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General Fiction

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: Historical fiction must have its own plot and follow along with history, and this is truly a balancing act. This book handles that balance with superb skill and the author successfully wills Anne of Brittany alive without making the read a stuffy history lesson. Readers will be pulled into the story and plot.

    Prose: The prose is smooth, mostly flawless, and engaging. It moves the pace of the book appropriately and paints vivid images of past times. The prose summons the history of Anne of Brittany and the surrounding characters to life.

    Originality: The historical story of Anne of Brittany is original and recounted in a unique manner here. The syntax and prose sound accurate to the appropriate time period, and readers will feel as if they've traveled back in time.

    Character Development: The characters project strong voices that engage the reader throughout the novel. The dialogue is sharp and engaging, and one of the strongest elements of the book.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Uneven Road

    by Linda Cardillo

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Although the plot is a bit episodic, this is ultimately a satisfying look at a family trying desperately to reconcile its past.

    Prose: The writing here is top-notch. The prose is smooth, effective, and flows well. That said, the quotes that start each chapter can feel a bit forced.

    Originality: The strength of a family drama depends on the empathy readers feel for the characters. Mae, Izzy, Josiah, and the others are worthy of sympathy and empathy.

    Character Development: Although Josiah's character arc is impressive, this story is truly that of an entire family healing.

    Blurb: A satisfying family drama set during an unforgettable, life-changing time in history.

  • Semi Finalist

    Misadventure

    by Hans Landvik

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The plot of an older and younger man traveling together to find a respectful way to commit suicide is certainly unique, and surprisingly intriguing. The story's foundation is strong and allows these memorable and dynamic characters to engage the reader.

    Prose: The prose is well executed and provides the appropriate pacing for the different situations at hand. The author offers readers vibrant, vivid descriptions of locations, events, and people to paint a darkly humorous story. 

    Originality: This novel's strength lies in the original storyline and plot. Two men, one young and one old, are thrown together by fate or accident, both seeking the most "ideal" way to end their lives. The quirky, unique plot will spark curiosity in readers and help them connect to the characters, who are flawed but likable.

    Character Development: The characters in this book provide real appeal and relatability, as well as transformation and strength as they learn more about each other and themselves. They have strong voices and make memorable statements throughout the book.

  • Semi Finalist

    Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep's Story

    by A. M. Watson

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The novel is well paced and skillfully plotted with gripping moments of tension.The climax will capture readers as completely as the sense of bittersweet relief at the end.

    Prose: This prose is utterly engaging, straightforward, and rhythmic—featuring excellent descriptions of people and places.

    Originality: Although this book features a classical Dickensian theme and voice, the story feels original and unique.

    Character Development: The characters superbly developed, vivid, and realistic.

    Blurb: Watson's winning novel inspires compassion for these small boys, and relief that England's age of forced child labor has passed.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Second Coming of Jesse James

    by Mark Herder

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is engaging and entertaining. The humor and the underdog theme draw readers into the well-plotted story. Readers will cheer for Jack Carpenter.

    Prose: The prose is technically flawless. The pacing is perfect, the scenes are well crafted, and the storytelling is thoroughly enjoyable. 

    Originality: The premise of this book is wholly original. But what really stands out is the great use of dialect.

    Character Development: Jack has a voice readers will not forget. His dialogue is original and fits him perfectly. Rattles is also thoroughly developed and has a strong voice.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Going Widdershins

    by Sherrye Cohn

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is perfectly plotted, fascinating, well-paced, and full of surprises. Readers will be delighted.

    Prose: The commonsense voice is spot-on and appropriate to the material. The writing is clean, clear, and, at times, lovely.

    Originality: This novel is unique and engaging. The characters and their stories feel original.

    Character Development: The characterization here is exceptional. Dr. Atkins and Emilena are flawlessly rendered, while additional characters are multidimensional.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Beside the Music

    by BJ Knapp

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is skillfully plotted and well paced. It's a book that readers won't want to put down.

