Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

The Red Fletch
Margaret McNellis
Offering a fresh take on that perennial favorite, Robin Hood, McNellis’s (Developing Historical Characters) debut YA novel, first in her Heroes of Sherwood series, brings to bear both a passion for the material and clearly demonstrated talent for storytelling. At seventeen, daughter of a craftsman father and disgraced nobility mother, Alys Fletcher might be expected to be married with her own household, according to the mores of Jolly Olde England. Alys, though, grew up more tomboy than nurturer, as evidenced by her attempt to take her brother Robert’s place in the military when he marches with Robin of Locksley to the Crusades. Instead of getting the chance to save her brother, she’s left behind to act as a handmaiden for Maid Marian, a position secured by her noble cousin, Guy. But Alys has made a pact with Robin–and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’ll each be able to play their roles.

Despite a slow beginning that dares a slightly anachronistic voice in the flavor of the film A Knight’s Tale, the novel quickly gains traction as readers are drawn along for the adventure that becomes Alys’s life. She both misses her family and the work on the farm, but finds a strange sort of peace with Marian, teaching the noblewoman the fine art of archery. The Sheriff of Nottingham, as portrayed in popular versions of the work, here is a somewhat typical villain—instead, it’s Alys’s reaction to him, and to her cousin Guy, that begins setting this tale apart from the pack, as The Red Fletch takes flight as something fresh and powerful.

Particularly strong is McNellis’s portrayal of Alys as feminist icon, a woman who, while never embracing the roles society dictates, doesn’t reject them outright, either. Her independence is both celebrated and examined in the context of consequences. The shifted perspective and voice of the story allow for a deeper, richer development of the characters, adding a nuanced depth that will captivate and delight–and leave readers anxious for the next chapter.

Takeaway: This artful retelling of the Robin Hood mythos from a new perspective breathes fresh life into a beloved classic.

Great for fans of: Raven Kennedy’s Gild, Anita Valle’s Sinful Cinderella.

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

Click here for more about The Red Fletch
A Light in the Sky
Shina Reynolds
Aluma Banks has spent her life dreaming of becoming a member of the kingdom of Eirelannia’s Empyrean Cavalry, just like her father. Empyrean Riders, sworn to King Breasal himself, take to the skies on winged horses to protect Eirelannia from their constant enemy, the Laithlanns. There’s just one problem: Aluma’s father has forbidden her to enter the yearly competition for entry into the Calvary. Everything changes when he suffers a devastating fall, however, and seventeen-year-old Aluma finds herself competing for the glory in his stead. Together with her best friend Thayer, Aluma discovers new powers, unsettling secrets, and forbidden love. When it turns out that her father’s injury may have been no accident, Aluma is forced to reconsider everything she thought knew—while possibly restoring balance to her world.

As Aluma takes the reins, Reynolds conjures a high fantasy journey with plenty of romance, danger, and intrigue that’s sure to delight—think The Hunger Games meets fantasy favorites but with an equestrian twist. Though it at times relies heavily on tropes common to the genre, such as love triangles and chosen-one arcs, any fan of those stories should find something to love in this blend of the epic and the dystopian. Eirelannia is a kingdom where nothing is as it seems, and readers will be hooked right along with Aluma as she uncovers the truth about the non stop war between her homeland and Laithlann.

Reynolds offers intriguing world building, richly drawn characters, and convincing details, like the distinctions between how different groups treat the winged Empyrean steeds, for example. Both accessible and engaging, A Light in the Sky is well-suited for younger YA audiences, while older readers may find some plot points predictable despite the age of its protagonist. Still, this first entry in Reynolds’s Clashing Skies series offers non-stop adventure for readers who ever wished for a flying steed of their own.

Takeaway: Younger fans of high fantasy adventure won’t be able to put down this novel boasting high-flying equestrian action.

Great for fans of: Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen series.

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

Click here for more about A Light in the Sky
The Parable of Rust: A Novella
Amos Williamson
Williamson’s debut novel is the brief but sweeping saga of the Selbsteiger family and the city-state of Rust–a curious semi-independent state in the American midwest that, due to pre-Civil War politics, never became a state. Not content with his share of a family farm, Norman Selbsteiger builds a Great Lakes shipping company, which initially proves a great success, but bad times arrive when conditions change after the wars. Diversifying to rescue the business, his son Selby starts a widget company, and the family’s fortunes rise again. But the philandering Trey Selbsteiger III possesses talents that lie elsewhere, and with no one to take control, the Selbsteiger fortunes hit an all-time low. Will Norm Selbsteiger IV be able to rescue the family’s, and Rust’s, fortunes?

