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 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 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 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 Angel A
Plot/Idea: A 16-year-old girl combats domestic abuse from her father by creating a new leader of religion, becoming the mother of a new Christ, and amassing a following of thousands of people. Starting with a mysterious hook, the story successfully engages the readers from the beginning.
Prose: Angel A presents a beautiful writing style, with words that fully display the exotic settings and applies detailed descriptions of the protagonist's thoughts about religion to add a bitter ironic tone to the story.
Originality: By blending the elements of mystery and religion, the story stands out from both traditional mystery and religious fiction.
Character/Execution: Both the main characters and supporting characters impress the readers with their authenticity and relatability. The protagonist's thoughts ultimately uncover both the mystery and the essence of the religion.
by Harker Jones
Plot/Idea: As devastating as it is heart-warming, Jones crafts a story that brings together all the best parts of a coming-of-age romance. The novel, a true page turner, moves quickly while still cutting deeply.
Prose: Throughout the story, Jones's prose is effortless and expressive, subtly infusing the pages with a sense of lyrical beauty.
Originality: The text tells a unique story that hits all the elements of the romance genre, and readers will enjoy the small twists and turns throughout that make this novel truly its own.
Character/Execution: Although the narrative unquestionably shines, the characters are the crown jewel. With a cast of ultimately flawed but loveable teenagers, the plot is driven by their deep-rooted characterization. There is always someone to love, someone to hate, and someone readers don't quite understand.
by Kate Reynolds
Plot/Idea: This gentle but powerful story follows Pheemie Longworth as she falls in love with Rafe Gonzalez, set against the backdrop of the second World War. Reynolds immerses readers in Pheemie's inner emotions and thoughts as she goes through young love, war, loss, and, eventually, a coming-of-age transformation. The story is so heavily weighted to Pheemie's viewpoint that the other characters' decisions, particularly those of Rafe, are portrayed primarily through their impacts on Pheemie.
Prose: Reynolds possesses a unique style that immediately engages readers. Many scenes are ended before their turning point, allowing for suspense to build in the storyline, but also detracting some from the connection readers will build with the primary characters. Despite the abrupt closing to some of the novel's important moments, Reynolds delivers beautiful one-lined conclusions, even pacing, and character perspectives that will draw readers in.
Originality: Pheemie's viewpoint envelops readers, and Reynolds skillfully builds the novel's love story, and the characters' experiences of war, through Pheemie's eyes—those of a teenage girl on the cusp of growing up. That choice gifts the story with the perfect balance of innocence and complexity.
Character/Execution: Pheemie, Rafe, and Pheemie's sister, Zella, are polished characters teetering on the verge of adulthood, trying to navigate the bounds of love and attraction in the midst of a war that alters every part of their world. They have little opportunity to ease into maturity, and their development is established within the limits of World War II and its aftermath. The characters are rightly flawed, but that only serves to make them more memorable, given the changes going on around them.
by Drema Drudge
Plot/Idea: The author does a fine job depicting the dissolution of a marriage and the inner turmoil of a woman who sees the writing on the wall yet still struggles to cut the cord. The references to Virginia Woolf add complexity to the storyline but can at times distract from the central narrative.
Prose: The author expertly depicts the protagonist's internal struggle, her war between head and heart. The prose here, and the narration in particular, is top-notch.
Originality: Southern Fried Woolf offers sparkling originality and layers of psychological depth.
Character/Execution: The author does a superb job of bringing the reader into Briscoe's head. The unusual juxtaposition of music and literature lends a fresh edge to the storytelling.
by Yvonne Korshak
Plot/Idea: The novel centers on the growth and change of Aspasia and Pericles against the backdrop Greek politics. Their relationship develops quickly, through private scenes that allow readers intimate glimpses of their love affair—an affair brimming with as much sexual tension as intellectual appreciation. Aspasia's desire to feel at home in Athens and Pericles's drive to build a strong Athenian government are related authentically, and Korshak is clearly knowledgeable when it comes to Greek history.
Prose: Readers will appreciate Korshak's deft balancing of contemporary language with Greek diction, though the story has a myriad of unfamiliar names and political jargon. Korshak's technique is quite original, particularly in the choice to spark imagination over detail for the novel's more important scenes.
Originality: Aspasia's position as a literate prostitute fighting for an independent life alongside a renowned government official (who is hiding a birth defect from the public) is unique, as is their central love story.
Character/Execution: Aspasia is what many readers will recognize as an obvious survivor. Her intellect is comforting, and readers will cheer for her success. Pericles holds many similarities in his constant fighting to rise politically and in his desire to see Aspasia grow—while still wanting her all to himself. Supporting characters capably motivate the main characters' ambitions.
by Clara Fay
Plot/Idea: Fay twists together fantasy and historical fiction with ease as Fleur tries to make sense of her dreams about a mysterious woman pleading for help. Mystical and enchanting, the plot entrances readers, and Fay tackles time travel with the experience of a master.
Prose: Fay’s spirited descriptions of historic Scotland evoke strong images, and she breathes a mystical setting into life with stirring prose. The sparkling style reminds readers of the innate human need for connection.
Originality: Comfortably mixing historical fiction, mystery, and fantasy makes this a creative tale, and Fay maintains a fairytale aura throughout.
Character/Execution: Strong, likable, and self-assured women take centerstage in this novel. Eileen is sweet and a little enigmatic, but she whispers her secrets across the pages, while Fleur is more inquisitive, weaving her mystery slowly around readers.