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Leading for Justice: Supervision, Hr, and Culture
Rita Sever
In this clear-eyed, practical guide, Sever, an HR professional, urges managers and HR teams to take the “time, energy, focus, and leadership” to ensure that organizations committed to working for justice in the world develop a culture and practices that also foster justice within the organization itself. She lays out practical steps for how justice-minded orgs can “walk the talk,” while also offering impassioned accounts of why doing so is vital: “The more staff feel seen, respected, empowered, and safe to be who they are, the more likely they will be to do their best work— which will in turn directly impact the mission of the organization.” Sever demonstrates that an org that lives up to its mission on the inside—practicing equity in hiring; confronting issues of power, privilege, and bias—has a greater chance in achieving its mission in the world.

Sever offers revealing anecdotes from her career and invaluable suggestions for hiring, onboarding, and valuing workers of diverse backgrounds. From her “Ten Questions for Supervisors on the Path to Justice”: “What do I identify as a ‘good work ethic’ and ‘professional conduct,’ and how do I react to people who don’t exhibit those qualities?”

While targeted specifically at organizations committed to social justice, Leading for Justice offers insights and advice that would benefit any supervisor and HR professional committed to an inclusive workplace. Sever identifies herself as a cisgender white woman who must continually listen and learn to understand the experiences of minorities laboring within systems that haven’t traditionally valued them. She scoffs at the thought of not learning new language that individuals prefer: “If that helps someone feel included, instead of excluded, why wouldn’t I say/do that? Why would I intentionally choose not to care about people who are feeling alienated?” This vital guide, peppered with provocative questions and insights, will aid any supervisor or organization eager to work to live up to their mission.

Takeaway: An invaluable guide for HR professionals and leaders committed to social justice.

Great for fans of: Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick’s Inclusive Leadership; Elaine Congress, Allan Luks and Francis Petit’s Nonprofit Management : A Social Justice Approach.

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

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Nunchuck City
Brian Asman
A pair of modern-day ninjas battle an evil ninja army in the fictional Turbo City in this frequently violent, always funny send-up of the martial arts genre. Nunchuck “Nick” Nikolopoulos is a former ninja master who has now taken a vow of pacifism and is pursuing his dream of opening a fondue restaurant. However, he is forced to take up arms again when the evil Kundarai Saru appears along with an old flame, fellow ninja Kanna. With the help of some amusingly incompetent locals, they battle for the future of Turbo City and Nick's restaurant.

Asman (Jailbroke) has a pitch-perfect ear for the tropes of martial arts movies, which he uses to mock them again and again. We first meet Nick when he is apparently battling an opponent trying to strangle him with a rope—but it turns out he's simply trying to fasten a Windsor knot in his tie. He is then attacked by a local street gang, who set themselves apart with houndstooth jackets and argyle socks, and an invalid warrior cared for by elderly villagers drinks soup provided by old women, "who also peed in it." The gross and adolescent humor alternates with horrific violence, but for those hungry for this, Nunchuck City offers a feast.

The novel is populated by a series of caricatures used to create humorous vignettes. We meet Skip Baxter, the allegedly all-powerful founder of a martial arts school (but who is easily beaten by a five-year-old child), and the Turbo City mayor: "A lifelong politician, the concept of helping people was as foreign to Mayor Joe as advanced calculus to a Lhasa Apso." And there's a running joke about the stereotypically evil Saru, who thinks his name is Japanese for "glorious warrior," but really is "shitty monkey." Readers will enjoy laughing at the ongoing takeoff of actioners all the way to the cheerful conclusion.

Takeaway: Fans of martial arts movies will find much to laugh at in this lively lampoon.

Great for fans of: Harvard Lampoon, John Swartzwelder.

