Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Apnea: a novel of the future
Jay Sizemore
This defiantly alienating novel of gender and dystopia in a near-future Anywhere, America, finds a man named Joseph Conrad unlucky enough to survive “The Great Sleep,” the night when a mysterious virus Y killed 40% of the male population. When Joe, too, eventually tests positive, the only cure is XAPNEA, a drug that keeps the host awake for 21 straight days: if he sleeps, he dies. Unfortunately, the human brain can’t survive without sleep, and Joe’s is no exception. On XAPNEA, Joe and his wife Virginia’s hallucinations become increasingly bizarre, with scenes of them seeming to transform into bugs observed by malevolent shoebills as their marriage decays in a paroxysm of sexual violence. Meanwhile, vigilante women known as the Butchies are on a hunt to mercy-kill the infected, and Joe is a target.

Sizemore’s vivid prose lends itself well to erotic, disgusting, and violent hallucinatory sequences that accompany some delightfully surreal illustrations. The emotional intimacy of marriage is the essential backdrop of Apnea’s most poignant and viscerally revolting passages, but when the narrative focus shifts to shock gore the psychological horror loses power. Both main narrators, Joe and Judith “The Butcher” Butler, have compelling interiority, and there’s some chilling speculative ideas, here, as the authorities engineer pregnancies to guarantee male children, the government targets non-heteronormative relationships, and terrorists declare themselves quite literally “anti-WOKE.”

Lovers of the horror grotesque will find much to bite into as Apnea at its best honors its aspirations: the Cronenbergian, the Grand Guignol, the darkly erotic, the taboo-smashingly outré. But the provocations aren't always controlled, an interrogation of the censorship of art edges into the defensive and absurd, and its sexual politics and violence, whatever the author’s intentions, often suggest trolling. Still, Sizemore’s novel boasts arresting prose and much in the way of guts.

Takeaway: Gut-churning, taboo-flouting horror in a future where a pandemic is killing men.

Great for fans of: Nego Huzcotoq's Severed Roots, Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street

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

Click here for more about Apnea: a novel of the future
A Plague of Hatred: The Encroaching Chaos
Jeremiah Cain
Epic fantasy whiz Cain (Thorns of Chaos) shines in this dark and intriguing tale, the first of his Encroaching Chaos series. Healer-in-training Roslyn’s life goals are simple: cure the sick, marry her soldier boyfriend Jon, and have a passel of children. That dream is destroyed when hate-filled religious zealots and their dreaded Silthex knights arrive in the town of Hunia, determined to destroy Roslyn, 800 fellow villagers, and her priest and mentor—because their allegiance is to God Karulus, and because they blame them for decimating the population with the Blue Sickness, a plague-like malady. After one of the Silthex knights kills Jon and the villagers, Roslyn—who, as an Azerent mage, has a powerful healing ability—joins the resistance, determined to help bring peace to the land.

Despite her heartbreak, Roslyn judiciously and ethically uses her magic powers, which makes her a prime target for the Déagrians, who are trying to eliminate magic healers from the world. Ruthless enforcer Swithun—whose losses of his wife and son have rendered him heartless—becomes one of the key villains in Roslyn’s world, although Cain humanizes him in a way that will allow readers to realize the line between black and white is decidedly gray. Cain also provides Roslyn with a second true love, Estéban, whose fealty throughout will captivate readers, and an adopted son, Marc, who follows Roslyn into the healing arts.

Cain’s fanciful world-building is first-rate, and his spirited characters will entrance readers from the first page. Cain skillfully cranks up the tension in the eventful storyline. While a few phrasings are suspect (such as the expression “out of the woods,” which seems a more recent construct), overall, the dialogue is smooth and powerful. Certain scenes are not for the squeamish— namely, villagers being burned alive and graphic descriptions of torture—but readers who enjoy dark epic fantasy will devour this imaginative tale.

Takeaway: This dazzling epic fantasy is packed with memorable characters in black, white, and gray.

Great for fans of: Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence.

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

Click here for more about A Plague of Hatred
The Joy of Drawing: A Beginner's Manual
Caroline Mustard
Authors Mustard and Lea pen this inviting introduction to the art of drawing with a warm, encouraging tone, laying out the fundamentals of proportions, gridding, shading, and how to select and grip a pencil. They sprinkle spirited “aha!” moments throughout, moments of realization where a beginner might start to feel that they’re getting somewhere: why it’s important to copy while developing technique; why lighter lines while shading are easier to work with later than heavier ones. For all this book’s smartly planned exercises and heartening coaching—"Don’t pressure or judge yourself because you can’t perfect your drawing”—the authors make no promises of quick and easy triumphs. “If you want to be an artist you have to draw and draw and draw,” they write. “You have to carry a sketchbook everywhere and you have to look, look, look.”

