Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

The Means That Make Us Strangers
Christine Kindberg
This powerful debut YA novel, set in the turbulent American South in the 1960s, captivatingly recounts the ostensible homecoming of 16-year-old Adelaide Henderson, the daughter of a white American anthropologist, who grew up in an Ethiopian village along with her two sisters. The book kicks off in 1964 as her family is moving back to Greenville, S.C., not long after the death of a fourth sibling in infancy. Adelaide promises her Ethiopian boyfriend that she’ll return when she turns 18. In Greenville, she feels like an outsider until she befriends the first five Black students recently accepted to her school. Though they’re sometimes reluctant to trust or confide in her, she learns through them how dangerous it is to be Black in Greenville; even though she doesn’t feel she fits in with other white kids, she is still treated much better than her Black friends.

Kindberg portrays the transition to American life in luminous detail, using each scene to explore another facet of the unfamiliar norms, sensations, and experiences of the Hendersons’ new home: soft beds, single braids instead of cornrows, attending school, seeing Shakespeare plays, driving, movies, the ocean. Adelaide is shocked by the racist way her friends are treated. Frederica tells her about the Klansmen who routinely sow terror in her neighborhood, and Nathan’s speech about Black rights is unfairly cut short by a teacher. After Lion is unfairly fired, Adelaide quits her job in solidarity. All the while, she saves up money for her return trip to Ethiopia, even as she becomes more attached to her American friends and the prospect of college.

Cleverly drawing readers into Adelaide’s life, Kindberg illuminates the injustice of segregation and racism without being preachy or didactic, portrays characters of various ages and backgrounds with dignity and tenderness, and expertly structures the plot. She draws this principled, independent, loyal girl so realistically that readers will feel they’re talking to an old friend. This beautiful novel will move readers as it immerses them in Adelaide’s coming of age and gently teaches ways to stand up for what’s right.

Takeaway: Teen readers interested in the civil rights era will be enthralled by this nuanced story of race relations in the 1960s American South, seen through the eyes of a white girl raised in Ethiopia.

Great for fans of Susan Follett’s The Fog Machine, Kristin Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock.

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

Click here for more about The Means That Make Us Strangers
Orbital
FX Holden
Holden’s nail-biting third Future War military thriller (after Okinawa) gives readers a front-row seat to an international tactical assault on a devastating orbiting weapon. In 2034, the blind, disfigured, and unstable Russian scientist Anastasia Grahkovsky develops a kinetic bombardment satellite weapon system that mimics the destruction of meteor strikes. She names it Groza, meaning thunderstorm. When Saudi Arabia refuses to curb oil production, Groza obliterates the country’s largest oil processing facility to boost the price of Russian oil and revitalize its economy. The Russians then escalate, targeting a Chinese pipeline and Cape Canaveral. American, British, and Chinese forces unite to destroy Groza’s 16 orbital platforms before more people die.

Futuristic exoskeletons and artificial intelligence bring a speculative edge to the story, which is grounded by international political maneuvering and old-fashioned espionage. Holden populates this political blockbuster of a novel with a cast of sympathetic and intriguing characters. Col. Alicia Rodriguez of the U.S. Space Force joins forces with Scotland-based Lt. Meany Papastopoulos, who leads the R.A.F.’s suborbital missile launch system. Cpl. Maqsud Khan, charged with deploying Groza, must balance Grahkovsky’s orders against his pacifist beliefs, humanizing the antagonistic side. Holden only stumbles with the characterization of Grahkovsky, which unfortunately falls into stereotypes of a disfigured and disabled sociopath.

Though the nonstop action is sometimes tiring, readers will be captivated by Holden’s deft battle sequences and his characters’ constantly shifting strategy. Holden expertly pulls from recent military history, technology, and international relations to fuel his prescient epic about the militarization of space. While keeping an eye on the big picture, he also delves into technologically driven warfare’s devastating effects on individual lives. Thriller readers with an interest in the future of politics and warfare will find a lot to chew on in this exciting and thoughtful novel.

Takeaway: Military enthusiasts and science fiction fans will delight in this action-packed political thrill ride set 900 miles up.

Great for fans of James Rosone’s Into the Stars, Matthew Mather’s CyberSpace.

