Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Twilight of The Colossus: Fading Empires Book 1
Ian Kane
In this action-packed tech noir thriller, the opening of the Fading Empires series, Kane presents a bleak, near-future America run by mega corporations and an elite that lives the literal high life on grand platforms far above ravaged cities. In 2083 Los Angeles, these multi-tiered platforms hold up self-sustaining metropolitan centers called safe zones that house corporate executives, while 90% of the population are consigned to the “underzones” and their roaming super-gangs. America’s mega firms control local, county, and state law enforcement agencies while monitoring the underclass through implanted chips and listening devices.

The fear and determination of Kane’s beleaguered characters jump off the page. Despite the government's near-total control of the masses, some dare to fight against this oppressive society. Los Angeles City Defense Force troopers John Hughes and his partner Frank Coletti open up an investigation into the shady conglomerate Apeaze Entertainment, which is planning the Street Wars gladiatorial games featuring gang members, while ultra forces assassin Blood Wolf leaves his post after killing an executive who was about to publicly criticize her company–and now finds himself hunted by mutants roaming outside the zones. In a parallel storyline, secret agent Leonard Kilbane botches a mission in Istanbul because he cares about collateral damage, launching himself directly onto a crash course with destruction.

As a diverse cast faces down the powers that be, often in raucous and inventive action scenes inspired by video-games, Kane excels in describing a chaotic and toxic society tormented by police brutality, dangerous electrical storms, and black ops assassination squads. At times the plotting gets busy, diminishing some events’ impact, but the urgent storyline of scheming conglomerates whose tentacles reach into every facet of people’s lives remains urgent and compelling throughout.. Readers who like action-packed street-punk anime-touched adventure that never stops will enjoy this vivid, unflattering look at what humanity’s capable of.

Takeaway: Fans of dystopian tech thrillers will enjoy this complex world’s heroes and action.

Great for fans of: Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Matthew .A Goodwin’s Into Neon.

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

Click here for more about Twilight of The Colossus
Boken's Crazy Camping Caper!
Boken The Dog
In this delightful continuation of a middle-grade series narrated by a canny canine, Boken is living his best dog life, even when roughing it on a weekend camping trip. (While Boken himself is credited as the author, Sara Mastrifortehelps document the Miniature Schnauzer’s rollicking tales.) Back home in Costa del Sol after traveling through Europe, he’s whisked off to a Spanish national park by his British dad Neil, who brings along military pal Karl and Boken’s best buddy, Bounce. The comfort-loving Boken is baffled by camping, but eager for new experiences, and he bristles when domesticated friends warn him that they’ll encounter wild creatures who could be hostile.

Boken’s exuberant voice pulls young readers into his adventures, which are driven by his overwhelming curiosity and reckless confidence. He laughs at his own jokes with a delighted “teehee,” and rushes headlong into dangerous situations. The greyhound Bounce is his eager companion in mischief, and is not slowed down by the curved blade that functions as his prosthetic front leg. They enjoy their dads’ skill at the grill, and frolic in the wide open world. Surprised by the friendliness of boars and wolves, who accept the dogs into their protective packs, Boken and Bounce are targeted by lone predators: a Spanish imperial eagle and Iberian lynx.

Travel expands this eager dog’s knowledge of the animal world, and Boken’s Crazy Camping Caper focuses on introducing him to Spain’s native wildlife. Embedded in this action-packed outing is a humbling lesson: the impetuous pup frightens his beloved Bounce, which affects him more powerfully than risking his own safety. The lively design by Anna Hancock (who illustrates with Jo Litchfield) makes each page pop with energy, its bold character-defining illustrations bursting with joyous chaos, and text that appears to be Boken’s handwritten scrawl, reflecting a mind bouncing between distraction and comprehension. Boken the dog offers young readers an enthusiastic guide to finding fun everywhere.

Takeaway: Boken shares his canine credo: enjoy family and friends, eat great food, and learn all you can.

