Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

The Prize-Winning Story
KEN YODER REED
In this layered and ambitious Chaucer riff, Reed (Both My Sons) dares to set a pilgrims’ story-telling contest in the most heated of contemporary religious milieus: He’s imagined a squad of American fans of a Christian radio show called “For Zion’s Sake” touring Israel on the day of Donald Trump’s election. The tour leader, an end-times minded raid host named Vladdy, agrees to the idea of a contest, first proposed by Israel’s Major Eli Bloom, “Israel’s top expert on terrorism,” a guest lecturer celebrated by Vladdy for offering “None of this politically correct ‘Islam is the religion of peace’ stuff.” Vladdy’s enthusiasm for Jewishness is undercut by his cluelessness: Early on, he schedules a car trip with Bloom on Shabbat, and they end up hoofing it eight miles. Soon enough, though, Vladdy’s pilgrims are touring the holy sites and dishing a surprising variety of tales, among them a contemporary refugee drama, a scarifying account of an American serviceman’s deployments to Iraq, a meditation on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, and a fiery denunciation of sexual predation in the seminary.

As the tour (and the tales) go on, Vladdy finds his American assumptions about Israeli life challenged by exposure to the reality, especially as he faces a surprising confrontation involving his own family. The question What about the Palestinians? comes to haunt him, and the book builds toward a complex ending that laces the joy of the pilgrims’ faith and camaraderie with geopolitical tragedy.

No satiric novel about the Middle East could please all readers, of course, but Reed’s approach is smart and sensitive, even as he gleefully satirizes the relationship between American evangelicals and Israeli hardliners. His prose is sharp, even cutting at times, but there’s nothing parodic about many of his pilgrims’ stories, which take faith seriously. Even Vladdy, at first a caricature, emerges as a figure of pathos; it’s moving to see the scales fall from his eyes.

Takeaway: Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, this satire finds American Christians facing the reality of the Holy Land.

Great for fans of: Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin, Terry Lindvall’s God Mocks.

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

Click here for more about The Prize-Winning Story
Gut Feelings: Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction and the Patient-Doctor Relationship
Douglas Drossman, MD and Johannah Ruddy, M.Ed.
This innovative, dual-focused volume from Drossman and Ruddy offers a study of the history, diagnosis, and treatment of Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction from Drossman, the eminent scientist of gastroenterology, with an emphasis on new approaches to these chronic illnesses that too often have been misunderstood by a conventional medical wisdom that failed to grasp their negative impact on patient health. Gut Feelings pairs this specialist’s intervention in his field with an urgent effort to improve communication between doctors and patients, especially in cases of chronic illnesses where there’s a disconnect, as in the case of DGBI, between symptoms and medical findings. Ruddy, a patient advocate and executive director of the Rome Foundation, has endured DGBI herself; she pens clear-eyed, authoritative passages for patients about how to optimize their communication with their physicians.

Together, Drossman and Ruddy address physicians and patients, with Drossman explaining his findings over a lifetime of treating and researching DGBI. With rousing passion rare in medical literature, Gut Feelings urges physicians to adopt George Engel’s biopsychosocial model of treating patients—to create the conditions in which patients and physicians can “engage collaboratively on the care that will improve the clinical outcome.” The book itself is evidence of what doctors and patients can achieve when they collaborate: Drossman treated Ruddy and her DGBI.

In moving testimonial, Ruddy recounts how other doctors proved dismissive of her symptoms–“Women can get hysterical and exaggerate pain, especially at certain times of the month,” she recalls a physician telling her. Drossman, though, listened to her and understood that there’s more to gastrointestinal health than what colonoscopies can reveal, as he spells out in persuasive detail in the book’s first half. While it offers sound advice for patients, Gut Feelings will most resonate with medical practitioners eager to optimize communication between doctors and patients, especially in cases of chronic illness or pain that’s not traditionally been well diagnosed and treated.