    Prose: The prose is smooth and conversational, featuring subtle humor, great turns of phrase, and a contemporary voice.

    Originality: There are plenty of books about crumbling marriages, but this one is unique thanks to the original characters and winning premise, which the author somehow makes believable.

    Character Development: All of the characters are distinct and feature realistic flaws and qualities. Brenda and Tim's interactions are authentic, with all the tics and quirks of a marriage. The rock band characters are also exceptionally well portrayed.

    Blurb: Knapp turns the potential tragedy of a troubled marriage into smart satire. Rock groupies ranging from tame to obsessed will have a great time indulging in this fantasy of an idol sleeping in the guest bed.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Ellen's Song

    by Ben Kalland

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Ellen's Song is a page-turner with superb foreshadowing and a gradually developing plot. Readers will be captivated and find the ending powerful.

    Prose: Kalland's novel features beautiful, insightful, smart, and witty prose with lovely phrasing throughout.

    Originality: This story of a fractured family takes a fresh turn with plenty of emotional adventures and spiritual angles that are unique and fascinating.

    Character Development: This character-driven story masterfully defines individuals on many levels: physical descriptions, personality traits, and flaws. All the characters are well developed.

    Blurb: This family's tragic story is cleverly composed with depth, wit, and breadth.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Dancer's Guide to Africa

    by Terez Mertes Rose

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Rose's novel is both entertaining and well-plotted. The moderate pacing is a perfect fit—the storyline unfolds exactly as feels natural, and there are no wasted side anecdotes or filler content. The ending will prove highly satisfying to readers.

    Prose: Rose's book is composed of beautiful prose, and readers will frequently find themselves re-reading passages to re-experience gorgeously worded sentences. The opening letter is a fabulous way to begin the book, as it both contains an explanation of what is to come and includes much useful contextual information about Gabon. 

    Originality: What sets A Dancer's Guide to Africa apart is its original concept. The characters and the setting are unique and exotic, yet also highly relatable because of how they are crafted.

    Character Development: The characters mature as the story continues, and the progress they make is both realistic and appealing, causing readers to empathize with them during the events of the book.

    Blurb: This book offers an incredibly well-written tale of a woman's adventures and personal growth while working with the Peace Corps in Gabon.

  • Plot: White crafts a rich historical story that grounds readers in more than one era and powerfully explores the lives and minds of musicians. The author is adept at building suspense and surprises readers with unexpected developments. Occasional POV confusion is a minor blemish.

    Prose: Descriptions are as engaging as the plot, with authentic period details. White’s prose is sophisticated and elegant, while her descriptions of musical compositions are themselves melodic and lyrical.

    Originality: The concept of following a work of Beethoven through lands, times, and crimes is remarkably original. The author pulls off the conceit with grace and bold storytelling.

    Character Development: Characterizations are organic, fluid, and vivid. The author excels at clearly maintaining characters’ distinct temperaments and psychological complexities.

    Blurb: As mellifluous as it is absorbing, this story of a Beethoven score moving through history, will move readers with its originality and historical breadth.

  • Growth

    by AJ Smith

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: A beer-swilling landscaper whose wife is divorcing him may not seem the best foundation for a fast-moving plot, but the narration and complexity of the main character carry the story well.

    Prose: The writing is reminiscent of a modern Henry James, with perhaps some sprinklings of Virginia Woolf. The contemporary voice and spots of humor enhance what can be intricate but riveting prose.

    Originality: There's a common feel to the plot of this story about an overweight, divorced laborer, but the telling is what makes this book stand out as wholly original.

    Character Development: Bburke is a fully realized character that readers would recognize in a flash if he were to arrive for a landscaping job. The characterization of minor players is also spot on.

    Blurb: This may sound counter-intuitive, but fans of philosophy and classic literature will be captivated by this story of an aging, beer-swilling, overweight landscaper who becomes disconcerted by his expanding awareness.

