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General Fiction

  • A Tissue of Lies

    by Mike Nemeth

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: There is plenty of tension and conflict in this well-developed family drama. All the threads of the characters’ different motivations are deftly woven together into a seamless unfolding of events to a compelling conclusion.

    Prose: The prose is engaging and well-paced, simple and perfectly suited to the POV of a 15-year-old boy.

    Originality: The handling of Danny’s sexuality is a refreshing twist, and told in a way that perfectly reflects the era while at the same time treats it with a contemporary sensitivity. The conclusion—with Eddie essentially replacing Danny as “cannon fodder” in the Vietnam war—avoids any too-sweet conclusion.

    Character/Execution: All of the characters are rendered with depth, detail, and complexity relative to their different circumstances and motivations. Eddie is suitably curious and conflicted; Marcy is courageous and careless in equal parts. Frank and Kat are shown as both desperate and resigned, while Danny shows sudden grace in finally accepting Eddie’s help and resetting his hopes. Gram’s life (and death) are full of humor and sadness.

    Blurb: With echoes of John Fante, A Tissue of Lies grips the reader in the slow unraveling of an unhappy family’s conflicted loves and squandered hopes. Fifteen-year-old Eddie Kovacs is an endearing and unlikely anti-hero, flailing against an angry father’s contempt while fighting for his own and his brother’s futures. A captivating coming-of-age tale equal parts harrowing and fearless.

  • Dancing with Dragons

    by Jenni Ogden

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Dancing with Dragons follows protagonist Gaia's journey in the aftermath of a devastating event that results in the loss of her parents. Ogden crafts an inventive and vivid narrative that is beautifully told.

    Prose: Ogden has a lightly poetic writing style that particularly comes alive when describing Gaia's dancing and the wildlife of Western Australia.

    Originality: Ogden effectively weaves together two primary plots: Gaia's return to life after tragedy, and her quest to save her family's land from developers. Both aspects are finely executed and equally intriguing without feeling disparate.

    Character/Execution: Gaia is an immensely appealing protagonist who begins her story as a skittish loner and displays clear development throughout the novel. Side characters and the natural world are similarly well conveyed.

  • Radio Free Olympia

    by Jeffrey Dunn

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Radio Free Olympia is an enigmatic, place-driven novel that integrates lyrical vignettes with poetry and mythology. 

    Prose: The writing style and tone of this novel is varied, alternately whimsical, brash, and sometimes even abrupt. Dunn alternates between these styles in a kaleidoscopic fashion that can border on chaotic. Readers of poetry who savor writing on a sentence-by-sentence level, will relish in the unique storytelling.

    Originality: Radio Free Olympia possesses a unique versatility that is grounded more in a sense of place than in a steady progression of plot points.

    Character/Execution: The many characters, human and otherwise, serve as near archetypes within the narrative. Dunn beautifully captures the spirit of the Pacific Northwest, both in terms of its rugged history, indigenous cultures, and dense wilderness. Though Dunn does not necessarily delve too deeply into any one character's psyche or show a significant amount of personal or collective development, readers will be left with an understanding of where they've come from and where they stand by the conclusion of the novel.

  • Vincent's Women

    by Donna Russo

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Vincent's Women is a thought-provoking, intriguing novel built on a fascinating premise: the life of van Gogh through the eyes of the women in his life. Using archival sources such as the artist's letters, the author has woven an intricate plot that will keep readers turning the pages.

    Prose: The prose is clear and effective in moving the plot forward. It employs some sophisticated stylistic features, including the layering of multiple narrators, threaded through with the voice of van Gogh's sister-in-law as the narrator. The novel features a lot of shot chapters and frequent page breaks that, at times, detract from the narrative's flow.

    Originality: The novel's premise is really compelling, offering a unique take on portraying the famous artist's life. There seems to be an effort to reframe how readers think of van Gogh by focusing on the voices of the women who were often left in the wake of his turbulence. While this is an excellent goal, there are still many ways in which his perspective still comes across as the dominant narrative. The title alone, for instance, positions the women van Gogh interacted with as his possessions, not as equals.

    Character/Execution: The novel brings historical characters to life, blending storytelling, historical fact, and intrigue. The reader will especially enjoy the narrative between van Gogh and Gaugain, whose volatile – sometimes violent – relationship shaped the latter's legacy in ways most don't know about.

    Blurb: Russo's Vincent's Women presents the life story of Vincent van Gogh through the eyes of the women in his life: muses, adversaries, lovers, and even a concerned nun. 

  • The Tender Silver Stars

    by Pamela Stockwell

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The Tender Silver Stars is an impactful historical novel that focuses on integrated friendships and women's rights in the South, starting in the '50s and stretching into the '70s.

    Prose: Stockwell's prose is sturdy and immediately engaging. From the first descriptions of young Triss, the author capably holds the reader's attention. 

    Originality: The Tender Silver Stars features an unusual and well-plotted storyline, while the examination of burgeoning women's rights in the American south, particularly in regards to career pursuits, is fascinating.

