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General Fiction

  • The Sea Turtle

    by Greg M. Dodd

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The author has crafted a charming story of a 12-year-old boy's quietly eye-opening summer spent with his aunt and uncle. The throwback chapter titles of 70s songs--as well as other cultural touchstones--provide verisimilitude without becoming overplayed.

    Prose: The author is a talented writer with solid command of language. Action, dialogue, and description are all handled with grace and ease.

    Originality: The Sea Turtle is a touching coming-of-age story set against a 1970s beachy backdrop. While not wholly original in concept, Dodd brings the circumstances to life.

    Character/Execution: Characterization here is top notch from Ran to Joey to Joni and beyond; Dodd is particularly skilled at creating nuanced relationships via expressive dialogue and subtle cues.  

  • Bitter Thaw

    by Jessica McCann

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: As three generations of a family set out together on a long distance trip, the central idea—retrieving memories and discovering ties between the past and present—is skillfully woven into the story's backdrop of murder, mystery, and cultural heritage.

    Prose: Timelines alternate fluidly between the 1950s and '90s, gifting the story unique perspectives on racial tensions and gender stereotypes in each time period. McCann's prose is above average, crafted with vibrant imagery and stark contrasts between the past and present.

    Originality: This is a memorable portrait of the Ojibwe culture and their stories, spirituality, and customs as an indigenous tribe. McCann treats important topics, including discrimination, racism, and sexism, with grace and a gentle spirit.

    Character/Execution: The story's grandmother, Evelyn, along with her son Frank and his daughter, April, are well-honed characters with intricate thoughts and emotions. Maakade, a Black Ojibwe man in the 1950s timeline, is a study in the devastating effects of assimilation. His nature-born wisdom is delightful, and his influence in both Evelyn and Frank's development is moving. 


  • Papa Dearest

    by Betty Kuffel

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Papa Dearest is a powerful and unflinching story that surrounds a young girl's abuse at the hands of her father. Kuffel avoids creating a message-driven or sentimental narrative, instead focusing on quality storytelling that will immediately hook readers.

    Prose: Kuffel is a gifted writer with impactful, stark prose that strips away any softness in Anna's world, leaving nothing but vulnerability while reflecting the bareness of her existence.

    Originality: Readers will find this story equal parts haunting and inspiring, and Anna’s travails are unforgettable.

    Character/Execution: Characterization is strong here, not only for Anna, who endures the unthinkable, but also for her abusive father.

  • An Enemy Like Me

    by Teri M Brown

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: An Enemy Like Me is a genuinely enjoyable story that balances three generations of familial history beautifully. The author particularly focuses on the hardships of war and generational trauma, while exploring the roots of patriotism and xenophobia. 

    Prose: This work effectively balances multiple viewpoints while maintaining quick and concise pacing. Each characters' thoughts and circumstances develop distinctly through the third-person narration. 

    Originality: An Enemy Like Me is a rich and layered historical story. While the WWII focus is a familiar one, the well-woven perspectives and thought-provoking reflections on identity, war, love, and family, uplift the narrative. 

    Character/Execution: Each character's path is laid out clearly and vividly; readers will gain an intimate sense of the emotions, sacrifices, and struggles associated with war. 

  • Plot/Idea: This fictionalized account of the relationship between mother and son as the parent slowly succumbs to dementia is a deeply insightful and engaging work. It is thoughtful, touching, and entirely authentic.

    Prose: The author is a skilled and talented writer whose prose not only describes but evokes breathtaking emotion in the reader. The narrative is beautifully composed, entrancing readers through language and story.

    Originality: Despite the concept's familiarity, the author makes this story distinctive through moving and perceptive prose, creating a truly unique novel from the first page to the last.

    Character/Execution: Characterization for a protagonist suffering from dementia may seem challenging, but in this author's skilled hands, it transforms into an integral part of the work's appeal.

  • Till the Sun Grows Cold

    by John Bebout

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Till the Sun Grows Cold is a work of historical fiction centered on a man teaming up with an endearing female Pinkerton detective to discover who was behind an ambush that killed his son. His motive for investigating the crime is believable. The novel may, however, benefit from a slower reveal of the culprit.

    Prose: The prose is clear, propulsive, and inviting, while the setting is particularly vivid.

    Originality: Bebout infuses the story with originality through an investigation into outside involvement in an attack on a military payroll convoy. There is a solid tradition of nineteenth-century female detectives, and Kate fits believably into the mold.

