Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

In The Mirror
Fabian E. Ferguson
Ferguson’s charmingly illustrated children’s book encourages kids to understand that they are so much more than their physical appearance. In this sweet and simple story, a brother and sister look at their faces in the mirror while getting ready for their day. The duo declares that they love what they see, and as the little girl dons a crown and a cape, Ferguson’s deeper message begins to shine. These kids–like all young people–have big dreams and bright futures, as well as the skills and innate talents to accomplish their goals: “Between these two ears are wheels always turning. There is imagination, brilliance, and a hunger for learning.”

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Ferguson’s book is its acknowledgment that children will face struggles and unpleasant feelings as they grow, learn, and endeavor to fulfill that promise. In one illustration, the frowning girl holds up a test with a grade of D-, and a few pages later she trips and falls while learning to roller skate before finally succeeding. An essential bit of wisdom accompanies those scenes: “I will scar this chin from some falls I may take. They will be lessons I will learn from the choices I make.” The book also shows the siblings expressing a wide range of emotions–silly, scared, angry, excited–which will give parents the opportunity to discuss these feelings with their children.

Wide-eyed, playful, and sincere, the kids in Ferguson’s mirror seem real and friendly, which will help preschoolers relate to them and identify their own emotions and experiences in the illustrations. The pictures are colorful, inviting, and original, growing more elaborate and inventive with the kids’ imaginings. (The cover does not fully represent the quality of work inside.) They give the book personality and depth while helping young readers develop the tools to build their confidence in a way that feels fun and fresh.

Takeaway: This picture book reminds kids they’re much more than what they see in the mirror.

Great for fans of: Susann Hoffmann’s YOU Are Awesome, Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s Just Like Me.

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

Click here for more about In The Mirror
Swept Away
Arnold Johnston
In this surprising comic novel, Dennis McCutcheon is a struggling, recently divorced college professor and playwright who is desperately worried about his future in academia–as well as his romantic prospects and happiness in general. Johnston’s engaging and mysterious novel follows Dennis from Pennsylvania to Detroit after he learns his alma mater, Wayne State University, wants to stage a production of his play, “Swept Away.” Once there, Dennis falls for the beautiful and troubled Andrea, but his contentment is short lived. After Dennis is mugged, he becomes further embroiled in a highly publicized scandal when he is suspected of murdering Andrea’s vitriolic husband, Larry.

Dennis may appear at first glance to be a stereotypical jaded academic, but Johnston avoids cliché, revealing his protagonist to have much more going on beneath the surface. He offers readers real reasons to want to spend time getting to know this guy. Both Dennis and his best friend and coworker, Eileen, face common struggles that have too often not been part of the public conversation: Dennis’ sense of inferiority is heightened by his ex-wife Deirdre’s ongoing emotional abuse, including online harassment and stalking. Film scholar Eileen, meanwhile, is subjected to professional scrutiny despite her stellar publication record: “Her opportunities were limited by her sexual orientation as a faculty member in a relatively small college town that didn’t even have a gay bar.”

While Johnston’s characters face myriad real-world challenges, unpredictable supernatural forces are also at play, such as a series of Civil War-era apparitions that leave Dennis wondering who has really invited him back to Detroit and why. The story at times moves slowly, and the sharp commentary about the business of creativity is likely more exhaustive than many readers might hope. But the book is incisive, and narrator Dennis is engaging, making Johnston’s tale of professional ambition, midlife aggravation, and treacherous love affairs delightfully unpredictable.

Takeaway: A sharp, engaging, wholly unpredictable novel of ambition and academia.

Great for fans of: Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members, Jane Smiley’s Moo.

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

Click here for more about Swept Away
Into the Heartland
Jack Casey
With a deceptively simple premise, Casey (The Trial of Bat Shea) deftly weaves romance into a historical retelling of the birth of the Erie Canal in the early part of the 19th century. Eleanora Van Rensselaer, a young widow who alternates between her estate, Claverack, and Albany, New York, finds her time bound up with social obligations–and more pressingly, with advancing the efforts of politico DeWitt Clinton, who is drumming up support for the Erie Canal project. Daniel Hedges, a ship’s captain and surveyor from Buffaloe Creek, emerges as a driving force behind the actual planning of the canal, while Eleanora, despite being considered landed gentry, appeals to the general populace for backing.

