Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Blood Before Dawn: Book 2 of the Dung Beetles of Liberia Series
Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
This assured follow up to The Dung Beetles of Liberia, Meier’s striking debut, again plunges readers into a West African nation of great wealth, inequality, corruption—and, for protagonist Ken Verrier, opportunity. At least that’s how it seems at first as Ken, with his wife Sam, returns to Liberia’s capital of Monrovia in 1979, eager to score a quick profit in the diamond business, to find riots and revolution in the streets as the nation teeters on the brink. As President Tobert confiscates the Liberian Army’s ammunition, after soldiers refused to fire on furious citizens, Ken, a pilot, goes about securing an airplane for his diamond hunt, at every step encountering signs of Liberia’s instability and foreign nationals (Russians, Chinese, CIA) jockeying to shape its future.

Thanks to Meier’s vivid scene craft and the prevailing sense of tension, even readers not aware of the tragedies of Liberia at the dawn of the 1980s will feel the inevitable coming: an assassination, military rule, and Ken and Sam caught up in it all. Unlike many thriller authors, though, Meier doesn’t treat his setting like a mere romantic backdrop. Instead, for all the scrapes and suspense, and the excitement of rainy season plane trips and Ken;s unexpected surveillance work for the Liberian Army, the book’s beating heart is its evocation of a nation in crisis and the way that, in games of power, it’s the citizenry who suffer the most. “Life is hard and life is cheap,” Ken thinks, after watching the offhand execution of a mine worker. “It doesn’t pay to break the rules.”

Ken’s mistake, of course, is believing he’s mastered those rules and that he could engineer a big score without being compromised by the brutality. Verrier alternates between Ken’s first-person narration and third-person chapters detailing the coup and the burning of Monrovia, threads that readers will dread eventually tying together. Swift, engaging, and tragic, Blood Before Dawn is an uncommonly thoughtful and humane thriller.

Takeaway: Thriller fans who demand realism and humanity will find much to love in this novel of revolutionary Liberia.

Great for fans of: Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist, Mukuka Chipanta’s Five Nights Before the Summit.

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

Click here for more about Blood Before Dawn
Nana, the Yoga Teaching Gnome
Jennifer Lang Boehl
Stress will melt away when readers absorb this magical tale of friends, tranquility, and playfulness. Emily and Josephine, two young gnomes who live in an enchanted forest, set off one day in search of Nana, a gnome who teaches the wood’s inhabitants yoga. Along the way, the girls meet a bevy of animal friends who teach them yoga poses and join their quest to meet up with Nana. Young readers will delight in the bubbly pair as they convince frazzled forest animals to take a break and do “some yoga on this warm and sunny day.”

In this first installment of her Gnome Series, Boehl (That’s Mine, Sissy!) has crafted a charming story centered on learning how to be grateful and live in the moment. Emily and Josephine gain a bundle of whimsical new friends on their walk to Nana’s house, including a fly with “a head full of fuzz,” a fox whose favorite pose is downward facing dog, and an owl who wonders if yoga would eliminate his stress. The lesson on managing frustrations won’t be lost on younger readers when the “mischievous troll” demands a toll for crossing his bridge–but later relents because “yoga would make me less grumpy!”

Roperos’s dreamy illustrations meld with the story’s mythical feel, and kids will enjoy pointing out the entertaining details–like the tiny fly demonstrating a yoga pose on its mat–that add life to the tale. Health-minded parents will appreciate the introduction to making exercise fun, complete with gentle reminders to incorporate thankfulness into daily meditations. When Nana finally makes her appearance, she encourages the animals to “release all your worries” and leads the whole crew in a beautiful twilight yoga session, courtesy of the resident fireflies. This warm tale will leave readers feeling mellow and relaxed.

Takeaway: Two young gnomes learn the benefits of yoga alongside their enchanted animal friends in this charming tale.

Great for fans of: Mariam Gates’s Goodnight Yoga, Nicola Edwards’s Happy.

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

Click here for more about Nana, the Yoga Teaching Gnome
Fallen Child
Kathleen Morris
Morris, winner of the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel, follows up The Lily of the West by taking readers back to the 1800s on a wild adventure through the Arizona territories. Sixteen-year-old Josie Fallon survives an abusive childhood at Angel’s Refuge, an orphanage that sells its boys to the mines and its young women to the brothels. With the help of her friend, Colin, Josie escapes that life, but she finds that freedom comes at a price as she seeks vengeance on those who have wronged her. Along with a ragtag team of friends, including her love interest Billy, Josie does whatever is necessary to survive.

