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General Fiction

  • R & R: A Sex Comedy

    by E.M. Schorb

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: Schorb's offbeat plot—following a young male author who lives with five forceful women—is clever and amusing, though its intense energy wanes somewhat as the story progresses. 

    Prose: Schorb employs several made up words to describe various acts—some of which are wildly funny—and his prose is as witty as it is creative.

    Originality: The novel's humor is entertaining, but Schorb delves into deeper issues as well, although those moments are often concealed behind a comic veneer.  This blend of insight and playfulness makes for a highly unique read.  

    Character/Execution: Serge, Juanna Donna Lorca, and her twin brother Hector—who eventually transforms into Juanna Donna's sister, Lola Fabiola—are engaging, charismatic characters. Many of the other females, with the exception of Amanda, are amusing but unquestionably one-sided in their views of men.

  • Specks of Dust

    by Will Duncan

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: This engrossing coming-of-age story explores themes of belonging and survival in the harshest circumstances through its protagonist, Umaru—a young man desperate to escape his tragic life as an orphan in Kampala, Uganda.

    Prose: Duncan's prose is accessible and evocative, bringing life to the moments of Umaru's deepest despair and most vulnerable hopes. The timing of events is challenging to follow in places, but that takes little away from the vivid writing. 

    Originality: This is a striking story about a young man from Uganda who does not experience the American dream he's hoping for; a man longing for security and success who learns that not all refugees find the freedom they're seeking in America.

    Character/Execution:  Umaru is a likable character. Sober, honest, intelligent, and often affectionate, he goes through life trying to do good to others and improve himself in the process, learning along the way who he can (and cannot) trust. His experiences are heartrending, and his courage to keep going inspiring.

    Blurb: An engrossing, gut-wrenching coming-of-age that will transfix readers.

  • The Bravest Soldiers

    by Elaine Schroller

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: The Bravest Soldiers, the second of Schroller's Immense Sky Saga, is a moving story covering an immense amount of time, space, and characters. So much, in fact, that—even with the character list and other front matter—the plot is initially challenging to track, particularly in terms of differentiating the main players.

    Prose: The prose is clear, but, occasionally, the book's structure—numerous short paragraphs—impedes the flow. 

    Originality: World War II sagas are common fare, but Schroller's various plot lines are immersive and will keep readers' attention.

    Character/Execution: This is a complex portrait of how people from different walks of life were impacted by the dawning of the second World War, though there are so many characters and plot lines being juggled (including many connected to the previous novel) that it's often difficult to feel connected to any particular character's emotions or growth.

    Blurb: A sweeping portrait of life on the Australian home front during the second World War.

  • 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. 

  • Brixton Nights

    by Amy Tollyfield

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea:  Tollyfield's impactful story centers on Christina, who comes of age in a troubled home in a working class area of England. In adulthood, as a 30-something lesbian woman, she remains unfulfilled and unable to fully commit to a relationship, continually pursued by the heavy toll from her youth. Though the narrative unfolds quietly, the story remains hard-hitting and emotionally candid. 

    Prose: Told in the first-person—through flashbacks to Christina's youth and her present day experiences—the prose is stirring and evocative.

    Originality: While the search for love and affirmation following traumatic circumstances is familiar territory, Tollyfield offers Christina a unique narrative arc, while bringing striking atmosphere and brutal realism to the pages.

    Character/Execution: Christina is a well-developed character, pulsing with sadness and plagued by regret.  Supporting characters, with the exception of Simone and some of Christina's short-term girlfriends, are similarly disenchanted. Regardless, Tollyfield's lyricism elevates the storytelling, never allowing the characters or circumstances to surrender to gloom. 

  • Byron

    by Robert M Tucker

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Byron is a coming-of-age novel set in rural Louisiana in the 1960s. Tucker blends southern small-town dynamics with a more broad-ranging reflection on historical events and societal currents. 

    Prose: Tucker's prose is richly detailed and captures a vivid sense of time and place. Descriptions of the swampy environs of Louisiana are especially evocative.

    Originality: The author tackles a number of weighty topics through its focus on prejudicial attitudes relating to race, gender, and perspectives that favor science over religiosity. It's a lot to juggle and Tucker's efforts to paint a full portrait of a tumultuous era, are commendable.

    Character/Execution: The titular character emerges as plucky, distinctive, and fresh. Additional characters are afforded effective development, while also serving as mirrors for circumstances unfolding on a grander scale. 