Characteristic of all transformative infrastructure projects, the building of the canal is littered with secrets–much like the relationships that Casey examines among these three proponents. Casey brings historical characters and situations to life for contemporary audiences, painting key events–from the region’s battles during the War of 1812 to a malaria epidemic during the canal’s construction–with enough vibrant, unstinting detail to evoke a visceral response. History-minded readers will be deeply immersed in the political and social machinations that powered this then-young country’s budding political machines. Casey’s respect for the time period and passion for the subject shine through.

The novel’s romantic entanglements don’t shine quite as brightly as the political intrigues and carefully chosen historic details. Eleanora and Daniel’s interactions come across as more scripted than organic, and much of their dialogue in the book’s first half is stilted. As the story unfolds, however, their dynamic takes on a smoother and more inviting tone, especially when the focus is less on romance and more on the relationships developing among the large cast. Historical fiction lovers will delight in this unique tale of a rarely dramatized turning point in American history.

Takeaway: An immersive historic novel that illuminates the digging of the Erie Canal.

Great for fans of: Amy Harmon’s Where the Lost Wander, Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose.

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

Click here for more about Into the Heartland
Haunting Patagonia: A Novel of Passages & Echos
Eva Newcastle
Newcastle debuts with an omen-filled, generational mystery infused with romance and a touch of magical realism. Angeni Braum, having dissolved her residential development business, settles for an administrative job at a Chicago museum. While working with a paleontology team that’s delivering a new sauropod acquisition, Angeni is intrigued by her surprisingly personal connection with Dr. Leonardo Díaz, the expedition’s leader. That connection, coupled with Angeni’s noticing a sudden crop of references to Argentina in her life, eventually leads to her taking a business trip to Patagonia. Meanwhile, in a parallel story line set in the past, the original turn-of-the-century dinosaur expedition hints at an alluring link to Leo and Angeni today.

The concept is lovely—a romance that echoes through time in the clues that the lovers leave for their descendants—and Newcastle plants enticing hints for readers to discover, such as the handwritten botanical journal that Angeni picks up in an opening scene. The writing is evocative: “The juicy-colored hibiscus flower beyond my hotel room window was rolled tight in its nocturnal state, the shrub's bloom scraping the window screen.” But Angeni’s naiveté (she fails to learn even rudimentary Spanish and exhibits little interest in understanding cultural nuances) cuts against characterization of her as a curious spirit. Similarly, Angeni’s vague memories of her dysfunctional upbringing effectively cloak connections to her past to build mystery, but they also flatten her character.

Newcastle is most successful with the storytelling on the historical side of the narrative, as the secret love story of Orlando and Angeline evokes a satisfying sense of destiny. In the present, Angeni and Leo’s efforts to decipher the mysteries of the past lag behind readers’ certainty about where the story is going. Still, Haunting Patagonia will hit a sweet spot for readers who enjoy grand historical romances, plots that boast a supernatural undercurrent, and mysteries with easy to follow clues.

Takeaway: An appealing parallel romance haunts this novel of love, history, and portents.

Great for fans of: Ernest Dempsey’s Sean Wyatt series, Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea.

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

Click here for more about Haunting Patagonia
Tattoo : A Memoir of Becoming
W. Patrick Lang
Lang’s sweeping memoir surveys the author’s life as a soldier, officer, and intelligence official, telling not just the story of Lang’s service and family but offering a close-up history of the U.S. military’s global engagements in the fractious second half to the 20th century. Born into a family of soldiers, Lang talked his way into enlisting with the Maine National Guard at just 16 and then enrolled, after high school, in the Virginia Military Institute. Even before joining the Army’s 5th Infantry division after graduation, Lang had distinguished himself as a speaker, marksman, tactician, and expert in languages and military history, talents that would serve him well in Panama, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and other posts in a career that would take him to the position of the DIA’s Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia.

Tattoo overflows with revealing–sometimes harrowing–stories of military life. War games in training, conflicts with commanding officers, the fascinating early days of Army Special Forces, the horrors of Vietnam: Lang covers this and more in clear-eyed, scene-driven prose unencumbered by romance or overstatement. He refers to himself in the third person, but his command of the language ensures feeling (sometimes even humor) suffuses every page: “After watching Lang shoot, [the CIA operative] asked how Lang felt about shooting individuals. The reply was that this would depend on who they were.”