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

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The Caped Countess
Judith Lynne
A reporter on the trail of a secretive vigilante finds himself falling for the courageous woman behind the façade in this highly unusual Regency era romance. By day, Donnatella plays the empty-headed Duke’s daughter, but by night she dons a cape laced with gadgets and prowls the streets dressed as a man to foil petty criminals and avenge her mother, who died in a botched robbery years before. When a man connected to a crime she stopped turns up murdered, Donnatella—Tella to her friends—goes on a hunt for the culprit, and in the process uncovers a conspiracy that reaches all the way into the society ballrooms of her daily life.

Tella is used to relying only on herself, and the man who jumps in to interrupt a fight is at first a liability, then an annoyance as he refuses to leave her to handle her investigations alone. When they begin to work together instead of in parallel, dashing Lord Henry Fitzwilliam (“The raw bones of his face fit together in a way that was handsome; and the nose was regal enough to match that posh voice”) eventually learns Tella’s true identity and shocks her by treating her no differently—at least until a proposal of marriage complicates everything.

Despite Fitz’s assurances that he doesn’t want her to change, Tella remains afraid of commitment: She refuses to end her nighttime adventures because she blames herself for her mother’s death, and she’s convinced that anyone who gets close to her will be put in similar danger. This attitude of martyrdom persists through most of the book, making Tella a slightly frustrating heroine, but Fitz’s charm, warmth, and increasing ardor more than balance it out. Though historical accuracy is questionable at best, those who enjoy some whimsy and fun in their historical romance will love this adventurous tale. If you’ve been searching for a gender-bent Regency era Batman in love, this is your book.

Takeaway: A swashbuckling Regency romance alive with adventure, passion, and secret identities.

Great for fans of: Donna Thorland’s The Rebel Pirate, Lisa Kleypas’s The Ravenels series.

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

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The Cat in the Window Murders
Frank Gertcher
Air Force veteran and scientist Gertcher charms in the third Caroline Case mystery series (after The Blind Pig Murders), set in Paris immediately before the stock market crash in 1929. Private detective Caroline Case Jones and her new husband, Major Hannibal Jones, set sail from the U.S. aboard the luxury ship SS Isle de France hoping for a relaxing vacation. Instead, they help the ship’s officers solve an on-board murder. After the ship docks, Hannibal and Caroline are all set for a proper holiday—until bodies start dropping from Le Havre to Paris and beyond. Soon, the stylish duo are tapped to help solve the murders—if they can do so without ending up dead themselves. Their madcap adventures stretch from cathedral to countryside farm to Gabriele “Coco” Chanel’s chic salon, with the death toll rising at every stop.

Gertcher’s loving detail throughout about late twenties fashion–Chanel, Lanvin and others—will captivate vintage fashion buffs (and, likely, make them drool with envy at Caroline’s access to couture). The clever title is a reference to the nickname the French Gendarmerie gives the detective—the elegant black cat in the window. Supporting characters, especially Annette, the granddaughter of a mob boss, who Caroline meets during an eventful appointment at Chanel’s salon, add appealing depth to the storyline.

While generally well-edited, a few clunkers distract, and some of Caroline’s internal dialogue tells more than it shows. Still, Gertcher’s clever storyline, well-drawn characters, and excellent pacing will enchant historical mystery fans (especially those who are fans of Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Lanvin) leave them eager for the Hannibal and Caroline’s next adventure, tantalizingly teased at the end of this one. This historical mystery provides an irresistible glimpse into the past, with a hero and heroine readers (especially fashionistas) will adore.

Takeaway: An irresistible historical mystery married fashion and murder in prewar France.

Great for fans of: Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha Christie.

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

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FATHER'S DAY PART II: THE SECRET OF LA SANGRE
Gary Kyriazi
In Kyriazi’s tragic if somewhat tangled follow up to the literary morality tale Father’s Day, a small town grapples with dirty secrets and religious zealotry in the 1980s. Sal Satori, a local preacher who fights self-doubt and recurring nightmares, is facing the skeletons of his past while his wife, Connie, is tired of their permanent struggle to grow past Sal’s affair with Jessie Malana–a troubled young woman who suffered a shocking end. At the height of their conflict, a harrowing interaction with an outsider breaks open a string of scandals that rock the foundation of the town.

