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  • 7 Inch Kara

    by Becca Hillburn

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: This is a solidly plotted work that features useful lessons for young children and scary moments that create excitement. The ending, however, could use a little more punch.

    Prose: The prose is solid and appropriate for the target audience. Illustrations are pleasantly unique and evocative.

    Originality: Lilliputians are the invention of Swift, of course, but it's a great idea to present them in this context.

    Character Development: The characters here are very well rendered, believable, and relatable. Kara is open-minded, curious, and imperfect.

    Blurb: A delightfully illustrated comic with a classic feel.

  • Lucid World

    by Denise Lammi

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: In this meandering but fascinating novel, Morgan learns how to both control her negative emotions and live with compassion and positive energy from her friends in Lucid World, a utopian society hidden from the real world.

    Prose:  The novel is well-constructed and the teens' personalities and dialogue are natural and unaffected. The writing is clean, clear, and effective.

    Originality: The premise of this book is creative and promising. However, at times the work feels more like an interesting self-help book than a novel.

    Character Development: While Morgan does change over the course of the book, her character development is limited. The other players are relatable; the strongest aspect of their crafting is how they react to the situations around them.

  • Braidy von Althuis and the Pesky Pest Controller

    by Cassidy Dwelis

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: This book is carefully plotted and well paced. The story is engaging and will keep young readers entertained.

    Prose: The dialogue here is age-appropriate and effective. However, the prose is marred by some awkward phrasing, while some sections of the narrative lack polish.

    Originality: What sets Dwelis’s book apart is the originality of her characters. The characters that populate this book will resonate with and delight readers.  

    Character Development: The characters here are wonderfully rendered. Braidy is vividly drawn and believable, while secondary characters are fully formed and well developed.

  • Struck

    by Rachel Langley

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The plot of this novel is fast-moving and fascinating. At the center of the story is the eerie disappearance of an entire town. Readers will want to discover what role the identical twin sisters played in this occurrence.

    Prose: Langley skillfully brings readers into the alternate world of Antonia. The prose is clear and consistently well crafted. The author's use of alternating voices lends to the mysterious tone of the book and helps further character development.

    Originality: While some of the plot points are familiar, Langley makes her tale fresh through the voices of Laney and Leela though. Also, readers will enjoy the unique ending.

    Character Development: The book is rife with intriguing characters. Langley attempts to differentiate the twins via personality traits, but their relationships with each other and others close to them could be more fleshed out.

  • Painting Sunsets: A Story for Young Artists

    by Stephen Evans

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: This short, fantastical novel delivers light adventure and a poignant resolution.

    Prose: Evans’s prose is evocative and unpretentious, while the integration of poetry thematically augments the story.

    Originality: Although reminiscent of classic portal stories, this gentle outing offers a unique concept and memorable delivery.

    Character Development: While characters may benefit from richer development, their face-value simplicity lends them an allegorical quality that is appropriate for the intended audience.

  • Plot: This fun mystery is strongly plotted and will have readers turning pages. The action moves along at a good clip and young readers will certainly be entertained.

    Prose: The prose here is clean, clear, and age appropriate. It helps move the story along and is appropriate to the material.

    Originality: Although talking animals is nothing new in fiction, the author manages to make it feel fresh and new. Young readers will find a lot to like here.

    Character Development: The characters in this book are well developed and vivid. Readers will be entertained by them and engage with their story.

  • Plot: This novel is well plotted. The action and tension intensify throughout, and readers are left hanging at the end of this first book in the series.

    Prose: The writing is smooth and allows the action to build throughout the novel. Fans of WWII fiction will enjoy this.

    Originality: While WWII stories are nothing new, the author manages to put a different spin on things, making his tale feel original.

    Character Development: The author has taken the time to fully develop his characters. Each of the players has been given distinct characteristics.

  • Cross Country

    by Brian Herberger

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Herberger delivers another successful coming-of-age novel with protagonist Bets at the helm. The book delves into politics, racism, and the notion of patriotism without being too heavy-handed.

    Prose: Bets poses a lot of questions to herself, which moves the plot along and gives the reader insight—however, this does become a bit repetitive. Still, the journey across the country is quite enjoyable.

    Originality: Cross Country is a lovely coming-of-age novel that will resonate with many young adult readers. The idea of a cross-country trip to explore oneself is not very unique. But add to that the excitement and mood of the United States in the late '60s and readers of all ages will find the story interesting and thoughtful.

    Character Development: The reader learns a lot about Bets and the strength of her character through her adventure. The character of the strong and willful Emmie is brought to the forefront as well.

  • Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading Creeps

    by A.J. Massey

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Narratives that alternate between reality and the fantasy world of Meridia raise intrigue. Massey juggles the main and side quests well, as Ben, Marcus, Tam, Char, and Avery attempt to end the Fading.

    Prose: Pointed but descriptive prose sets a good pace and keeps the reader engaged.

    Originality: This novel is the enchanting offspring of The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland.