    Character/Execution: This is a solid story with a credible narrative and a gratifying denouement. However, the narrative is somewhat lacking in narrative tension. Kate Warne is distinctive and alluring, while Merritt Cowles will garner empathy from readers. Though the chemistry between them is not always palpable, both are individually memorable.

  • Siciliana

    by Carlo Treviso

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: The plot is swift but exciting as the tension builds between the Sicilians and the Angevins. The storyline circles back to deliver surprising revelations that will entertain and keep readers’ interest. 

    Prose: The author crafts skillful dialogue and changes timelines effectively—both to set the stage for the story and advance the plot.

    Originality: The strength of this novel lies in its combination of action, history, and a character-driven plot that will hook readers.

    Character/Execution: The author expertly builds characters, with careful attention to developing their motivations and backstories. Aetna matures over the course of the novel, working through different stages of anger and building her tenacity, while Guy de Rochefort and his hirelings are unreservedly evil as they hunt down the Teutoni Knights—and anyone else who stands in their way. 

  • Anna & the American Puzzle

    by Jennifer Kasman

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Kasman crafts a stirring dystopian story that will strike many readers as timely. Told from the perspective of protagonist Anna, the story evolves from her early perceptions of life--one of relative freedom--to her commentary on the social and political shifts and shrinking opportunities occurring in the world around her. Jumps in time can be somewhat jarring, but Kasman's voice remains consistent and anchoring throughout the text.

    Prose: The first-person perspective immediately pulls the reader in, so when the prose veers into the third person, it takes a beat to recalibrate. Nevertheless, Kasman's prose is solidly rendered.

    Originality: The vehicle of following one character’s trajectory post-overturned election is highly original. Through Anna’s eyes, we see how the world changes, and how those changes came to be. While the novel echoes some circumstances of the recent past, Kasman wisely avoids directly mirroring present-day politics and social divisions.

    Character/Execution: Anna's character arc is a full and eventful one; readers will relish how her perspectives are colored by circumstances beyond her control. Additional characters are well-drawn, though readers may be left wanting to know more about their fates.

  • The Healer's Miraculous Discovery

    by Stephen Robbins

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The Healer's Miraculous Discovery is an inventive story that offers an intriguing blend of historical fiction and science fiction. 

    Prose: The author is an effective writer and storyteller, able to maintain the reader's engagement throughout. Robbins does have a tendency to provide a lot of detail, which on its own is a strength, but cumulatively can be overwhelming.

    Originality: This is a highly original work, with a unique plot line that doesn't fit neatly into a genre. The 1960s Cleveland setting--and the contrast established between the more comfortable suburbs and inner-city environs--enrich the narrative. 

    Character/Execution: Robbins does a fine job with characterization, particularly with Stevie/Steve and the peripheral characters. The author freshly integrates social issues and systems of belief into the story without overwhelming the more playful elements.

  • Those People Behind Us

    by Mary Camarillo

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Those People Behind Us, a story about community, divisions, and modern day living, is clever and engaging, with the perfect level of drama to capture and hold readers' attention from beginning to end. 

    Prose: The author is a skilled writer, able to create believable characters with intricate personalities. The prose flows effortlessly, and dialogue is handled proficiently.

    Originality: This intriguing book offers intimate and raw perspectives on everyday people in everyday circumstances, delivered in a way that makes each character's experiences feel inspired and pivotal to the plot. 

    Character/Execution: The author devotes chapters to each of the main characters, offering insight into how that particular person thinks, what their situation is, and how they view the world—a clever and fresh way to tell this nuanced story.

  • The Fall Will Probably Kill You! (A Love Story)

    by Brian McMahon

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: McMahon delivers a deeply human and humor-filled story of a young man hopelessly in love and embroiled in the political career of his love interest's father.

    Prose: Teddy's narration is immediately engrossing, warm, and gently self-deprecating. McMahon provides a skillful blend of candor and subtlety in the storytelling, with consistently memorable lines and passages throughout, along with a fresh and dynamic narrative structure.

    Originality: Campus-based novels are a familiar sub-genre, but McMahon's blend of political machinations, endearing romance, and a sprinkling of mystery, add up to a unique and highly enjoyable read. 

    Character/Execution: Character development is top notch. Teddy's endearing voice will capture readers from the first page. Meanwhile, Charlotte Pennington is far more than an idealized senator's daughter Teddy pines for, but a whole and complex character in her own right. 

