by Karen Jewell
Plot/Idea: In the Garden of Sorrows centers on the decline of Isabel’s marriage after the death of her son. Significant events occur (the introduction of Reverend Kane in particular), but these events surround and contextualize this main theme in a clearly intentional manner. Jewell sparks many questions for readers, some of which are not definitively answered, but the plot is engaging and complex.
Prose: Dialogue flows naturally throughout, and Jewell's prose sets scenes with ease. There are multiple intimate scenes within the text, and in these cases, the level of detail has more in common with romance novels than general fiction.
Originality: In the Garden of Sorrows takes on issues that are more typically addressed in novels set in the present day: the loss of a child, the decline of a marriage, and sexual assault. By setting these life events within the context of the 1920s, the novel acknowledges that these issues occur throughout time without being dogmatic about it—the characters simply deal with the issues as they arise, and the novel bears witness.
Character/Execution: Main character Isabel is explored in full. We see her as wife, mother, neighbor, and lover throughout the course of the novel. Her gift of sight is treated as objective fact, rather than something extraordinary, and the conversations with her deceased mother and son also provide insight into her character. Other characters are given enough backstory to firmly root them within their scenes.
by Roger J. Florschutz
Plot/Idea: Florschutz’s plot is a startling combination of dreamy and powerful, with several different perspectives woven into a stunning narrative. The romance between Brisdon and César in 1980s Peru is vividly wrought, with the passion and innocence of their love juxtaposed against the violence of Peru’s political landscape. The story is satisfyingly twisty, and Florschutz delivers an ending that offers both heartbreaking closure and surprising revelation.
Prose: Ethereal prose and striking metaphors dot the pages of Florschutz’s novel, and his graceful style allows for a surreal story set against the backdrop of weighty issues and remarkable characters.
Originality: The blend of timeless love, tragedy, and sociopolitical themes that Florschutz draws from makes this a revelatory novel that will stick with readers long after the last page.
Character/Execution: Florschutz crafts believable characters who are rich in authenticity. Despite Brisdon and César sweeping through the novel as impassioned, relatable protagonists, the supporting characters hold their own. Margaret’s intensity builds over the course of the story, with Florschutz allowing her devastating actions to echo across multiple characters’ lives, and Imogen plays a solid supporting role to the book’s unfolding events.
Blurb: A twisty, dreamlike tale of love, tragedy, and mystery.
by Carrie Hayes
Plot/Idea: This is an accomplished historical fiction novel that will enthrall readers. The sweeping plot alternates primarily between New York and London in the late 19th century, spotlighting the role of women in a broader historical context while offering readers an engrossing tale of romance, social maneuvering, and intrigue.
Prose: Hayes writes with eloquence, delivering nimble prose that dances across the pages and will leave readers longing for more. The dialogue is snappy and a perfect match for the book’s time period.
Originality: Though the story ties in several familiar elements, Hayes does so in a refreshing way that makes this novel a consummate achievement. The plot blasts through well-known barriers for women with its exceptional protagonists, while keeping the characters’ outcomes relevant—albeit heartbreaking in places—to the book’s setting.
Character/Execution: The two main protagonists are sisters, Tennie Claflin and Vicky Woodhull, with famous characters sprinkled throughout the tapestry of their lives. Both sisters are entertaining and completely captivating, each with a fully developed history that intertwines with the story’s events, and the supporting cast is rousing, to say the least. Vicky’s work as a suffragist, Tennie’s clairvoyance, and the manner in which both go about their daily lives in 19th-century New York and London is absolutely magnetic.
by Brian W. Robinson
Plot/Idea: Project Boing;) is a wry, fantastically absurd, and cogent satire that unfolds in the golden days of the internet.
Prose: Line by line, Robinson's prose is hilarious, astute, and an absolute delight. Just as the reader discovers a favorite line, it's quickly eclipsed by several more.
Originality: Project Boing;) is wholly unique in its jaundiced gaze on Silicon Valley, startup culture, and the pursuit of success in unchartered territory.
