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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • The North Woods

    by Douglass Hoover

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Hoover's story is expertly paced and full of nail-biting moments. He manages to combine relevant character and plot points with an unsettling atmosphere, and the result is a dark mixture of horror and character-driven dilemmas.

    Prose: The three main perspectives interlace nicely, and Hoover is able to spotlight their individual traits—Wyatt is strategic and focused, Siggy is fiery and passionate, and Doc is calming and empathetic—along with their role in the story's eerie setting. 

    Originality: Three people going to a cabin in the woods who end up hunted by an unknown entity is a well-known idea, but Hoover adds his own flair by exploring the struggles of veterans and giving each protagonist a distinct personality.

    Character/Execution: Wyatt, Siggy, and Doc each go through their own personal developments that are relatable and true to life, despite the story's supernatural circumstances. The antagonists are completely despicable and the perfect antithesis to the main players.

    Blurb: A terrifying foray that manages an in-depth exploration of veterans, trauma, and the importance of asking for help.

  • Detective Death

    by Darius Ebrahimi

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Detective Death is an intriguing and nuanced work that is equally engaging and fantastical. The pacing is steady and the intricate plot teeming with complex events for readers to puzzle out.

    Prose: Ebrahimi is a strong writer and storyteller, able to balance the novel's many themes with an absorbing narrative that creates suspense and intrigue.

    Originality: This elaborate novel abounds with unique ideas and creative characters, making it a truly memorable read.

    Character/Execution: Ebrahimi delivers strong characterization, despite the trickiness of portraying a protagonist rich with inner turmoil and able to morph into others.

  • The Highwayman

    by Shannon Kelley

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The author has crafted an inventive work that blends elements of mystery, romance, and the supernatural. The tale weaves off in unexpected but intriguing directions which keeps the reader invested in the story's outcome.

    Prose: The writing here is solid and effectively builds tension and intrigue. Minor off-notes come in the form of odd qualifiers or rhetorical questions asked of the reader.

    Originality: Kelley pays homage to classic works of gothic fiction through the well-established setting and a persistent tone of creeping dread.

    Character/Execution: The author does a great job with characterization for her two main characters, Kelli and Brian, as they seek healing, wholeness, and a new beginning following a tragic loss. Kelli is the more vivid of the pair, but Brian also emerges as full and distinctive. The dilapidated inn itself also becomes a character within the story; the secrets housed within its walls will captivate readers. 

  • Master of Music

    by Marla Himeda

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Himeda builds a magical, musical fantasy world that's both beautiful and unique. At its heart lies Kaelin, a young boy with a power that has not been seen for hundreds of years in the Bardic Isles, and his Master, who knows the boy's music must be freed—but at what cost?

    Prose: Himeda's prose is like music itself—lyrical, sweeping, and, at times, building toward an unknown crescendo as readers join Kaelin on an adventure of a lifetime. Himeda's love (and knowledge) of music shines through on every page, the writing's cadence making Master of Music a joy to read.

    Originality: A musical journey that encompasses both larger fantasy and myth while closely following one boy's path of discovery, Master of Music owes much of its originality to not only the tale—but also the telling.

    Character/Execution: Despite the grandeur of her musical world, Himeda does not lose focus, adeptly balancing individual character development within the larger story. Kaelin, while only a boy, has talent, courage, and ambition; however, it's clear that he has a long road ahead of him—a road that any reader will love to discover along with him.

  • Through the Plot Hole

    by Micah Kolding

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Kolding takes no unnecessary breaks in this action-packed story with a clever premise. The complexity of breaking the fourth wall is masterfully incorporated into this story about expanding on stereotypical characters.

    Prose: The use of first and second person is an effective move that adds to its meta nature. Cat’s voice adds a cynical hopefulness that grounds what would otherwise be a potentially kooky premise.

    Originality: Exploring the concept of breaking the fourth wall is not entirely novel, but Kolding bringing seemingly generic characters together from varying genres who just want to break away from the monotony of their stories gives the book a unique appeal.

    Character/Execution: Every character gets their own arc that gives them the depth their original roles wouldn’t allow. Allowing these characters to grow while showing that they are also authentically flawed will let readers relate to them on several levels.

    Blurb: A gripping fiction story that subverts how the fourth wall is usually explored, while following characters no one ever expected to root for.

