by William Harms
Plot: Set in an evocative historical setting, this novel casts a spell on readers. Harms effectively builds and sustains tension, allowing the story to unfurl in a manner that feels both organic and finessed. A rather hasty conclusion detracts somewhat from the otherwise gracefully paced narrative.
Prose/Style: The author's polished prose revives what might otherwise be a standard tale of brutality and revenge; Harms writes with a rolling staccato and a minimalism that is sharply resonant.
Originality: Harms delivers an atmospheric narrative enriched by incisive descriptions and a vivid sense of place. The novel is reminiscent of classic westerns in terms of structure, tone, and plot elements, but its literary undercurrents allow it to stand apart. Readers may draw comparisons to Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers.
Character Development: Character development is implemented well here, but is secondary to the novel's rich sense of place and its deeply visceral descriptions. Individuals seem almost to be extensions of the landscape of the American South rather than wholly formed individuals--an attribute of the novel that is not necessarily a detriment.
by David Ackley
Plot: This novel’s focus on famed and fascinating figures is immediately compelling. After a somewhat sluggish start, the novel intelligently develops, offering a storyline that shows the author’s awareness of historical circumstances, Einstein’s biographical details, and a sense for dramatic tension.
Prose/Style: Ackley's prose is well constructed. The work is serious, but with a whimsical tint.
Originality: The historical fiction involving a friendship between an artisan and Albert Einstein makes compelling reading. The wonder evinced by Carl in listening to Einstein's dialogue about the stars is masterful.
Character Development: The characters in Ackley's novel are varied and interesting, and the protagonist and his dreams garner reader empathy. The historical titan of Einstein will always draw in a reader, but Ackley’s research into and reverence for the complex, revered figure, is apparent.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Stookey's novel is well plotted. There are few surprises; however, the subject matter and historical time period will keep the reader engaged throughout the novel.
Prose/Style: Readers will find “Acquaintance” well crafted and a beautiful read. This book is an honest portrayal of love and secrecy in a time period where anyone who was different might be in danger.
Originality: Stookey's novel distinguishes itself with a heartbreaking look into forbidden love and fear in 1920's Oregon.
Character Development: The author does a remarkable job creating Carl Holman and Jimmy Harper. The characters are exquisite, yet flawed, and altogether memorable. Both Carl and Jimmy grow tremendously throughout the novel.
by Jeff Stookey
Plot: Stookey’s Dangerous Medicine is the third in a trilogy and despite that stands alone in its story and construct. The story moves through Carl’s life as he tries to navigate a bigoted, hateful Portland and holds the reader's interest through both historical facts (Klan, Eugenics/birth control) and the created world of Carl and his friends.
Prose/Style: With the ability to set a scene, Stookey’s prose shows the compassion and love Carl and Jimmy have for one another as well as the tensions in Carl’s life—his job at the clinic, his faked engagement—and the horrors that underlie the community.
Originality: Pulling from the history pages, Stookey combines his characters and the reality of life in the 1920s/30s in a clever and dynamic way. From the faked relationships of Gwen/Carl and Charlie/Jimmy to the ever-present role of the Klan (Invisible Empire) in society.
Character Development: The characters are believable and are easy for readers to connect with. Their struggles, hopes, desires (and even the ones readers will loathe) flow from them and through them.
by Stephen Finlay Archer
Plot: Archer’s novel is well plotted throughout. The novel is clearly written, giving the reader an engaging storyline to follow and the great gift of knowledge of a period in Irish history that is not abundant in historical fiction.
Prose/Style: Overall, the prose is well crafted, providing the reader with a mixture of a love story, brutal battles, and the search for a lost sibling. The novel felt authentic and true to the time period.
Originality: Archer’s exemplary novel is filled with original details and touches. The characters and subplots give the story extra flair, and add even more strength to the novel.
