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General Fiction

  • 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.

  • Plot/idea: In Her Side of the Story, Wright weaves historical fiction with a past lives narrative that centers on Catherine de Medici. While the organization can become disorienting–particularly in terms of the melding of past and present–Wright blends well-researched history with effective fictional storytelling, keeping readers glued to the pages. 

    Prose: Wright's writing is smooth, polished, and at times full of wonder. However, the novel sometimes lacks a sense of urgency and nuance, glossing over potentially darker undertones that readers may expect in a historical, dramatic narrative such as that of Catherine de Medici.

    Originality: It's always refreshing to approach historical fact through a fictional lens, and Wright's more modern take on the life of such a prominent and yet understated figure does not disappoint.

    Character/Execution: The novel integrates a whole host of intriguing characters. As a result, however, at times the historical significance of Catherine de Medici is muted by other voices vying for attention.

  • Anna's Shadow

    by Ingrid McCarthy

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Anna's Shadow is a powerful historical romance novel that is simultaneously sentimental and inspiring. Set in Verona, the book centers on Sofia as she endeavours to help a star-crossed elderly gentleman in an intriguing and adventurous tale which spans several time periods.

    Prose: McCarthy's text is sweeping and rich in romantic detail. Her vivid use of language brings her characters' personalities into focus as she neatly balances the different strands of the plot.

    Originality: Although not startlingly original, the novel is assured and will undoubtedly appeal to devotees of stirring and enthralling love stories.

    Character/Execution: McCarthy's well formed characters, such as Sofia Rossi and Luke Miller, are consistently compelling, their intimate individual stories forming a stirring and enticing backdrop for the plot to develop. The relationship between Luke and Uwe in particular will have readers gripped and awestruck from start to finish.

  • Time

    by Eric Hollister

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: While struggling to comprehend his wife's terminal cancer and his vivid dreams/nightmares of his service in Iraq, watch repairman/maker Bob receives a very special watch in need of repair–a watch belonging to Death himself. Time is an entertaining read told with empathy, care, and attention to detail that does not become overly bogged down with unnecessary spirituality; nor does it strive to answer life's larger questions.

    Prose: Hollister's prose is easy to read and engaging, however, his brief forays into the intricacies of watch repair sometimes take away from the pace of the story. Additionally, the Iraq flashbacks are not as seamlessly integrated as they could be, and their purpose doesn't become evident until the very end of the book.

    Originality: A story about death, love, time, and spirituality is not wholly original–yet Hollister adds interest with a watchmaker playing a pivotal role in manipulating time itself: the "time" of people crossing over, the "time" keeping of the watch, the "time" it takes to say farewell to a loved one.

    Character/Execution: Bob is the heart of Time and his seemingly mundane daily routine gains depth through thoughtful character development. Mystical neighbor Angie is a nice addition, and serves as the only other character (besides a rather generic Death) to really interact with Bob.

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

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