by Peter Shearing
Plot/Idea: Shearing offers an imaginative and deeply intriguing premise that blends history with mythology and an element of mystery. The author capably covers the expanse of Ka'desh's life, bringing a distant past believably to life.
Prose: Shearing's prose strikes a mythical note that, while occasionally grandiose, will keep readers engaged.
Originality: Conventions of a hero's journey underly a robust and fascinating premise.
Character/Execution: The epic storytelling can sometimes result in the reduction of characters to familiar tropes. The prose style also keeps Ka'desh at arm's length; readers may feel they don't come to know him intimately. The surrounding cast of characters also fit firmly into their archetypes without enough freshness to allow them to lift off the page.
by A Monday Night Anthology
Plot/Idea: A series of thematically connected speculative stories based around a single persona. A shorter, more curated collection might have been beneficial here, but the main hook is alluring and will keep readers invested.
Prose: The prose styles vary greatly across the stories, as do the stylistic approaches to storytelling and the genre conventions, but the works form a cohesive and gratifying whole via the conceptual framework.
Originality: What Happened to Annabell? offers a truly unique conceit. While the stories vary in terms of their content and tone, the collection is infused with enjoyably dark humor.
Character/Execution: The individual pieces of the collection are inventively devoted to a single character. The primary strength of What Happened to Annabell? lies in the manner in which each author takes up a given prompt. The result is great fun.
by EA Luetkemeyer
Plot/Idea: Luetkemeyer's plot is intriguing, with loosely intertwined stories that favor day-to-day happenings over the unexpected. Humor plays a central role in many of the stories, and Luetkemeyer's writing highlights the inexplicable events of everyday lives.
Prose: The prose is easy to follow, and each story offers a distinctive narrative voice that echoes the story's sentiment and mood.
Originality: Luetkemeyer examines common themes through a unique lens, and the stories come across as a blend of individual narratives as opposed to a collaborative whole.
Character/Execution: Luetkemeyer offers readers a host of characters, some of whom appear across stories. One of the more colorful characters is Bennie, a " nobody" who is transformed with a new identity.
by Robert Barlow Jr
Plot/Idea: Time Passed tells the stories of three individuals who experienced unimaginable suffering while serving during the Vietnam War. Alternating between descriptions of their torment and perseverance while being held captive, and their lives in 2010, the novel movingly explores the lasting psychological, physical, and mental toll on survivors of war.
Prose: The author writes in clear, even, and candid prose, never shying from descriptions of violence and pain. Some moments of heavy-handed exposition diffuse some of the more subtle storytelling.
Originality: Time Passed takes a somewhat novel approach to the storytelling by focusing on three different individuals and their experiences during and in the aftermath of war. The integration of an uncanny event later in the novel adds an additional layer of substance and intrigue.
Character/Execution: While readers will feel deeply for Daniel Gardner, Phillip Russ, and Benjamin Simms, the chapters devoted to each man aren't always distinguishable. Their challenges with opening up emotionally to their families and partners, while potent, can become somewhat repetitive.
by Linn Aspen
Plot/Idea: Aspen offers an unconventional fantasy story in The Dreamtidings of a Disgruntled Starbeing, which focuses on 13-year-old Klara Tippins who grapples with her troubled family life by channeling the lessons given to her by her celestial kin.
Prose: Aspen's prose is clear and propulsive, with sections devoted to Klara's interactions with her fellow star beings clearly differentiated in structure and tone.
Originality: From planetary beings to dysfunctional family dynamics, Aspen's novel stands out for its unique concept. The integration of metaphysical, spiritual, and philosophical ideas leads to an often enlightening and deeply intriguing reading experience.
Character/Execution: Aspen's novel is rich in ideas and allegorical in its approach. As such, however, the work is somewhat lacking in worldbuilding and characters are painted with rather broad strokes. Ultimately, despite the work's charms, readers may struggle to fully gain a footing in the storytelling.
by Liz Hartley
Plot/Idea: This revenge-fueled melee interlaces a cheating husband, corrupt valuables, and an unsteady female friendship forged on the roads of Route 66, resulting in the first of a series that, though lively, falls into clichés at times.
Prose: The straightforward prose remarkably brings to life Route 66 landmarks, and the banter between Tish and Kat rolls as smoothly across the pages as their 1957 Roadmaster rumbles across the asphalt.
Originality: Though the story's premise harkens back to Thelma and Louise, as referenced by the author, the characters are engaging in their own right.
Character/Execution: Characterization is left slightly undone by the story's ending, and readers will be eager to see Tish and Kat more fully developed in future installments.
by Michael P. Charlton
Plot/Idea: Decadence Kills is a dizzying fever dream of a novel set in a nightmare landscape of warring parties, violence, sex, addiction, and dissolution of order.
