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Uncommon Courage: An invitation
Andrea T Edwards
Topical and refreshingly up to date, Edwards’s (18 Steps to an All-Star LinkedIn Profile) latest is ideal for those seeking to make small changes that can have a big impact. In this highly practical self-help guide, crafted as an “invitation” to live with purpose and courage, Edwards coaches readers on personal growth topics such as self-awareness, self-empowerment, and leadership. Her expertise as a world traveler and communication professional, among many other experiences, shines through in her unique spin on somewhat atypical self-improvement content: along with influencing others and one’s own empowerment, she addresses issues like how to face and find solutions to the climate crisis. For those readers who want to achieve contentment, tweak their health habits, or find encouragement to keep bettering themselves and the world, Uncommon Courage is accessible and engaging.

The guide is long, but it stays highly digestible, with short chapters that can be consumed while riding down an elevator, taking a break from chasing the kids, or in a more concentrated, meditative manner. That approach seems by design: Edwards’ structure allows readers to dip in and out according to their interests or needs. The guidance can be deep or breezily superficial (“buy wine that’s at least four years old”); like all good advice, it can even be irksome when she hits the right button and tells a truth you might not yet want to face. The book’s busy, with some potentially distracting elements—such as the adages Edwards calls “wisdoms” that relate to another project, unconventional hashtags, and QR codes introduced for further reading—but Edwards takes pains to expose readers to fresh ideas and possibilities beyond the purview of the average self-help book.

As Edwards introduces new habits and mindsets, helpful footnotes suggest opportunities for further research, and workbook pages encourage contemplation of the material. Her style is highly narrative, with dishy anecdotes bursting with practical advice delivered in her funny, straightforward, and entirely supportive fashion.

Takeaway: This wide-ranging, of-the-moment self-help guide urges readers to live with purpose and courage to make a difference.

Great for fans of: Shad Helmstetter’s Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It, Jon Gordon and Damon West’s The Coffee Bean.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

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A Span of Moments
Robert Beech
Beech’s lyric debut opens in 1994, with Jake Crawford returning to Marcosta Island, his childhood home off the coast of Florida, after 23 years. As a bio-scientist who has discovered a drug to further the treatment of cancer, his disgust for the greed and callousness of the pharmaceutical industry has fueled his decision to try out a quieter lifestyle. In his first hours back, Jake meets up with Simon Bronson, the reclusive, hermit-like tender of the original wooden bridge to the island, who was a father figure to him in the past. From Simon, Jake learns that the “old Florida” way of life is being threatened by Derek Nielsen, a multi-billionaire who wants to develop the island into a tourist resort. The conflict between Nielsen and the islanders who oppose his plan forms the rest of the story.

Beech delves into questions about the true value of development, especially its cultural and environmental costs. His love for Florida comes through in the detailed descriptions of the island, its beauty, and “the sound of the gulf waves mixed with the soft whistling of the trees.” The character of Simon is well-etched, as are his internal conflicts and the reason for his reclusive way of life, and the symbolism of the bridge, its nature, and its ultimate fate add depth to the narrative. The relaxed pacing is in tune with the rhythms of life on the island, with a subtle weaving of the concept of karma from the Bhagavad Gita threaded throughout the story.

Beech succeeds in bringing out the inherent conflicts between development and conservation, reinforcing the idea that much American development, as defined by the rich and the influential, is a mixed bag, not beneficial to all concerned. His treatment of these themes (and the practicalities of local politics) is nuanced yet impassioned, resulting in a novel that will engage thoughtful readers fascinated by environmental issues.

Takeaway: A thoughtful, lyric drama of coming home again—and fighting to preserve it from development.

Great for fans of: Nancy Burke’s Undergrowth, Ron Rash’s Above the Waterfall.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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Be a J.E.D.I. Leader, Not a Boss: Leadership in the Era of Corporate Social Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Omar L. Harris
In this thought-provoking leadership guide, Harris (The Servant Leader’s Manifesto) challenges CEOs and business leaders to stand up to “the dark force”—or colonialism, imperialism, and toxic bias—to “create a world that values self-actualization” and change the status quo to one that benefits all. Harris warns that, due to recent historical events like the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and record-breaking hurricane seasons and wildfires brought upon by climate change, the bar for effective leadership is higher than ever before. To combat the dark force and these escalating crises, Harris asserts that a new class of leader is required–J.E.D.I. leaders concerned with justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Harris’s purpose is clear: to encourage readers to adopt a new approach that deepens understanding of injustice and inequality—and fosters a commitment to eradicating them. Coined the “6As of J.E.D.I action”, this new framework urges business leaders to first question their leadership motives and eliminate their ego before attempting to respond to issues of race, acceptance, allyship, and sexism. He lays bare how many toxic leadership practices are rooted in systematic racism, inequality, and the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities and makes the case that contemporary leadership demands facing this truth and these issues with clear purpose and without fear.