It’s to their credit that this guide, living up to its title, makes that work sound like joy. Framing one’s growth as an artist as a journey whose incidental steps are themselves a reward, The Joy of Drawing offers clear, easy-to-follow instructions, exercises, and inspirational advice. Its prompts are simple—some even meditative—and flexible, targeted to the development of skills and the awakening of creative possibilities while often encouraging looking freshly at the world around you, such as understanding the interplay of light and shadow.

The authors offer hands-on video instruction, too, accessible through QR codes, as well as a host of insightful quotes from artists throughout, samples from their own work and the work of the greats, and much practical advice for specific situations, from estimating proportions to the niceties of drawing a cone. Mustard and Lea’s approach is welcoming even as the authors make clear that art is a practice, a discipline, that demands time and development. What sets this guide apart is that The Joy of Drawing makes that time feel like its own reward, even before a burgeoning artist has captured an essence in graphite.

Takeaway: This inviting guide to drawing lays out foundational techniques for a lifetime in artmaking.

Great for fans of: Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing, Claire Watson Garcia’s Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner.

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

Click here for more about The Joy of Drawing
TopKnotch Adventures With Our Clueless Human: Adventures With Our Clueless Human
CJ Thomas
Thomas debuts her TopKnotch Tales series with this sweet romance perfect for animal lovers—and lovers of talking animal comedy. Robin, who’s struggled with self-confidence since she was a young girl, seems to have it all on the surface: handsome attorney boyfriend Sean, a venture capitalist, and three high-end show dogs—who she just happens to be able to communicate with. But underneath that veneer, Robin’s barely hanging on. Her doubts about Sean are escalating, her business-partner father won’t take her ideas seriously, and even her assistant, and when Robin runs into Luke—a friend from childhood who, unbeknownst to Robin, can also communicate with animals—she’s at her breaking point.

The plot turns on surprising inventions and chatty critters, giving a playful edge to the story that will appeal to readers who don’t mind a touch of fantasy. The emotions are serious, however, as those fanciful elements share the stage with romantic human drama, with Thomas balancing comedy (some “repugnant” ravens) with pathos, such as a scene in an animal shelter, where Luke “sometimes understand the woeful utterances of fear and sadness.” Inevitably, when Luke helps Robin solve one of her dog’s mysterious illnesses, the two start to wonder if there’s something more simmering under the surface.

Thomas relies heavily on dog dialogue throughout this charming tale, and Robin’s three Shih Tzus (Ginger, Hapi, and Missy) often steal the show (when Mary Ann and Sean are making fun of Robin behind her back, Missy threatens “She’d better snap the trap, or she’ll need a nurse”). Some of the doggy dialogue can be intentionally childish (“He’s such a poop bag, and I mean a big poop bag!”) and not to all readers’ tastes, but ultimately the three pooches play an important role in helping Robin kick Sean to the curb—and pursue a relationship with Luke, who seems to be a perfect fit. There’s some action mixed in with the romance, setting the stage for more fun in the next of the series.

Takeaway: A sweet romance with talking animals and many surprises.

Great for fans of: Jill Shalvis’s Stray Hearts, Julia London’s It Started With a Dog.

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

The Vaccine: A Medical Thriller
Hassan Riaz
Riaz’s provocatively titled fiction debut makes an urgent viral thriller from contemporary life, as Dr. Harrison Boyd and the team at the small biotechnology company Riogenrix find themselves on the cusp of a world-changing triumph. As a global pandemic rages on, Riogenrix is ready to go to phase three of trials on a vaccine that Boyd knows works, all as so many other companies have failed to create. All Riogenrix needs is FDA approval, but to everyone’s shock it’s denied, possibly at the behest of a senator who’s bucking for the White House and exerts outsize influence … and who eventually asks Boyd to accompany him on a trip to a military research station, where Boyd will face dark secrets about the pandemic’s origins—and about his own government’s plans.