It resonates deeply, then, when Lang does indulge emotion, express doubt about a mission, or set the record straight. One impassioned clarification: The U.S. did not furnish Iraq with military materials during its 1980s war with Iran. Don’t expect much in the way of guidance of where this life is going or a précis of lessons learned in the manner of many contemporary memoirs. Still, with a scrupulous eye for detail, Tattoo illuminates every international conflict Lang saw and offers a fascinating portrait of what soldiering means.

Takeaway: An incisive and revealing survey of the career of an American soldier, from Vietnam to the Middle East.

Great for fans of: Richard E. Mack’s Memoirs of a Cold War Soldier, Elliot Ackerman’s Places and Names.

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

Click here for more about Tattoo
Ollie Come Free
Timothy Patrick
A cattle ranching family faces the reverberations of trauma in Patrick’s sensitive and engaging first YA novel, a grounded exploration of recovery, resentment, and redemption. Surrounded by Southern California suburban sprawl, the Buck Ranch has been home to Bob Buckmeyer’s family for generations. Bob and wife Cathy work hard to maintain their bucolic life for sons Cody, a promising baseball player, and happy-go-lucky Ollie. All eyes are on Cody during a 1991 game rather than on his brother, who’s just a half-hearted outfielder, but when 11-year-old Ollie is struck by lightning, the Buckmeyers’ illusion of normalcy explodes.

After the strike, Ollie suffers a traumatic brain injury, becomes withdrawn, and begins compulsively–and prodigiously–sketching his surroundings in unerring detail. Ollie is eventually diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome, which has many behavioral similarities with autism. Patrick’s story focuses on how this new reality affects the family unit. Stalwart Bob and nurturing Cathy become even more so, but Cody, 18 months Ollie’s senior, turns into something like the family’s villain “when envy slithers in and wraps itself around an unprotected heart.” Over a dozen years, the characters experience some level of growth and healing, except Cody, who becomes more embittered, calculating, and manipulative.

Patrick (Tea Cups & Tiger Claws, Death of a Movie Star) explores regional history, class disparities, and the perils of celebrity in Ollie Come Free, incorporating a family legend about buried gold, Cody’s covetous thievery, and Ollie’s transformation from social outcast to celebrity artist (drawing city skylines from memory like real-life savant Stephen Wiltshire). Patrick doesn’t try to represent Ollie’s interior life, choosing to detail the externals instead: Ollie’s coping mechanisms and the ways loved ones find to reconnect. Young readers interested in a realistic depiction of artistic savant experiences will find resonance in this atypical coming-of-age centered on a protagonist whose future is tied to a past that always calls him home.

Takeaway: A teen savant draws on resilient allies to open up his path to a full and rewarding life.

Great for fans of: Gordon Korman’s Restart, Cass Tell’s The Savant, and C.G. Drews’s The Boy Who Steals Houses.

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

Click here for more about Ollie Come Free
Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel
Sandra Wagner-Wright
Historian Wagner-Wright’s (Two Coins) latest historical fiction transports readers back in time to the late seventh century, chronicling the lives of several powerful women from Northumbria. A newly minted Christian queen, Ethelberga, must rely on her grit to navigate court intrigue as she tries to turn her pagan husband toward her new religion before battle while. Hildeburg, the abbess of Streoneshalh, is determined to unite the Columban and Roman churches for the good of the kingdom. And Queen Ethelberga’s daughter, Princess Enfleda, grows up to marry a Northumbrian king and bears him a long sought-after son–but must learn to balance the pull of her pagan beliefs with opposing Christian forces.

Wagner-Wright imbues her characters with life, conveying a sense of this far-off time and place through arresting, mystical language: “He’s giving Egfrid to the water. The nymphs will take him.” Moments of wry humour and elegant scene setting carry the story, a complex interwoven web threaded with religious conflict and criss-crossing the whole of Northumbria. It’s a well-researched tale but driven by character, with flashes of poignancy and charm making the royal, historical cast convincing and relatable.

The pacing of this novel may divide readers–though it is a fascinating story of upheaval in early Britain, the historical complexities make it difficult to keep track of everyone, especially with such similar character names. Wagner-Wright includes a list of primary characters at the start, in order of appearance, that will help readers trace the extensive genealogy. In the same vein, the glossary of names, terms, and places at the end of the novel–such as “Elf-shot"–lends authenticity to this portrait of a time when people believed that the onset of an unknown disease could be caused by elves firing arrows into the afflicted. Overall, Wagner-Wright’s deft characterization and intricate plotting make this an absorbing read that will appeal to fans of layered, detailed historical fiction.