Takeaway: This innovative medical text guides patients and doctors toward greater understanding of disorders of gut-brain interaction—and greater communication.

Great for fans of: Emeran Mayer’s The Mind-Gut Connection, Peter Tate and Francesca Frame’s The Doctor's Communication Handbook.

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

Siljeea Magic
Judith S. Pratt
In this adventurous coming-of-age novel, Pratt (The Dry Country) conjures the magic of little woodland people who teach an upper middle class tween girl about environmental care, diversity, and heroism. City kid Andrea Jernigan has always been able to see child-sized, human-like people the “color of the dried oak leaves” in the buffer zone of forest wedged between highways and houses, but when she tells people about this no one believes her. After moving out of her Boston-area city to a big new house, school, and suburban sprawl, Andrea laments the loss of old school friends. Frustrated with her helicopter mother, angry stepfather, and bratty five-year-old brother Andrea steals away at dawn to meet with Eraustaak, a Bokaaj (small people) teenager living in the woods behind her housing development. Eraustaak awakens her to the wonders of nature, edible berries and leaves, and animals. When developers threaten to raze the Bokaajs’ forest, Andrea gathers her courage to help them.

In light, flowing prose, Pratt evokes the inquisitiveness and innocence of young people of two cultures meeting and sharing their knowledge– until distrust and discrimination on both sides intervenes. The Bokaaj fear human encroachment, and tensions rise when one of them fires a gun at construction workers. Determined to help the starving Bokaaj relocate to safer grounds, Andrea seeks the wisdom of their Siljeea, the shaman women whose magic protects the forest enclave.

Never talking down to her readers, Pratt reveals the language and customs of a fully realized culture struggling to live on the fringes of American neighborhoods. Pratt explores how some people take action to right wrongs and help those in need while others just accept the sacrifices of “progress.” Readers of all ages will enjoy the uplifting story of a brave teenage girl making friends and coming into her own identity and purpose.

Takeaway: A suburban coming-of-age fantasy for all ages that explores an imaginative culture and environmental responsibility.

Great for fans of: Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, Lynne Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard.

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

Click here for more about Siljeea Magic
How Does It Feel to Be You?: An Introduction to Animism
Oshri
Oshri's careful, hopeful examination of animism–the belief that inanimate objects have distinct spiritual essence–is a compelling exercise in mindfulness, empathy, and environmentalism delivered in verse. Divided into six parts, this spiritually minded commentary argues that, with time, our perceptions of ourselves–of how our bodies work and how we make sense of the world–have devolved to resemble our hierarchical society. Like our “detached rulers or ruling classes,” each individual’s brain “tells itself / that it–the brain– / Is the only one capable of making the right decisions.” In "Life, Inside Us,” Oshri disrupts the traditional notion of a biological "chain of command" by arguing that other body parts have agency, too, linking our belief in the brain’s primacy to the emergence of class and separatist doctrines.

Assuming perspectives like that of a favorite coffee cup and a salad, Oshri's free-style poems urge an understanding (“You know why people don’t focus on eating? / It is fear of intimacy”) of being present with all that we consume and cherish. Oshri beckons readers to pay close attention to objects they encounter everyday in "Life, Beside Us," and suggests taking a walk nude while covering the head on a chilly day to let the exposed senses take charge of the body, a recommendation many readers (especially in populous areas) may find extreme. Oshri's intent in such passages is not to shock or establish ideological supremacy. Instead, he’s presenting ideas and approaches to living, with insightful and at times challenging examples.

Oshri’s writing is clean and immediately clear throughout. The arrangement of prose passages in brief, broken paragraphs ensures a measured pacing that emphasizes the ideas, achieving stylistic and theoretical continuity with the interspersed poems. Straightforward and creative, this imaginative collection is an able,novel, and provocative introduction to the many principles of animism.

Takeaway: Readers interested in exploring the spiritual belief of animism will find illumination in this unique poetry collection.