Prose: Charlton's disjointed and visceral prose style is in the novel's greatest strength. Once readers become acclimated to the absurdity of the circumstances, the work offers moments of stark poetry amidst the ugliness of the established universe.
Originality: Decadence Kills follows in the tradition of William S. Burroughs, with its influx of dreamlike passages, descriptions of animalistic human behaviors, and unsettling, near-apocalyptic imagery.
Character/Execution: The characters in Decadence Kills are more figurative than fully formed, with the protagonist emerging as an individual tasked with protecting his wife–Mrs. Sykes–and their child, Baby Owl, from sinister characters with uncertain motives like Mr. Pyjamas. Decadence Kills largely eschews conventional storytelling. Readers invested in the narrative will be captivated by the work's absurdity and black humor, even as these elements threaten to fully overwhelm the novel.
by Matthew Jordan Storm
Plot/Idea: The Emperor is a sprawling historical epic that follows Heraclius as he rises to prominence and leads his army into battle against the Avar horde. The author gracefully portrays the emperor with all of his strengths, internal struggles, and pitfalls fully on display.
Prose: Storm's text is bookended with a prologue, an epilogue, timelines, and maps to help place story in its historical context. The Imperial settings are beautifully rendered, while the thirst for blood in the battles and sieges is brutal and shocking.
Originality: Though The Emperor is not a startlingly original concept, its dense and evocatively described passages bring ancient Rome to life, beautifully echoing the sights, sounds, and aromas of the time.
Character/Execution: The author successfully breathes life into historical figures by portraying their flaws and idiosyncrasies with nuance and detail. The central character of Heraclius is hugely impressive, and the awe that he inspires literally seeps through the pages.
Blurb: A breathtaking journey into the heart of ancient Rome.
by Brian Scala
Plot/Idea: The novel follows Eddie's post-baseball career, the circle of friends he has made, and his new love. In doing so, his marriage, young adulthood, and childhood are touched on via sidebars into past events. The appeal of Eddie is meant to be his ordinariness, but the execution fizzles out.
Prose: Scala's style is unusual and colorful, and the prose takes the approach of reporting rather than storytelling. The group chats embedded throughout become repetitive and extraneous.
Originality: Readers are afforded a glimpse of who Eddie expected to become versus reality, a theme that will resonate with many.
Character/Execution: Given Scala's choice to build the story by weaving through the past and present, central protagonist Eddie is explored in great detail, while supporting characters, including his father, take a backseat. Dani’s backstory, while harrowing, is treated with grace and sets up Eddie’s later heroics.
by Kathryn Den Houter
Plot/Idea: Den Houter offers up a vividly written historical fiction novel. The descriptions of Baltimore in the 19th century, Abigail's work in a candy shop, and her relationship with the Woman’s Exchange of Baltimore will keep readers invested in the characters and circumstances.
Prose: The prose is clear and infused with emotion when called for, but certain other passages may strike readers as stilted in their delivery.
Originality: Centered around the tried and true theme of resilience, this novel hits all the hallmarks of both historical fiction and romance.
Character/Execution: Abigail proves to be smart, kind, hard working, and easy to root for as a main character.
by Daniel B. Martin
Plot/Idea: While facing his father's disintegration, middle-aged Ivan grapples with anxiety and frustration surrounding his care. After his father's sudden death, Ivan's focus shifts to his own circumstances as he embarks on a search for meaning, along with the pursuit of a new love interest. There is something of a disconnect in the plot before and after Dillon's death, as if some of the focus and momentum is lost.
Prose: Martin is a capable and introspective writer. However, the prose is wordy and convoluted in places, and Martin's style of providing intense exposition and background narration has a tendency to slow the storyline. There are, though, many bright spots in the writing that bring the characters and their relationships to life.
Originality: Although the plot becomes somewhat predictable following Dillon's death, Son of a Madman is a novel that is rich in ideas; Martin also writes movingly of the challenges of caring for an elderly parent and the implications for adult children as they face their own futures.
Character/Execution: Martin tends to over-narrate the thoughts and feelings of his main players, which has the effect of distancing readers from the characters. Nevertheless, Ivan has depth and promise and his sister Lilly is relatable in her reluctance to accept her father's circumstances. Amber, Ivan's love interest, can come across as overly sagacious rather than fully realistic.
Blurb: A middle-aged man struggles to find happiness and meaning amidst his father's abuse, mental deterioration, and demise.
by Pat Camalliere
Plot/Idea: The author has created an intriguing historical mystery surrounding the mysterious death of a nun in 1886, a mystery that becomes central to the narrator's present moment. While readers will find the research into Sister Catherine's death interesting, the plot is weighted down by the logistics behind it—and the numerous subplots, while engaging, add to that weight.