Character/Execution: Glenn Cregg is the perfect amalgamation of every marketing and PR supervisor who unknowingly became a self-parody. The larger cast of characters is portrayed with similarly sardonic humor, but also more than a few dashes of humanity.
by Lucretia Grindle
Plot/Idea: The pace is breathless from the first pages and builds to an agonizing crescendo, culminating in an ending that leaves an opening for future books in the series. Readers will be swept into the story’s history, a history that ripples with beauty, fear, and decay, and the plot’s twists are so skillfully delivered that readers will sense them before they haunt the pages.
Prose: Grindle is a gifted storyteller, evoking the visceral spirit of the novel’s setting and painting stark images with lyrical brushstrokes. The cadence changes when Grindle switches perspectives, but the transitions are executed almost flawlessly.
Originality: The Devil’s Glove is unique in the undercurrent of fear entwined with an unexpected devotion that runs through the novel. Grindle brings that unnatural attachment to a head by the end of the story, setting the stage for more edginess in future installments.
Character/Execution: Grindle’s characters leap off the page, made surprisingly relatable despite the novel’s time period. Abigail is both childlike and unnerving, a perfect counter to Resolve’s naivete and eventual awakening. Supporting characters fit their roles neatly, in perfect tempo to the story’s rhythm.
Blurb: A skillfully haunted tale illuminating the dark, and noble, side of humanity in the most unexpected ways.
by Carlos Alvarado
Plot/Idea: Artfully flowing between past and present, the novel is anchored by dates when necessary to help readers track the storyline. The book is lengthy and takes its time building up to the ultimate reveal, while telling two riveting stories simultaneously.
Prose: Alvarado tells a story within a story through striking pose and a wealth of information, presented in an easy-to-follow style. The connection between the two main stories is revealed later in the book, but hints of where the plot is headed are peppered throughout. Alvarado's abundant use of notations can be helpful but also distracts.
Originality: By leading with Bertha in her declining years, and using the vehicle of Ceci telling Bertha a story to uncover the plot, Never to Forget takes a fresh approach to both narrative and exploring dementia.
Character/Execution: The novel centers around Bertha and mines the depths of her experiences. Her aspirations, loves, and motivations are presented clearly and cohesively. Other characters are crafted with varying degrees of detail, but Bertha’s daughter, in particular, is treated with veracity in regard to her role as caregiver.
Blurb: Never to Forget artfully flows between the past and present to whisper a stunning tale of one woman's courage and determination.
by Jean Gill
Plot/Idea: The plot follows Skarfr, orphaned as a young child, from boyhood to adulthood, noting his age at intervals to effectively ground readers in his experiences. When Skarfr meets Hlif, their storylines converge as they navigate their mutual destinies against the backdrop of Viking savagery.
Prose: Gill uses the Norse language throughout, as well as its interpretations, to lend authenticity to the narrative. The introduction breaks down the story's locations, character names and descriptions, and a map to orient readers to the complexity of Gill's worldbuilding.
Originality: Though the novel is carefully authentic, it follows convention for historical fiction of this time period: a young man’s journey into adulthood, a mystical woman, and a magical encounter leading to a dragon tattoo are some of the many familiar experiences readers will encounter during the journey.
Character/Execution: Skarfr’s voyage into adulthood forms the core of this novel, and as such, his character is explored with a sensitive attention to detail. As he ages, his opinion of women changes, an example of his growth over time.
Blurb: Charting the course of a young man’s life in ancient Orkney, The Ring Breaker immerses readers in the skald craft, politics, and warfare of that time.
by Lisa Boyle
Plot/Idea: The third book in the Paddy Series, With Great Sorrow is a moving, character-rich, and well-paced novel. Rosaleen and Emmett’s perspectives are tightly woven to form a cohesive and highly original tale of how Irish immigrants came to be involved in the Civil War.