Great for fans of: Dennis Schmitz’s Animism, Emma Restall Orr’s The Wakeful World.

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

Click here for more about How Does It Feel to Be You?
The Pages of History
david carney
A one-volume crash course in western civilization, Carney’s collection compiles short documents, speeches, and other written proclamations from throughout history “whose significance echoes far beyond their size.” In incisive introductory remarks, Carney notes that some of his selections represent the apex of rhetoric while others are mundane; their authors include “scientists, kings, rebels, artists, the inevitable Anonymous, and perhaps even the Deity.” The miniatures he’s assembled include works like the Monroe Doctrine, an oration credited to Chief Seattle and purportedly delivered on the occasion of a treaty signing, and the 1534 Act of Supremacy that, once passed by Parliament, declared Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Uniting these disparate readings, besides their brevity and import, is Carney’s illuminating commentary. A lively history in their own right, his remarks set the stage for each selection, examining the circumstances that led to the penning of each text and then how each text in turn shaped the world. He considers issues of provenance, language, and textual accuracy, approaching each subject with welcome humility: “Scripture scholars will have had ample occasion in the preceding discussion to note where I have simplified, perhaps to a perilous degree, the details of the how the Bible came into Jacobean English,” he notes at the end of one engaging essay. Scriptural scholars might find nits to pick, but casual readers interested in the history will appreciate Carney’s spirited précis.

Carney’s generalist approach proves inviting as this miscellany finds him celebrating the achievements of Bach (introducing the composer's dedications to two works, including the Brandenburg Concertos) and, not many pages later, contemplating F.T. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism. (“We have no comparable statement for our time,” Carney observes, adding, “And that may be a blessing.”) These short, surprising selections—each introduced with wit and warmth—accrete into a feast for readers of history and lovers of original documents.

Takeaway: This lively miscellany guides readers through many of the most significant (and shortest) documents in history.

Great for fans of: Lapham's Quarterly, Richard Panchyk’s The Keys to American History: Understanding Our Most Important Historic Documents.

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

Click here for more about The Pages of History
Effacement
Hieronymus Hawkes
Hawkes’s enthralling debut science fiction takes place in a future where implanted microchips connect humanity to all things technological and have become the only way of life for most people. Everything is done with a thought, and no one uses cell phones, controllers, computers, or even cash, thanks to the Vitasync neurochip from BioNarratus. When rumors begin swirling that people are dying and the chip may be to blame, Cole Westbay, one of Vitasync’s creators, investigates and finds answers the government is trying to hide. That makes him a problem they need to get rid of, and he wakes up one morning missing his chip and much of his memory.

Although the story’s often technical, with passages detailing how the implanted chips work with the brain, the programming involved, and their interfacing with other technologies, Hawkes hits the right balance of explaining just enough to be clear while eschewing jargon that might put off those without tech backgrounds. When the government, through an insider at Vitasync, adds an assassination code to a software update that is so sloppy it accidentally kills many people, Hawkes quickly and clearly reveals what the characters investigating the code are finding while simultaneously ramping up the story’s suspense.

The plot’s sturdy if not surprising, but Hawkes’s inventions like the “lifelog”–a cloud-based record of everyone’s life that people often rely on more than their own memories–resonate. It’s Hawkes’s characters who set this thriller apart, offering a welcome change of pace for the genre. Highly intelligent, exceptionally strong women protagonists are pivotal to the storyline– lawyers, VP’s, engineering geniuses, and multi-dimensional leaders. Even characters who function as antagonists are fiercely intelligent and well-crafted. Hawkes fleshes out his cast with many layers, a strategy that will keep readers invested in getting to know them as Cole strives to reveal the truth.

Takeaway: Fans of tech-savvy science fiction will be drawn into the web of those fighting to save society from technology that has spiraled out of control.

Great for fans of: Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, Douglas E. Richards’s Mind’s Eye.