Great for fans of: Victoria J. Coe’s Fenway and Hattie, Chris Grabenstein’s Dog Squad, and Carrie Sorosiak’s I, Cosmo.

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

Click here for more about Boken's Crazy Camping Caper!
Suspected Hippie In Transit: Sex, Drugs, Rock n Roll -- and the Search for Higher Consciousness -- on the International Trail, 1971-1977 (Vol 1 )
martin frumkin
Frumkin’s fascinating memoir of his experience roaming West Asia and the Indian subcontinent in the 1970s immerses readers in a world true to the book’s subtitle. Through detailed pictures and illustrative writing, readers travel with him on a fantastical journey of self-enlightenment and spiritual awakening as Frumkin delves into the culture of his surroundings. He shares rich descriptions and illuminating experiences, the prose inspired by the Beats and their progeny—“Like magnets, Dylanesque cantorial tropes had lured us into a tiny, alley-bound, bohemian head shop,” he writes. He also offers engaging reflections on the vibrant details of each country, with an eye for informing as well as entertaining.

Frumkin writes with an analytic flair while revealing a multilayered world of culture and history, and he meticulously considers the state of America in relation to those new countries and experiences: “best not to forget that panacea (instant solution and gratification), not perseverance (paying one’s dues), has become the American ‘Way,’ or Tao.” The maps, illustrations, and pictures make clear the time-consuming, awe-inspiring scope of the journey, and Frumkin structures the story in distinct sections, sharing the history behind his wanderlust and an insider’s glimpse of the “tattered notebooks” in which he recorded his travels. Frumkin leads his readers on a transformative travelogue that never shies away from tough questions about his homeland and the world at large.

Standouts in this book include the rich descriptions of cultures, histories, and subtle nuances of Nepal, India, and Afghanistan, all shared in lyrical and playful prose (he celebrates what it feels like “to trek and wonder and wander within the womb of Himalayan utopia”) that will absorb readers while they meditate on his deeper conclusions. Those can be deep, even challenging, but his account will please readers inspired by thought-provoking travel narratives. Frumkin’s skilled storytelling keeps the story upbeat and even playful. (The first letters of each word in the title, for example, form an acronym.)

Takeaway: Travelers and spiritual explorers will enjoy this enthralling 1970s odyssey across Asia and Eastern Europe.

Great for fans of: Paul Theroux’s The Tao Of Travel, Paulo Coelho’s Hippie.

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

Click here for more about Suspected Hippie In Transit
Misfit's Magic: The Last Halloween
Fred Gracely
Gracely’s riveting debut young adult horror novel brings together a group of misfits—both human and magical—who must save their town, and magic in general, by stopping the most powerful wizard in the world from achieving omnipotence. In a town called Sparksville, young teen Goff Grahm accidentally stumbles into the world of magic while writing a research paper, setting in course a chain reaction that starts when Harkland Mathers, the rich and creepy new man in town, instantly becomes his sworn enemy. When Harkland’s intentions to steal Sparksville’s magic become clear, Goff is the only one with a chance at stopping him—by collecting the magic himself. But when Harkland kidnaps Goff’s dog as leverage in ensuring Goff promises not to cause trouble, the hero and his misfit cohort quickly finds the stakes are higher than they could have imagined.

Each character—both magical and human—stands out in an engaging way, ensuring relatability for young readers. Kids who normally can’t get along end up working together to save their town, and the real magic of this story is Gracely’s skill in showing readers that anyone can be a hero. These misfits’ antics are equal parts bewitching and entertaining: a skeleton from science class comes alive, Goff’s best friend is a stuffed cat that’s resurrected at night, and readers will adore Goff’s friend Majesty, who gives him magical abilities, although she isn’t too well-versed in how to do it.

Gracely ensures the story never slows, with constant action and new developments hidden around every corner. Goff and his friends don’t just fight a bad guy; they also solve the mystery of who he is and how the past can help them save the future. Whether it’s running from scary henchmen, seeking advice from gargoyles, time traveling, or figuring out why the adults in town are disappearing, Gracely manages to sneak in friendship alongside the adventure. Readers will be drawn in quickly and never want to get out.