Prose: Boyle’s mastery of the nuance of language is on full display in this work. Her Irish characters, even when not speaking with a brogue, use language appropriate for their place in time as recent immigrants. When jigs are incorporated, they flow authentically from the characters’ lived experiences. All of this adds to the sense of immersion within this specific place and time.
Originality: Using the unique lens of one Irish family as a starting point, the complexity of life in this place and time is illustrated in crisp detail.
Character/Execution: Boyle’s Rosaleen is the locus for an extraordinary peek into the complexities of life during the Civil War era. Not only does she treat the main characters with exacting authenticity, but peripheral characters, such as Ronan and Lydia, are fully realized from the start. When revisiting these characters later in the story, the impact of their circumstances hits with greater impact.
by Kevin Mori
Plot/Idea: Third Act follows a fictionalized account of Buster Keaton’s life from birth to death, with his wife Eleanor's immense efforts to preserve his legacy running through the background. Mori hits the highs and lows with a natural pace that allows readers to glimpse the inner workings of Buster's life in rich, unhurried detail.
Prose: The novel switches between Buster and Eleanor's first-person perspectives, with one character picking up where the other stopped—a strategy that allows the story tremendous intimacy. Mori's style shifts to third person when describing their wedding, offering readers a humorous and entertaining portrayal of their nuptials.
Originality: As a fictionalized account of Buster and Eleanor Keaton’s lives, Third Act is anchored, for the most part, in fact. The novel artfully weaves those facts together into a new creation, while taking occasional liberties in the service of storytelling, to provide a compelling and engaging arc.
Character/Execution: Buster and Eleanor are richly developed characters, and Mori skillfully depicts their roles as famous people and a couple. Eleanor is the keeper of both Buster and his legacy but is also a fully formed character in her own right. Buster, while flawed, is the brilliant mind who experiences a revival of his career at a later age.
Blurb: A highly compelling and exceptional novel that will entice both Buster Keaton fans and those unfamiliar with his work.
by R.F. Vincent
Plot/Idea: Life at the Precipice tosses readers into the mystery of the enigmatic Segway community with immediacy and urgency. The plot chugs forward to a denouement that does not solve the novel’s questions inasmuch as it gives them permission to remain unanswered.
Prose: Straightforward, scientific text mixes with a more prosaic, first-person narrative to set this novel apart, and Vincent skillfully integrates dialogue with footnotes, diagrams, and character biographies.
Originality: Life at the Precipice is a stunning balancing act, built around a trip log that mirrors a nonfictional account while firmly establishing itself as a work of fiction. Vincent artfully straddles the lines of mystery, fantasy, memoir, and much more.
Character/Execution: Such a large cast serves to build the air of uncertainty and chaos within The Segway. Characters’ differing accounts of the town’s history—and their own—combine to drive the action forward.
by Rozsa Gaston
Plot/Idea: The novel follows historic events as they occurred in Margaret’s life. The pace is measured, with enough time to absorb the impact of significant circumstances—like sudden deaths—without spending an inordinate amount of time on any one event.
Prose: Beautifully written, without being overly flowery, the prose draws readers in to Margaret’s world, immersing them in the politics and power plays of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Originality: As a work of historical fiction, this novel sources from existing events and people, brilliantly illuminating their experiences and daily life without resorting to simply reporting fact.
Character/Execution: Margaret is treated with appropriate focus and is a wholly dimensional and compelling main character. Other characters, even fleeting ones, are handled fittingly, so that Margaret’s connection to them is clearly understood.
Blurb: With a strong narrative and compelling characters, Margaret of Austria offers readers insight into the life of one of history’s most intriguing monarchs.
by Greyson Bryan
Plot/Idea: The mechanism of a daughter asking her father to tell the story of his life artfully bookends the story's spotlights on memorable characters. Bryan takes his time in the prologue, expertly setting up the stirring narrative that follows.
Prose: Bryan capably utilizes the third person to unify the stories of Skip, Maddie, and Rex, elevating ordinary speech into extraordinary cross-country experiences.
Originality: Throughout the novel, there are references to Americans expecting people in other countries to act and think as they do. That kernel of truth buried within the stereotype is where Abroad finds itself, which is a refreshing take on the typical "experience abroad” novel.