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

Click here for more about Effacement
The Psyman: Freedom is the prison we built for ourselves.
Nicholas Bruechle
Experienced through the life of one young propagandist, this story of fame-obsessed far-future dystopia that disparages human nature finds ordinary person Biz finishing his basic education in preparation for an unremarkable life. But his teacher, hoping to plant the seeds of a new and better future, has spent years secretly administering treatments to turn Biz into one of the Sharps, the bureaucratic leaders of society. Once admitted to the administrative Bastion, home of the Sharps and the government leader Joe, Biz learns how society is controlled and contained with oxygen doping, reality TV, and propaganda created by Psymen–the people Biz is in training to become.

Bruechle’s novel is about striving in a cruel system rather than fighting it. Even after learning about the atrocities committed in the name of maintaining control over the populace, Biz schemes, betrays, lies, and manipulates himself farther up the Bastion chain of command, leaving his former friends to their fates. Biz’s involvement with a revolutionary faction seeking to remake society offers some suspense, but he’s not compellingly conflicted about his choices and difficult to sympathize with by design. With few interests other than his own advancement, the pace at times stalls, as the pages detail the natural disaster that spawned the present regime and the gases that control human behavior and potential.

Life in this cruel dictatorship is depicted with clear prose, and the story will appeal to readers interested in what humanity can become at its worth. Bruechle takes pains to make it hard to invest much hope in any one character or “side.” Western culture is castigated, while the dystopian society’s nebulous enemies “to the East” seem resigned and uncaring in the face of hostile occupation. Readers interested in the dystopian side of dystopian fiction rather than heroics may enjoy this grim story, more Brave New World than The Hunger Games, but those looking for hope will find little here.

Takeaway: This dystopian exploration of compliance and betrayal will appeal to readers fascinated by how far humanity can sink.

Great for fans of: Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.

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

Click here for more about The Psyman
The Reason for Time
Deborah Court
In this sci-fi flavored mystery, the third and final in Court’s "Maggie Dunn" trilogy, a woman with an inexplicable medical condition serves as a catalyst for a series of lyrical meditations on how people strive to find meaning in their lives. Maggie's mysterious malady has caused her body to reverse its aging process, from her mid-sixties to her mid-thirties, and after spending time on the run from those who might exploit her, she is returning to her native Canada with her Scottish friend Alison. After they meet a young banker, Wolfe, on the plane, the trio gets an apartment together–but Maggie remains in danger from an old enemy, and her friends must come to her aid.

Court touches on the medical reasons for Maggie's condition, but the novel’s focus is on scenes and moods, such as Maggie in the hotel, jet lagged and sick: "then she just disappeared, into the water, into the fog, the lake, the pool, the dreams." Subplots involving Alison's troubled family in Scotland and Maggie's old friends who know her past get a little tangled, and make the story choppy at times, but Court’s entrancing language never fails.

Indeed, Court marvelously creates vivid characters and illuminates the connections between people, specifically the way Alison and Wolfe settle into their new lives. Wolfe, from a banking family but fleeing a minor scandal of his own making, really wants to be an artist, and interrupts his workday to sketch, as he thinks contemptuously about his father, who was only interested in "conversations about money, algorithms about money, and rules and regulations and laws about money". Court also neatly portrays the sweetly naïve Alison, who fails to understand Maggie's warning that she and Wolfe shouldn't "visit" each other's room. Maggie and her endearing friends go through a lot together, and readers will face a bittersweet conclusion, knowing that it's the end of their visit with such appealing characters.

Takeaway: Character-driven but unstuck in time, this inventive novel will stick with readers.

Great for fans of: Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife.

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

Click here for more about The Reason for Time
The Steel Beneath the Silk
Patricia Bracewell
Bracewell’s engrossing conclusion to her Normandy trilogy (after The Price of Blood) revisits 11th-century England, where King Æthelred’s Norman queen Emma has been married to her husband for a decade, has given birth to three children, and finds herself unsure who to trust. Her husband does not treat her well, his alliances have stirred dismay among his fellow Englishmen, and Danish King Swein Forkbeard has plans to oust him from his throne. Those plans appeal to Elgiva, the English concubine of Swein’s son, Cnut. As the Danish invasion begins, allegiances are called into question, and Emma must work to ensure that she and her children survive amid the chaos of war.