“We have experienced enough of selfish and self-centered leadership,” Harris writes, and he’s direct in his criticisms of hierarchical power structures within corporations. Drawing compelling examples from Apple, Wells Fargo, and other Fortune 500 companies, Harris highlights the differences between traditional toxic leadership styles and the J.E.D.I. approach, which prioritizes an atmosphere of inclusion, humility, and collective purpose. This forward-thinking leadership guide offers clear steps to help leaders rise to the occasion of defeating toxic practices and work environments to ensure a better future for us all.

Takeaway: This impassioned guide challenges business leaders to dismantle toxic and racist leadership practices by promoting allyship, humility, and diversity.

Great for fans of: Jennifer Brown’s How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Isaacs’s Toxic Soul.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+

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Black Mark: The Black List Book 1
Katherine E Beals
Hazen’s polished debut, the first in The Black List urban fantasy series, introduces readers to a delightful Seattle where magic is real and the mysteries are plentiful. Bartender-turned-private-investigator Alex Whittaker, a human, is having a very bad life. She and her powerful Otherkin girlfriend, Maeve, have just broken up; she’s investigating her sister’s disappearance; and now she has to scrape her new, highly unwilling partner, Finnegan Black, out of yet another bar and sober him up. Former police officer Finn is no lover of Otherkin–he blames them for another disappearance, his fiancée’s. Now, thanks to Maeve, he’s saddled with Alex as his new partner/boss, and he couldn’t be more upset. Yet the pair manage to come to a detente when a former coworker of Alex’s goes missing, and a Daemonkin artifact that should never have been in our world escapes.

Crisp prose and fascinating world building set The Black Mark apart. Save for rare instances of an info dump, the peculiarities of this fantastical Seattle and its Otherkin community (the Seattle PD’s occult division employs witches) are teased out as the story unfolds, offering a glimpse into a world much like this one–yet not. Intriguing secondary characters–Nikki and Dr. Hammersmith, in particular–add depth and provide perfect foundations upon which the main characters can develop.

Those leads, though, are promising but less assured in this first volume than the world around them. Both Alex and Finn are flawed, complex people with intricately detailed back stories and motivations. Yet it feels as though some pieces of crucial information are missing–how Alex developed her investigative skills and how Finn deals with his alcoholism, for example. Small hints are dropped about Alex’s background, but a fuller accounting would likely help connect readers more strongly to this intriguing lead. Still, this memorable debut marks the arrival of a strong new voice in the genre.

Takeaway: This promising urban fantasy debut boasts strong world building and promising characters.

Great for fans of: BR Kingsolver, Seana Kelly, Annette Marie.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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Barking at the Moon: A Story of Life, Love, and Kibble
Tracy Beckerman
Beckerman’s brief, charming memoir shares the story of Riley, a Flat-Coated Retriever and “one-dog wrecking ball,” and his impact on the family of Beckerman, creator of the syndicated humor column Lost in Suburbia. The story opens with Beckerman taking a plunge familiar to many suburban families: getting a puppy. Riley, nicknamed ‘Mellow Yellow,’ by the breeder, turns out to be anything but mellow. The puppy eats everything–socks, upholstery–and the situation is made even more complicated by the addition of a lizard, chinchilla, and multiple fish named Larry.

Like many mothers, Beckerman is ultimately left to take care of this menagerie, and in this comic and tender account she touchingly considers what it means to have a dog and a family. Any pet lover will recognize the challenges–vet bills, urine where one does not wish there to be urine, fleas, “award-winning gas,” attempts to put a dog on a diet–and also the joys. Nothing of outsize consequence happens in this everyday story–Riley never rescues anyone from a well–and readers not fascinated by pets might wonder if much new is being said here about animal-human bonds, but the affection between the dog and his family is palpable and engaging. Beckerman is a skilled writer who paints a vivid picture of Riley and her family in crisp, memorable sentences and anecdotes that build to well-crafted punchlines.