Setting The Vaccine apart is Riaz’s command of science, the process of getting approval, the funding of research, and other crucial elements, which he brings to persuasive life. Also arresting: the characterization of Jasmine and Sofia, Boyd’s wife and daughter, whose lives have been upended by a pandemic that prompted harsher shutdown protocols than the U.S. experienced during Covid-19. Jasmine’s discovery that her husband has access to a (purportedly) effective vaccine but has not given it to their daughter results in strong, suspenseful conflict.

That’s a refreshingly humane conflict. While Riaz’s story builds to some big twists, revelations, and bursts of action, its heart is in characters like Boyd, striving to do what’s best— to save the health of billions, or to protect their own families. An atmosphere of queasy anxiety suffuses the tale, exemplified by scenes where a neighbor of the Boyd family, health failing due to the protracted pandemic shutdown, watches Jasmine and Sofia, and then discovers someone else is doing the same. Riaz offers smart thriller chills and a satisfying ending, but it’s in its thoughtful depiction of people and their lives and choices that The Vaccine gets under the skin.

Takeaway: A smart, humane thriller about a scientist’s efforts to stop a global pandemic.

Great for fans of: Daniel Kalla’s Lost Immunity, Paul John Scott’s Malcharist.

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

Click here for more about The Vaccine
Santa Camp
Michael Strobl
Young readers will find a heap of laughs in Strobl’s entertaining debut as Nate and his sister Olivia unravel the mysteries behind Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. When Nate loses a tooth on Christmas Eve, he’s concerned whether both Santa and the Tooth Fairy will visit his house in the same night—and on top of those worries, he’s also uncertain if he’ll make the nice list—or be stuck with no presents on Christmas morning. Luckily, the two legends each make an appearance, but Nate’s shocked when they reveal secret info about their relationship—and that they need his help to find a replacement for Santa so that jolly old elf can finally retire.

Nate, of course, agrees to lend Santa a hand (what young boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to attend Santa camp and train to be the next St. Nick?), and Strobl delivers plenty of merrymaking along the way. Spoiler alert: Rudolph may be a superstar, but he’s grossly out of shape—and Santa’s understudies gain access to some seriously high-tech training equipment, including a state-of-the-art Sleigh Simulation Center and magical oats (that cause some problems for the more mischievous boys in the group). The Tooth Fairy’s hunting a replacement, too, and Olivia shows enough promise that she earns a ticket to camp alongside Nate, giving the story some holiday parallels that are equally hilarious and creative, particularly when the girls-in-training flub their first attempt at tooth gathering.

The action culminates with Nate and two other boys in the top of his class earning a ride-along with Santa on Christmas Eve. Of course, it doesn’t go according to plan, and Nate somewhat predictably saves the day, but the hijinks and bumps in the road result in an exciting night. Piwowarski’s black and white sketches capture the mirth as well as the magic, making this a well-rounded, amusing holiday tale.

Takeaway: A young boy may have what it takes to be the next Santa in this merry holiday tale.

Great for fans of: Michael Fry’s The Naughty List, Jonathan Emmett’s The Santa Trap.

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

Click here for more about Santa Camp
Crossed Stars
Rose Parker Johnson
Parker Johnson’s debut introduces readers to 30-year-old Anna Adamos, a budding real estate broker and the wealthy heiress of Adamos Motor Group, an electric automobile manufacturer as she travels internationally for a meeting with potential client Phillip Wesley in hopes of brokering an anonymous deal on behalf of a close family friend’s lucrative mining company. Wanting to make a name for herself, while securing mineral-rich land for both her client and parents' interests, Anna is determined to successfully broker a deal. However, her optimism instantly dwindles upon meeting Phillip—the stunning, blue-eyed sole surviving heir of the Wesley Mining Corporation who challenges everything she thought she knew about their country’s shared history and politics. Phillip’s revelations set Anna on a quest for answers and she quickly discovers something she didn’t realize she was missing in this sweet contemporary romance.

The story is charming and fast paced as Phillip struggles with grief and loneliness following the death of his family during the fictional nation’s five year long civil war, while Anna grapples with the realization of her family’s hypocritical and unethical nature. The two find solace in each other and the shared goal of saving Phillip’s family land. Although their connection is established early on, Parker Johnson weaves in the perspectives of shady businessman Mark Rand and Phillip’s close childhood friend Jaqueline Fox. Complicating factors include Mark’s ulterior motives and Jaqueline’s unrequited feelings, which threaten the romance starting to bloom between Anna and Phillip.