Takeaway: A group of young friends on an action-packed magical adventure young readers won’t want to put down.

Great for fans of: Victoria Aveyard’s Blade Breaker, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone.

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

Click here for more about Misfit's Magic: The Last Halloween
Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within
Jocelyn Jones
Hollywood acting teacher Jones delivers a motivational debut that encourages artists of all types to connect to their muse or spirit—the ultimate source of their inspiration—to power their creativity and achieve personal goals. “The artist seeks to discover what we can be beyond what we already are,” Jones writes. She urges readers to know themselves, first and foremost, exploring their values and heeding their inner voices, particularly in a time of social unrest, when media influencers bombard the public with overpowering messages. Jones urges readers to tune out the noise and connect to inner truths, arguing “It’s time to wake up and realize who you are and what you’re capable of.”

Jones first tackles the importance of identity, encouraging analysis of questions like whether one’s goals contribute to one’s art, well-being, and community—and encouraging readers to say “I am an artist” rather than “I want to be an artist.” Each chapter opens with an enlightening story from Jones’s own life to illustrate how experience can be a guide to awareness. There’s even some welcome glamor when she shares that her father, the character actor Henry Jones, whose flair for storytelling that blossomed at Hollywood dinner parties, like Alfred Hitchcock’s retirement soirée, which Jones attended at age 14, gaining insight into her father’s gift and how it might help her cope with personal challenges. Jones also delves into the discomfort that comes with not having all the answers, encouraging readers to continually explore uncharted territories, declaring “Once you think you know, you’re done learning.”

Readers will appreciate the uplifting tone of Jones’s guidance as she outlines how to perceive without prejudice and attributes living in the moment to a confidence in our own decision making. Hands-on activities like sample meditations, exercises, and journaling prompts offer readers user-friendly methods for taking Jones’s advice to heart. The result is a practical and upbeat guide to living a creative life through spiritual awakening.

Takeaway: Artists of all kinds will find inspiration in this guide to knowing and expressing yourself.

Great for fans of: Marti DeLeon and Cameron D. Rodriguez’s You Are Worthy!, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

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

Click here for more about Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within
The Last Single Woman In New York City
Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Merkl’s (Back to Work She Goes) novel of heartbreak, the Hamptons, and a crusade against marriage itself follows marketing executive Samantha “Sam” Dennehy on her path down a life crisis of epic proportions. After her fiancé breaks their engagement, Sam throws herself into the launch of her own marketing company, becoming a fiercely independent entrepreneur. When her agency is hired to market the new reality TV show of Hannah Randolph, founder of the Anti-Wife movement, Sam soon finds herself entangled in Hannah’s trendy, unorthodox teachings—and her glittery lifestyle. At the behest of the ever-commanding Hannah, Sam agrees to spend two weeks at her compound in the Hamptons for “a deep dive into [Hannah’s] day-to-day,” but the decision comes at an immense cost for Sam.

Sam, who devotes herself fully to her career, finds herself forging a mostly one-sided friendship with the controversial guru, and, spurred on by Hannah, quickly forgets about her standards while pushing away the most important people in her life, on a journey to heal from wounds she didn’t know she still had. Merkl excels at character development as Sam’s growing relationship with Hannah spotlights their unhealed wounds, stemming from their respective childhoods, giving the tale a rich backstory. Readers will sense Sam sliding down the wrong path but also understand why that trajectory is necessary for her eventual comeback.

With crisp dialogue, a vivid sense of New York City, and prose that refreshes like a summer cocktail, Sam’s story upends the old-fashioned theme of women needing men to heal them from failed relationships. The Anti-Wife movement itself fascinates, seeming invitingly bold at first as it encourages women to get comfortable in their own company and “live life like you mean it—single AF,” but of course Hannah’s teachings turn very toxic very fast. Readers will simmer with tension when Sam loses sight of everything she once held dear, but cheer as she finds her way back and maybe even learns to love again.