Takeaway: Historical fiction readers will be absorbed by this intricate tale of memorable Northumbrian women fighting for change.

Great for fans of: Philippa Gregory, Sandra Gulland.

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

Click here for more about Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel
Affirm The Word: The Spiritual Practice of Speaking & Living God's Word
J. Marie Jones
This impassioned compilation—a collection of biblical passages, secondary resources, and accounts of personal experience—has been crafted to “assist believers” looking to better understand the message of God. Targeting Christian readers, Jones guides her audience through biblical teachings by topic, choosing select quotes from the Old and New Testament for each subject. Jones offers concise, meaningful, spiritual guidance that covers a wide variety of topics: from affliction to sin, from divorce to boldness to child rearing. She endeavors to clarify complex or obscure concepts (like “binding and loosing”), offers prayer templates crafted to help readers internalize God’s message, and draws personal guidance from scripture.

While Jones does not proselytize, she assumes that her readers are already followers of Jesus to some extent (they may be wayward, but they are believers). That specificity is one of the book’s strengths. Jones draws from her own personal experience, selecting quotes, ideas, and prayers that are important to her—and that may prove important or impactful for those seeking to achieve peace through religion.

Jones pulls heavily from other texts and websites throughout each chapter; she’s not only an author—she’s a compiler. But the most compelling passages are not the biblical quotes or the prayers written by others. They are the personal anecdotes that Jones shares: how a period after divorce turned her into a true follower of God, how she learned to love her neighbor by first loving herself, how she has come to understand that “it is NEVER okay to behave in a disrespectful way toward others.” These sections, focused on the experience of a woman whose life has been changed by belief, are not only the book’s most engaging—they’re also its most urgent and persuasive. While some of the compiled material can be dry or familiar, these glimpses into the author behind the book are honest and memorable.

Takeaway: This inspiring collection of biblical quotes, prayer ideas, and anecdotes takes flight when it gets personal.

Great for fans of: Robert S. McGee’s The Search for Significance, Craig Groeschel’s Winning the War in Your Mind.

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

Core Drift: A Coruscant Novel
FX Holden
In Holden’s stellar second dip into the Coruscant series, readers dive into an exhilarating sci-fi mystery filled with expertly developed characters, unexpected twists, and a hint of forbidden romance. Core Drift is an inviting stand-alone thriller allowing readers unfamiliar with Deep Core, the first book in the series, to quickly feel at home in Holden’s dramatic universe. Fan Zhaofeng is a cyber—a hybrid human-artificial intelligence being with a cybernetically enhanced brain linked up to the Core, an AI platform that links all computer systems between two key planets. Fan is the lead suspect in a string of murders being investigated by Expositor Lin Ming. The more Fan claims his innocence, the more evidence surfaces that points to his guilt, and Lin won’t stop until she unravels the truth.

This sci-fi thriller wastes no time digging its claws into the mystery. Murder, threats of civil unrest, and debates of morality sprinkle the pages while a sweet romantic subplot between Lin and Fan provides readers the opportunity to catch their breaths from the high-stakes drama and stunning twists. Readers will quickly warm to this unusual partnership between suspected and cop: Fan’s mission to prove his innocence makes him a sympathetic hero, while Lin’s empathy and independent spirit leads her down a rabbit hole that will ultimately test her entire value system and loyalty to the government.

Holden is adept at guiding readers into his inventive universe. He clearly defines his world-building terms, and the convenient “Core Encyclopedia v201.b” serves as a resource for anyone needing a quick refresher as the story progresses. Holden has a lot to establish in the story’s opening chapters, which slows the pace, but, lovers of inventive action will relish the fast-paced incidents that bring the story to a wild resolution. Sci-fi fans will sink into this murder-mystery with dynamic characters and an unpredictable plot.

Takeaway: This cyber sci-fi thriller has a unique protagonist, vibrant world building, and thrilling twists.

Great for fans of: Rudy Rucker, J. Barton Mitchell, Greg Bear’s Queens of Angels.