Written in an expansive style attentive to economics and generational shifts, The Parable of Rust offers a bird’s-eye view of a boom-bust cycle of the industrial Midwest, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Readers should not expect close analysis of the lives of interesting characters like Trey and his wife, the independent Anne, or the family philanthropist Cornelia. Williamson delves into two interesting conflicts—the dissonance between Trey’s nature and Selby’s concern for the health of the business, and the conflict between Louisa and her daughter-in-law Anne for the upbringing of the latter’s daughter, Drew—but never gives them the close-quarters analysis that makes for compelling drama.

Instead, the novel concerns broader shifts of history, deftly examining the macroeconomic impact of individual business fortunes–and those how those fortunes weathered a tumultuous century. By creating a micro-America in Rust, he attempts to portray the far reaching consequences and ripple effect created by business policies–some of them questionable, if not exactly illegal. Throughout, Williamson’s familiarity with the world of high finance is evident, and his command of the material is convincing.

Takeaway: A multi-generational, economics-minded saga of a Midwestern family, its wealth, and the American century.

Great for fans of: Charles Stiefel’s Skin Saga, Dan Baum’s Citizen Coors.

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

Click here for more about The Parable of Rust
Aspire: Inspirational Passages for Today's Modern Woman
d.j. posner
“Just like a blossoming flower needs to be pollinated, so does the female psyche,” Posner writes in this inspirational collection of verse, insights, and photography. Her aim: to nourish contemporary women with “passages,” or short poems, that encourage mindfulness, the embrace of everyday moments and pleasures, and celebration of the gains women have made in society since the 1960s--and the courage it still takes to keep them and secure more. The thread tying Aspire together is Posner’s championing of sisterhood, as in the poem “On Sisterhood,” in which she cheers the “rigid, unwavering goodness” and “wholesome nobility” of an unidentified woman—or perhaps of womanhood itself.

That same key poem notes, one of several dozen, declares that this woman, bound to the author by sisterhood, will “elect and choose with fervor /and stand where it suits you, planting your feet in rich soil.” These lines encapsulate Posner’s chief themes and concerns: the power of being intentional, of being “fierce” and “brave” with purpose (as the poem “Becoming Free From Worry” urges), and of cultivating a space of one’s own in life in soil enriched by the other women also making such bold choices.

The suggestion of a connection to nature runs through the book, as Posner reflects on the “benediction found in the light of a setting sun” and likens the spiritual growth of a soul to the “promise of the new springtide.” Her aspirations for women are expressed mostly in spiritual rather than social or political terms—she declares herself “in service to God”—and on occasion she turns playful, as in a lark of a poem about daylight savings time. The photos illustrating the verses feel less original than Posner’s words, which will prove most potent to readers already curious about mindfulness practice and spiritual sisterhood.

Takeaway: These accessible inspirational poems celebrate contemporary women while encouraging mindfulness, gratitude, and ferocity.

Great for fans of: Morgan Harper Nichols’s All Along You Were Blooming, Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R Wilson’s Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems.

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

Click here for more about Aspire
Bumbling Through the Hindu Kush: A Memoir of Fear and Kindness in Afghanistan
Chris Woolf
Woolf’s memoir details his brief trip as a young journalist through the uncertain Afghanistan of the early 1990s, after the Soviets had withdrawn and before the Taliban had taken over. He recounts seeing death all around, striking out at random, interspersed with a beautiful countryside and welcoming, hospitable people. This two week long excursion left him with nightmares, and Woolf masterfully conveys some of how that felt. Woolf tells his story as primarily one of trauma—his own trauma admittedly brief in comparison with that of those living in the war zone but nonetheless real.

Early in his reporting career, Woolf had considered serving as a foreign correspondent, so when the chance came to visit the BBC’s correspondent in Afghanistan and see what the job actually entailed, he took it, trusting that his experience in the army and in stressful situations would prepare him for what he faced. In his journey into Kabul, taking part in a caravan traveling to the rebel-held north of the country, and leaving the country after his visa expired, he was shot at, under artillery attack and nearly stranded on the wrong side of a pass when winter made it impassable. In between all of that, he also managed to take the photos which ably illustrate the text, and interview a Russian prisoner who converted to Islam and joined the Afghan forces.