Character/Execution: Skip’s story is initially presented with such striking detail that at first, it seems he will be the locus of the novel. When Maddie enters, the clear path would be that these two find each other in the end. As additional characters are folded into the novel, they create texture and nuance, ultimately culminating in believable surprises.
Blurb: Bryan’s novel brilliantly weaves together powerful and moving experiences of Americans living abroad.
by P. J. Leigh
Plot/Idea: Leigh's novel is fine-tuned, with a captivating storyline and impeccable pacing. As Olawu, the novel's namesake, aims to follow in her father's footsteps, she faces many trials and unexpected twists of fate that will keep readers engaged.
Prose: Leigh's writing is clear and picturesque, making for a very cinematic novel. The use of words and phrases in Zulu, Kiswahili, and Xhosa aid readers' immersion into the story's pre-colonial East African setting.
Originality: While there are many novels centered on colonial and postcolonial Africa, Leigh crafts a vivid pre-colonial Africa in this novel that will spellbind readers. Olawu's journey is incredibly unique, as she goes from wanting to be a doctor to realizing the seemingly impossible.
Character/Execution: Olawu is a beautifully constructed character, with a quiet self-confidence that serves as a strong foundation throughout her experiences—and eventually leads her to success. In a very different, but equally interesting way, Dikembe, Olawu's romantic interest, has a growth arc that is initially frustrating but ultimately pleasing. Leigh's supporting characters are multi-dimensional, resulting in appropriately complex relationships.
Blurb: A page turner that will leave readers both inspired by Olawu and rooting for her success.
by Matthew Tree
Plot/Idea: Set in a near-future Europe, Just Looking is a strikingly well-realized political satire that sees characters unwittingly immersed in the machinations of a Neo-Fascist network.
Prose: Tree's writing is punchy, thoughtful, and smart with consistently vivid dialogue among the characters. He succeeds in striking a narrative tone that is serious yet snide.
Originality: Just Looking inventively examines present-day threats through a future lens. The author tackles a heady topic with narrative prowess and dark humor.
Character/Execution: Tree capably juggles different perspectives without missing a beat. Readers will find that the characters are far more than chess pieces within a powerful story that serves as a prescient warning.
by Richard Engling
Plot/Idea: This fast-paced novel, set against the backdrop of the glimmering theater world, offers a refreshing change of pace with a show stopping plot and plenty of drama, both on stage and off. Readers will relish following Engling's characters in their amusing spin through the highs and lows of show business.
Prose: The writing is lively, fun, and welcoming, allowing fans to get lost in the quirky world of theater. Engling—a gifted storyteller—steeps readers in the story's light and entertaining setting, making this novel a pleasure to read.
Originality: The quirky world of theater is center stage, featuring eccentric and delightful characters as well as oddly relatable interplays that combine to make this a pleasure to read.
Character/Execution: Characters come to life through reliable and eloquent prose that spotlights not only protagonist Dwayne, but also the many recurring characters who make this a joyful read.
by Ron Turker
Plot/Idea: Readers are first introduced to Dr. Martin Fischer as his research lab is losing funding and support. Marty finds himself accepting a familiar position at St. Salonge Hospital–a place known to serve the wealthiest patients. As he transitions into an environment of big money, power, and egotism, he faces ethical questions.
Prose: Turker's prose is infused with delightfully dry humor and witty exchanges between characters, while the novel also doesn't shy from focusing on the woes of modern medicine in America.
Originality: Turker brings a unique perspective to the medical industry by focusing on a passionate and well-meaning doctor who takes on corruption while also experiencing some of the benefits.
Character/Execution: Much of the project's appeal stems from the good-natured relationships built between Marty and everyone at St. Salonge. Marty himself is a truly endearing, well-rounded character with fears, joys, desires, and developed opinions. A reader will trust his narration and his intentions. Other characters are provided with meaningful development as well, particularly Ralph and Sara.