Takeaway: Left at the altar, an exec gets caught up in an anti-marriage movement in this sharp summer read.

Great for fans of: Kristan Higgins, Elaine Dundy.

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

Click here for more about The Last Single Woman In New York City
FasTrack Export
W Gary Winget
In this clear-eyed, results-minded guide, Winget and Renner lay out their strategic “FasTrack” methodology for businesses of all sizes seeking to build effective export organizations targeting global markets. Arguing that companies are leaving “hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars of additional sales on the table because of inefficient and ineffective global growth implementation,” the authors present a flexible, step-by-step approach to choosing and entering into international markets, building effective export organizations and distribution systems, achieving rapid market penetration, and then maximizing sales and profits.

This isn’t a book about why a company should consider expanding into global markets. Instead, it offers a smartly organized framework for getting the job done with speed and efficiency, including guidance about establishing teams, setting clear benchmarks, conducting assessments and evaluations, developing resource networks and distribution channels, and the multitude of other considerations it takes to succeed—what to worry about now to save headaches later, and what can be adjusted as the team and company grow more experienced. “You will be systematically updating decisions throughout the process and over time,” the authors note in the introduction, and the framework that follows is notable for its clarity, adjustability, and thoroughness.

Drawing on the experiences and challenges faced by companies who have succeeded in global expansion, Winget and Renner maintain a fat-free, highly practical emphasis throughout, offering a refined, expanded, updated version of the process laid out in 1991’s Fast-Track Exporting. Each worksheet has a clearly defined purpose—"Export Process Flow Chart,” “Promotional Event Budget,” “Trade Term Analysis.” Whether explicating the actions and paperwork a company must take on to secure letters of credit, or offering direction on broader questions of how to achieve greater market penetration, the authors’ decades of experience in the industry are clear. They offer action steps, case studies, and a host of worksheets and briefs designed to facilitate and refine the process.

Takeaway: A highly practical, flexible, and thorough guide to expanding a business into global export markets.

Great for fans of: Donna Bade’s Export/Import Procedures and Documentation; Entrepreneur's Start Your Own Import/Export Business.

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

Click here for more about FasTrack Export
Broken to Better: 13 Ways Not to Fail at Life and Leadership
Michael Kurland
Kurland, co-founder of the Branded Group, a facility management provider, shares the business principles he and Kiira Belonzi have used to rocket their company to success, with a welcome focus on creating an inviting, inclusive company culture. After relocating from Long Island to Newport Beach, Calif., Kurland vowed to create a company where employees were excited to come to work. Now, through key lessons he terms “13 Ways Not to Fail at Life and Leadership,” he lays out a path for others to achieve that goal. He shares those lessons in this slim yet weighty step-by-step guide, delivering straightforward advice that can be generalized to virtually any business model (and may even inspire some personal areas, too).

Among other clear-eyed advice, Kurland counsels readers and leaders to strive to form new connections, to be open to new people and lessons, to be fearless and not confined to a comfort zone, and always to be people-centric and future-driven, valuing your team and searching for ways to move the company forward with those talented team members. He warns against complacency at all costs, “whether your bottom line is booming or suffering,” and stresses the need for service-oriented efficiency, a mindset of continuous improvement so “processes and procedures add value to the customer experience,” and a commitment to leading by example–“authentically, vulnerably, and transparently”–both in business and the community.

“Inclusivity means ensuring every voice in your organization is heard and everyone has equal opportunities to advance,” Kurland writes. A caring communicator who solicits the honest opinions of employees and partners, Kurland prioritizes an inclusive company culture where workers and supervisors feel valued and appreciated. This down-to-earth roadmap for success will be a perfect fit for companies large and small, and Kurland’s emphasis on creating a supportive culture will resonate with bosses, leaders, and other professionals eager to set their teams up not just for success but feeling valued.