Woolf is both gripping as he relates these tense stories and humble in his reflection on the heroism of the Afghans and various international aid workers and journalists he met. He describes many more unforgettable incidents than you might expect given the brief length of his time in the country. Readers looking for an exciting memoir about travel through Afghanistan or a look at how the trauma of continued danger can weigh on someone will find this a satisfying read.

Takeaway: Fans of travelogues or war stories, particularly of Afghanistan, will find this memoir compelling.

Great for fans of: Deborah Copaken's Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, Carmen Gentile's Blindsided by the Taliban.

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

I Am The Midnight Robber
Daniel J. Obrien
This unique, vibrant picture book follows a little girl’s journey to understand and be true to herself amidst the lively backdrop of carnival season in Trinidad, where New York-based author/illustrator O’Brien was born. The daughter of carnival revelers, Lil’ Miss Sugarcane is raised to love the exuberant pre-Lenten celebration. The book starts with her parents’ love story–her father, the original Robber, “in a twist” has his heart stolen by her mother, Dame Lorraine. As Sugarcane gets older, she shows her feisty personality–instead of being sweet like sugar, she bites like a barracuda. “Mommy would try to fit me in dresses with cute frills, pretty bows, and little top hats. But Miss Dame Lorraine soon realized dat I, Lil’ Miss Sugarcane, would be having none of dat.”

With her parents’ love and acceptance, Sugarcane overcomes the obstacles she faces to become the truest version of herself–the Midnight Robber, who “learned to steal deh hearts of millions, one verse and rhyme at a time.” This includes facing the relatable challenge of bullies. “I’m rough and tough like leather, and dresses ain’t never been my ting,” Sugarcane says. “If bullies want to poke fun at dat, den brace for deh verbal arrows I go sling!” One of this book’s most interesting aspects is its Caribbean dialect, supplemented by a playful glossary, which makes reading it out loud an immersive and exciting cultural experience for kids.

Along with the text, O’Brien’s detailed, expressive illustrations show Sugarcane dancing, dressing in costumes, and playing on a beach with her family, which illuminate the text and will spark young readers’ imaginations. The costumes are especially fascinating, a visual feast of pirates, parasols, playing cards, and ballgowns, often rendered with just the right touch of spooky, whimsical flair. This lively book will also help children and their parents talk about the importance of self-expression and acceptance–and maybe even inspire the creation of a colorful costume or two.

Takeaway: A little girl’s journey to be true to herself amidst the lively backdrop of carnival season in Trinidad.

Great for fans of: Nadia L. Hohn’s Malaika’s Costume, Errol Lloyd’s Nini At Carnival.

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

Click here for more about I Am The Midnight Robber
BUGS THAT LOVE!: The Amazing Western Conifer Seed Bug (& Shield Bugs Too!)
Lori-Michele
Many people consider a bug making itself at home in your home cause for alarm. For insect-loving author Lori-Michele, though, the bug is extending its hand (leg?) in friendship. Ten years ago Lori-Michele’s father found a Western conifer seed bug clinging to a storm door during a cold winter and took it inside to warm up, not knowing that her burgeoning friendship with Buggy (as it eventually come to be known) would change nothing less than Lori-Michele’s world view. Told in either long chapters of personal experiences that moved the author or shorter chapters with more of a “how-to” bent (often accompanied by close-up photos), Bugs That Love! celebrates the possibility of human/insect friendship, ascribing pet-like emotions and awareness to insects: “I was told by entomologists that the Western conifers don’t see like we do, but Autumn always recognized me,” she writes of a bug that Lori-Michele attests communicates with her through physical gestures.

The overall tone is decidedly casual and informal, best suited for middle grade readers who are naturally curious, already interested in bugs, or don’t mind an argument for the better treatment of insects that’s more rooted in feeling than science. Readers looking for hard data and evidence about insect emotion won’t find much, and Lori-Michele notes that none of the entomologists she contacted were interested in these insects’ lives or personalities. That means the book reads more like an impassioned diary than a persuasive argument text, and it lacks that crucial element of any science book, especially intended for younger readers, the citation of further, reliable resources.