Parker Johnson has written a clean, contemporary romance teeming with political and romantic tension set in the fictional African nations of Stardade and Valtross. (At times the African geography could be more clear.) Readers are immersed in a world of green energy, cobalt-mining and political coups. Fans of both sweetheart and political romances alike will find this fast-moving story enjoyable.

Takeaway: A sweet, fast-paced romance involving mines, politics, and fictional African countries.

Great for fans of: Toni Shiloh’s In Search of a Prince, Lucy Score’s Forever Never.

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

Click here for more about Crossed Stars
The Grand Promise: A Novel
Rebekah Anderson
Anderson’s enthralling literary novel addresses the human cost of a Depression-era public works project in Washington. Situated on the Columbia River, the beleaguered town of Kettle Rapids finds itself in a heated debate about a proposed dam that could alleviate regional water problems and put residents back to work. Progress carries a price, though. The Grand Coulee Dam’s construction will flood Kettle Rapids and force citizens to relocate to higher ground. With his livelihood at stake, ferryman Ozzie Price voices public opposition and suffers an attack on his business. His son, Carter, bucks his father and takes a job on the dam’s construction. Carter’s travels and experiences on the crew lead him to an understanding of the town he was so eager to escape.

The first quarter of the novel employs five alternating points of view: Carter, Ozzie, a newspaper reporter, the owner of the construction company, and a widow whose business is not affected by the dam. This provides a rich canvas for exploring the dam’s history and impact. After Carter leaves town, however, the narrative follows him, resulting in a focus on life in the construction camp and less conflict and character development. When Carter ventures home for a dedication ceremony with President Roosevelt, the other perspectives return, and the pacing picks up, building to a surprise revelation of who sabotaged Ozzie’s ferry.

Anderson deftly brings to life the texture and drift of days and minds in the era, as well as the challenges such an ambitious project entails, how it shaped and upended lives, and the drama not just of the dam and displacement but of survival in the Great Depression. Though the conflicts experienced by Carter resolve in ways that may strike some readers as convenient, the storytelling has grit under its fingernails, a sense of life as it was lived, and also a compelling sense of history’s sweep.

Takeaway: A sweeping historical novel of the building and impact of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Great for fans of: Peter Donahue, Timothy Egan’s The Winemaker’s Daughter.

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

Click here for more about The Grand Promise
The Shadows' Apprentice
K.L. Alexander
Alexander’s debut wastes no time getting to a killer hook. The 15-year-old son of a sometimes cruel rebel king is spared execution when the emperor’s forces sweep his family’s kingdom. Instead, Nicholas Archer—also known as Nick, Nico, and eventually “Guts”—manages to hide his identity and is sent with other war orphans to Equinox House, an academy of Shadow Magic in Andromeda, the empire’s capital city. There the young people are to be trained to serve the emperor, but Nick and his friends from back home have arrived at a bold decision: they’ll train and grow strong, but rather than serve they vow to one day take over. They just have to survive General Herald, student rivalries, deadly shadow magics, and abundant mysteries and politicking among their teachers and cohort.

That memorable setup means that even some familiar magic school storytelling boasts an edge of tension, as Nick must hide his identity, impress his teachers, and somehow compete with much more powerful students—in a tiered, color-coded ranking system, where Black is most powerful, he’s a meager Yellow, going up against cocky Purples. The magic is thoroughly imagined, the lessons exciting, and the camaraderie among the Yellows worth rooting for, though readers might find Shadow Magic’s dark and light aspects, keyed to emotions, and its masters’ tendency to take on secret apprentices, familiar even before the introduction of a “Professor Leia.”

Epic fantasy, of course, often builds upon old favorites, and Alexander invests fresh excitement into genre elements—a lost princess, magic-class explosions, much ado over blood lineage. Techniques like Shadow Walk, Shadow Glimpse, and the deadly Shadow Slash are fun and put to clever uses, and the question of whether Nick will eventually become a Shadow Assassin of the Black is exciting enough to fuel future entries. This entry is noticeably long, however, and often prosaic in the line-to-line telling. Still, the cast is winning, and the climax satisfying.

Takeaway: This magic-school series starter pits a young man in training to take down an empire from within.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix’s Sabriel, Trudi Canavan’s The Magicians’ Guild.

