Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Forever My Always: For The Soon To Be World Explorer
Eevi Jones
Jones’s (The Magic of Choice) sweet children’s book encourages young people to explore the world and take chances to become the “truest version” of themselves. Reminiscent at times of the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Jones uses simple rhyming verse to offer kids of all ages essential advice about overcoming challenges, choosing the right friends, and how to “trust in their own magic.” One of the most welcome, important–and hardest to grasp– components of Jones’s message is its warning against the pitfalls of privilege: “Gain confidence through your success, not entitlement and birth. For through the daily and smallest of wins your true self–it will emerge.”

Jones’s distinctive, starkly black-and-white illustrations, with some enticing pops of red, depict a young boy and girl in various stages of exploration and amusement: playing in the mud, working together to complete a joint mural, watering flowers, and helping each other navigate a rock wall labeled “friendships.” Weaving together these warm scenes is a red string originating from an oversized ball of yarn, with every strand representing essential personality characteristics to develop, including love, friendship, courage–and even mistakes, as the story points out that “pushing through struggles” provides growth opportunities. The children's faces are clear and expressive, giving younger kids and parents plenty of chances to contemplate and talk about their feelings.

For parents who feel emotional when envisioning their babies venturing out into the world, this touching story will likely trigger a tear or two. However, it will also give adults important opportunities to talk to youngsters about crucial life skills, like growing confidence and overcoming fear. With distinctive illustrations and mostly smooth, easy-to-follow rhymes, Jones’s uplifting tale will inspire curiosity in young people–and leave parents wishing they could go back in time to impart knowledge to younger versions of themselves.

Takeaway: This delightful story encourages children of all ages to explore the world and take chances to become the “truest version” of themselves.

Great for fans of: Emily Winfield Martin’s The Wonderful Things You Will Be, Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein’s The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.

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

Click here for more about Forever My Always
Touch
Rebecca Miller
Miller’s debut paints a dark, sensitive portrait of a broken family as they struggle to help a boy who is just as broken as they are. After her mother’s death, high-school student Meg, a budding and talented artist, sees her life unravel, losing all inspiration and drive. Her family is in tatters: Her father is increasingly distant and plans to move the family across the country, and her teenage brothers live just to annoy her. Meg knows she must pick up the pieces of her old life. When she runs across a reclusive classmate named Shawn, she is instantly drawn to him, and she puts pencil to paper, inspired to draw again. But Shawn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that could threaten their relationship and even Meg’s life.

Miller writes with heart and conviction, situating believable characters in a realistic world and letting Meg and Shawn’s curious relationship blossom over the course of the novel in prose that’s by turns tender, taut, and suspenseful. Raw and unflinching, Touch captures the realities of facing trauma, as Meg and Shawn discover shocking truths and attempt to care for each other. Amid the drama, Miller transports readers to the fictional Jessup, Missouri, attentive to the candy apples and country bands at a county fair or the rough character of some of its inhabitants: “The fight was all anyone talked about: Bobby’s punch to Damian’s gut, his jab to his face, Damian’s shot to Bobby’s jaw …”

Some heavy-handed symbolism involving hummingbirds and self-help books dulls the impact of a story whose shattering events and realizations should have plenty of power on their own. The novel could easily be broken into two distinct parts, given its multiple emotional climaxes. Despite its structural quirks, fans of gritty coming-of-age stories set in middle America will find much that’s moving and urgent in Touch, especially as its characters find ways to care for each other.

Takeaway: A raw coming-of-age-debut that finds moving hope as its young characters face trauma and dark secrets.

Great for fans of: Crystal Chan’s All That I Can Fix, Kyla Stone’s Beneath the Skin.

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

Click here for more about Touch
Alberto
John Jimerson
Given as a gift in a stocking, Alberto the rabbit, a button-eyed stuffed animal, is immediately beloved by the little boy who receives him. Alberto and the boy spend all their time together, enjoying each other’s company (despite the boy’s nighttime drooling), though Alberto’s time alone with the boy’s other toys, listening to the boasts of electric cars and boats proves dismaying. But one day Alberto meets an old toy horse who tells him that when a kid loves a toy enough that toy can become real. What follows is Alberto’s at times harrowing journey to acceptance, love, and becoming real. Accompanied by simple yet expressive digital illustrations, this adaptation of Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit is a triumphant tale of the meaningful connections kids make with their toys.