Still, Lori-Michele brings abundant enthusiasm and passion for her topic, and it’s clear that she cares deeply for her insect pets and believes they have the ability to provide companionship for kids, older adults, and others. The approachable tone and care that went into each chapter makes it a compelling read for insect-loving kids.

Takeaway: Young insect lovers looking for a casual but passionate defense of the value of bugs—as beings and as friends—will find company here

Great for fans of: Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson’s Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects, Owen Davey’s Bonkers About Beetles.

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

Click here for more about BUGS THAT LOVE!
100 Ways in 100 Days to Teach Your Baby Maths: Support All Areas of Your Baby's Development by Nurturing a Love of Maths
Emma L Smith
Though many adults may struggle to remember basic rules of multiplication, chartered accountant and Institute of Actuaries fellow Emma Smith insists that we were born with the capacity to master mathematics. She cites research noting that, in the womb, babies understand shapes; at seven hours old they’re aware of quantities; at six months they can assess probability; and by nine months babies comprehend addition and subtraction. Smith lays out a clear plan for parents to nourish and encourage those math skills every day, through purposeful parent interactions rather than special curriculum, books, or worksheets.

Instead, she guides parents in shifting their mindset to incorporate math into everyday interactions with their children. Even the most math averse parent can handle Smith’s tasks—and indeed, she believes that perhaps those math averse parents are the ones who need to foster math skills in their child the most, so that the “maths anxiety” cycle can be broken. Smith’s activities are simple: singing nursery rhymes, counting food as you eat it, and naming shapes and objects as a baby looks at them. The sly genius of this work is teaching parents to incrementally change the way they think about math and its presence in their children’s world, a technique that Smith connects to studies that reveal the complexity and capability of the infant brain. Smith’s writing will convince even many of those reluctant parents who were themselves not encouraged to engage with math while growing up.

Though structured as a day-by-day handbook, 100 Ways in 100 Days can also simply be skimmed for catchy ideas, used as a refresher for those looking to enrich play with their children, or be read in one sitting to select only those tools that seem the easiest to apply. With an encouraging tone, well-described suggestions, and a fresh outlook on infant development, 100 Ways in 100 Days is a welcome read for anyone caring for infants.

Takeaway: Simple activities drawn from research on babies’ brains make this a great read for parents and caregivers.

Great for fans of: Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s The Whole-Brain Child Workbook, Tara Greaney’s Montessori at Home.

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

American Tapestry: Portrait of a "Middling" Family, 1746-1934
Pat Speth Sherman
Sherman’s historic account weaves detailed chronicles of her Colonial-era ancestors, based on her extensive original research, with a clear-eyed view of American history, demonstrating the vital role of small-town civil activities, labor, and commerce in the nation’s development and never shying away from the past’s brutal realities. American Tapestry alternates between in-depth studies of American history from early colonial days through the early 20th century and portraits of specific ancestors caught up in the sweep of that history. Sherman emphasizes the treatment of Native Americans during the Revolutionary War era, pointing out that the destruction of the Iroquois nation—and the “centuries-long genocide of Native Americans, in all of its malignant forms”—is too rarely the focus in accounts of the American story.

She zeroes in on fascinating ancestors like James Woodside, who moved from Ireland to America and fought in the French and Indian War, taking part in battles against Native Americans. Again and again, Sherman faces the complex humanity of her forebears, some of them public figures: Simon Sallade left a long public record, not all of it savory, while Irish immigrant George McEliece, possibly an embezzler, faced great anti-Catholic sentiment. His son John fought in the Civil War for the Union but later employed children in deadly mine work. She closes the book with a look at her grandfather, a beloved and respected physician.

The original research and the book’s confrontation with the American past are invaluable. Still, what Sherman has crafted here is not quite a family record and not quite a work of general-interest history, either. Often, when she zeroes in on her family, the effect is like reading through someone else's genealogy: interesting up to a point, but still the details of someone else's life. Her reckoning with the history she turns up, while pained and engaging, gets overpowered by the accumulation of charts, diagrams, and other ephemera.

Takeaway: A confrontation with American history and one family’s rise, as revealed in original research and admirable frankness about the past.

Great for fans of: Eliza Griswold’s Amity and Prosperity, Jill Lepore’s These Truths.

