by Rachel Ledge
Plot: Ledge brings the readers into the tumultuous world of a mystery woman, who is seemingly dropped randomly into space and time. Through her story, Ledge explores ideas about individuality, reality, and fate.
Prose: Through Ledge's often beautifully descriptive prose, readers will experience lush and enigmatic settings from the past, a morose hospital, and the startling feeling of being trapped in a mental abyss.
Originality: This novel offers an unexpected romantic drama untethered from temporal reality.
Character Development: A complex lead character drives this story; readers will eagerly follow her development as she navigates uncanny circumstances.
by Janice S. C. Petrie
Plot: Inspired by true events, this well-researched intriguing novel exposes the occupational hazards embedded in the Gloucester, Mass., fish and seafood trade in 1990. Vivid, pungent, and layered in deceit, the story verges on a whistle-blowing, eye-opening look at a lucrative industry as opposed to a work of fiction.
Prose: Backed by countless interviews and the author’s firsthand knowledge and experience, the carefully-edited narrative reveals time and place through authentic descriptions and colloquialisms. The author's tendency to hyper-focus on minute details creates an experience to be savored, rather than quickly devoured.
Originality: Illegal acts on the ocean, a popular theme in fiction, may encompass any profession, yet this memorable book stands apart—an intricately-planned historical immersion in Cape Ann that will make an indelible impression on a jaded connoisseur of adventure novels.
Character Development: Candid protagonists in this character-saturated novel take the story in many directions, with shady personalities at the helm. Their development spins doubt and suspense and triggers double-takes.
by Aalia Lanius
Plot: The circumstances of a tumultuous divorce and personal crises make this book intensely readable. Protagonist Aleyna’s path to regaining control of her life is gratifying, though the book’s tone shifts from tense and engaging to more freely inspirational as the novel progresses.
Prose: Neither the details of the story nor the protagonist’s epiphany are purely original, yet her quest to survive and ultimately become empowered, shows her individuality.
Originality: Lanius writes in a clear, confessional prose style, giving voice to Aleyna’s struggles through illness, violence, and emotional turmoil.
Character Development: Aleyna is a sharply rendered character, and readers are provided an intimate view into her painful circumstances. She is not blameless; however, it is through the revelation of her guilt—not her admission of it—that she becomes truly relatable for readers.
by Ian Nathaniel Cohen
Plot: Cohen delivers a solid, compelling, and briskly paced story that blends adventure and romance within a rich historical setting.
Prose: The author layers his clear and engaging prose with historically resonant detail.
Originality: The narrative is evocative of classic adventure stories; the story's freshness arises from its attention to detail and historical verisimilitude.
Character Development: Cohen writes characters with agency and grit. Heroes and villains both maintain a degree of moral complexity.
by James Musgrave
Plot: Musgrave’s idiosyncratic and poetic narrative is filled with plot twists and surprise encounters as a music promoter explores his unusual parentage. Kidnapping, sexual trysts, and historical content provide subtext and nuance to the narrative. Slowing momentum results in an anticlimactic second half.
Prose: The novel offers a uniquely fascinating focus on famed vaudeville entertainers. The examination of the tumultuous historical era is especially well integrated. Musgrave subtly raises transcendent questions about relationships, identity, and belonging.
Originality: Despite awkward transitions between prose sections and dialogue, Musgrave writes with agency and shows tremendous storytelling knack.
Character Development: While a large cast of secondary characters can crowd the narrative, lead characters are endearing, intriguing, and sincere.
by Morenike' Matory
Plot: Moreniké paints a vivid portrait of a family living in the deep south during the 1920s. The novel addresses complex issues of the time and presents intriguing stories along the way. However, some of the plot lines are left unresolved, which may leave readers with significant questions.
Prose: Moreniké uses some beautiful imagery to describe the hard and complicated lives of the Grass sisters, Olive and Wheat. While the dialogue enhances the plot and characters, it sometimes feels out of place or explanatory.
Originality: Moreniké takes on a host of serious topics in an attempt to discuss a subject that is not frequently broached in fiction.
Character Development: Readers are quickly brought into the world of the Grass sisters and will be eager to see their stories through to their conclusion. Both Olive and Wheat face multiple devastating hardships; readers may wish their motivations and thoughts were more fleshed out in the face of their adversities.
by Mark Herder
Plot: Fast-moving, well plotted, and somewhat mysterious, this novel will have readers turning pages and wondering how the romance resolves itself.
Prose: The varied prose features solid descriptions and dialogue. The writing creates an effectively dreamlike tone throughout the novel.
Originality: Even though it builds on the framework of a familiar Greek romance, the setting and characters are clever and create an interesting world.