    Character/Execution: Readers will find a strong lead in determined, driven Triss. The unique friendship formed between Triss and Everlove is sensitively explored; their individual and shared struggles are movingly conveyed. Readers will ultimately root for both characters as Triss seeks to bring justice to the story's central villain.

  • Brooklyn Valentine

    by Rachel A Levine

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Brooklyn Valentine is a quirky and endearing romantic novel that centers on two characters who cross paths against the lively backdrop of Brooklyn. Levine capably captures the experience of finding unexpected romance, while the environs of Coney Island, Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other locales, are rendered beautifully. 

    Prose: Levine pulls readers into the story, immediately creating a cozy atmosphere. Dialogue allows the characters to come to life, while Sal's loving descriptions of Brooklyn are immersive. 

    Originality: This charming New York story eschews Manhattan sight seeing in favor of the many authentic flavors of Brooklyn. Levine offers her protagonists a second chance at love and underscores the importance of community. 

    Character/Execution: Levine has a knack for character development. Sal and Terry are relatable characters whose personal struggles are convincingly portrayed. Individually intriguing, the pair have a subtle chemistry, and readers will enjoy witnessing them overcome their marked differences. The broader cast of characters, including Sal's family members and unusual, unerringly loyal friends, are fully formed. 

  • Bot├ínicos: A Novel

    by Alan Meerow

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Botánicos is a unique yet relatable story that unfolds organically. The novel blends mystery with romance and scientific exploration. 

    Prose: Meerow's writing style is informative but entertaining, blunt but personable, with all of the appropriate rises and falls in tone when the story picks up speed.

    Originality: From the very beginning, Botánicos set itself apart as a witty mixture of different tropes that somehow blend seamlessly together to serve the characters and the key conflicts in the plot. Because of this, it's almost difficult to assign this book just one genre, and it means that more readers will be able to dive in and find something to enjoy.

    Character/Execution: Each of the main characters are distinct from one another, with their own voices and mannerisms that lend themselves to the rising and falling action nicely.

  • Lose Yourself

    by Vince Wetzel

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Lose Yourself is a riveting and passionately written sports tale which effectively emphasizes the power and allure of baseball. Wetzel's accessible novel keenly illustrates how baseball can profoundly affect the lives of everyone it touches, both on and off the field.

    Prose: Wetzel's text is effervescent, vividly telling Brett Austen's story with wit and panache. He confidently builds tension and drama with a scrupulous attention to detail that really brings the "in-game" scenes to life.

    Originality: Written with verve and style, Lose Yourself effectively covers all bases: life, love and sports. Wetzel brilliantly captures the magic of sport as well as offering up an often touching and sentimental study of family dynamics.

    Character/Execution: Brett Austen is the central focus of Lose Yourself, but other characters such as sports reporter Dana Peck are equally fascinating. Wetzel expertly handles the emotional struggless between his well-developed characters with naturalistic and involving dialogue.

    Blurb: A candid and vibrant sports drama.

  • Her Own War

    by Debra BORCHERT

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Evenly paced, Borchert’s third installment in the Chateau de Verzat series will please fans of historical fiction. Borchert dives deeply into the landscape of 18th century France during prominent wars. Strong themes of romance, connecting and protecting others, espionage, and war will delight readers.

    Prose: Borchert’s work is well written, well-researched, and evenly paced. While there are many details to consider, the reader garners a vivid image of the landscape and characters.

    Originality: Borchert’s enthusiasm for French history is evident as well as for the characters she has created and carried through the series. Seeing the French landscape through the author’s eyes is a refreshing sight.

    Character/Execution: Strong female characters who are willing to take risks are the focus of this novel. Borchert doesn’t shy away from complicated circumstances for her protagonist, powerfully and realistically capturing their individual passions and convictions. 

    Blurb: A deep dive into the French landscape during wartime.

  • Like Water and Ice

    by Tamar Anolic

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Thad Moulton is a world-famous figure skater, desperate to place well in the 1997 World Championships—and earn himself another shot at the Olympics. His road to success is littered with bitter rivalries, new alliances, and unfair outcomes in the sporting world, all skillfully portrayed by Anolic’s impactful writing.

    Prose: Anolic evokes the chilly competition and high-stakes atmosphere of professional figure skating with easy, accessible prose. There are moments of slightly stilted dialogue, but overall, Anolic’s writing flows smoothly.

    Originality: Anolic highlights the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots of the figure skating world, reflecting the greater socioeconomic dichotomy that exists in society—and its influence on professional competition and success.

    Character/Execution: Thad is a well-developed character, as Anolic zeroes in on his burning desire to succeed, even when faced with nearly impossible odds. His blossoming relationship with Emily forms a feel-good backdrop to the story’s competitive face-offs, as does his friendship with Joaquin, whose success comes at a much higher cost than his peers.

  • Wreck and Return

    by Tom Kranz

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Wreck and Return offers a fascinating look inside the life of a volunteer EMT. Griffin Ambrose and his coworkers see a lot while they are on the job: everything from funny to tragic to macabre. Despite the richness of the set-up and circumstances, the novel would benefit from additional plot development and a more pronounced through-line.