Though the illustrations are colorful and lively, and the plot moves along at a good pace, the book, which is marketed as “designed especially for children who are in between reading picture books and chapter books,” struggles to find its footing in form. The narrative is broken up into micro-chapters which interrupt the smooth reading experience of a picture book, and make it feel longer than it really is. Even for older or more advanced readers there’s too much text on a page to read confidently, and one double-spread near the end would require a reader to be extremely comfortable with text of different sizes and directions.

Best read aloud by an advanced reader or read slowly for those still getting used to reading, Alberto is still sure to delight young readers with its tale of whimsy and love. While the story tackles some heavier topics, such as grief and sickness, its heart is in the transformative friendship between Alberto and the little boy, and it rises to a heartfelt ending full of joy.

Takeaway: A heartfelt ode to the transformative bonds between child and toy, adapted from a classic.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny series, Emily Jenkins’s Toys Go Out.

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

Click here for more about Alberto
Understanding Childhood Trauma & How To Let Go: 11 Effective Tools You Need To Heal (From a Fellow Survivor)
Julian Demarco
Demarco debuts with a heartfelt exploration of trauma and the myriad ways to heal from it. By encouraging readers to accept their pasts and not allow them to define the future, Demarco, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and adult domestic violence, insists that trauma victims can “create the kind of life you have always dreamed of living.” The author evaluates three different types of trauma–acute, chronic, and complex–and common reactions to them, such as avoiding people and situations, as well as what those reactions may convey to others. Demarco dedicates ample time to outlining the potential benefits of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) treatments, while also offering a breakdown of complementary therapies.

Demarco’s openness will resonate with trauma victims, particularly in the recounting of past sexual abuse and the dangerous relationships that stemmed from early trauma experiences. He offers the sage advice “just because I had left the abusive environment didn’t necessarily mean the record of abuse had been cleared from my mind.” Though the bulk of the guide addresses specific therapies and exercises for recovery, Demarco makes it digestible even for entry level readers by offering clear examples and breaking more complex topics into easy-to-follow steps. Among the tools offered to readers: an NLP-inspired activity to decrease anxiety, a helpful walk-through of mindfulness meditation, and a deconstruction of the “Swish Pattern” technique to replace challenging emotions related to past trauma experiences.

Clinical professionals will appreciate the boots-on-the-ground analysis of treatment options, while more casual readers will welcome the empowering messages, like the recommendations to “let go of the belief that perfection equals happiness” and to open up to significant others about their roles in the healing process. The overarching insight that trauma recovery must be individualized, with no set timetable for healing, pairs nicely with Demarco’s goal to help readers “reclaim control” over their thoughts. The end result is as informative as well as inspiring.

Takeaway: A brief analysis of trauma and its aftereffects, with a thorough breakdown of progressive therapies for recovery.

Great for fans of: Janina Fisher’s Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma, Shlomo Vaknin’s NLP Start Here.

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

Wishing You Harm: A Brooke Roberts Mystery
Nancy Labs
Labs’s knotty first entry in the Brooke Roberts mystery series finds a young widow near Philadelphia caught in a cat-and-mouse game of intrigue over a magical medallion. Two months ago, Brooke’s husband Karl Erikson, a painter 24 years her senior, died in an apparent accident falling down an embankment and drowning in a creek. Now, during a retrospective of his work at the local art gallery, the couple’s house is ransacked, the burglars obviously looking for something in particular. Detectives are alarmed at the potential of someone wishing Brooke harm and reopen the case of Karl’s death, and soon Brooke learns that Karl, a committed atheist, had been attending church and lectures about Biblical connections to the occult.

Brooke dives into the search for answers, learning that Karl had possession of a troubling item—a medallion used in occult rituals—recently appraised by antique dealer Mordecai Simmons, who believes it could have been cursed and belongs under lock and key. While readers will likely be eager to learn more about the paranormal elements and potential cult mysteries, Labs introduces a multitude of robbery suspects, stretching out the story: Karl’s adult children Stephanie and Brett (who has recently joined a secret society); his ex-wife Janine and her husband Greg; his art student Rob; plus Brooke’s uncle Nelson; gallery owner Madeleine and her drunk husband Sidney; patronizing Historical Conservancy Director David Price; and a vociferous television producer and occultist Elena Voss.