Her thesis is fairly straightforward: We love our dogs. They love us. Sometimes they drive us crazy. Their journey towards mortality is a faster-paced version of our own. As in some parenting memoirs, moments that seem particularly resonant to the author can at times feel familiar to the reader, though Beckerman elevates the material by writing frankly about the difficult emotions that come with life transitions, such as realizing children eventually will turn to sources other than their parents for comfort. Readers who relish pet memories will be more than satisfied by Beckerman, who pulls off this shaggy dog story with aplomb.

Takeaway: Dog lovers will find laughs and heart in this suburban puppy tale.

Great for fans of: Lauren Fern Watt’s Gizelle’s Bucket List, Julie Klam’s You Had Me at Woof.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A

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SONG OF THE NILE
Hannah Fielding
The latest historical romance from Fielding, author of the Andalucían Nights series and more, finds Aida El Masri, having spent World War II working as a nurse in England, returning home to her native Egypt to take up the long-neglected management of her family’s estate. Almost immediately she finds herself confronted with the expectation that she’ll fulfill an understanding between her late father and their neighbor to marry the neighbor’s son, Phares Pharaony. Though Phares is a successful surgeon, Aida can’t see herself agreeing to marry into the family that she suspects is responsible for the death of her father. She refuses, he gives aggressive chase, and that chase gets upended when Aida is abducted by a Bedouin prince whom she comes to find enticing.

Not just set in the past, Song of the Nile indulges in assumptions and relationship dynamics that many readers will believe should have been left there. After Aida’s initial rejection, Phares continues to turn up in pursuit of her, behaving possessively and frequently grabbing, touching, and kissing her despite her expressed refusal of consent. “You refuse me and yet your body does not,” he eventually tells her, and moments later she embraces him, “inviting his assault.” Aida, meanwhile, inevitably is enticed by the harem-owning Bedouin prince who has kidnapped her, reminding herself that he’s “A barbarian cloaked in a deceptive coat of civilisation.”

The most passionate love story in this romance is with historical Egypt. Fielding’s descriptions of the setting are detailed and lovingly rendered, at times overtaking the plot in importance. Readers will be swept away by enchantment with the desert and the culture of life along the Nile, but that beauty only makes the arrogant brutality of Phares all the more stark and shocking. This is a lovely exploration of a bygone time in a stunning land, but contemporary readers should be aware that the male hero doesn’t take no for an answer.

Takeaway: An old-school romance centered on an alpha male who sweeps an objecting heroine onto his steed.

Great for fans of: Lauren Smith’s Wicked Designs, Maya Banks’s In Bed with a Highlander.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A

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Conflicted Faith: How to grow in faith through positive conflict with God
Graham Seel
Seel provides a commentary on and paraphrase of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet sequence of poems, with a particular focus on how Donne’s nineteen sonnets, which were published two years after the poet’s death, model the experience of a person struggling with their faith. Seel acknowledges that spiritual conflict is at the heart of maturing faith, and Donne’s sequence serves as a helpful navigation through the various stages and moods of such conflict, as the poet explores such topics as the fear of death, hurtful romantic losses, and a lingering tension between God’s grace and works of faith. At the end of each sonnet, Seel provides introspective questions in a reflection format that can be used in small group discussions to incorporate scripture and invite readers to engage more deeply with Donne’s themes.

Conflicted Faith offers helpful paraphrases of Donne’s 17th century verses, which can be archaic in language and at times challenging for the contemporary reader to parse. The commentary is almost line-by-line, taking sections of each poem and reading them in light of the personal conflict that the poem expresses, and Seel closes each study with a modern poem, reflection, or hymn that parallels that sonnet’s theme. Some readers may wish for more background on the literary scholarship about Donne, at least as a guide for further exploration of the poetry.

Seel’s commentary originated from his own experience mentoring others through their faith journeys, and readers will feel almost as though they are reading along with him, listening to stories and engaging in introspection under a wise advisor. Conflicted Faith also delves deep into scripture as Seel explores wide ranging doubts and conflicts in faith–both scriptural encouragements as well as examples of paragons of faith who also faced struggles with God. This grounds the poems, as well as provides avenues for profound reflection, especially for believers. Donne is a sage teacher, and Seel is a discerning guide to these enduring—and still gripping—sonnets.