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

Click here for more about American Tapestry
Texas Quest: An 1870s tale of German immigrants settling in Texas.
Betty Willis
Willis’s third novel follows the journey of Christian Schulz as he leaves Germany in the early 1870s to evade army service and begin a new life in Texas. During the perilous ocean journey, Christian reconnects with old classmate Otto Schneider, and once the ship docks, the duo accompany several young women meeting spouses in Galveston before striking out for Fredericksburg. Lena Clemons, seeking a husband of her own and falling for Christian, joins the journey and shows she’s more than capable of pulling her own weight. The trio stops in Richmond, on the Brazos River in southeast Texas where they quickly become a part of the community, despite their long-term plans to settle in Fredericksburg.

Readers will appreciate the fresh perspective of German immigrants settling in Texas in the early 1870s, as Willis deftly describes life in the Lone Star State during the Reconstructionist years. Lena is particularly likable, as a woman who wants to be viewed as attractive and feminine, but is still perfectly comfortable doing hard work. The story is period accurate, taking readers along for the adventures, risks, and still-wild freedom of Texas in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Already, the settlers speak with reverence for the story of the Alamo three decades earlier; persuasive regionalisms (“the Newnited States”) color their dialogue.

As their love deepens, Christian and Lena must consider whether they’re ready to get married and start a family and whether they’re willing to leave Richmond, where they’ve begun to put down roots. The character development at times is thin, offering limited insight into their feelings as they face the greatest changes and decisions they will in their lives. Texas Quest occasionally strays away from the main storyline to address the larger history. It will appeal to readers fascinated by Texas and the 19th century immigrant experience, which Willis dramatizes with passion and convincing detail.

Takeaway: Texas Quest is perfect for readers fascinated by the challenges immigrants faced coming to rural Texas in the late 19th century

Great for fans of: Paulette Jiles, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Téa Obreht’s Inland.

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

Click here for more about Texas Quest
The Success Trail: Learn to Win with a Marathon Runner's Mindset
Jack Perconte
This motivational self-help book builds upon the metaphorical and literal adage that "slow and steady wins the race.” Former major league baseball player and avid marathon runner Perconte offers a straight-shooting "pep talk" encouraging readers to strive for their goals and dreams even when doing so seems difficult—and even when they suspect they may fail at achieving them. Laying out step-by-step plans and always emphasizing the need to work on yourself, Perconte coaches readers by drawing on personal experience, from rising to baseball fame and later taking up marathon running, achievements that demand the discipline and constant work ethic laid out in his action steps. With a running theme of living a life with no regrets, The Success Trail is a positive guide to pushing through to become the best version of yourself, taking each day to become better, and putting yourself in competition with the person you were the day before.

With a direct and inviting style, Perconte centers most of these lessons and advice around the idea of running a marathon, contending that by approaching it—or any big dream—a step at a time instead of looking at the finish line creates a constant sense of achievement that makes grand goals seem attainable. He urges readers to celebrate all the little wins along the way, a crucial step in adopting the mindset of a winner, though he’s always frank about acknowledging that nothing worth having comes easy or without hard work and dedication.

While ideal for athletes, Pereconte’s advice can be applied to many aspects of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s overgeneralized. He addresses issues like keeping motivated in one’s “dog days,” “weathering” through bad “playing conditions,” how to bring your best on “game day” and more, inviting readers to adopt the habits of mind of a pro athlete. Readers will close the pages with a renewed sense of direction and encouragement to tackle their dreams and change their outlook and mindset.

Takeaway: A rallying self-help guide to adjusting your mindset and besting yourself each day.

Great for fans of: Marie Forleo’s Everything is Figure Outable, Jim Afremow’s The Champion’s Mind.

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

Click here for more about The Success Trail
A Message from Boo
R.G. Johansen
Johansen’s epic mystery, steeped in the flavor of Atlanta and portents of the supernatural, finds Southern homicide detective John Williams paired up with Victor Lechman, a hirsute transplant from Brooklyn’s murder squad. The case: a series of murders that suggest an evil from beyond this mortal realm, as the cops face corpses mangled by a killer of terrifying strength, whispers of demonic possession, premonitions connected to their own pasts, and phenomena that even a skeptic like John can’t explain, like apparitions from the distant American past—or why when he’s placed under hypnosis he somehow speaks Latin.