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

Click here for more about Orbital
The Never: A Tale of Peter and the Fae
Don Jones
Jones explores the origins of J.M. Barrie’s Neverland and its inhabitants through the experiences of Queen Mab and her Fae subjects (who appear in Barrie’s less-known Peter Pan novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens). Exiled from Under Hill, Mab and her court of elves, fairies, and more find refuge in London’s Kensington Gardens during the time of King George III. After discovering that human children can shape the previously hostile realm of the Never with their imaginations, Mab manipulates a child named Peter into creating what soon becomes Neverland, an island refuge for lost children and the Fae alike. But to maintain Neverland’s cohesion, Mab’s people must continually entertain Peter and his followers, a task that grows wearisome. As Mab’s grip on her people slips, Peter’s influence on his surroundings creates new challenges that force the Fae to adapt further.

This well-written, provocative melding of Peter Pan with folklore provides appropriate origins for classic elements such as Tinker-Bell and the pirates. However, this story is slow-paced, and telling it primarily from Mab’s removed perspective leads to a darker, more grown-up narrative about survival, leadership, and taking care of others. Peter is rarely present and the events with which readers are most familiar are almost entirely skipped. With this focus on Mab’s experiences and increasing social instability in Neverland, the story feels less whimsical and fun than fans of Peter Pan (particularly its Disney and Broadway incarnations) might expect.

There’s an almost seamless interweaving of elements from English folklore, children’s literature, and history. Jones’s ideas about the power of creativity and the relationship between the Fae and inspiration work well; the horrendously stereotypical Indians, for example, are explained as Fae manifestations of childish interpretations of faraway stories. Readers looking for spirited children’s stories of adventure should look elsewhere, but readers interested in mythology will find much to enjoy in this elegiac tale about attempting to protect one’s way of life amid change and destruction.

Takeaway: This thoughtful reinterpretation of Peter Pan through myth and folklore will appeal to fans of darker adult takes on children’s literature.

Great for fans of Brianna R. Shrum’s Never Never, Christina Henry’s Lost Boy, Gregory Maguire.

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

Click here for more about The Never: A Tale of Peter and the Fae
Who Will Hear Begonia?
Bonny Gable
Young readers will be delighted by this poignant picture book about Begonia, a thoughtful dachshund who wonders: is anyone paying attention? Misunderstood Begonia tries to help but always seems to end up being scolded by her human family of Kara, Emma, and Mom. One of the family’s most frequent activities is visiting their Nana, whose memory loss causes her not to recognize her granddaughters. Kara and Emma have noticed that their grandmother doesn’t talk or even smile anymore—and this makes them sad. Begonia wants to help make Nana feel better, but when she tries to pick flowers for Nana, she gets in trouble for her muddy paws. The girls set out on a mission to make Nana happy again, but it isn’t until Begonia joins them on a visit that Nana smiles. She’s reminded of her family dachshund, Hilda. Nana finally feels joy again, while the girls learn about Nana’s illness and are reassured that her memory loss doesn’t mean she loves them any less.

Gable does a great job of presenting the information about Nana’s memory loss in a subtle, age-appropriate way through Mom’s answers to Kara and Emma’s questions. (“That’s how her illness works. She can remember things from a long, long time ago. She just can’t remember things now.”) Readers will be heartened to learn that even the smallest thing can ignite a cherished memory from long ago, and that great ideas can come from unexpected places.

Stephenson’s watercolor illustrations are soft and gentle, with whimsical elements such as imaginary birds appearing when Emma's flute music mimics birdsong, and Kara's gymnastics display is as dynamic as Begonia's “wild romping.” The art perfectly compliments Begonia’s personality and the ethos of this sweet book. When Nana hugs Emma and Kara while calling them by her daughters’ names, Begonia reassures them (and the reader) that “Whoever Nana sees, she still loves ALL of us!” This story of a family finding caring ways through a difficult situation is well suited to young dog lovers and those whose loved ones have memory loss.

Takeaway: Parents will find this kind and gentle picture book a perfect way to open a conversation with young children about a grandparent's memory loss.

Great for fans of Veronique van de Abeele’s Still My Grandma, Kelly Starling Lyons’s Tea Cakes for Tosh.