Bracewell’s extensive research adds convincing realism as she expertly details hard choices, secret loyalties, and brutal murders. While Bracewell focuses intently on the battle scenes and the changing landscape of allegiances, she also breathes life into her characters, giving them singular voices and emphasizing how broken promises of fealty impact relationships –and sometimes influence history. The concerns of her 11th century cast will resonate with historical fiction readers today.

Bracewell brings the lives of the novel’s women into sharp focus. Though Æthelred often discounts Emma’s opinions, other men respect her, as evidenced by her love for Æthelred’s oldest son from his previous marriage, Athelstan. Despite the knowledge that her desires are subservient to the demands of Æthelred, Emma works within the societal constraints to exert her influence and ensure the survival of her children. Bracewell examines the cunning of Elgiva, whose power over Cnut is limited by a marriage not blessed by the church, while Elgiva plots to continue to be important to Cnut, hoping that she will one day become queen herself. The efforts of these women to influence their destinies despite the control exerted by the men in their lives is an essential thematic element throughout the novel.

Takeaway: An 11th-century English queen seeks to make her mark in the world while ensuring her family's survival amid the dangers of war.

Great for fans of: Carol McGrath’s The Handfasted Wife, Donna Woolfolk Cross’s Pope Joan.

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

Click here for more about The Steel Beneath the Silk
Cyberjutsu: Cybersecurity for the Modern Ninja
Benjamin McCarty
This helpful manual explores the field of cybersecurity, providing tips, tricks, and proven methods to help companies keep online information out of the hands of hackers. Shirking a traditional approach, McCarty, a former NSA developer, suggests that readers “think like a ninja,” comparing shinobi methods from feudal Japan to modern-day cyber warfare. He acknowledges straightaway that he comes to the term ninja from its playful use among cybersecurity experts rather than his own heritage or expertise, though he’s since devoted himself to researching actual ninja history and philosophy. Each chapter covers a classic shinobi technique (intricate mapping, worm agents, covert communication) and then discusses its computer-based equivalent (network mapping, insider threats, interconnected malware). Combining philosophical exercises with more concrete plans of action, McCarty blends new and old, complex and simple, to craft this intricate guide.

This book does not cover personal computer use or best practices. Instead it focuses on corporate cybersecurity — those protecting large companies and organizations from hacks and leaks. That focus means that much of the information included in this book is too advanced for a casual technology user. There is no glossary of terms, and, beyond a few sentences of explanation, some of the more complex cyber concepts do not get thoroughly introduced.

While this book may be too advanced for the average computer user, McCarty provides clear, actionable advice to cybersecurity professionals and IT departments, with each chapter suggesting “Recommended Security Controls and Mitigations” for each potential problem. He covers everything from more efficient network mapping to more robust recruitment for entry-level roles, but readers may also enjoy the book’s philosophical bent. McCarty includes a “Castle Theory Thought Exercise” at the end of each section, introducing a hypothetical threat scenario and challenging readers with open-ended questions about possible solutions. For those who already have a strong basis in cybersecurity, this book encourages critical thinking.

Takeaway: This advanced cybersecurity manual emphasizes intelligence, stealth, and critical thinking

Great for fans of: Matthew Hickey and Jennifer Arcuri’s Hands on Hacking, Joshua Picolet’s Operator Handbook, Chris Sanders’s Intrusion Detection Honeypots.

