by Susanne Dunlap
Plot: Dunlap's “Listen to the Wind” keeps readers on their toes. One event continually follows the previous one, and it all feels so incredibly real that the reader will be shocked to learn the twist about where it actually occurs. The world-building here is expert and will leave readers wanting more. Time passes gracefully and excitingly in Dunlap's world.
Prose/Style: There is never a dull moment in Dunlap's prose. She doesn't overdo her details, but instead keeps settings vivid--allowing for the reader to make the novel and story truly their own. The dialogue was well-researched and conscious; it never forced itself and it was natural and elegant, much like the period.
Originality: “Listen to the Wind” is in its own league. Completely imaginative, mature and playful all at once, this book doesn’t compete with any other novel for its spot on the bookshelf, as it will outshine many and sit comfortably among the classics.
Character Development: Dunlap creates memorable characters, each unique, each with his or her own thoughts and personal plagues, each just as worthy of the reader’s sympathy as the last. They will stay with the audience long after the final page.
Blurb: Populated by characters worth rooting for, both the nefarious and the outspoken heroes, this novel is packed with heart, imagination, and incredible testament to the human spirit.
by Lisa Braver Moss
Plot: The author offers up a brilliant, if at times disturbing, story that flows smoothly and evenly, is entirely plausible, and hits its mark.
Prose/Style: Beautifully written, this tale demonstrates the author's mastery of language, storyline, and characterization. The reader is literally captivated from the first sentence through until the end. Superbly done.
Originality: This book features a unique story with distinct and original characters, as well as a plotline that holds the reader's interest throughout.
Character Development: The characters here are identifiable and relatable, and the reader will sympathize with Martha and all that she endures. Her impact on the reader continues long after the last page.
Blurb: Gripping from beginning to end, this beautifully written work is impossible to put down.
by N. John Shore, Jr.
Plot: Although the essential storyline is arguably basic (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wants girl back), Shore tells that story in a deeply engrossing manner, producing a highly satisfying reading experience through the addition of fascinating background facts (e.g., devil's grip), mysteries (why David's mother abandoned the family and where she went), subplots (Jerald's hotel saga and the drama with his ex-wife over visitation rights with his son), and insights on life (especially David's father's "try to win her back" pep talk). The author introduces these narrative threads while maintaining forward cohesion and focus.
Prose: Shore's prose is nearly transparent--which is extremely high praise. The writing is so stylistically on target that the language itself falls away, allowing the reader to enter into the subtleties of the story completely.
Originality: From its evocative 1970s San Francisco setting to its clearly drawn characters and the efficient specificity of detail surrounding nearly all plot events, this novel stands apart for its originality. The novel is a testament to the notion that the strongest works are often those with simple storylines, exceptionally told.
Character Development: Character development is outstanding, with understated but masterfully drawn portraits of each individual player. Shore's protagonist is authentically funny and rawly sympathetic. Side characters are provided distinctive voices and roles that complement rather than clutter the story.
by Rebecca Rosenberg
Plot: Based on a real-life historical figure, this embellished fictional story details the life of Elizabeth McCourt Tabor, aka Baby Doe Tabor, a strong and determined woman who overcame tremendous hardship to survive. While the bones of the plot are based on facts, the author does an admiral job enhancing the tale and holding the readers interest throughout.
Prose: The author is a gifted writer, weaving a tale from the 19th century that is not only interesting to modern-day readers but which seamlessly balances elements of fact and fiction.
Originality: Despite being based on actual events, this work tells a story few will know. The author blends historical verisimilitude with intrigue, making the story richer and more engaging. The author truly makes the story her own.
Character Development: Lizzie is a vibrant character whose personality shines through from page one, as she presses her evasive husband for information about their destination. Her determination, astuteness, and sheer will permeate the page. Secondary characters are similarly well-crafted.
Blurb: An engaging and beautifully-written story, this fact-based novel celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in one woman's determination to survive.
by William Poe
Plot: Though Poe offers a thoroughly compelling and propulsive plot, the author displays a somewhat impatient tendency to skim-over potentially rich scenes in favor of more slow-going descriptions and allusions. The novel's unexpected developments and narrative breadth, however, allow this work to resonate.
Prose: While at times Poe's abstractions can unnecessarily obfuscate the circumstances, the author delivers a finely tuned narrative with literary prose that is smooth, rich, and rhythmic in cadence.
Originality: What sets this book apart is its raw originality. Simon’s Mansion sensitively and realistically captures the struggles of a young man seeking truth and acceptance following a period of intense struggle. That the author draws from personal experience to craft this story, provides a meaningful level of verisimilitude.
Character Development: Simon is an immediately compelling character, whose turbulent past and internal conflicts enrich and inform his identity; Simon's relationship with his partner is equally nuanced. As the layers slip away from the other, initially obscure and less sympathetic characters, their own complexities and fluctuating rationalizations are revealed.
by Brigitte Goldstein
Plot: The plot of a young Jewish granddaughter attempting to save her grandmother in 1946 war-torn Germany is an interesting take on this time period. The pace is established in the Prologue and is maintained throughout the book. The tension pulls the reader into the story on the first page and creates a connection that drives the reader to finish the book.