Readers will trail the characters (and their histories) down their circuitous paths in this elaborate mystery. As the truth trickles in, and the question of who broke into the house and wants the medallion crystallizes, Labs ramps up the entertaining intrigue with sprinkles of Renaissance history and long-hidden secrets, including surprising connections to 20th century American political unrest. Readers will enjoy the inviting tone and promising mystery, but they should not expect a supernatural extravaganza.

Takeaway: This thriller follows a widow’s quest to understand why her husband owned a potentially cursed medallion.

Great for fans of: Steve Zuckerman’s The Ruthless Relic, Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House.

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

Click here for more about Wishing You Harm
sour cream and vinegar
the deplorable poet
The self-identified “deplorable poet” doesn’t quite live up to his name in this thoughtful, sometimes pained collection, a follow-up to the more avowedly political Social Distancing This!: A Confessional Imagist View Without Political Correctness. As his pen name suggests, the author, a specialist in criminal studies and forensic behavioral science, feels at odds with contemporary American society, but readers hoping for (or dreading) a MAGA screed may be surprised by what he actually offers: a searching, occasionally self-damning portrait of a man facing grief, the fear of abandonment, and the possibility that he has been corrupted like the criminals he has faced in his day job.

“The beast in me/ Wears a leash/ Called self-control,/ Which is guided/ More by self-perseverance / Than moral convictions,” he writes. Those lines—jagged, abrupt, scraped of ambiguity—exemplify the poet’s work, as does their bent. Throughout, the author returns to the theme of mastering his darkest impulses, of fearing that he bears a “Curse/ of/ Caine/ A Stench/ That cannot/ Be/ Removed.” This raw, confessional approach compels both as poetry and as unstinting self-portraiture. “Did I Forget You” incisively questions the limits of his own perspective; “Cornfield of Abandonment” takes on bereavement but also a broader sense of being alone and adrift, imagining Hell as a place “Where/ Communication/ To our/ Creator/ And the/ Ones we Love/ Ceases.” At times, his touch is light, as when he muses “I Believe/ Jesus/ Has/ Unfriended/ Me.”

Curiously, the least engaging lines are the directly political ones, which tend toward generic gripes about “the media” or prosaic statements of principle: “There is no such/ Thing as a free/ Ride/ When it comes/ From big brother.” Welcome celebrations of dogs and Anne Sexton, plus parodies of “The Red Wheelbarrow,” brighten the mood, and the comic scenario in “The Devil’s Advocate”—in which Satan’s lawyer toasts the sanctity of attorney-client privilege—has welcome bite.

Takeaway: A collection of curt, incisive poetry that lays bare a self-proclaimed “deplorable"'s soul.

Great for fans of: Aaron Goldstein, The Conservative Poets: A Contemporary Anthology.

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

Click here for more about sour cream and vinegar
More of Us to the West
Trinity Dunn
An unhappy wife who finds herself torn from life as she knows it is at the heart of Dunn’s fast-paced romance with elements of a thriller. Alaina Grace is simply trying to reignite her marriage when fate steps in with other plans. Due to a delayed flight, she and her husband, Chris, are forced to use standby tickets as they embark on a second-chance honeymoon in Bora-Bora. Alaina has the good fortune of getting bumped to a first-class seat next to her school-age crush, the one-time child actor and teen idol Jack Volmer, while her husband makes do with a seat in coach. When their plane crashes in a freak storm, Alaina is separated from her husband, injured, and stuck on an island with a group of strangers—including the familiar face of Jack. As they strive to survive, and she gravitates toward Jack, Alaina finds herself torn between her past and her present.

Dunn does an excellent job of capturing the voice of a discontented wife, trying to rekindle the spark. Alaina’s a complex yet relatable character who has come to that age-old milestone of wondering about the road less traveled: Her internal monologues make clear that she’s unsatisfied in her marriage to her husband of ten years. At times, her thoughts are riddled with insecurities, and other times they verge on the spiteful. But with an ensemble cast of characters who have to depend on each other for support and survival, this novel is more than just a love story.

Dunn writes it all with clarity and precision, creating a bond between the characters and the reader with her vivid imagery and skilled craftmanship. She’s masterful when transitioning between the past and present with flashbacks, intricately layering and revealing the plot. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns as the survivors face the challenges of wilderness life and, when it's all said and done, a satisfying cliffhanger ending.

Takeaway: A contemporary romance boasting a strong protagonist and packed with action, adventure, and suspense.