    Character Development: The odd, often silly side characters are delightful, while the main characters form a balanced group of endearing individuals.

    Blurb: A charming read with a satisfying plot twist and heartwarming conclusion.

  • The Timekeeper's Daughter

    by C.J.M. Naylor

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This novel features an energetic plot. However, it's not entirely clear what the Timekeepers do or what impact their work has on the world—plot points one hopes will be better developed in sequels to what appears to be the first book in a series.

    Prose: Naylor’s prose style is simple, direct, and serves the unfolding of the story, its adventures, and the twists and turns of its plot.

    Originality: The foundation of Naylor’s story is a familiar theme in other works of fantasy fiction. Its representation through the society of Timekeepers is an original variation on that theme.

    Character Development: The characters in Naylor’s novel are a mixed bag. Abigail Lu Jordan is a satisfyingly complex young woman. By contrast Phillip and Mathias seem one-dimensional, defined primarily by their relationships to Abigail.

  • Chains Carried on Wings

    by Marina Ermakova

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Told through multiple perspectives, this ambitious novel is much heavier on characterization than plot. Following a series of mysterious disappearances, the protagonists seek to defend the city of Running Water from a barrage of seemingly related threats. While the plot is slow to gain momentum, this is mitigated by strong characterization and thorough world-building.

    Prose: The author's prose style is strong, smoothly paced, and appropriate for the target audience. Dialogue is crisp, and the narration between different viewpoints is distinct.

    Originality: Plot, setting, and characters are richly developed and unique. The multiple races residing in the city, and the conflicting political viewpoints of the primary characters, go a long way toward creating a complex society comprised of believable cultural factions.

    Character Development: Possessing unique attributes and engaging internal conflicts, characters are the strength of this dynamic and imaginative fantasy. As they root out the plots against their city, and struggle to work together, their differences become starkly apparent. Ermakova enriches the story with moments of moving introspection and the evolution of complex relationships.

  • Turn Right at the End of the World

    by Robert Watkins

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Characters Max, Lux, and Ushtey embark on a series of breathless mishaps and adventures. Occasional plot holes do not detract from the engaging storytelling.

    Prose: Though Watkins's prose can be overly simplistic and has moments of flatness, dialogue is convincing and the story unfolds with a light, spirited cadence.

    Originality: The author layers this work with inventive and alluring content, both science-based and more chimerical.

    Character Development: The novel’s primary characters develop in tandem with one another and their chemistry is apparent; a better sense of the protagonists individually may further cement their relationship.

  • Buzz

    by EA Carrington

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Buzz is soundly structured but talks down to the reader slightly. Still, this book is very focused on telling a tale that will instill confidence in young children who may be perceived as different.

    Prose: Carrington's prose is simplistic but uses effective narrative techniques typical of the genre.

    Originality: While it covers familiar anti-bullying ground, Carrington's novel is fairly original. However, anthropomorphic insects is a trope that will feel familiar to readers.

    Characterization: The characters in Carrington's book are quirky and well crafted. Younger readers will likely find them engaging and enchanting.

  • It Falls Apart

    by Kate Pawson Studer

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Themes of friendship, loyalty, and forbidden romance are gracefully folded into this light, contemporary YA novel.

    Prose: Studer writes in an unadorned style driven by emotional candor.

    Originality: While the circumstances of the novel are familiar ones, details feel fresh. The story offers few Earth shattering developments, but Studer provides satisfying, small surprises throughout.

    Character Development: Romantic leads demonstrate authentic personal growth both as individuals and within their budding romance. The protagonist’s abiding best friendship is underdeveloped; as a result, readers may not grasp the full emotional weight of the story’s central betrayal.

  • Posthumous

    by Paul Aertker

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Aertker delivers a tender and moving novel about the days leading up to, and following, a loved one’s death. The story evenly transitions between events in the present day and the painful recent past, while Aertker emphasizes the power of stories that are left behind after death.

    Prose: The author’s prose is warmly suited to a middle-grade audience, with relatable and vulnerable first-person narration, authentic dialogue, and apt descriptions

    Originality: Stories of youth grappling with the death of a parent aren’t unique, but Aertker takes a fresh approach to exploring one girl’s search for meaning through grief.

    Character Development: Aertker creates a sympathetic heroine in Ellie, while meaningfully developing adult characters—most significantly, Ellie’s mother, who comes alive through the sections devoted to her final days with Ellie.

  • Nightmare Detective: The Skeleton King

    by Monk Inyang

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: This is a splendid adventure into the complexity of the human mind that asks philosophical questions while still maintaining an action-packed plot that keeps readers turning pages.

    Prose: The text is littered with errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, which damage the overall virtue of text and take readers out of the story.

    Originality: Inyang's suggestion that sleep, one of the basic functions of human life, can work as an alternate universe that connects us in ways that planes and trains are unable to do makes this text a fascinating read.

    Character Development: The characters here are diverse and well rendered. However, sometimes the behavior of the characters feels a bit unnatural, which is jarring for readers.

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