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

Click here for more about Core Drift
The Truth of the Matter
Leigh Fleming
Fleming’s (Whatever It Takes) debut historical romance is a layered family drama infused with the excitement and uncertainty of first love. Laurel Whitman works long days in a Philadelphia textile mill, and during her rushed lunch breaks, she shares her dreams of becoming a textile designer with her close friend Cillian O’Brien. Laurel is an industrious worker, talented artist, and loving daughter, but her alcoholic father often singles her out among her siblings for his abuse. When Laurel at last understands that her father mistreats because she resembles his mother, she boldly sets out to find her paternal grandmother and learn more about the connection they share.

Laurel’s independent spirit and feminist outlook are ahead of her time, but Fleming effectively transports readers to the past by emphasizing the details of daily life in 1870s America. However, the book does not present a polished, romantic portrait of the era, instead incorporating a welcome level of realism that offers a more authentic look at life during that time. The era’s moral values set the stage for the complex web of troubled relationships in Laurel’s family, but lingering grudges and emotionally charged confrontations make this family easily recognizable to today’s readers.

Some romance-oriented readers will be frustrated that Laurel’s time with her grandmother pulls her away from her promising relationship with Cillian, but her grandmother’s engrossing backstory more than makes up for this pause, and most readers will find themselves eagerly anticipating the chapters written from the grandmother’s perspective. Laurel’s quest to know her grandmother takes her on a parallel journey of self-discovery just as significant as her budding romance. While the character of Laurel’s father is not as fully developed, this heartfelt family saga offers readers a deeper understanding of the story’s brave, determined heroine and will inspire them to cheer her on in romance as in all other things.

Takeaway: This sweet period romance will satisfy readers who want more than just a damsel in distress.

Great for fans of: Karen McQuestion’s Dovetail, Kathleen Fuller’s Amish Brides of Birch Creek series.

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

Click here for more about The Truth of the Matter
The Devil's Kiss
JOHN B GEERER
It’s 1999 and widower Tom Stone is ready to start fresh. Widowed and recently retired from a long career in the US Navy, he’s moved to coastal Massachusetts to fulfill his and his wife’s dream of opening a small B&B. As he renovates Stonecroft Inn, the seventeenth-century tavern he purchased just outside of Marblehead, Tom is joined by his old Army buddy, Jake Brean, and his wife, Marie, who plan to help Tom through the tourist season. They soon discover that the Stonecroft Inn has a sordid history rife with murder, pirate plots, and a connection to the Salem Witch Trials. In the ensuing troubles, Tom discovers that the past refuses to be left behind.

The Devil’s Kiss oscillates between Tom’s late-1990s perspective and that of seventeenth-century Israel Hands, a woodcarver-turned-pirate who commits his first murder at age twelve out of a drive for familial vengeance. Israel’s life and the Stonecroft Inn are intimately linked, and these shifting points of view—well marked by chapter headings—illuminate the mystery at the heart of the novel. Like Tom, readers will be unable to shake the eerie feeling that suffuses the inn, but through Geerer’s skillful intermingling of the two timelines they can better understand the connection between past and present. While some may be put off by the unstinting depiction of the bloodthirstiness of privateer life, most will find Israel’s story just as gripping as Tom’s—and surprised at how their histories link together.

The darkness of some details, including some graphic murder scenes, mean that this adventure is best-suited for young adult or older audiences. Geerer’s blend of history and intrigue alongside a truly likable protagonist ensure that fans of ghost stories, cozy mysteries, pirate fiction, and historical drama will find much to love here, including a richly rendered settings and plot twists that will keep readers guessing.

Takeaway: Pirates, puritans, and a modern mystery collide in this delightfully spooky debut.

Great for fans of: Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes, Taci Wilton’s Mrs. Morris series.

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

Click here for more about The Devil's Kiss
Lost Stories of the Great War
Rosalie Lauerman
Lauerman (Jockey Hollow) reveals a treasure trove of little-known World War I tales, detailing the exploits of a variety of heroes whose contributions have for the most part been left out of history textbooks. In keeping with the spirit of her first novel, Jockey Hollow, about George Washington’s forgotten army, Lauerman celebrates stalwarts like the Hello Girls, who risked their lives operating the switchboard for the front lines; the 370th Regiment, composed exclusively of African-American soldiers who fought to defend a country that had not protected them; and the Native American code talkers whose ancient language helped to turn the Allies’ luck.

