by Nicole Dieker
Plot: The conceit behind this rich and immersive novel is that even the quiet moments of an ordinary life are worth telling. Dieker follows the lives of members of the Gruber family, between the years of 1989 and 2016, capturing with particular grace, the ephemeral essences of girlhood and motherhood.
Prose: Dieker's distinct voice is forthright, thoughtful, and charming. Structural flaws, including awkward shifts in perspective, are small distractions from Dieker's eloquence and humor.
Originality: The novel's focus on the telling of ordinary lives falls in line with a modern literary convention, yet the author's grasp on language and character development bring particular vitality to the page.
Character Development: Dieker creates realistically flawed characters with full internal lives. Characters have a tangible and grounded quality, even as their dreamy musings press them toward the outer edges of “ordinary."
Blurb: Dieker writes with unrepentant honesty about the human condition, crafting the story of the Gruber family with subtle narrative tension and the central claim that every life is worthy of a biography.
by Sheila Martin
Plot: The sometimes cartoonish, sometimes sleazy, always strange Coney Island, described here in vivid detail, is an ideal backdrop for the action, which meanders a bit on its way to a slightly-too-neat conclusion. But overall, it's a weird, wonderful journey.
Prose: Brooklyn's voice is fully believable as a child relaying a story; her unreliable narration adds to the uncertainty about whether the action can be taken at face value or as the manifestations of an child's overactive imagination.
Originality: The seamless interweaving of multicultural folklore, blues music, and an urban coming-of-age story makes for a fresh, compelling read.
Character Development: From evil Aunt Suzie to the mysterious old lady who rents rooms to the kindly bluesman who helps her find her voice, Brooklyn's world is populated with fascinating, quirky characters (even if some occasionally fall into stereotypes).
Blurb: A strange, dark, whimsical journey that overlays a smorgasbord of death-related mythology onto the tale of a young girl coming of age in 1950s Brooklyn.
by Rachel Keener
Plot: This coming-of-age novel is well plotted and moves along at a solid pace. Both present and past storylines are conveyed effectively.
Prose: The protagonist’s eccentricity is conveyed well, and folksy metaphors are woven throughout the smooth prose. The creation of a pro-labor pamphleteer known cleverly as Abraham Linton works well as a mid-story twist.
Originality: The authenticity of the cotton mill milieu and the “linthead” subculture enriches a story that includes both triumph and tragedies.
Character Development: The characters here are fully developed, engaging, and sure to interest readers. The relationships between the characters and their dialogue are equally strong.
by Anne Moose
Plot: The plot is well-executed. Set primarily in the Jim Crow South, the danger posed to a budding interracial relationship rings true.
Prose: The prose shines when conveying the details of the couple's budding romance, a deft illustration of the tenderness, discovery, and sense of invulnerability that comes with new love. But, in the preponderance of the novel, the writing is more workmanlike. There is a lot of hate in the small town, and in these portions of the book more showing and less telling is needed.
Originality: The work's plot is unique and engaging. While readers will see the interracial relationship coming, the conclusion of the work is a surprise. Readers have been lulled into a false sense of plot predictability, and are instead rewarded with a satisfying twist.
Character Development: The protagonists are well developed and feel like real people. The supporting characters read more like types than real people and could use further development.
by Susan Lerner
Plot: Lerner delivers a fast-paced and well-researched love story set against the turmoil of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Prose: The author creates effective analogies and insightful observations into human emotion and behavior, as well as the hypnotic power of charismatic personalities. Lerner's prose offers nimble transitions between the love story and more sociological content, balancing the two elements with poise.
Originality: A love story against an environment of political and social upheaval has been staged before, yet Lerner details the circumstances of this particular conflict and these lovers from different ideological backgrounds with power and grace.
Character Development: Lerner succeeds in creating multifaceted protagonists, effectively establishing them as both figures who love freely, regardless of their circumstances, and as individuals who are caught on opposite sides of a seemingly unbridgeable conflict.
by Art Rosch
Plot: There’s an overabundance of plot stuffed into this intriguing story of how a mother’s mental illness impacted the lives of her children. The main thread involves Aaron, who becomes a talented jazz musician and drug addict. A effective secondary thread follows his sister’s emotional breakdown. However, two additional subplots about their siblings, Mark and Marilee, add nothing but melodrama.
Prose: Rosch’s vivid prose is descriptive and often devastating—particularly scenes of Esther Kantro’s cruelty and Aaron’s time in Afghanistan.
Originality: Aaron’s story is unique, and his flirtation as a Jew with Nazism—to gain the friendship of a popular boy—was out-and-out bizarre, but it works and stands out as fresh.
Character Development: Aaron was the most fully developed character, while Sarah is also well rendered. Siblings Mark and Marilee are a little one-note and unlikable, while their father, Max, is almost always reactive rather than active.
by Joan Druett
Plot: This skillfully plotted novel delivers as much historical information as it does story. Only at the end, which is somewhat predictable, does the plotting falter, with loose ends that are wrapped up a little too neatly
Prose: The prose is true to the time period, contains great details, and delivers the flavor and style of the era. The writing keeps the reader in the story, but never in an overly showy fashion.
Originality: This historical maritime adventure is original and engaging. The author's knowledge of sailing, the time period, the South China Sea, and the economics of the day is evident -- and this information is deftly incorporated into the story. Much of the spirit of the time is captured in this intriguing tale.
Character Development: The characters here are very well developed for the most part. The author provides backstory for each main character and follows the characters' evolution over the course of years. Though their stories are interesting, some of the characters' motivations could be clearer.