Takeaway: This slim yet weighty guide offers practical guidance toward leading teams to success.

Great for fans of: Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness.

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

Click here for more about Broken to Better
A Place of Refuge: Book Four of First Light
Linda Cardillo Platzer
The fourth book of Cardillo’s uplifting First Light series offers an absorbing tale of love between Daniel Richetelli, a Jesuit priest looking for renewed purpose in life, and Isabella “Izzy” Monroe, whose Chappaquiddick Wampanoag ancestry connects this standalone title to the earlier books in the series. She’s also an accident victim dealing with short term memory loss. She seeks refuge at Portarello, a thirteenth-century farm in the Tuscan countryside, serving as an intern on the suggestion of her friend Maria Belli, whose cousin runs the hotel connected to it. Though a bit reclusive because of her memory problem, she copes well with her duties, which involve much physical labor. She even manages, at times, to make peace with her condition, until Daniel’s arrival throws everything out of gear because of the deep connection she feels with him.

Written alternately from the perspective of Izzy and Daniel, the novel invests deeply in character and its gorgeous milieu, at times at the expense of pacing in the early sections. Still, Izzy’s memory loss, which she tries to cover up, contributes to an intriguing feeling of tension and uncertainty throughout, especially when she realizes the second time she sees Daniel that she must have met him before–and, as Cardillo writes with her customary incisiveness, “the intimacy with which he greeted her frightened her.” As the protagonists reveal themselves, Cardillo finds in these well-drawn characters some fresh twists on stories of romance and priestly temptation, while digging into rich themes of guilt, lust, redemption, and–most crucially–the healing power of love.

The archaeological dig and sense of ancient Etruscan culture that backdrops the story adds novelty and thematic weight. The expectation and excitement of the final find also coincide with the resolution of conflict between the main characters, adding resonance to their process of discovering how to connect. One of the most engaging characters is Raffaello Richetelli, Daniel’s archaeologist grandfather, who enlivens the proceedings with his sharp, though sometimes unpleasant, commentary.

Takeaway: An engaging tale of love, acceptance, and priestly romance set in the Tuscan countryside.

Great for fans of: Colleen Coble’s Rosemary Cottage, Wanda E. Brunstetter’s The Hope Jar.

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

Click here for more about A Place of Refuge
Pesticide
Kim Hays
Set against the backdrop of Bern, Switzerland, this gritty, humane detective thriller brims with an intriguing whodunit mystery, a touch of romance, and a host of vibrant, well-developed characters. After a rowdy summer event turns into a riot, a young man is found bludgeoned in an alley with a policeman's billy club implicated as the murder weapon. Enter seasoned detective Giuliana Linder, who gets assigned to the case, which soon crosses paths with another crime, the murder of an organic farmer. That case is being investigated by Linder’s handsome colleague Renzo Donatelli, who stirs something in her–and not just because he “looked like he should be on a billboard, advertising aftershave or underpants.” Linder's life is on shaky ground with her rocky marriage and her rebellious teenaged daughter without the added temptation kindled by proximity to Donatelli.

The suspense, both procedural and romantic, as well as shrewd surprise twists and turns will keep readers guessing until the satisfying conclusion. Building tension throughout with apparent ease, Hays has penned an at times dark and often relatable debut novel featuring a strong-willed and strong-minded woman detective who is all business when it comes to her professional life and home life. Or she seems to be–the banter and flirtation between Linder and Donatelli lightens the mood even as readers wonder just how far Linder will let her attraction to another man go, while the intriguing connections between the two detectives' cases offer a tantalizing puzzle.

Character-driven yet fast-paced, Hays’s story is heavily immersed into the inner workings of the police force, seeming to lift the veil and expose hard truths about just how far some members of law enforcement are willing to go to cover for each other, even in their wrongdoing. Linder is a wonderfully developed and complex protagonist that readers will relate to and root for. Readers of thoughtful crime fiction will hope this debut is the start of more novels to come featuring this Bern cast.