Takeaway: Christians seeking to grow in their faith or looking to explore John Donne’s Holy Sonnets more deeply will find this commentary invaluable.

Great for fans of: Philip Yancey’s A Companion in Crisis, Lina AbuJamra’s Fractured in Faith.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

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Revolution (The Sol Saga Book 1)
James Fox
Fox takes readers on an epic journey of murder and corruption in this heart-racing futuristic sci-fi thriller, the first book of the Sol Saga, an epic set in our near future. Just over two centuries from now, General Keith Brennan breathes, eats, and sleeps the military. When an assassination on Mars takes place moments before the planet’s official independence from Earth, Brennan is thrust into a web of conspiracies and lies that leave him questioning his values and loyalty. Brennan— along with a newbie pilot, the governor of Mars, a hot-shot fleet ace, a government homeland defense worker, and a low-level criminal—becomes the solar system’s only hope at preventing a war between Earth and Mars.

Brennan is one of many dynamic and sympathetic characters with flawed, engaging personalities that readers will quickly come to love. While Brennan is the type of man to follow orders without question, his growing suspicion of foul play mixed with a softness towards Helena Chu, the governor of Mars, chip away at his harsh exterior and make him a standout protagonist. Each point-of-view character holds a small piece of the larger puzzle that builds up to a big revelation, but they must come face-to-face with their own shortcomings in order to make the pieces fit together. The tension escalates quickly, as Fox balances action with scenes of reflection, immersing readers in the world and these lives while offering a welcome breather.

Fox creates a dynamic future where the colonization of Mars has led to a thriving economy. Sprinkled into the background are exciting elements such as genetic enhancement for Marines, organic food printers as an inexpensive alternative to real food, and a variety of transportation options—including individual seat vacuum tubes and autonomously piloted ground-air-vehicles. Mars and this future come to life in a truly immersive experience as Fox spins a dynamic story of conspiracy and action that will sweep away lovers of local space opera.

Takeaway: SF fans eager to explore a deep-rooted conspiracy with a vibrant cast will relish the first book in this promising saga.

Great for fans of: A.K. DuBoff, J. Barton Mitchell’s The Razor.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A+
Illustrations: : A.K. DuBoff , J. Barton Mitchell’s The Razor.
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

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Now What?
Brenda Faatz
At the start of this paean to the imagination, young Lizzy finds herself wondering how to pass the time on one of those overcast days where everything is “a little bit ‘-ish.’” What begins as a mostly solo adventure (she is, of course, accompanied by her dog) turns into a journey of friendship and a celebration of living in the moment. No matter what gets thrown in her way, be it a new neighbor, a rainstorm, or even a box of kittens, Lizzy always makes the most of each situation. Told in playful rhyme reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, and featuring lively and cheerful illustrations from Peter Trimarco, Now What? is a surefire day-brightener crafted to inspire children to embrace their inner adventurers, just as Lizzy does.

Celebrating the power of imagination and friendship is a beloved topic of picture books, and Now What? embraces that tradition, though some seasoned readers will feel it does not add new ideas to a well-worn theme nor offer a new lens to differentiate it. That being said,both text and art feel genuine in their celebration of spontaneity, with the silly made-up words comprising the rhyme scheme feeling true to the overall whimsical tone and feel, especially when paired with the charming, watercolor illustrations. One particularly funny moment captured by Trimarco: Lizzy and Luna are stuck in the box during a rainstorm with their hair pressed up against the top, squishing their otherwise bouncy and tall tresses.

Despite the familiar premise, the heart that shines through this tale, as well as its humor, still make it a worthy addition to any picture book collection. Well suited to rainy day readings, or just as a reminder on those blah days, Now What? is a delightful tribute to the power of invention.

Takeaway: A cheery, rhyming romp that celebrates imagination, friendship, and living in the moment.