Despite the horror elements, Johansen’s mode and form is the police procedural, personal division, as both of his detectives emerge as compelling, complete characters with distinct motivations. Divorcee John’s love for his daughter powers much of the novel’s suspense, and his amusing distaste for all things New York sets up an engaging, often comic partner relationship: “John rationalized that the pollution and noise had destroyed the brain cells of every citizen who lived in that acrimonious city,” Johansen writes. Still, he’s a warm, community-minded guy who teaches self-defense classes at the YWCA. Victor, of course, has a New York cop’s sharp tongue, but as the case goes and the partners become closer, John begins to suspect something may be off with him, a tension that Johansen adeptly mines.

The mix of down-to-earth procedural and the (apparently) supernatural may not be to all readers’ tastes, and the story runs long, but Johansen mostly hits the marks of both genres: here’s vivid crime scenes, interrogations, and autopsies; dustups with the department brass; and an uneasy but potent partnership all set against a convincingly detailed Atlanta. Add two cops haunted by their pasts—and quite possibly haunted for real, in the present—and you have a thriller likely to please crime and horror buffs alike.

Takeaway: In this epic procedural, an Atlanta cop faces a new Brooklyn partner, baffling murders, and possible demonic possession.

Great for fans of: John Connolly, Mary SanGiovanni.

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

Click here for more about A Message from Boo
The Lighthouse
Christopher Parker
Parker’s debut novel is a work of character-driven magical realism dealing with themes of filial love, grief, and existence in the liminal space between life and death. The story follows two young protagonists: Amy, who has recently lost her mother to a car crash, and Ryan, a young rancher who is struggling with his farm’s failing finances and his father’s failing health. The two develop a close relationship after Ryan finds Amy in the bathtub, having overdosed on sleeping pills, and saves her. While both must face their own personal troubles, they also find themselves caught up in the mystery of the town’s old lighthouse, which somehow, as a local puts it, lights “up the sky like a torch from heaven”—despite having no lamp. What follows is a genuinely surprising twist that will leave readers aching for all the characters involved.

Ryan and Amy are sympathetic characters whose grief makes them relatable, and their tender, supportive relationship is the story’s heart. Still, Parker does not shy away from highlighting the ways trauma and loss can change a person’s personality for the worse. Parker also proves adept at crafting a moody, possibly haunted milieu, as his leads live among vicious winter storms, miles of forlorn farmland, and of course the lonely lighthouse, on its “outcrop of jagged rocks,” to which Ryan and Amy find themselves drawn.

Several exciting revelations come at the novel’s end, but the beginning and the middle of the story by comparison at times lacks momentum. Some subplots are dropped or not fully realized, such as Amy’s father’s detective work. The Lighthouse is not a full-fledged fantasy, yet does contain magical and spiritual elements, which can be tricky to balance. For some readers, there may not be enough magic, and for others, there might be too much. Still, readers who follow its mysterious light will be rewarded with intriguing twists and lovable characters.

Takeaway: A mysterious lighthouse, compelling surprises, and a meditative look at moving through grief.

Great for fans of: Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, Erin A Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows.

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

Click here for more about The Lighthouse
IMPRESSIONS: Short Letters
AMEYA PANDIT
In this authentically insightful treatise on “what is,” Pandit, a software engineer and father, has collected thoughts and observations on three grand topics in sections titled “On Childhood,” “On Nature,” and “On Arts.” In these sections, Pandit offers short, paragraph-length reflections, each entry illustrating a new (or recurring) subject from which might be derived some meaning. “People go at length in search of God but then there [a child] stands—a marvel and a wonder of art—carved and sculpted by one and only one—nature herself,” Pandit writes in “On Childhood.” In these bold assurances, impressions makes an implicit argument for the intuitive attainment of knowledge, that “truth we need not learn but. . . fully grasp in all our flesh and blood.”

If each entry stands as an ode to art (or children or nature) as “a source of truth,” then in these brief, poetic compositions Pandit makes appropriately definitive statements: “In all the vanity and wickedness that this world has, we witness something pure and exceptional… one that is handed down to a woman by none other than nature herself… —motherhood.” However, subjects and phrasing recur to such a degree in these vignettes or codas—Pandit’s form is singular enough that no single established term captures these rich entries—that some readers will find them redundant, especially if they read straight through rather than occasionally dip into Pandit’s stream of thought.