With the line between right and wrong blurred, anything is possible as the vividly realized Josie becomes a vigilante, righting the wrongs from her cruel past while ensuring the same evil doesn’t befall other orphans in the region. She’s a dynamic, independent young woman who takes her life by the reins despite her dire circumstances. While the 1800s isn’t a kind time for women, Jodie refuses to be a victim, preparing for the worst while holding to the hope of a future with a little bit of love and peace, all as her crew comes to depend on her wisdom and skills to get them out of danger.

Josie isn’t the only bold female character. Her best friend Isabella, fellow orphan whom Josie rescues from prostitution, also shines in the spotlight. Both prove that the Wild West is no match for them. The plot follows a cyclical pattern of action and reaction, where similar conversations and ideas recur with situational variations. But rather than get bogged down in this formula, Fallen Child offers twists that will keep readers of the genre glued to the page and eager for more escapades. Morris’s love for westerns and her passion for developing charismatic women protagonists blend seamlessly in a lively adventure sure to lasso fans of western fiction.

Takeaway: Western fans looking for strong-willed, capable, and dynamic women characters will relish this action-packed adventure.

Great for fans of: Olivia Hawker, Sandra Davis.

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

Click here for more about Fallen Child
The Boy Who Wanted to Rock
David Weiser
A young boy celebrates all things music in Weiser’s lively debut. The story opens with a “a boy who wanted to rock” but can’t seem to put notes together on his guitar or drum, despite his best efforts. After giving up and charging out of his house, he runs into a playful dog who offers him a quick, rhyming lesson in beats and rhythm: “One is the downbeat,/ the start of all songs.” The boy masters basic rock tempos and continues on his way, soon encountering other animals eager to teach him the nuts and bolts of rock and roll. Whether it’s the octopus who uses its eight arms to introduce the boy to scales, or the cats who hip him to guitars’ notes, frets and strings, the boy’s animal friends coach him into becoming the rock star he’s always dreamed about.

Weiser’s experience in the music industry is clear throughout this rhythmic narrative. Some of the lessons may prove slightly challenging for young readers who have not started music lessons, but the animals break things down in rhymes that invite the repeat readings that will help crystallize key ideas about keys and octaves. Meanwhile, climactic lessons from trolls and gnomes about how to pose while rocking out—complete with a rock n’ roll swagger “just like we taught/ Angus, Prince, and Mick Jagger”—are a silly delight, a reward for the introduction to music theory.

Derek Lavoie’s illustrations are intricately complex, with layers of color and tiny details waiting to be discovered in each scene but an overall sense of propulsive movement appropriate to the subject. Readers will want to pay attention to the graphics’ secrets, like the bioluminescent plants in the trolls’ cave or the boy’s fishbowl air tank in the underwater sections. Weiser’s story situates music as part of the natural world, and for young music students, or readers of any age with a passion for song, this rousing tale will invite calls for an encore.

Takeaway: Animals help a young boy discover the basics and brilliance of music making in this energetic tale.

Great for fans of: Connie Schofield-Morrison’s I Got the Rhythm, David Weinstone’s Music Class Today!

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

Click here for more about The Boy Who Wanted to Rock
The Fortuna Coin
Karen Ann Hopkins
Hopkins (Blood Rock) introduces readers to Wendy Catalano, a single mother of four ready to begin a new chapter of her life after marrying her soul mate, Ben Engel, in this spectral, emotionally charged psychological thriller. When violent tragedy strikes, Wendy is thrust back in time, giving her a magical opportunity to correct past mistakes. After divorcing her abusive ex-husband, Josh, Wendy looks forward to her future—but her past soon interferes and puts a stop to her plans. Plagued by crazy dreams and premonitions, Wendy struggles with reliving moments she only vaguely remembers, until a psychic reading sheds insight into her problem and leaves her with a devastating choice to make.

The story begins with an emotionally charged prologue that introduces Wendy and The Fortuna Coin–a good luck charm with mystical properties that most of the plot centers around. Hopkins has broken the novel into three parts, the first fast-paced, intense, and told from Wendy’s point-of-view. The pace slows in the second part, alternating chapters from Ben’s perspective, which adds depth and welcome romantic tension. Emotions run high throughout the entire story, but they take a somewhat darker turn during the urgent final part, as the abuse and manipulation Wendy suffers at Josh’s hands escalates.