Great for fans of: Beatrice Alemagna’s On A Magical Do-Nothing Day, Samantha Berger’s What If…

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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The Bridge to Rembrandt
Keith Foley
Foley’s literary historical debut offers an intimate glimpse into the history of Amsterdam as seen through the eyes of Robert, a middle-aged man of the present with a wife and kids, struggling to balance his work, married life, and a girlfriend. Through a chance acquisition, Robert finds himself traveling back in time to three significant historical moments in Amsterdam’s history. Each time, he encounters his girlfriend, Saskia, in a different period, embarking on the entire process of courting her again—and ultimately, getting to know her more intimately. Amid all of this, Rembrandt is a constant refrain: Robert meets the painter himself and discovers that there’s a secret waiting for him in the present, if only he can safely get here.

Bride to Rembrandt proces strongest when illuminating the romantic relationship between Robert and Saskia, which metamorphosizes each time Robert travels back in time. By the end of the book, readers will feel genuine regard for these two time travelers, as well as hope that they will end up happy together. Narrative momentum suffers, though, from Foley’s disparate interests, which don’t always fit seamlessly together: the love story, Robert’s interest in painting, the logic of time travelling, and his diabetic problems. Foley’s prose exhibits a light touch (on IKEA: “​​The flat-pack packaging was a genial invention that led to the love–hate relationship with the Allen key, and a lot of domestic arguments.”) though some dialogue edges toward the unnatural.

The story gathers welcome momentum towards the second half, propelling readers into Robert and Saskia’s precarious adventures through time. Foley spices it all with little-known social, historical, and architectural tidbits about Amsterdam, a piquant introduction to the city for the uninitiated. Rembrandt is not as central to the narrative as the title suggests, but he plays a significant role in the climax. Lovers of romance, art, and European history will find much to enjoy here.

Takeaway: This Amsterdam time-travel novel takes an ambitious dive into love, history, and art.

Great for fans of: Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Sylvie Matton’s Rembrandt’s Whore.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B

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American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy
Brynn Tannehill
The good news about American Fascism, a book whose cover depicts Lady Liberty offering a Heil Hitler salute: Tannehill, author of 2018’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask), is against it, not for it, arguing that the Republican Party is actively undermining democracy itself. Also heartening: the fact that this book, which at first blush may appear like the latest escalation in the right/left popular polemic war, is for the most part shrewdly argued, deeply researched, and attentive to historic parallels between the United States and the Weimar Republic, Putin’s Russia, and other countries that have been pulled into autocracy.

Tannehill, a frequent national columnist and a formal naval aviator, digs into the past, present, and future of the U.S. and the GOP, with an eye for the historic roots of prevailing trends and tendencies. Tannehill draws links between Pravda and Fox News, between the tenets of Russian propaganda and what posts blow up on Facebook, and between the “systemic disenfranchisement” that “was the cornerstone” of maintaining white Evangelical power in southern states after the Civil War and the gerrymandering and new voting laws that have, in recent years, helped the GOP become “the most powerful far-right party in the Western world.”

In crisp, stinging prose, Tannehill makes a case, digging deeper and wider than other books in the field while still demonstrating some playful elan even when the prognosis gets dire— the section “The End of America is Coming” is introduced with an on-point quote from Jean Luc Picard. Liberals, Democrats, and many open-minded independents will likely find Tannehill’s warning and analysis persuasive, though a tendency to indulge in sweeping shorthand when describing the beliefs and motivations of ideological opponents (and to offer phrasing like “There is a toxic confluence of whiteness and Christianity . . .”) by default limits its reach.

Takeaway: A sharply argued polemic accusing the Republican Party of actively subverting democracy.

Great for fans of: Zachary Roth’s The Great Suppression, Richard L. Hasen’s Election Meltdown.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

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The Dakker Chronicles: Birth of the Defiance
Matt Gerwitz
In the year 2100, a century and a half before the present of Gerwitz’s intergalactic saga, Mordecai Dak of Earth successfully colonized the Proteus galaxy. The legacy he leaves behind is a utopian society of independent worlds among multiple planets and systems—or, at least, that’s what most everyone believes. Enter the Independent Thinkers, a defiant band weary of the mere illusion of freedom. The Dakker Chronicles series follows disillusioned tech wizard and “Indie” Colston Kayne on his unexpected journey from hiding out from the government to leading a revolution of “warriors” who, as one officer puts it, have dedicated themselves to “fighting to take our lives back, even if that means laying them down.”