Takeaway: A tense, character-driven crime debut perfect for fans of thoughtful police procedurals.

Great for fans of: Gwen Banta’s With Wanton Disregard, John Barlow’s Right to Kill.

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

Click here for more about Pesticide
The Business of Ambiguity: Demystify the Unknown with Five Key Thinking and Behavior Strategies
Debbie Sutherland
Organizational psychologist and executive coach Sutherland argues that it’s a misnomer that people hate or fear change–instead, they fear ambiguity, those times when goals, problems, and other fundamental aspects of life or business are unclear. To that end, she introduces readers to ambiguity mindset theory, which centers on “the cognitive and behavioral capacity to reflect on, examine, and adapt” our behaviors and thinking when making decisions in situations marked by high uncertainty. Drawing upon personal observations of business behavioral patterns and extensive academic research, Sutherland lays out five key strategies for facing ambiguity, plus three main decoding principles that serve as the foundation for developing an ambiguity mindset, all while offering real-world insight and avenues for personal assessment.

Written for global companies and executives, this comprehensive organizational leadership guide begins with a detailed introduction to the theory, decoding principles, plus the four main concepts that comprise an ambiguity mindset: mental models, systems thinking, complex adaptive systems (CAS), and learning from experience. After a quick overview of seven adult learning principles, Sutherland provides a self-assessment questionnaire to determine the reader’s comfort with uncertainty. Each chapter following is dedicated to one of the five ambiguity strategies, digging deep into the models and concepts that comprise each. At times, the guide reads as an overview of behavioral psychology and adult learning theory, but Sutherland proves adept at weaving in practical examples, insightful exercises, and a few pop culture references to drive home the concepts behind the ambiguity mindset. The research she presents, while extensive, is broken into smaller, digestible sections.

This book serves as much more than an introduction to the ambiguity mindset. It sheds insight onto human behavior and the psychology behind decision making. Sutherland presents unique tools and resources to build emotional intelligence, better learn from experiences, and adjust thinking in ways that not only address uncertainty in business but also everyday stressors in life.

Takeaway: This guide introduces the “ambiguity mindset” for businesses facing uncertainty.

Great for fans of: Don Gilman’s Outsmarting VUCA, Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code.

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

Click here for more about The Business of Ambiguity
Conscience of the King: The Dragonhorse Chronicles, Book 2
Showandah Terrill
Terrill’s second installment in the inventive, galaxy-spanning Dragonhorse Chronicles, after Dragonhorse Rising, sees the latest Dragonhorse, Ardenai Morningstar, now the most powerful being in the known galaxy, up against a new alien delegation, battling his own complex emotions, and confronting the weight of responsibility placed on his shoulders. Ardenai’s personal trials as he reckons with the realities of being the Dragonhorse showcase his maturation over the course of the story. Making alliances and enemies left and right, Ardenai is certain of only one thing: that his role as the new Dragonhorse is as precarious as the choices he makes.

Terrill has created a believable futuristic landscape in her network of planets forming the Affined Equi Worlds, and she includes a helpful index so that readers can keep track of the many characters and locales spread throughout the galaxy. The otherworldly atmosphere Terrill conveys–expect horses, surprising tech, and wrenching descriptions–will draw in and surprise even the most well-versed science fiction readers, and she has created a fully believable milieu with multilayered, dynamic cultures and characters. At times, incongruous expressions and details, like a character asking if another is “hot to trot” or multiple characters making the thumbs up gesture, may pull readers from the otherwise finely detailed inner workings of Equi.

Sensitive readers should be aware that Terrill does not shy away from the dystopic realities in her imagined world: rape is described in graphic detail, from Ardenai’s drug-induced hallucinations to an unsettling scene involving an underage girl. These depictions of sexual violence are not for the faint of heart. However, Conscience of the King stands out for its emotional weight and rich storytelling. This second compelling volume in the ongoing Dragonhorse Chronicles, boasting highly original worldbuilding, technologies, conflicts, and action, while offering seasoned science fiction readers much to sink their teeth into.