Scenes depicting domestic violence and emotional abuse may trigger some readers; however, Hopkins is not gratuitous, and these harrowing moments raise the stakes for Wendy and signify the enormity of the decision that she is destined to make. Wendy and Ben’s relationship adds a tension-filled romantic subplot–complete with a happy ending–without sacrificing the suspense. With clear, compelling prose, Hopkins has constructed a seemingly effortless story that weaves together paranormal fantasy and romance with mind-bending elements of psychological thrillers. Readers will become quickly engrossed in The Fortuna Coin’s richly emotional tale of good luck charms, psychic visions, and premonitions.

Takeaway: This urgent, personal thriller combines paranormal and romantic elements as a woman out of time faces an agonizing choice.

Great for fans of: Kate White’s The Secrets You Keep, Julie Clark’s The Last Flight.

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

Click here for more about The Fortuna Coin
The Tocks on the Clock
Jozef K. Richards
Desi’s clock is unlike most clocks—there aren’t just hands pointing to numbers, there’s a monster known as a Tock living in each number, with the birdlike Drix residing at six and the fearsome Yeven dwelling in a cavern at seven. Richards offers readers a whimsical rhyming journey to a fantasy world full of creatures reminiscent of Seussian wockets and sneetches but also the leading edge of contemporary horror beast design. Vibrant and lively illustrations bring the Tocks to life, with flowing hair, grumpy faces, fascinating habitats, and frightening accessories, like the skull around the neck of the Dren who lives—yes—at ten. The Tocks on the Clock has been crafted to familiarize young readers with key concepts of clocks and timekeeping while stirring a sense of adventure and intrigue from the inventive characters on each page, including Desi’s travel companions Lola the dog and Jack the cat.

The Tocks’s efforts to teach about clocks through rhyme proves tricky at moments, as there’s little beyond the rhyming names to reinforce connections between each Tock and their number or the time of day or night that number represents: the Drix feeds her chicks, but there are three of them, rather than six. The illustrations likewise feature no elements linking each Tock to its number, drawing no clear link between each nonsense word a clock number.

There’s one exception. A masterful detail, especially for a book about time, is the addition of a character that represents midnight. Desi and her companions must return to where the Phloon was to meet the Zight, which is a clever way to differentiate and make clear the difference between noon and midnight. Ultimately a simple and playful, yet thoughtfully crafted and beautifully illustrated, primer on clocks and time, The Tocks on the Clock is sure to delight and occasionally gently spook younger readers, even if they are only enjoying this story as a story, without their eyes on the clock just yet.

Takeaway: A beautiful, slightly spooky journey through the numbers of a clock—and the monsters who reside at each.

Great for fans of: Tom Fletcher’s The Creakers, D. M. Cornish’s Monster: Blood Tattoo.

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

Click here for more about The Tocks on the Clock
Monologues for Adults
Mike Kimmel
In this follow-up to Monologues for Teens, Kimmel again centers positivity and personal choices in its host of original showcase audition pieces for actors. In an introduction, Kimmel notes that it’s too rare to encounter an audition monologue with “an uplifting or encouraging message” and identifies a reliance upon “edgy” material as a “trap” that many actors fall into. He urges actors to think like producers or casting directors, asking “Would you want to invite a walking black cloud of gloom, pessimism, and negativity into a production you’ve been developing for years”? The 60 monologues he’s crafted here—centered on moments of everyday realization and transcendence, like a celebration of an ugly sweatshirt, or the story of an apartment-dweller who manages to focus despite his neighbors’ intrusive marijuana smoke—can double as both audition piece and upbeat demonstrations of character.

In short, Monologues for Adults offer a chance to demonstrate mastery of craft while also announcing that an actor would be a pleasure to work with. Light pieces like “An Inconvenient Convenience,” which gives performers the arresting and flexible first line “I need your advice,” have been composed to start small, describing a relatable moment or incident, and then over a page or two tease out some broader significance or insight (in this case, a narrator’s objection to “that highly inconvenient ritual of valet parking.”)