Great for fans of: Liane Moriarty, Jodi Picoult.

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

Click here for more about More of Us to the West
Stan, Stan, the Bacteria Man: a novelette
Stephen M.A.
M.A.’s provocative oddball short novel imagines what might happen if a humanoid form composed of shape-shifting sludge were to suddenly materialize in Washington, D.C. Stan the Bacteria Man first manifests in the Oval Office, where government officials promptly shoot him down. Undeterred, the curious creature reappears (and meets a similar fate) each day until he befriends a federal agent named Veylet, who attempts to understand this mysterious BOUO— “being of unknown origin.” In his travels, Stan also encounters the president of the United States, as well as an angry racist he calls “Jim Bean the human person,” who both shout vulgar and offensive phrases at him in all-caps text.

Stan’s presence and mysterious motivation are certainly intriguing, and M.A. has playfully crafted the story and prose to match its protagonist’s singular perspective. The text regularly refers to characters’ “mouth holes” and “nose holes,” and many sentences are riddled with copyright symbols following the names of fictional products, such as the H&K Kinetic Killer Parametric Orbital Scanner. At times funny or revealing, these quirks grow distracting over the course of a narrative that defies traditional plotting.

Each chapter opens with the declaration “Stan the bacteria man had a very bacteria plan, that man,” and until the final chapters M.A. leaves it to readers to work out what exactly that plan might be, or why Stan continually manifests, interacts, and tries to make sense of our world before getting shot or melting into a puddle. Alienating by design, the story still offers some moments of welcome warmth. Perhaps the strongest comes when Stan encounters “Dog the sniffer dog” and curls up next to him in a kennel. Stan is able to recreate the scent of the dog’s mother, and the two share a sweet cuddle. This wacky novella has plenty of witty set pieces and curious mysteries but doesn’t take pains to invite readers to its quirky wavelength.

Takeaway: Experimental fiction that charges proudly and playfully into the strange.

Great for fans of: Cesar Aira, Charles Yu.

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

Click here for more about Stan, Stan, the Bacteria Man
Fix This Next for Healthcare Providers: Your Business Is Like A Patient, You Just Have To Treat It That Way
Kasey R Compton
Healthcare entrepreneur Compton (Million Dollar Practice: Five Steps to Make Sure Your Group is on Track) presents her tried and tested method for healthcare providers to “grow their business without worry and stress” in this well-structured debut. She begins by refashioning Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into a “Healthcare Hierarchy of Needs”—with three foundational levels of sales, profit, and order—and goes on to offer a framework for healthcare providers to “diagnose” the fundamental issues having an impact on their practices. Drawing on her experience in the field, and frankly confronting mistakes that nearly resulted in a failed practice, Compton urges readers to zero in on their purpose, work unceasingly to “level up” their business, and stop sacrificing their own lives in the name of success.

Cleverly organized as a treatment planner, Compton’s no-nonsense, highly specific guide dispenses practical advice hand-in-hand with diagnostic tools and straight-talking questions about running a practice, like “Do you have an ongoing, working model to reduce bottlenecks, congestion points, and inefficiencies?” and “Is your practice designed to operate unabated when critical employees are unavailable?” Compton invites her audience to design a treatment plan centered on each individual practice’s strengths, goals, and interventions for success, while reminding readers that “your efforts, your interventions, and your time should all have one goal, and that is profitability.”

The key to that, Compton writes, is to “treat your business in the same way you treat your patients– with interventions.” Compton’s many real-world examples, distilled into those helpful “interventions” for readers and tailored for each of the foundational levels of hierarchy of needs, make this handbook stand out as a strong fit for her target audience. This guide lives up to its title—it offers a host of ready-made fixes tailored to the individual needs of healthcare entrepreneurs—while making Compton’s exhortation to “live life on your own terms because you have confidence in your ability to run your business” seem achievable.

Takeaway: An all-inclusive, step-by-step reference guide for healthcare professionals looking to take their business to the next level.

Great for fans of: Barbara Galutia Regis’ Surviving the “Business” of Healthcare, Laurie Morgan’s People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business.

