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General Fiction

  • Among Sea Wolves: 1150 The Whale Road

    by Jean Gill

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: This Norse based epic takes on rough seas, life or death battles, and a host of intriguing characters. At the heart of the novel is a romance, but Gill forms it rough around the edges and suspenseful—fitting for the story’s setting—while adding in the perfect touch of lore.

    Prose: Gill’s writing is authentic and sharp, with multiple perspective changes that are clearly orchestrated and smooth the narrative out for readers. The setting is vividly wrought, brimming with Norse mythology and portraying the day-to-day struggle to survive—and carve out some kind of life—in an unforgiving, vengeful world.

    Originality: Among Sea Wolves is stunningly authentic, with era-appropriate language and descriptions that will appeal to any fans of Viking legend.

    Character/Execution: Rivalries are sketched convincingly and add edge to the plot, and the cornerstone relationship—between poet Skarfr and wise woman Hlif—is arresting. Their tumultuous journey together is fraught with seemingly endless problems, but through it all, their devotion and magnetic connection drive the novel. Supporting characters, notably the fearless captive Brigid, round out the story and add depth.[

  • The Serpent and the Rose

    by Catherine Butterfield

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Butterfield’s sweeping plot follows Marguerite de Valois, initially a naïve princess of France who enters a tumultuous marriage with Henri, the Prince of Navarre, and comes into her own through hard-fought battles, profound love affairs, and a deep awakening to the dangerous, conniving world around her. The story grows with Marguerite, as she transforms into a powerful—and infamous—queen, while somehow managing to keep vestiges of her youthful self at the same time.

    Prose: Butterfield writes with charming, witty pose, perfectly intoning the speech patterns of her characters and the era of the novel.

    Originality: This novel sets itself apart through Butterfield’s spotless prose and deeply thoughtful character studies; Marguerite is a powerhouse from the start, stunning in her intensity and relatability, and Butterfield perfectly balances her vulnerability with her growing skill and capacity to rule.

    Character/Execution: Marguerite is alive with poise, vulnerability, and a sincerity that makes her breathtakingly real. Butterfield animates the novel’s historical setting, fashioning character interactions that breed familiarity and arresting charisma; Catherine de Medici is a powerful contradiction of volatility and strength, a worthy opponent to the renowned Marguerite, who slowly comes to realize her own resoluteness through the mistreatment she experiences at the hands of others. 

  • Plot/Idea: Elly Robin: Bird in a Gilded Cage is the wonderfully written fifth volume of The Ordeals of Elly Robin series. Quaver's acutely observed study of high society is a finely written story of a young piano prodigy that is full of vim and glorious detail.

    Prose: Quaver's text is elegantly detailed and precisely orchestrated, full of lush passages of brilliant description rendering an evocative and intoxicating atmosphere. The poetic and lyrical use of language captures both the essence of the characters and the society they inhabit.

    Originality: Elly Robin: Bird in a Gilded Cage is intermittently illustrated with highly stylized cartoons that help bring Quaver's story into focus. This confidently conceived latest installment in the Elly Robin series of books contains sharp and astute observations of early 20th century American aristocracy.

    Character/Execution: Elly Robin is a fascinating protagonist who clearly does not fit in with the upper echelons of high society. The authentic dialogue and well rounded characters that proliferate the novel fit perfectly in Quaver's world of racial prejudice, power, love and desire or freedom.

    Blurb: A brilliantly realized mystery drama.


  • Street

    by Alyssa D. Metcalfe

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Street is a powerfully written drama that follows Julian Alvarez as he negotiates a life of crime, drug addiction, and social disturbance. Metcalfe's brilliantly orchestrated tale has a memorable and enlightening storyline that is packed with riveting drama and raw emotion.

    Prose: Metcalfe's text is sensitive, humorous, and honest, with acute attention to detail masterfully bringing the streets of 1970s New York to life. Johnny Alvarez's tough, hardboiled, and stark experiences make for an absorbing, immediate, and tension-filled reading experience.

    Originality: Street is an all-encompassing story from New York's back alleys and hoods. Metcalfe's stark and pertinent observations of the mean streets of 70s New York pack a mighty punch.

    Character/Execution: Johnny Alvarez and his fellow squatters inhabit a life filled with drug deals, extortion, gang culture, and violence. The captivating characters that Metcalfe draws are natural and authentic, displaying an emotional sensitivity that is engrossing to read.

    Blurb: A stark and powerful 70s drama.