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

Click here for more about Who Will Hear Begonia?
The Lance
George Vasil
In this sprightly, hopeful thriller, Vasil (Emperor’s Eyes) reinvigorates the biblical artifacts and ancient conspiracies genre by eschewing the usual rugged archaeologists and know-it-all symbologists. Instead, the heroes who emerge as the novel surges along are the Connerys, a married couple of American medical doctors on vacation in Istanbul. Through a sharply plotted series of events, they find themselves in possession of the tip of the Roman spear that pierced the side of Jesus Christ. Angie, an athlete, is eager to believe and to protect the recently discovered relic. Les, a nebbish, is more skeptical, especially once Angie rushes into the street to take on the mastermind behind a special-ops organization.

Vasil’s plotting is brisk, surprising, and touched with a comic sensibility that’s rare for the genre and very welcome. The motley assortment of antagonists who pursue the bickering doctors include a septuagenarian Nazi geneticist and his bioengineered superman progeny, a racist French grad student who sics the local authorities on the heroes, and British aristocrat who dreams of re-establishing a Templar empire. Meanwhile, the Connerys find that the lance seems to be guiding their efforts to protect it, stirring new convictions in both of them.

The best of the action is rendered in crisp, exciting prose (“She introduced his left jaw to a vicious right cross that sent the big man to the pavement”), though the storytelling is often slowed down by wordy passages gummed up with unnecessary modifiers (“As he kissed her hand, he noticed that his employer’s hips, which were seductively accentuated by her tight, black slacks, were particularly alluring”). The story’s strongest selling points are its light touch, continual surprises, and kind heart. At last, here’s a chase for a biblical artifact where the climax involves redemption rather than carnage.

Takeaway: This twisty thriller will please readers looking for archaeological action with a light, redemptive touch.

Great for fans of Douglas Preston, Wilbur Smith.

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

Click here for more about The Lance
The Flowers Celandine
Brad Ramsey
Ramsey’s gentle collection of romantic poems proves as stereotypically flowery as the metaphors he uses in some entries to describe the relationship between a man and a prostitute. Writing in the style of 18th-century English poets such as William Collins and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who often sought out metaphor in nature when describing their love of a woman, Ramsey prettily captures this antiquated mode of verse (“In morning dew, all your leaves wet/ You are dear as the briar-rose/ Midst woodland brook and violet”).

In “The Hourglass Hostess,” the tone shifts between romance and sultriness without vulgarity (“I have sacrificed an hour for you; And four good posts within the red-lit room”); in “Helianthus and Hedera,” vulgarity is deployed sparingly in a dialogue between plants, a nun, and Mother Science. “To The Small Celandine” innocently likens a lover to a sprouting flower in bloom (“One so small and so very fair/ Like other flowers against the rain/ That shrink in close shelter, at rest/As the sun shines, come out again”). The narrator of “John the Baptist” inveighs against immodest dressing and working on the Sabbath, exhorting “all nations” to “reform your sinful lives this very day.”

This is a skillfull homage to traditional English-language rhyming poetry. In fact, it hits the mark so well that it lacks the advertised modern twist; nothing in it will surprise fans of the poets it honors. Readers familiar with classic literature will delight in the gentle imagery and elegant meter of bygone days, but those seeking a new take on these older works may find themselves underwhelmed.

Takeaway: Fans of 18th-century poetry will be thrilled to see a present-day writer accurately and vibrantly employ their flowery verse styles.

Great for fans of William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth.

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

Click here for more about The Flowers Celandine
The Last Moon Before Home
Barbara J. Dzikowski
Dzikowski continues chronicling the Trudeau and Ziemny families (introduced in The Moonstoners) in this emotionally turbulent novel. Young Willow Trudeau, a nursing-school dropout, seeks to understand her past as she heads to a tiny town in Indiana, searching for a father she only knows by name, Leon Ziemny. Leon, meanwhile, is struggling with his own problems: his father, Walt, a retired Polish steelworker turned innkeeper, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When Willow marches into the Ziemny family’s inn, she immediately takes to Walt, her nursing background giving her a way to forge a connection with him while she decides whether to tell him that she’s his granddaughter. As Walt begins to fray around the edges and Willow tries to find her place in a new family, the family’s connections, already brittle, will be tested until they reach their breaking point.

Drawing on her expertise as a counsellor for dementia patients and their families, Dzikowski creates a nuanced portrait of a family in turmoil. Walt’s descent into dementia is rendered with gut-wrenching accuracy, and his portrayal will resonate with readers who have firsthand knowledge of the effects of Alzheimer’s. Willow’s quest to find her identity while struggling with her family baggage will speak to 20-something readers who have faced similar challenges.