Lauerman effectively sheds light on these neglected and overlooked female and BIPOC soldiers–many of whom were ultimately denied Veteran status by their government–without romanticizing the Great War and its tragedies. Despite the title’s emphasis on stories, the book’s tone and structure suggests an inviting textbook, offering sidebars and well-chosen illustrations that illuminate concepts like “no man’s land” or terms like liberty bonds. Like a textbook, this extensive, meticulously researched account at times places more emphasis on historical events than on the humanity of the participants. Words straight from the subjects themselves are illuminating but appear mostly as block quotes, so these insights and details aren’t woven compellingly into the storytelling. Lauerman leaves it to the facts, the photographs, and the feats themselves to sell the stories.

Overall, Lauerman’s lost stories uncover rarely heard chronicles of soldiers, linemen, “flying schoolgirls” and more, accounts that will open readers’ perspectives to the innumerable forgotten heroes of the era. For young students and World War buffs alike, Lauerman’s celebration of the “plucky” courage of individuals who “put their personal safety aside” and often “defied authority” will entertain and inform as it provokes further in these too-often unsung heroes.

Takeaway: An inviting celebration of forgotten acts of bravery by overlooked heroes of the great war.

Great for fans of: Michael Morpurgo’s Only Remembered, Tony Bradman’s Stories of World War One.

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

Click here for more about Lost Stories of the Great War
Shifted: Book One of the Shifted Series
KristaLyn A. Vetovich
In Vetovich’s (Pure Fyre) Beta-Siberia, some distant time into the future, the world is coming to an end thanks to greedy political figures, income inequality, and climate change. But Kade Buxton, a loyal and headstrong 20 year old, is destined to save it all--if only he would listen to his spirit guide, Anaya. Told from the frustrated and sarcastic view of an otherworldly being, Shifted offers a unique spin on the traditional hero’s quest, as Anaya nudges Kade to embrace the “Plan”--and to resist the distractions to that path offered by Jordin, a rival with his own connections to Anaya. Vetovich memorably tangles the journey up with good and evil, questions of free will, and the ways friendships evolve.

Due to its unique perspective, the story sometimes feels limited, especially in terms of access to Kade’s actual thoughts and emotions. That being said, hearing exclusively from Anaya’s viewpoint invites readers to feel just as frustrated as she does with Kade’s inability to hear or heed her messages. Vetovich seizes the opportunity for amusing reflections and asides, such as when Anaya brags about helping Joan of Arc live out her purpose. Anaya’s big picture mindset also opens the story to moral questions at a higher scale than Kade is capable of comprehending, questions explored in Anaya’s relationship with Jordin, her former best friend and soulmate, who has shifted to the enemy side of this war.

The world of Beta-Siberia is not rendered in vivid color or expansive detail, but fittingly so, as Kade only has access to his lived experience in his development, and the Association (the governing authority) doesn’t teach much history or geography. Even with otherworldly discussing philosophy and religion, Shifted is a fast-paced and absorbing fantasy adventure that’s sure to capture the interest of teens who enjoy fantasy with moral intrigue.

Takeaway: A fast-paced and unique take on the hero’s quest that grapples with political and moral questions.

Great for fans of: Gareth Hanrahan’s The Gutter Prayer, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.

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

Click here for more about Shifted
Lady August
Becky Michaels
Raised in an orphanage and trained as a governess, August Summer finds her quiet life upended by her unexpected entrée to the aristocracy in this charming historical romance. A solicitor named Samuel Brooks shows up at her door with the news that her father is a nobleman, and still alive—for now. The dying man wishes to meet his natural daughter and to bestow upon her a massive inheritance. Now known as Lady August Finch per her father’s final wishes, she finds herself thrust into a world she doesn’t know and a family that never knew she existed, resented by some (her half-brother and step-mother in particular) and welcomed by others (including a half-sister and her somewhat scandalous aunt).

As she prepares for her introduction to society, August finds herself developing feelings for Brooks, who takes responsibility for her well being and ultimately returns her affections—despite his assertion that “I will never marry. Unlike you, I find the idea of family vastly overrated.” The chemistry between them feels tepid, but he’s far from the only character who is instantly and inexplicably charmed the ascendant lady. Aside from those whose self-interests conflict directly with hers, August is almost universally accepted and supported by almost everyone she encounters, including the noblewoman mother who was forced to give her up at birth. These relationships and alliances seem to coalesce around August effortlessly, diminishing the story's tension and complexity, though for some readers this may prove appealing.