Character Development: The main characters of the novel are well-developed and easy for the reader to connect with. Morgan and Tadgh will have the reader rooting for a happily-ever-after ending, and readers will be rapt while following the adventures of Collin trying to find his long-lost sister.
by Susan Holt
Plot: This is a fast, light, sweet story of a woman finding love and friendship during rides on a mysterious antique tram. That the other riders may exist on another plane or realm is easy to guess, but it's a fun journey nevertheless—and how will the experience effect Beth? The abrupt ending and occasional plot hole could be remedied to keep readers captivated throughout.
Prose/Style: The narrator's voice is like that of an old friend: fairly simplistic but appropriate for the tale.
Originality: This story is fresh in its setting, and the implantation of the magical tram that affects the character’s individual and intertwined lives. The friendships that are developed and the sweet love subplot add to the originality.
Character Development: The main character is likable and sympathetic, her love interest Isaac is quite personable, and peripheral characters are excellently formed, including the antagonists. The old-fashioned personalities are charming and quaint.
by Joseph Cobb
Plot: Multi-textured and witty, the episodic plot here can be disjointed, with a through line that often becomes lost through the novel's absurd and often chaotic circumstances.
Prose: This wholly original comedic work of fiction is rambling, esoteric, and often brilliant. A patchwork of voices, escapades, and revelations, this novel will both surprise and confound readers.
Originality: Original in structure, style, and tone, the narrative defies reader expectations. Criminal undertakings, falls from grace, happy accidents, and characters acting decidedly in their own worst interests, pepper the storytelling.
Character Development: Characters are far-ranging, eccentric, and deeply, unapologetically, flawed.
by Joni Okun
Plot: Once in the thick of it, the novel’s narrative engine propels the reader relentlessly forward. The plot is grounded in well-researched history, and brought to life by layers of emotional, psychological, and political depth, conflict, and complication.
Prose/Style: The prose in Okun’s novel frequently slips into the redundant and inefficient; however, at the same time, the reader is lulled by the consistent tone and rhythm of her authorial voice, and delighted by moments of linguistic beauty and imagery.
Originality: Reviving the complexities of the characters and time, Okun breathes life into a slice of the past that many of us have, unfortunately, allowed to stale into a state of vague oversimplification.
Character Development: The characters in To Hold the Throne grow more and more dynamic as the novel progresses. Psychological yarns of frustration, ambition, and emotional depth weave into wonderfully complex, ambitious, and utterly human protagonists—especially in the main protagonist, Mariamne.
by Mitchell Allen
Plot: This novel unfolds gradually, with slow-going sections that may leave readers questioning its purpose. However the decision to structure the work in a manner that focuses on incremental stages of the protagonist’s life, is an interesting and auspicious one.
Prose/Style: Allen's prose is eloquent, vivid, and has a steady rhythm; the writing is most definitely the highlight of the book.
Originality: Mitchell's plot of a life wasted that eventually is changed is not new. However, the method by which it unfolds is fresh, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Few books focus so entirely on a single, complex individual through multiple years.
Character Development: The author follows the protagonist through trauma, despair, and nihilistic withdrawal, ultimately leading him to a place of self-awareness, purpose, and greater connection to others.
by Matthew Félix
Plot: Felix takes a tragedy and molds a story of actions and reactions that flow from one to another in this highly crafted gem.
Prose/Style: Felix's simple yet expressive prose invites readers into Pablo's world view that remains steady and fascinating throughout the novel.
Originality: Felix's novel about a sensitive young man searching for himself in his rural hometown keeps pages turning with its enchanting prose and cast of characters.
Character Development: The novel is highly character-driven and each page catapults Pablo through soul-searching and formative questions that lead him to his final decision.
by Kathryn Guare
Plot: The plot is initially slow moving, but picks up the pace with each successive chapter, the storyline moving with a fluid grace. The story arc possesses a slow intensity; progress meets the pain of leaving the homeland.
Prose/Style: The prose here is imbued with a style reflective of classic Irish literature. The hope and spirit of these characters hops off the pages. The writing reflects stark emotion.