Dzikowski’s occasional reliance on stock phrases (“losing his marbles,” “big hairy deal,”) and meandering passages sometimes blunt an otherwise sharp narrative. However, her portrayal of an Eastern European immigrant family is suffused with color. Her realistic dialogue (Walt earnestly informs Willow “I’m afraid of ships” before abruptly pivoting to frank morbidity and adding, “I sure as hell hope I don’t have to go to heaven on a ship”) prevents the story from sinking into melodrama. Dzikowski brings a steady authorial hand to this poignant and approachable family tale.

Takeaway: Readers who have been personally affected by Alzheimer’s will particularly resonate with this poignant drama about three generations of a troubled family.

Great for fans of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves.

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

Click here for more about The Last Moon Before Home
The Two-State Dilemma
Michael Dan
Peace activist Dan deftly uses mathematical game theory to examine the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it “an unresolvable political paradox.” Dan simplifies mathematical models and philosophical concepts while using them to describe the history of the region and its peoples. Through the lens of game theory, he discusses how irrational and inefficient decision-making has persisted over time. Asserting the impossibility of independent states in “tiny Palestine,” he makes a strong case for mutual cooperation in a single state while acknowledging that such an outcome seems unlikely.

Dan’s approach of slowly introducing concepts and applying them to the history of the conflict allows him to build his case while providing background for the reader. He explores game theory not as a way of finding a solution but as an illustration of how different kinds of conflicts play out. In games such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Deadlock, illustrated in clear, simple charts, Dan explains the available outcomes as mutual cooperation, mutual destruction, or individual destruction. With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he builds to the conclusion that the only path to resolution is through rational self-interest that also seeks to protect others.

Dan, a Canadian Jew, is far from a dispassionate observer, making it clear that he has a personal and moral stake in the outcomes Israel chooses with regard to colonization, especially as Palestinian population growth is set to outpace Jewish population growth (and both populations are already higher than the region can support, he says). He fears the outcome of a true apartheid state, and urges both Jews and Palestinians to rethink finding ways to cooperate. A lack of objectivity does not imply a lack of rationality, however, and Dan’s thorough research on philosophy, history, and genetics reveals two peoples who are more alike than different. This unusual treatise approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with compassion, wit, and a flexible philosophical framework that is both engaging and crystal-clear.

Takeaway: This is an evenhanded, compassionate, logical, and clearly explained must-read for those interested and invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Great for fans of Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Neil Caplan’s The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories, Shlomo Ben-Ami’s Scars Of War, Wounds Of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

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

Click here for more about The Two-State Dilemma
Help Keep Out: Volume 5
Robert Letters
Letters, the pseudonymous author of the four previous volumes of Help Keep Out, delivers another collection of mysterious and haunting poems first published on Twitter. The book moves among different narrative strands that could sound either historical or current, recursively exploring threats of violence and promises of glory in battle throughout history. Letters makes passing references to mythical epics (“His physical body was taken but/ his fate was to live forever in song”) as well as more contemporary conflicts, with lines about a man “standing watch/ on a wall whose intent was to terrorize” reminding readers about the timelessness of war.

Letters keeps the poems in their original tweet format, with longer narratives broken up into small sections. Each is titled with the date of its original publication, spanning from 6/5/18 to 10/22/19. This can make it hard to track which poems concern the same characters or events. In the preface, Letters asserts that the poems are “informed by Asian forms” of poetry such as haiku and tanka but doesn’t dogmatically adhere to their constraints, potentially vexing those concerned about appropriation of or conformity to cultural tradition.

The most successful poems are also the most visual. Letters’s message and angle can be caught between critique and support, muddled in their intentions, in lines such as “to keep out/ the invading mothers/ and their phony children.” But the images of “Slow it down/ to see the small earth rotate” and “In your pale night dress/ you sang locust songs” are clear, personal, and easy to connect with. Letters’s collection will thrill readers who love the stark imagery and battles of epic poetry but want an update for the current national climate.

Takeaway: This meditative, minimalist collection of imagistic poems will appeal to readers looking for a contemporary poet blending experimental forms with social commentary.

Great for fans of Brian Turner’s “Here, Bullet,” Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems.

