewhat misleading; The True Story of Rip Van Winkle seems to suggest that Rip will be the lead and readers will follow his adventures. However, the titular character makes a quick appearance only to disappear and then reappear halfway through the novel.

    Blurb: An inventive revisioning of Washington Irving’s 1819 classic Rip Van Winkle that explores the landscape of dreams. As Rip sleeps, he disrupts the creatures of Dreamland, most notably the faun lighthouse keeper Deacon, who must find Rip before he destroys the fabric of dreams. 

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