Despite the relative dearth of interpersonal conflict, Michaels’s (The Land Steward’s Daughter) romance structure is sound, the dialogue is crisp and polished, and the hero and heroine face legitimate obstacles to their budding relationship that they must overcome. Those who enjoy their romances seasoned with angst should look elsewhere, but readers seeking sweet, upbeat love story with a light touch and a dash of historical flavor will enjoy this Cinderella tale.

Takeaway: Readers looking for an uncomplicated historical love story will be satisfied with this literary confection.

Great for fans of: Sally Britton, Laura Rollins.

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

Click here for more about Lady August
Enemy Combatant
WINNER DAVID
In Winner’s darkly comic story of wartime misadventure, a pair of dissolute Americans try to find secret American military prisons—along with their own sense of purpose—while on a dark-humored pilgrimage through Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey in 2005. Peter, separated from his pregnant wife and battling various inner demons, has become obsessed with finding evidence of Bush administration war crimes. By dumb luck, he and his friend Leonard free an alleged terrorist and then try to make it home. The caper swings wildly from comic to tragic, on a journey that changes Peter forever.

Against a realistic backdrop, Winner masterfully sets absurd characters in absurd scenes, highlighting the confusion in the characters' lives as well as the insanities of war. An incompetent American soldier they sneak up on initially assumes, from their put-on accents, that they’re Arabs, so Peter starts channeling tough-guy talk he vaguely recalls from old Kojak episodes–and pauses to reflect on the odd fact that both he and the soldier originally come from Virginia. The duo’s freed prisoner turns out to be as lost, physically and emotionally, as they are, and the police Peter and Leonard come up against are not thugs, just men trying to get through the day. Winner offers readers no heroes and no villains, but the characters never fail to engage even though the storytelling occasionally falters with awkward flashbacks.

Peter comes across as especially complex and appealing. Even with his obsessions and addictions, he longs for his wife and favors the language of a poet, not a freedom fighter: He travels with "Sarah’s shirt, the one that smelled so reassuringly of the soap she used." Despite his poses, he can’t forget who he really is–"the man on Manhattan Avenue who played with the fat cat at the local bodega…" As Peter desperately tries to get home, Winner makes clear that the most rewarding journeys are those we take within ourselves.

Takeaway: The troubled characters in this brisk story of the absurdity of war will resonate long after readers finish the book.

Great for fans of: David Abrams’s Fobbit, Phil Klay’s Missionaries.

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

Click here for more about Enemy Combatant
Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind, Revised Edition: Leadership Lessons from Three Decades of Social Entrepreneurship
Alex Counts
Counts, the founder of the Grameen Foundation, has dedicated his life to alleviating poverty through microfinance and other innovations. This revised edition of Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind, which pairs accounts of Counts’ career in the nonprofit world with lessons for effective leadership and self-care, updates a book targeted at a specialized audience: nonprofit leaders fighting for societal change. Counts’ practical, engaging advice draws from his decades of experience, in the U.S. and abroad, in holding true to a mission and vision while wrangling grants, board members, staffs, and complex partnerships.

Setting the book apart is his focus on physical and mental self-care: “I’ve seen far too many middle-aged nonprofit leaders who were overweight smokers and whose cynicism and jaded perspectives lived right below the surface of their ossified idealism,” he writes. Attentive to the particular challenges facing leaders in his field, Counts urges readers to commit to hobbies, to “live generously” in their personal lives, and to practice gratitude, suggestions he illustrates with clear, compelling anecdotes. One breakthrough he recounts, in work and in life, has been learning to recognize that people are who they are: “I expected everyone to be motivated, demotivated, amused, saddened, inspired, and troubled by roughly similar things as I was,” he writes. This insight helped him grow beyond that assumption: “every person was a riddle to be solved, joyfully.”

This updated edition closes with a new chapter, inspired by the era of the coronavirus, that centers on nonprofit leadership in a society-wide crisis. Crucially, Counts encourages his readers to take the long view, avoid overreacting, and demonstrate grace and understanding to stressed or even angry supporters. Having faced crises every decade of his career, Counts suggests that nonprofit leaders should anticipate, during boom times, that a bust is inevitable and manage rainy-day funds accordingly. His book offers hard-won insight and guidance to nonprofit workers and leaders committed to living lives of meaning–but not lives of needless stress.

Takeaway: This practical memoir and guide balances nonprofit work with self-care.

Great for fans of: INCITE!’s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick.

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

Loading...