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

Click here for more about Fix This Next for Healthcare Providers
Love, Only Better
Paulette Stout
After a devastating breakup, 28-year-old Manhattanite Rebecca Sloane is left sexually frustrated and questioning her own desires, or lack thereof, until a meet-cute with her elderly neighbor’s nephew, Kyle, sends her on a journey of self-discovery in this steamy, contemporary romance. Labeled a “frigid ice queen” by her ex, Rebecca participates in a research study in hopes of solving a “sexual problem” that has prevented her from ever experiencing an orgasm. However, after a series of embarrassing, “creepy” interviews, Rebecca leaves the study and decides to tackle her sexual dysfunction on her own, with a little assistance from Kyle, “a gorgeous young man in a black T-shirt.”

Stout is adept when it comes to exposing the vulnerability of her characters, and Rebecca’s feelings of inadequacy are evident from the opening lines, where she ruminates over an ex labeling her “frigid” and “an ice queen”: “It wasn’t as if the words were unexpected. Hell, Rebecca said them to herself a thousand times over. Only, this was different. Hearing someone else say them.” These feelings spur the plot while setting an impeccable start to a well-developed character arc. Stout excels at describing and dramatizing Rebecca’s issues, seizing a welcome opportunity to address common (but often avoided) issues surrounding female sexuality and intimacy.

Although much of the story’s plot revolves around sex, the steam between Rebecca and Kyle doesn’t truly rise up until later in the story, and most of the heat occurs during scenes of self-pleasure that range from moderate to scorching. Rebecca manages to ruin romantic moments with Kyle on several occasions, which may cause some readers frustration, while others will empathize with her apprehensions surrounding sex and the measures she takes to address her intimacy issues. High tension, flirty exchanges, and intense sexual situations that eventually lead to love make this book perfect for readers who enjoy angst-filled romance.

Takeaway: This steamy slow-burn weaves romance together with lessons on intimacy, women’s health, and the female body.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger.

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

Click here for more about Love, Only Better
Purpose and Possibilities: How to Transform Your Life
Elaine J. Brzycki and Henry G. Brzycki
The Brzyckis’ (Mental Health for All Toolkit) newest self-help work offers an engaging new exploration of the connection between a person’s sense of purpose and their well-being. Intended to be transformative, this workbook encourages readers to engage in reflection to generate a fresh self-understanding through exercises that develop awareness and explore the holistic nature of “self,” which the authors, a psychologist and an educator, characterize as an interconnection between body, mind, and soul, as laid out in their “Integrated Self Model” of 30 self attributes. Other instruments include a “Success Predictor” designed to help readers analyze different aspects of their lives—being, purpose, mission—to reveal the “highest expressions of what is possible for them.”

With accessible language and explanations broken down into digestible paragraphs, the authors demystify complex topics, including the effects of stress, attributes of the self, and internal and structural tensions (“the energy created when an individual concurrently envisions a desired future state, while being completely aware of the limitations of current reality”). The exercises are clear and well-defined, often incorporating a simple scoring system to help readers gauge their overall comprehension. Particularly useful is the exercise ranking the eight dimensions of well-being—emotional, environmental, physical, occupational, spiritual, social, financial—as it offers a solid framework for the more sophisticated principles introduced in later chapters.

The book has been structured with a tiered approach, moving from broad concepts at the outset to narrower and more specific ideas deeper in. To speed progress, the authors suggest working backwards by first identifying desired results, followed by evaluating whether current behaviors will produce those outcomes (or not). The authors acknowledge throughout that ego, habit, and other factors can be obstacles to growth but argue that truly knowing your self will “lay the groundwork for a flourishing life.” Readers open to new principles and some challenging material—as well as truly facing themselves—will find that Purpose and Possibilities encourages the openness and perseverance that it takes to make transformative change.

Takeaway: A meaningful guide that challenges readers seeking transformative change to be honest and deliberate in seeking their purpose.

Great for fans of: Marc Reklau’s 30 Days: Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

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

Love for a Deaf Rebel: Schizophrenia on Bowen Island
Derrick King
King’s memoir, set in British Columbia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, opens in a mall food court, where young King is approached by Pearl, a charismatic deaf woman who’s not shy about striking up a conversation with a stranger. Their chat, at first scribbled on napkins, flows easily, and a friendship blossoms. From there, interest in one another builds quickly, as they strike up a romance and King learns sign language in an attempt to strengthen their connection. When they move together to isolated Bowen Island, though, it becomes clear that Pearl’s increasingly erratic behavior is an indication of schizophrenia.