  • Helen Bonaparte

    by Sarah D'Stair

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: In Helen Bonaparte, D'Stair tells the story of the titular heroine, a listless academic, who experiences a profound midlife awakening while on tour of Italy. Every page is imbued with longing and lust; every turn of Marieke's head; every hand gesture; every refolding of her green scarf consumes Helen. Across the backdrops of Venice, Florence, Assisi,  Pompeii, and  Rome, each stop journey becomes more enticing and tempting.

    Prose: The prose is highly detailed, often fragmented, almost painterly. Intriguingly, the narrative takes on an objective quality, as though the protagonist is viewing herself externally. 

    Originality: Tales of sexual and psychological renewal are a mainstay of literature. D'Stair takes an often mesmerizing approach that will leave a deep impression on readers. 

    Character/Execution: The character of Helen, in particular, is finely drawn. Readers will feel her coming to life via her powerful and overtaking attraction to Marieke as well as her encounters with the art of Italy. Marieke, meanwhile, emerges through subtle descriptions, movements, and gestures.


  • GirlChild

    by Morenike'

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: This striking plot centers on the complex Singleton family, as they face internal turmoil and an external world continually forcing change into their lives. Conflict is introduced gradually, adding to the story’s unhurried, leisurely pace, but the character-driven moments stand out.

    Prose: Morenike' crafts a world full of rich heritage, as the characters work to keep their Gullah background alive in the face of the mainstream culture they’re continually thrust into. From snippets of the Gullah language to boo hags tormenting the family to watchful ancestors, the story brims with ancient mystery alongside contemporary uncertainties.

    Originality: This gentle portrayal of a beautiful culture against a clashing mainstream is well done through the eyes of the Singleton family. Morenike’ allows the family the depth necessary to showcase their customs, while seamlessly weaving their legacy into the wider world. 

    Character/Execution: GirlChild is a lavish homage to family and culture that unfolds through the story’s skillfully drawn characters. Sparrow is a spotlight throughout, with the dissonance of her home culture and her desire to forge a life of her own making playing out in her everyday life, and her return to her roots is intensely done—while still paying respect to her longing for change. 

  • Marriage and Hanging

    by Genevieve Morrissey

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Marriage and Hanging is about Rachel Woodley, a dissatisfied, grieving wife and mother whose husband, Josiah, is accused of murder. When the townsfolk and his colleagues seem entirely prepared to let him hang, she must investigate on her own and, in the process of helping clear his name, her love and regard for him are rekindled.

    Prose: Morrissey's prose is vivid, detailed, and often lovely, even when describing a crime scene. ("He tried gently to lift her chin with one finger, to get a better look at the rope around her neck, but as all three of the men reported after, the girl’s whole body moved as he did so, being quite stiff.") At a stroke, she sets up sympathy for the victim as well as the men investigating her death, and brings the reader directly into the book/time period.

    Originality: There are many murder mysteries about aggrieved wives and unjustly accused husbands, but none with a heroine like Rachel. And the plot takes several delightful, unexpected turns. The author's subversion of this trope was inspired.

    Character/Execution: The characters are vivid and, for the most part, likable, especially Josiah, who is under tremendous pressure throughout but never loses his compassion for others, nor his deep love and appreciation for his wife. Rachel is clever and determined; without her help, Josiah likely would have hanged and to his credit, he knows it. Her dissatisfaction with her marriage and her place in society is understandable, though at times she comes off as bitter.

  • Naked Girl, a Novel

    by Janna Brooke Wallack

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Naked Girl has a compelling, heart-wrenching plot that allows readers to get inside the minds of two very abused, lost children who are doing their best to navigate the life they've been handed. 

    Prose: The author writes in beautiful, flowing prose that draws the reader in and keeps them engaged in the moments when the plot lags.

    Originality: To be motherless children of a drug-selling, cult-leader father in the 1970s is a fascinating enough context, but the author's careful depiction of the complicated extended-family dynamic enhances the novel's world even more. The occasional reference to Great Expectations also adds a layer of interest, as well.

    Character/Execution: The novel contains a tapestry of relatable, compelling characters, Nana in particular, which compels the reader forward. Tense and perspective shifts that occur later in the novel (as the siblings get older), while understandable from a narrative perspective, sometimes feel incongruous.

    Blurb: Janna Brooke Wallack's Naked Girl, a Novel, tells the sweeping story of Sienna and Siddhartha, the youngest members of a highly-unconventional family helmed by the drug-dealing, cult-leader father. 


  • 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.

  • The Honey Tree

    by Jo Sparkes

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Sparkes’s riveting historical fiction novel follows enslaved woman Maggie and her dreams of escape from a Missouri cotton plantation. A chance encounter with Preacher—an enslaved man on the run—changes the trajectory of Maggie and her family, jumpstarting a desperate dash for freedom that is powerfully wrought in Sparkes’s capable hands.