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

Click here for more about Help Keep Out: Volume 5
Cockloft: Scenes from a Gay Marriage
Kyle Thomas Smith
Smith (85A) recounts the curious, mundane, and intimate moments of life with his husband, Julius, in this startlingly wonderful collection of autobiographical dialogues, vignettes, and personal essays. Smith’s writing blends campy memories with snappy wisdom from tumultuous times, including the lead-up to the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, as well as fallout from both events. He invites readers to accompany him on a disorienting night in Amsterdam, around his favorite writing spots in Brooklyn, and to the tech hub of San Francisco, all described with witty and writerly charm.

Smith’s collection taps into a very contemporary tendency toward both reflection and self-deprecation, awareness and ego. The text sometimes resembles a Netflix comedy special, using observational humor to deconstruct and recontextualize a personal narrative; at other moments, it’s more like a viral tweet with an unexpected punchline. It’s never without an undeniable core of cultured, bougie gayness, with references to Prince, meditation retreats, and socialism. In Smith’s afterword, in which he explains his writing process, the reader comes to recognize the years of study and intention that have gone into this assortment of everyday quips turned unexpected masterpiece.

Some readers may find Smith’s style too raunchy, political, or obscure. Though he and Julius lament their struggles under the Trump administration, they are still well-off white men, and it shows. But Smith turns his privilege and flaws into the book’s strengths. Such an intimate look into two men’s marital squabbles and joys—written only a few years after marriage equality became law in the U.S.—is timely and educational as well as touching. Smith’s quick, lighthearted, and tender quasi-memoir is a snapshot of queer America that will find its way into the heart of anyone with a romantic streak or a funny bone.

Takeaway: Smith’s funny, raunchy, and political musings on gay married life will delight trendy queer readers and anyone with a taste for vulnerable humor.

Great for fans of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake.

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

Click here for more about Cockloft: Scenes from a Gay Marriage
River of Blood
S O'Fuel
This brutal, philosophical crime novel spans generations in its examination of family myth, cycles of violence, and corruption and racism among police departments. O’Fuel (That Night Filled Mountain) traces the life of Sean Tower, a restless young man from a family of cops, from a childhood fascinated by violent comic books to years spent hoboing across America to eventual deployment as a police officer in an unnamed American city. Sean slowly develops a moral philosophy that places him at bloody odds with a police department infested with racketeers and white supremacists.

O’Fuel’s ambitious novel is an impressionistic swirl of past and present, especially in its first half, as passages of vivid family lore alternate with present-tense accounts of Sean’s childhood. The prose surges with anger, despair, and invention, but it’s not easily approachable. O’Fuel vaults among timelines and perspectives. Dialogue is scant, and at times the prose loses clarity as it strains for poetic effect: “Spooky details cloned in the repetitive scenes of spontaneous destruction will produce macabre moments of déjà vu.” O’Fuel’s scenes often fall into present-tense summary and focus on characters’ internal experiences, skimming through action that might have had greater impact if dramatized.

For readers willing to disorient themselves in O’Fuel’s sweeping and outraged narrative, the novel offers accounts of war, policework both bizarre and mundane, life on the road, suicides and cop murders, and, eventually, the pulpy violence readers might expect from a crime thriller. Even then, O’Fuel bucks simple convention by penning the climax as a lengthy, ruminative colloquy, the text stripped of quotation marks, the scene feverish and unsettling. This ambitious exploration of systemic violence and moral philosophy has a lot to offer for fans of dense, cerebral crime fiction.

Takeaway: This thoughtful, vicious cop novel will jolt readers who crave moral inquiry in their crime fiction.

Great for fans of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, James Ellroy.

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

Click here for more about River of Blood
Ring On Deli
Eric Giroux
Giroux’s somewhat autobiographical debut novel draws on the Market Basket protests of 2014 as he highlights the fractured relationship between two brothers. Ray Markham was 18 when his parents died in a car accident. He abandoned his college plans to care for his 11-year-old brother Patrick and took a job as a deli clerk at the Bounty Bag grocery store in Pennacook, Mass., a recession-hit town with a wild boar problem. In the five years since, Ray has risen in the ranks at Bounty Bag, while Patrick has become a rebellious teenager. Ray weathers the upheaval of workers planning a walk-out, and Patrick’s academic struggles are offset by his excellence in the state-required local history class. As Patrick’s high school principal anticipates an upcoming referendum vote on raising the tax cap to provide funding for a new school and tries to find her nephew a job, Patrick submits a college application for Ray, opening up the possibility of a brighter future for both of them.