Prose/Style: The syntax has a seamless, lyrical flow, driving the emotions of the scenes. The author is quite skilled at this, and it’s one of the book's strengths.
Originality: A young Jewish woman safe in New York City leaves to enter war-torn Germany in 1946. She pretends to be German so as to save her grandmother. The granddaughter ends up in a US Army prison for Nazi criminals. This original story will grab the readers and pull them into the journey.
Character Development: The characters in this novel are well-developed and memorable. The internal dialogue of the protagonist, Artemisia Safran, is captivating. The dialogue between characters feels organic and believable.
by Zlaikha Y Samad & L'mere Younossi
Plot: The plot to find the unseen blossoms of a fig tree—a tree believed not to produce flowers before its fruit—is intriguing, and sets the folktale-like tone of the book in the first few pages.
Prose/Style: The strongest element to this book is its prose/style. There is a quiet strength and calmness that gives the characters and voices of this story an endearing and comforting quality. Beautifully written, reminiscent of a fine piece of music, this work will captivate the reader.
Originality: The use of a fairytale format to tell this original, spiritual story about finding a magical fig blossom is unique and enchanting.
Character Development: The characters of Zuli and Lamar are well written, brought to life in the readers’ minds in a vivid, memorable setting. The characters’ internal thoughts and descriptions are amazingly organic.
by Bill Walker
Plot: This new angle on what might have happened if John Dillinger hadn't been killed in 1934 is an attention-grabber. It has a wonderful opening, penned by the girl who met the charming bank robber and commented that he looked like a movie star, seeding the idea in his smart, creative mind. This is an enjoyable romp through 1930s Hollywood and its stars, with the looming threat of J. Edgar Hoover adding to the fast pace.
Prose/Style: The prose carries the plot like a fine wardrobe makes the man. Fine-tuned details of the era enhance the reading experience.
Originality: This entirely unique take on a famous gangster's change of mind is so well crafted that disbelief can be set aside.
Character Development: The cast of characters begins with an engaging look at an admirable newsman and his daughter, and then moves on to fully believable personalities of Dillinger, Hoover, and special agent Melvin Purvis. All characters are fully dimensional.
by Tom Sheridan
Plot:The plot is standard in terms of overcoming one’s past, but the presentation of the plot and its unfolding is superior.
Prose/Style:The memorable prose throughout takes on a lyrical bent, at times dropping into a short burst of rap lyricism, which enhances the narration.
Originality:This is not your average coming-of age-tale, but instead it is a coming-to-grips-with-age tale full of humor and heart.
Character Development:The father and son round out an excellent variety of cast members featured in this manuscript. The complexities in these individuals are layered, and their personalities all hold the readers’ interest.
Blurb:“Thrivers” is the tale of a father and son, both on different paths in life. This book is for all of the dreamers and endlessly hopeful in life.
by W. L. Hodge
Plot: Despite the occasional longueur (there are perhaps a few too many recaps, which could be trimmed or excised), the plotting is headlong, tumbling into one surprise turn after another. Asa is a trans woman who loves women. After being arrested for using the "wrong" (male) bathroom while bravely gadding about in drag, she ditches her humdrum architectural assignments to return to her Texas home town, the site of severe adolescent trauma. The author excels at creating exciting action scenes, while the novel maintains its level of psychological profundity.
Prose: Prose is top of the line, in terms of action, dialogue, and the protagonist's self-analysis. This reader initially balked at rather maudlin sentimentalism of the final paragraph, but perhaps the author's intent is semi-satiric.
Originality: Hodge's voice-driven novel provides a rarely authentic glimpse into the experience of being transgender as explored through a truly distinctive, highly memorable central character.
Character Development: Asa Cranford, the gender dysphoric narrator of this picaresque tale of self-discovery, is such a charmer (erudite, too), that the novel could get by on personality alone. Asa starts off glib but the narrative voice ultimately evolves, demonstrating a full range of emotional and psychological states. The narrator is someone whose rich interior life few will have had an opportunity to imagine.
Blurb: Asa Cranford, the gender dysphoric narrator of this picaresque tale of self-discovery, is such a charmer (erudite, too), that the novel could get by on personality alone. But the plot positively boils, providing readers with a truly enveloping, page-turning experience.
by Janet White
Plot: This spellbinding journey of Beethoven's Opus 74 through time, place, and performance is filled with extraordinary musicians, and startling twists will capture and hold readers' attention. The excellent pacing is also sustained by expressive prose.
Prose/Style: Lyrical, refined prose brings the music to life and enhances characters and locations. Voice transitions through various characters are effortlessly appropriate for the different eras.
Originality: Starting with the initial creation of Opus 74, and following its subsequent impact on musicians over more than 200 years, is satisfyingly unique.