The language is crisp, but the structure of the pieces loose enough for a performer to showcase personal rhythms and approaches, as Kimmel always includes chances to trail off, change the subject, crack a joke, express mild embarrassment, and build to a memorable conclusion. One begins “I had a blind date last night. Don’t even say it, okay?” and then, rather than report romantic disasters with snark or bitterness, settles into quiet, moving realizations about how loneliness alone is less lonely than loneliness on a date. Kimmel’s warm, inviting monologues will make auditioning actors feel less lonely, too.

Takeaway: These upbeat, engaging monologues for actors have been crafted to showcase both talent and character.

Great for fans of: Andrew Biss’s Monologues They'll Remember You By, Alisha Gaddis’s Women's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny and Men's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny.

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

Click here for more about Monologues for Adults
A Different Slant of Light
J.D. Levin
The energetic follow-up to Levin’s warm punk-rock tale Incomplete finds songwriting-bassist-turned-English teacher Brian Smith, named for Brian Wilson, thrust back into the life he’d left behind after the ugly dissolution of his ‘90s band, Call Field, who despite being signed to a major label “didn’t even last long enough to put out a Greatest Hits.” But in the online age, rock (and fleeting almost-fame) never goes away. Two decades later, precocious student Veronica, Brian’s daughter’s favorite babysitter, has found Call Field on YouTube, Brian realizes something’s missing in his life. Though he’s wise enough to recognize that “nostalgia is a beautiful liar,” soon he’s relishing the possibility of a life touched with music again, first reluctantly agreeing to accompany Veronica at a talent show, and then—maybe—something more.

Levin again demonstrates a sure hand writing about music, inspiration, prickly band relationships, and the complexities of aging, all of which he renders in vivid, persuasive detail and prose as direct as good pop punk lyrics. He’s especially adept at charting the excitement and humiliations of the rock life, which comes up when Brian, stuck in a locked down high school, tells Veronica about the band’s breakup: the CD cover of a Call Field album with only the lead singer’s photo on it is hilarious yet painful, and a dismissive Rolling Stone review is pitch perfect. That protracted flashback, while engaging as it builds to a crisis at the Fillmore, slows the narrative momentum of a novel at first set firmly in Brian’s adult present of plodding jogs and dental travails (“As it turns out, I’m a bit long-winded,” Brian confesses, which is true of both books about him). But fans of spirited rock stories will love it.

Brian must face that flashback’s tragedy and trauma in the present when, inevitably, Call Field gets the call to give it another shot. Levin’s attention to stung to egos, unburied hatchets, and grown-up healing proves almost as exciting as his love for riffs, melodies, and hooks.

Takeaway: A punk rock novel about break ups, aging, and healing, bursting with energy and vivid detail.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.

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

Click here for more about A Different Slant of Light
A Matchbox Full of Pearls
Kamille Roach
Roach threads love and mystery in this impassioned debut. The death of her foster mother Blossom brings Lola back to the small Australian town in which she grew up. After two years of an emotionally sterile existence in Melbourne, Lola must face questions about her life and her relationship with Walshy–her savior, best friend, love of her life, and the reason she left town after her eighteen birthday. At the same time, the usually peaceful Wheatbelt town roils from the reemergence of a serial rapist, and soon Lola finds herself absorbed in another crime from the past: trying to understand why the only thing that Blossom left her points her to the story of Lovely Lorrelai, an exotic dancer who was convicted in the murder of her lover's wife in the 1970s. Before long, Lola starts to wonder if past may be dangerously relevant to the present.

The novel's strength lies in Roach's ability to generate question marks and red herrings that keep readers guessing. She also succeeds in imbuing the story with a great affection for Australian nature (especially in a chase scene), and in imbuing her characters with a strong sense of yearning and love. Lola and Lorrelai are the center of the narrative—to the point of overshadowing everything else—and their parallel stories roll out in a rugged style that matches Lola's bristliness.

The relaxed pacing picks up at Lorrelai's part, though some repeated information in her section still slows down the story, and a stereotypical representation of mental illness that plays into the novel’s bigger revelations, will give some readers pause. Still, Roach utilizes her characters’ back stories to showcase the many facets of love, illuminating its power and potential for destruction at the same time. Readers whose heart strings are compelled by stories about resilience and love will be drawn to this heroine in her search for roots.

Takeaway: An Australian novel of love, mystery, and resilience that finds a woman facing her hometown and past.