Takeaway: An immersive, inventive continuation of an epic science fiction saga.

Great for fans of: Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, Elizabeth Stephens’s Taken to Voraxia.

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

Are You Okay? : The Carryover of Kindness
A.S. Drayton
Drayton’s coming of age memoir effectively captures the terrors and agonies of the journey to self-confidence and self-love. The memoir opens with college-aged Drayton, a fan of anime and video games, facing despair after being dumped by his girlfriend. Though he feels like the only person on the George Mason campus who cares about his pain, a chance encounter with an empathetic pool-playing dorm resident named Anthony helps Drayton recover from the rejection and enjoy life on campus by making new friends. “Are you okay?” Anthony asks, and Drayton emphasizes what he found so heartening about the encounter: “In 2012, a black man talking about his emotions was already quite the rare sight, let alone inquiring about another black man’s obvious distress.”

Drayton decides to join a fraternity in an attempt to overcome his shyness and develop self-esteem. That choice does bring out some of his strengths in the open, though in different ways than he expects, as several personal issues and setbacks remain to be confronted on the road to becoming an adult. Told in simple, clean prose with an incisive emotional intelligence, the memoir follows an uncomplicated linear structure. The honest descriptions about fighting shyness and Drayton’s keen desire for love and companionship, and his ambition to have “a loving family to call my own; the classic wife and kids” are relatable. However, passages describing the various tasks he undertook to secure admission into his fraternity, and the problems that fraternity faced, lack the urgency and resonance of the more personal material, though readers with a connection to that milieu may find these sections engaging.

Evocative descriptions of a recurring nightmare add weight to the tale, and eventually dream and reality bleed into each other, deftly capturing his sense of abandonment, his sinking self-worth, and his slow descent into an all engulfing sadness–all while showing readers that such feelings can be faced and discussed without stigmatization. The last chapter, which catches Drayton and friends after a few years’ gap, movingly ties the loose ends.

Takeaway: A touching collegiate coming-of-age memoir about an introvert finding love and confidence.

Great for fans of: J. R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar: A Memoir, Kendra James’s Admission.

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

Click here for more about Are You Okay?
THE LOVE FIELD: A Spiritual Therapy Guide To Help You Heal and Liberate Yourself From Psychic Pain, Emotional Dependency, And Fearful Living
ELENA MORARU
Moraru debuts with an upbeat take on overcoming fear and despair by redefining unconditional love, which she terms the “Love Field” and emphasizes must revolve around a relationship with God: “...nothing, absolutely nothing, can bring me complete freedom, fulfillment, unconditional love, and peace except my relationship with God.” She goes to great lengths to dissect what love really means and settles on it being an achievement of “peace, joy, and freedom” in a non-judgmental, safe space–a concept that may sound abstract but becomes more crystallized as the guide advances.

Moraru shares her own challenges in finding unconditional love and reflects on the need to master it personally before being capable of giving it to others. To that end, she contends that a deep relationship with God is the first step, promoting “the idea that God is all we are,” and she urges readers to practice forgiveness while staying focused on the present moment (the guide lays out meditation techniques as a way to achieve this). Her strong yet unorthodox Christian faith plays a crucial role throughout, though she makes clear that she does not subscribe to any particular dogma. While touching on organized religion’s tendency to instill fear, she asserts that fear and love cannot exist at the same time, identifying them as “opposite realities” and encouraging readers to put aside any activities that spark fearful thinking–including time spent watching television or engaging in social media.

Readers may find some of Moraru’s suggestions unconventional, such as her encouragement to stop any current psychotherapy in favor of trying hypnosis or her assertion that depression and sickness are just illusions covering up a “perfect[ly] healthy spiritual being,” but her intent is clearly to help others achieve serenity, evident in her proposal that “the purpose of everything is love and harmony.” Moraru’s writing will be most helpful for Christian readers who enjoy thoughtfully reflecting on complex spiritual topics.

