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General Fiction

  • Make the Dark Night Shine

    by Alan Lessik

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Make the Dark Night Shine is an epic historical story that largely unfolds on the brink of war. Protagonist Kenzo adventures through post-WWI Paris with two companions until he returns to Japan and leads a path in Zen Buddhism before the onset of WWII. Lessik delivers a consistently compelling narrative that is driven by his protagonist's personal growth.

    Prose: Lessik uses clear and exacting prose that make for an enjoyable and multilayered read. He is able to capture Kenzo’s straightforward and analytical tone while also encapsulating his feelings and conflict throughout the novel. 

    Originality: Kenzo’s identity as a queer Japanese man offers a singular and striking perspective on an era often explored through historical fiction. 

    Character/Execution: Lessik capably develops the international settings and historical era, but the strongest aspect of the novel lies in Kenzo's journey. From his efforts to conceal his identity to his pursuit of Buddhism and his perilous quest to reunite with his daughter, the protagonist allows the narrative to truly come alive.

  • The Canticle of Ibiza

    by Justin Kurian

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Kurian constructs a nuanced plot that ebbs and flows gracefully with the rising and falling action, carrying readers along as John and Gunther rediscover their friendship and other parts of themselves, not to mention the world around them.

    Prose: Though the characters often had somewhat stilted conversations, this speaks to an intuitive understanding of the painfully awkward and uncomfortable exchanges people who are on a journey to reconcile the past and the present must sometimes endure. The rest of the book is written in such a manner that the audience is given leave to use their imaginations, but not without a solid base to jump off of.

    Originality: Journeys akin to John's are fairly common in literature, but the focus on his and Gunther's friendship as well as the many other elements at play set this story apart from others like it; American readers, in particular, will enjoy the locale as well as the rich culture that adds its own unique spin on the plot.

    Character/Execution: John and the rest of the characters, even those readers will only see and hear from briefly, are distinct creatures. Though none of them make a grand transformation by the end of the book, they remain constant in such a way that actually reveals more about their core characteristics.

    Blurb: Set in late 1980s Spain, this amalgamation of real-world complications and the thrill of mysticism makes for a story as multifaceted and whimsical as Ibiza itself.

  • The War Photographers

    by SL Beaumont

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The War Photographers, a work of historical fiction with a mystery element, centers on two women living in different time periods, whose lives intriguingly intersect: Mae Webster, a codebreaker in 1943, and her granddaughter Rachel, who is a photographer and activist during the Cold War.

    Prose: Beaumont tightly weaves together the two narratives. The prose is clear and generally seamless, allowing readers to become fully immersed in the storytelling.

    Originality: Beaumont's level of research and knowledge of the history she recreates is apparent throughout the novel. The War Photographers provides a unique blend of history, mystery, and romance.  

    Character/Execution: Mae and Rachel are memorable characters who are nicely distinct from one another. Through the two protagonists, readers gain a fresh perspective and understanding of both WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall, while the mystery surrounding the death of Jack Knight provides a level of intimacy and intrigue to the broader circumstances. 

  • 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. 

  • CAMELLIA SEASON A Novel

    by Natasha Peterson

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Set in 1960s New Orleans, Camellia Season is a lively, character-driven coming-of-age novel that centers around Cherie, who grapples with a troubled home life and seeks to find herself during an era of rapid cultural change. 

    Prose: Peterson's prose flows lovingly, clearly, and, at times, poignantly. Descriptions of the protagonist's wordless journal add intriguing texture to the storytelling.

    Originality: While exploring familiar coming-of-age themes, Camellia Season is uplifted through its vibrant setting and focus on a core set of characters as they change and grow.

    Character/Execution: Readers will easily empathize with Cherie as she longs to escape her circumstances and achieve independence. The broader cast of characters are effectively rendered, while the New Orleans setting sparkles. 

  • The Importance of Wives

    by Keira Morgan

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The Importance of Wives is an authentic late 15th century romp that proves to be both compelling and dramatic. It is an absorbing and meticulously crafted tale with brilliantly observed characters and an enthralling storyline.

    Prose: The Importance of Wives is addictive and captivating with well written characters and an interesting plot. Morgan's delicate use of language contains subtle narrative flourishes that highlight the story's romanticism and lyrical depth.