  • My Lady Zane

    by Steven M. Sullivan

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: From the description of the musket balls at the very start, it's clear this is going to be a gripping read. The novel is structured very well.

    Prose: The prose here is a pleasure to read. There are, however, a few phrases that get repeated throughout, and those echoes in the text will be jarring to readers.

    Originality: The is an original tale. Both women are likable, and the story is inspiring.

    Character Development: This book features excellent, believable, relatable characters.

    Blurb: From the strong lead to the satisfying conclusion, this book weaves together past and present into a story of two courageous women.

  • The Price of Compassion

    by A.B. Michaels

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Michaels’s plot details the making of a possible murderer, exploring chapters of Tom Justice’s life since childhood. Featuring a fiery cast of characters who are mostly governed by emotion, the book’s plot contains many fast-moving and exciting elements.

    Prose: Michaels’s prose is excellent and even includes a Midwestern twang to lend the narrative voice credibility. The dialogue and descriptions also rely on high levels of suspense to keep readers intrigued throughout.

    Originality: The novel opens chapters with quotes and testimonies from potential witnesses to the aptly-named Justice case, reminding readers of the historical event that inspired the imaginative plot.

    Character Development: Michaels’s diverse and vibrant cast of characters is the gemstone buried in this novel. The author provides vivid descriptions of characters, many of whom will be memorable for readers after the final page is turned.

  • After They Go

    by J Mercer

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Mercer’s story is set in a struggling tumbleweed of a beach town, with one family at its center. Passing time is marked by emotionally traumatic or uplifting events, which are exceptionally well conveyed through Mercer’s delicate plotting.

    Prose: Mercer’s prose flows through this beach town family saga quite smoothly and evocatively. Meticulous descriptions capture circumstances both mundane and exceptional--death, loss of innocence, proclamations of love, starting over, and rebuilding broken lives.
     

    Originality: Writing in a singular style, Mercer explores the emotional and psychological growth and decline of a complicated family. The author brings to light how adherence to tradition may diminish familial bonds, rather than strengthen them.  

    Character Development: Characters are intricately woven, unique, and relatable. The line between protagonist and antagonist in the Aaldenberg household is intentionally blurred.

  • We Were Once

    by Amy Watkin

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Watkin composes a narrative with historical integrity and imaginative reach. The author inserts a hearty helping of speculation into this nuanced reinterpretation of Wilde and Lloyd's turbulent marriage.

    Prose: The author demonstrates a rare ability to achieve historical verisimilitude while infusing her story with relevance and novelty. Centuries-old conversations are reimagined with wit and reverence.

    Originality: Writing with sensitivity, awareness, and skill, Watkin offers an uncommon feminist perspective on 19th century social restrictions and oppressive marriage laws.

    Character Development: Watkin gives voice to an invisible woman who had the strength to momentarily tame an Irish giant of English literature. Characters are convincingly portrayed and enlivened through sharp dialogue and the author's own shrewd observations.

    Blurb: Watkin’s novel is a heart-wrenching celebration of female courage in an otherwise discouraging time.

  • A Day in Eternity

    by Kathryn Gabriel Loving

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author explores the mysterious aftermath of an accident, raising questions about the very nature of temporal and physical reality (is the protagonist’s life flashing before his eyes?). Loving creates an effectively surreal story that maintains clarity and forward momentum.

    Prose: Loving weaves a lyrical psychological puzzle through flashbacks to the protagonist’s former life and the tenuous present. Characters are easily differentiated by their distinctive voices, while Loving integrates poetry in a manner that exists in harmony with the prose.

    Originality: The central character’s predicament is a decidedly unique one, and Loving explores his fractured psychological state with power and grace.

    Character Development: Loving crafts both central and secondary characters from the inside-out, creating subtly impactful interactions and maintaining intrigue.

    Blurb: This penetrating adventure of the mind and spirit soars through the lives of two aviators and their passion for flight, life, and romance—and their unique perceptions of death.

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