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General Fiction

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • BRUSH: A NOVEL

    by Penn Anderson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Anderson’s storyline—following the alternating perspectives of Chris, a successful businessman who stumbles onto a magical paintbrush, and Jo, a florist burdened with secrets—takes its time to develop, but the plot is engaging. The wealth of details and meticulous descriptions sometimes detract from the narrative flow.

    Prose: Anderson favors energetic descriptions and extensive dialogue, but the story is enjoyable, with a steady balance of exposition and action.

    Originality: The novel’s penetrating and memorable characters add distinction, and how their individual arcs eventually converge is particularly creative.

    Character/Execution: Anderson is able to portray the thoughts and emotions of the story’s characters remarkably well.  Jo’s anxiety about her secrets is palpable, and readers will be moved by Chris’s rawness when dealing with his strong emotions.

  • 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. 

     

  • The Mother Gene

    by Lynne Bryant

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Bryant’s plot delivers satisfying twists, and she hints at those early on to keep readers invested. The theme carries a deeper, relevant meaning that will resonate with modern audiences.

    Prose: The Mother Gene is told through changing perspectives and flashbacks, and, though the flashbacks happen abruptly in places, the author skillfully uses them to hint at coming plot twists.

    Originality: This is a thoughtful, multigenerational chronicle of the strength of love and the value of chosen family, told in a compelling and suspenseful way.

    Character/Execution: Bryant reveals the dichotomy between her characters in a natural way, showcasing Miriam’s fierce but waning independence against her daughter Olivia’s more trendy autonomy—and, in the end, uses their differences to unite them. The characters are complex and appealing, with intertwined lives that support the plot’s momentum.

  • The Self-Sufficient Princess

    by Sanguine Addams

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The author has crafted a light and engaging fairy tale that is tonally appropriate for younger readers. With humor, irreverence, and lots of references to modern life, Addams delivers a gentle yet empowering message. 

    Prose: Addams has an appealing, liberating, and humor-filled writing style that frequently breaks the third wall. 

    Originality: Through the framework of classic fairytale tropes, Addams delivers a fresh and inviting story about individuality, agency, and making one's own way in the world. 

    Character/Execution: The author offers lively characterizations, particularly with Nightingale who is unlike any fairy tale princess ever. 

  • The Barabbas Legacy

    by M.D. House

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The plot follows Barabbas as significant events occur both in his own life and against the historical backdrop of the novel's setting. Those familiar with the figure of Barabbas will be intrigued, though as the third in a series, the novel is most impactful for readers already acquainted with the first two books.

    Prose: The style mirrors English translations of biblical accounts, a choice that matches the novel's premise but also creates some distance between readers and the book's characters.

    Originality: The story, anchored in biblical history, successfully delivers an absorbing fictionalized account of Barabbas’s later life.

    Character/Execution: Readers will want to be grounded in the first two books of the series to truly understand the background of the novel's characters, but Barabbas and his family are well-crafted, relatable, and charismatic.

  • Plot/Idea: While Wonders in the Waves is a sequel, the novel successfully stands alone. 
    Larissa's calm demeanor as she grapples with the painful circumstances of her loss and interacts with the universe around her, will pull at reader’s heartstrings. 

    Prose: Collins writes with a clear sense of purpose. Her lyrical writing will inspire and comfort others, even as the text confronts weighty topics.

    Originality: Collin’s novel uniquely integrates elements of mystery into a story of working through grief.

    Character/Execution: Initially it is confusing as to who the male characters are, but as the story unfolds, it becomes more clear. Overall, the male characters come across as more stiff in nature than the leading female characters, who are realistic, authentic, and relatable.

  • Days of Slint, Redux

    by Ted Guevara

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The plot follows Black protagonist Haim as he navigates college in Indiana in the 1940s.  While he goes about his daily routine, the effects of casual racism—and how that racism ultimately leads to his death—are skillfully depicted. Actor James Dean is incorporated into the storyline as a close personal friend of Haim's.

    Prose: The novel shifts between the perspectives of different characters at each chapter break, and the book's structure affords readers intimate glimpses of the main events as opposed to a lingering study.

    Originality: The novel uses a fictionalized account of James Dean’s life as a focal point to explore what America was like for a Black man during the '40s—a unique storytelling method that makes the book stand out.

    Character/Execution: Although Jimmy Dean is a character with historical import, the novel focuses primarily on the specificity of race relations through Haim, who is a strongly-developed, powerful protagonist. Aside from his role in the book, the writing style and chapter structure inhibit deep character exploration.