As they come to terms with their messy pasts, La Sangre’s inhabitants discover unsettling connections that turn relationships inside out and force some residents to redefine who they are. Sal’s stepson, Corey, leans about the truth of his conception and launches into a sex-filled bender as a truck driver instead of sticking to his plans to attend Bible college– and gets caught in the cross hairs of Jessie’s tormented older sister, Maria. Dr. Ralph Owen, Jessie’s one-time psychiatrist, pitches headfirst into danger when he plays detective to unravel her death. Surveying so much violence, abuse, and rage, Father’s Day Part II will appeal to readers comfortable dwelling on the seedy, miserable aspects of small-town scandal, like the temptations of frontage-road adult book stores or truck-stop sex.

Kyriazi attempts to illuminate these lost characters’ motivations by shedding light on their pasts, though awkward dialogue and some implausible actions muddy the plotting and key thematic elements, such as the impact of abusive relationships. For these characters, lust and guilt are twined up, puritanism fighting passion, a thematic tangle that occasionally gets histrionic, as when Doyle, after a tryst, becomes convinced that Satan is personally out to claim him. Still, the unexpected ending will give readers satisfactory closure, and Kyriazi’s fallen souls engage in intriguing discussions of how to make sense of so dark a world.

Takeaway: Seamy secrets, abusive relationships, and death all collide in this small-town tragedy.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible, Richard Russo's Empire Falls.

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

Click here for more about FATHER'S DAY PART II
Manual for Beginning Interpreters: A Comprehensive Guide to Interpreting in Immigration Courts
Oliver Strömmuse
Strömmuse’s approachable and direct manual assists new interpreters in preparing for real hearings in U.S. immigration courts. He makes clear that he wrote this manual—which offers realistic but fictional bilingual transcripts presenting defendants from Sonora, Mexico—because help is urgently needed: “The beginning interpreter lacks training and study materials to start doing the complex job of interpreting in immigration courts,” he notes. Opening with the story of a Spanish teacher whose friend invited her to interpret in immigration court, the manual both invites and forewarns readers into the reality of this high-demand but stressful job. Later sections demystify court proceedings, explaining “master calendar hearings,” a common, varied, and challenging situation which might sometimes involve interpreting for up to fifty people, or illuminating the processes of individual hearings.

Strömmuse makes a persuasive case for the urgency of this role, noting that in most U.S. immigration courts, “Without the presence of a bilingual lawyer or family member, no one else can correct a mistake.” He supplements clear-eyed accounts of an interpreter’s role with practical tips (“Always interpret in the first person. For example: ‘I am Margarita’ or ‘I am Ángel.’) plus sample vignettes that offer opportunities to practice interpreting and demonstrate “the rigor, seriousness and high standard” expected of court interpreters. Abbreviated but not brief, one sample script covering direct and cross examinations comprises over half the manual’s pages. As in a real proceeding, questions are posed in English, while the answers come in Spanish.

An accurate representation of how attorneys organize their examinations, that hearing is organized into “blocks.” In other ways, too, the manual simulates actual court practice, demanding that readers practice simultaneous, consecutive and sight interpreting of legal terminology. The committed bilingual reader will follow along, aided by a glossary of terms and links to court documents for study. This manual will serve the beginning interpreter almost as well as real experience.

Takeaway: An inviting and practical introduction to the vital role of interpreter in immigration court.

Great for fans of: José Luis Leyva’s Companion Book for Translators and Interpreters, Susan Berk-Seligson’s The Bilingual Courtroom.