King tells this emotional story in crisp, quick prose, recounting major events with little transition between one day and the next: “Our lives changed quickly. Pearl moved in with me six months after we met. I reserved a U-Haul truck, collected cartons from the supermarket, and bought Pearl a negligee as a welcome gift.” King omits excessive detail—in about twenty pages, roughly three years’ worth of experiences ( the construction of a house, King’s graduation with a MBA, and the couple’s choice to get married) get laid out, which some readers might find jarring. What matters most, though, is King’s openness about this relationship and his respect for Pearl’s story, right up to its bittersweet finish.

Too many narratives concerned with mental health focus intensely on the disorder itself, forgetting the person who is afflicted with it. Not so, here, as King takes pains throughout to capture Pearl as a vital presence as the couple rough it on Bowen Island, sharing a life of livestock and ferry rides. Readers interested in life with mental health issues can enjoy the insights and slight suspense in this honest story, which closes with a personal letter from Pearl’s family and welcome commentary from King about how a sad ending for some can be a blessed beginning for others.

Takeaway: A love story and memoir that touches on deafness, schizophrenia, and roughing it in isolated British Columbia.

Great for fans of: Marin Sardy’s The Edge of Every Day, Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being Deaf.

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

Click here for more about Love for a Deaf Rebel
A Hundred Sweet Promises
Sepehr Haddad
Haddad’s moving debut is based on the true story of Nasrollah, a Persian musician returning to Tehran from St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1905, half-way through his studies, to help his father establish musical education in their own country. Struggling to adjust, Nasrollah, who goes by the honorary title of Nasrosoltan, initially worries that his ambitions will be frustrated, but eventually enjoys success as the leader of a military band. When his mentor and professor dies, Nasrosoltan returns to St. Petersburg and meets the elegant Madame Lazar, private music tutor to the Princess Irina, and sets off a chain of events leading to a passionate love affair that crosses class lines, all as revolutionary violence grips Russia.

Inspired by true stories passed down from the author’s grandmother about his grandfather, Nasrosoltan, Haddad’s novel uses fiction to bring life to family history. His portraits of Persian influence on Russian court life at the turn of the 20th century are compelling, and family photographs add a personal touch that readers will appreciate. That history adds power to Haddad’s depiction of Nasrosoltan yearning for the vibrancy of St. Petersburg and his talented peers or his thrill at returning during “babe leto, or ‘grandmother’s summer,’ those rare days that summer’s comforts extended well into the fall.”

As a storyteller, Haddad relies heavily on exposition, with incidents often summarized rather than fully dramatized, and the characters have a habit of recounting anecdotes that are not entirely connected to their development or the needs of the story. This, along with some clunky dialogue—“What have you done? The governor is terribly upset that you escorted Shamsi to Margoon and were alone with her for two nights”—diminish the impact of the narrative. But the plot and tone are quite operatic, which will appeal to readers who enjoy dramatic historical fiction.

Takeaway: A deeply personal historical novel blending music, love, and turn-of-the-century revolutionary politics.

Great for fans of: Vanora Bennet’s Midnight in St Petersburg, Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting.

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

Click here for more about A Hundred Sweet Promises
Bloodroot
Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
Meier (The Dung Beetles of Liberia) transports readers back to Jamestown, 1609, in this dramatic historical fiction. Matthew, an English carpenter on the run after assaulting his boss, embarks on the long voyage to Virginia with the hopes of a new beginning with his best friend Richard, an optimistic scholar. Matthew adapts to the harsh environment of the Americas, learning to use a gun and contribute to the settlement, winning favor in the eyes of colony leaders like Captain John Smith. Richard, though, struggles to see Jamestown for anything other than an Eden where he can start a new civilization and spread Christianity to the local Native Americans.

The men’s friendship illustrates opposing viewpoints of early settlers’ adjustment to Jamestown. While Matthew hardens to the reality that the settlement is not a promised land brimming with gold, Richard struggles to learn survival skills, falls in love with an Englishwoman, and insists on his mission to “begin the world over again, the way it should be” by spreading “the light of Christianity.” Both men's morals are tested as they face the harsh reality for the unprepared English settlers, striving to find food in a punishing winter. Meier doesn’t sugarcoat the settlers’ attacks against the Native Americans or the retaliations: the brutality of Jamestown life, and the battles between the Native Americans and the English, are deftly laid out with clarity and power, inviting readers to experience them alongside Matthew.