  • No Entry Zone

    by Romuald Roman

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The plot here is reminiscent of a more raunchy, raucous Gentleman in Moscow. While the pacing flies quickly at the start and flags a bit through the middle as the narrative moves forward and backward, the overall effect is a tantalizing balance of seriousness and humor amidst political upheaval.

    Prose: The flow between the author-narrator voice and Henryk’s notebook of tales is incredibly smooth at nearly all times. Dialogue is rendered in such a way that Polish characters’ speech is slightly estranged for an English-speaking audience without becoming difficult to understand or distracting. Quotations are perhaps used at a higher rate than would naturally occur in a journal.

    Originality: The combination of military story, journaled personal narrative, and a recounting of sexual exploits taking course over many years, adds up to a unique reading experience. 

    Character/Execution: This narrative introduces a large cast of characters into its orbit, and while many do not have the opportunity to develop in any meaningful way, they are all certainly realistic and individual. The execution of interruptions by the narrator’s voice is assisted by his strong introduction at the beginning of the novel.

  • Plot/Idea: The interweaving plotlines of this engaging story come together smoothly, with minimal unnecessary overlap. The struggles of the story's main characters are poignantly rendered, and Samuelson shines when sketching relatable, convincing conflict. 

    Prose: Samuelson switches perspectives between Mac, Enrique, and Frankie, giving the narrative a rawness that skillfully showcases the complexities of everyday life. Every scene is bursting with energy and incisive prose.

    Originality: Complicated family ties is a familiar topic, but Samuelson heightens the narrative by exploring three distinct—and riveting—perspectives. Each protagonist possesses their own charm and voice to enhance the storyline, and even the supporting cast add individuality to the book.

    Character/Execution: Characters form the backbone of this novel, and, despite their singularity, their plights are moving. Samuelson depicts their pain, search for meaning, and moments of beauty exceptionally well. 

    Blurb: A polished sketch of family complexities alongside the beauty—and pain—of life's unexpected paths.

  • A Lost Woman

    by Ann Brooks

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Brooks's masterful text takes Norah Crawford on a heart-breaking journey back to her hometown, where she is forced to come to terms with her ailing mother and a plethora of unresolved personal relationships. Brutal and relentless, A Lost Woman is an astute study of the all-encompassing effects of generational domestic abuse.

    Prose: A Lost Woman is a devastating, pummeling text that vividly describes acts of harrowing brutality. Peppered with storm metaphors, Brooks's chapters are short and tense, enhancing the horrific drama as it unfolds.

    Originality: Brooks delivers a powerful and passionately written story about a past crudely obliterated by domestic abuse. The story explores the pain involved in facing up to a tortuous upbringing, and the arc becomes even more tragic when unexpected and punishing revelations are exposed in the book's final pages.

    Character/Execution: Brooks's characters are extremely raw and real, painfully negotiating their dank, miserable lives with seemingly little hope for redemption. Norah slowly realizes she is becoming her mother, drowning out the noise of the outside world with alcohol, and her situation becomes so helpless that death seems the easiest and most convenient way out.

    Blurb: A powerful and heart-wrenching story of loss and suffering.

  • Tessa‚Äôs Heart: A Texas Story

    by Jackie Lewis

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: Tessa's Heart: A Texas Story is a charming and often unpredictable southern gothic set in small town Texas in the early 1950s. Lewis successfully weaves together supernatural elements with a narrative about growing up and navigating complex family dynamics. 

    Prose: The prose is rich, readable, and often lyrical. 

    Originality: Lewis strikes a unique tone throughout the novel, offering humor, candor, and a story of a young girl finding her way through the muck of life. 

    Character/Execution: Lewis capably brings the setting to life and fills the story with memorable characters leading messy lives. Readers will deeply empathize with the titular heroine as she struggles to find her place, understand adult relationships, and fight to be heard.

  • If Someday Comes

    by David Calloway

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: This work of historical fiction, drawn from real-life circumstances, effectively brings the Civil War-era to life. The author's deep attention to detail and exploration of significant historical events points to extensive research as well as a fresh imagination. 

    Prose: The prose is clear and effective, infused with expressive dialogue and riveting details.

    Originality: Historical fiction set during the Civil War is a familiar category. Calloway brings a degree of freshness to the topic through his familial connection to the subject. Calloway also excels at providing realistic, deeply painful details relating to enslavement. 

    Character/Execution: Both George and Thom are strongly fleshed out characters, and several other peripheral characters are also thoroughly explored. Calloway also populates the novel with historically authentic background characters. 

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