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

Click here for more about Manual for Beginning Interpreters
Bright Yellow Souls: An anthology of short stories
Luca Favaro
In this slice-of-life short story collection by debut author Favaro, a male nurse named Kevin recounts his relationships with patients in the small north Italian town of Treviso. After being “tormented by depression” rooted in an abusive relationship with his father, Kevin finds hope again in his deepening connections with each patient, noting their resilience and tenacity, even in the face of immense pain. By sharing the exhaustion and loneliness he has witnessed, along with the grit and determination, Kevin highlights the transformative nature of caregiving.

Favaro offers an evocative view of the idiosyncratic personalities of Treviso’s elderly, inviting readers into a world oriented around adherence to Catholic ritual and portents. One wrenching passage concerns a man with a half-paralyzed mouth attempting to chew a Communion cracker “with the same determination that a thirsty and lost man in the desert would have clung to a mere drop of dew.” Kevin himself is a relatable main character—he is affectionate toward his patients, inserting a catheter “with the utmost gentleness” lest he cause pain. At the same time Favaro gives him persuasive moments of anger and exasperation at their stubbornness. Favaro characterizes Kevin’s work with vivid colour, such as his in-home care of a couple dealing with alcoholism and cancer as well as the several traumatic deaths he witnesses.

Poetic phrases—“Sergio saw God everywhere, even in a simple sunbeam which entered the room, filtered by the curtain”—give the characters life and set the stage for Kevin’s own awakenings (“Remember that love always reaches its goal, there isn’t a single living being which doesn’t feel love”). Some translation issues, awkward editing and odd expository passages diminish the narrative’s power and clarity. But readers who stick with it will discover stories brimming with life, moments of humour, and deep insight into basic human goodness.

Takeaway: These introspective stories about an Italian nurse demonstrate the power of caring for others.

Great for fans of: Suleika Jaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms, Carolyn Jourdan’s Heart in the Right Place.

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

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Adaptive Selling: How to Succeed During Times of Disruption
David Collins & John R Myers
Collins and Myers, CEO and Chairman of TRACOM Group, examine the ins and outs of adaptive selling—developing a flexible skill set to better meet the needs and demands of clients—in this clear-cut, well-organized guide. Spurred by their mutual experience in the industry and the groundbreaking changes taking places in sales due to big tech, the authors present a model designed to “improve the chances of winning large, complex deals.” With a strong emphasis on developing relationships (“In every sales situation, relationships are almost always the most important factor in winning”) and increasing each seller’s self-awareness, Collins and Myers break out from the pack of books about sales, delivering clear, fresh advice and challenges.

Sales specialists will appreciate the authors’ creative approach, such as their emphasis on mastering four different “Social Styles”—Analytical, Driving, Amiable, and Expressive—to build rapport and increase understanding of client preferences. As they cover other crucial skills, including the importance of observation and learning how different types of individuals react to stress, Collins and Myers cover major ground without getting bogged down in jargon. They incorporate appealing charts and graphs to drive their points home while explaining complex topics with straightforward clarity, such as the need for versatility when developing the fruitful interactions that will earn client trust and respect, or the importance of decision mapping to evaluate the various influences shaping buyers' decisions.

The most useful tools are the boots-on-the-ground resources offered to aid professionals in their everyday grind, including sample questions to ask in interview sessions and “building blocks” (each keyed to one of those four social styles) to consider when prepping for a presentation or meeting: Clients of the Expressive Style will want to socialize before getting down to it, while those of the Driving Style prefer starting with an agenda. For entry level and seasoned sales professionals, Adaptive Selling offers a wealth of flexible hints and real-life skill applications to improve performance and outcomes.

Takeaway: A straight-shooting guide offering sales professionals performance-boosting tips and resources.

Great for fans of: George Siedel’s Negotiating for Success, Mike Kaplan’s Secrets of a Master Closer.

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

The Spy Devils
Joe Goldberg
Goldberg’s (Secret Wars) international thriller sets its game of cat-and-mouse among a group of renowned covert operatives scouring the globe on a mission to retrieve a mysterious briefcase. Trowbridge “Bridger” Hall lives to unmask bad guys and deliver justice, and he has assembled a crack team known as the Spy Devils to unveil the worst of the worst. When this crew gets tasked by a private intelligence legend to retrieve a silver case requiring biometric keys to open it, they have no idea what they’re getting into— fast-paced international adventure with dangerous twists and a slew of criminals on the hunt.