  • And Ye Shall Be As Gods

    by Jan Notzon

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Notzon struggles to balance narrating experiences with revealing characters' thoughts and emotions, resulting in snapshots of events that often give way to the main character's substantial interiority. The overarching theme—acceptance of self and others—runs throughout, and Notzon gifts characters' experiences with post-colonialism and ethnic discrimination a powerful voice. 

    Prose: Notzon's style is distinctive, with dramatic and expressive prose that results in an intense character voice. That strength also complicates the narrative in places, lengthening descriptions and requiring readers to pay close attention in order to follow the narrator's sentiments. 

    Originality: Though the story's themes are conventional, Notzon's unique writing techniques paint a forceful portrait of Jacob and Grace's experiences with discrimination and hate. Jacob's probing of the dark side of humanity is illuminating, as in the conversation he has with himself after hearing Shmuel's survival story. 


    Character/Execution: Notzon has crafted an analytical story that harnesses extraordinary imagery to dig into character emotions, and the consistent authorial intrusion will prompt deep thought in readers. Though the diction overwhelms in places, ultimately it produces a voice-driven story through its witty, intellectual narrator. Jacob's compassionate nature invites reader empathy, while Grace's character is primarily developed through Jacob's interpretation of her experiences. Supporting characters play their roles well, bolstering Jacob's observations and enlightenment. 

  • Plot/Idea: While the focus of A Song That Never Ends is most clearly its large cast and worldly settings, the novel does weave together an epic tapestry of several generations of elders and children. It successfully uses repetition across geographic and temporal distance to highlight the ways in which harm is digested over the decades of a family.

    Prose: Gibson’s novel employs an omniscient narration that artfully adjusts its tone according to the character and setting of any of its widely ranging scenes. Letters and telegrams are used to great, sparing effect.

    Originality: The plot of A Song That Never Ends does build on the archetypes of the family epic and southern wartime forms but mainly does so through their combination rather than any original twists.

    Character/Execution: With such a broad cast of characters, the novel understandably restricts its focus to revolve around two or so central characters in each generation. While this more obviously presents parallels and foils, the novel may have a stronger claim to its epic form with a wider-reaching focus.

  • Edge of Destiny

    by Phil Brown

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Brown delivers a complex plot centered on Theo Ferris, a young man who plans to enlist to fight Hitler's march across Europe. However, after a carnival ride turns into a time travel nightmare, Theo's faced with rebuilding his life in a completely new, unknown world —while trying to discover what's happened to the people loves the most.

    Prose: The prose is full-bodied but often perplexing—especially when Brown delves into physics during the more intellectual portions of the novel. 

    Originality: The combination of historical fiction and time travel elements provide this novel with freshness and distinction.

    Character/Execution: Theo—and his girlfriend, Claudia—are well-developed characters, and their romance blossoms naturally.  Theo's time travel understandably alters him, but his character retains his core personality, giving him continuity throughout the novel—a difficult feat to accomplish when portraying the significant differences of his world before and after his fateful carnival ride.

  • Ancient Mysteries of the Urban Legion

    by Dave Agans

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Though it's entertaining, the plot's thread is difficult to follow at times due to its many characters, organizations, and different timelines. Still, this story is silly, spunky, and often clever.

    Prose: The abundance of made-up names, organizations, and terms here are well done, with prose that is clear and easy to follow.

    Originality: This book sits well in the satire genre and clearly riffs off modern political and social issues while still managing to create a full story outside of those themes.

    Character/Execution: Context from the previous books in the series would help clarify the story, but this is still enjoyable, even without that framework. The novel's characters are lovable and will easily engage readers.


  • Under the Blue Moon

    by Joan Schweighardt

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: This touching novel centers on a woman who is lonely and grieving over a lost daughter and a man who is homeless and desperate for a new start. The author effectively weaves their stories together, forming a gratifying narrative arc.

    Prose: Schweighardt has a clear, polished prose style that brings the story to life.

    Originality: The author writes empathetically about the experience of homelessness, adding an original element to the narrative.

    Character/Execution: Lola and Ben emerge as unique and complex characters--both suffering due to circumstance beyond their control and searching for peace, solace, and dignity. Additional characters fill out the world of the story, providing authenticity and humanity. 

  • Plot/Idea: This promising plot revolves around conversations between a Vietnam veteran, a World War II German veteran, and an Auschwitz survivor, exploring humankind's culpability for evil acts. An allegory about human nature, the book starts off strong, but Canfield's overuse of supporting quotes from external sources distracts in the end.