Originality: The originality of the text is apparent throughout the book. This is a spin on boy-meets-girl, specifically the budding relationship between Tom & Brigid.
Character Development: The characters are compelling from the very beginning of the story, quickly gaining the readers’ interest and sympathy. They remain endearing to the audience throughout the plot.
Blurb: This is the refreshing tale of adapting to the ever expanding changes in one’s world, while finding love in unlikely places. Love, laughter and loss throughout. An excellent read that is constantly engaging and enthralling.
Plot: This book is highly unusual in format – it’s not a novel, and more a fable. The angel instructs a young boy in the important things in life. The angel’s tale itself is gently instructive, but not pedantic. The beings that help represent these lessons - and show the boy how to attain these gifts - are quite wonderful and whimsical: a bee, a bird, and a white dolphin, among them.
Prose/Style: This is very smooth writing, even funny at times. The seven lessons flow together well. A copyeditor might help with some punctuation issues.
Originality: This is a highly original concept. Few fables are published these days for adults, and the advice in the lessons is well timed for today's readers.
Character Development: The characters are charming and/or evil, but the reader doesn’t quite get to know them over the course of the book. Perhaps the most fleshed out characters are the boy and the musician, Coalhole Custer.
by S.W. Clemens
Plot: The interlocking stories made the book loom large while highlighting the deep connections between the individual characters who reside in the distinctive community of Seal Cove. In a narrative somewhat reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, even diversionary chapters reflecting on the history and intricacies of the small town, ultimately inform the overarching narrative.
Prose/Style: The author writes in clean, concise, and warm prose that evokes the spirit of the quietly eccentric community.
Originality: Clemens succeeds in establishes a unique setting for these interconnected stories, which ultimately act as patchwork pieces in a broader tapestry.
Character Development: Clemens's care and reverence for his characters is apparent throughout. Each individual is provided with genuine closure that also resonates within the narrative whole.
by Charles L. Ross
Plot: The plot expertly straddles the line between a mystery and a coming-of-age story. This is an excellent story, with twists that keeps readers guessing until the very end.
Prose/Style: The story's tone and verbiage makes readers feel like they are listening to a storied gentleman of letters tell bon mots about his life. The prose is appropriate for the tale and very well executed.
Originality: While the story isn’t blisteringly unique, there is enough uncertainty and interesting payoffs to keep readers engaged. The final twist to the mystery was delightfully fresh.
Character Development: While taking a more in-depth look at characters like Timmy would have been welcome, each character felt like a unique and memorable individual.
by Dori Ann Dupre
Plot:While the plot does not contain a lot of riveting twists and turns, there is a certain intrigue to it. However, it would benefit the story to feel less like a passive narration of events and more like a series of events actively happening to the characters.
Prose/Style:The author has penned the story of her characters beautifully. The entire narrative is devoid of major typographical and other errors. This author knows her way around words, but could focus on making the language less passive.
Originality:The premise of 'running away from the past' and 'new identities hiding something terrible' are not exactly novel. But the story is much more than just this, focusing also on the many parent-child relationships.
Character Development:The characters were three-dimensional and well developed, from the major players to the very minor ones. None of the characters possessed stereotypical traits, as is prone to happen with minor characters.
by Joe Costanzo
Plot: Overall, this book is absolutely captivating - it blends philosophy and mystery into a story that feels well-paced and fresh. The somewhat mushy ending might feel unfulfilling to some readers.
Prose/Style: The impeccable spelling and grammar was welcome and delightful. The style was sophisticated, and so smooth that even the most complex topics were easily understood.
Originality: It's easy to find novels where middle-aged professors are solving mysteries or falling into bed with beautiful women. But while the concept wasn't groundbreaking, the author found innovative ways to keep the reader invested and guessing.
Character Development: The majority of the characters were well developed and clearly defined. Yet there were some small bumps in the road: Audrey's email felt like something Edward would write, and the reader is often left wondering why an unrealistic number of women were suddenly trying to sleep with an adjunct professor.