Takeaway: An exploration of the peace of unconditional love, based on a relationship with God.

Great for fans of: Ruth Chou Simons’s When Strivings Cease Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au’s God’s Unconditional Love.

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

Click here for more about THE LOVE FIELD
The Indignation Parade and other poems
F. R. Foksal
Foksal acknowledges, in this pained and incisive collection, that “hundreds of authors/ with millions of words/ have already described/ all shades of evil,” yet the author (most recently of the story collection Hour Between Late Night and Early Morning) still endeavors at—and succeeds at—expressing fresh truth, insight, and outrage about the horrors humanity visits upon humanity, as well as the ache of domestic isolation. Especially in its earliest pages, before the focus turns more personal, this volume’s poems live up to its title as Foksal contrasts, with penetrating indignation, everyday neighborhood scenes with the inevitability of violence: “Will the ceiling/ hold up when bombs/ start to fall?” asks “In the Cellar,” after offering a touching survey of a basement’s forgotten clutter. “A Silent Witness,” meanwhile, condemns the apathy of the sky itself, asking “who has seen more barbarity,/ more acts depraved, more/abuses of power”?

Tellingly, it doesn’t occur to Foksal’s outraged narrator to blame a god, just the empty sky itself. Later, in “The Monochrome,” Foksal refers to clocks in towers (a frequent subject) as “those ungodly gods/ looking down/ on us,” decrying them as “lofty and detached.” Disquiet at the indifferent measuring and parceling of time powers several of these poems, and a mournful sense of isolation beats at the heart of many others, especially later in the collection.

There, Foksal writes movingly of failures of connection, even in established and intimate relationships, whether yearning for a chance touch. “Surface Tension” exemplifies the poet’s precision of language and command of deep, familiar feeling, recounting what it’s like to spot one’s reflection in surfaces like “the potbelly of a spoon” but then, devastatingly, not recognizing it “in the specters of her/ eyes.” The editor and founder of The Nonconformist, an English-language literary magazine in Poland, Foksal proves adept at striking verse of clarity and communicative power.

Takeaway: Pained, potent verse examining life and loneliness in an era of violence.

Great for fans of: Wojciech Bonowicz, Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar.

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

Click here for more about The Indignation Parade and other poems
The Last Stop
Patricia Street
Street’s debut is a heartrending chronicle of her son’s addiction, which rocked their family for over a decade and eventually ended in tragedy. David, the product of what Street describes as “an average suburban family,” had a penchant for testing limits beginning in his early years, but she characterizes him as “an adorable and inquisitive child.” Red flags started to appear after David’s serious foot injury on the job at age 15, when he was administered morphine to cope with the pain of several surgeries. His substance use spiraled from that point, starting with alcohol, and eventually bloomed into a full-blown heroin addiction.

Although she powerfully outlines the course of David’s addiction so readers can grasp its devastation, Street offers more than a conventional life history. Her desire to help families recognize warning signs early is evident throughout, as she highlights the behaviors she missed alongside her exhaustive efforts to help, and she never shies away from recounting even the most shameful aspects of addiction—or the pain it causes loved ones. Heartbreaking stories include David stealing valuables from his family to sell for cash, becoming physically dangerous, and his rocky relationship with wife Circe, a fellow addict, who contributed to his multiple relapses.

Though there are moments of hope, readers take heed: Street offers a brutally honest look at the harsh reality of addiction. David transforms from a promising young adult into an emaciated addict, plagued with life-threatening physical illnesses all stemming from his constant needle use. Street shares what worked, what failed, and what she wishes she had done, in candid language that will be equal parts sobering and useful for families facing similar circumstances. She also honors David’s goal of being an author by sharing his writing (including the rough draft of a novel she discovered after his death) that illuminates his agony, as he records “the words come from the despair inside me.”

Takeaway: A mother’s devastating story, chronicling the ravages of addiction.

Great for fans of: David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life.

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

Click here for more about The Last Stop

Loading...