Fans of the spy genre will quickly feel at home in this speedy story of deception. Readers are whisked away to Ukraine, Taiwan, Texas, Serbia, and China, the worlds of CEOs, oligarchs, assassins, and customized Devilbot drones. What’s inside this “oddly-shaped silver briefcase?” That’s for the Spy Devils to find out before it falls into the wrong hands. At times, the sprawling cast feels crowded, making it challenging for readers to keep track of the leads, but Goldberg’s crisp, inviting prose propels the adventure forward.

With cliff-hangers and clear, gritty action—“He gagged, stiffened, and jerked back as his feet spasmed against the floor, propelling him and the chair backward”— Goldberg escorts audiences behind the curtain of one of the world’s most secretive and risky professions. Dynamic scenes where the Spy Devils use any means necessary to get information from their enemies accentuate a rather quick read, and Goldberg’s past as a CIA covert action officer gives him distinctive authority to make Bridger’s story convincing. Passion and admiration for this dangerous profession shine from the pages. Espionage fans looking for a quick dip into the world of spies, lies, and justice will enjoy tagging along with Bridger and his team.

Takeaway: Global espionage and fast-paced action collide in this spy thriller.

Great for fans of: David Ignatius’s The Quantum Spy, Mark Greaney The Gray Man.

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

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The Arrow Tree: Healing from Long COVID
Phyllis Weliver
Weliver’s timely memoir offers a portrait of one woman’s reflections on life after surviving Covid-19. One of many still battling the symptoms of “long Covid,” or the debilitating after effects on those who have nominally recovered, Weliver has centered her healing process on the power and beauty of nature. “The dynamism of the natural world” is essential also to the ruminations within The Arrow Tree, which draws from traditions as varied as the Tao Te Ching, Henry David Thoreau, Anishinaabek beliefs, acupuncture, anthropological theory, and the great British poets. Weliver intersperses excerpts from verse among her own observations, on nature, literature, and healing, in many ways evoking the ecological meditations of Mary Oliver, whose work proves vital here.

Weliver, an English professor, contracted Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic. This changed everything for this former workaholic, forcing her to slow down and reconsider the balance between mental health and modern life. Inspired in part by the Odawa and Ojibwe culture of her home state of Michigan, as well as Lao Tzu’s teachings on the elements, Weliver structures her memoir by focusing each chapter on a specific symbol tied to an animal or legend while tackling an individual challenge of life with long Covid. The result is a kaleidoscope of experiences, readings, reminiscences, and challenges to everyday thinking, offering much for inquisitive readers to relate to. Michiganders particularly will appreciate the paeans to the state’s beauty and history.

The Arrow Tree also offers a moving account of the shifting difficulties of the pandemic on all aspects of American life: quarantine, remote learning, impromptu homeschooling, and more. Weliver draws welcome attention to the long-term physical and emotional effects of Covid-19, describing how, months after she survived the virus, she still can sink into a multi-day malaise after a grueling 20-minute walk. Part pandemic memoir, part poetic reflection, The Arrow Tree is as edifying as it is emotional.

Takeaway: The lessons of the natural world shine in this lyrical and moving account of surviving Covid-19.

Great for fans of: Mary Oliver, Henry David Thoreau.

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

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Journey Through Fire and Ice: Shattered Dreams Above the Arctic Circle
Deanne Burch
In this richly detailed memoir, Burch takes readers back to the mid-1960s, when, as a newlywed, she joined her anthropologist husband Tiger on an extended visit to the Inuit village of Kivalina, Alaska, to assist him in his participant study of the natives. As the then 23-year-old Burch, a sheltered Canadian urbanite, adjusts to culture shock and the unforgiving environment, she struggles with homesickness, a sense of alienation, and her husband’s preoccupation with work. Learning to live off the land, including skinning seals, Burch gradually settles into her new life. However, when tragedy strikes, the couple’s plans for the future are thrown into jeopardy, forcing them both to adapt and overcome.