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

Click here for more about Cyberjutsu
Iron Butterfly: The Mezzogiorno Trilogy
Andrew Eustace Anselmi
Pulsing with feeling, haunted by the past, Anselmi’s novel—the second in a trilogy charting one Italian-American family’s journey in the 1980s U.S.—finds a young man confronting the mysteries of his immigrant mother’s youth. Edward “Edge” Bennett, a student at the dawn of the Reagan era, flies to London to study economics, leaving behind the States and a mother, Marie, who weeps if he gets home an hour late. On spring break in Italy, Edward visits Marie’s remote hometown, despite her insistence that he shouldn’t. In the dusty village Edward discovers he knows little of his mother’s past, though he turns up clues that she must have faced significant trauma as a child. Later, back in the U.S., Marie jolts the family with her story.

Anselmi anchors the psychological inquiry in the bildungsroman, capturing Bennett’s chatty camaraderie with other students, his growing out of his illusions, and a pair of sexual encounters, one inconclusive and one not—and both laden with symbols connected to the story of his mother. The crisp, often lyric prose (in Rome, at the Forum, Edward “[relishes] its hues of conquest and faith”) tells the story with swiftness and power while always suggesting deeper meanings. While the themes and structure echo Faulkner, with urgent family secrets revealed to a young man over full chapters, Anselmi’s touch is light and inviting.

Occasional perspective shifts inside diminish the novel’s urgent focus, and early passages detailing Bennett’s relationships outside the family are so engaging that readers will likely be frustrated at those characters’ later absence. Marie’s tale of a childhood in a village occupied by the Nazis is harrowing but told with sensitivity. A final section, faintly reminiscent of Nabakov’s Pnin, finds a new character analyzing the novel itself through the lens of psychoanalysis, a revealing choice that highlights everything singular about Anselmi’s approach: Here’s rich, resonant fiction written with a welcome sense of play.

Takeaway: This lyric, incisive novel finds a young man discovering his immigrant mother’s harrowing past.

Great for fans of: Nino Ricci’s Where She Has Gone, Tina De Rosa’s Paper Fish.

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

Click here for more about Iron Butterfly
Word for Word: A Writer's Life
Laurie Lisle
Lisle (Portrait of an Artist) plunges into memoir territory with this engaging chronological survey of her life’s work: the development of her own “writerly voice.” Organized in three parts, the narrative begins in Providence, where Lisle is raised in an upper-class, patriarchal family but defies tradition to pursue a college degree. That’s the first step in a career that takes her to Manhattan as one of Newsweek’s first female reporters, a job she leaves to become Georgia O’Keeffe’s biographer. Lisle examines how the legacy of an absent father and the birth of the second-wave feminist movement contributed to ongoing tensions, especially in her marriage and work, and she delves deeply into the challenges facing women writers across generations.

While telling her own story, Lisle often employs secondary sources, arguably transforming memoir into autobiography. Throughout, she characterizes the challenge of developing her own singular voice as the “ongoing bifurcation between my third- and first-person voices.” Word for Word exemplifies that battle, as her prose, while watertight and laced with insight, often discusses but doesn’t convey emotion. The contrast when she quotes her journals or poems, though, is revelatory: “What matter if others ignore or glorify this silver night? I see it as I do.” She, too, is moved by reading her younger self’s private thoughts: “At moments I applauded her daring or despaired at her hesitancy, gyrating from exhilaration about an insight to excruciating sadness about the loss of love.”

The book pulses with intellectual discussions, lived feminist history and its resultant tensions, and the fascinating literary milieu she encounters at writing retreats. She’s admirably frank about her inner world of vacillation (to have a child or abstain?) and the challenges of both writing and sustaining a career as she covers wide-ranging ground (youthful ambition, O’Keeffe, a visit to the Left Bank) and offers compelling insights and anecdotes of a writing life.

Takeaway: This unconventional memoir details one accomplished woman writer’s dedication to developing her voice.

Great for fans of: Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of My Nonexistence.

