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General Fiction

  • Mothers Vol. 1

    by Ben Burgess Jr

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot/Idea: Telling the stories of several young boys—and the mothers who care for them—trying to survive the against the odds of their home and community, Mothers, Vol. 1 attempts to coalesce the tale of a neighborhood into one novel. This ambition sets it apart; however, in this first installment, many narrative threads are tied up too hastily.

    Prose: Burgess Jr.’s narration flowed smoothly between dialogue and exposition but frequently leans toward explanation of emotion and motive rather than its inclusion in any dialogue or action. Narration does, though, shift dynamically to match the narrator of each chapter, assuming simpler structures for younger characters and more complex, emotional tones for adults.

    Originality: While some portrayals come across as archetypal, Mothers Vol. offers a uniquely in-depth take on several boys’ lives in the streets of New York City. 

    Character/Execution: Characters throughout the novel are easy to become invested in and to truly root for. However, it is difficult to fully appreciate the characters for more than their abilities to triumph through struggle and oppression due to the lack of secondary characteristics present.

  • A Shepherd to Fools

    by Michael Drew Mendelson

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot/Idea: A Shepherd to Fools unfolds in breakneck speed, making it challenging for readers to keep up with the multilayered plot—but that pace is well-matched for a war novel, and Mendelson keeps readers on their toes.

    Prose: The novel is bolstered by skilled prose that immerses readers in the setting. Though descriptors are a definite strength, some main characters lack a clear voice.

    Originality: A Shepherd to Fools is an accelerating war drama with characters and scenes expected of the genre.

    Character/Execution: Mendelson's main characters are a perfect fit for the story's premise; even so, there is little exploration of their lives outside of battle, leaving the cast one-dimensional and a bit stereotypical. 

  • Existential Masques

    by Steven Furr

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot/Idea: A group of college friends comes together to investigate one of their own's past, in order to answer questions about his mental health and get to the bottom of the horrible nightmares he's experiencing. Along the way, they hook up, party, and make up and break up, 1970s style.

    Prose: Furr's prose leans toward the pedantic, and the dialogue is stilted in places. Characters experience dramatic interactions with each other, and transform their relationships in the process, but this also becomes distracting to the plot at times.  

    Originality: Furr combines coming-of-age, trauma, and young love into a multilayered, if meandering, story of self-discovery and quest for answers. 

    Character/Execution: The young adult characters in this novel stick to familiar roles, making the story relatable in many ways, as they experiment in social situations—and overcompensate for their past regrets and lack of self-confidence.

  • Plot/Idea: This is an engaging, multi-generational story of prominent families in 18th century Salem as they navigate both their own private dramas and those of an increasingly tumultuous world. Meticulously researched and told with an impressive attention to detail, this work of historical fiction is an entertaining and appealing read. The plot wavers somewhat at the end and lacks a smooth transition between generations, as newly introduced characters become the narrative's focus.

    Prose: Wagner-Wright's prose is both engaging and descriptive, and her attention to detail and passion for the families' history shines through with every word. The delightful blend of skilled storytelling and historical accuracy charms with both its characters and its straightforward, yet beautifully written, prose.

    Originality: Although the idea itself may not overwhelm with its originality, the narrative flow, evocative prose, and thoughtful attention to detail make it stand out as a fine example of colonial historical fiction.

    Character/Execution: The characters are undeniably the story's backbone, and they are stunningly portrayed—most notably Mary, who the novel follows from young womanhood through late adulthood. Readers will grieve with her, celebrate with her, and observe with her as her life becomes more uncertain, and this is undoubtedly one of the most important reasons why this tale is such an enjoyable read.

  • Fault Lines

    by Colin Heston

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot/Idea: Heston's stories are loosely tied together, illuminating dark themes of wrongdoing and punishment. Readers will find the writing thought-provoking and unsettling in many places.

    Prose: The prose is cleverly formed and hints at humor concealed within the collection's somber themes. Some minor structural issues distract from the otherwise intriguing style.

    Originality: Fault Lines is decidedly original, crafted with deeper undertones that will generate introspection and thoughtful reflection in readers.

    Character/Execution: Heston draws his cast from several well-known characters throughout the collection, ascribing them with grim but often humorous traits and interactions, and he highlights a moral lesson for the main characters in each story.

  • Plot/Idea: Havel's 9/11-era novel follows Sherry, a hyper-sexualized blonde protagonist, and the international cast of men who enjoy her beauty, as the CIA places her in the Middle East on an espionage mission. 

    Prose: The prose is unapologetically edgy, and may be interpreted as offensive to some readers, particularly the derogatory discussions about women and some contemptuous attitudes toward countries other than the United States. Though the author provides a clear disclaimer that the characters and attitudes explored do not reflect Havel's own, much of the content will be hard for readers to swallow. 

    Originality: The Queen of Intelligence is imaginative and fearlessly outrageous, despite several challenges with objectionable conversations and prejudices.

    Character/Execution: The main character, while perhaps intentionally cartoonish in nature, is thinly developed and based on fantastical thinking regarding women. Supporting characters fit into stereotypical roles that support the plot. 

  • Manawydan

    by LaErtes Muldrow

    Rating: 5.00

    Plot/Idea: Manawydan is a dizzying horror story that surrounds the reemergence of the cursed, titular vessel utilized in the African slave trade. Much of the narrative includes harrowing accounts of enslaved individuals captured and brought onboard the Manawydan. An additional storyline focuses on a Frankenstein-like figure who creates an inhuman beast and unleashes it onboard the ship.

    Prose: Muldrow's storytelling is often engrossing, but its reach is somewhat overambitious. Readers may become disoriented by the scope of the narrative as it vacillates between the distant past and modern day events. Lengthy descriptions of human suffering may be jarring to readers expecting more of a sea-faring fantasy.

    Originality: From unearthly creatures to the barbarism of slavery, Manawydan is a highly original work that will keep readers guessing.

    Character/Execution: The characters featured throughout the novel, while diverse, serve more as pawns within the story's often fantastical--frequently overwhelming--circumstances than as fully formed individuals.