Burch’s narrative opens with the author looking back upon her youth, memories of family, and burgeoning relationship with her husband-to-be from a perspective some fifty-plus years later. While evocative and wistful, the prose feels somewhat overblown. Once Burch shifts into a present-tense format to detail her everyday Alaskan life, however, the story gains confidence and focus. She exhibits a great eye for detail and atmosphere, bringing the frozen reaches of the Arctic Circle of 1964 to life in all their chilly, remote wonder. Readers will feel the shock of the world she portrays, one lacking almost every modern convenience.

Some elements of the Burches’ era and outsider perspective can feel jarring to contemporary readers—including the frequent use of Eskimo over Inuit and Tiger’s insistence that “the natives are satisfied with what they have and always seem to be happy.” One startling reminder of the mores of the era is that despite her unhappiness, Burch accepts that “Young women in the early 1960s didn’t question whether or not they could live the life their husband wanted. They went ahead with his wishes and hoped for the best.” Nevertheless, Burch’s resilience shines through the story, and her firsthand accounts of living off the land, Inuit-style, are vividly detailed, resulting in an intimate look at a remote culture before it was reached by the changing times.

Takeaway: An intimate portrait of everyday life amongst the Inuit people of the 1960s, as viewed through the lens of an inexperienced outsider.

Great for fans of: Fred Bruemmer's Arctic Memories: Living With the Inuit, Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s The Right to Be Cold.

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

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Boy at the Crossroads: "From Teenage Runaway to Class President"
Mary T Ford
Ford debuts with the fictionalized coming-of-age story of her husband, Conley Ford, and his rural southern upbringing of poverty, hard knocks, and survival. Conley, one of sixteen children raised by hard working (albeit apathetic) parents in Tennessee, is searching for a way out of his seemingly one-way road to nowhere. After running into some neighborhood troublemakers, he tests the waters with stealing golf balls and eventual car theft, only to land in jail at the age of thirteen– a fiasco that kicks off his first of many attempts to run away and jumpstarts his fierce desire for independence.

Themes of kinship and filial bonds reverberate throughout Ford’s loving account. Conley’s father, in constant survival mode, has a “mean streak,” and often pushes Conley to the breaking point; however, although the hero takes off every time his home life becomes too much to handle, he always returns to the fold after tasting adventure. Readers will be captivated by his classic capers, such as hitchhiking to Florida with a stranger named Al (who uses him to cash bad checks along the way) and being left on his own in New Orleans, where he transforms into a “cracker-jack” hot dog salesman–“Flanked by vendors at least three times my age, I felt like I was part of an army heading into battle to win hungry folks over with a great hotdog.”

Ford’s descriptions stand out, launching readers straight into the 1940s and 1950s for a front-row view of Conley’s tumultuous but entertaining exploits. Americana-minded readers will wax nostalgic at Conley’s hunger for “fishing, squirrel hunting, the Smoky Mountains, grits, and sweet tea” and be absorbed in these rousing tales but also the evocative milieu, from his sister Betty’s “cherry-red lipstick that contrasted with her jet-black hair” to the twelve-cent hamburgers and back roads drag racing. Much like the “Single-lane roads twist like snakes through the trees in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains,” this heartfelt story offers a beautiful ramble through unforgettable territory.

Takeaway: Rip-roaring escapades and nostalgic musings in an American coming-of-age adventure.

Great for fans of: Donna Florio’s Growing up Bank Street, Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing, Lisa Howorth’s Summerlings.