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

Click here for more about Word for Word
The New Eugenics: Modifying Biological Life in the 21st Century
Conrad Quintyn
In this sober and sobering consideration of genetic engineering, Quintyn, associate professor of biological anthropology at Bloomsburg University, examines the present and future of what he calls “the new eugenics.” If that term (which Quintyn defines as “the modification of any biological life form … to replace or repair its ‘defects’”) sounds alarming, Quintyn’s book offers few reassurances. Concerned with both the ethics and practice of these new fields, Quintyn warns that, when it comes to genetic modification, cloning, nanobiotechnology, artificial reproductive techniques, and more, scientists are “operating in the Wild West, with mostly good intentions mixed in with hubris, lucrative patents for their host institutions, fame, and Nobel Prizes.” Regulation, he notes, is lax, and we know far too little about the possible unintended consequences of efforts to engineer the very code of life.

Writing with clarity and purpose, Quintyn reports on the state of play in PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), elective enhancements, the power of CRISPR gene-editing tools, and more, summarizing new developments and causes for concern in prose an interested lay reader can follow. The stakes are high, as Quintyn establishes with challenging questions about these technologies: Do we understand the short and long-term evolutionary effects of genetic engineering? What happens to a society, he asks, where “only the rich have access to genetic enhancements”?

Quintyn’s at his most persuasive when urging scientists (and regulators) to remember all that’s uncertain about how genes interact with each other. The well-intended altering one element of a complex system (say, eradicating malaria by altering the gene drive of mosquitoes) might impact the rest of that system. Especially upsetting: His linking of the forced sterilization techniques of earlier eugenicists to the future possibility of forced genetic modification. It’s impossible to discern, from The New Eugenics, whether such scenarios are likely, but Quintyn demonstrates that the warnings must be sounded.

Takeaway: This survey of the present and future of genetic engineering sounds a powerful, persuasive alarm to science-minded readers.

Great for fans of: Jamie Metzl’s Hacking Darwin, Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg’s A Crack in Creation.

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

Click here for more about The New Eugenics
The Eighth Master: Art, Architecture, and an Untimely Death
JD Rutherford
Rutherford’s enticing mystery revolves around an unlucky architect and an infamous art piece that leads to a gruesome murder. Neil is a local architect struggling to pay his bills when he receives the commission of a lifetime: building a 17th-century style French chateau for David Johnsson, a Wall-Street businessman with a legendary fortune. But when Detective Sean Andrews finds Johnsson’s body in the basement of the unfinished chateau, Neil becomes a suspect. Rutherford’s plot turns on poisonings, cryptocurrencies, threatening messages, and a fortune invested in art. As betrayals get exposed, one stolen artwork in particular will reveal who precisely Johnsson was–and who murdered him.

Rutherford gives each character a colorful past and loyalties that could make anyone the culprit, building The Eighth Master into an engrossing whodunit that will keep readers guessing. This clever mystery’s occasional focus on architecture might hinder some readers’ interest, though, especially Neil’s occasional lectures. Despite Rutherford’s love of the subject, the architectural detail that slows down the first 50 pages ultimately doesn’t factor much into the investigation, as the mystery hinges on what’s inside the chateau rather than the chateau itself.

Nevertheless, Rutherford has crafted a lengthy but captivating mystery that checks off all the boxes for the genre, offering a relentless investigation and exciting twists and turns. Like a boulder rolling down the hill faster and faster, the storytelling becomes more urgent and exciting as the investigation continues. The revelations are both surprising and fulfilling, as Rutherford demonstrates mastery of the genre with clues that play fair, a couple of legitimate shocks, and a satisfying ending that clears up all the essential questions. Murder mystery fans, especially the architectural enthusiasts and art lovers among them, will enjoy how The Eighth Master touches on all these subjects to expose the excesses of humanity’s Icarus-like greed.

Takeaway: This memorable whodunit, fascinated with art and architecture, will dazzle fans of the genre.

Great for fans of: Donna Leon’s Transient Desires, Clare Chase’s Mystery on Hidden Lane.