    Prose: When Canfield focuses on characters, the prose flows smoothly and allows for deeper insights—especially regarding the protagonist Will. However, the heavy use of quotations from other sources gives the novel more of a textbook feel.

    Originality: The novel shows great promise, and using three distinctive characters, each possessing divergent perspectives and life experiences, is a gripping concept.

    Character/Execution: Canfield mimics the trauma aftereffects of war in the novel's partial access to its characters, particularly with Will; readers are allowed unpredictable glimpses into his struggles following his return from Vietnam—and only intermittent exposure to the darkness lurking inside of him. Johann is less relatable, but Lena is a riveting character: an Auschwitz survivor caught between righteous anger while desperately wanting to be at peace, she is a definite standout.

  • Jayne and the Average North Dakotan

    by Chandler Myer

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Myer crafts a big-hearted novel about a gay accountant in his early 30s who finds a mentor in the form of a larger-than-life drag queen. 

    Prose: Jayne and the Average North Dakotan is consistently fun and energetic, but the writing can be somewhat heavy-handed in its delivery. Dialogue is sometimes exaggerated to the point of inauthenticity. 

    Originality: While on the surface, the novel offers a fairly familiar premise, Myer breathes originality into the story through the vibrant characters and charismatic characters. 

    Character/Execution: Overall, the diverse, quirky characters are a strength of the novel and Randy is a solid lead character who readers will root for. At times, however, the eccentricities of the characters can make them come across as caricatures, distracting from the poignance of Randy's journey of self-discovery.

  • Forget Me Knot

    by Tammie Adele

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Forget Me Knot is a tender coming-of-age story that addresses family dynamics, identity, grief, and the value of animal companions within our lives.

    Prose: Adele's prose is clear and nicely descriptive, though portions of the narrative rely too heavily on exposition. Sections devoted to care of Trina's beloved horses are especially vivid. This thread remains the most consistent and emotionally impactful throughout the storytelling.

    Originality: Adele's focus on horses provides a unique element to the novel. While the work can feel somewhat aimless, the ties Trina has to her childhood, her sister, and her horse Beauty, are resonant and deeply moving.

    Character/Execution: Adele successfully conveys Trina's personal growth and conflicted sense of self from her childhood into adulthood. Though not all aspects of her life story will prove intriguing to readers (notably, some of Trina's professional and personal endeavors in adulthood) the dynamics between Trina and her sister are consistently intriguing. Adele's focus on the lives of horses, and the deep connections the characters form with them, are especially impactful.


  • The Space Between Dreaming

    by Cherie Burbach

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The Space Between Dreaming is a tale of two women--Grace and Jane--who are at a crossroads in their lives; and upon meeting, find comfort in each other's company as they each try to navigate their own futures, and move forward.

    Prose: Burbach's prose is thoughtful and graceful as she captures Jane and Grace's stories. However, at times, the perspective shifts (from Grace to Jane and vice versa), tend to halt the narrative's overall smoothness and flow; a somewhat unfortunate side effect for an otherwise fast-paced read.

    Originality: Two women find solace in one another as they both struggle with moving forward--The Space Between Dreaming is ultimately a tale of friendship and faith, courage, and camaraderie.

    Character/Execution: Grace and Jane are undoubtedly the focus of the narrative, and Burbach executes them beautifully as she adeptly and thoughtfully immerses the reader in their prospective worlds.

  • Epoch

    by Kat Elle

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The plot initially makes several leaps without sufficient buildup, but the novel is entertaining with plenty of action to keep readers engaged.

    Prose: The perspective often switches in this time travel novel, but the writing style is direct and concise. The author uses the story’s historical viewpoint to explore deeper concepts that apply to a contemporary audience, doing so in a way that fits naturally into the storyline.

    Originality: The author sprinkles valuable cultural lessons throughout the narrative, and the time jump premise is delivered in an innovative way, presented as an adventure combined with a history lesson and interesting moral themes. The author attempts a careful balance of exploring Nazi Germany’s ideals and pointing out the deadly consequences of those—a choice that is successful in places but difficult to read in others.

    Character/Execution: Blanca is rough around the edges, but the deeper currents behind her tough façade give her unexpected depth, and her brother Mateo’s journey of self-discovery is delivered naturally and touchingly. German officer Otto is intriguing, even within the scope of his ethnocentric beliefs, and his relationship with Blanca opens both of their eyes in unique ways.