Quick-paced, action-packed, and slightly philosophical, Birth of the Defiance treads a familiar path in SF and dystopian fiction. The story’s swiftness can keep it from transcending its most familiar elements. The book opens with Cole already on the run from the DakolonEyo secret police, relegating character background to memories or conversations about his past; readers don’t get to experience the home he’s lost or the hard choices that pushed him into revolt and leadership. Much the same can be said for the other main characters, who often feel like caricatures. As the action jumps from planet to planet, it’s hard to keep up with the many proper nouns without consulting the glossary—planets, cities, galaxies, and some characters become a blur.

Seasoned sci-fi readers or fans of the revolutionary dystopian thrillers are sure to find enjoyment in staples of the genre, here deployed with conviction as the “Indies” stand up to tyranny with their “heaters blasting and plasma shots exploding”—here’s supercharged plasma weapons, warpspeed space travel, daring pirates, a strong villain, and a budding romance amidst varied sequences of fighting. SF fans looking for a quick dose of action, subterfuge, and the beginnings of a revolution will enjoy this fast-paced adventure.

Takeaway: This fast-spaced series centered on an intergalactic revolution debuts with phasers blasting.

Great for fans of: David Weber, Richard Baker.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A

The Simulated Multiverse: An MIT Computer Scientist Explores Parallel Universes, The Simulation Hypothesis, Quantum Computing and the Mandela Effect
Rizwan Virk
Virk, an MIT computer scientist and author of The Simulation Hypothesis, makes a cogent, clear-eyed guide to the head-spinning science of parallel universes, quantum indeterminacy, and the possibility—terrifying or relieving—that our perceived reality is in fact part of a great simulation. That idea doesn’t just refer to a Matrix-style simulation of our particular patch of existence: instead, Virk entertains the idea that what we know is merely a part of a “complex, interconnected network of multiple timelines.” With an eye for games and pop culture, like Philip K. Dick and the “Arrowverse” TV shows, plus a willingness to dig into the metaphysical implications, Virk picks apart both the dead serious science supporting this hypothesis as well as quirky, quantum-flavored “speculative” ideas that tend to go viral, like the Mandela effect.

Especially interesting, after Virk has grounded readers in the science and the possibilities, is the author’s discussion of qubits and quantum parallelism, which rises out of a fascinating consideration of the convincing worlds conjured up by the creators of video games, reaching back to the text adventures at the dawn of the medium and then up to the current cutting edge. Virk takes pains to simplify the material for those not steeped in quantum or game mechanics, though the discussions can get heady enough that, when deep into some tricky passages, readers may find themselves having to return to an earlier point and start again, a “save state” process that itself resembles playing some of the games Virk examines.

Virk excels at working familiar cultural examples (Black Mirror, Star Trek, Devs) into his explorations, but the broader argument is never subordinate to his pop interests. Even deep into an explanation of quantum parallelism, considering the fate of the universes a quantum computer might create but essentially discard, Virk imbues the material with a sense of playful awe but also practical know-how, not just considering the possibilities but showing how they could be brought to life.

Takeaway: This head-spinning examination of the possibility of multiple realities argues that you, right at this moment, might be in a simulation.

Great for fans of: Tom Siegfried’s The Number of the Heavens, Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What it Seems.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

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A Rake Like You
Becky Michaels
The polished second entry in Michaels’s Linfield Hall series of Regency romances kindles fresh possibilities between neighbors Louisa Strickland and Charles Finch, heir to the Earl of Bolton, six years after the abrupt end of their fake courtship. Unlike many women of her time, Louisa is herself named as the heir to a manor and fortune, and she doesn’t intend for any man to destroy her life of independent means. Charles, meanwhile, has drunk and gambled himself and his estate into debt and is obligated by his friend and debt holder, the Duke of Rutley, to pay back the funds–preferably by marrying into money. Realizing that it’s Louisa that he truly wants, Charles eagerly pursues the heiress, insisting he’s put his rakish ways behind him, although she’s not sure she’s ready to trust him with her heart—or her property.

As with Michaels’s previous romance, Lady August, this will prove a perfect fit for readers who relish the wit, society, family dynamics, and focus on smart independent women of Jane Austen novels but prefer a purely romantic storyline. Amid the balls and gossip, Louisa is easy to empathize with: her position of not having to rely on a man for her living gives her rare agency, and readers can easily relate to her disinclination to marry, especially when the man determined to have her as has shown such questionable judgement in the past. (“Insufferable ninny,” she calls herself, when she finds herself enticed.)