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

Click here for more about The Shadows' Apprentice
Dark Magic
Raluca Narita
Opening with the “red beauty” of Lucifer’s bloody escape from his prison in Hell, and ending on a most infernal cliffhanger that will have urban fantasy fans eager for more, Narita’s assured debut offers a complex, compelling heroine, a vividly inventive contemporary world of gods and Brothers Grimms, and the generous abundance of mysteries and engaging characters that it takes to launch a successful series. Our narrator is Primrose, the goddess of death and Gatekeeper of the Underworld, a curiously bored woman who wears faded jeans and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt to the annual meeting of the High Court of gods and other supernatural entities in the swank New York headquarters of Grimm Enterprises, a multimedia conglomerate specializing in fantasy and run by a pair of immortal siblings.

There she learns that the murderous Lucifer has escaped—and, still spurned by her long-ago rejection, is targeting her. With Atlas Grimm she sets out to Boston—and then other far-flung locales—to track down the riddling Devil, who’s on a murderous rampage crafted to get under Primrose’s skin. He and Atlas both know that Primrose harbors a shocking secret, one she can’t quite explain herself: lately, she’s started to—ick—care about humans. Just why she does so is one of many puzzles that Narita deftly develops amid the novel’s many introductions, as Primrose faces Hellhounds, shapeshifters, FBI spooks, and other surprising dangers. Dark Magic is structured as a realms-crossing adventure, a dark mystery—why does Primrose have visions of loving and mourning a human?—and a tour of Narita’s universe, familiar in some ways but alive with fresh possibilities.

The marvel of it all is that, despite the novel’s length and its density of invention, the story surges ahead, building to a potent emotional eruption as Primrose surprises everyone—including the Devil himself—with her depth of feeling. This is very much a first chapter, though, with much left unresolved.

Takeaway: The goddess of death faces the devil and her feelings for humanity in this inspired debut.

Great for fans of: Seanan McGuire’s October Day series, V.E. Schwab.

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

Click here for more about Dark Magic
Her Own Legacy
Debra BORCHERT
The guillotine looms over Borchert’s full-length historical fiction debut, as Joliette Verzat, a young woman “with wine in [her] blood,” faces the complex duties of family, business, and matrimony as her nation boils toward bloody revolution. At the end of the 18th century, at a time when unmarried women cannot inherit property, Joliette fears that the Verzat’s legacy—almost three centuries of making some of France’s best wine, with hundreds of families’ livelihood dependent on the business—will pass out of the Verzats’s hands if her father, a noble and minister to the king, should die before Joliette marries. Joliette’s equipped to be a world-class vintner, thanks to her grandmother’s training, but she understands the hard truth: she’ll have to marry a man of suitable station who will inherit the legacy himself.

Complicating matters is a revelation readers discover long before she does. Joliette has a half-brother, Henri, a young man of about her age who is caught up, thanks to his and Joliette’s father’s encouragement and support, in the revolutionary fervor gripping Paris. Writing with spirit and grace, plus an eye for the striking detail, Borchert keeps the story engaging and surprising despite its significant length, at times challenging reader expectations—while Her Own Legacy bursts with old-fashioned novel elements like secret siblings and a woman pressured to marry a miserable old widower with bad breath, both author and heroine alike commit to the promise of the title.

That means Joliette, a markswoman who learns the ropes of shipping and other business niceties, blazes her own trail, as she and her nation face grief, tumult, and execution as entertainment. Readers who love stories of determined women seizing opportunities history too often denied them will relish Joliette’s story. Death haunts the novel—relatives, royals, the old ways—but America, represented by Thomas Jefferson, a dashing ambassador with a palate for wine, offers a chance at something new.

Takeaway: This accomplished historical novel finds a young woman making her own choices as revolution sweeps France.

Great for fans of:Catherine Delors’s Mistress of the Revolution, Fay Weldon’s Habits of the House series.

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

Click here for more about Her Own Legacy
GOLDDIGGER: The Legendary Nellie Cashman
Kathleen Morris
Morris’s fictionalized autobiography of an intrepid historical figure will prove resonant to contemporary readers who relish celebrations of resilient women. In 1868, plucky young Irish woman Nellie Cashman boards a train from San Francisco to Reno in pursuit of adventure. “I had a bad case of gold fever,” she admits, and, like many a daring pioneer, Nellie can’t settle in one place for long. When her beloved sister dies, Nellie adopts her children and must learn to balance their needs with her own compulsion to discover new sights. Known as “The Angel of the Cassiar” after achieving fame for saving miners stranded in frigid conditions, this Nellie catalogs her travels between her family and ungovernable, often nearly inaccessible regions like the Southwest and the Klondike as she mines for gold or silver and operates prosperous businesses.