    Originality: The Importance of Wives is a confidently written period drama with excellently articulated dialogue that feels authentic and measured. A must for those who love well written historical dramas, The Importance of Wives intricately blends fact and fiction to create a thoroughly impressive tale.

    Character/Execution: Duchess Anne of Brittany is a strong-minded protagonist brilliantly realized by Morgan. Anne's burgeoning maturity and sense of responsibility come to the fore, bolstered by dynamic stretches of dialogue and great plot development.

    Blurb: A riveting historical drama.

  • 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. 

  • REIMAGINING BEN

    by Panayotis Cacoyannis

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Insecure and unassuming 30-something Jay embarks on an existential trip of epic proportions as he embarks on an all too real journey of discovery. Set against a backdrop of a hot London summer that's as warped as his own fractured identity and with a small cast of characters that are as symbolic as they are satirical, Jay's experiences–almost all set in real-time–unfold in a painfully tender way that's both faraway and relatable.

    Prose: Cacoyannis's prose is beautiful and funny; tragic and heartfelt–it contains magnitudes. A thoroughly clever and entertaining read that's as much a social commentary as an exploration of one man's demons, Reimagining Ben is a joy to read from start to finish.

    Originality: What makes Reimagining Ben so delightfully original isn't its plot or even its characters–what sets it apart is its ability to elevate the seemingly mundane to a tragic farce that, despite its forays into absurdity, manages to stay genuine and oddly beautiful.

    Character/Execution: Jay is the heart of Reimagining Ben and Cacoyannis captures his struggles beautifully–his insecurity, his ambiguous sexuality, his curiosity–all are revealed through thoughtful interactions with both himself and others. Ben, Andy, Gino, Rita, and even George (at times) are all shifting archetypes of Jay himself and their presence is necessary to reveal hidden (and not so hidden) truths. 

  • 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.

  • The Diving God

    by Brian Ray Brewer

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The Diving God follows flawed, disillusioned Bob Banks whose life is upturned as he leaves New York City for Mexico. Ray Brewer delivers an endearing story of personal growth and unexpected fulfillment. 

    Prose: Ray Brewer has a pleasingly lyrical style that gently propels the storytelling. Detailed passages devoted to landscapes, rock formations, archaeological sites, and diving offer a vivid sense of place. Dialogue, while expressive, can sometimes miss the mark, relying too heavily on exposition.

    Originality: Bob Banks's journey of discovery is uplifted via atmospheric backdrops and the lead characters total immersion in his surroundings.

    Character/Execution: While not always empathetic, the characters are suitably layered. Ray Brewer avoids idealizations and makes Bob Banks's path toward contentment a bumpy and uncertain one.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Frank Lloyd Wrong

    by Frances Grote

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Frank Lloyd Wrong is an endearing coming-of-age novel centered on a character forced to navigate his family's unique dynamics long before he's ready to do so. 

    Prose: Grote's prose is conversational and distinct, with candid, wry humor infused throughout. While the narration itself has a slight tendency to ramble, the tone is age-appropriate and readily engaging, with sparkling phrases on nearly every page.

    Originality: Frank Lloyd Wrong deals in familiar themes–particularly the experiences of a young man grappling with adult responsibilities. But the novel comes alive through the uniquely disordered family at the center of the story. Grote brings empathy, humanity, and heart to the storytelling that will stick with readers. 

    Character/Execution: Grote's characters are the novel's core strength. Christian is presented as an individual torn between childhood and adulthood, while his mother emerges as a caregiver doing her best despite her inherent challenges. 

  • 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.

  • Refuge

    by Bill VanPatten

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Refuge centers around the arrival of 15-year-old Gloria on her uncle Jesse's doorstep seeking help navigating an unexpected pregnancy. VanPatten crafts a poignant story about a nontraditional family that is driven by strong character development. 

    Prose: VanPatten has a clear, even, and nicely propulsive writing style that swiftly establishes the setting, characters, and circumstances. Still, the prose can sometimes come across as on-the-nose and may benefit from moments of greater subtlety over exposition. 

    Originality: Refuge offers a compelling and timely portrayal of political and social divides, particularly concerning reproductive health. 

    Character/Execution: Characters form the backbone of Refuge. Readers will strongly empathize with Jesse, still reeling from the loss of his husband, while Gloria's plight is convincingly and sensitively conveyed. 

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