Whether read in short or long doses, though, the writing is rhythmic, melodic, lyrical: “poetry mends the rift, while music bridges the gulf,” Pandit notes, drawing on both. Sometimes, Pandit addresses an audience directly—“I walk. I walk a lot… I walk so I can write; I write because I have something to say…”—and in doing so gains the investment of thoughtful, patient readers invested in style and ideas. Upon reaching the end, any lingering doubts of the literary ambition of this work will have retreated.

Takeaway: In distinct style, Impressions considers the small yet profound daily experiences many of us tend to dismiss.

Great for fans of: Cleo Wade’s Where To Begin, Alexandra Elle’s After the Rain.

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

Click here for more about IMPRESSIONS
Surreal Absurdity
Jim Lively
Lively’s second in the mystery series that kicked off with Aberrant Behavior brings back amateur detective Charles Pierce, who’s about to find himself again tangled in bizarre mysteries. Charles is starting over later in life, retired as an attorney who defended medical insurance companies’ denials of claims, after a case very nearly killed him: Aberrant Behavior found Jamie Simon, the wife of a claimant who died, attempting to poison Charles on a cruise. He’s now focusing on his passion for art in his new studio, but it doesn’t take long for a strange bearded man to turn up there and threaten Charles appear and threaten him—“So you’re the bastard who caused my family a load of trouble.” Making matters worse: Jamie the poisoner has also reappeared.

Charles and detective Gonzales, a cop trying to figure it all out, are the kind of standout characters series readers look forward to meeting again in book after book, and several others feel like they could be that, too, with clearer roles and more substantial development. This time, though, some of the cast don’t exhibit much individuality outside their story function as suspects or red herrings, which contributes to the feeling that the final revelations aren’t all that surprising.

The hook of this series—an ex-lawyer’s easy life upended by fallout from the work he did—remains compelling. Lively draws readers in with effective scene setting: a dark, tense walk when Charles is expecting to be attacked, and sequences in which characters are followed or worrying about who’s going to turn up. Less intense set pieces also have welcome detail and energy, such as the goings on at the art studio and, especially, an art gallery in full party mode. Lively’s frequent attention to wine will be fun for connoisseurs—and a distraction for non-oenophiles.

Takeaway: Mystery again comes for a retired lawyer in this sequel that will please art and wine connoisseurs.

Great for fans of: Vinnie Hansen’s Art, Wine & Bullets, Hailey Lind’s Feint of Art.

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

Click here for more about Surreal Absurdity
The Adventures of Super C.J.
Yaba Baker
In this charming graphic novel for middle schoolers, Cameron Justus, (CJ) a near-genius boy with a hair-trigger temper, gets imbued with the power of a Lightbearer of the Universe. But that comes with one major downfall: when he reacts with anger, his power is greatly dimmed. After being suspended for punching a classmate, CJ and his dog Rex find themselves in front of the Guardians of the Universe, who praise his good heart but call out his problem with anger management. (Understandably weirded out, CJ at first tells them “I am saying no to any type of drug you guys are pushing.”) Soon, CJ and resourceful Rex, also gifted with special powers (like talking), take on an evil force with the power to control inanimate objects, leading to memorable encounters with national monuments—including the statue of a founding father who takes a classic comic book swing at CJ.

Baker deftly delivers the overarching message—that anger fuels poor choices—without sounding preachy, a balance that middle schoolers will appreciate. The snappy dialogue will tickle the funny bones of both adults and kids, especially the chatter between dog and boy. Rex’s advice on controlling anger: “Try taking deep breaths and counting to ten. That’s what I do to keep from biting you when you take forever to walk me.” Elsewhere, CJ laments, “If my Mom and Dad found out I destroyed the Lincoln Memorial AND the Jefferson Memorial, I will be grounded until I am 35.”

Charming full-color graphics from Pratyush and Rituparna Chatterjee perfectly complement the tale, drawing readers into the short but impactful story– which strikes a nice balance between the real world, with angry mothers and principals and childhood fights, and fantasy elements like talking dogs, fireballs, and giant household objects. Kids will happily consider the importance of staying calm while reading and rereading this appealing offering.

Takeaway: This middle grade graphic novel’s message about reining in anger will please superhero-minded readers of all ages.

Great for fans of: Frank Cottrell Boyce’s the Astounding Broccoli Boy, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man.

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

Click here for more about The Adventures of Super C.J.

Loading...