SciFi / Fantasy / Horror
by Andy Giesler
Plot/Idea: Three Grams of Elsewhere has prolific plot that keeps readers guessing at each turn without being confused. By telling this story through Bibi's perspective, as well as through a series of interviews and other documents, Giesler builds strong suspense and tension throughout the novel.
Prose: Giesler's seamless prose captivates readers. Most importantly, Giesler has a worthy message to communicate to readers through his novel and insightful writing.
Originality: Giesler crafts a stunning world for readers to explore with incredibly detailed storytelling. The dystopian post-American world is not only believable and well-constructed, but also provides relevant and intriguing commentary on the current political landscape. The themes throughout this story are truly unique and provide an important perspective of modern technology.
Character/Execution: Bibi is a compelling main character that Giesler carefully and slowly unravels throughout the novel. The gripping details about his life drive the narrative in an engaging way for readers. Each character is well developed and provides additional character development for Bibi, as well as adds to the overarching plot.
Blurb: Three Grams of Elsewhere is a stunningly well-crafted science fiction novel with dynamic themes. Giesler pushes readers to think deeply about how we connect to each other and make challenging choices. This is the perfect novel for those who not only love science fiction, but also readers who want to reflect upon their own philosophical beliefs.
by Angela Kay
Plot/Idea: The story has an aura of unseen danger, and the plot keeps readers on their toes with constant twists and an elaborate magical world that’s alive and breathing at every moment. Readers will soak up the ending, full of promise for more in the future.
Prose: Kay’s style sparkles with magic, embodying the novel’s temperament in the silky prose that glides across the pages. The handwritten letters included in the text are challenging to read, but even that can’t distract from the supple beauty of Kay’s writing.
Originality: The worldbuilding is stunning, with dramatic imagery that transports readers into a complex system of magic and treachery, where the next step is always unknown and there’s no guarantee of an easy ending.
Character/Execution: Both Copper and Raleigh are richly developed characters with an intense connection to each other. Copper’s self-doubt and painful regret haunt nearly every move she makes, and Raleigh’s determination to protect her from herself is equally powerful in the storyline. Kay’s cast is immense, but the forcible writing ensures every character plays a central role to the story’s enchantment.
by J.D. Grubb
Plot/Idea: Grubb has crafted an intriguing story set in an inventive and complex new world. The story is evenly paced, action-filled, and smart. It is obvious that Grubb carefully contemplated each conversation and event to ensure they all made sense within the context of the novel's elaborate world.
Prose: The prose is top-notch; Grubb is a skilled writer and storyteller, exceptionally gifted with artistic, natural dialogue.
Originality: Grubb has created an entirely innovative world brimming with its own history and intricate rules—it's extremely accomplished and highly original.
Character/Execution: Characterization is as strong as the novel's other elements. Ashe in particular is well-defined, but Grubb ensures that all characters with significant roles are adequately portrayed.
by Brock Rivers
Plot/Idea: Blood Fortune, set in both the future and the past, is a twisty novel that combines tech, danger, and historical relevance. The result is a complex and intricate story, with the perfect amount of believable detail to make the events plausible.
Prose: The author composes precise, impactful language that conveys the story's gravity and reinforces the all-or-nothing drama being played out. The writing is top-notch, employing the perfect balance of description, dialogue, and action.
Originality: The varied and unique settings in this novel—from ancient Aztecs to a future moon that hints at potential alternate life forms—are stunningly crafted and indisputably original.
Character/Execution: The author is careful to give each character a distinctive voice, and, although the stakes are high for the small group of protagonists, they manage to be relatable and relevant to the story's settings.
by Jay Sizemore
Plot/Idea: Apnea will keep readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Occasionally, there are moments that would benefit from minor refinement (i.e. the placement of Alice Munroe’s story depicting her husband's death and further exploration of revolutionary Judith). Overall, this dystopian tale is plotted beautifully. Tension remains taut until the very end.
Prose: This nightmarish, dystopian, surreal world is painted to all its splendor. The author does not spare the vivid, evocative details that make this world come to life. Poetic, rich, gory, horrific, and lyrically beautiful.
Originality: A pandemic is unraveling society as we know it: a virus that afflicts only men wipes them out one by one in their sleep. A cure does exist, but it forces them to stay awake for 21 days straight. The premise for this story is deeply haunting and original. Basic human needs are pinned against the stake of death—to sleep would equal certain death, but to stay awake beckons certain insanity. The tale is fresh, haunting, alluring, philosophical, and relevant to our times.
Character/Execution: This work features fully developed, rich characters that are offered deep context and backstory. The only characters that long for additional refining are Virginia and Judith. Virginia is painted as a perfect wife, then is suddenly holding her husband hostage against his will. While the author does allow her inner world to explore her motivations, a more organic buildup to her abusive antics may be beneficial. Meanwhile, Judith is deserving of more details relating to her personal anger and motivations against men.