Character Development: Emotional characters with a strong connection make this a mesmerizing love story. The players are well crafted and believable.
by Jayne Allen
Plot: In this book, Allen crafts an engaging and evenly plotted story of a woman who, after learning that she has only a limited window in which to have children, evaluates her relationships and personal aspirations. Allen explores themes of racial prejudice, infidelity, and family dynamics in this voice-driven work.
Prose: Despite moments of flat narration, the author writes with clarity and immediacy throughout the novel.
Originality: The protagonist faces a unique dilemma, and Allen explores her uncertainty about having a child with sensitivity and maturity. The focus on systemic prejudice provides a welcome layer of complexity to the plot.
Character Development: While protagonist Tabitha’s emotions and psychological states are often overtly stated rather than organically explored, readers will readily connect with her search for fulfillment on her journey of self-discovery. Secondary characters, including Tabitha’s close female friends and reluctant-to-commit boyfriend, do not gain significant development beyond their dialogue.
by Joss Sheldon
Plot: The author has built an incredibly rich and well-developed dystopian world, but not a well structured and compelling plot to match. The classic twist toward the end fails to present any kind of believable turning point, and not enough foreshadowing is laid down to justify it.
Prose: A fully-formed language and culture, with consistent rules and idiosyncrasies, leaps off the page whenever the reader is following Renee's adventures. Unfortunately frequent fourth-wall breaks—with the narrator addressing the reader directly—are jarring.
Originality: While it does occasionally feel as though the reader is being scolded, the world-building is top notch. The author skillfully presents an immersive dystopia woven from the threads of current pursuits and politics.
Character Development: It's very hard to write a sympathetic character in a world where no sympathy exists, but Renee's evolution and eventual exit from Individutopia are believable, and her slow discovery of her humanity is riveting.
by Steven E. Wilson
Plot: Wilson's storyline is driven by raw tension and high stakes covert actions. The swiftly moving narrative is largely plot driven, with a focus on international terrorism, patriotism, religious conviction, and vengeance-seeking.
Prose: Wilson writes with fluency about the duties of an American operative and the socio-political climate of the moment, with lengthy descriptions of crossfire leavened by frank dialogue between operatives.
Originality: The concept of an accomplished member of the CIA coming out of retirement to face an enemy force is a familiar one. Yet Wilson introduces a protagonist with intriguing circumstances and familial obligations.
Character Development: Character interiority is minimal, with little psychological development on the part of the main character. Readers are offered a modest glimpse of the protagonist's home life but may fail to fully grasp his motivations.
by Adam Altman
Plot: Altman integrates multiple storylines into a mosaic-style narrative that is enjoyably absurd and atmospheric. The weaker transitions between threads, however, result in a sometimes disorienting reading experience.
Prose: Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, the narrative dynamically weaves between characters, moments, and emotions.
Originality: Altman’s novel reads like a bawdy comedy of errors unfolding within a chaotic stage production.
Character Development: Altman’s characters, true to the nature of satire, are a quirky cast of caricatures who play into the story’s conceptual framework.
by Harvey Havel
Plot: The plot of this novel is a bit overstuffed and too wide-ranging. Readers follow DeShawn through many settings as he faces many challenges. And while all of them are compelling, taken together they dilute the story.
Prose: The prose is workmanlike; it could be improved with some tightening and a focus on showing rather than telling.
Originality: This is a story worth telling—one that feels fresh and vital and important.
Character Development: Although readers get to know DeShawn, he doesn't change all that much over the course of the novel, and he doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes.
by Christine Maier
Plot: Though the premise of this novel is promising—Emily travels the world in the wake of an emotionally and physically destructive car accident—the execution falters. The plot often stalls and the depictions of her travels sometimes feel more like a travel guide than a novel.
Prose: Maier's prose is serviceable and effective, but fails to distinguish itself in terms of tone, timbre, or color.
Originality: There is not a lot here that readers won't have encountered before. And, at times, Maier's novel reads more like a traveler memoir than it does a work of fiction.
Character Development: Though readers get a good sense of Emily—who does change over the course of the novel—the people she encounters on her travels are largely one dimensional and do little to enliven the text.
by Randall Wilbert
Plot: The author's decades-long involvement in youth baseball is evident in how focused his plot is on the minutiae of the game—so much so that the insider baseball commentary is likely to appeal primarily to ballplayers themselves.
Prose: When Wilbert writes about the art and the arc of a baseball game, his prose is uncluttered and illuminating; off-field, it strives too hard at being humorous.
Originality: The love of the game of baseball propels this messy, rollicking account of an eccentric coach's last year of fielding a team of teenage ballplayers.
Character Development: With a character roster of 19 players, five coaches, and many more small-town quirky personalities, the author valiantly attempts to distinguish one from another, and for the most part succeeds—though overall, less would have been more here.