This puts welcome focus on Charles, who must convincingly change his ways and learn what sacrifices he must make. Not all of the characters are as richly developed or engaging, with the Duke of Rutley, in particular, a contradictory figure who pushes the plot along. Yet the central couple are memorably conflicted: “Against my better judgment, I cannot,” Louisa sighs when Charles asks if she despises him, and readers who enjoy that dynamic will find much to savor.

Takeaway: This engaging Regency romance features an heiress with rare agency and a rake who must prove himself worth her.

Great for fans of: Minerva Spencer’s Rebels of the Ton series, Evie Dunmore, Sarah MacLean.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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Through My Christian Prism, or at the Port Rail
Larry Clayton
This wide-ranging collection of essays, many originally published as op-ed columns in a host of newspapers, finds Clayton taking on topics as disparate as the degradation of the English language (“the sooner we get old-fashioned grammarians to the rescue, the sooner we begin the march back to sanity, not to speak of honesty and truth”), the legacy of American asceticism (“one of the foundation stones, perhaps the very cornerstone, of this phenomenon—capitalism—[created] so much wealth, for good and bad, in the world today”), and the remembrance of soldiers missing in action (“No one who knew him, in the marines or the South Vietnamese army, ever saw him again.”) Tying it all together is Clayton’s warmth, curiosity, and Christian faith.

A savvy sense of rhetoric also distinguishes this companionable volume, as Clayton proves adept at structuring column-length considerations of controversial or challenging topics—the nature of authority; the state of the U.S. armed forces—so that they read like searching, open-minded journeys of mind rather than received opinions or polemics. When making an argument, he seems to be teasing out and testing a personal truth. An essay on the tense relationship between religion and the state strikes a wise, reasonable tone unlike what readers have grown accustomed to from firebrands on either side of the issue. “Christianity is the guardian of our conscience,” he writes. “It can be exaggerated or twisted into theocracies that are cruel and pale distortions of the true principles of the faith. But choosing the alternative—destroying religion—leads to a far worse outcome.”

A polished prose stylist, Clayton holds to foundational truths but remains open to new ideas. And he’s funny, writing light yet serious pieces about what a believer learns from golf or on the horrors he encounters in his inbox. Christian readers will find much to enjoy and consider in this lively collection.

Takeaway: These wise, lively essays consider topics both light and challenging from a perspective of Christian faith.

Great for fans of: David Bentley Hart, Cindy La Ferle’s Writing Home, Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Echoes of Light
Jani Viswanath
“Child, whatever you do, know the difference between ambition and greed,” non-profit founder Viswanath recalls her father telling her as she grew up. Echoes of Light finds her setting that wisdom down for others, along with insights gleaned from a lifetime that has taken from India to Afghanistan to the world at large. In a preface, she urges readers to understand that “destructive greed, self-obsession, petty politics, corrupt overwhelming capitalism, and fanatic extremism” are destroying humanity and the planet, and she asks us to be ambitious in kindness, empathy, and gratitude. In the globe-trotting poems and short stories that follow she warns that “the human touch has been killed” in our lives.

Crafted to a purpose, Viswanath’s poetry tends toward the direct and even didactic, free verse that celebrates possibility and the natural world, decries the inhuman pace of contemporary life, and reminds readers that no matter what you do—or how much fame and fortune you’ve accumulated—“You return to whence you came from, my friend.” The stories cut deeper and, like their author’s biography, range the globe, set among Indonesian garment factories, the Surobi district of Kabul, the Hindukush mountains, and a grandmother’s home in Coimbatore. Each centers a lesson about our essential humanity, but their approaches are as varied as their locales, with parables, literary realism, and even a Scheherazade-inspired tale within a tale.

Viswanath proves adept, in her fiction, at bringing life and character to the precepts she advocates, and her handling of various cultures, peoples, and locations is arresting and respectful. (That’s little surprise, as she’s the founder of Healing Lives, which funds the education of future nurses and doctors in Kenya, India, and Bangladesh.) In Echoes of Light she fulfills a related ambition, presenting characters faced with what she presents as the everyday human dilemma: “The choice is ours—to make each day beautiful and memorable; or toxic and damaging.”

Takeaway: This global-minded collection of fiction and poetry urges us all to make a difference in the world each day.

Great for fans of: Jamil Zak’s The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson’s Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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