Blurb: This nightmarishly dystopian, Kafkaesque novel will have readers feverishly turning the pages.
by J.J. Cunis
Plot/Idea: Cunis's story of the discovery of a mysterious time portal by a group of teenagers is at once bewildering and highly enjoyable. Although the plot suffers from being a little meandering, it packs a hefty punch that will leave readers dazzled and giddy.
Prose: This bizarre time traveling adventure is executed with supreme attention to detail and evocative imagery. Its short chapters are packed with depth, detail, and the occasional pop culture reference.
Originality: The novel's blistering opening is full of humor, mystery and wonder. The different time periods visited during the course of the novel are effectively brought to life with minute attention to detail.
Character/Execution: Cunis's text features myriad characters that are all excellently rendered in pinprick detail. From the evil homicidal maniacs of Wampanoag to the disparate group of goofy teenagers, Itchiwan's pages are filled with well-crafted and effervescent personalities.
Blurb: A frenetic, intense, and thoroughly enjoyable journey through time.
by David A. Wimsett
Plot/Idea: The author has created a complex story line nestled against stunning worldbuilding. The plot is rich and meandering, but laser-focused on the details for discerning readers.
Prose: Dragons Unremembered is a foreign and complex world, and the author is able to recount its history and culture through narration and dialogue, rather than long, descriptive passages—a potent way to set up the story while still engaging readers.
Originality: The book hums with diverse characters and a vibrant, multilayered setting, and the creative storytelling flawlessly immerses readers in the plot.
Character/Execution: Readers will glean insight into the main players through their words and actions, and the large, varied cast is most effective when reacting naturally to the tense moments in the story.
by Charis Jones
Plot/Idea: Set in a future world where biotechnology is closely monitored by the Federal Institute for Biomedical Research (FIBR), a geneticist and his family constantly shift locations to evade government surveillance. Jones explores the implications of genetic engineering in a layered and engrossing work of dystopian speculative fiction.
Prose: Prose is finely rendered and Jones shows a finesse for worldbuilding, gradually revealing the circumstances behind geneticist Howard Wake's experiment in the advancement of human evolution. Though at moments slow to develop, invested readers will relish the reading experience.
Originality: Jones crafts an unusual premise by focusing on a geneticist whose work has become prohibited. Jones displays clear knowledge of DNA and bio-genetics to craft a wholly convincing and well-informed narrative.
Character/Execution: Jones fills out a future world with convincing details and the science to support the concept. The characters' personal journeys and the moral dilemmas they grapple with offer a contemplative exploration of the interplay between science, ethics, and human nature. The tender relationship between Howard and his offspring also injects the story with heart.
Blurb: CRISPR Evolution is a striking work of speculative sci-fi that examines the ethical nuances of genetic engineering.
by Linda Williams Stirling
Plot/Idea: Stirling offers readers a creative, twisty plot to keep them engaged. The premise—a powerful Druid capable of transforming others' lives while struggling to procure his own happiness—is thought-provoking and unusual; readers will root for Simon's happy ending.
Prose: The complex plot is delivered through a detailed, concise narrative that will immediately grab readers' attention—and entertain them until the end. Stirling is clearly a talented storyteller.
Originality: Simon Says features a striking main character whose conflict is immersive and memorable. Stirling achieves the perfect balance between character-driven scenes and compelling action.
Character/Execution: Stirling excels at characterization, particularly for Simon, whose heartache is glaring despite all the good he extends in the world.
by Lee Allen Howard
Plot/Idea: Howard gifts readers a clever and twisty plot that will keep them on their toes. The action remains steady throughout as the tension continues to build. The opening scene, set earlier than the bulk of the work, is particularly riveting.
Prose: Howard is a talented and skilled writer, able to deftly create action, description, and dialogue. The crux of the work centers on the supernatural, and Howard's prose will enthrall readers.
Originality: The Covenant Sacrifice is creative and distinctive, with an unusual premise that will help it stand out among others in the genre.
Character/Execution: Howard has a gift for characterization, particularly for Jarod and Pastor Zalmon, the central figures in the work. Secondary characters are painted realistically and bolster the plot.
by Jennifer Lauer
Plot/Idea: Lauer will keep readers guessing from start to finish. Even though there are plot points that would benefit from more detail and intrigue, the author evokes the emotion of the reader from the beginning as the main character has grown up in a zoo run by AI robots.
Prose: Vividly written with an even tone, Lauer capably builds a distinctive world, allowing the reader to feel the captivity of the zoo and leaving them wondering what is on the other side of the walls.
Originality: While the topic of artificial intelligence is familiar territory for fiction, Lauer's work feels especially original, riveting, and timely.
Character/Execution: Mirin is a well-developed character who is thoughtful and inquisitive. Her companions are equally unique and layered, while the robot characters are afforded a degree of unexpected depth.
by J.J. Alo
Plot/Idea: The Street Between the Pines hosts an engrossing plot with shades of Stephen King. The author immediately hooks the readers with a flawed protagonist whose normal life suddenly starts going sideways, peculiar happenings, and expertly built suspense.