  • The Neon God

    by R.M. Gayler

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The plot is immediately riveting, and Gayler chooses to introduce several unanswered questions at the start—such as who is the dangerous man hunting Jessie and what caused the apocalyptic terror surrounding her—that build chilling suspense.

    Prose: Gayler's strength lies in developing tension and crafting believable reactions from the main characters in response to the horror surrounding them. The book is interrupted at times with choppy transitions and a need for more detailed explanations of the story's events.

    Originality: Gayler's worldbuilding is spellbinding, and the eerie events, combined with memorable protagonists, give the book an advantage over similar titles.

    Character/Execution: The Neon God boasts an exceptional cast that carries the plot in several places. Jessie is an impressive protagonist with strong interiority, and Mason's playful but essential character is both well-developed and endearing. 

  • Saga of the Nine: Origins

    by Kawika Miles

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: In an age when "all documents are conspiring documents" in the eyes of The Government, mill worker Jax's discovery of books and secret artifacts is shattering—and sets him on a crash course with danger (and enlightenment) as he navigates the twists and turns of this suspense-driven story. The complex plot demonstrates creativity and careful forethought, taking readers into surprising territory in this unfamiliar world.

    Prose: Though the story starts slow, with blunted dialogue between Jax and his friend Kip, the narrative improves once it moves beyond the initial chapter, with clear and energetic prose alongside steady (and convincing) worldbuilding.

    Originality: This is a highly original novel, with a creatively intricate world that will astonish readers. 

    Character/Execution: Jax is an inviting character, and the author lays bare his motivations and desire for something greater than the world he's currently living in. Mica is every bit the rough, ideal-driven veteran fighting for his own version of freedom.

  • A Bad Place to Be a Hero (The Bad Series Book 1)

    by Jerry F. Westinger

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Westinger’s novel offers a deeply intriguing fantasy-thriller plot set in a vibrant world that includes werewolf lore, necromancers, and other fantastical elements. 

    Prose:  Westinger brings every scene to life with his detailed description of the setting, characters, and emotions that are being invoked. 

    Originality: The author brings a host of original elements to the narrative through seamless worldbuilding and seasoned storytelling chops. 

    Character/Execution: Lokenn, Thessa, and Corlis all bring their own individuality to the story. Each character begins as a fantasy archetype, but they develop into so much more as the story progresses. Their journeys will captivate readers.

  • Catalyst (Cosmos Saga Book 3)

    by Dex Devlyn

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The third installment in Devlyn’s Cosmos Saga series is a massive tale that glitters with fantasy, romance, and danger. Devlyn evokes court intrigue alongside wonder at the technological advances of the kingdom of Cardina, and readers will be immersed in the story’s battles and quests as the plot builds.

    Prose: Descriptions are rich with information and stirring imagery, and, overall, the prose is elegant and clear—though Devlyn changes tense in places, which detracts from the story’s impact.

    Originality:  Time travel, kingdoms on the brink of disaster, and enduring love are just some of the features that make Catalyst unique.

    Character/Execution: Characters are painted with a level of mystery that makes them interesting, and Devlyn renders the main players sensibly and emotionally, allowing them touching relationships that outlast believable, realistic conflict.

  • Faraway and Forever: More Stories

    by Nancy Joie Wilkie

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The author presents creative, stimulating, and high-drama sci-fi stories that will keep readers on alert. Plots build with excitement and develop in unexpected directions. The reader can't help but get sucked into the drama and potential outcomes.

    Prose: The author is clearly a strong writer, able to capably create angst and tension in the reader as plot elements come together. Dialogue, action, and description are balanced and handled well.

    Originality: These are stories based on a familiar themes (extraterrestrials, virtual reality, space travel), but the author brings an original sensibility to the storytelling that will challenge and engage readers.

    Character/Execution: Despite the format of short works connected via a broader thematic arc, the author quickly and effectively introduces and develops defining characters.

  • All the Dark Souls

    by A. M. Dunnewin

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The author has crafted an interesting and creative fantasy set in a medieval-coded (albeit with more modern elements) world full of action and plot twists that keep the reader engaged. The work's brevity will leave readers eager for the additional titles in the series.

    Prose: The author is a strong storyteller and the prose is worthy of the rich plot line. Occasional awkward phrasing and wordy passages can sometimes stall the reading experience.

    Originality: Dunnewin's focus on a female executioner is alluring and unusual, while the worldbuilding is lively and atmospheric.