Giroux’s witty writing enhances the cast of quirky characters, including deli manager Toothless Mary and a debauched coworker known as the Alfredo. He draws on his experience working in a deli to detail the inner workings of a grocery store and the hierarchy among the employees, and his work as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adds insight to his depiction of Bounty Bag management’s strategic attempts to retain their positions.

The fast-paced narrative includes witty descriptions of the town of Pennacook (“a kind of Brigadoon with malaise”) and its residents’ relationships and foibles. The element of humor is a welcome counterpoint to a character’s tragic death and Patrick’s often self-destructive behavior. With a steady authorial hand and dryly funny narration, Giroux crafts a memorable setting for this poignant story of people awkwardly trying to improve their ordinary lives.

Takeaway: This dryly funny, engaging novel will appeal to fans of small-town stories full of quirky characters.

Great for fans of Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

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

Click here for more about Ring On Deli
Cuppy and Stew
Eric Goodman
Creative writing professor Goodman (Twelfth and Race) merges memoir and historical fiction in this engrossing tale of love, tragedy, and perseverance. In Vancouver, during the spring of 1937, Suzanne “Anne” Kerr meets Stewart “Stew” Morgan and flirtation eventually leads to love. Stew’s wife and father refuse to let him leave his unhappy marriage, so Stew moves to South Africa with Anne to live as a couple. Their daughters, Sharon and Susan, are born there. They return to Canada in 1945 only to discover that scandal still hangs over their heads. A move to the U.S proves fortuitous, and the family thrives until the 1955 bombing of United flight 629 kills Anne and Stew, leaving Sharon and Susan at the dubious mercy of their estranged extended family.

Stew and Anne’s younger daughter—whose character is based in part on the diaries of Susan Morgan, the author’s wife—provides an engaging narrative voice for this seamless crossover of memoir and historical fiction. Descriptions of Anne and Stew’s more intimate moments are tasteful, though odd to hear about from their child’s perspective. Although the Great Depression and WWII both affect the narrative, historical events mostly fade into the background of the family’s personal struggles. Social norms of the period play a stronger influence on the story. Minor discrepancies arise during the time spent in South Africa.

An overriding sense of overcoming the odds unites the romance of part one with the more tragic circumstances of part two. Clear descriptions coupled with entertaining internal dialogue and concise, expressive characterization make the pages fly by. A marvelous narrator and eventful plot make for an entertaining and moving tale that’s sure to please readers seeking inspirational narratives about hard times in history.

Takeaway: Goodman’s unconventional blend of fact and fiction will be a hit with historical readers who like stories about overcoming adversity.

Great for fans of Edward Rohs and Judith Estrine’s Raised by the Church, Lindsey Jane Ashford’s Whisper of the Moon Moth.

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

Click here for more about Cuppy and Stew
Ghost Cat
Helen Currie Foster
In Foster’s fast-paced sixth Alice MacDonald Greer mystery (after Ghost Next Door), the small-town Texas lawyer contends with feuding clients and dead bodies. Alice is still reeling from discovering a body at the edge of her land, but it’s otherwise business as usual. Her current clients include a former pro football player turned vintner who wants to buy out his partner, a new client wanting to set up a trust for her sister in a care facility, and a couple complaining about mysterious vehicles entering and exiting their neighbor’s property. When one client is found shot and another almost suffocated, Greer is desperate to find out why they’re being targeted, and by whom. Among her suspects are a solitary new resident whom neighbors call the Hermit, a cowgirl with a missing finger, and a client’s bull-headed, disgruntled partner.

Foster quickly sets up elements of mystery from the very first page, with the mention of a ranch hand’s missing sister and the potentially problematic gunshots heard nearby. The intrigue keeps building through the novel as Alice builds formidable list of possible suspects and uncovers new clues in this deftly paced and formulated plot. Poised and self-assured, Alice is a refreshing protagonist. Her quick comebacks, fearless sleuthing skills, and sensitivity in her quietly budding midlife romance make her a likable and well rounded heroine.