Great for fans of: Rhys Bowen’s The Victory Garden, Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

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

Click here for more about A Matchbox Full of Pearls
Open Eyes, Happy Heart: A Story of Healing from Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trafficking
Carolyn Thompson
Targeted at readers who have faced sexual abuse or sex trafficking, Thompson’s debut—a memoir about her own healing, written from a Christian perspective—reveals the story of suffering sexual abuse as a child that, in her words, “blinded the eyes of my heart.” Through church counseling, self-investigation, and her own relationship with God, those eyes, she writes, have been healed, not by her but by God. She’s crafted the book to share her path with readers, recounting how through prayer she found the courage to face these traumatic memories and the feelings of guilt that came with them.

Thompson traces the abuse inflicted upon her by her father to “generational sin” rather than any one person, writing “it festered from previous evil waged against my flesh and blood by Hell itself.” Understanding cycles of abuse has helped her to feel compassion and forgiveness, though she’s frank about the challenge of this, admitting that, when she felt God telling her it was time to “get well,” she responded “by yelling at Him some more.” She vividly paints the portrait of herself, in 2019, worn out, hyper alert, and struggling with past trauma at a time when her 25 year marriage seemed to be failing. Her accounts of breakthroughs and setbacks as she undergoes EDMR therapy and other forms of counseling is frank, direct, and moving.

When discussing abuse, Thompson’s never graphic, though the horror is clear. Her emphasis, instead, is on trauma recovery, with a focus on inner strength, the power of forgiveness, and the therapeutic techniques and intense, at times contentious prayer that helped her. While she offers some practical advice suited for Christian readers, Thompson has the humility to declare “This isn’t intended to be any kind of self-help guide.” Instead, it’s an act of witnessing and healing, a believer telling her story to an audience who might need encouragement to face their own.

Takeaway: This Christian memoir and guidebook focuses on nurturing the strength to heal after sexual abuse.

Great for fans of: Nicole Braddock Bromley's Hush, Justin S. Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace.

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

Click here for more about Open Eyes, Happy Heart
Risky Restoration
E.F. Dodd
Dodd’s debut novel, a contemporary romance that glows with heat, heart, and heroes readers will fall in love with, introduces Kesler, a lawyer with great friends, her own practice, and one not-so-tiny flaw: she can’t quite get over her ex, Miller. It’s not cyber-stalking if the stalkee doesn’t know about it, right? When Kesler—“Kez” to her friends—stumbles across the earth-shattering news that he’s now engaged and his high school reunion is coming up, she throws a half-plan together to go up to Rochester, New York, his hometown, to see if she can get closure. With her two best friends at her side, nothing can go wrong—other than meeting Jackson, Miller’s former classmate/rival, the man who will set her alight.

With characters who are larger than life yet imminently relatable, Risky Restoration blends the best of escapist reading with heart and substance. Kez’s life seems to be great, except for her singular inability to find the right partner. Not only is her lack of a love life driving her around the bend, figuring out why has become her obsession. Then Jackson appears, tripping all of her triggers. Thus begins the slightly madcap adventure which, at times, edges toward over-the-top, yet always just this side of plausible.

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is its nuanced female characters. From driven yet well-rounded Kez to the sweet, accomplished Vivian, to the dynamic powerhouse that is Rae, each woman has her own distinct voice and beautifully detailed personality as she faces challenges and triumphs. This balances nicely with their interpersonal dynamics with the men, particularly Kez and Jackson. While Jackson has a dominant personality, he’s quick to allow Kez the space and freedom to handle her own affairs. If she needs him, he’s there, but otherwise their relationship models healthy boundaries—despite being fast and furious. Readers will delight in this fast-paced romance, and will almost certainly clamor for Vivian and Rae’s installments.

Takeaway: A stunning happily-for-now contemporary romance featuring strong female characters readers will fall for.

Great for fans of: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club, Justine Faeth’s Chat Love.

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

Click here for more about Risky Restoration
The Order of Time and Odin's Door: Book 2 of The Order of Time Series
Scott P. Southall
Southall populates this delightful, fast-paced adventure through history, the second installment of the Order of Time series, with resourceful tweens and snarling monsters. Returning from ancient Egypt, twelve-year-old twins Anastasia and Edward Upston must defend their mentor, Dr. Alfred Gregorian, after he is called to task by the Order of Time in London for involving the children in unauthorized time travel. After Dr. G’s exoneration, the Order invites the Upstons to attend the London Academy of History and Science, once they first pass a field test. But someone has sabotaged their time traveling Refractium Crystal rings, and the intrepid duo mistakenly ends up in Viking era Denmark, face to face with Erik the Red and his cousin, Jarl Soren. Unable to return home, martial artist Anastasia and history nerd Edward decide to help Erik and Soren battle Nidhogg, a fire-breathing dragon threatening Soren’s village.