    Blurb: McMahon's smart and endearing Georgetown-based novel centers on a young man's unrequited love and embroilment in the political aspirations of his love interest's father. 

  • GENESIS (Sister Christian Book 1)

    by Lisa Beth Darling

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The beauty of this plot is in the details. Not only does Mason take on the responsibility of caring for Hannah, but it is within the context of both of their lives. The story flows seamlessly between the past and the present, offering a sense of who they were before, and how time has changed them.

    Prose: Occasional disruptions to the flow of the prose are small distractions from Darling's otherwise top notch storytelling.

    Originality: Full of intricacies both from a character and storytelling standpoint, Genesis offers an original take on the sudden appearance of a long-lost sibling.

    Character/Execution: Although Mason is presented as flawed and gruff, the reader can see he truly cares for Hannah. In Hannah, Darling presents a character who is, for the most part, non-verbal. Yet, Darling shares the inner workings of her mind with such ease that the reader appreciates Hannah’s frustration with the disconnect between her thoughts and her speech.

  • Last Things

    by H. Scott Butler

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Butler delivers an unconventional collection of three thematically connected novellas.  Individually, each work is distinguished by a strong, smoothly rendered storyline featuring unexpected developments. 

    Prose: Each work features an original prose style and unique narrative voice. The prose is sometimes dense, but the writing fits the circumstances and the level of psychological intrigue explored throughout.

    Originality: While examining common themes of death, mourning, and coping with the end, the author comes at these ideas through three creative lenses. Tonally, the works rest comfortably alongside one another, but each story also feels vastly different from the one before, with distinctive narrators and focal points that draw in the reader.

    Character/Execution: Each narrator emerges as compelling and individually memorable. Cassandra particularly stands out as richly developed. Readers will be captured by the intrigue, complexity, and enigmatic nature of the voices that drive the storytelling. 


  • Great Big Smile

    by Jeremy Dorfman

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Dorfman's novel showcases an ensemble of characters whose lives are intertwined via their employment at a photography company, SmilePosts. Dorfman delivers a well-paced drama with nicely balanced storylines that converge in a gratifying manner.

    Prose: Dorfman's storytelling is unique. The book begins and ends with a look at the narrator from a third person perspective. The bulk of the novel, however, is told from the perspective of the narrator, as he tells the stories of his coworkers. While the reader may need to adjust to this style at first, it ultimately serves the story and its characters well.

    Originality: The most novel element of the reading experience will be readers' own simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity with the characters' line of work. While many readers will have a nostalgic connection to school picture day, they most likely haven't considered what happens at the office nor in the lives of the people taking these photos.

    Character/Execution: Dorfman takes characters on a rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions during this novel. And while the narrator, Blake, eventually reveals that most of the details of his coworkers' lives are conjecture, these stories have substantial character arcs, showcasing each person's growth, or lack thereof.

  • Rock Gods & Messy Monsters

    by Diane Hatz

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Rock Gods & Messy Monsters is a high-energy satirical story that unfolds against the backdrop of a corporate entertainment company. The plot fires off at a romping speed, taking readers through an array of trials and mischiefs that Alex and her cohort of colleagues get up to at music company, Acht Records. 

    Prose: Hatz's novel is satirical, zany, and funny. The prose holds nothing back with punchy descriptions that investigate and reflect upon the music industry’s disjointed hierarchy and the mistreatment of women in the workplace.

    Originality: The author creates a fantastical and zany world that nevertheless showcases the many power complexes and power plays of the workplace.

    Character/Execution: While the characters are intriguing, satire-filled depictions of the various personas in the music industry workplace, at times, the characters crave more depth and range. The protagonist does have a recognizable story arc, yet her awakening to the dismal circumstances of her current career path comes across somewhat abruptly. 

    Blurb: Satirical, zany, hilarious—a gut-punching commentary about the inner workings of the music industry, its power complexes, and power plays.


  • Saving Madonna

    by Kate Bristow

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Set in 1943, Saving Madonna is a work of rich historical fiction set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Italy.  

    Prose: The prose is well crafted, clear, and immersive. 

    Originality: Bristow's World War II-era story stands apart through its focus on efforts to protect the art and cultural history of an occupied nation. 

    Character/Execution: Bristow succeeds in creating a novel that is driven in equal parts by plot and character development. Elena, Luca, Pasquale, and the other main characters are fully realized and believable, while the historical settings are finely established.