Morris (The Transformation of Chastity James) often pens tales of women facing challenges in the Wild West. Nellie’s first-person narration gives readers a convincing, up-close view from an independent woman’s perspective as Nellie faces the strict societal rules of an era that seldom permitted unmarried ladies financial power. The frontier, by contrast, offered Nellie remarkable freedom. Over five decades, she runs boarding houses and miners’ supply stores, raises funds for hospitals and churches, encounters notorious figures such as the Earp brothers and Butch Cassidy, and endures life-threatening climates. Her Catholicism is prominent though there’s no proselytizing, and highwaymen and a foray into romance add a dash of spice.

“I always yearn for those places yet to be explored…white untouched snow and mountains no one’s ever seen,” she explains, in Morris’s lyric, engaging prose. With phenomenal detail, a bygone way of life becomes vivid. Morris rounds out the story with photographs of characters, their locales, and a sampling of Nellie’s letters. Nellie’s indomitable spirit and kindness truly deserve legend status, making this an inspiration for the adventurer in all of us.

Takeaway: Wild West readers and lovers of tales of pioneering women will relish the life of Nellie Cashman.

Great for fans of: Cynthia Hickey’s They Call Her Mrs. Sheriff, A.T. Butler’s Westward Courage

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

Click here for more about GOLDDIGGER
Treasure Found: An Art Journey
Cinthia James
This encouraging, marvelously illustrated guide to making one’s own art invites readers to embrace their creative impulse, to find confidence in the act of personal creation, to dig deeply into one’s personal inspirations and interests, and to apply some conceptual and technical rigor to what one makes. It’s all part, James writes, of a “treasure hunt,” one where artists unbury what they value most—and develop the discipline, through practice and planning, to do their visions justice. Writing with the engaging voice of a coach and practitioner, someone who has lessons to impart but still learns from them, too, James offers quick, clear-eyed chapters about finding inspiration, writing a creative “brief” at the start of a project, the process of sketching out ideas, and why it’s important to re-imagine your own work.

Treasure Found blends practical, hands-on advice—like why thinking in grids proves crucial for image- and pattern-makers—with sound guidance for facing anxieties like imposter syndrome or the fear of failure. “Allowing yourself to see that being creative is a lifelong journey might allow you to remove some of the pressure to be perfect,” James writes. That principle is demonstrated throughout the book as James shares the creation of a personal project, inspired by the K-pop band ATEEZ, from arriving at a concept to sketches to finished work. This transparency about process demystifies the creation of art, while James’s application of artistic discipline to celebrate a pop-culture favorite reminds readers that inspiration is inspiration, and that what you love should influence what you create.

James’s own patterns, paintings, and illustrations appear throughout the book, sometimes as polished final projects and sometimes as sketches or works-in-progress. Bold and arresting, they exemplify Treasure Found’s suggestions about composition, negative space, and creating in a series. In their diverse approaches and thematic unity, they offer what James’s text urges artists to find: inspiration.

Takeaway: An inspiring guidebook to the joys of creating art, with welcome tips on building confidence and skill

Great for fans of: Lisa Congdon’s Find Your Artistic Voice, Nita Leland’s The New Creative Artist.

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

Click here for more about Treasure Found
Hero of the Day?
Henry D. Trett
In this bold and timely novel, Orlando resident David Alan Taylor finds his carefree existence upended when he happens into a shootout and makes a quick decision. As a police officer is felled, Taylor intervenes and kills most of the assailants. Those men are Black, and Taylor soon faces an understandable maelstrom, as the incident and his background get publicly litigated. Forced into the limelight, called a racist and a murderer, he finds his personal life upended, and his past comes back to haunt him. Eventually, Taylor's freedom is threatened as he becomes a scapegoat for the tragedy, and he must address the way he has lived his life, and how he will face his future.

Trett does an excellent job covering the complex racial politics of policing in the Black Lives Matter era, and presents all sides with aplomb. We get Taylor himself, a white man who doesn't seem to have given race relations any serious thought until the day of the tragedy. The assailants appear in fearsome detail but also with a sympathetic light, as one of the attackers has an eventual epiphany. Also nicely limned are a grieving mother, an opportunistic reporter, and a civil rights activist who has turned into a cynical propagandist Although some extraneous storylines detract from the theme, and the switches from first-person to third-person narration can be confusing, the main narrative never fails to grip the reader.