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

Click here for more about Boy at the Crossroads
Corona(tion) Year, Vol. 1
Genna Rivieccio
Rivieccio’s intriguing topical short-story collection is, in parts, an exaggerated reimagination of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sixty miniaturized accounts here are biting satires steeped in surrealism, reflecting above all else the moral deterioration of society, especially as it was exposed by the events of 2020. In “The Pop Star Who Said The Show Must Go On,” Mariposa is an entitled performer who insists on still holding her concert in the middle of the pandemic, while Meredith from “The New Strain” disregards all lockdown rules to vacation among “the pale, portly British husks” of England’s Dorset coast. Rivieccio deftly employs a dominant theme of societal hypocrisy to expose the uneven scales of capitalism, establishing an atmosphere of unmistakable despair.

Predominantly, Rivieccio’s stories adhere to a rigid narrational framework. They open to eerie settings, vaguely reminiscent of Murakami’s underworld, and slyly weave the protagonists into the fold. The characters inhabiting this collapsing world range from the peculiar to the quotidian: animals plot to assert their dominance in the canals of Venice; an “anti-abode gang” of homeless rally against the “civvies” who live inside; and a millennial reluctantly moves back with his parents when jobs dry up. But perceived through the lens of a sarcastic and cynical narrator, they rarely prove complex enough to stir reader empathy. The writing style is both refined and accessible, with crisp and witty prose, but the plot lines become repetitive, seemingly by design. A handful of graphic sequences will not be every reader’s cup of tea, true to the ethos of an author not afraid to shock or alienate.

Rivieccio tackles intense subject matters like racism while addressing the challenges faced by contemporary readers, such as dating during the pandemic and surviving Zoom calls. Readers accepting of allegories, dark humor, and those particularly interested in human-interest pieces with a dash of popular culture will enjoy this of-the-moment, darkly comic collection.

Takeaway: Rivieccio’s daring Covid-era short stories are as strange as their era.

Great for fans of: Doris Lessing’s London Observed: Stories and Sketches, Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It.

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

Click here for more about Corona(tion) Year, Vol. 1
Shakey's Madness: Does a mental disorder reveal the "real" William Shakespeare?
Robert Boog
Approaching the persistent mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare in the style of his favorite TV detective, the obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk, Boog dives deep into conspiracy theories about the playwright’s true identity. His conversational book raises compelling questions regarding the bard’s mental health and whether the dominant themes in his works aren’t compatible with what historians know about his actual life. Why does Boog doubt the accepted history of the English language’s greatest playwright? To put it simply, the facts don’t add up. “I am a nobody and friends of mine have notes I wrote to them in the 9th grade,” he writes, but “for over 400 years, not one letter that [Shakespeare] wrote to his wife, colleague or friend has ever been found.”

Then comes the really interesting stuff: According to Boog’s research, “there is almost a 25 percent chance that when you watch a Shakespeare play, [a character] will faint on stage.” Boog suggests it’s possible that Shakespeare’s fascination with dramatic swoons wasn’t merely a physiological response to strong emotions. Instead, he asserts, it could have been an indication of epilepsy or bipolar disorder–and according to historical records, Shakespeare did not exhibit any symptoms associated with these conditions.

Boog backs up his claims with plenty of excerpts from the plays and sonnets–as well as a healthy dose of humor. He also makes an argument for why exploring the playwright’s true identity is important, even centuries later. “The search for the ‘real’ Shakespeare is not just a search for the truth, it has to do with expanding our culture,” he writes, arguing that revelations like the ones he’s after could provide inspiration for bipolar individuals who still encounter stigma and mistrust. While his litany of conspiracies at times can feel a bit rambling, Boog’s good-natured voice will keep more casual readers onboard, while enthusiasts of Shakespearian identity mysteries will find many points of interest.

Takeaway: A deep, sometimes funny dive into theories about Shakespeare’s true identity and mental health.

Great for fans of: James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, Ted Bacino’s The Shakespeare Conspiracy: A Novel About the Greatest Literary Deception of All Time.