Refreshingly, Southall depicts his child heroes as capable participants in their adventures who are believed and trusted by adults, which bolsters their confidence and self-worth. The story becomes more urgent when the twins discover they have only four days to defeat the dragon, sent by the trickster god Loki, who knows that Soren’s people are guarding Odin’s magical door—a portal that can bring about Ragnarök, “the end of the world.” Whatever they do, the children cannot change history, as Edward cautions: “the ripples from any change in the past can completely change the future.”

Southall sprinkles welcome historical detail about the food, culture, and religion of various periods and cultures among action-packed fight scenes and strategic battle plans. Written in a brisk, cheerful tone, the story encourages thoughtfulness and action to right wrongs, as well as offering assistance where it is needed. Fans of time-travel stories will enjoy this character-driven story with smart, competent children in a historical setting.

Takeaway: Young readers and adults who love time travel stories will savor the adventure and nuggets of historical fact.

Great for fans of: Paul Aertker’s Crime Travelers series, Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger.

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

Click here for more about The Order of Time and Odin's Door
Snatching St. Nick
Myla Taylor
Ten-year-old Cooper Bartholomew Finister is determined to get on the Nice List this year. He may be Miami’s worst behaved ten year old, but if he wants to get a Zop’Em 3000—this year’s hottest toy—and win the bet against his arch nemesis Dax, he’ll have to think outside of the box and resort to some desperate measures. He doesn’t just operate alone, though: Cooper’s got a best friend, Peony, and an elf accomplice, and along the way he’ll encounter an elf enemy and two unqualified criminals. Equal parts funny, action-packed, and heartwarming, Snatching St. Nick is a fast-paced, rollicking holiday adventure.

One thing that’s abundantly clear at the start is that Cooper is not the average ten-year-old. He attends a private elementary school, has a nanny, easily fakes being his father so that he can charter a private jet to the North Pole, and makes declarations like “Cravat is French for goofball handkerchief tie. That’s what my pool cleaner says.” Cooper might not be relatable, but his wit is sharp, his cunning is boundless, and his extravagant life is certainly compelling. At one point, he demonstrates a mature understanding of beer and drunkenness, telling a server to cut off an elf who’s already had too many, a moment that might raise questions.

Precocious and mischievous as he may be, Cooper is still a likeable character who shows genuine growth throughout and ultimately, in an ending that offers appropriate holiday warmth, connects with the adults in his life. Meeting Taylor’s singular version of Santa—a fit, flannel wearing, happy go lucky guy—is a joy in and of itself. Snatching St. Nick is sure to delight readers young and old, and hopefully caution them against making the same mistakes Cooper does at the start, prizing the Nice List only as a path to gifts.

Takeaway: Troublemakers and goody two-shoes alike will enjoy this delightful Christmas adventure.

Great for fans of: Caleb Huett’s Top Efl, Michael Fry and Bradley Jackson’s The Naughty List.

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

Click here for more about Snatching St. Nick
Home is Within You
Nadia Davis
11/30 HOME IS WITHIN YOU In this singular memoir, Davis—a public figure, attorney, and mother with a history of public service—has written heartfelt letters to her children revealing what she has faced throughout her life, touching on addiction, abusive relationships, and broader ideas about hope, justice, poverty, and courage. “It is not easy to have courage to be vulnerable,” she notes in one, though she exhibits that courage throughout the collection, juxtaposing this intimate disclosure of her actual self against all that has been said about her in media coverage. The amount of interpersonal work Davis has done is evident, and this memoir is a tribute to how much effort she has put into her health—and to setting up a hopeful future for her family.

Opening with lessons drawn her father’s impoverished upbringing and closing with the touching story of telling her son, as he applies for college, that “Sometimes we don’t realize the challenges we’ve walked through until they are over,” Home Is Within You is alive with Davis’s honesty and vulnerability, threading both her pain and the hard work of recovery and healing into its pages. Her frank accounts of grief, loss, and assault are upsetting, but the memoir’s hopeful trajectory sees Davis—“that little bright-eyed brown girl who simply wanted to save the world but sometimes hid in the closet”—building a thriving career, giving back to the community, and finding the strength to face trauma head on.