Prose: The prose is clear and engaging, and the insertion of journal entries and archival interviews adds welcome breaks to Cora's narration, creating an overall smoothly crafted story.
Originality: The novel has a definitive niche, but the mystery—and the way it moves between past and present—is spellbinding. The author combines an eclectic array of elements—religious mysticism, the paranormal, and more—that overlap to produce this unique story.
Character/Execution: Most of the narrative pivots around Cora, an empathetic, well-rounded character whose experiences in this novel are intense. Indigenous Americans and Mexicans are portrayed as rather primitive, overly superstitious, uneducated, and criminal in comparison to the European settlers, giving the novel a decidedly Euro-centric, and inaccurate, view of settler history.
Blurb: Cora Tozzi gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a mystery that might have connections to a real-life miracle.
by Pavane Ravel
Plot/Idea: Laurie Roberts (nee Larry Martin) must learn to navigate his personal and professional lives as he embarks on his second chance at a new future--but his past may catch up to him as there are those that consider 'Larry Martin' a threat because of his well-publicized beliefs. Though this is the second book in the series, this reader had no problem following the story. However, the plot, though on the surface promising intrigue, drama, and even a touch of the supernatural, at times falters as it becomes bogged down in trivialities.
Prose: Ravel's prose is adequate and serves the story well, but does little to inject a note of urgency and excitement to the narrative. Additionally, the dialogue is awkward with a sometimes unappealing cadence.
Originality: The Other Shoes of Larry Martin features many elements of striking originality. This said, the second book is an expansion of the first title; readers here are fully privy to Larry's complete backstory and transformation from alt-right wing extremist to homeless man who becomes a guiding light for not only the homeless, but also a progressive beacon in a tumultuous political climate.
Character/Execution: Larry is a decidedly unique character with striking circumstances. Despite his goodness and the resounding impact he has on others, these powers are not always convincingly conveyed to the reader. The supporting characters (i.e. Sherman, Tess, Susan, and Peter) are compelling figures, but they serve as extensions of Laurie without emerging as fully developed characters in themselves.
by Michael P. Charlton
Plot/Idea: Late Winter, a deeply visceral fever dream of a novel, is challenging to track at times, as Charlton manipulates the novel through satiric observations that keep the main players at a distance from the reader. As the story progresses, so do the outlandish events happening to the narrator and his girlfriend, Lass.
Prose: Charlton’s prose is shockingly raw, delivered throughout in choppy bites. The novel has a decidedly tongue-in-cheek feel and the prose is designed to reflect the depravity, listlessness, and self-loathing of the characters.
Originality: Charlton, a capable author, has crafted a novel that smacks of originality, though the very elements that make this book unique will also be the most challenging for readers.
Character/Execution: The narrator’s angst oozes off the pages, though he is a difficult character for readers to connect with. Supporting characters are equally appalling, vicious, and miserable. Just, it would seem, as the author intended.
by Susan MacBryde
Plot/Idea: Jaguar Dreams tells a hard-hitting story of environmental destruction and the attempts of one indigenous nation to protect their lands. By telling the story from multiple points of view, the author conveys the many interested parties who are affected or seek to benefit from land exploitation.
Prose: Despite moments of awkward phrasing, the prose is generally clear, straightforward, and capably drives the story.
Originality: Writing outside one's own cultural experiences can be fraught territory. Despite the novel's potentially problematic approach, the author has clearly studied the Kichwa people and the threats to their land; this insight provides a layer of richness to the storytelling.
Character/Execution: This is a sensitively written story that explores multiple perspectives on ongoing predation in the Amazon. Readers will likely be inspired to seek out more information about the Kichwa people.
by C.A. Logan
Plot/Idea: When Kara arrives in Ballybeg, Ireland—her grandfather's ancestral village—she soon finds herself embroiled in a dispute with distant relations, over land that's rumored to be enchanted. The plot is evenly paced, with dustings of magic that add charm.
Prose: Logan uses the story's three main perspectives to add tension, and the simple, well-executed prose keeps this appealing mystery-turned-cozy-action novel afloat. The setting is skillfully rendered, evoking images of idyllic landscapes surrounded by shimmering waters.
Originality: Though good triumphing over evil is a common theme, Kara's perseverance, and the support of her trusty friends, as well as the townspeople of Ballybeg, against greedy foreign developers is skillfully wrought in this satisfying novel.
Character/Execution: Kara's journey affords her the opportunity to rediscover her passion for the magic of history and Ballybeg's extraordinary surroundings, and her character arc is both relatable and appealing. Logan's accomplished storytelling will keep readers invested from the start.