    Prose: The novel's prose is effective in telling the story, without any particular stylistic flourishes. The author convincingly conveys the individual characters' opinions and perspectives, often espousing their short-sighted and bigoted ideology.

    Originality: Wreck and Return has an interesting, novel concept, especially in terms of a main character who embarks on something new later in life. Griffin is flawed but not irredeemable, making him a highly relatable character readers will root for.

    Character/Execution: Griffin Ambrose appropriately drives the story. Readers will feel deeply for him as he grapples with painful past mistakes and finds the courage to afford himself a second chance. Additional characters in the novel are somewhat uneven in their development; the world of the novel would be much richer if the cast of supporting characters had more dimension.

  • A Kind of Hush

    by JoDee Neathery

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: A Kind of Hush conveys the grief of a family’s tragic misfortune with great tenderness, but the forward momentum is blunted by a focus on day-to-day activities rather than forensic details pertinent to the novel's central mystery. When daughter Willa conveys a stunning revelation in a Wattpad story, the two prime suspects in the case quickly become red herrings, leaving readers with a sense of subtle disappointment over the time spent analyzing their involvement.

    Prose: Neathery's prose is highly readable, with ample time for the relationships between the characters to be understood and developed over the course of the story. Long passages of extraneous exposition detract from the tension, and side plots—like the interlude when Kurtz spends time with the Jones family while in hiding—sometimes slow the action.

    Originality: A Kind of Hush hosts a fascinating central mystery that will prove absorbing for readers. However, the work never seems to pin down its genre—missing details of the police investigation crucial to a mystery, while giving too much detail about people, places, and everyday activities which prevent a deeper emotional resonance one might expect in a family drama.

    Character/Execution: Characters are well rounded, and Neathery allows them plenty of time to interact and develop emotionally, though not always with fruitful results. The dialogue, used as a conduit to dispense details, sometimes leans toward an overly formal tone.

  • Plot/Idea: Reed’s historical tale begins with a hurried escape from an alcoholic father for teenage sisters Martha and Helen, bound from their home in Poland to the call of freedom on Ellis Island. From there, Reed takes readers on a transformative journey through hardship, determination, and family secrets, centered on Helen’s son, Wally, and his life growing up as the child of immigrants in Chicago. Reed ties numerous stories into Wally’s arc, and the perspective jumps at times become dizzying.

    Prose: The prose is efficient and educational, though Reed’s more formal style leads to stilted dialogue in several places.

    Originality: Whispers in a Phone Booth delivers as much history as it does plot, gifting readers with a glimpse of 20th century life from the perspective of multiple nations and people—a choice that, though informative, detracts from the story’s excitement. 

    Character/Execution: Reed crafts his characters with obvious care and attention to detail, while connecting some to well-known historical figures; the preface identifies that a handful of characters are based off his own family members. Despite the large cast, main players are easy to track; Wally stands out as a multilayered, intense protagonist, and his relationship with his traumatized aunt Martha is compelling—and disturbing—to watch. 

  • Wildcat: An Appalachian Romance

    by Jeffrey Dunn

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: Wildcat: An Appalachian Romance is a richly rendered novel set in the titular region of the United States. It is not entirely clear to what romance the subtitle refers—the romance of the town of Wildcat, or the romance between the main character and former girlfriend, Carolyn. There's a case to be made that the lovingly crafted portrait of a small town experiencing a communal renaissance is the real love affair. 

    Prose: There are moments when the prose style works beautifully and the simplicity is elegant (when describing the communal nature of meals at Hotel Wildcat, the woodcrafts at the mill, beekeeping, and mushrooms).  At other times, the prose reaches too far to achieve lyricism. The overall effect of the storytelling makes the work feel like an immersive fairy tale.

    Originality: Wildcat is infused with atmosphere and charm, if not always forward thrust or tension. As a portrayal of a town decimated by catastrophic job loss and now experiencing a revival through communal living, art, and handcrafted products, there is an undeniable freshness and vitality in the concept. 

    Character/Execution: The author has an appealing storytelling style that will leave an impression on readers. However, the characters, relationships, and motivations depicted both in the recollections and in the present never quite tip into full portraits.

  • Fire on the Frontier

    by Kenneth Kunkel

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: Fire on the Frontier is an immersive and layered work of historical fiction set in ancient Rome. With interwoven stories and multiple perspectives that draw from actual events, it can be challenging to keep track of all the narratives, but invested readers will be richly rewarded.

    Prose: Kunkel's prose style is clear, anchoring readers in the time and circumstances with detailed descriptions and an effective balance of action and dialogue.

    Originality: Fire on the Frontier captures the ancient era convincingly while maintaining forward momentum and careful plotting. 

    Character/Execution: While the multiple storylines can become unwieldy, Kunkel is a capable writer invested in the many characters, both male and female. Historical places and events are vibrantly portrayed and provided understandable context.