    Character/Execution: Dunnewin has a strong grasp on character development, particularly concerning central characters Joss, Aric, and Henrik. Their motivations and internal conflicts are finely conveyed and effectively serve the broader narrative arc. 


  • Plot/Idea: Harbinger in the Night is a dense and inventive hard sci-fi thriller set in a plausible near future. International politics, complicated technologies and artificial intelligence, and adventures in space make for an exciting narrative. The book has a satisfying plot arc that sets the stage as a launching point for a larger series.

    Prose: The writing is confident and uniform. Shifting perspectives don’t detract from the book's tone, and detailed language lends authenticity to the scientific basis for many of the story's ideas.

    Originality: The authors clearly took great pains in sourcing credible scientific ideas. The result is a confident and original narrative, propelled as effectively by its ideas as its conflicts.

    Character/Execution: The story unfolds through multiple perspectives, but most interesting is that of the AI. In general, character descriptors are strong and character plots are skillfully woven throughout the larger plot and conflict.

  • Re: Apotheosis - Aftermath

    by Robert B. Marks

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: This is a fun and creative multiverse romp that pulls from anime and videogames in delightful ways. The novel’s multiple character narratives weave into a satisfying sci-fi plot.

    Prose: The writing is consistent in tone, with diction that takes a backseat to plot. Dialog reads naturally,  and the world-building is clearly established without being overly expository.

    Originality: The novel draws from sources different than typical fantasy and sci-fi fare, leaning into anime, manga, superhero comic, and videogame tropes. The premise of the setting—characters who are able to travel through in-fiction fictional worlds—is clever and fun.

    Character/Execution: The characters are entertaining and draw the reader in, intentionally playing off genre tropes while still portrayed with depth and substance.

  • The Nuclear Witch

    by Dasha Sogoloff

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: The ambitious plot melds a variety of fantasy elements with historical events—including dark magic, Greek mythology, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The work is a solid one that will draw readers in, but it ultimately overreaches, leading to a confusing, albeit intriguing, storyline.

    Prose: The author wields humor as a way to balance out the heavier plot points—a strategy that lands well most of the time—but the worldbuilding can sometimes feel forced and disrupts the plot’s flow.

    Originality: The novel falls back on fantasy tropes, but the creativity—witches, dark forces of nature, and nuclear disasters all rolled into one—makes this an exciting read.

    Character/Execution: Character development is uneven, though Nadia’s inner conflict is brilliantly depicted in her efforts to save others as penance for her mistakes.

  • The Language of Spears

    by Jay Moreland

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: The Language of the Spears, an intense fantasy story, mixes adventure and history with vividly descriptive battle scenes and a search for collective identity. More immediate background information and scaffolding for worldbuilding would strengthen reader engagement.

    Prose: Moreland conveys the history of the Moon Empire and the cultural mainstays of the Askarai through character interactions and descriptions. Battle scenes are especially well-crafted. Dialogue between characters is initially stiff, but as these individuals are afforded more depth and the complex dynamics of the Moon Empire become more clear to readers, their communications follow suit.

    Originality: The Language of the Spears is so viscerally immersive, it may take readers a beat to catch their bearings and to learn the essential rules and dynamics of the world at-hand. The novel offers uncommon nuance when it comes to exploring underlying traditions and values of a society and the conflict that arises through fundamental change. 

    Character/Execution: Moreland populates The Language of the Spears with characters who individually reflect the beliefs, traditions, and values of the world they inhabit. As the novel progresses and conflicts surrounding tradition and chosen loyalties heat up, characters show meaningful growth. 

  • Corsair and the Sky Pirates

    by Mark Piggott

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: Filled with harrowing airborne fights and classic steampunk action scenes, the plot of Corsair and the Sky Pirates at times takes a back seat to the physical fights and descriptions of the machines.

    Prose: Crisp and engaging, the prose strikes a great balance between descriptions of the creative inventions that fill the pages and more action-packed scenes that move the plot forward.

    Originality: This novel includes many staples of the sci-fi and steampunk genres while remaining innovative. 

    Character/Execution: The crew of the Galeru are a lovable, vibrant, rag-tag bunch that the reader will eagerly cheer for (and their notable diversity is an especially strong point). The novel may benefit from delving more deeply into their personal backstories and perspectives. More moments that allow readers to slip into the consciousness of characters would be appreciated.

    Blurb: Piggott's Corsair and the Sky Pirates is an action-packed, page-turning steampunk adventure that will appeal to fans of sci-fi and historical fiction.