The engaging dialogue flows naturally and effectively brings out the personalities of secondary characters such as Alice’s indomitable secretary, Silla, whose liveliness adds lightness to the story. The uncluttered prose boasts several evocative turns of phrases, and the atmospheric descriptions are succinct and vivid, highlighting the rugged and bountiful landscape of Texas Hill Country. Foster’s skillful plotting, easy pace, and captivating characters will be a big hit for audiences craving a new mystery series to binge-read.

Takeaway: This sleuthing Texas attorney will hit the mark with readers who love mysteries featuring guns, cowboys, and a spunky female lead.

Great for fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series.

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

Click here for more about Ghost Cat
Memory of Dragons
Michael G. Munz
Two worlds are tied together by memory, magic, and intrigue in this charming fantastical adventure from Munz (Zeus Is Undead). Austin Blanchard is on a pilgrimage to the Welsh coast to mourn the death of his girlfriend, Rhi, when a pickpocket steals a treasured keepsake: Rhi’s pendant. The young pickpocket, Corinna, later tracks him down, claiming that the pendant infused her mind with the dead Rhi’s memories. Corinna reveals that Rhi was a powerful wizard from another world, Rhyll, and had brought a malevolent dragon trapped in a crystal. Her description bears a startling resemblance to a crystal Austin found on his travels. A trapped spirit named Boden speaks from it, claiming that Rhi was trying to help him. Austin and Corinna also have to dodge a sorcerer from Rhyll who’s hell-bent on obtaining the crystal. Austin must decide whom to believe and trust, and the wrong choice could doom both worlds.

Munz’s carefully crafted realm of Rhyll and its fantastic magical system are fresh and inventive; readers learn much about Rhyll through entertaining interactions between the protagonists and the displaced Rhyllians who inhabit Earth. Munz’s compelling concept of memory magic—transplanting people’s memories into objects or other people—comes with interesting ethical implications that are teased out through the narrative.

Austin and Corinna are an instantly likable duo. Corinna’s worldliness and quick wit are a perfect foil for Austin’s curiosity and occasional incredulity at his situation. Although at the times the exposition is heavy-handed, Munz keeps a suspenseful edge on his plot while suffusing his characters and Welsh setting with color. Fans of fast-paced, high-stakes fantasy will enjoy Munz’s work.

Takeaway: Dragons, memory magic, and the collision of the fantastic and the mundane will please portal fantasy readers seeking a new world to fall into.

Great for fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library.

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

Click here for more about Memory of Dragons
Life Is Big
Kiki Denis
Denis (The Last Day of Paradise) tackles life, death, happiness, time, genetics, and consciousness in this smart, funny novel. Alma-Jane, an 11-year-old New Yorker, is doomed to die because of the genetic mutation that also resulted in her heretofore-unseen perfect Genetic Happiness score. Her brilliant 14-year-old brother, Ayrton, wants to save her. So does Raduska Smith, an old woman with a GH score of zero. From there, the novel sprawls out wildly, introducing Alma-Jane’s synesthete friend Alejandro, who thinks minds are made up of “little brain people”; Laszlo, a game designer with a piece of Einstein’s brain in a jar; Mighty-11, a mouse genetically engineered to be fearless; and immortal beings including Pablo Neruda, Scrabble inventor Alfred Butts, the cake-baking Death, and his brother OM (Obituary Man).

The book is a riot of philosophical debates and surreal details. Characters use the online Overall Happiness scale created by anonymous supergeek Cornelis; the chat site GreatImmortality.org, “where you go and communicate with any book hero or any dead, but important and famous person”; and MinorImmortality.org, “where common people are stored after death.” During one such chat, Albert Einstein mentions that he’s been spending a lot of time with Sabina from Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. One scene takes place at a scientific conference, another at a town meeting in the world of the dead.

The question of whether Alma-Jane will survive is just the jumping-off point for the declaration of a war against death, discussions about the role of fear and bravery in survival and how to define happiness, and revelations of unforeseen connections among the characters. The prose can sometimes be a bit stiff, many characters have similar voices, and the children are implausibly precocious. Nonetheless, this novel is clever, witty, inventive, and full of heart. Readers who love solving puzzles and eavesdropping on existential ponderings will eat it up.

Takeaway: This innovative and witty novel will delight logophiles and puzzle-solvers.

Great for fans of Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume, Robin Sloan, Jasper Fforde.

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

Click here for more about Life Is Big

Loading...