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

Click here for more about The Eighth Master
Cracks Of Light
John Charles Reedburg
Reedburg’s provocative series launch–following the everyday experiences of Demetrius, a Black nine-year-old in Hyde Park, Los Angeles in the early '90s–demonstrates how in fiction the fantastic can illuminate the 'real.' A prologue establishes Demetrius’s world: “my mother, my mom’s drug habit, my momma’s bipolar disorder, that mysterious light in my room, and me.” Soon, that Light, a fantastical presence, speaks to him in the voice of a girl his age and appears when he is in peril. Since Demetrius encounters violence at home, he has “to face the Light to avoid the terrible pain Momma’s other half so often inflicted.” The Light also allows Demetrius to meet his ancestors and foretell events. Emboldened, Demetrius makes strides with his friend/crush Natalie, stands up to his bully, and risks the Light’s jealousy by bringing home a plasma orb given to him by his science teacher.

Intertwined with Demetrius’s experiences are occasional chapters telling the story of his mother, Olivia, detailing her cruel upbringing and roiling mind. Cracks of Light is raw and frank by design: Even advanced readers will likely be challenged by harrowing events such as a convenience store shooting or incidents of incest, and sensitive and younger readers should probably avoid the novel. Although the voice, focus, and narrative are strong, the sequel hinted at in an epilogue would benefit from more rigorous editing.

Despite the heavy themes, a welcome colloquial lyricism and humor come through Demetrius’s voice, which is that of an honest, level-headed, and superhero-loving boy typical of fourth grade. Reedburg’s dialogue often soars, and the narrative device of the Light and impervious young voice of Demetrius lift Cracks of Light, resulting in a singular urban novel, about a boy seeking refuge and strength in fantasy, that will appeal to young adults already exposed to adult language and content

Takeaway: This raw YA coming-of-age story finds a young boy’s hard upbringing lightened by fantasy.

Great for fans of: Lamar Giles’s Let Me Be a Man, Ibi Zoboi’s anthology Black Enough.

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

Click here for more about Cracks Of Light
Operation Market Garden: Airborne Invasion of the Netherlands
Robert J Mueller
A guide crafted for people interested in touring historic battle sites by car, Mueller's (The Bulge Battlefields) examination of the failed World War II Allied Operation: Market Garden is remarkably thorough as it encompasses both the wider plan for this invasion of the occupied Netherlands as well as the actions of individual soldiers and civilians. In a methodical fashion, Mueller offers an abundance of historical detail while still providing a crisp overview of the mission and the goals of the major divisions involved (including the American 101st and 82nd Airborne). Each division’s mission is broken down into surveys of individual actions and battles, complete with summaries, maps, extensive footnotes offering additional biographical information, and specific coordinates for those visiting modern memorials.

A wealth of fascinating anecdotes accompanies the overarching details of the operation. Mueller’s account emphasizes a crucial truth: No matter how an operation is planned by the officers, it's up to the courage of the soldiers to carry them out. He illustrates this with stories of bravery and ingenuity from soldiers and civilians, including the Dutch resistance fighter cutting wires to a bridge that the Germans were going to destroy, the soldiers who escape a hospital prison on foot, and the farmer who talks Germans out of using a bridge by telling them it’s too fragile. Mueller's judgment at times is harsh, especially on the British officers whose arrogant planning failures led directly to the deaths of thousands.

The book’s practical purpose makes it a tough straight-ahead read, even for armchair historians. Instead, it’s intended as a field guide, and as such it’s jammed with invaluable details that would illuminate a traveler's experience. The exercise of reading these accounts where they actually occurred supports Mueller's idea that war is always a traumatic local experience dependent on the actions of individuals. When those individuals are betrayed by bad planning, the sacrifices become even more tragic.

Takeaway: Readers interested in the minutia of military operations will be fascinated by this guide’s thoroughness.

Great for fans of: Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far, John Buckley's Operation Market Garden: The Campaign For the Low Countries 1944: Seventy Years On.

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

Click here for more about Operation Market Garden

Loading...