    Prose: Despite some uneven transitions, Sparkes writes with ease, framing her characters’ deepest thoughts and emotions against lyrical prose and stunning metaphor.

    Originality: Languid in places and gripping in others, The Honey Tree is an ideal mix of character-driven moments and compelling historical context. 

    Character/Execution: Sparkes paints her characters in vivid shades of heartbreak, as each one fights for their own form of freedom. Just as Maggie wants her family to know the taste of being free, so, too, does the plantation owner’s daughter, Lucy, yearn for a different kind of life than her constrained existence. Sparkes parallels the central women’s lives in many ways, but Maggie’s unbreakable spirit in the face of harsh injustice stands out.

  • 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.

  • The Fallen Woman's Daughter

    by Michelle Cox

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: The Fallen Woman's Daughter is a rich novel about family bonds, centering on Nora and Patsy, who are whisked away from their mother, Gertie, and placed in a girls’ home. Neither understands the events leading up to their family being torn apart—or the pain in store for them in the future—but their love for Gertie stays constant, despite the heartbreak they suffer individually and together. 

    Prose: Cox forms striking descriptions that build layers into the story, lending the main characters a vivid realness that will stick with readers long after the last page. The prose is crisp and clear, with a bright tone that pushes the plot forward.

    Originality: The interlacing of generations throughout this engaging novel is moving, as Cox allows her characters to see each other more fully through each other’s eyes—and their experiences together. The thread tying the women together over the years is moving to follow.

    Character/Execution: Cox’s characters are eloquently drawn, each with believable motives that make them both authentic and appealing. Nora’s strength and resolve to look after her sister and carve some kind of life for them from literally nothing is impressive to see; meanwhile, Gertie’s initially blasé attitude toward life comes across as disheartening, but she eventually shows pluck that makes her lovable as well—and garners her a sweet, transformative ending of her own. 

  • Elly Robin goes to War

    by PD Quaver

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: In book eight of Quaver's The Ordeals of Elly Robin sees the titular character, a talented pianist, travel to France to find her love, Edwin Friend, who is flying for the American Escadrille. As exciting and fun as Elly's roundabout challenges are, there is a bit of a disconnect between each new event that makes for a less fluid progression throughout the narrative. Still, the storytelling remains engrossing.

    Prose: Quaver's writing style is personable and engaging, inviting readers to connect with the characters right from the start.

    Originality: Quaver is a formidable author who crafts a fresh and inspired narrative that will keep readers consistently absorbed. The historical era is beautifully conveyed with a level of detail that brings a level of striking maturity to the story.

    Character/Execution: Elly is a vibrant and capable character whose evolution from girl in love to spy extraordinaire is riveting. Readers will easily fall in love with her and seek out the other titles in the series. 

  • A House of Cranes

    by James Walter Lee

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: A House of Cranes is an effortlessly intricate, character-focused drama that is both touching and involving. An exploration of boyhood fascination and wonder, Walter Lee's well-written story is an effectively paced tale of sexual awakening.

    Prose: James Walter Lee's text is elegantly written, full of beautifully written observations. His dense passages of description and deft use of language heighten the dramatic atmosphere and infuse the storyline with intimacy.

    Originality: A House of Cranes creates an excellently crafted web of passion, desire, and powerful eroticism. The sensual scenes are handled in a discreet and alluring manner,  while the work strikingly conveys Lucius's growth and renewal via his creative endeavors. 

    Character/Execution: Walter Lee demonstrates a deep understanding of human relationships and complex family dynamics in a truly memorable work.

    Blurb: A brilliantly realized drama.

  • Silenced Whispers

    by Afarin Ordubadi Bellisario

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Silenced Whispers is an enthralling cross-cultural love story set against the backdrop of social upheaval in pre-WWI Tehran. Gohar is caught up amongst the sociopolitical turmoil in a tense and thought provoking story which has a profound impact on the reader.

    Prose: Bellisario's novel benefits from an excellent level of description and historical accuracy which propels it to the next level. The prose is sharp, the characters are well rounded and the storyline is consistently compelling.

    Originality: Silenced Whispers is a provocative drama with a heart-wrenching and emotional storyline that is gripping and affecting. Bellisario's excellently crafted tale also provides an lluminating insight into the harsh and oppressive social landscape of early 20th century Iran.

    Character/Execution: Silenced Whispers is a character-led story with tense, naturalistic and affecting dialogue. The central character of Gohar, an adopted orphan forced to marry a politician 40 years her senior, is particularly well crafted and the reader forms an immediate connection with her plight.

    Blurb: A tense and absorbing Iranian drama.