History and fiction blend perfectly in this vivid account of early settlement in an unforgiving new land where morals are tested and sins are committed. Those who grew up learning the stories of Jamestown in history classes will recognize many characters, such as Captain Ratcliffe, Powhatan Chief Opechancanough, Captain Davis, and Sir Percy. Meier provides a detailed map so readers can easily follow along with the characters’ movements.

Takeaway: This well-researched novel of early Jamestown will grab readers seeking a fresh look at history.

Great for fans of: Connie Lapallo, Tony Williams’s The Jamestown Experiment.

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

Click here for more about Bloodroot
Survival Symphony: My Lung Cancer Journey
Louis V Cesarini
Cesarini charts the peaks and valleys of fighting cancer in his powerful memoir. Seemingly healthy before he was first diagnosed in his early ‘50s, Cesarini started writing this day-by-day account of the trial of facing Stage 4 lung cancer in 2019, with a focus on knowing that he must continue to fight-- on choosing to live “rather than accepting a death sentence.” His background, coincidentally in marketing cancer drugs for a major pharmaceutical company, served him well when it came to advocating for himself and making treatment decisions, and as the many photos (and links to musical performances) in the text make clear, community and his passion for music (he plays the french horn) proved key sources of strength.

This diary of his struggle is inspiring in its clear examination of his trials as well as in sharing a spirit of hope. The material can get dense: Cesarini draws on his oncology expertise to explain his medical complications and thoroughly break down the logic of various treatment options, differentiating between CT scans and X-rays, and explaining, in footnotes, how to make sense of terms like “statistically significant.” The journal-style narration (“Sunday, September 8: I feel about the same today as I did yesterday”) conveys the grinding quality of a protracted health crisis but at times may prove monotonous for readers expecting the scenecraft of more polished memoirs. Cesarini’s candid photos throughout invite readers to feel a personal connection–as does his moving closing narration of an imagined vacation with his husband, a memorialization of a trip that Covid-19 made impossible.

Cesarini hoped, in writingSurvival Symphony, to offer hope to lung cancer patients, demonstrating people can live with the disease. In this, he succeeds. He illuminates the urgency of love and community and the importance of being empowered to make effective decisions. Cancer, in his words, “Is not how I’m going to die.”

Takeaway: This detailed memoir of facing cancer offers crucial insights and encouragement to keep fighting.

Great for fans of: Joy Clausen Soto’s Joy, John Kuby’s No Quit In Me.

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

Click here for more about Survival Symphony
Well, Doc, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time!: The Unexpected Adventures of a Trauma Surgeon
J. Paul Waymack
In this comic debut, Waymack, clinical surgeon and founder of Kitov Pharmaceuticals, serves up memorable snapshots of his most implausible and amusing moments in the medical field, such as the priceless story of giving mouth-to-mouth to a cherished lab rat. From his first night in emergency room rotation to serving as the lead on an Army burn team in the Soviet Union, he offers entertaining anecdotes from years of experience–and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant side of medical practice. Reminiscent of diary entries with an emphasis on recording the lighter side of human behavior, the unlikely tales cover both serious challenges alongside the more outlandish memories in an endearing, self-deprecating style.

When recounting the wild events of his first nights in residency, for example, when he still held to the naive belief that “of all the days I will practice medicine, the most insane will be the first,” he fondly recalls the “number-one most used expression” among medical students—“I’ll go get the doctor.” Readers will laugh along at the confusion caused by Waymack’s misinterpretation of an X-ray: A patient’s abdomen appeared riddled with buckshot, and when Waymack, justifiably concerned, asked her when she had been shot, he learned the truth: She had simply enjoyed a dinner of freshly shot squirrel the night before.

This merry memoir delves into more solemn topics as well, covering Waymack’s stint in the U.S. Army and president-ordered mission to the Soviet Union, complete with photographs of the author’s adventures. But, in true Waymack style, he describes being followed by KGB agents and training “Soviet proctologists” to be burn surgeons with an arrestingly light touch. One standout story: Waymack’s habit of posing complex medical questions (““Comrade, what would be a normal white blood cell count for a burn patient in this hospital?”) to the Soviet doctor he suspected was actually a KGB agent. Equal parts incredible and hysterical, this medical mayhem will delight fans of real-life comedy.

Takeaway: A sidesplitting medical memoir, alive with smart comedy and commentary.

Great for fans of: Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, Doron Amosi’s Tell Me Where it Hurts.

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

Loading...