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

Click here for more about Shakey's Madness
Profit First For Minority Business Enterprises: Transform Your Minority Business Enterprise From A Cash-Eating Monster To A Money-Making Machine
Susanne Mariga
Upbeat, practical, and written with persuasive power, Mariga’s guide to achieving profit and success as a minority business owner expands upon and refines the approach laid out by Mike Michalowicz in Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine, the 2014 book that proved essential to the success of Mariga’s own minority-owned business (MBE). Mariga—a tax accountant, entrepreneur, and first-generation millionaire—reintroduces Michalowicz’s insights and precepts, such as his insistence that business owners prioritize their own profit and escape the trap of “entrepreneurial poverty” (poverty “of mind, money, time, and life”) that so often overwhelms business owners.

The “Profit First” system centers on business owners paying themselves first rather than living on whatever scraps of revenue are left over. A central insight: Toss out the classic equation that states Revenue minus Expenses equals Profit in favor of Revenue minus Profit equals Expenses. Mariga supplements clear-eyed, pragmatic advice about how to achieve that goal (you need at least five bank accounts!) with accounts of her own success story, enlightening interviews with other owners of MBEs, and consideration of issues specific to minority business owners, such as how to approach it when you “enter crowded rooms in which no one else looks like you.” Her advice is that of an accountant and a first-rate coach: “If you are invited into that room, then you belong in the room. So, you act like you belong in the room and you own it.”

Mariga offers wisdom on staffing, on when to turn down business, on the urgency of paying down debt and not living above your means. Even passages on familiar topics like setting achievable goals pulse with fresh insight. She’s an inviting, memorable writer who will make readers laugh with an on-point aside about dining at the Golden Corral and then, just pages later, drop truths about mentoring, target allocation percentages, and the 1919 Elaine massacre.

Takeaway: A standout guide to profitably running a business, aimed at minority entrepreneurs.

Great for fans of: Mike Michalowicz’s Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine, Carla A. Harris’s Strategize to Win.

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

It's Come to This: A Pandemic Diary
Laura Pedersen
Pedersen’s memoir dives into the early days of 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, when the unthinkable quickly became the new standard. Pedersen, a former New York Times business columnist and author of Buffalo Gal and Life in New York, guides readers through the year that everything stopped, from rumors spreading of an invisible disease to the start of the global lockdown and beyond. She paints a portrait of Manhattan in a slow-moving tragedy, capturing the confusion of the “pause” order that preceded the shutdowns, the increasing strangeness of familiar surroundings—“Instead of lost scrunchies and balled tissues, [Central Park’s] bridle path was littered with latex gloves and face masks”— and horrors like hospitals parking gurneys in chapels and gift shops. Pedersen also tries to illuminate cause for hope. Capturing the era’s small moments, such as operas belted off apartment balconies and the worldwide BLM protests for George Floyd, she emphasizes our need to work together to survive possible extinction. She sums up a world gone haywire with enticing depth and wry humor, reminding readers of the “feral swine bomb” that hit the news just before election day, and relishing the marvelously obscene handwritten sign a liquor store posted establishing new rules for its customers. Pedersen continually likens living in New York during 2020 to being a frightened kid caught between a “Guv Dad” (Cuomo) and “Mayor Mom” (de Blasio) who continuously argue about how to handle the crisis. Such sharp humor might strike some readers as insensitive, but those on her wavelength will relish it. When her 83 year old mother, a former nurse, gets called out of retirement, Pedersen cracks “What did they want her to do exactly? I suggested she could be in charge of helping with crossword puzzle clues.” Pedersen offers readers–especially those locked down in the Big Apple–and the future a clear-eyed, cathartic recap of a devastating time.

Takeaway: An illuminating and darkly humorous look at Manhattan life during the pandemic.

Great For Fans Of: An Sperry’s The COVID Chronicles: A Hermosa Beach Memoir, Lauren McKeon’s Women of the Pandemic: Stories from the Frontlines of COVID-19.

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

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