Prose: The author is a skilled and talent writer, great with a turn of the phrase and with detail. The writing is layered and the storytelling top notch.
Originality: Alo brings a unique sensibility to the pages, finely interweaving paranormal circumstances with mystery and a lead character's own grappling with trauma and a fractured sense of self and purpose.
Character/Execution: Also masterfully develops characters, with Curtis's tenuous grasp on reality casting the whole of the circumstances and the monster he trails into captivating uncertainty.
by Daniel J. Lyons
Plot/Idea: The Path to Vihaan is a slowly-paced tale following the life of the elf Vihaan as he explores his identity and learns long-held secrets about his world that could change absolutely everything.
Prose: Lyrical prose paints a fascinating world while dialogue elevates the story, providing a wonderfully handled aspect of characterization. The narrative flows seamlessly through Vihaan’s childhood, teenage, and young adult years, never once falling into an awkward time jump.
Originality: A fantasy adventure unfolds when the young Vihaan, already struggling with his parents accepting that he is a boy who simply happened to be born into a female body, finds himself accidentally bonded to an ancient, magical weapon of unparalleled power—a soul Hilt. Worldbuilding unfolds naturally, crafted through the Vihaan’s own discoveries and the memories of the ghost Theia.
Character/Execution: Main character Vihaan is treated with immense love and care, his personal journey and character development propelling the story forward. Readers will find themselves quickly invested in Vihaan along with the more minor characters he meets, all of whom prove major influences on both the plot and Vihaan himself.
Blurb: A wonderful, character-driven fantasy featuring a world with a deep history and wonderful worldbuilding along with a trans main character whose personal journey is the very soul of the narrative.
by L.E. Harper
Plot/Idea: This engaging, riveting fantasy novel is not only about the power of storytelling, but it is also a moving allegory about the struggle of mental illness. When the novel switches between the “real” and “fantasy” worlds it is very compelling, but some transitions can be jarring.
Prose: Harper is a very talented writer, and the prose is evocative and captivating. The dialogue is energetic and charming, and proves to be the greatest strengths of the novel.
Originality: The plot is highly original, particularly in the manner that it takes established tropes and subverts them in clever, meaningful ways.
Character/Execution: The narrator's emotional arc is the core of the novel, and it rightly takes center stage, which leads to some of the minor characters lacking in their own emotional arcs. Other than that, they are well drawn and fascinating.
Originality: An author’s dreamworld quickly becomes a nightmare when she wakes up in a world of her own creation, distraught to find that not only are her characters real, but are in desperate need of saving.
by Terrence King
Plot/Idea: While there are elements of Critical Habitat that may feel familiar to readers of dystopian and sci-fi fiction (the technology, plunder of the earth, class warfare, lack of resources, etc.), the novel is a complex, fast-paced, and moving story that readers will not want to put down.
Prose: The prose is sharp and engaging; the author does a fantastic job providing background context about the world in which the characters live while also moving the plot along at a fact pace.
Originality: Critical Habitat contains some of the plot points and tropes that are common within the genre (the inclusion of adolescent characters and the districts has traces of The Hunger Games, for instance), but these are framed in a way that is novel and compelling. The reader especially appreciates the juxtaposition of the Authority technology with the relative simplicity of the rebels' mission to save the bees. The characters, their actions, and motivations feature a lot of moral grey area, which provides intrigue and sophistication.
Character/Execution: The characters in Critical Habitat are done to perfection. While there are certainly some -- like Speer -- who are purely self-motivated and evil, most of the characters are nuanced, complex, and -- frankly -- super interesting -- to a degree not often found in such an action-packed genre. The author provides an abundance of complex, deep female lead characters (X, Mel, and Leroi in particular) in a genre that is often lacking them.
Blurb: A nuanced, smart, and exciting dystopian adventure, King's Critical Habitat chronicles the hardships and triumphs of a rag-tag group of rebels who seek to salvage the planet from a violent, power-hungry overlord.
by Cailyn Lloyd
Plot/Idea: The author is clearly a creative storyteller, able to craft a fast-paced, action-packed plot infused with supernatural elements. The story progresses quickly, keeping the reader on their toes and eager for the next development.
Prose: Lloyd possesses a rich command of language, and provides a steady stream of detail, action, and dialogue.
Originality: This is a unique and original work which offers an unusual but not unwelcome combination of thriller mixed with the supernatural. The author has created a truly memorable storyline with a striking setting and thoroughly unexpected details.
Character/Execution: Lloyd does a fine job with characterization. Kat Lundquist is a winning protagonist--complex, flawed, and not easily rattled. Readers will root from her as she struggles to stay alive and beat the many forces (supernatural and otherwise) working against her.