Her account of her journey will help readers build understanding, empathy, and hope, though due to the intensity of some of the accounts and the length of the book the most pleasurable reading experience likely involves taking in a couple of letters at a time. Even when recounting instances when the press or people she counted upon have been unfair to her, Davis’s grace and humanity are striking. She is kind to those in her life and, after much work and learning, to herself.

Takeaway: In these tender, urgent letters to her sons, Nadia Davis reveals her life, vulnerability, and journey toward healing.

Great for fans of: Stacey Patton’s That Mean old Yesterday, Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean.

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

Click here for more about Home is Within You
The Friendly Bookshelf
Caroline and Katherine Brickley
In the wondrous world of children’s books, it is not unusual for inanimate objects to start walking and talking–but the Brickleys’ sweet and imaginative picture book is the rare title to anthropomorphize a bookshelf. In the back corner of the library, Bibli the bookshelf spends his days listening to kids enjoying stories about adventure, magic, and friendship but knows deep down he has an important story of his own to share. The other bookshelves are skeptical and shoot down his dreams: “Bookshelves are meant to hold stories, not have ones of their own,” one particularly uptight shelf tells him. But soon, Bibli meets a little girl named Cassie who gives him the opportunity to create like he’s always imagined.

Bibli and Cassie become instant friends, and before long Bibli is handing out books to children, making silly faces at babies, and looking on happily as pets rest on his shelves, “lending the kind of helping hand that only a bookshelf can.” Eventually Cassie writes a book about Bibli and reads it to the other kids at the library, underscoring the central message that everyone has a story worth sharing. This theme is based on the authors’ social-emotional learning research, “written to build self-confidence and self-esteem as well as encourage inclusivity.” The story accomplishes these goals by highlighting the value of a familiar yet often overlooked object, giving kids and parents the chance to discuss the quiet yet essential contributions of other people and things in their lives.

Daniela Pérez-Duarte’s colorful illustrations convincingly bring Bibli to life, showing the ebullient little bookshelf smiling, bending, and twisting on his legs to interact with Cassie and the other kids, who appear cheerful, curious, and friendly. Ultimately, seeing Bibli find a way to share his journey with the world will inspire kids to look for the significance of their own stories, as well as recognize those untold narratives in the world around them.

Takeaway: This sweet picture book brings to life a little bookshelf who wants to share his story with the world.

Great for fans of: Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing, Adam Rex’s School’s First Day of School.

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

Click here for more about The Friendly Bookshelf
Getting to Alpenglow
JEANETTE SHIVERS
Shivers makes her fiction debut with this young adult novella in which fifteen-year-old Aretha–better known as ReRe–narrates her extraordinary and ordinary dramas, including major family conflicts, attempted assault, run-ins with police, and everyday worries like feeling less attractive and popular than her older sister, Tori. Indeed, ReRe’s story is also that of Tori, a difficult teenager if there ever was one. As internal and external pressures build, resilient ReRe fights to keep a positive spin on things. ReRe cheekily says, “If I ever decide to write a book about our lives, I know that it would be categorized as a fiction because no one would ever believe that a person would have to live through so much just to come into their own.”

Endearing and engaging, Getting to Alpenglow is a fluently written account of a modern, fatherless teenager both before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Each chapter takes its name from ReRe’s color-coordinated mood—the organizing principle of the book—and these especially ring when they correlate to sweetness, such as in “Cotton Candy Pink,” a chapter on ReRe’s very young (but age-appropriate) romance.

No quotidian teenage subject is left undiscussed, from church to high school to small town gossip to the onslaught of quarantine. A tone that is loose, laid back and associative often evokes the feel of a diary entry, with the narrator making the occasional precious, revealing mistake or typo, as when she appropriates adult phrases, such as calling a stick in the mud “stuck in the mud.” ReRe’s breathless teenage voice is persuasive, and is engaging and relatable enough to appeal to anyone with youth in their life (or veins.) Eventually, Getting to Alpenglow reveals a focus on mental illness and its impact on families, material handled with such sensitivity that readers of serious young adult fiction will acclaim the book for its timeliness and relevance.

Takeaway: This relatable YA novel boasts a compelling teen voice as its narrator faces love, mental health issues, and the start of the pandemic.

Great for fans of: Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Helena Fox’s How it Feels to float.

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

Click here for more about Getting to Alpenglow

Loading...