Although the shooting is the main story, Trett effectively rounds out Taylor's character with a love triangle subplot. And he gets a surprise from his past that may change his life, even as he contemplates the possibility of being convicted for murder. Trett weaves the personal and legal threads into a series of satisfying and believable conclusions, giving readers reason to cheer for the growth of his formerly callow protagonist.

Takeaway: The gripping story of lives forever changed when a man gets involved in a police shootout.

Great for fans of: Sheldon Siegel’s Serve and Protect, Kenneth Eade’s Arresting Resist.

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

Click here for more about Hero of the Day?
Ungeheuer
Scott A. Johnson
This horror beauty from Johnson (Deadlands) pulses with suspense and adrenaline. In the Texas Hill country outside of Dripping Springs, a geographical survey team discovers a hidden cavern. Their findings unknowingly open a door that should have remained closed forever. In a nearby area of the park, Richard and his son Ethan are anticipating a full camping getaway for the weekend. As Richard mourns the loss of his wife, Annie, and strives to protect their young son, a fierce storm of vampire-like creatures make the nearby town its new hunting ground. It’s survival of the fittest as the residents of the town fall to this invasive species, and Richard and the survivors of Dripping Springs must battle to see the next dawn.

With tight prose and a sure hand at horrific action—“the child was relentless, and every second brought her blood-frothed mouth closer to Christina's flesh”—Johnson offers a bold blend of disaster, natural, and survival horror as he unleashes this terrifying tale of people thrown from their everyday struggles into the biggest one: the fight for their lives. Johnson writes with empathy for his cast, but he’s not afraid of the darkest darkness. The scene in which Richard and Christina, a recently divorced bookstore owner, make the horrifying discovery of how the monsters procreate is legitimately gut-wrenching, a vision that will haunt parents. But even as he relishes splashing viscera on readers, Johnson is a thoughtful craftsman, one who takes pains to make the gore serve the narrative rather than just offer shock factor.

The action is bloody and cinematic, with little room for rest and recuperation between the jolting, inventive violence. The momentum is headlong, and readers with the stomach for it will relish the survivors’ fighting, planning, sacrifices, and surprising choices. For all the anxiety it stirs, Ungeheuer is often tense, gutsy fun that horror fans will feast on.

Takeaway: This visceral old-school horror thriller pits a Texas town against beasts of the night.

Great for fans of: Brian Keene’s The Conqueror Worms, Robert McCammon’s Stinger.

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

Click here for more about Ungeheuer
Loved by the Light: True Stories of Divine Intervention and Providence
John R. Audette
“I know it was the hand of God that saved me,” Audette writes early in this account of divine intervention, a book surveying seven of his own near-death experiences (NDEs), each involving an angelic encounter, plus testimonials from others who have faced NDEs, practical steps to help readers arrive at their own epiphanies, and bold conclusions about what can be concluded from this evidence. Audette, the principal founder of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, attests that Loved by the Light offers the soul-stirring “truth about the reality of God and continuation of consciousness after death of the physical body.” The promise made by the title is heartening: Audette and his testifiers report that, where life and death met, they felt great love in the light—a love so profound it felt “like they have never experienced love before.”

Not that Audette is given to sweeping conclusions. A logic-minded, even “dispassionate” hospital and hospice administration executive, Audette considered himself an agnostic up until the time that the “compelling evidence” for God’s existence and the persistence of consciousness became so “overpowering and undeniable” he found no other conclusion possible. It’s up to readers whether the accounts collected here of NDEs and angelic intervention prove persuasive, but Audette writes these mysterious, often harrowing moments with power, humility, and shivery small details, like the Beatles’ “Drive My Car” playing just after Audette realizes something beyond us had taken the wheel and saved his life.

Seekers and believers will relish other urgently told stories that touch on communication with loved ones who have died, as well as other moments of spiritual connection. Audette proselytizes for no established doctrine, beyond that promise of love, and sees in these experiences the potential to move humanity beyond “materialism, dualism, dogma and egocentrism.” Thought experiments and practical exercises like his “God for a Day” challenge offer an encouraging path for finding personal resonance and meaning in experiences like those Audette lays out.

Takeaway: The near-death experiences that convinced an agnostic that God is real and loving.

Great for fans of: Bruce Greyson’s After, Michael Newton’s Journey of Souls.

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

Click here for more about Loved by the Light

Loading...