Character Development: The construction of numerous characters through appearance, personality, and circumstance is masterfully achieved. Fully-formed musicians stand out as distinct individuals.
Blurb: The lyrical prose that carries this story of Beethoven's 1809 creation of the “Harp,” and its elegant performances in different eras, is as dynamic as the music itself.
by Ralph Cissne
Plot: This collection of fourteen fast-paced stories defies literary boundaries and surpasses expectations in a fascinating presentation of playful romps, brooding character sketches, and moving revelations. Oblique references may leave certain pieces with an uncertain end, yet this quite intentional device only enhances the book’s overall appeal.
Prose/Style: An outstanding command of language sets this work apart from its mediocre competition in short fiction, a feat accomplished only by writers who have mastered the art of complex phraseology and the finer nuances of parlance. Unforgettable descriptions and high-impact situations trigger an exploration of the human psyche in the deepest, and sometimes, most disturbing detail.
Originality: Familiar on the surface, yet refreshing beneath a strategically placed veil of words, no character steps onto an aisle reserved for those who need to repeat what has been done ad infinitum. Every obscure vignette and every emotional vortex lingers long after the linguistic music has faded out.
Character Development: Like a fine wine, these incredible portraits of memorable protagonists are steeped in years of creative experience, each honed to perfection. Every portrayal exposes a recognizable element of humanity and reasserts life itself.
Blurb: An astounding collection of stories to provoke, ponder, peruse, and ultimately… to feel.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Although this is Book Two of a trilogy, it stands alone well; a page-turning portrayal of 1923 musicians, and the gay and cross-dressing men of the era who must hide (sometimes in plain sight). Engrossing scenes range from tense to sexy to musical interludes.
Prose/Style: Lucid descriptions finely express a passion for music, and also work well in accurately depicting the era and its people. Sensuality and sexual scenes are adeptly handled.
Originality: The story of a 1920s young White jazz musician who identifies as gay and has no racist attitudes or biases is unique, but this inside look at the interracial LGBTQ+ community 100 years ago increases the originality of the plot.
Character Development: Characters can be visualized as living, thinking, feeling, breathing people here. Jimmy's innocence and guilelessness are endearing, and Chicago's 1923 gangsters are captivating. The personalities of the LGBTQ+ characters are enchanting and memorable.
Blurb: Even sensational jazz and blues music cannot transcend racism in this extraordinary, erotic story of Chicago's 1920s LGBTQ+ community.
by Panayotis Cacoyannis
Plot: This novel is well plotted, with many surprising twists and a strongly established sense of place and time. The ending is a bit frustrating in that while the main character appears to know what happened to her aunt's sculpture and who sold the scandalous story to the tabloids, the reader remains in the dark.
Prose/Style: The prose is smooth and captivating, drawing readers into a realistic story world.
Originality: The characters, setting, time period, and story are highly original and engaging. The enchanting "magic" store and magician backstory, along with the moon landing (propaganda, according to Dr. Schmidt), and Mia-Mia's "disguise," disappearance and reappearance, help to develop a theme of lies and deceptions, real and not real.
Character Development: Characters are well developed and believable, with intriguing mysteries emerging in their backstories and resolving as the novel moves forward.
by Demarest Campbell
Plot: The overall plot was simple, but the stories within the story truly showcased the complexities of life, family, friendship, and love throughout the ages.
Prose/Style: Fans of old-school classics like “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” will fall in love with the dream-like prose here. But the sections where characters exclusively spoke French, Russian, Bengali, Hindustani, or other languages needed a few extra translations and context clues to grip readers.
Originality: The life cycle of this singular family felt entirely organic and deeply human. A uniquely delightful tale!
Character Development: The main characters were well developed and felt like full, complete beings, but there were too many minor characters. Having staggered exits for these minor characters was an excellent choice, but it muddied the waters a bit when it came to who had died, who had moved away, and who was still interacting with the main characters.
by Victoria Landis
Plot: Each page in this book leaps to the next, constantly driving more curiosity about Jordan, the woman with amnesia who, as it turns out, is from mysterious wealthy origins. Local wildlife, especially birds, are drawn to Jordan, and her awe-inspiring ability to heal the sick and injured adds to the speedy pace of this story.
Prose/Style: Although the POV is third-person, the writing is personable, much like someone describing a strange experience in their life. The matter-of-fact voice adds to the believability of the plot, and adept descriptions enable visualization of the settings.
Originality: Stories of amnesia have been told before, and tales of magical healing powers are not uncommon, but the blend of the two and the personalities involved lend a distinctiveness to this modern-day tale with the impacts of technologies and social media.
Character Development: The personalities of Jordan, Petra, and the others in their circle are sharply contrasted with the unpleasant individuals who wish to take advantage of Jordan's situation, or attack her as an “antichrist.” Petra's role as Jordan's helper feels like an “everyperson's” place, with realistic reactions to the phenomenon.
Blurb: This is irresistible reading, hard to put down without knowing what will happen next in the strange situation of Jordan's amnesia, and how she has become capable of miraculous feats.